Gone Nomad: My Inevitable Life of Excess Baggage

Starting from a very early age, I was always traveling, and very often I was flying off on my own. Between two parents, one in NYC and one in Austin: I was the Unaccompanied Minor. I feel like you don’t see these kids so much any more, or maybe they’re more discreet. American Airlines never made a big show of us, but Southwest would put a big paper heart around our necks that said in bold letters: UNACCOMPANIED MINOR. I felt like I had a target on my chest.

I often wonder if these early travel experiences somehow gave me the desire to constantly be on the go and the confidence to feel absolutely comfortable doing so. Or perhaps it’s in my genes. On both sides and all lines, I’m descended from immigrants, some of whom I can trace moving countries and continents back to the 12th century. In that mix, I’m also descended from pirates, but that’s another story for another day…

More than anyone I know, I move. And not just between apartments… to different cities, different continents. Regularly. I tend to love where I am, so it’s never about a need to leave. Instead, it’s all about an inspiration to explore.

Usually I go with the intent of settling in for a few years (at least) and building a life in my chosen city. But a funny thing happened to me a couple of years ago. I left a job that was toxic to my soul, bought a one way ticket to London to run a half marathon, made plans to travel to Turkey to visit a boy I’d met over the summer, and I started getting freelance work that I could do from wherever I was.

img_1429I described this surprising journey to my family like this: “I’m sitting on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey writing copy for a major U.S. cable network. I have a view of the sea, I’m eating delicious food, and I’m feeling more inspired than I’ve felt in a long time. Next week I’m off to Rome.”

I remember my step-mother’s response very clearly: “You’ve figured out your life!” And, in many ways, I had.

In that instant, I realized I was happier than I’d been in ages (and that had nothing to do with the boy, believe me). I felt free and creative. My apartment sat empty in Los Angeles for about four months while I traveled; I didn’t care. I was working and blissfully at home in the world.

Towards the end of that journey, I decided I was going to return to LA, sell off all my stuff, move out of my place, and go nomad for real. But when I got back to LA that February, the weather was beautiful, my apartment was so comfortable and lovely that I happily resumed my life there. After a while though, I was getting itchy to go off on another nomadic adventure. I have a personal writing project I’ve been working on forever, and I thought the only way to get it done would be to go away. It was time to plan a trip for myself.

img_7607I’d just been to Dallas to visit my aunt when that planning took an interesting turn. I was sitting in my window seat on an American Airlines flight (as I do) waiting for the aircraft door to be shut. I had my headphones on. I have no idea what I was listening to, but I like to imagine that it was Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’. I was mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, when a headline caught my eye.

A creative director from R/GA (where I used to work) had started a brilliant new travel business, and she came up with the idea while she was on a program called Remote Year. Uh, what? My eyes lit up, the lightbulb went off over my head, the aircraft door shut, and they told us to put our phones in airplane mode… no way was I doing that just yet, I had to find out what this Remote Year thing was immediately.

In short, Remote Year brings together 75 people who can work remotely to spend twelve months living in 12 different cities around the world. A monthly fee covers accommodations, a co-working space, 24 hour wifi, and all travel between cities. I couldn’t believe my luck in finding this opportunity because it seemed like exactly what I needed to do: my nomad life with a built in community and without having to worry about travel logistics myself.

I applied and was accepted for a September start in Southeast Asia. I was beyond thrilled but also extremely nervous. I would learn. I would grow. I would thrive. But would I be the oldest person in the group? I was assured that the age demo goes up to 65, and, I thought, no matter what I’m young at heart! Would I find people to be friends with? Of course, among 75 we’d all find our tribe. Would I miss my friends and family too much? They’ll visit, we’ll Skype, and it’s only a year. Would the accommodations be okay? I like to think I’m not that picky (hmmm….). Would I learn to avoid the emotional vampires I’d heard about in other Remote Year groups? I have a lifetime of experience in this area. Done. Decision made. I am going.

I packed up my apartment and moved 99% of what I own into storage. I squeezed the other 1% into two suitcases (no easy feat, friends!). I gave up my car. I spent as much time as I could with my people. It was hard to say goodbye for now, but never did I second guess my decision to go nomad. I kept thinking I should be more emotional, more nervous. I should be sick to my stomach, spontaneously crying. But I wasn’t. I felt absolutely 100% like I was doing the right thing for me. And if I wasn’t, well, I’d figure it out.

As I write this, I’ve just wrapped my first month with Remote Year in Kuala Lumpur, and now we’re in beautiful Koh Pha Ngan, Thailand. It’s happening. And I’ll tell you… I’m mad at myself for not finishing this story before I left the States.

It’s hard to remember the mix of pure excitement, anticipation, and freedom I felt then. I feel like my eyes were wider before arrival. Now they squint with a different kind of wonder. I love the nomadic life and certain aspects of the journey so far, no question. But is Remote Year itself right for me? Based on the last six weeks, I’m not sure.

To be continued…