[Remote Year] 6 Month Reflection

My Remote Year Battuta (RY2) group is currently living in Belgrade, Serbia (it’s amazing) for our 7th month, but I am visiting Lisbon, Portugal at the moment.

Ikigai (RY6) just started their Remote Year here in Lisbon a few weeks ago, so their managers asked me to talk to their group a bit about my experience. I made a ReadyMag presentation and talked to a group of Ikigais (?) about:

  • My background
  • My remote job
  • Why I joined RY
  • RY Highlights (so far)
  • RY Takeaways (so far)
  • Q&A
Remote Year at Lollapalooza Argentina (March); our Cusco, Peru workspace (May); and Sinergia Cowork in Montevideo, Uruguay (February).

This is mostly intended for a new or prospective RY participant, though it could be interesting (I hope) for anyone curious about the program & experience.

While it’s personal in terms of being based off my RY experience thus far, it’s not really my reflection on the past 6 months as they’ve fulfilled, surpassed, occasionally disappointed, and often changed my goals and dreams.

For more informative backstory, I wrote an in-depth Medium post about how I became a “digital nomad” 2 years ago, including how I budget, how I work, and how I planned before joining RY.

My Background

Briefly, this was my life before I started working remotely:

  • Studied Art History at Williams College, on Women’s Crew team
  • Taught abroad first 2 years out of college (Morocco, Switzerland, and Bulgaria)
  • Market Research at wind energy development firm in Austin
  • Worked in Production at HUSH, a design agency in Brooklyn, for 2 years
  • Left Brooklyn + my job in June 2014
Senior year nationals; exploring the Sahara in Morocco; and my last project at HUSH: NYTimes NewFront event.

My Remote Job

Although I’m still freelance, I’ve had the same main job for 2+ years.

  • Creative Director friend, Sarah Ancalmo, founded Public Persona, small branding / style / design studio based in DC
  • In April 2014, she asked me to help manage her projects part-time
  • I am Head of Production but jack-of-all-trades (SOWs/contracts, proposals, project management, client strategy, market research, website planning, copywriting, design)
  • We created and launched The Face workshops this summer, aimed at helping entrepreneurs DIY our brand strategy, style, and photoshoot planning processes
Melanie Duncan, Laura Steuart, and Rhonda Vetere — a handful of our Public Persona clients.

Why I Joined Remote Year

In May 2015, I had been traveling and working remotely for about a year. At that point, I was in Hong Kong, having recently finished a month-long yoga teacher training with my mom in India and about to embark on a 6-week solo trip through SE Asia.

Obviously, my life was amazing and exciting and full of adventure.

But it was also getting lonely and exhausting to constantly be traveling and solely responsible for planning everything (think 10–20 hours / week).

Then a friend sent me an email about a company called Remote Year that recently launched. Remote Year would facilitate a group of 75 people working + traveling the world together for a year.

I thought it sounded appealing so got the founder’s email off the website and said hello. We interviewed, I accepted, and I flew to Montevideo on January 30th to start my Remote Year.

I think this is a critical part of my experience on Remote Year: I did not come into this from living in my own space or having a life that was set up the way I liked it, with a routine, straightforward job, friends and family nearby, etc.
For participants coming from a stable lifestyle, even if they want the change, that loss of control and adjustment to a different standard of living (every month) can be a huge challenge.
I joined Remote Year interested in the two strongest points of their offering: RY takes over the planning + RY provides me with a community. I had already sacrificed a lot of daily comforts to travel and was ready to have less control over every detail. As a result, I think I’m happier with the program.

Remote Year Battuta

And here I am! On Remote Year. My group is called Battuta, after Ibn Battuta. This is our itinerary:

My Remote Year 2 Battuta itinerary. June was supposed to be Istanbul, but due to current events, that was changed to London. We’re currently in Belgrade for month 7.

July 2016 was the 6th month for my group (Battuta), so we recently hit our halfway mark.

Remote Year Highlights [so far]

I’ve done a lot of reflecting on the past 6 months and yet still can’t possibly wrap my head around it.

This is not a perfect or exhaustive list or summary by any stretch, and I might answer differently in 5 minutes or tomorrow or next month or in five years. That’s Remote Year, if anything.

Although I’m surely forgetting other wonderful moments of this trip so far, here are a few that stood out to me:

Cabo Polonio, Uruguay

9 of us rented a van and drove out to Cabo Polonio, a hippie commune 7 km away from civilization, where we rented rooms at “Casa de Willy” airbnb and Willy baked us delicious homemade bread and pizza. We had bonfires and laid in hammocks and swam in the oceans, and it was wonderful.

(group photo credit: Carmel Legacy)

Buenos Aires Color Botanico

In BA, I lived in the Color Botanico building with 9 other Remotes. We had a few family dinners while living together and decided to make it a tradition to get together in every city.

It’s been really nice to have a small, regular social group to depend on, even if only for one meal a month. It does feel like a family at this point.

The friends we make on RY thanks to being together on this crazy adventure and then through various side trips and housing assignments, random though they might be, are one of the best aspects of the program.

(photo credit: Matthew Tritico)

Bolivia Adventure Weekend

Ironically, if you ask my group their least favorite and their most favorite month of RY, you’ll likely hear La Paz, Bolivia as the response.

As an RY city, La Paz was extremely challenging (and appropriately, not an RY city anymore). We had consistent internet issues (along with the rest of the country) and an impressive array of illnesses and injuries.

But Bolivia is an incredibly beautiful country that many of us would never have considered visiting. Getting to explore the mountains, rain forest, and salt flats of Bolivia was a wonderful treat and adventure. And the local culture was stronger and more unique in La Paz than in any other city we’ve visited.

Canyoning (photo credit: Laura Hansen); our group biking “Death Road” (photo credit: Madness); me on Death Road; and on our rain forest hike to the canyon.

Remote Nation, Lima

The Remote Nation meetup in Lima with RY1, RY2, and RY3 in May was definitely one of the more professional-focused and best events we’ve had thus far on RY.

I really enjoyed learning from my fellow Remotes and getting to know the broader community, which continues to expand, 75 people at a time.

Members of RY1 discussing businesses they started on Remote Year; TJ from RY2 talking about her new YouTube channel and how to film all the things; me at a cat park in Lima; and (most of) the RY staff as-of May 2016 (photo credit: Heather Lee).

Paris Weekend

I saw world class art, met up with a Williams alum to talk about curation, ate the most delicious butter of my life, had fantastic meals with friends, walked through beautiful parks, heard the organ play at Notre Dame, and got to spend time in one of my favorite cities on earth.

Thanks to Remote Year, I was able to easily pop down to Paris from London with 10 of my friends for a few hundred dollars for a train and airbnb.

Me and the boys (photo credit: Matthew Tritico)

K10 Coworking Space, Prague

I really, really loved our coworking space in Prague.

We had a beautiful garden where I taught yoga classes 3–4 times a week, a delicious espresso machine, a daily chef prepare meals for lunch for $4, many seating options, an array of call rooms, and all in a beautiful building.

Branding Workshop

This summer, we (Sarah and I, aka Public Persona) have created and launched our first workshop series, The Face. The workshops are aimed to help entrepreneurs DIY our process through developing brand strategy, personal + brand style, preparing for a photoshoot, and spreading their new brand into the world.

The former teacher in me has had a field day creating our course materials (workbooks, lesson plans, newsletters). In addition to helping Sarah run the official workshops for customers, I led a version as a skillshare workshop with a handful of the remotes in my program, which was a great professional development opportunity and also fun to do.

Remote Year Takeaways [so far]

It’s hard to summarize any one lesson I’ve taken from Remote Year or give clear cut advice about how the experience might go for someone else.

I’ve tried to give as much helpful advice as I can in response to frequently asked questions.

I wrote a well-intentioned piece while in London (month 5) about the mindset I thought would best serve someone to stay on Remote Year. I intended it to be supportive and encouraging but realistic because RY is a difficult experience and almost certainly not exactly what you think you’re signing up for.

I do think RY (and any big, challenging commitment) requires a really conscious mindset before arriving and on a daily basis, or else it’s overwhelming and can quickly seem purposeless.

What Makes the Experience?

It’s really hard to describe “how it’s going” to others (on and outside) RY — and even to yourself…

There are SO MANY factors go into the day-to-day, monthly, and overall experience…

  • particular housing, roommates, visitors, location
  • travel day
  • work, workload, stress, deadlines
  • internet
  • income
  • relationships here and at home
  • loneliness
  • health/illness
  • local culture
  • RY activities
  • personal / group side trips
  • community mindset
  • etc etc etc

So take each day and experience with a grain of salt and know your perspective may shift hours/days/weeks/months later.

The Individual Experience

Each person’s experience is really different — which is very apparent to me after 7 months of hearing wildly varied reactions of different people to the “same” RY experience.

What your expectations are coming in to RY, why you decided to join, your personal standards of living + need for control over all your details in life, etc are all important factors as to whether you will like and enjoy Remote Year.

Also: nothing that RY (the company) does will make everyone happy — personal preference and mindset and needs impact each person’s experience tremendously. And our suggestions to RY often contradict each other. It can be a complicated system.

The Group Experience

My group (RY2) is the beta group — there are upsides and downsides.

My experience with RY2 versus RY6 versus future: it’s hard to speak to what will be consistent across group experiences.

A few factors:

  • my RY2 was often the first RY group in a city (i.e.: a whole mess of setup adjustments)
  • RY is a growing company
  • different hiring + training for managers, city managers, staff
  • new company policies
  • different cities and itineraries
  • how RY assesses + selects the RY cohort members
  • new activities (lunch roulette, speed dating, skill sharing)
  • Remote Nation, Nation Expertise, RY Alumni

As mentioned above, it’s really hard to come up with a clear summary of how the year is going. It’s hard to extrapolate what the entire group or even any one individual’s experience is on Remote Year.

It’s almost impossible to use my or our experience as a crystal ball of what your experience might be. But I understand that this is the best resource available, and there are helpful insights (I hope) to be gleaned from researching our experience.

So I stand by at least one thing that I said before — I want to clarify that this isn’t the dream vacation it looks like online, I want to reassure you that you’re not alone when it feels hard.

Remote Year is an amazing experience.
It’s fun to travel and live in new cities and countries. It’s great to take side trips and see incredible sights and places. It’s nice to have a community of people around you, always ready to go out for a meal or drink. It’s (superficially) rewarding to have an instagram feed chock full of enviable photos.
But this is not a vacation. It’s real life. It’s challenging and uncomfortable.
Take all the normal elements of daily life — work, eating, sleep, chores, relationships, personal needs — and then magnify any challenges due to constant change and upheaval, taking away all your comforts and known quantities, and do all that for an extended period of time.
We’re not on this adventure alone, either. Our attitude impacts the others around us. What this year entails & how we remember it depends on how we each approach it every day. Our words and actions either drag each other down or lift each other up.

Most of all, I want to acknowledge that this community has become a family, an adventurous, accepting, insane, and loving family. In spite of the range of our backgrounds and personal experience, we come together to form a remarkable group.

I am beyond grateful for the support, guidance, and friendship I’ve found within my RY family. And that doesn’t expire when our 12 months is up.

Katherine is a digital nomad, working remotely while she travels the world — on the road since June 2014. She’s a member of Remote Year 2 Battuta, living around the world with 75 other digital nomads from February 2016 to January 2017.

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