Living the Nomad Life

Digital Nomad is a term that’s gotten a lot of media attention in the past year or so.

It refers to people who, thanks to the Internet, manage to find a way to work while traveling. The title can refer to bloggers, freelancers, or people like Zoë who have found a way to work for their company while traveling the world.

Zoë is currently working for about.me (based in San Francisco), while on Remote Year, a trailblazing, year-long program that brings together 75 digital nomads to travel through 12 cities around the world for one moth each — sound familiar?

Prior to taking the leap and committing herself to 12 months of world travel, she’d been working remotely for almost two years, living with her mom in Palo Alto and spending a summer in Manhattan. All the while keeping her eye on Remote Year.

How did Zoë and I meet?

The same way I met many strangers during 4 Months X 4 Cities: via a Tweet.

We met up over Philz Coffee while I was living in San Francisco last April, where Zoë interviewed me for a great article she wrote for about.me on my atypical journey.

Just about a year after meeting Zoë in San Francisco, I caught up with her over Skype back in March while she was in Córdoba, Argentina during her first month of Remote Year:

Why did you choose to go on Remote Year?

There’s no other time I’ve felt so in tune with me, than when I’m in a country I’ve never been to.

You have all of these barriers and you have all of these rules for yourself in your normal life. When you travel or when you’re out of your normal state or your normal city- they don’t exist anymore. It’s an interesting thing that happens to me when I travel. I’m still myself, I have the same qualities, but I’m a lot more open and that’s what I really like about this program, is that it put me in that place where I know I’m going to be happier.

What do you wish people knew about remote working?

Remote working is not as impossible as people think it is. I think that being a freelancer is totally on the rise. It can be done, you have to do your research and work your ass off, but it’s not impossible.

How would you characterize your cohort?

I think it’s a group of people that really value their career and skill set, but also exploring the world and seeing different cultures and different people and getting exposed to that- it’s that balance that I think we hold really close to our heart. We’re like a family that knows how to party together and work together, which is like the rarest thing in the world.

What are some things you feel that you’ve learned about yourself on Remote Year thus far?

I feel most myself when I’m traveling and in a new place. I’m forced to make new connections and to be open- more open than I usually am. In the past, I’ve had a bad habit of being judgmental and when you’re in a different country, you just can’t be judgmental!

I also think that when I’m happy and when I’m feeling most myself I’m really confident and more enjoyable to be around. So there’s been a resurgence of personal confidence that has come with this program. Here, I connect with people on this different level that’s a lot more raw than it would be in a normal city. In San Francisco, I met a ton of people through friends, but it’s always at a birthday party or at a bar and then you’re like, what do I do from here? But here it’s like oh I like you, let’s go to dinner tomorrow night!

I’ve also learned that I’m the definition of an ambivert, so I’m half introvert, half extrovert. I need to recharge sometimes and say no to people. It doesn’t happen a lot because I do have FOMO and I like to be around people, but if there’s something that’s in my brain that’s like Zoë, you need to not go to happy hour, you need to go home and just watch Netflix, I will accept it and I won’t feel bad about it even though I’m in freakin’ Argentina. I have more confidence in my decisions, whatever they may be.

What’s your biggest fear?

The first thing that popped into my head is that I’m not going to be alive in a year because Brussels just happened. That’s really the only thing- that something really bad is going to happen to me and that the last time I saw my mom was going to be at the airport. It’s crazy to think about, but I think that when you’re in these environments you’re hyper aware of bad things that could happen. Other than that, it’s really nothing. I took a leap of faith by coming on this program and my biggest fear was that I wouldn’t be able to finish it because of financial issues or something like that.

A lot of people are like what are you going to do after? and I’m like, I don’t even know what time I’m going to wake up tomorrow. I’m not worried about my future career because I know it’ll all pan out. I know what I’m good at and what I want to get better at. Someone will hire me.

A lot of people around me are worried about that for me, they’re like ooh she’s traveling, she’s taking a step back in her career, but I’m trying not to let that influence my mindset because it’s just not who I am.

What is the hardest thing for you about being an adult?

Not letting other people’s fears or decisions or lives affect my life. I’m obviously a very social person especially in the sense of social media, so I’m on everything, seeing what other people are doing. When I see some person has a new job on LinkedIn, I’m kind of like, fuck, should I have a new job? It’s hard being confident in what you’re doing and not comparing yourself to others. You’re always going to know your failures, but you’re not always going to know everyone else’s failures.

What advice would you give your 22-year-old, fresh-out-of-college-self?

I wish I didn’t feel ashamed about going home and living with my parents. I studied abroad in Copenhagen and I loved it and decided I need to go back. When I was graduating, I was waiting to hear back from a program in Copenhagen. When they told me they were going to push back their decision, I was like, I’m going to wait through the summer to see if I’m going to get this job. I wanted it so badly and was pretty confident that I would at least be in the running. With that, I decided to sell all my stuff in New Orleans and move back to Palo Alto to live with my mom.

It was kind of like, ah, that’s not what you’re supposed to do. I should be moving to a new city and I should have my own apartment and I should have a group of gal pals. But that wasn’t the case and I was very self conscious of that because I thought that I was going to graduate from college and move to New York or move to Austin, something like that and it wasn’t happening because of a choice that I made- it weighed on me.

I lived at home for eight months before I moved to New York and without those eight months I would not have had the savings to go on Remote Year. So it all played out and no one cared that I was living at home. No one judged me. I was the only person judging myself. And I had a blast! I’m really grateful for that period and I wish I didn’t have such a stigma about that decision.

How do you want this year to affect the rest of your life?

I think I want to keep a very open mindset, in terms of first impressions of people and getting to know people, but also in terms of just saying yes.

I also just hope that it sets the tone for the rest of my life, I want to adventure as much as I can, but I don’t want it to mean that I can’t work or advance my career or meet interesting people and grow my network. I don’t want those things to be mutually exclusive.

So I just want to live the rest of my life as if I was on Remote Year, essentially. For me, I don’t want this to be just a year. There are a couple people on the program who are just taking a break from their life, they are doing this for a year and then they’re going to move back to whatever city they’re from and just resume normal life. Whereas, I never really put my roots down anywhere in the States and I don’t know if I ever will until I’m ready for that. I hope that I continue to build on this dream of working and traveling because it’s been a dream of mine for a while, but I never knew how to make it a reality and now that I have, I don’t want to let that go.


Want to hear more about Zoë’s adventures?