What It's Like to Travel, Live and Work Remotely

Travel, Live, Work Remotely - What it's like, from someone who knows

Tora recently completed a year-long Remote Year program, living and working in 12 different countries while working for her organisation in Australia. She shares her experience as a participant of Remote Year Sonder and the lessons she learnt in her year as a digital nomad.

In August 2017 I found myself sitting on a beach in Split, Croatia, surrounded by 50 people I’d agreed to spend the next year living and working with, moving to a new city each month, and all I could think to myself was I think I’ve made a huge mistake.

It had always been my dream to live overseas, but the timing had never been right to do it the ‘traditional way’ – like joining the hoards of working visa-carrying Australians in the UK, or spending a year abroad on exchange during my Uni years. Maybe it was this sense of missed opportunity that led me to apply for Remote Year, which sounded like a great way to get the desire to live abroad out of my system by experiencing life in twelve different cities across three continents within the space of a year.

After weeks spent doing video interviews at 4:00AM, building business cases and PowerPoints for my employer and negotiating how I could transition my role to work remotely, I was offered a place on Remote Year’s Sonder group. Most of my friends were confused, and I’ll admit the whole thing sounded a bit absurd – Remote Year was offering to squire me around the world, offering accommodation, workspaces, local events and immersion opportunities, organising all my travel, with 50 other potentially-crazy individuals. Which is how I found myself four plane rides later, deranged from jet-lag, completely overwhelmed and disoriented on a beach in Croatia.

Getting my company on board with idea was arguably the biggest challenge to my participation, as I worked in Advertising & Marketing, in a role that demanded a decent amount of facetime with clients and colleagues. My Remote Year liaison was extremely helpful in guiding me through building a business case that addressed all the aspects of my role, how they could be transferred to working remotely, and speaking with my company to help me get sign-off. We agreed on a slightly amended role that would allow me to take part in this amazing opportunity, and spent the next few weeks before I left going over the details of how this would work. But all the planning in the world couldn’t properly prepare me for what I was about to embark on.

Here are some of the key things I learned during my Remote Year experience about combining working and travelling.

You need to motivate even when you’re completely unmotivated

For many of us who had not worked for ourselves or worked remotely before, one of the biggest challenges in the first few months was settling into a regular routine. With so many new people to get to know, a new city to explore and events or get-togethers seemingly every night, it wasn’t always easy to remember we were supposed to be working! Luckily, the RY team provided lots of resources and encouragement to ensure we were getting the job done, while also enjoying ourselves.

It was up to each of us to ensure we were getting the work done that we were being paid to do. For some of us, that meant working crazy hours to align with our home countries or forgoing fun activities when we were required to be online. At the time, it was really difficult, but looking back I got to experience so many incredible things I can’t be upset about the things I wasn’t able to make time for.

It’s up to the one working remotely to fit around the rest of the team

When I was in Marrakesh, a weekly project call fell at 4am my time. As someone who is decidedly not a morning person, this wasn’t easy, and at one point a colleague gently pointed out that no one back home cares that I’m tired or up that early to speak with them. In their eyes, I’m off on a great adventure and complaining that I was tired wasn’t winning me any sympathy. That really hit home, and I realised that I had been afforded an enormous privilege, and it was up to me to make it work for the people back home. That meant keeping my emails on at all times in case something went wrong and I had to be contacted, moving the start of my week to Sundays in some time-zones to align with Monday morning in Sydney, and working later in to the evening to be available during Australian business hours. Small prices to pay for an incredible experience.

Tech will inevitably fail, so you better have a back-up

In my last month away, I had a total computer failure in a country where I couldn’t easily replace my tech. I made my team aware of the issue immediately and cobbled together solutions until I could get back online, using my phone and borrowed computers when other Remotes were offline. When the internet broke in our apartment, I spent more time at the workspace. And after my phone fell off a balcony in Lisbon, I was very grateful for the three-year old iPhone I’d packed as back-up. Many Remotes who worked in very tech-centric jobs travelled with multiple laptops, just in case. Recognize what tech is critical to getting your job done and make sure you have contingency plans, even if it is just a means of letting your work know that you’ll be unexpectedly offline.

Travel insurance is non-negotiable

Seriously. Don’t even think about going without it, especially if you’re travelling in countries where theft is a known risk. A few of us suffered illness or injuries during the trip, and travel insurance made all the difference when it came to navigating the costs of medical treatment overseas.

This lifestyle isn’t for everyone, and there are lots of different ways to do it.

Sadly, we lost some of our program members throughout the year, for various reasons, but some people just found that this lifestyle didn’t work for them. Conversely, some people loved it so much they have continued to travel and work– we met many ‘Citizens’ (participants in previous RY programs) along the way.

Some people live and work this way without the support of a program like Remote Year. Personally, I was glad to have all of the admin taken care of, with RY ensuring we had accommodation arranged in every country, access to a workspace, travel between each destination organised, a selection of monthly activities to help me experience the local culture and connect with my fellow Remotes, and a dedicated local team in each city to help navigate our new locations.

My Remote Year was amazing, challenging, eye-opening and something I still haven’t quite wrapped my head around almost 2 months after returning home, but it was worth every minute.

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