Travel agent, writer, musician, map lover, and cat momma, Kat Vallera has traveled the world multiple times, visiting over 50 countries and counting. Driven to write about her experiences since she first backpacked through Southeast Asia, Kat has graduated from her blog NomadiKat to writing for Gawker, Jezebel, and Travel Pulse. She spared some time for Tours4fun to sit down and chat with us about her tips and tricks for navigating the world before her next big trip to Australia.
How did you get started in the travel industry?
Kat: I went to Music School. Pretty much was going through the motions and doing what I thought I was supposed to do: go to college, but my passion wasn’t there. I really wanted to travel, I wanted to see the world. After I graduated I took a job teaching music in Bangkok, but I ended up leaving the job because there was some abuse problems with the kids. I didn’t want to be apart of that environment and I ended up leaving and backpacking.
When I came back everyone said, “We want to hear your story.” So I started writing, and I didn’t know I was a good writer until people asked me to do it. I just started jotting stuff down and people said, “This is really good!” but I was just describing the experience. Then I started writing, doing videos.
And I kept going, I kept blogging, kept working at it, and that’s around the time I started getting picked up by Gawker and Jezebel. When I came back after my 2nd around the world trip, I came back to the U.S. and out of nowhere the owner of Foremost Travel sent me an email, “Hey, you want to come work for us?”
Yes, okay! You’re gonna pay me to travel?
And that’s how I became a travel agent.
What’s your advice for people who wants to travel and work?
Kat: Get ready to eat ramen, because you don’t get into travel if you want to be rich. It’s definitely a career of passion. There have been many ups and downs. When I was working as an agent it was pretty steady and then out of nowhere I was laid off. You never know what’s going to happen.
When you’re working as an independent contractor, there’s the busy season – January through March – and you have all this money coming in, so much business, and then you’re sitting therein September thinking how to pay bills.
[My advice is] just keep trying…It’s not going to be all good all the time, and that’s just life in general. There’s ups and downs and you can’t give up. If you get bored then you are probably not doing what you should be doing.
Stick with what you love and just be prepared for the lows. That is the nature of travel in the first place: you plan a whole trip and then a flight get’s canceled. You have to be able to roll with the punches.
Of all the places you’ve been to, where do you want to go back to?
Kat: Whenever people ask me what is my favorite country, I always say it’s like picking your favorite child…but where would I go back to? I really love Georgia. I feel like it is one of the world’s best kept secrets as far as travel, because it’s totally off the map.
Like you go to Tbilisi…it’s a really hip city. There’s this whole street art scene going on…it’s like the cross between Rome and Bangkok. There’s all these cool bars where people are hanging out with hookahs on the tables, and you’re not sure if you’re in Europe or the Middle East. It’s really great and the mountains are beautiful…there’s so much more to see.
And no one ever thinks to go there! Hands down number one; that’s probably one of the places [I’ll go back to].
Where would you like to go next?
Kat: Well, I want to go to Iran, that’s my number one. That’s been in my bucket list for a while, because I want to go to Persepolis. That is my dream trip. I was looking at combining Iran and Iraq. Supposedly the north part [of Iraq] is relatively safe and peaceful.
I want to do Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji because that’s the next on the list.
Any tips or advice you’d give to younger you for when you first started traveling?
Kat: Don’t be afraid. I think fear is the number one thing holding everybody back.
Turn off the TV; I haven’t had TV in 10 years. Be open to learning about things from a first hand perspective. It’s good to see things on TV or books but things are totally different in real life.
Just keep going. Like Dory, just keep swimming.
What do you consider home?
Kat: Home is where my cats are.
Any bizarre stories are you willing to share?
Kat: I am a “Don’t open Pandora’s Box” bizzaro stories [person]. When you’re around people who don’t travel, and you’re trying to have a conversation and say “One time when I was in Vietnam and blah blah blah happened” they just don’t get it.
I remember one of the blogs I wrote about a weird Filipino gambling scam that I ran into in Saigon. I did a lot of backpacking and hitchhiking, and 99.9% of the time, people were always really great. Anytime people invited me to their home for lunch or dinner it was always a good experience.
But this one time – I read later it was this whole scam they were running targeting foreigners – they took me back to their house to have lunch and they wanted me to start gambling with them and I don’t gamble, but they were trying to teach me this game. And it was so set up. At the end, I just blew up at them…I turned really Southside Chicago on them and got my butt out of there. I think I really scared them.
I went on Google and read that a lot of people got robbed by them, got drugged by them, a lot really messed up stuff by the very same people.
I think when you travel, when you do tours that’s cool, but if you’re going to be independent, you’re going to have to have a really good head on your shoulders and be able to get yourself out of jams. Which I guess is part of the adventure.
There are a lot of tools and sites for travelers. Which do you find most useful?
Kat: As a travel agent, I have found Tripadvisor very useful, because there reviews are a little less trolly. People are always quick to complain and not to quick to leave nice reviews when they have good service. But I’ve found Tripadvisor to be helpful.
Rome2Rio. It’s a great website for figuring out how to get from one place to another. It’s like Google Maps but it takes into account public transit and compares the different options.
Google Maps, Google University…the Internet is huge! Everything you need is there; all the tools are there. You can teach yourself to write a dissertation, how to fix a car, you can teach yourself anything from the internet, Google, YouTube.
The Internet is my number one tool.
So you would suggest that travelers should take a smartphone or device with Internet access with them?
Kat: I’ve got to admit, traveling has gotten so much easier since I got my smartphone. You can pull up your map, call a Uber, find a train schedule.
I’m a huge advocate for people who don’t know what they’re doing to call a travel agent…If it’s your first time traveling or you’ve never been to a destination, it never hurts to call a travel agent.
How many languages do you speak? How many did you speak when you started?
Kat: Fluently I speak English; communicating wise I can speak Spanish. I speak a little bit of Italian, I speak a little bit of Thai, I can count to a 1,000. I speak a little bit of Bahasa Indonesia.
There are about 20 or 30 languages I can say thank you. That’s always the first think I learn, because you want to be able to express gratitude to people.
I look at myself when I first went to Thailand, I was just really naive, but I think I handled it.
There are a few main languages that you can get around with: English, French, Spanish, Mandarin, and Arabic. If you speak 1 or 2 of those five languages, you can go just about anywhere except small villages.
Alright, last question: you’re stuck on a desert island…what are the three items you bring?
Kat: Deodorant is number one.
I think number two would have to be lady items, because I’ve been to parts of the world where they don’t have them.
A desert island? Oh, I have to have a Costco, industrial size bottle of insect repellent. I hate mosquitoes.
That’d probably be it. Deodorant, lady items, and bottle of insect repellent. Mostly just to stay comfortable.
I guess I probably should have a machete.
Keep an eye out for new videos on Tours4fun brought to us by Kat Vallera and hear all about Kat’s adventures by following her on Facebook, especially in the upcoming months when she’ll be traveling to Australia, as well as her newest articles with Travel Pulse.
If you want to get the best advice from expert trekkers from all around the world or learn all the tips and tricks to planning your next vacation, please subscribe to our Tours4fun Newsletter below.