Today’s post comes from Michelle Henry, an American citizen who has spent this year living throughout the world including spending time in Colombia, Argentina, Serbia, Spain, and currently, Thailand.
Introduce Yourself Michelle
I didn’t always have the opportunity to travel the world while working abroad. I led an ordinary life working as an in-house art director at a university in Los Angeles. Before that I grew up and went to college in a small town in Ohio. During and after college I started broadening my horizons with vacations that included traveling internationally.
Exploring new cities, countries, and cultures made me feel more inspired and connected to a larger world of possibilities. I quickly found myself dreaming about all the places I wanted to visit in the future. My humble upbringing fueled my desire to see and explore something I couldn’t experience by being in just one place. Last year, the wanderlust stars aligned when I found out about a program called Remote Year through a few friends.
Remote Year is a 12-month program that brings together 75 professionals with remote jobs: you pay a monthly fee and they organize all your housing, travel between countries, a workspace with reliable internet, and networking and social events.
The program came highly recommended as a sustainable way to travel to a new city each month while maintaining a professional career. It sounded like a perfect opportunity and exactly what I was looking for. I decided to apply. And honestly, I’m not sure it was the right time in my life to apply – I was in a long-term relationship, finding success in my career, and had two semesters of graduate school left. But deep down I knew I wanted an even bigger personal challenge to shake up my normal routine.
After being accepted into the program, I was nervous to present the idea to my director at work. But to my surprise, he was supportive and saw the benefit of working abroad.
I put together a business case and submitted my proposal to HR and other executives and after many, many months, my telecommuting contract was approved. I did this by building a strong case that conveyed the value this international traveling and living experience would offer to not only me, but also my employer.
I began to transition my role offsite using project management tools and video conferencing to join my weekly team meetings. My partner and family were also very supportive of this opportunity and I was able to take a year-long sabbatical from school. On January 1, 2017, I purchased traveler’s insurance, packed a 23kg bag, and left on an adventure to live in 12 cities over a year, spanning South and Central America, Europe, and Asia.
- January – Mexico City, Mexico
- February – Bogota, Colombia
- March – Medellin, Colombia
- April – Lima, Peru
- May – Córdoba, Argentina
- June – Buenos Aires, Argentina
- July – Prague, Czech Republic
- August – Belgrade, Serbia
- September – Valencia, Spain
- October – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
- November – Chiang Mai, Thailand
- December – Kyoto, Japan
I’m now ten months into the journey and have been completely transformed. I feel like I have seen so much in such a short period of time and am forever grateful for each moment that I’ve experienced. I have such a better understanding of who I am simply by living and working amongst such interesting people and diverse cultures.
And there is still so much to learn from so many people in the program along with the locals and travelers I meet in each city. Seeing a common worldwide struggle with politics and social class has given me a deeper level of empathy for my international family. So much so that I immediately develop a deep bond with the people I’m traveling with while we engage with the local culture. Most times, I wish I had more than a month in each city. Because this isn’t a permanent vacation, it is also a great lesson in time management to be able to maintain a consistent lifestyle and complete bucket list items all in between work deadlines.
Be flexible and open-minded
Cultures and people are so interesting in each place I have visited. Learning basic language phrases and important lifestyle traditions based on your interests has been very helpful and is highly recommended. It may be challenging but embracing the different possibilities and opportunities has provided the most interesting experiences. Don’t hesitate to ask questions. Most importantly, above all, be friendly and kind.
Have a routine
I touch down in a new city and immediately track down a local health food market, yoga or Pilates studio along with nature trails and public parks. These are three things that make me feel grounded so having direct access is imperative to my well-being. I also journal in the morning, block out time for myself, and schedule regular calls with friends and family back home. My work hours vary since I am constantly changing time zones, but I do make an effort to work regularly from a co-working space or café instead of working from home.
Slow down and simplify
You don’t have to do and see it all or you will quickly burn out. Good things happen when you take the time to explore. Traveling around the world with only 23kg makes you take a look at what physical items are important and brings joy. I highly recommend reading Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I’ve become an expert in the less is more concept and utilize packing cubes to stay organized.
You are going to be uncomfortable. It will happen. You are going to get lost and frustrated. The wifi is going to drop during an important call. Things aren’t going to be as clean as you’re accustomed to. You are going to miss out on events and experience FOMO, both abroad and back home. Relationships will fall apart. And this means that through it all personal growth and change is inevitable. It is important from time to time to take a step back and think about the bigger picture and not sweat the small stuff. The experiences and transformation that have happened to me this year are because I took a chance and pushed myself to live and work abroad. I would highly recommend it to anyone!