Cait Sarazin: What It’s Like to Be a Digital Nomad During COVID-19
Written by JL Lewitin
Cait Sarazin is the Senior Content Manager for Women Who Code, managing social media and communications for the nonprofit organization. Her remote position enables her to live as a digital nomad, working and traveling around the world. We sat down to speak with her about her lifestyle, her travels, and how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected her experience.
Why did you originally decide to become a digital nomad?
I’ve been a digital nomad for two years now, but my love for travel started when I was young. According to my mother, when I was five years old I would run around my family’s yard with a stick riding horse, traveling around and around the circumference of our property. I was always drawn to visit new places, whether they were imaginary lands as a kid or traveling to foreign countries.
My first solo trip was to Thailand after I graduated college. It was overwhelming being in a foreign country — from navigating the language to eating street food, and I was immediately hooked and wanted more. After that experience, I traveled solo to Iceland, Colombia, and Mexico. However, I realized that I couldn’t work a 9–5 job in an office anymore, so I started exploring how I could get a remote job.
Growing up in rural Massachusetts, I never really felt like I fit in, so I was intrigued by the different stories I would hear while I was traveling from people who had very different life experiences than me. Their stories broadened my perspective and ignited my love for storytelling. I wanted to continue to meet diverse types of people, which kept me seeking out new places to visit. I found that the more I learned about people from all over the world, the more I discovered about myself.
Were you working remotely before you began living a nomadic lifestyle, and what was the transition like?
Originally, I worked at Macy’s as an inventory planner. It was a very corporate job and not a good fit for me. Changing careers was something I did to become nomadic and acquire an outlet to express my creativity.
When I was trying to find my way into remote work, I was writing my own blog about solo dining and hosted a podcast dedicated to food entrepreneurs. I sort of fell into writing and social media backward because I needed to promote my own work, but I found it genuinely interesting. I enjoyed the connection, seeing how people responded to content, and watching how online communities formed. It felt like a puzzle: combining data and creativity to predict what people would engage with.
I hadn’t had a paid job in marketing before I became a digital nomad, but I decided to take a leap. I gave myself three months to find a job and signed up for Remote Year, a travel program that you pay to provide housing, flights, a community of other travelers, and local connections in each city we visited. Just before I was about to leave, I landed two marketing contract roles at a creative ad agency and a tech company, which kickstarted my career.
As I began traveling, everything was brand new — I was learning to work remotely, building a new career, fostering relationships, and traveling every month to a new country. We went from Europe to Asia to Africa to South America and each place entailed a new culture, language, and time zone.
It wasn’t long before I realized that I needed a way to anchor myself. I found grounding by always finding a gym, a café, and a grocery store within the first day of settling in a new place. That way, I would know where I could exercise, where I could work, and how I could feed myself — which covers most of the basics for me.
How did you get the courage to make such a big career transition?
I had a lot of support and I tried everything I could to make it happen. I was seeing a therapist and two different career counselors while attending networking events six-plus times a week. Despite all my efforts, many people, including my therapist and counselors, told me that it would be almost impossible to change to working remotely and change careers at the same time.
What ultimately made me successful in transitioning was my ability to take the skills I had learned as an inventory planner and all of my side projects, and tell a story about how those skills could be applied for the job that I was interested in. It helped me stand out and I noticed how people responded positively early on. This gave me the confidence that if I kept going, I would find someone that would take a chance on me. I did — two companies, in fact.
In the end, even though I had all of this external support, the belief in myself is what allowed me to ignore the doubt that others expressed and make the jump anyway.
That transition must have been an incredible change in your lifestyle. What would you say are some of the pros and cons of being a digital nomad?
The pro that most people are drawn to is being location independent. I’ve been to about 20 countries in the past few years, which has allowed me to design my life while spending less money than when I lived in Brooklyn.
Working at Women Who Code, I don’t have to follow a set schedule. If I wanted to work from Asia, I could. But after spending four months there and taking meetings at 2 AM, I would rather stay in similar time zones to the U.S.
The biggest con is either isolation (if you travel alone) or group dynamics (if you are with a travel program). With the latter, like being in any group setting, you are managing many different personalities, habits, and quirks, but adding in the stress that comes with nomadic life. It can be difficult to balance the social component; the pressure to spend time with the group versus time to recharge on your own.
Traveling alone comes with its own set of challenges: decision fatigue, always being targeted as a woman alone, and navigating the logistics of nomadic life singlehandedly. Since I’ve been traveling alone for over a year, I’ve adjusted to living this way. However, having to navigate COVID abroad was a completely different experience without being fluent in the language, not knowing many locals, and not understanding how the government worked, or how things operated.
This might all sound overwhelming on paper, but it has also provided some of the most valuable lessons of my life. A lot of people assume that a drawback is a lack of stability — never having a permanent home and always having to adapt to completely foreign situations. However, being forced to do that has taught me how, even in the direst circumstances, everything is temporary. I’ve survived every day I’ve lived so far, so it’s likely that I will figure out whatever is thrown at me next.
What is the story of your experience during COVID?
It’s a two-part story. I was in Buenos Aires when the pandemic struck. Initially, I was planning to stay with an acquaintance that lived in a small town in northern Argentina. I was nervous about being alone and thought it would be better to be with someone that was local to the country. Unfortunately, when I arrived there, I realized that it just wasn’t a good fit or a safe place to stay. This was right when COVID first hit, so businesses were starting to shut down, and I didn’t know if I was going to be able to get a flight out.
Normally, this is all part of the digital nomad lifestyle, but the pandemic added extra layers of difficulty. In order to get from where I was staying in Argentina to the airport, I needed to find a place that sold transit cards and load it with cash to get on the bus. Since it was a small town, the bus didn’t have a schedule or a route, so I had to wait until the bus showed up and watch on Google Maps until I got to the right spot in town. Then I had to find a cab driver and communicate to them in Spanish that I needed to go to the airport while all the roads were closing down. The ordeal was overwhelming, but I focused on tackling challenges one at a time, and it worked out in the end.
The second part was when I was back in Buenos Aires. Argentina was going through one of the most extreme lockdowns in the world. During that time, you were only allowed to leave your house to get groceries or go to a pharmacy — otherwise, you risked being thrown in jail. I had to move accommodations in the middle of lockdown and there wasn’t much information about what was allowed or not. Tourists were being especially penalized because they kept breaking quarantine.
While I was able to move without any issues, I ended up isolated for 130 days in my apartment. Fortunately, my new apartment was well-lit, fairly spacious, and my health was fine, but that was a pretty extreme experience. Spending time alone is a given while traveling, but I’ve never been that isolated.
I think the hardest part was that no one understood what I was going through. This forced me to develop tools to deal with the isolation on my own. I already had a pretty strong spiritual practice, but yoga and meditation became much more important during quarantine. I basically survived by meditating and doing yoga for an hour or two each day.
I also learned how to find joy in really small things. I had a little outdoor garden and I enjoyed watching the light create patterns on the leaves every morning. There was even a little bird that came by each day. Through those experiences, I was able to reconnect with myself and discover things I hadn’t examined closely before.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned from your experiences traveling during COVID?
One of the biggest things that COVID has taught me is because digital nomads can move around so much, we don’t always think about the impact our travels make and how that changes communities. Several of the travel programs I work with emphasize volunteerism, but many times those groups only benefit the volunteers and actually hurt the community itself. This realization has made me think more critically about how I can minimize my negative impact and encouraged me to slow down my travels.
After all that you’ve been through recently, are you going to keep traveling as a digital nomad?
I want to be more of an expat than a digital nomad. It’s very difficult to try to build anything, whether it’s my career, self-improvement, or a community while I’m moving constantly.
Even this past year, I’ve been moving a lot slower, staying in places for two or even four months. I want to move somewhere more long-term and I’ll probably stay in Central and South America. It feels the most like home to me, and in a lot of ways, it feels more like home than the United States. This feeling was especially apparent during COVID, where people regarded social distancing and mask-wearing with more kindness and empathy to keep the communities safe.
There are definitely downsides to living in this part of the world — the infrastructure is often broken; efficiency is not a priority, so things run slower and privacy and personal space are not valued in the same way. At the same time, though, people immediately welcomed and accepted me from the moment I arrived. When I spoke broken Spanish, people worked with me to communicate — no one told me to go back to where I came from. They expressed more gratitude and less worry about the future and focused on the present.
What advice do you have for others that are interested in becoming digital nomads?
Be very clear about why you want to be a digital nomad. I would equate it to the idea of being famous or rich. It looks glamorous and exciting from the outside, but it has its pros and cons like any other lifestyle. As I mentioned, it can be isolating, chaotic, and demanding, so it’s not for everyone. Before deciding to fully become a nomad, I advise going abroad for a month or two to see if you like it instead of fully committing right away. That being said, I can’t imagine going back to a normal lifestyle, so if being a digital nomad speaks to you, I encourage you to explore it.
- — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
Cait’s love for travel inspired her to live life as a digital nomad. A lifestyle on-the-move may seem glamorous, but it comes with its challenges — especially during such a tumultuous time in the world. However, despite unique obstacles and long periods of isolation, Cait has learned how to shape her experience for the better by having confidence in her own abilities and embracing the present.