The true benefits of travel don’t tend to show themselves immediately. It seems only fitting then to share my story about my Remote Year experience on the Storyteller Project‘s platform to 300+ audience members almost a year and a half after getting back. It was an incredible and also challenging journey that I’m still uncovering the benefits from. Below is the rough script from my story, without a doubt, I deviated from it during the sharing of the telling, but you get the gist. Hope you enjoy!
When I graduated college in 2011, I knew I wouldn’t fit into the traditional 9 to 5 job. I know thought sounds incredibly millennial, but my dad worked in technology and from home for a large portion of my childhood, so he modeled for me early on to this concept of working remotely. So when it came time to graduate and find a job, I said screw it, and started my own business, Soucie Holdings LLC, amazing name. I know. I freelanced for a few years and loved it. I could travel when I wanted to or work from home and go to the gym in the middle of day if I wanted to. It was the perfect scenario.
But, a few years later, when I was 25, I was in need of some adventure. I had studied abroad my last year of college, and was feeling like it was time to mix things up a bit. So, there I was, sitting at my dad’s house in Maine, doing research for a dream backpacking trip in South East Asia, when I came across an ad for a program called Remote Year. The program claimed to support you while you traveled the world for a year, changing countries each month while working remotely with with a group of about 70 people. They facilitated your housing in each of the cities, a co-working space and then travel between cities. It didn’t sound like a bad gig!
At the time, the “nomad” lifestyle concept was still pretty new. Being a “nomad” meaning you can travel and work anywhere in the world. The first Remote Year group had just started, so there were just a handful picture on their website, and because everything we see online is real, there was a large part of me was convinced it was a scam. But, despite my this, I submitted my application and went through Skype interviews and two weeks later, when I got back from a run and checked my email, I saw in my inbox: “Welcome to Remote Year 3”. I ran inside and told my nana I had been accepted. No one else was home, so I just sort of sat there in a daze. I couldn’t believe I was actually going to have the chance to work and travel for an entire year.
During the months leading up to my departure, I expected to have been over-the-moon thrilled and 100% gung-ho about the opportunity. But for some reason I initially couldn’t put my finger on, I wasn’t excited about leaving. I even waited until the last possible moment to pay my deposit. I had joined a startup that committed to support me financially during my travel year and encouraged me to take advantage of the opportunity. At the same time, things really started to catch momentum within the Phoenix startup community, and things move and change so quickly that I was terrified that if I left, the world would pass me by. With each passing day, I went back and forth on if this was really the right thing for me to do and then one day, I opened a mass email with an announcement from one of the organizations that I was involved in. The city manager announced that my position needed to be filled because I was leaving to do Remote Year starting in February. I was like, well, there goes that. Guess I’m doing it!
The months, weeks and days before leaving for remote year passed by in a cloud of chaos. The morning of my flight, my mom came in my room and shook me out of my alcohol-induced sleep courtesy of my going away party and told me it was time to leave. She sent me off at the airport with a Bloody Mary and a hug. Thank god for my hangover, otherwise I probably would have been a crying mess.
Our first city was Cordoba, Argentina. They bussed us to what would be our homes for the next month and there I was – starting the trip of a lifetime, or so they say. But somehow, during those first few months, I felt disconnected from the experience. Alcohol seems to be the best way to bring big groups of people together and fast forward bonding, so our daily routine seemed to consist of getting up with a mild hangover, going to the office and getting your work done as fast as possible, rushing to whatever group event was happening, staying at said group event way too late and then stumbling home sometime around four or five am – because in South America, bars don’t close down. Rinse and repeat.
Don’t get me wrong. Those first few months were a blast. We moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina for a month, then La Paz Bolivia for a month, then Cusco, Peru for a month before heading to Europe to start our four months there. However, this sort of lifestyle has its breaking point, and usually repercussions. If you’ve seen ‘The Real World’, you can probably guess what type of drama started to ensue when you have a group of 70 people between the ages of 25-40 traveling the world for a year.
By month 9, which was our first month in Asia, I found myself crying in my apartment in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I had just found out that the startup I had been a part of for the last year and a half had finally come to the end of its rope, leaving me on the other side of the world with zero income. I had become ostracized by the group for reasons only petty people could come up with and found myself wallowing in my own unhappiness day in and day out. To top it off, we were in Kuala Lumpur during the rainiest, most insufferable month of their entire year. We would opt for a 20 minute Uber ride over a 10 minute walk because if you walked, you were guaranteed to show up drenched in sweat and possibly rain if you were unlucky enough to catch one of the downpours. This was literally my personal hell because I’m from Arizona and we don’t have to deal with that sort of crap!
Fortunately, my mother was visiting me the next month in Chiang Mai, and the timing could not have been better. Not only was it a lifeline for me having someone there who really knew me to help me see the trees through the forest, but also just seeing how she appreciated every tiny experience highlighted to me how I had completely lost perspective. At the time, she was on a coffee kick, so we went to every cafe we could find to try different types of coffees. Everything was exciting for her. Everyday my mom about new locals she had talked with and how she had made a new friend. I remember one evening in particular. We had gone on a roadtrip to Pai, a city outside of Chiang Mai, and we walked way outside of the city because I had googled “Cheese Board”, which are basically non-existent in Thailand, but a result had popped up and I was determined to find out if it did in fact have said cheese board. After many twists and turns, we made it to our final destination and spent an evening on this beautiful patio, eating the MOST delicious cheese and just watched the sun set over the river. It was so simple, but so special at the same time.
In that moment with mother, I realized how I had let all of these other things; work frustrations, group drama, etc. distract me and make me unable to appreciate all the incredibly wonderful things I was fortunate enough to experience. Most people only dream of international travel, nonetheless be so fortunate to travel around the world of an entire year.
From that time on, I made a conscious decision to be present and focus on the things that really mattered. It took me longer than I would have hoped, but I spent the last three months of Remote Year really living each experience and interaction, and relishing it for how special it was, without worrying about all the other things going on around me. Maybe that’s why month 12 in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam was my favorite month out of the year. I remember we went to Mui Ne, a small town along the coast for our last weekend together. That last night, all fifty of us sat around a huge bonfire on the beach. We were only ones there, and we just has cocktails and laughed and reminisced. It’s crazy how an experience like traveling the world for a year can feel like a lifetime but also like it passes in just the blink of an eye. I was so happy in that moment and so grateful for the amazing experience, with all its ups and downs, that was finally coming to an end.