With wildlife at Masaai Mara, Kenya.

Katty with wildlife at Masaai Mara, Kenya.

Teaching Traveling: Curious about how to earn money with a remote job teaching online? Looking to become location-independent? Let’s welcome Katty Hargrave-Kerns, who will explain her journey to do just that.

Katty, tell us about your background.

Katty: Hello! Hola! Ciao! Mambo! Sawadee ka! Ni hao! I’m Katty, a 26-year-old from the US. I’ve traveled to over 35 countries on six continents and called seven of those countries home.

First thing’s first. I understand the position of privilege I come from. I grew up in a suburb of New Jersey, outside of New York City, exposed to different cultures, foods, languages, and people. My passport, my race and my home have put me in a position of privilege. I am aware of the opportunities that have been afforded to me.

While living in Medellin, Colombia.

While living in Medellin, Colombia.

However, this is not to say ‘mommy and daddy’ paved the way either. After years of working odd jobs and studying, I found a way to support myself and accomplish my dreams of traveling the world.

For over two years, I have funded my travels by teaching English online with a wonderful company, VIPKID. This year alone, with VIPKID as my only income, I have supported my adventures through Southeast Asia, the USA, the Caribbean, Central and South America. Now I’m excited to share my journey with you, as a traveler and a teacher.

At Taal Vocano Crater in the Philipplines.

At Taal Vocano Crater in the Philipplines.

TT: Amazing that you are able to support your travels from teaching online! How did your travel life begin, and how do you sustain it?

K: Like most people from my hometown, I went to University. Unlike most people from my hometown, I decided to study abroad in Kenya for a semester. Little did I know – those four months would be the catalyst for the next six years of living and working abroad.

I often get messages asking, “How are you living your life?” Well, the answer to that is, happily. But I do understand what they’re really asking, “How do you afford your life?” And again the answer is simple — I work. I work a lot. I plan a lot. I budget… often. Teaching English to students in China with VIPKID is not only a source of income for my travels but it has become a huge part of my life.

Relaxing in Luang Prabang, Laos.

Relaxing in Luang Prabang, Laos.

TT: Can you break down the phases of your development to becoming an online teacher?

K: My wanderlust has gone through many stages, from optimistic student, to a modern day digital nomad. I’ll paint you a quick picture, think: this woman has a “wanderlust” tattoo, complete with coordinates and an inspirational quote as her laptop background.

You could say I’m a millennial cliché, but I’m also living my dream at 26 years old (and have been for a few years). It took a bit of research, hard work and an amazing job opportunity, with VIPKID, to realize my ambitions. Let’s break it down into phases.

Coconut fun at Kekoldi Reserve in Costa Rica.

Coconut fun at Kekoldi Reserve in Costa Rica.

Phase 1: The Idealistic Student.

I was going to change the world. I was going to save all the starving children and have plenty of #InstaPics to prove it. Fortunately, a dose of reality and an understanding of the savior complex humbled me.

In Kenya, I had the opportunity to work with an incredible organization, The Sarakasi Trust Hospital Project, with some truly inspirational humans. They taught me the ins and outs of life in Nairobi as I established friends, family and professional networks throughout the region.

Within my first month away from home, I decided this was it. My life was going to be spent in places where I don’t speak the language, where I’ve never tasted the food, where everyday activities become a challenge.

Posing on Route 66, USA.

Posing on Route 66, USA.

I was so far removed from anything remotely resembling my comfort zone, and I was addicted. I didn’t ever want to be comfortable again. Every day was an adventure. Don’t get me wrong; this is both an incredibly freeing and terrifying thing. I decided to spend the next 12 months living in Kenya as a student, then as a local mzungu (Kiswahili for foreigner).

During my time in Nairobi, I volunteered as a hospital clown, wrote grant proposals, taught acrobatics to street kids, and learned to hula-hoop. One of my biggest achievements was co-founding a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that advocated peace to the youth population in the wake of the 2008 post-election violence, pending the upcoming elections.

This kick-started Phase 2.

Katty in Nairobi, Kenya with coworkers.

Katty in Nairobi, Kenya with coworkers.

Phase 2: The defeated NGO worker.

Fresh after my year abroad, I returned home to complete my undergraduate degree. I was eager to return to and work in Kenya. After I graduated, I worked as a nanny and personal assistant. Pulling 55+ hour weeks allowed me to establish a solid savings account.

I finally had enough to return to Kenya. The cost of living in Kenya can be extremely low if you live like a local. My monthly budget was around $500 USD, bills and rent included. While working with various organizations, I met with shady politicians, greedy organizations, and witnessed corruption at a level I was no longer uncomfortable with.

Wallaman Falls, Australia.

Wallaman Falls, Australia.

I decided to resign my post with the organization I co-founded. I decided I wanted to work in a less corrupt field… so I chose education (get your laughs out now, while you can).

The next logical step was to earn a TEFL Certificate to teach abroad. I still had most of my savings, the world at my fingertips, and a burning desire to travel. After some initial research online I choose to head to Thailand over Guatemala.

Thailand appealed to me because it looked different, so unfamiliar. I was chasing that feeling I first had when I moved to Kenya. Fortunately, I had a few months before the big move to Southeast Asia. I figured to make the most of it. I packed a tiny backpack and my hula-hoop and set off of on my first solo-backing trip through East Africa.

Cue Phase 3.

Bungee Jumping at Victoria Falls, Zambia!

Bungee Jumping at Victoria Falls, Zambia!

Phase 3: The hippie backpacker.

Feeling a bit defeated from my short time working in NGOs, I decided to enjoy myself the next few months. I took my first overnight bus to Kampala, Uganda to visit friends. We visited a Baha’i Temple overlooking the city, we ate fish freshly caught from Lake Victoria and haggled for small souvenirs in the local markets. My Swahili (Kiswahili) was pretty decent at this point, which made traveling around East Africa exponentially easier.

I traveled to visit a friend in Northern Tanzania, where I ended up stranded in Arusha and couch-surfed for the first time, a budget backpacker’s best friend. I slept on a mattress under the stars and cooked dinner with strangers. I spent a few hours on the back of a motorcycle climbing up a mountain to visit another friend who worked in a small rural community.

I shared Thanksgiving with friendly strangers, hailing from different corners of the world, in the capital of Rwanda. I took the scariest “bus” ride of my life to Burundi, sat on a wooden stool in the aisle for the entire seven hours. The ride ended up being completely worth it.

I made friends with an expat miner and few locals who took us out in the capital Bujumbura — a city that seemed trapped in the 1970s. I hitchhiked across Rwanda to the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo and met fascinating characters along the way. With my savings account depleting I decided my time in East Africa was coming to an end. I finally made my way to Thailand to complete the 120-hour TEFL course.

Onto Phase 4!

With a beautiful waterfall in Rio Celeste, Costa Rica.

Katty at a beautiful waterfall in Rio Celeste, Costa Rica.

Phase 4: The TEFL Teacher.

I arrived in Thailand excited, thrilled, and eager to complete my TEFL course. I completed the course, and applied to work in a few local schools. After learning how to drive a scooter and navigate the Thai traffic I was hired at a local language school and a local private school.

I taught English to Kindergarten aged students and Social Studies in the English Program. Managing a class of 45 four-year-olds who don’t speak English was a challenge, to say the least, but I loved it.

I have worked with children my whole life, from coaching gymnastics/acrobatics, working with street kids, nannying, tutoring, and now teaching. I fell in love with my students! I was able to work with kids and live abroad. I had hit the jackpot.

Teaching Kindergarten students Phuket, Thailand

Teaching Kindergarten students Phuket, Thailand

Schools pay Native English Speakers (NES) well in Thailand, more than enough to live comfortably. After I completed my contract I was able to travel through Thailand and a handful of other SE Asian countries. I ate incredible Indian food in Kuala Lumpur, slept on an overnight train to Chiang Mai, explored the streets of Singapore and lost myself in streets of Bangkok. I spent weekends lounging on the beach and meeting people from all over the world.

A lot changed in those few years abroad. I began my journey as a teacher and started studying towards a Masters in International Education. I was still itching to see more of the world. I decided I wanted a more flexible job that would help support my travels.

Handstands at the Sydney Opera House in Australia

Handstands at the Sydney Opera House in Australia

With more than a years teaching experience under my belt and the savings I built up while working as a teacher, I decided to move to Melbourne, Australia on the Working Holiday Visa.

I struggled to find a job, except some odd Nanning hours, until a friend recommended that I check out this new company. The company offered teaching positions to teach English online to young students in China. This opportunity couldn’t have come at a better time.

And guess what? PHASE FIVE.

How to teach English online as a perfect remote job for a location-independent travel lifestyle!

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Phase #5: The digital nomad & VIPKID Teacher

Through my network of English teachers in Thailand, I landed an interview and eventually was contracted by VIPKID. It seemed too good to be true. A job where I can set my own working hours and teach children! As long as I had a stable Internet connection, I was teaching children in China 5 days a week from the comfort of my apartment in Australia.

Since I started working for VIPKID in 2015, I’ve taught from a dozen countries and a variety of locations all over the world. I’ve taught from apartments, campervans, campsites, libraries, co-working spaces, AirBnbs, and guesthouses.

I’ve taught over 1700 different students and helped them grow as English speakers. I’ve been fortunate enough to help struggling students read for the first time, shy students sing their hearts out and watch my students laugh while learning a new language.

At Windsor Castle, visiting another VIPKID teacher.

At Windsor Castle, visiting another VIPKID teacher.

I’ve swum in the Kuang Si waterfalls of Laos, watched the sunrise over Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and hiked a volcano in the Philippines. I’ve explored the English countryside with my partner, road-tripped across the USA, and eaten freshly caught seafood in the Caribbean, and toured cities in Central America. I’ve walked on every continent, excluding Antarctica (so far), and swam in a half a dozen different seas.

I decided to move to Medellín, Colombia earlier this year where I shared an apartment with another VIPKID teacher. Medellín has transformed into a hub for digital nomads (similar to Chiang Mai, Thailand and Bali, Indonesia). Through a variety of social media platforms, we easily made friends with fellow VIPKID teachers and other digital nomads.

And this brings us to today, in Buenos Aires. I’ve settled (for now) in the capital of Argentina. I recently accepted a position with VIPKID as a Mock Class Mentor, where I conduct Mock Classes with potential applicants for the company in addition to my teaching hours.

Fun in Phuket, Thailand!

Fun in Phuket, Thailand!

The past few years have been quite a ride. They’ve brought me where I am today: an experienced ESL Teacher currently completing my Master’s Degree in International Education while exploring the world. I’ve become a better traveler and educator thanks the constant challenges that are intrinsic to life on the road. I can’t wait to see what else I have to learn and grow both as an educator and with VIPKID.

If you’re interested in working with VIPKID, you can use my referral link to apply today!

TT: WOW. Thank you so much for sharing this incredible journey with us, Katty! Readers, what questions or comments do you have?

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12 Comments

  1. I’m a high school social studies teacher in the states with a goal to teach abroad. I’m also interested in a Masters in International Education. Which institutions offer such a degree?

    Reply

  2. Hi. I am also an online English teacher who moves around and travels. I have lived in various countries in Asia but am now planning a move to Central America (primarily Costa Rica with shorter stays in Nicaragua, Panama and Guatemala), where I won’t have a base but will be moving around. Any advice on finding stable/speedy wifi? Do you travel with a portable router? I appreciate any tips!

    Reply

  3. Angela Weidemann April 19, 2018 at 12:50 pm

    Loved reading this article, and getting the info on VIPKID!

    Reply

  4. April Tierney April 4, 2018 at 3:49 pm

    I also teach for VIPKID! I am a teacher and I sneak a few classes in before I go to my full-time job. I love that if I have an extra expense I can just open up a few more classes! I also use the money for travel. I was able to take my daughter to Disney last year with my earnings! 🙂

    VIPKID is doing so well that many other companies like it are popping up. I just joined Magic Ears as well because they do group classes. Their platform is pretty cool, too. I like working for both for a little variety. If you would like to check out Magic Ears in addition to VIPKID, let me know and I can give you a referral link!

    Reply

  5. Hi,
    I am curious about a degree in International Education as well. I have a BA in TESL already. Where are you getting your degree from, and what kinds of jobs does it make possible? Thanks!!! 🙂

    Reply

    1. I’m doing an M. Ed. In International Education with the University if Sudney, it’s all online which is fantastic I can work from anywhere. Once I’ve completed hopefully it will open up jobs in educational institutions around the world. Ideally in the future I want to work in educational Non-profits or work abroad in education.

      Reply

  6. Katty, I still live vicariously through you.

    Reply

  7. Great story on your years of work and travel and they included your Handstand picture !! Keep up the great work Katty!!

    Reply

  8. Great article ! Thanks for sharing your great adventure !

    Reply

  9. I love your article, it was inspiring to say the least. Thank you very much.

    Reply

  10. Thanks so much for sharing my story!

    Reply

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