“Digital nomad story” is weekly story series sharing experiences and tips from nomadic entrepreneurs all over the world. Join the journey!
Hi there! I’m Kay,
a Filipina-American expat entrepreneur based in Madrid. I have an ongoing love affair with Spain, my Spanish husband, and Sriracha. And I not-so-secretly wish my life was a musical.
I fell in love with Spain when I studied abroad in Madrid during my university years. I found my way back here in 2010 with the intention of learning Spanish, teaching English, and travelling for a year… until I met my Javi! We got married at the end of September 2016 in California. So it looks like I’ll be here for a while ;).
My official title is brand storyteller and communication strategist. I help businesses to stand out with their story, to meaningfully connect with their customers, and boost their revenue through targeted online communication strategies. I’m a digital nomad in the sense that I go back and forth with my work between Spain and California while spending time with family.
I actually became an entrepreneur on accident! I was already living in Spain when a work contract fell through with no warning. So I had to reinvent myself… fast!
I’ve always loved communication, languages, and helping people connect. So I looked into Master’s degrees in online marketing. But all of the Master’s degrees wanted someone with experience. And all the companies where I could get experience wanted candidates with Master’s degrees! What started as a way to build my portfolio as a freelancer to apply for a Master’s turned into my full-time business.
Now, I help solopreneurs to Fortune 500 companies in English and Spanish. I was also published as a storytelling expert in the Huffington Post and in El País, the largest Spanish language newspaper in the world.
What are the hardest things to keep up with while being a digital nomad?
I think as a digital nomad or even as a long-term expat, you’re going to always feel like you’re between worlds. On the one hand, you’re living an incredible experience of traveling, seeing new places, connecting with new people, learning new languages and opening your world up to new opportunities! On the other hand, you’re also not able to see your closest friends and family as often as you’d like.
I realized how lucky I was to have a business I could run from anywhere when my grandmother had her second stroke back in California in 2015. At a moment’s notice, I was able to book a flight to be with her, without having to worry about vacation days or checking with a boss.
So my idea of a location independent lifestyle has definitely evolved. I may not be a nomad moving from one country to another with my laptop. But I love that my business lets me work from wherever, especially if it’s close to the people I love.
The best thing I can suggest for dealing with the bouts of homesickness or that “in-between” feeling is communication. We have so many amazing tools at our disposal to keep in touch with friends, family and people we’ve connected with from around the world — so use them! And look for like-minded people where you travel to connect with like fellow DN’s. That feeling belonging will keep you grounded, no matter where you go!
Are there any online resources you find really useful and essential for your career?
And one of the initial books that turned me onto the idea of location-independent entrepreneurship was the Suitcase Entrepreneur: Create freedom in business and adventure in life. This year, I had the pleasure of meeting the author, Natalie Sisson, after her amazing TEDx talk — she was one of the first digital marketing gurus I followed!
What were your beliefs about “being a digital nomad” before you became one, that turned out to be a complete nonsense?
It’s funny, I hadn’t actually heard of the term digital nomad when I first started my business. And oddly enough, I didn’t think I “qualified” to be one until a friend and fellow entrepreneur pointed it out to me!
There’s a weird connotation when you heard the word “nomad” — it makes you think that someone is somehow flighty or unreliable because you can never count on us to be in the same place for a full calendar year.
To that, I call B.S. If technology has evolved to make us more connected, why shouldn’t traditional workplaces and jobs evolve to give us more flexibility and freedom? Don’t our employers want us to be happy so that we’re more fulfilled, productive, and more likely to stick around the company?
And for the entrepreneurs and freelancers running their businesses from anywhere, I salute you! It’s because of you blazing a path that people like me see that it’s possible to do what you love and work from anywhere — and it gives us something to work toward!
Being a digital nomad may include a lot of traveling. What are your tips & tricks for better travels?
I use Skyscanner for flight alerts and then usually try and go to the airline website directly to book my actual flight. I normally bring one purse/backpack for my laptop, one carry-on luggage and one check-in bag. To spare myself taking the toiletries out at airports, I just place all of them in my check-in luggage. And I always pack clothing for at least 3 days in my carry-on in case my luggage gets lost!
As for long flights, I always charge up my Kindle and bring 2 sets of earphones to listen to music or watch movies on the plane. I always pack an eye mask, earplugs and a neck pillow for when I want to doze off. I dress in layers for the plane usually a maxi dress or leggings, a long-sleeved T-shirt, a pullover sweater and a scarf since my neck is usually the first thing to get cold. And I bring a travel-sized bottle with my rosewater spray and cleansing wipes to freshen up before I see family or friends when I land. Plus, I always make sure to carry dollars or euros leftover from my last trip in my wallet.
Many people are afraid of never being able to settle down after being nomads. Have you experienced these feelings? And what is your cure for them?
This is a super interesting question for me because I’m taking the exact opposite route. I first moved abroad, fell in love with the man who became my husband, and “settled down” by making Madrid our home base. Now, we are discussing the possibility of being digital nomads in the near future!
The very nature of being a DN means that our paths aren’t linear. There is no “right” way to be a digital nomad. You can move from one place to another every month, every year or move abroad and fall in love with a place and stay there. You can travel alone or with your partner. Or you may find that after a year, it’s not a lifestyle for you.
And guess what? That’s OK!
A mentor of mine once said that as long as you make decisions to the best of your ability in a way that brings you joy, there is no way that you can live your life with regrets.
What’s your favorite way of meeting new people as an expat?
As an introvert, I make plans to go to at least two networking events a month to get out and meet new people. I also make it a point not to overwhelm myself by focusing on having meaningful conversations rather than “working the room”.
What are the main things you are looking for when deciding where to go next?
I consciously decided to build my business in Spain because it’s been my home since 2010, and the standard of living here is amazing if you’re building a business. I don’t have to worry about things like high healthcare costs, paying for gasoline (especially in LA where I’m from), or even for office space with the recent opening of Google Campus Madrid. I can still go out for drinks with friends, or “splurge” on a nice dinner every once in awhile without it making a huge dent on my wallet. Plus knowing the language and understanding the culture from my team here has really helped me create a home away from home here. No matter where our travels take us, I know I want to have this be my home base.
What’s your vision of the future?
In the next 2-3 years, my plan is to keep growing my business, expanding my team and saving money in preparation for living and working remotely for a year with my husband.
Gathering all your current experience – what would you now say to your old self, back when you just started?
I’d tell myself to have faith in the timing of your life. If you had told me 7 years ago that the language I learned in school would help me move to a foreign country, meet the love of my life, start a business, connect with fellow entrepreneurs and business owners from all over the world, and manage a team… I would have said you were nuts! But everything really does happen for a reason, and everything plays out the way it’s supposed to.
“Imperfect action > perfect inaction.” It’s my go-to motto whenever I’m nervous about taking a step outside of my comfort zone… whether that’s learning a new language, travelling to a new place, publishing an article or giving a talk to strangers.