A month before her 26th birthday, Nina Ragusa landed in Bangkok, Thailand.
She had been living in Tampa, Florida, preparing and saving for open-ended travel for the past two years.
During the day, she worked at a foreclosure law firm, and a few nights a week, she moonlighted at bars and promotional events.
About five years later, Ragusa has only been back to the US twice.
In the meantime, she told Business Insider via email from her current home in Darwin, Australia, her adventures have included:
"hiking down through a volcanic crater to see blue flames coming out of the ground in Indonesia, drinking coconuts and jetskiing at a lagoon in Mozambique, rock climbing on some of the most incredible karsts in Krabi, Thailand, snorkeling with blacktip reef sharks in Malaysia, wandering ancient temples and seeing a friend's father and brother become monks, eating everything as you walk down the chaotic market streets, and hiking with orangutans on Sumatra."
You can follow her adventures on her website, Where in the World Is Nina, or through her Facebook or Instagram.
Below, Ragusa told Business Insider what it's like to stay abroad for five years, what everyone gets wrong about long-term travel, and how she affords it.
In the two years of working before she left, Ragusa saved $16,000. She used $10,000 of that to pay off credit-card bills and prepay eight months of her ~$30,000 student loans.
In Chiang Mai, Thailand.
She arrived in Bangkok in May 2011 with $6,000 in her pocket and a newly minted TEFL certification she'd gotten in the US, certifying her to teach English.
In Mae Hong Son, Thailand.
"I'm not rich, but I definitely want to stay longer than a couple of weeks, longer than a few months," she said she had realised. "I decided to teach English so I could make money while living abroad and traveling."
With English students in Thailand.
She was able to get a teaching job north of the city within days and ended up teaching for two semesters.
In Koh Chang, Thailand.
In 2012, she picked up two unexpected jobs: teaching English online, and freelance writing. "Because I fell into those two jobs accidentally, I learned that even if you're not sure how something is going to go down, if you keep searching, take risks on what you go for, and make a solid effort, you can really make something happen," she said.
In Pai, Thailand.
Travelling around Southeast Asia, she was able to earn $1,000 to $2,000 a month and live on $700 a month or less.
In Rishikesh, India.
Her preferred method of travel is to periodically establish short-term bases. "I live abroad so I can get to know the country and the region a bit better," she said. "I then use that place to jump over to the neighbors to adventure around."
In Krabi, Thailand.
When she's travelling, she said, in a typical day, "I attempt to get around in another language, I buy my food from the markets, get around on interesting modes of transportation, meet new people, experience the culture, see something breathtaking, amazing, and/or incredible, have a beer, and wake up to do the same the next day."
Along the Mae Hon Song loop in Thailand.
Currently, Ragusa is based in Australia, where she's working as a bartender and in a surf shop, saving up for a camper-van trip across the continent with her boyfriend, Garrett Galvan of the vlog The Travel Human.
In Darwin, Australia.
Her mission is to live on all seven continents (she doesn't yet have a plan for Antarctica), and she was just able to squeeze in Australia under a yearlong visa before she ages out of the option.
In Melbourne, Australia.
"It's funny, the live-abroad lifestyle looks so easy when you’re on the outside. You just see the bikini with a karst mountain background picture or the perfectly timed sunset photo," Ragusa said. "But the irony is obvious if you really think about it."
In Palu, Indonesia.
"Work is inevitable, despite what story the photo might portray. This life isn't always easy to maintain. It's a constant flow of challenges that you have to overcome, but it's worth every drop of sweat, tears, and beers."
In Pai, Thailand.
"Finding opportunities to live abroad is also more attainable than most think," she continued. "You just need the right mindset to manage yourself well, which is something I learned quick when I was solo travelling years ago for the first time on a continent I’ve never been to."
In Chiang Rai, Thailand.
"It's going to be scary, confusing, and you will fail. I know I did. But knowing that you failed because you tried is better than not knowing what could have been."
In Ubud, Bali.