Glitter as the Ultimate Travel Hack with @ChristaBellaTravels
Are you one of the 250+ peeps who tuned into yesterday’s desIGn LIVE? If yes, then you met travel expert Christa Romano (aka Christa Bella Travels). Christa and I met traveling in Cape Town, South Africa (Read more: 6 Highlights from 6 weeks in Cape Town with WiFi Tribe, and now she’s living her best life all over the world. She shared all her sage advice on solo travel, instagram, travel safety and why GLITTER is her go-to travel hack for making new friends.
Here’s some of the highlights from my interview with Christa!
Q: How long have you been traveling & how many countries have you been to?
A: I have been traveling for over 5 years. I have always loved to travel and even in college I made a point to go on vacations and stuff. However, the real start of my travel life was in 2013 when I booked a one-way ticket to Thailand and I moved there with the intention of getting a job. I ended up living in Bangkok for 2 full years, which many would consider an expat.
I have been to 51 countries in my life, not sure how many over the last few years, and I repeat a lot of the same places. I don’t really care about the numbers, I just love to be out in the world.
Q: What is the “Bella” in @ChristaBellaTravels?
A: It is a family name. My italian and irish side both have variations of this, and they were always my nicknames growing up. “Christa Belle” or “Christa Bella,” and then I kept my handle Christa Bella and added travel to the end when I started traveling.
Q: How can you afford to travel full time?
A: I actually work, and I actually work 40 hrs a week. I am employed like most people who are employed. I do marketing strategy for a tech start up. I do a lot of things related to marketing: content, social, strategy. I work 9-5 Monday through Friday, I just happen to not have a physical office.
Q: You’ve grown your instagram considerably within the last year. What prompted you to want to put more effort into social? What have you gained (besides followers) from that experience?
A: To be completely honest, it was this summer and I was going through a breakup and I was really sad, and I had not much more to do that be on my phone all the time. I have lots of great experiences and cool pictures, so I guess it was kind of that I needed to put my energy into something during my solo trip. It was also about the time and energy.
The number one thing is engagement. You need to engage with the people who follow you. Whenever someone follows you, you should go and like 10 of their things. When activity started to grow, and people were asking me questions about my lifestyle, it was so cool to start to give advice to people who didn’t know my story. So instead of using my social to update my mom to let her know that I was alive, it was more about explaining something to someone that they didn’t know.
I used to love snapchat to capture moments that may not be post worthy, but were interesting to me. Often the pics that I post on my feed are the beautiful things, but they aren’t alwyas the most interesting or memorable. I love keeping the stories for me because I am my primary consumer of this content. I think it is cool others want to see it, but really I love documenting my life because I am terrified of alzheimers. I’ve also made wonderful connections with people via social media, who I have now met in real life.
Q: Per South East Asia - What do I need to know?
You’re going to have to learn how to ride or drive a motorcycle. I remember I used to go to work in Bangkok and hail a motorcycle taxi, the guy would zoom up, I would hop on, pay him a dollar, and head into work.
I could talk for hours about Thailand. There are so many amazing places to go that if you already have some semblance of an itinerary, then that’s a good place to start. I like the Andemen sea side over the gulf side. You can go to a Full Moon Party if that’s something you care about. The Full Moon Parties are huge, and I didn’t really feel super safe because it is so hectic. But, you can find mini Full Moon Parties on Koh Phi Phi, which a lot of people hate on because it’s pretty touristy.
Side note: There are tons of ways to travel on a budget! Here are some of my favorite sites to look for accomodations:
Q: You’ve been to some pretty tumultuous countries in your travels… how much does your safety concern you while you travel?
Honestly, the place in the world that I feel the most unsafe is right here in Rio, but it is also my favorite city in the world. The middle east was fine, the next place I felt the least safe was probably India, but nothing bad has really happened to me anywhere. I guess, I don’t think that we should be living in fear of something that MIGHT happen, because crazy things might happen right outside your house in Boston or San Diego and that’s no reason not to go somewhere.
That being said I am very cautious when it comes to my personal safety. So I always make sure I ask locals what’s ok and what’s not ok. I take extra care in observing my surroundings when I first get to a new place.
I guess being a blonde person, I am aware that I stand out more when I go places, but what am I supposed to do about that? Not go?
A lot of my favorite places are places where people asked omg why are you going there. Like Guatemala, I went there solo and I had the best experience ever, and I can’t believe I almost didn’t go because of what? What I heard on the news?
Q: I’d like to become a digital nomad, but I feel like I will never be ready. Suggestions?
I guess I don’t know what they are asking by ‘be ready’? Financially ready? Emotionally ready? Not ready to take a risk of leaving everything behind? Whatever not being ready means to that person, figure out what that means first. I may be the most extreme version of the nomad, because I don’t have a home, I have been doing it for so many years, and I have a full time job. Some people go away for 4 weeks or even 2 weeks and just happen to work from abroad. So nomad isn’t a strict definition.
I have always prioritized travel as part of my life. I chose to live in spots where I don’t need a car so I could allocate those funds for car payments, parking, etc to travel. Take baby steps.
OR do what I did and throw yourself into it. I moved to Thailand because I was living in NYC with rent that was more than half of my salary in a not nice apartment. I had seasonal depression and I hit a point where I asked myself “Do I stay if I am not happy?” I really love sunshine and wanted to be on the beach. I got really fixated on the How, and I researched and researched and researched. I went to Thailand to teach english (ended up doing something else) but I did all this with less than $5,000. You just need to want it bad enough to make it happen and look for opportunities to be brave.
Q: What is your number one friend-making hack when you go out?
I am obsessed with GLITTER. This is my theory, If you have a little tub of glitter and put some on your cheek, guaranteed there will be another girl at the party who will ask you where you got your glitter. All of a sudden people will be wondering where all this glitter is coming from, and they’ll get FOMO. Sometimes people will resist, especially guys, but they will come around because it’s a little bit silly, but it is also a good ice-breaker and it always makes the party LIT.
It always makes me the center of the party, I will say that.
Q: Where do you see Christa Bella Travels in 5 years? 10 years?
Honestly, I have no idea. Maybe I have just been very reflective of this recently because its a new year and my birthday is coming up, and everywhere I am going this year is a place I have already been, but I really have crossed so many things off my bucket list.
If I stopped traveling tomorrow, I would not be devastated. I am just doing it now because I am enjoying it now. I feel really good about what I have accomplished in my 5 years of traveling, and I am just living in the world, with no expectations.