Every week we highlight women from the She Hit Refresh community who have courageously left a life of routine to start a life of travel. Today we’re featuring five incredible women who hit refresh and moved to Asia- Vietnam, Thailand, Japan, and South Korea.
Nikki Zimbler – Vietnam
My name is Nikki, from London, England and I am currently in Thailand. I will be heading to Bali next month and travelling the world for the rest of the year.
I hit refresh in 2011 when I was 36 – getting on a plane from Heathrow Airport to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) to fulfil my dream of becoming a Tour Leader. I lived there for a total of 5 years and worked in 7 Asian countries.
I had spent my career working in the film, TV and music industries as a personal assistant to directors and producers. I had achieved most of my goals in these industries, but was feeling extremely overworked, stressed and unhappy. The salary was great, the work was varied and sometimes exciting, but the expectations and demands were causing me severe anxiety and discontentment.
At the time, I didn’t have a partner, a pet or a plant, so I decided to head to Saigon to try a new career.
The reaction I received from friends and family was extremely varied – from 100% encouragement and excitement, to anger, resentment and complete lack of understanding and support.
I started selling and donating my “stuff” – every Sunday morning I would do a car boot sale and sell all the unnecessary items I had acquired over the years – so much “stuff”.
I kept my art, CDs and old birthday cards, along with some clothes that I would need if I ever returned to London. It’s sitting in 3 plastic boxes in my mum’s attic. I donated so much to charity shops and sold my car.
I threw a farewell party and headed to the airport – filled with fear, excitement and a genuine sense of panic.
I arrived into Saigon and got a taxi to the shared house I would be staying in with fellow tour leaders. They were extremely welcoming but I was petrified, worried that I’d made a huge mistake. It was hot, humid, and I was truly out of my comfort zone. I struggled to acclimatise and felt anxious for about 3 months. But slowly, I began to relax and find my favourite cafes, massage places, a gym, a beauty salon and all the creature comforts that I needed.
I learned a few sentences of Vietnamese and found myself feeling at home after about 6 months. The cost of living was extremely cheap as I was living in paid accommodation and running tours that included hotel stays. So I managed to actually start saving money for the first time in my life.
The other tour leaders were incredible support and we quickly became friends. I loved the freedom that came with only owning 40kgs of “stuff” and being paid to visit some of the most beautiful places in the world. As I became more confident, I worked in more destinations, adding Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, China and Japan to my role.
After 5 years as a tour leader, I started craving a home of my own, so I decided not to renew my contract and was fortunate enough to be offered a role in Siem Reap, Cambodia. It was part-time, so I could finally get my own apartment and bring in a good wage without working so many hours. I left Saigon in September 2016.
At the moment, I am helping my partner by writing content for his website – www.coliving.com. So we have the freedom to work from any destination that has decent Wi-Fi. I am also looking at becoming a mystery shopper for hotels and restaurants, as I did a lot of hotel inspections and product testing in my previous roles.
As I reflect on my time in Vietnam, I am so thankful. I embraced the laid-back feel of Asia, compared to the high levels of stress and anxiety I had experienced in London. I had my moments of doubt and of feeling homesick. But I knew that being out of my comfort zone was a gift – a challenge – and experience like no other. I am so glad that I took the leap.
Ladies – I would encourage you to come to Vietnam – be it for a short visit or as your next home. It’s a truly wonderful country. As a single woman, I felt safe there. I was never harassed. I had my necklace stolen when I was out running one day, but that was opportunistic and I learned how to be vigilant.
Take the leap and embrace the opportunity to try something totally different. It’s the best decision I ever made. Carpe Diem!!!
Barbara Smith – Thailand
I’m from the San Francisco Bay area and I moved to southern Thailand when I was 53. I’ve been here for 2+ years. My reasons for moving were dramatic. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014 and had a mastectomy. Cancer was my wake-up call to leave my miserable alcoholic marriage. 2015 was filled with chemotherapy treatments and many surgeries, including reconstruction. I left my husband in the middle of chemotherapy, a decision that likely saved my life.
After all that, I promised myself a life of travel and adventure, peacefulness and happiness. I got online, got a job teaching English, got my TESOL, and bought a one-way ticket to Thailand. I went alone to a country I’d never visited before. All my friends understood my decision, even though they wouldn’t have had the courage to do it themselves.
I’d had a big career selling computers and software in Silicon Valley for 30 years, I’d run my own successful business, and I’d done everything professionally I’d wanted to do. I was ready for a change, and teaching seemed like a good fit, and a way to live abroad very easily. I taught for 2 years and recently quit to start an online English company for hospitality. I developed a curriculum that I sell to hotels and resorts to improve their staff’s English.
Moving to Thailand was made easier by the fact that I’d already done one big downsize and sold most of what I owned. I still have my big house and it’s rented and property managed. I was already using online banking, so my finances are easy to manage from here. I have a good accountant who has power of attorney, and a good financial planner.
Thailand has been very healing for me. Life here is beautiful and easy. Things are very inexpensive. I can get massages every week if I want to. They pump your gas here. I drive a motorbike and it costs about $3.00 to fill it up. You don’t actually have to cook here, since there’s so much great street food, and restaurants are cheap. I don’t miss the States at all. It’s a good time to be away.
My current plan is to finish my curriculum and sell it throughout SE Asia. There’s no pressure to return to the States. My children are grown and independent, my parents have both passed, and leaving my husband was a necessity. I’m not looking backwards, and the life I’ve created is amazing and kind of a dream come true, especially considering everything I’ve been through in the past few years.
I highly recommend Thailand for women looking to hit refresh. It’s a lovely culture, inexpensive, safe, has great food, and it’s been the perfect place for me to rebuild my life.
Frantzces Lys – Japan
I’m originally from Haiti but grew up in Massachusetts. Last lived in Maryland. I currently live in Nagoya, Japan. In 2013, I had an emotional breakdown––depressed and anxiously bawling my eyes out on the living room floor of an ex. I did everything (at least I thought) right. I received a college and a graduate degree, all while being a single mother. After being a social worker for 6+ years I burned out. It was a heart wrenching decision for me to walk away because I was knee deep with so many families and children. The separation was traumatic and it took me years to forgive myself. But I felt out of control and out of alignment with my life. After that, I was at a loss, professionally. And I felt like, why couldn’t I figure “it out”? Quitting social work, was life changing because I realized I was 100% responsible for my life.
However, three years into resetting my life, my father passed away (unexpectedly). Nothing like the thought of your own mortality to force you to face what truly matters in life. And here I was, an empty nester at 35. All these roles I once had––changed. It was a moment to redefine myself. You see, I had zero intentions to permanently live abroad. But there I was, on a one-way flight to Thailand. My family thought I was nuts. They didn’t understand it and to be quite frank, they didn’t need to. I embraced the minimalist lifestyle, sold everything and even found someone to take over my car lease. I’ve lived in both Thailand and Japan. Two very different countries with two very distinct cultures. Thailand is laid back and Japan is known for it’s gruesome work life balance (there isn’t one). Yet, I’ve enjoyed living in both countries for different reasons.
Living in Thailand allowed me easy access to travel anywhere in Southeast Asia (for cheap). The food was incredible and the people were friendly. And the cost of living is incredibly affordable. Japan is amazing with rich landscapes, spotless cities (amazing food) and extremely polite and respectful people. However, the cost of living is higher and it’s expensive to travel in and out of Japan.
Now, I currently co-host a podcast called Chronicles Abroad which spotlights inspirational stories of courageous travelers who are living, (traveling), and/or working abroad. We provide resources and tips for others who want to do the same. I also teach, but I’m building my life-coaching business and plan to stop teaching when my contract is over.
You know, I don’t regret a thing. I have no plans of returning to the States (to live). Mark Manson, author of the book, The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A Fuck said, “Traveling is a form of self-development.” I’ve grown exponentially in ways that would’ve never occured if I didn’t embrace uncertainty. I challenge you to step outside of your comfort zone, lean into your edge and follow your heart.
Jennifer Komorowski – South Korea
I’m Jennifer, I moved to South Korea in January 2016 after starting English teaching abroad in 2015. I was 39 when I came to Korea. I had been teaching English abroad in Chile prior to coming here, and I needed to recoup my major financial losses. Asia is still where to go when you teach English, aren’t a certified teacher, and want to save. That was a major point in my coming here. I’d been to China & Thailand a few years before, and knew that China wasn’t for me, but you just can’t save as much in Thailand as in Korea. Also, I really wanted to live in a more developed country, where internet access and clean tap water weren’t an issue.
So I’ve been here for 2 years! My family and friends were (to me) shockingly supportive of my doing all of this.
I so completely enjoy teaching. I teach elementary- high school kids in the private academies they attend here after school, called hagwons. I love the kids and teaching. Class sizes are small, and they already know some English by the time they get a native teacher. Also, respect for elders and teachers is part of the culture, so it’s far easier to manage classrooms here than it would be at home.
I’m definitely outnumbered here by people in their 20s, but age doesn’t really matter to expats here, and there are also lots of women who’ve been here for over 5+ years, so even coming alone as I did means you’ll definitely be able to find and make great friends who share your interests (though none are really Korean, since they just JUST don’t speak it here, and Korean isn’t easy to learn either!).
Perks of living here are saving (I send just over $500 US/month to pay off debt, but you can save $1000/month with budgeting); the teaching; the food; the people– they are overall so friendly and kind, to each other and foreigners; and the strong, helpful, supportive, fantastic expat community here. If you’re from the U.S., the ease, ridiculously affordable and high-quality medical care here will convert you! I actually can’t imagine going back after living with the system here.
I’ve been here for 2.5 years. There have definitely been some major challenges along the way, but I love my job and coworkers, and am staying one more year before I return to the US to get certified to teach there and head to Europe to get my Master’s. No matter how EXTREMELY CHALLENGING living abroad has been, I’d never trade it for anything and have zero regrets.
Melissa Hutcheson – Thailand
I am originally from the US, moved to New Zealand in July 2010, and in April 2015 I moved to Bangkok, Thailand with my husband and two cats.
In 2006 my husband and I started an Internet-based business, Forever Litter Trays, and as long as we have WiFi, we can work from anywhere.
Previous to New Zealand I worked in travel and tourism, primarily in product development for tour operators, for nearly twenty years. In New Zealand, I worked in international student recruitment and economic development.
We moved to Thailand in April 2015 just before I turned 44, and six weeks after I had a double mastectomy after a breast cancer diagnosis. We moved to Thailand with our two cats, four suitcases and eight small boxes of household items, a significant trim down from our move to New Zealand, when we shipped everything we owned, jammed into a 40-foot container. We now live comfortably with much less.
My husband I were ready for another move, and Asia, particularly Thailand, was at the top of our list. We moved to Thailand because I took a job as General Manager for a tourism business operating in five countries in Southeast Asia. I had the opportunity to decide where to base ourselves, and Bangkok made the most sense due to ease of travel to all locations in my portfolio.
After a year at this job it was time for me to take a break and as my husband did not care for life in chaotic Bangkok, we moved to the jungle and lived amongst snakes, scorpions, huge spiders and monitor lizards. We also rescued a wee jungle kitten during monsoon season.
We lived in Thailand for twenty-seven months, and our time there was full of adventures and exploration of the region. Nomad and expat life teaches us the importance of taking the time to learn about the cultures, customs, and traditions of your new home so that you can settle in a bit. I often traveled solo to both touristy and remote locations and felt safe and at ease partially because I learned a few words and customs.
In Bangkok, expats are all around, and you have access to anything you might miss from home. I love big city life and was happy there but moving to the jungle exposed me to Thai living. We lived close to many gorgeous, uncrowded beaches and we were two of three non-Thai people living in a tiny fishing village isolated from commercial areas. It sure is loud at night. As opposed to the traffic and people sounds on the streets of Bangkok, jungle nights are pitch black, and the sounds of jungle creatures serenade you.
Friends and family have been supportive, and we had many visitors in Thailand. There were some questions about moving too soon post-surgery, and I have no regrets. Thailand has excellent and affordable medical facilities.
We currently live in Badalona, Spain, next to Barcelona with our three cats.
Thailand is a beautiful country with varied landscapes and cultures to explore. If you have any Qs, please feel free to get in touch: [email protected].
Member Spotlight highlights stories of inspiring women from our She Hit Refresh group. We hope that by sharing their stories of change and travel we can expose the unconventional paths that thousands of women 30 years and older have chosen. There is no one way to live a life, just your way.