After traveling the world for a year, it’s unavoidable that questions will arise.
Whether it’s from the people you’ve known your whole life (hi, mom!) to the ones who found you on Instagram or some other form of social media and messaged you in a totally not creepy way, the inevitable happens.
“OMG, how was it?!”
Well if that’s not the most vague question I’ve ever gotten about three hundred and sixty five days of my life spent living and traveling to approximately seventeen countries…
Look. I get it. I’ve been gone a while. My life looks awesome on Instagram. What can you ask that would possibly capture what I’ve felt the last twelve months? What generic, yet I’m sure very genuine, questions can I answer for you? And how can I answer them without making you uncomfortable? Because here’s the thing: people hate being uncomfortable. And even more so, they hate creating an uncomfortable situation for others. Especially when you’re trying to ask your friend how their year of travels went. But here’s the other thing:
Remote year is a constant series of uncomfortable events.
Constant change. Constant movement. Constant growth.
I have never been so uncomfortable in my entire life. And while I sincerely appreciate you trying to understand that, I’d rather address the answers to this one particular question in a very honest post right now. That way, when we’re catching up over brunch, I have time to eat my eggs benny while it’s still warm and drink up on a champagne-heavy, bottomless mimosa.
So, without further ado…here's that question:
What was your favorite place?
Oh, geez. I touched on this on my first post, but let me elaborate. Every single place was amazing and unique and horrible and awful in its own way. Everyone has their opinions on which month was the best, which country they’d live in permanently, which food they could eat for the rest of their lives (TACOS. ALWAYS.), so this will be both a general but also very specific to me answer. I think anyone in our group will tell you that it depends on so many factors:
Who was your roommate? Who did you grow closer to that month? Was your apartment crappy or did it have a Bluetooth chandelier that lit up and played music at your request? (Guys, this actually was in someone’s apartment in Morocco.) Were the people nice? Did you meet any locals? Did you like the food? Did you vomit half of the month because of the food? Could you find ranch dressing? (Most of the time, no.) Did you get a phone stolen? Did you get a laptop stolen? Did you date anyone? How was the weather? Did something back home happen that you missed out on and were you suddenly overcome with a wave of sadness and guilt and a longing for a reality that had some sort of stability?
All of these things and more come to mind. Since this is a personal blog, I’ll elaborate even more on each month.
Lisbon was a doozy. It was the first time I didn’t have to be anywhere at any particular time to do the work that I always got done on my own time anyway. I quit my job and went freelance to do Remote Year, and it was the most liberating, scary, crazy, uncomfortable thing I ever did. It was also the smartest for the sake of my creativity.
I have never not had to be at an office at 9 AM. I have never not done my job well. And I had never felt more trapped. I worked a lot. Or at least, I thought I did. But once I reflected on it, I realized that most of the time that I considered “working hours” were really the times I was simply sitting in a place that I was required to be.
Ideation and creativity comes when it wants to. It hits you when you’re having a meal and see someone drop a fork. You think, “Oh shit! That’s the ending to the TV script we’ve been working on for two months.” It hits you when your friend says something stupid after playing a drinking game. You think, “Holy crap. That’s the headline I’ve been trying to come up with for two weeks.” It hits you when you’re lying in bed at 12 AM thinking about that time when you were playing outside and your mom let your turtle out and you realized he went missing and your turtle literally ran away and you think, “OH MY GOD, that reminds me, a turtle would be perfect for the radio ad we’ve only had two days to work on!”
If you weren’t aware, I was an advertising copywriter. Still am, I just don’t get up every morning to go to an office at 9 AM only to dabble on Facebook until my 11 AM “regroup” about batter-dipped fish. I’ve always been motivated. I’ve always felt the need to excel in what I do. I’d bring tons of options for a billboard headline about flying in an airplane with lie-flat seats. I’d wake up at midnight when that idea hit me in bed and write the TV script that I knew would end up being chosen, only after sitting in a brainstorm room for a grueling amount of time during the day and hitting my head against the wall because I couldn’t think of anything. Freeing myself from the day to day routine and working where I wanted, when I wanted, was something I finally was able to embrace. I’d take a walking tour during the day then work until 10 PM. I’d wake up at 6 AM to finish a project before heading off to see a castle in Sintra. Casual.
Lisbon changed my outlook on the so-called “work life balance”. It was the beginning of all of the questions about my career that I’m currently asking myself.
Morocco was spent in the bathroom. Just kidding. Except not really. Going from a very developed city in Europe to a place where I couldn’t wear a tank top without getting cat-called was a very big change. We couldn’t drink the water. We (the girls) were never comfortable being out without a guy when it was dark outside. Women were rarely seen in the streets of Rabat. I’d go down the street to order a smoothie and the guy was genuinely surprised to see me come back, alone, again. The food was solely Moroccan (and that Syrian place we found, whose hummus saved my life). Tajine. Tajine. What did I eat? Tajine. And so many round breads. Did I get sick? Yes. Everyone got sick. Everyone sweat on trains with no A/C going to and from Marrakech every weekend because there’s nothing in Rabat. But I lived here. For five weeks. With this group of people who did it beside me. It was a hard month. But it was also the month we all grew the most. And, I can say I lived in Africa and then promptly sing Toto, and it’s awesome.
Sofia was surprising to everyone. If you’d have seen the smiles on people’s faces as we approached the airport, you’d think that our entire group had become millionaires and were just celebrating, planning to retire young and buy an island back in Portugal. But really, we were just leaving Morocco for Eastern Europe. Sofia was gorgeous. It was fall. We stopped sweating. There was an H&M down the street, and the girls could actually wander around by themselves without getting stared down by twenty Moroccan men sitting outside of a coffee shop! We drank cheap beer instead of paying twenty USD for a bottle of wine that we had to procure from the basement of a shady convenient store. And we drank it in the park. Because it was legal! I met people this month that I didn’t even know existed before. I got ramen with them. We ate soup and meat and not tajine. Sofia was wonderful.
Split was a weird month for me. I lived kind of in the middle of nowhere – not near the co-working space where everyone else lived, but not near the city centre either. I learned more and more about people here. I lived mostly alone the entire month in a three-bedroom apartment because my roommate was dating someone and was hardly ever home. I worked from my kitchen a lot. I watched the sunset at 4:30 PM, and most of the time, thought, welp, so much for going out tonight! Split was beautiful, though. We went to deserted islands. We celebrated 100 days of our Remote Year life. We rode bikes along the coast of the ocean, looking at it longingly, wishing it were warm enough to take a dip without freezing our asses off. We collaborated on work projects. I had a birthday. We sang the Game of Thrones theme song constantly. (Don’t ask me any more about Game of Thrones. I don’t watch Game of Thrones please don’t hate me.) I drove a car for the first time in three months. I went to Italy for Thanksgiving. (Holy crap, I totally forgot that. Cue me feeling bad for forgetting that I spent Thanksgiving in Tuscany…) We had a moment at that Thanksgiving that I’ll never forget. You know when you have Thanksgiving with your family and someone’s like, “Everyone say something that you’re thankful for!” And you’re all like, “Ugh, someone PLEASE don’t mention the upcoming election.” We had that cheesy, emotional, moment where we actually shared things we were thankful for. People cried. It was that cheesy and heartfelt. *tear*
Prague was also weird for me. I wrote a pretty detailed post about my feelings when I was there, but the holidays on the road are hard. You’re reminded of family and friends and getting together with people you never get to see, and stuffing your face in your hometown, but also not too much, because you might run into your ex. It was a low month, but I learned a lot about myself. We worked out of a old embassy. We drank hot wine until it ran out. We Christmas-marketed everywhere. I went to four countries in five days. I stayed in a weird AirBnB where I'm pretty sure some dude watched me sleep. I got to bond with people on those side trips that I hardly knew. Work wasn’t great. I was poor. But with the bad came the good – the people, the strengthening friendships, and also, my kitchen. My kitchen that month was sooooolid. I went to Amsterdam, which is still one of my favorite trips to date. It made up for a lot of the month that I sapped on about.
Valencia was a place I could call home. I LOVED Spain. I got back on my feet in Spain. I lived in the same building as half of the group and was finally able to just walk up to someone’s room when I needed to borrow an egg. (I may owe some of my friends some eggs, now that I think about it.) I worked out at the gym next door because the hot wine was really getting to my love handles. THERE WAS SUN. We frolicked around the city like little kids, unrestrained by a weird leash that looks like a stuffed animal backpack but come on we all know that’s a kid leash and that you apparently can’t control your child without a kid leash, ma'am. We drank a lot of wine. We ate a lot of tapas. I went to Madrid and wine country and planned a week long trip in about two hours. My friend Torry visited which was the first taste of my life before Remote Year that appeared. We danced in nightclubs. We ate hot chocolate and churros (yes, ate, it was thick!). I miss Spain.
Mexico City felt kind of like home. I ate fourteen tacos in an hour. I threw up fourteen tacos an hour later. I got very very sick and I still, to this day, blame it on the fact that I ate healthy food the day before and not tacos. (Please know that all the street tacos are 100% delicious and didn’t make me sick. It was the whole, 14 in an hour thing.) We rode on boats in rivers, drinking tequila and hiring mariachis to sing for us. We were rich. Everything was cheap. Going from the Euro to the Mexican peso meant more money for tacos, salsas, micheladas, and elote. I ran once and once only because the pollution was so bad that it was hard to breathe. We blew our noses and our boogers would be black. We didn’t sleep thanks to the ridiculous trucks that would drive by blasting the voice of a kid trying to pick up your old mattress. I met my parents in Cancun and went to Tulum. It was the first time I’d seen them the entire year. I jumped on pyramids. I swung on swings at a bar while eating chips and salsa and drinking a Dos Equis at 2 PM on a Thursday, because I could. I loved our workspace. Our city manager was actually helpful. I had a sleepover. We ate paletas from the man on the corner who sold them for 15 pesos. We discovered feelings for strangers that didn’t last, thanks to our beloved Tinder Ball. Damn, I could really go for some al pastor right about now.
Bogota was amazing for me. A lot of people thought otherwise, but my main reason? My apartment. Was. Amazing. I’m talking remote-controlled fireplace amazing. It was my gym. I did workout videos all the time in my living room. My roomie and I cooked a ton. We made so many meals together. I found her on the bathroom floor the second night, sick, but laughing, because she got some weird food poisoning the night before. I used the workspace frequently. We rode on buses while standing and dancing and singing karaoke under flashing lights. We thought to ourselves, “how is this legal?” We were officially gringos. We celebrated that fact on Tuesdays at the same place we always ended up at. We drank at a bar called Divine Baby Jesus; Aguardiente was our communion. We collectively lost about fifty shoes to the mud of a music festival. We skipped a night of partying to go to a tiny bar that an old man ran; no one was there but us and we played cards with him until 3 AM. We ate at Chili’s. I am not ashamed.
Medellin was a month that flew by. We did a lot of strange things that month. We shot each other with paint ball guns on one of Pablo Escobar’s old properties and felt kinda weird about it. I lived on the fourteenth floor and watched the sun rise from the balcony far too often. My mom visited and everyone met her and liked her more than me. I became a tejo master. We all became tejo masters. I retired from tejo. We were graffiti artists.
Lima was a city that hardly any of us lived in. We traveled EVERYWHERE. We tackled Machu Pichu. We climbed a mountain of rainbows. I adopted a llama. My friends came and visited and it was so nice to have those friends that just know things about you already so that you don’t have to explain why you’re upset that that dude from high school is marrying that girl via the post on Facebook you just saw. We watched the sunset more than the sunrise. We failed at slack lining. Our mercury levels skyrocketed thanks to all the raw fish we were consuming. I spent $230 on one single meal. I ate a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (and eggs).
Cordoba was the most chill month ever. We all calmed the F down. We needed a break. Reality was setting in that this thing was getting close to the end. We caught up on work. I actually went to the workspace almost every day. I didn’t see much of this city. My roomies and I cooked a lot. We bought wine in boxes of six at a time, opting for a quiet night of Netflix and Malbec over going out. I went to the Farmer’s Market once a week, like some sort of eco and health conscious adult. We drank mate (mah-tay). I sprained my ankle to the point where I couldn’t walk for three days. (It still hurts.) I didn’t write. (Notice a gap in blog posts?) I wasn’t ready to. (Don’t worry, I’ll go back and recap, self.) I missed people who weren’t there. The group wasn’t completely whole. I began questioning, but trying not to think about it too hard. I think I was avoiding it with the whole, “not writing” thing. I was determined to live more in the moment instead of dwelling on the fact that my year of travel with this group would be over next month.
Buenos Aires is a glass case of emotion. I’m constantly trying to get time with people that I feel like I haven’t yet. I’m trying to balance going out with staying in and regrouping myself. I’m mentally preparing to re-enter a non-Remote Year world. These posts are part of that, obviously. We’ve got five days left together. Less than that for a few people, who are leaving early. There are plans for every meal. No one wants to work. I think everyone’s a bit on edge. Someone says something about “that time we did XYZ” and tears begin to stream down someone else’s face.
“Why haven’t we ever gotten dinner together?”
“Wanna grab coffee in between the yearbook meeting and your call?”
“How can we squeeze every last drop of time we’ve got together until it’s a dead, dehydrated sponge?”
As the month comes to a close, this hour-long very sporadic recap was needed for me mentally. These are, as you should know by now, the first things that came to my mind when reminiscing on cities for ~4 minutes at a time.
My hour is up, and crap, my mind is now even more of a mess than I started. This project is bringing out a lot of things.
Memories. Thoughts. Actual feelings.
This quote helps me feel a little better about it. Until tomorrow…
We live in deeds, not years; in thoughts, not breaths; in feelings, not in figures on a dial. We should count time by heart throbs. He most lives who thinks most, feels the noblest, acts the best. - Aristotle
Freelance writer, designer, and do-it-aller. Traveling the world with Remote Year 6, living in a different country every month. Currently living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and probably drinking craft beer.