Former University of Pittsburgh defensive end Greg Romeus is living the life many wish they could. Currently residing in Bali, Romeus has visited seventeen countries at the age of 29, earning world traveler status and enjoying countless memories along the way.
But before learning more about Greg’s life in Bali, it is important to understand how he got there.
Romeus arrived at Pitt as a lightly recruited defensive end from Coral Springs, Florida. As a basketball player growing up, he didn’t begin playing football until his senior year of high school, receiving little interest from college football programs as a result. Unconcerned by the lack of noise surrounding Romeus’ recruitment, Pitt’s primary recruiter in Florida at the time, Charlie Partridge, identified the raw pass rusher as a high-ceiling talent who could one day cause problems for opposing offenses.
After redshirting during his first year on campus, Romeus earned Freshman All-American honors from multiple media outlets, proving that he was more than just another athlete from the Sunshine State. Following a productive sophomore season, he shared Big East Co-Defensive Player of the Year honors with teammate Ernest “Mick” Williams as a junior after accumulating 43 tackles, 11.5 tackles-for-loss and 8 sacks. Romeus seemed poised for a run at All-American honors heading into his senior season, but back surgery and a torn ACL derailed his final year of collegiate eligibility.
Despite missing practically his entire senior season due to injury, Romeus was drafted in the seventh round of the 2011 NFL draft by the New Orleans Saints. Unfortunately, once the injury bug bit the former Panther, he was never able to shake it. Greg never saw the field for New Orleans and was cut in May of 2013.
“It was a roller coaster, from never being injured to having – I think it was – four surgeries in like two years,” Romeus said. “It was tough. … I started [playing football] late, but from the age of seventeen until twenty-two/twenty-three, all I did was care about football. Football became my identity.”
Greg attempted to overcome his injuries through diligent rehabilitation and intense physical training. The same work ethic that enabled him to reach the NFL may have prevented him from ever making a full recovery, though. Years later, the defensive end admits to rushing back from his injuries and perhaps not allowing for enough time to heal.
After spending over a year as a free agent and a short stint with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League, Romeus was forced to reevaluate his football career.
“Finally, I was just like, ‘You know what? I have to move on. I’m 23-years-old, I have a life ahead of me, and it doesn’t seem like a team is going to call me.’”
Ironically, Romeus received a tryout with the New York Giants three weeks after electing to move on from football. He performed well in the workouts, but the Giants decided against signing the former Panther after he underwent a team-mandated M.R.I. Though he never learned what showed up on that M.R.I., Greg knew whatever it was, it meant that it was time to “close the book” on the NFL.
“I was a free agent for a year-and-a-half to two years, and it’s tough. … Every time you see a phone ring with a different number, you get excited. You think maybe it’s a team calling me. Or every time your agent calls you, you assume he has good news. So it’s a waiting game. But at the end of the day, it’s your life. How long can I wait? At some point, you’re hurting yourself, because you never really work when you’re a free agent … You’re not gaining money, it’s a waiting game, and it’s just stress on top of stress.”
It was while he recovered from injuries and waited on teams as a free agent when Romeus began traveling internationally. Greg took his first lengthy international trip in his first offseason as a pro, flying 18 hours to Bangkok, Thailand. Greg’s brother, James, was working in Thailand and invited the defensive end to come experience life abroad. As it turns out, that fateful trip would begin to shift Greg’s direction in life.
“Seeing the other side of the world, it’s one of those things where it feels different – something feels different about it,” Greg said, regarding his trip to Thailand. “I was like, ‘Alright, I kind of like this.’ And [James] told me that. He told me before I went, ‘It’s going to change your perception on everything.’”
When Romeus returned from his trip to Thailand, injuries began to alter the course of not just his playing career, but his entire life. Therapeutic trips overseas became an offseason norm for Greg, and just as his brother predicted, his perceptions on life evolved as he explored other areas of the world.
“[Traveling] was really the only thing that could take my mind off being a free agent, or recovering from injuries, or whatever. It was kind of a safe place for me to think and realize, ‘You know what? Football is what you do. It’s not who you are. And there’s more to life than that.’”
Traveling abroad eventually usurped football as Greg’s passion in life, making the decision to step away from the game an easy one. In January of 2017, he went all-in with his new lifestyle and moved to Barcelona, Spain.
In Barcelona, Greg found himself surrounded by European countries he had yet to visit. To pay his bills and fund trips, he began working as a personal trainer at a local gym. Aside from traveling, fitness is Romeus’ other passion in life (he still very much looks the part of an NFL defensive end), so the fit was only natural.
Romeus remained in Barcelona until an expiring Visa forced him to reevaluate his location of residence in June. It just so happened that at the same time, Greg’s girlfriend, Dee Higgins, was considering a relocation of her own. After being exposed to the international lifestyle by Romeus, Dee was planning a potential move to Italy. Four years after being introduced by friends in Miami, the two decided to move together to the Indonesian island of Bali, where they reside today. Suddenly, Greg had someone with which to share his international experiences.
“Obviously, when you move somewhere, you don’t really know anybody,” said Greg. “I mean, I tend to make friends pretty easily, but just to have [someone] that reminds you of home … I guess the best way to explain it is it’s one of those things where you want to show somebody what you’ve been talking about. You can only talk about something so much until somebody experiences it. When she was finally able to come, I felt more excited for her to do this journey than for even myself.”
Together, Greg and Dee began the Youtube vlog RomeDeeWorld, where they document their international life and travels in an ongoing web series. When Greg would return from his early trips, or when he would post images of his experiences on social media, he found that his friends would typically express the same response: “I want to be doing that.” And because of that common response, RomeDeeWorld was created to say, “You can.”
“The purpose of the vlog was basically to show people that it’s not as hard to do as you think,” said Romeus. “So kind of show the path of how it’s done … And also to show people that it’s not so different when you go to a different place. You’re going to be in a different part of the world, but you’re going to meet so many people that are from America, or you’re going to meet so many people that are from cultures similar to yours. And you kind of change. It’s funny, when I go back home, I actually feel more out of place than when I’m living abroad, regardless of where I’m at.”
The idea of RomeDeeWorld was conceived well before the move to Bali. Greg placed value in documenting his travels from the time of his very first trip, and after seeing one of Jay Alvarrez’s international travel videos on Youtube, he decided to begin shooting videos of his own. With no videography experience, Romeus started from scratch. But through trial, error and “a lot of help from Youtube tutorials,” he began to see his ideas take form.
“Starting from like the beginning of my traveling, I’ve always tried to document it. You know, it’s good to have memories in your head – but also to have video of it. It’s a funny story – I think it’s when I went to Italy – I was editing on the way back home and I realized I had been editing for like ten hours straight. When we landed, I was like, ‘Man, I’ve never did anything in my life for ten hours straight.’ It was one of those things that right there I was like, ‘I’m really passionate about this thing.’
“I’ve always been interested in putting things together, like art – if you want to call it that. It’s actually being able to do that. And the best part about it is that it’s your own. There’s no rules to it, so you can edit it how you want. You can shoot it how you want.”
He added, “Looking back at what I used to create, I’ve come so far. I still have a really long way to go. So it’s literally every single day, trying to refine my skills. Vlogging, it’s given me a lot of learning with editing and that, and learning how to shoot.”
When Dee decided to join Greg on his move to Bali, the vision for a vlog that could effectively relay his message was born. Although Greg is the host with more traveling experience, he was cognizant that some viewers may find it difficult to connect with him, since they may believe it was and is easier for him to travel thanks to his time in the financially lucrative NFL. Dee, who saved money working in retail at a “high-end boutique,” presented a relatable character who took a more identifiable leap of faith.
In addition to encouraging others to travel abroad, RomeDeeWorld was created to also expose viewers to foreign people and their cultures. In a time when the actions of a select few can alter the perception of an entire people, Greg’s interactions with others around the world can humanize individuals and counteract ignorance.
“I mean, that’s been the best part of what I’m doing,” he said, regarding his interactions with people in foreign countries. “You grow up watching the media and how they portray different things [and] different people. Honestly, without hesitation, I’d say the nicest people I’ve met, the most genuine relationships I’ve made, were with people that have been abroad. Just yesterday, somebody down the street that pretty much every time we go by she says, ‘Hi’ – we’ve never had a conversation – we had a conversation for almost an hour. She was talking about where she’s from. It’s just so genuine.
“Everybody from here wants to figure out how you’re doing. They try to help, regardless of where they’re from. It’s almost like, when you’re meeting people that aren’t from there – when you move to these places, you’re meeting people from everywhere that have moved to these spots like Bali or Barcelona – everybody wants to help out because they’ve been in that position before where they’re new to somewhere. So you have those people.
“Then, the people that are from there, they almost feel like they’re hosting someone in their country. These cultures, they’ll do whatever it takes. Like this lady cooked for us; she made us an Indonesian meal. She wouldn’t’ take money for it. It’s like family abroad, also. You never feel out of place.”
Just six episodes in, RomeDeeWorld remains in its infancy, and as Greg admits, the vlog has a ways to go in its development. As long as the adventures keep coming, though, there should be no shortage of material. And if the past month proved anything, it’s that the adventures will indeed keep coming.
In early September, Greg and Dee embarked on a spontaneous three-day trip to climb Mount Rinjani, a 3,726-meter tall volcano on the Indonesian island of Lombok. The two had dabbled in mountain climbing around a year-and-a-half prior, and due to the strenuous nature of the climb, they ruled out any more climbs in the future. However, when an acquaintance from the gym invited the couple to accompany him and his friends on a trip to Mount Rinjani, Greg and Dee elected to seize the opportunity.
Romeus entered the climb with no knowledge of Mount Rinjani’s terrain or history of treacherous falls, and he jokes that the climb may never have happened had he done some research. Beginning at one in the afternoon, the group hiked for seven hours on day-one before setting up camp. After resting for five hours, they restarted their climb around two in the morning. For Greg, the second day was the most difficult since he was battling the soreness and fatigue from the initial seven hours of trekking.
As the group ascended, Greg faced numerous physical and psychological hurdles. First, there was the cruel deception of perspective; even though the summit appeared to be within a short distance, there was still a long way to go. Secondly, he realized that his 6-foot-6 inch, 260-pound frame is built for football, not feats of extreme endurance. And thirdly, he learned that on Mount Rinjani, climbers aren’t afforded the luxury of hiking on paths of dirt or rock. For every step a hiker takes on Mount Rinjani, he loses a portion of that progress by sliding backwards on the volcanic rock, making it one of the more difficult treks in the world.
“If you [judge] it by the measurement, you would think it’s not that tough,” said Romeus, regarding Mount Rinjani. “People that have climbed Machu Pichu, they said this is way harder. And there were so many people coming down saying, ‘No, we didn’t reach it. We didn’t reach it. It’s too far.’ It’s discouraging, but we had the mindset that we weren’t going to quit.”
Undeterred by the failures of others, Greg and his group reached the summit following sixteen hours of climbing over a 24-hour span. For Romeus, the trek challenged the limits of both his body and mind. Physically, it brought Greg back to the “hustle and the grind” of football, reminding him of two-a-days at Pitt.
“It was probably, in the course of three days, the most challenging thing I have done. But whenever I have something challenging, I always get over things because I remind myself that I’ve been uncomfortable [before]. That’s the best thing football did for me. It taught me to be comfortable while being uncomfortable … I knew either they would have to come to take me off on a stretcher, or I was going to hit the top of that mountain.”
Mount Rinjani tested Greg’s mental resolve, as well. But with Dee acting as his teammate, Greg was able to overcome the psychological challenges while growing as an individual in the process.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do it without Dee, and she wouldn’t have been able to do it without me,” he said. “We pretty much just pushed each other until we got to the top because we were like, ‘We’re going to finish this.’ It was one of those experiences where you test your limits, you get over it, you look for the next thing to keep testing your limits and you keep growing as a person. Just the lessons that you learn from something as simple as that, that you can push yourself so much further than you think, it’s something that I keep proving to myself. My biggest thing that I’ve always told myself is that when I feel something that I fear, I literally take it on – as long as I make sure I’m safe. I take it head on, get over that fear, and keep progressing in life that way.”
The Mount Rinjani experience is one that Romeus will cherish for the rest of his life, and it is a product of his decision to reside overseas and immerse himself in the lifestyle of a traveler.
“It’s just an example, I guess, of when you’re in a different environment, around different people that have different interests, they expose you to things that you would never do. But those things that you’re actually doing might end up being something that’s a life-changing experience.”
Adventures like the one to Mount Rinjani make a permanent return to the United States unlikely for Romeus. After fully embracing his current international lifestyle, it is difficult for Greg to envision himself coming back to the American grind.
“I think about what I would rather be doing,” said Greg. “So yeah, I could be in America and I could be working nine-to-five with people. I could have a great job making so much money. But what’s my lifestyle like? I could live a lifestyle where I’m working all the time, and be able to do vacations here and there, but this is almost like living a vacation for me. And actually be able to do this and pay maybe a quarter of what I would pay to live in a place like Miami. I’m happier, and at the same time, my stress level is down. So I can actually think clearly to see what I really, truly want to build.”
It is not as though Romeus has developed a dislike for life in the United States. In fact, once he attains the financial standing to do so, Greg would like to spend around three months a year in the U.S. spending time with family and friends. Life abroad has simply provided a less stressful lifestyle, enabling him to place less focus on work and more focus on living a diverse life.
“Your bills are minimal,” he said, on life overseas. “The prices for things are minimal. And if you can find a way to make enough money to cover that, then with all the spare time you have not being forced to work a job for hours upon the day, you’re thinking about what you want to do. Even though there should be stress, it’s not as much stress as when you have to provide every single day because you have these deadlines at the beginning of the month to pay for these high bills. My lifestyle here, I think it’s an upgrade, because I’ve been able to do so much more for so much less money.”
When he does return to spend time in the United States, Romeus has a particular city which he would like to visit.
“I haven’t been back to Pittsburgh since I left, so that’s a priority of mine when I get back. Hopefully, I can get back during the season so I can see a game.”
Living across the world on a twelve-hour time difference, it is hard for Romeus to watch the current Pitt season. However, he makes sure to watch highlights and read postgame articles to stay up-to-date throughout the year. One recent postgame interview in particular captured his attention – and not for a good reason.
“I saw the interview from their head coach at Penn State,” he said, referring to comments made by James Franklin after Penn State topped Pitt in Happy Valley. “That kind of bugged me.”
A Panther for life, watching the games live is one of many luxuries Romeus has had to part with overseas. Although it may seem like one when scrolling through images on his Facebook page, his life isn’t one elongated vacation void of adversity or unease.
“It’s not all glitz and glamour, and that’s what I try to show in my vlogs. Everybody assumes you’re in a really beautiful place. But when I was in Barcelona, I had a really small apartment. I didn’t have A/C. There wasn’t always hot water. It’s rough sometimes.”
When tough times emerge, and when he isn’t afforded some of the luxuries that are commonplace in the U.S., Greg knows how to redirect his focus to overcome any negativity.
“I think of what my long-term goals are. For a few years, I could not live a crazy lifestyle, but I’m still in a beautiful place and I’m still working towards my goals. So it all balances out.”
As a man of faith, Romeus also places the utmost trust in the path which God has laid forth for him.
“I thank God for all my blessings and all the lessons I’ve learned along this journey. Most importantly, I learned to trust and never question His vision for my life. When I thought I lost it all, He showed me He had a bigger plan, and I’m living it now.”
And that life he is living now is pretty darn good. Bali is proving to be an ideal central location for the pursuit of Greg’s personal and professional goals, and what originated as a six-month stay may turn into a long-term destination.
“I honestly could see myself staying here for a while, depending on the whole work situation. Originally, my fitness goals were in Barcelona, but I’ve come here and it might be a better opportunity. With the vlogging, Asia is very cool. Europe is similar where you can travel a lot easily, but [in] Asia, the cost of living is way cheaper, so it’s more convenient to travel. And getting around is not too tough; you can find flights all over Asia for really cheap.”
“Those are my two passions: fitness and travel. I’m really putting ideas together to merge the two. I think one opens up the door for the other. I think if I were to say what’s my life goal first, my life goal is to expose as many people as I can to this lifestyle – not even just traveling all the time, but prioritizing experiences over material things. I think the people in my inner circle have changed when it came to that mindset, and I want it to be more of a global thing. So I think the best way to do that, to expose people to that, is to have some type of travel show.”
He added, “Long term, [I’d like] to set myself up to start something in the fitness industry, like a gym or something abroad. So that’s one of my passions. But my main goal: I want to pretty much have something to do with travel, like a travel show.”
Video documentaries and fitness training are career choices that come with a significant level of uncertainty. Unlike some careers that have a defined path up a corporate ladder, what Greg is trying to do does not come with a manual. But he does not fear failure. Rather, he does not allow fear to factor into his pursuit. Romeus’ fortitude in the face of fear derives from a lesson he once learned at a nursing home regarding the two types of people that a person can become towards the end of his or her life.
“There’s people that regret what they’ve done and they’re sad about how they’ve live their life, and there’s people that are so happy with their memories that they’re ready to go,” he recalls.
Greg absorbed that lesson, contemplating how he can someday classify as the latter. And what he resolved is that how people greet fear, whether conquering it or succumbing to it, holds the key to leading a fulfilling life.
“My biggest thing that I would want people to take from everything that I’m doing is just to not let fear be the reason you don’t chase what you want … It’s not going to be easy, and you’re going to need a plan. But at the end of the day, you want to look back on life and feel fulfilled – that you accomplished what you wanted to accomplish, whatever your passion is. A lot of people in [my] age group are trying to figure out, “What’s my passion?” The best way I learned to figure it out … I just kept trying new things. As soon as I found something that didn’t feel like work, I dove into it 100-percent.”
He added, “Don’t be afraid to start from the bottom when you want to start something, because everybody does no matter what. Just be courageous enough to not let fear be the determining factor of you chasing what you want to chase.”
Greg will continue chasing his dreams, wherever they may take him.
And more than likely, he will encourage others to do so along the way.