Welcome to Isabella Biava, who will walk us through her extraordinary career trajectory, which has allowed her to travel around the world. Buckle up for some big-time job inspiration!
Teaching Traveling: Isabella, tell us a bit about your background.
Isabella: Hello! I am a 50 year old Italian eternal expatriate and digital nomad with a mind-blowing life-journey, at least that’s what I feel when I think about it.
I have a university degree in English Language and Literature with a minor in tourism, and I have been working in the hospitality industry since I can remember. At the age of 30, I left Italy to chase my dream of traveling around the world.
The only way I could see it possible at that time was by becoming a tour rep. That meant that I would work for an Italian travel agency based in one of their exotic luxury destinations and welcome guests to their vacation, helping them around as an interpreter, solving their issues with hotels and other situations.
This way I had the opportunity to live and work in magazine-cover-worthy destinations such as Mexico, Seychelles, Antigua, Greece, and Jamaica. I loved that job at the time, because I felt like I was helping tourists understand the local culture, and supporting them in anything they needed.
I loved that customers relied on me for any sort of information about the local culture, things to do, and anything else. Most tourists feel lost in a foreign country and I felt as if I was their safety net: the bridge between Italy and the local culture.
It was kind of empowering considering that I have always been a very shy person with zero self-confidence. That was the first sign that traveling was my path – my lifeblood, and it was making me stronger, and happier.
I loved the idea to change homes every six months and start from scratch every single time. However, I knew that my ultimate dream has always been to travel and work location free and not tied to a company schedule. I didn’t know how I would achieve that, but I knew very well that that was what I wanted.
I eventually left that job, and found a position in a hotel in Antigua and Barbuda, but I realized it was not for me. While I was considering leaving, I got a job offer in Mexico, and I immediately grabbed it. I didn’t know it at the time but that move was a huge step forwards toward my dream life.
I moved to Cancun and started to work for an international travel wholesaler. I had a blast. It was office work, but I traveled around the Caribbean islands a lot, met amazing people, and enjoyed my job as much as I enjoyed living in Cancun.
However, I still wanted a different lifestyle free from the 9 to 5 schedule, which was most often 9 to 8 plus weekends. 7 years after I was hired, it finally happened. I left the job and lived the dream, traveling around Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador, and Peru which I talk about in my thorough guides for solo female travelers.
I was living on my savings and some small writing gigs that I would pick up along the way. I loved my life, and I knew there was no turning back. But what could I do to sustain my lifestyle? I am not cheap. I don’t do hostels and I love comfort, and my savings were going to finish, eventually.
Although I was working hard on my blog, it was not profitable at that time, so I found a full-time remote job as a customer service agent for a travel company. It was fun, but not my thing. Although I was happy that I was location independent, the fixed working hours were killing me. Then the events of 2020 happened, and I was let go — and that was a blessing in disguise.
I decided that I would put all my free time and energy into my blog and treat it as if it was my full-time job. It was my only getaway to freedom and I loved doing it. Fast forward one year — the blog became officially my full-time job, with a full-time income! I felt compelled to start a second one about Mexico, where I would be able to teach readers about traveling to Mexico like pros.
After all, Mexico was my home, one that I loved with a passion and knew well, so why not share my knowledge with others? Now, it’s been 2 years that I started living the life that I have been dreaming of. I have two blogs that are giving me a nice income to live a comfortable life, and to pay VA or writers for help. I love the idea of providing jobs and giving the opportunity to other women like me to live their life on the road or anyway, free from the 9 to 5 trap.
Last year I also started another blog about Mexico Cenote and ruins with a very close friend that shares the same passion for the Yucatan Peninsula’s hidden treasures and the Mayan world. Besides, we enjoy chatting away about the places we have seen and how we can show them to the world in the most authentic way.
I am still a nomad, as I can’t picture myself staying in one place forever. I love the idea of moving around and living in different places. I am now in Mexico exploring new places and trying new tours and experiences so that I can share them with my readers. There is always something new to learn. But my plan is to move on and see the world while working on my blogs. I love my life right now, but I loved the journey that brought me where I am now as well.
Since Cancun has been my home for 7 years and it will always hold a special place in my heart, I have started a fourth blog Let’s travel to Cancun where I want to teach Cancun travelers how to get out of their hotel and explore the beauty around it — besides offering information to those who want to move to Cancun and start a new life.
I am planning to move back to Cancun and explore as much as possible, try new restaurants and tours so that I can share my experience with my readers, and help them plan their own trips. Now my travels have become more meaningful, as I do it not only to discover and understand but to share and teach what I have learned.
TT: What an amazing career and life journey! Tell us more about your travels.
I: While I was still working in Cancun at my corporate job, I always tried to negotiate longer vacation time. So I managed to get 1 month and a half vacation because I wanted to volunteer in Africa, but also explore. I ended up going for 2 weeks on a Safari in Tanzania and then I stopped in Arusha for four weeks to teach in a local school as a volunteer.
However, since the school closed a week earlier than I thought and I had a week left, I decided to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. It was a life-changing experience that challenged me to go beyond my physical limitation and learn that it is possible. It was so empowering. I will never forget it.
TT: Epic! How do you find your travel opportunities?
I: I travel around Mexico based on what I want to write about in the blog, and also photography. For example, I want to drive around the Huasteca Potosina in Mexico because I want to write about a road trip itinerary in this area and offer tips, and I want to take drone footage of the waterfalls. I just bought a drone and I love to see the world from an aerial view.
Then I want to go to Nazaré in Portugal to photograph the surfers riding the massive gigantic wave. I have a lot of places on my bucket list that I have always wanted to visit. So I am not short of ideas. Normally when I travel to a new destination I read travel blogs (of course) and check out the local tourist office.
TT: Excellent. How did you find the money to fund your travel?
When I first left my job in Cancun to travel I have been saving for a while, especially after I got a raise in my job. I had about 40k saved and I was being cautious with my travel spending, although sometimes I would treat myself to a decent hotel, I don’t do hostels, and I like to eat well.
I managed to travel for two years and leave some savings as a safety net when I decided to find a new job. Also, I managed to find some online jobs such as a content writer, or helping other bloggers with administrative tasks. That helped me to keep my mental sanity, because it was a bit hard to see money going out and not coming in.
Also since I love pets, I was doing a lot of housesitting so that I didn’t pay rent — and I spent time with cute animals while working. It was a great way to save, and do what I love at the same time. Now I am still housesitting because I love pets, but I sustain my nomadic lifestyle thanks to my blogs, which are my full time job.
TT: Love it. Tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly powerful.
On my last road trip, I did to the Mexican state of Hidalgo, I was a little concerned about driving in a Mexican state where I had never driven before and I wasn’t sure about safety. But I had a blast and the roads ended up being spectacular to drive. I ended up in the countryside where people were working on the land and moving around on horses and they looked at me in a funny way but smiled all the time.
Also, I managed to go for a short hike on my own, overcoming my fear of being in the mountain by myself, and I met an amazing family along the way and we had a very interesting conversation. Throughout the trip, I met other interesting people, amazing guides and even a famous Mexican artist personally.
I love to travel alone because of these magical encounters I always have. When I stay in a place for too long, I get lazy about traveling or even paranoid that something bad may happen, and yet I feel that urge to move and when I do, magic happens.
TT: So, how have your travels impacted you?
I: Is not really how traveling has impacted me as a teacher, but more how teaching has impacted me as a traveler! The fact that 200k people a month are reading my articles makes me feel both honored and frightened, and at the same time responsible for every word I say, the information I share, and how I do it, to get the message right.
I love to travel anywhere but now, I travel with the purpose to learn and pass information on. When I search for a destination, I first look at what people are asking for and I travel with the intention to find out the answer and write about it. I feel like I am on a mission to help the next traveler to have their best experience.
Further, because I am a hardcore solo traveler, I love when I can inspire other women to take the plunge and go beyond their fears of traveling to do it anyway. I am a very fearful person by nature, but I try to discern real danger from my own paranoia and be mindful of it.
I hope that my story is an example for those who are afraid to step out of their comfort zone and take a leap toward the life they want despite any fear and doubts. The other big responsibility I feel is when I receive emails from readers who ask me, “Where should I go,” and which destination is best.
I always reiterate that it’s not really my place to tell them where to go or pick their destination, simply because I don’t know them and I don’t know what’s good for them or what they like. My job is to offer the most accurate description possible of the place so that they can decide if it’s the right place for them.
TT: What advice do you have for teachers who are dreaming of travel, or travelers dreaming of teaching?
I: To teachers that are dreaming of travel, I tell them that it is possible nowadays to do that if their inspiration is to travel while they work, because teaching online has become a very common trend, and there are also many blogs helping them how to do that, including this one!
The same goes for travelers dreaming of teaching. The most common way to travel and teach is by teaching English. Many online schools require a TOEFL or similar certification, which you can do online as well. I believe it’s a good starting point even if you teach in schools that don’t require it.
It gives you a good base to be a good teacher. Being a native English speaker doesn’t make you a teacher. I wouldn’t be able to teach Italian because I am not a language teacher and I don’t have any skills or knowledge about how to teach Italian.
I believe teaching is a huge responsibility because the students trust you and see you as somebody who can solve one of their problems and put themselves totally in your hands.
I see it as a blogging student as I bought many courses and I can tell when the teacher is somebody that does it with love and dedication and genuine care or it’s just a way to make money. It makes a huge difference.
TT: Thanks so much, Isabella! Readers, what comments or questions do you have?
The author, Lillie Marshall, is a 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English from Boston who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched TeachingTraveling.com in 2010 to share expert global education resources, and over 1.6 million readers have visited over the past decade. Lillie also runs AroundTheWorld L.com Travel and Life Blog, and DrawingsOf.com for educational art. Do stay in touch via subscribing to her monthly newsletter, and following @WorldLillie on social media!
Monday 14th of November 2022
Thank you for this opportunity, Lillie, I love sharing my story. Happy to answer any questions.