Why The Heck is Heather in Serbia?

(And where the hell is Serbia!? I know you’re thinking it…)

Hi, I’m Heather! I’m currently in a year-long work/travel program called Remote Year. I’m wrapping up month 7 in Belgrade, Serbia and figured I’d jot down some thoughts to give my fam and friends a little more insight into my current nomadic lifestyle and more info about Remote Year as a company.

(p.s. — Serbia is in Eastern Europe, kind of between Hungary and Greece.)

In late 2015 I heard about Remote Year through my friend and co-worker, who had recently been accepted into the program starting in March 2016. I was instantly obsessed with the idea and starting stalking all forms of social media to find out more. I applied and followed up several times, but unfortunately didn’t hear anything. After nearly letting the idea go, I received an email in mid-January asking if I was still interested and informing me of some last-minute openings. In a whirlwind of interviewing for RY, accepting my offer, and wrapping up my life, a short 6 weeks later, I found myself in the Miami airport with a one-way ticket to Argentina!

What Exactly is Remote Year?

Remote Year is the perfect solution for people who want to travel the world but don’t want to quit their jobs to do it. It is a year-long program where 75ish people from all over the world travel together and visit 12 different countries/cities, each for one month at a time. Everyone does their jobs remotely. RY sets up housing, plans travel from one country to the next, and arranges a workspace in every location with wifi and 24-hour access.

Our Itinerary:

1 March
Córdoba, Argentina

2 April
Buenos Aires, Argentina

3 May
La Paz, Bolivia

4 June
Cusco, Peru

5 July
London, UK

6 August
Prague, Czech Republic

7 September
Belgrade, Serbia

8 October
Split, Croatia

9 November
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

10 December
Chiang Mai, Thailand

11 January
Phnom Penh, Cambodia

12 February
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

My Travel Tramily (family + tribe = tramily, duh.)

The name of our tramily is Cousteau (isn’t this name just the best!?) and we are the 3rd RY group. We are just one month behind RY2 and following their itinerary almost exactly. Cousteau started with about 70 people, ages ranging from early 20s to mid 40s. We are roughly 50% men/50% women and come from various parts of the globe, but the majority is American. This is definitely a talented bunch. We have designers, marketing peeps, programmers, translators, writers, entrepreneurs, other IT people (that I truly have no idea what they do because it’s beyond me) — just to name a few. Most people kept the jobs they were doing back home, but others found something new to do on the road.

The people I’m with are so inspiring. So many of them have such cool talents and have had some really amazing personal and professional experiences; and everyone is eager and willing to share their expertise. I’ve been to an improv workshop, a public speaking workshop, yoga classes, piano lessons, and even co-starred in a movie (NBD, right?) — all put on by my fellow remotes. This tramily is so talented that it can sometimes make one feel a little insecure. Are there any special talents that I can share with my tramily? I’m still trying to figure that out.

Our post-orientation celebration our first week!

The Community of Remote Year:

Each program has two community managers who travel with the group. Real live adult-sitters! Our community managers, Samantha and Travis, are absolute saints and they both work around the clock to ensure we all have a great Remote Year experience. Not only are they dealing with our apartment issues, wifi issues, office issues, and personal issues; they’re planning lots and lots of activities for us as well! There is always something on the calendar to choose from: fitness, networking, professional development, cultural insight activities, meditating, volunteering opportunities, museums, hikes, city tours, etc., and we can partake in as much or as little as we choose. These two are absolute rock stars and we all feel really fortunate to have them as our fearless leaders! We also have a different city manager each month. This person is a local who helps us navigate our new home and provides any help we would need: translating, local food recommendations, cultural advice, etc.

Remote Year is quickly turning into a global community called Remote Nation and currently has six different groups roaming around the globe. We can always pop into the country or city that another group is in, use their workspace, and hang out with remotes from other programs. RY plans to launch several more groups in 2017 and there are also talks to create (spoiler alert!) a Remote Nation Alumni program where remotes can opt into future RY programs for short amounts of time. The info on that has not been released, but we’re all anxiously awaiting the deets!

RY Community Lunch in Prague

The Sh*t You Don’t See on Instagram:

It may seem like every single day of RY I am going on some grand adventure, drinking fine wine and living the high life. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes this is true! But like all things, RY doesn’t come without its challenges. My IG account does not show me crying on my bathroom floor in Bolivia because I literally thought I was going to die of altitude sickness and the flu. It doesn’t show me working 40–50 hours a week, many times late into the night because my office time zone doesn’t line up with my local time zone. It doesn’t show me choking on second-hand smoke while I write this blog in a café because you can smoke in all Serbian restaurants (shakes fist)!

La Maquinita Workspace in Buenos Aires, Argentina
One of the many nights being the last one working in our Prague office, K-10.

Sometimes my friends or family will say “Post more pictures! We haven’t seen anything this week!” That’s probably because I didn’t do anything worth posting. I need balance. I will be exhausted if I do an adventure every day (not to mention, I may also be broke). Some days I sleep in or go to the gym, then go to work. Two Saturdays ago, I spent the entire day lying in bed and binge-watching Season 2 of Narcos for 7 hours. You just need those days to make a year of traveling sustainable.

Remote Year as a company is still in its infancy. Although they are absolutely killing it, there are going to be some hiccups along the way. Being only the 3rd group, we’re still kind of considered guinea pigs. RY is still trying to figure out which countries, cities, workspaces, and housing options work and which ones don’t. The company is wonderful about asking for our feedback, listening, and making adjustments to make our experiences better. There are some cities, accommodations, and workspaces that were on our itinerary that will not be on future itineraries. For whatever reason, they just didn’t work.

Traveling the world for a year does come with some sacrifices. You miss out on stuff back home –weddings, babies, friends, family, dogs (missing my Macey has been the toughest for me). You also don’t have the luxuries of home; only whatever is in your suitcase. Sometimes you just really want a certain product or food and you just can’t find it. Or you really want to make a certain meal, but don’t have the proper utensils/kitchen to do it.

Remote Year also isn’t free. Personally, the cost is worth it to me. 2k/month gets me housing, a workspace, planned events, and travel from one country to the next, and it’s all served on a silver platter with a side of 70 friends. If you think about giving up bills at home (rent, utilities, car payment, car insurance, gas, etc.), the cost of RY is reasonable and doable. Plus, I still have an income! I went into this year knowing I probably wouldn’t save a dime and that’s ok with me. The reason I have a job is to spend my money on experiences like this!

Me:

To me, the small challenges and sacrifices of Remote Year are completely and undoubtedly worth it. I have done such amazing things over the past 7 months, from hiking to Machu Picchu in Peru to biking Death Road in Bolivia.

This group, and this way of life, has grown to feel “normal” now. Meeting new people and experiencing new cultures, getting out of my comfort zone and into my growth zone — it may sound cheesy, but I can feel myself changing (Hello! I’m writing a blog!? What!?). I’m surrounded by an amazing group of people and taking something away from each and every one of them. In the past 7 months, I’ve done more volunteering than I ever have. A couple of weeks ago, I volunteered at Refugee Aid Serbia (RAS) and passed out food to Middle Eastern refugees. It was an eye-opening experience that I will never forget.

Many people back home were worried about me coming to Serbia, assuming it was dangerous because it was a foreign place — or just a place they had never heard of. It’s not. The people here are some of the friendliest I’ve ever met. I was also a little nervous and didn’t know what to expect. Fear of the unknown, I guess. But these are the experiences that are shaping me into a less nervous, more open, more flexible, and more independent person every day.

I’m still trying to figure things out. Where is my place in the group? Where is my place in this world? Dramatic, I know, but really … Why am I on this planet and what is my purpose?! (I’ll save that for another time).

I feel so inspired to try new things, meet new people, and experience new places. I am constantly thinking about my post-RY life. What will I change in my life? Where will I live? Will I go back to a cubicle? What am I passionate about? Will I keep traveling? What else is out there?

To be continued…

Rainbow Mountain in Cusco, Peru
Sunset at the SaltFlats in Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Side trip to Santorini, Greece for my birthday. Only a 3 hour flight from Belgrade, Serbia.
Volunteering at an orphanage in Peru.