Why I decided not to join Remote Year

The pros and cons of packaged vs DIY digital nomadism

Remote Year is a kind of packaged world tour for digital nomads, taking 75 remote workers on a round-the-world trip, hitting twelve cities for a month each. Early last year, I applied on a whim and was offered a place on the Libertatem itinerary. This particular itinerary would start with three months in Southeast Asia, head to Europe for another three, then spend the second half of the year travelling south from Mexico City to Buenos Aires in Argentina. Sounds great, right?

Even though I didn’t actually have a remote job at the time, I wondered how the costs of spending a year as a digital nomad with Remote Year would compare to the costs of doing it on your own. Also, the designer in me wondered whether the experience they were offering was as good as it could be. Were the twelve cities Remote Year chose the best twelves places in the world I could choose to spend my time? Would it be worth my while to make it happen to their schedule?

The Libertatem itinerary
Sep: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Oct: Koh Phangan, Thailand
Nov: Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Dec: Split, Croatia
Jan: Prague, Czech Republic
Feb: Lisbon, Portugal
Mar: Mexico City, Mexico
Apr: Bogotá, Colombia
May: Medellín, Colombia
Jun: Lima, Peru
July: Córdoba, Argentina
Aug: Buenos Aires, Argentina

I was particularly interested in the costs, the locations they’d chosen, and what the benefits of going in a group would be as opposed to going alone. It also occurred to me to check the weather in each place in the months we’d be there, and I’m glad I did. I did the maths, so you don’t have to.

Costs with Remote Year

All figures are in Australian dollars and accurate as of Feb 2016

  • Fees to Remote Year
    ~$6800 upfront
    Plus 
    ~$2720 / month for the next 11 months

Those fees cover:

  • All your accomodation (always in private rooms, apparently of varying quality)
  • flights between each city
  • 24/7 access to a shared workspace with internet
  • SIM cards
  • Travel insurance

These fees don’t cover:

  • Food
  • Drinks
  • Activities

So adding together a ‘mid-range’ daily travel budget, for each of the cities on the itinerary, the total extra spending money required for the year could be something like:

  • Total extra for food, drinks, and activities
    ~$10,440

∴ Total spending, with Remote Year:

= ~ $47,566 total for the year
or
= ~ $3960 / month

How much would it cost to DIY the same itinerary?

Adding together for each location on the itinerary:

  • a ‘mid-range’ monthly travel budget (food, drinks, activities);
  • a ‘mid range’ accomodation price for a month;
  • the price of flights between each location, estimated at booking a month in advance
  • Plus an estimate of $400 a month to pay for access to a shared workspace with internet (generous, in some of those locations)

∴ Total spending, doing it yourself:

= ~ $31,180 total for the year 
or 
= ~ $2600 / month

So with Remote Year, it‘s likely more expensive by something like +$1360 / month, or $16,000 over the year.

It also bears noting that many of the cities on this particular itinerary (Phnom Penh, Medellín, Koh Phangan) are cheap places to travel, on a world scale. You’re not heading to London and New York. In the past, I spent $5500 in three months in Southeast Asia. So $4000 per month feels like a lot.

What about the weather?

This particular Remote Year itinerary definitely chased low season. That could be a positive or a negative depending on how you see it (cold, but less tourists?), but it’s definitely information to be aware of.

The first three months looked okay — rainy season in Southeast Asia (which I love). Then three months of solid, sometimes sub-zero European winter. (Is it just me, or does it seem like a pity to go to Lisbon in December?) Then six months in South America — 4 cool months of rainy season/autumn followed by…another two months of Argentinian winter at the end of the year. For six months the average temperature wouldn’t be above 19. Probably won’t need that swimsuit…

I started to think, if I were creating my own year-long world trip itinerary, I’d choose different times of year to go to those places… or truthfully, I wouldn’t choose some of those places at all.

Here’s my spreadsheet, for those interested in seeing all the details. (At the time I put this together, November’s location was still to be confirmed.)

How else does one make decisions but with spreadsheets?

So my conclusion is that yes, with Remote Year it’s a lot more expensive than it would be if you went alone.

Obviously that’s to be expected — they’re a business and I’m sure the fees go towards employee salaries, insurance, overheads, recruiting, all the costs of running this as a business. But in return for that extra cost, you would definitely get some things you’d miss out on if you went alone.

What do you get that you wouldn’t get alone?

Insta-community

You’d have a built-in group of friends, like-minded colleagues to bounce things off day to day, and an instant support network of people who are going through the same experiences you are.

Logistical stress removed

You wouldn’t have to deal with the logistics of hunting down decent internet, finding workspaces, booking flights and accommodation, making sure you’re all set up in a new place by Monday morning, all while making sure you’re logging your 40 hours a week. I imagine this would remove a huge burden of stress. Especially if you’re potentially also working strange hours, while jetlagged.

Security

Safety in numbers, right? For someone without much travel experience, a packaged trip like this seems like a low risk way of experimenting with the digital nomad lifestyle. For those reasons I could see a programme like this having value for some people.

What do you get if you go alone?

Money

It’s obvious to me that anyone who knows how to travel could have infinitely more freedom and control (and a fair wad more cash) by planning it themself.

Freedom

Plus, doing it yourself, you’d get to keep your independence and your freedom. Freedom to change your mind about a place and move on. Freedom to love a place and stay longer. Freedom to meet an interesting person and follow them somewhere you’d never heard of a year ago.

Loneliness and insecurity

But also — will you make friends? Will you find places with internet to work from? Will you get stuck on an overnight bus in the middle of the Argentinian plateau on a Sunday night, and have to call in sick from a satellite phone in a police station in Patagonia? There’s no way to know. That’s the beauty of travel.


So it seems the question is: is it worth $1300 a month to you to have all your flights and accommodation booked, annoying logistics removed, your community prepackaged and present, and the element of danger in solo travel removed? And are you okay with the fact that you might end up paying top prices to stay in budget cities, or going to beach towns in the middle of winter?

For me, it was a no. But I’m someone with a lot of travel experience, so maybe I’m just not the target audience. What are your thoughts?