Meet Digital Nomad Kat Smith!
She is originally from Atlanta, GA has I’ve lived abroad for over 6 years now. She first moved abroad as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador. After 2 ½ years teaching English, she did Workaway for the first time in the Peruvian Amazon. Wow! Kat loved Workaway and decided to do it again in Bocas del Toro, Panama. After a month on a private island, she worked my way farther south in Panama and became a tour guide with San Blas Adventures. After 8 months of cruising the San Blas Islands from Panama to Colombia and meeting the man that would eventually be her husband, she moved to France to work on a superyacht. Love couldn’t keep her away from her Colombian so I left the yacht after a few months and they reunited in Croatia. They spent a few months in Eastern Europe before it was time to work again. This time they moved together to Korea where she taught English. After a year there, they moved to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where they are still based.
So how does Kat maintain her digital nomad lifestyle?
I’ve recently made the switch from working personally in a country to becoming a digital nomad. My husband has been a digital nomad for 3 years now and really made my transition manageable. I had a difficult time motivating myself the first month and spent a lot of time just walking around my apartment in circles. I teach English online and that job requires I’m home in my “classroom” but I also run a website, Girls Gone Working. When I am working on the site, I go to new coffee shops and find unique spots to work. Luckily, Saigon is full of them! There are also a lot of digital nomads already here in the city so it’s nice to go to a coffee shop and work “together.”
What’s the hardest thing about constantly traveling?
In that sense, I think I’m different than the typical nomad. I’ve been a backpacker before, going from city to city, and while that was exciting and fun, I’d much rather stay in one place for a significant amount of time before moving to the next destination. For me, travel isn’t about filling up my passport as quickly as I can. It’s more about really connecting with a new place, culture, and language. I like to make each place feel like home before moving to the next spot. Don’t get me wrong, we still spend a lot of weekends jet-setting somewhere new but we always look at it as, “Could we live here?” And sometimes we really have come back to stay!
So tell me, how many countries have you lived and traveled to?
I’ve lived in 5 foreign countries: Guatemala (3 months), Ecuador (2 ½ years), Panama (8 months), France (4 months), Korea (1 year), Vietnam (1 year and counting) and I’ve traveled to over 20 others.
Which country do you see yourself settling down in?
Now isn’t that the question of the hour! I honestly haven’t the slightest clue. My husband and I have a lot of goals and ideas and most of them involve us staying abroad and moving around for the near future. We tend to make year plans and that’s where we are right now with Da Nang. Check back for 2021!
What is your advice for someone ready to quit their desk job?
Just do it. Something I live by is,
“If you don’t like where you are, move. You are not a tree.”
From my travels, I’ve learned that there are so many jobs available around the world, whether you want to be a digital nomad or not. My website is all about empowering women to make the move if they feel the push, inspire them with stories of women already out there living their foreign dreams and to show them the reality of life as an expat. Also, a lot of people thinking of doing this are young. 1, 2 or even 3 years abroad, working in your field or not, is not a huge amount of time to “sacrifice” but I really think in the end you won’t think of it in those terms. You’ll feel stronger from the experience but hey, if it’s not for you, it’s ok to pack up and go back home at least knowing you tried.
What inspired you to venture out in the world?
My parents made the decision for me to take a gap semester before starting university. They sent me off to Guatemala to learn Spanish and see another side of life. I honestly went begrudgingly but in the end, those 3 months threw everything I had in my head out the window. Peace Corps become a serious goal and something I never wavered from throughout college.
What are some the hardships of this lifestyle?
Hands down the hardest part is missing moments with my family and friends back home. I cherish every moment I get back home or when people come to visit me abroad. It’s been difficult to miss family trips, weddings and even just nights my girls are all out together eating and drinking. I remind myself that although I’d like to be there for those moments, I’d rather be abroad for all the time in between.
What are the benefits of this lifestyle?
I could make this list huge but I think the biggest benefit is by far how it’s opened my mind. It’s one thing to read about different places, landscapes, cultures, and even issues but it’s a whole other thing to see it all first hand. It has allowed me to grow and realize that a lot of preconceived notions I had were totally incorrect. There’s hardly a right or wrong way to live but instead, I’ve learned so many beautiful things from a variety of cultures that I try and implement in my daily life. And honestly, I’ve always gotten bored really quickly and this lifestyle keeps me excited and interested daily.
What have you learned about yourself during this journey?
I’m a social person and spent almost all of my life being influenced by friends or family. I’m quick to please so I’ve always been one that will do what they want, to a degree. The learning curve for me has been on my solo travels. What do I want to do, without anyone else inserting their opinion? I’ve been surprised by a lot of things I find myself itching to do and just as surprised by the things I bypass. I’d recommend everyone to at least take one solo trip to somewhere new. In my opinion, it’s the best way to get to know the real you!
How has traveling impacted your family life?
Believe it or not, I think my relationship with my dad is stronger now than it ever was when I lived at home. We recently have been talking on the phone more. He’ll call me on the way to work instead of just being on the background with my phone calls with my mom. He likes discussing my life abroad and is such a good listening ear when I’m thinking about doing something new. Everyone thought I’d come home after Peace Corps so at first, it was hard for them to accept that I wanted to stay abroad. Now, they see my happiness and know I’m really living my best life. We also have planned trips to see each other yearly, usually over Christmas which helps SO MUCH!
What cities do you recommend for solo travelers/group travel?
Everyone needs to see the San Blas Islands.
They’re incredible. Imagine 365 tiny little slices of Caribbean paradise. The islands are semi-autonomous from Panama and are “owned” by the Kuna indigenous group. Very few companies have rights to bring people to the islands and are all in some way owned, run or managed by the Kuna themselves. There are no chains, no hotels or any infrastructure other than bamboo hunts and a few concrete schools and hospitals. It’s honestly unlike anywhere else in the world.
Was there a time you felt unsafe during your travels?
As any female traveler would agree, there is always a time where we feel unsafe. In Latin America, it’s quite common to be catcalled and blown kisses at. In Kuala Lumpur, I received similar treatment with one man following me and another grabbing my leg as I walked by. By no means am I trying to paint a bad picture in your heads of those wonderful places but unfortunately treatment like this is very real and can’t be avoided by simply dressing conservatively and keeping your eyes down.
What are some things you wish you would have known before traveling?
Again, the list is huge and continues to grow each day I’m abroad. I think the hardest thing I dealt with in the beginning though was the loss of friendships back home. (Pre-Instagram days were different!) Not that people were resentful or cut me off but strictly because it’s time-consuming to personally keep up with everyone. I really learned where my deepest bonds were and learned to nourish those instead of spreading myself thin. Luckily, social media does make it easier to not “lose track” of people completely.
Catch Kat and her journey on personal Instagram: @katinando for all the tips about life in Saigon and SE Asia and make sure to check out her website and Instagram for anything travel and expat related. She has tons of boss babes working and traveling the world too!