Remote Year Month 4: Croatia

This extraordinary year

Ariel Meranus
Dec 30, 2016 · 6 min read

After a short flight from Sofia to Split, Aaron and I “happy-danced” around our new apartment, thrilled to discover that the sunny, oceanfront space would be our home for the next month.

Split is a quaint beach town and the first place where Remote Year has established its own co-working space — WIP. The old town area is comprised of white stone streets and red-roofed buildings surrounded by rolling, tree-topped hills.

But as quickly as I came, I left. The morning after we arrived in Split, I was headed to Chicago to meet my new nephew Benjamin (sung like “we’re jammin”).

In typical Remote Year fashion, I stayed out late before leaving for the airport at 4:30am to catch my 7 o’clock flight. It was our first night in Croatia, after all, and the first night in a new place is always a big night out.

Landing in Chicago felt both strange and familiar at the same time. More than anywhere else, Chicago is the home of my adult self. But I hadn’t set foot there in six months — a pivotal six months in which I got a new job, sold most of my belongings, moved to New York, and left for Remote Year.

I hopped on the blue line ‘L’ train (fully understanding a city’s public transportation system for the first time in six months) and could almost feel myself sliding back into my old life. Nothing had changed. Except, well, everything had changed. And my sister had a baby.

Meeting Ben and seeing my family made the hangover and jet lag instantly worth it. Spending time with my sister as a mother and my parents as grandparents brought me down from the crazy high that is Remote Year and gave me time to reflect.

It’s easy to get caught up in the hectic world of Remote Year and forget that the life we are living is not normal. It’s not normal to drop everything and jet set around the world. It’s not normal to find 70 others willing to take the same chance. It’s not normal to have five or six currencies in your wallet at once (I have tried to pay with the wrong currency approximately twice per month). In fact, it’s pretty extraordinary.

Sitting in Chicago with my baby nephew sleeping on my lap, it almost felt like Remote Year was a dream that never happened at all.

On my last night in Chicago, I had a chance to go out with all of my old friends. I was ecstatic to see them, but hanging out as if no time had passed made me acutely aware of how quickly Remote Year will fly by.

I was grateful for the peace, calm, and family time I got in Chicago, but eager to get back to Croatia and my chaotic Remote Year life.

Sure enough, my time in Chicago was just the calm in the eye of the storm.

I took full advantage of the next five days in Split — climbing the bell tower and Marjan hill before work, biking, and enjoying bars filled with unusually tall people. It was off season in Split — mostly in the 50s and 60s, but we made the most of it. Plus, when you’re somewhere off-season you get to see how the locals really live.

Then that Saturday, eight of my favorite remotes packed into two cars for a road trip out of Croatia, through Slovenia, and into Italy. I drove with Aaron, Lauren, and Jeff and we made the most of every hour.

We stayed on a boat in Venice, searched for gelato in Verona, hiked in Cinque Terre (and nearly took a wrong 2 hour train, thank you to the kind man on the platform who knocked on the window just before the train left), made a human pyramid at the leaning tower of Pisa, watched the sunset over Florence, and made a Thanksgiving feast at a villa in the Tuscan countryside.

This is really the best of Remote Year — aggressive travel plans, hyper-bonding, incredible sight-seeing, packed air-bnbs, and working from legitimately anywhere.

And it gives me a newfound appreciation for my job. I was at a bar in Florence around 12:30am (6:30pm NYC time) when I got an urgent request for a file. My friend Bryant offered to take out his laptop at the bar — because we’re all in this together — but the file was back at our place. So I put down my drink and left. And I couldn’t even be mad. Because in return for my dedication, my job is affording me this extraordinary year.

After Tuscany, the group continued on to Rome, but Kara and I (who had already been to Rome) planned to fly from Florence to Montenegro to meet up with another group of road tripping remotes and drive back to Split from there.

We were flying on two separate airlines with a quick layover in Rome. As our first flight was more and more delayed, we became concerned about making our second flight, and called the airlines to see if they could help. The customer service experience made me uniquely grateful to be an American. In short, the Italian and Montenegrin customer service representatives simply couldn’t be bothered to help. They said things like “Can you just call me back in 10 minutes”, “Can you call the other airline and if they can’t sort it out, call me back?”, and “I can’t help you”.

We ended up taking the word of the agent at the gate who said “Don’t worry, there are terrible storms in Rome, no flights are getting out of there on time”.

We landed in Rome — sixty and sunny, not a cloud in the sky — to find that we had missed our flight to Montenegro and there were no other flights that day.

In ordinary life, this could ruin a weekend. But our airline put us up in a nice hotel and we bought some extra time with our road tripping friends who just arrived in Rome as well. So we went to the Spanish Steps and Trevi fountain with the Rome virgins (last time I was in Rome, I did throw the coins into the fountain, so maybe I was destined to return) and had more gelato, obviously. We could not complain.

The next day, three of us (our friend Stacy joined at the last minute) flew to Montenegro. It was rainy and grey, but we got a few good looks at the mountainous Montenegrin landscape and the picturesque Kotor Bay before continuing on to Dubrovnik, Croatia — home to King’s Landing in Game of Thrones — where we celebrated another remote’s birthday.

We took a short boat cruise, rode the gondola to the top of the hillside for an amazing view of the city and the ocean, and walked atop the old city walls where we legitimately ran into another remote from our program (this happens more often than you might think.)

After nine days on the road, I was so happy to get back to my own bed in Split — which felt like ‘home sweet home’ despite the fact that I had only slept there for a total of seven nights.

I spent the most of the last week in Split with my head down working on a big project and processing the news that three of the remotes I’m closest to — Aaron, Lauren, and Jeff, were going to have to drop out of the program for work at the end of the next month.

It was a bitter pill to swallow. I’m a strong believer that the people you surround yourself with can make or break your experience. And we just had so much fun together.

I would be so, so sad to see them go, but I reminded myself that I didn’t come on this journey with anyone — I came for myself. And I know this will push me further outside of my comfort zone — (do I even have one of those any more?) by throwing me into new experiences with new people.

Here’s to making the most of this extraordinary year.

Ariel Meranus

Written by

Strategist + Writer + Traveler. Currently in Medellin, Colombia. Instagram: ariel_views_

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