My travels this summer have been quite out of the ordinary for me. Never have I left the continent or Western Hemisphere. I’ve never been on a plane for longer than 4 hours at a time, and I’ve never been farther away from home.
I decided to make this journey for a few reasons. Growing up, my parents were always good about taking a yearly vacation. Most of the time, this meant taking a cruise in the Caribbean, visiting islands such as Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, St. Martin, St. Thomas, and also places like Cozumel, Mexico. Other vacations kept us stateside, visiting Florida and California. We have family in Texas, so I’ve been there several times. I think this secretly inspired a travel lust inside of me, or at least this got me familiar with life on the road and exploring other cultures besides our own. The destinations seemed romantic, if exotic at times.
Still, I was a nerdy, reserved kid, to the point where my mom told me she worried if I’d ever leave my room. This was true for several years. I was glued to my video games and computer, relatively disinterested by what was going on outside the digital realm I had at my fingertips. All I wanted to do was write code, write software. Build something, create a new video game or piece of software people would use in their daily lives and vindicate all those hours I dedicated to the computer to see the future. That’s the only thing that mattered to me for the longest time.
Fast forward to college, I had friends who studied or went abroad. By this time, the internet was maturing; social media allowed us a glimpse into everyone’s adventures. I scrolled through endless amazing photographs of European lifestyles, getting a glimpse into a world I hadn’t really seen before. They came back with stories of misadventures and grandiose experiences, recounting the times they struggled and laughed, cried and celebrated, and conquered the top of a mountain or explored a culture intimately. Something about this resonated in me, and I never quite was able to shake it. I wanted that for myself, to experience a lifestyle outside of this one I had. A culture and pace of life that was different from America’s.
So… why did I do Remote Year?
Remote Year (RY) was pretty much exactly what I was looking to do. Missing the boat on study abroad in college, I wanted to travel for an extended period of time while still doing something meaningful in my daily life, such as study or work. I could travel solo, but I didn’t think it would be as rewarding without people to group together and share this experience with. I found RY by a chance encounter on Facebook. A random ad in my feed lured me into their fold.
After this European trip, I got accustomed to living life on the road, embracing the thrills and challenges of remote life. I made a group of friends, I discovered new cultures, and I learned how to live frugally and think on my feet. I discovered the world and learned so much about life and myself, the richest reward of travel. And I enjoyed it thoroughly. So much so that I extended my journey onto the South American portion of the Kublai program’s itinerary.
Now: time for some Q and A!
So what is Remote Year?
Straight from their website:
Remote Year brings together groups of inspiring professionals to travel, live, and work in different cities around the world.
The core concept of RY is a group of 50-70 “digital nomads” who apply, are interviewed, and are selected from random locations everywhere that come together to travel the world as a tribe for one year while working remotely. It’s a holistic experience traveling with a sizable community to explore the world with, and with RY coordinating logistics, accommodations, workspaces, and local events, this seemed to be a no-brainer, almost too good to be true. Thankfully, the company is now post series A, and I can say with confidence it is not a scam, and I am happily participating in it.
RY is basically a fancy travel agency that offers programs of travel that tour the world over a course of 12 months, one month in each city. They arrange accommodations, workspace, and local experiences for “remotes” that apply and are accepted into the program after an interview and overview of finances. Once accepted, they join a random set of 50-70 other people selected from all over the world from all age ranges to travel together as a “tramily” (tribe + travel + family).
Wait, but if it it’s called “Remote Year” then why were you gone for only 4 months?
I originally applied to be a full-fledged year-long Remote on the Libertatem itinerary. However, I wasn’t sure an entire year of travel would be a good fit for me, considering the longest I had ever traveled away from home was not even a full 2 weeks. I also wasn’t sure I would be able to maintain my job remotely. Some time after the acceptance deadline had passed for that program, Remote Year reached back out to me and offered me a spot on one of their brand new, still-secret, and highly experimental 4-month programs. I would be joining the Kublai itinerary during the European leg of their trip. I thought this was a great way to still do some long term travel while not having to dedicate an entire year. Plus, I wanted to go to Europe, and I think Europe is a good first destination for Westerners looking to experience overseas travel. I think RY realized the challenge involved in getting people for a whole year, so this more limited timeframe helps ease that decision for people (like myself) who are on the fence.
So Remote Year is paying you to travel?
No! Not at all. Quite the contrary, I pay Remote Year a ‘rent’ every month and in return they provide me an apartment to stay in, a co-working space to work from, and local experience “track” events to enjoy. They are basically a really fancy travel agency, coordinating remote life for an entire community of people.
Oh, so you are traveling with your company then?
Nope, I am traveling by myself, and I didn’t know any of my fellow travel mates before joining this program; none of us knew each other. I’m working remotely with the grace and blessing of the start-up company I am employed at back home in Ann Arbor. The management at Trove (the start-up SaaS AI company I work for) was beyond kind enough to let me go on this crazy adventure, so please check us out! We can provide a lot of value for your inbox and your company.
I remain in my current position as an iOS software engineer back at Trove. I just do everything remotely and over the internet. Thankfully in 2017, the digital nomad’s toolkit is extensive. To name a few, I check in and communicate with my team using Slack. Source code I write is committed and reviewed on GitHub. Issues are tracked using Atlassian’s JIRA. For meetings, our company has a Beam robot that I can connect to and drive around! While it’s definitely not the same as having a physical presence at the office, I make it work as best as I can for the company, my team, and myself.
Where do you go? For how long?
The Remote Year itinerary has us staying in one city per month located around the world. Typical RY destinations include places such as Belgrade, Split, Lisbon, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Kyoto, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, and Lima. Here is our official Kublai itinerary. I joined the group in Belgrade, so I was not in Asia.
Groups arrive near the beginning of the month or the end of the previous month and stay for 4 to 5 weeks. Transition days, or travel days, are at the conclusion of that time, where we typically fly or (rarely) take a bus to our next destination. Transition days are on the weekends so as to not interrupt a standard work schedule. Of course, while on these continents far away from home, many remotes also take side trips in groups or solo to nearby destinations. While I was in Europe, for instance, I took several-day solo side trips to Spain, Italy, Germany, and England. In South America, we’re currently planning a group side trip to Machu Picchu, which I am working on joining and hope to go on!
Who are the people you travel with?
Remotes are from all over the place. While a majority of the people are from the United States, as Remote Year is a US-based company, there are also people from Australia, the United Kingdom, Serbia, Puerto Rico, Canada, and others. The age range varies; most of the remotes are in their early 30s. The youngest members of our group are early 20s and the oldest are around 50. I fall somewhat on the younger end of the scale at 26, although I am not the youngest on my program. The people are from a variety of career backgrounds, including marketers, business coaches, entrepreneurs, software developers, and photographers. While we come from all walks of life, we’re bonded over a common thread: wanderlust and a desire to do something big, something adventurous and more fulfilling than a routine day-to-day life.
How is the four-month group, as opposed to the whole year?
I was really happy with my limited time. It didn’t feel nearly as daunting as a year, but at the same time, it was a long enough time frame that I was able to immerse myself into the local culture. As opposed to simply a vacation where touring and sight-seeing dominate the itinerary, you actually live in these places, discovering grocery stores, restaurants, bars, cafés, libraries, parks, and all the things you’d do at home.
The dynamic going into the program with an already-established group of remotes was definitely something I worried about early on. It also changes the dynamic for the year-long group. Thankfully, it ended up working out well. Pretty much all of the remotes were open and welcoming to the new faces that joined the group with fresh perspectives and goals. We will see how the last four months go, as there is a new group of four-monthers for the South American leg of the trip. I personally would avoid joining in the final months of the program. While it seems okay so far, we will see over these few months how this group dynamic plays out. It’s distinct and different from the previous sets of four-monthers intermingling with the year-longers.
So are you back home now?
Nope! I’m back on the road with the group. I decided to extend my trip on Remote Year to finish out the program with Kublai. After celebrating our Portuguese farewell on the beach in Lisbon, I realized how unique and special this experience is, and I didn’t want it to end any time soon. Towards the end of the third month, Remote Year offered me an extension onto the final four months of the Kublai program in South America, so I took them up on it again with the blessing of Trove back home. Three continents in four months isn’t too shabby.
I’ve had wonderful and lasting memories on this trip, and I want to make more. Traveling to me is special. You learn so much about the world that you did not realize before. Your horizons broaden, literally. The conversations I’ve had with strangers, the events I’ve attended, the mountains I’ve climbed, the food I’ve eaten…it’s all been fulfilling and eye-opening. I’ve had my share of struggles, including a battle with tinnitus, getting lost, sorta almost getting arrested in Barcelona, struggling to find vegan-friendly food, dealing with language barriers, and being in an unfamiliar, foreign environment in second and third-world countries. Even with these struggles, I would not trade this experience for anything.
Next post, I will sum up some facts and figures regarding the places I’ve been in Europe!