Jeff Walsh woke up in Cavtat, Croatia, excited for the day that lay ahead. After a quick workout, he and a few buddies decided to go for a swim in the ocean before relaxing on the beach. As they sat on the sand, Walsh watched boats move through the peninsula as people splashed in the water. He was basking in a moment of pure relaxation, but when his phone rang, he happily took the call. After all, he was technically at work.
Walsh, 32, works as a sales manager for an IT company, and was in Croatia as a member of the first-ever Remote Year, a program that brings together a diverse group of so-called digital nomads to work while traveling around the world. A digital nomad refers to someone who uses technology to do their job from any location, and of the 75 Remote Year participants, many had careers in media, sales and IT. This once-in-a-lifetime adventure takes place over the course of one year, and the group travels to 12 different cities, spending a month working and exploring each location.
“We started in Europe in June 2015 by visiting the Czech Republic, Croatia and Italy, then stopped in Istanbul before heading east to live in Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Japan,” Walsh told Yahoo Finance. “My remote year ended in South America with month-long stays in Uruguay, Argentina, Chile and Peru.”
The beautiful thing about the program is that it allows people to explore the world while keeping their jobs. Cassandra Utt, 25, was another member of the inaugural Remote Year. Before the program she was working in Minneapolis as a business analyst for Eaton, a power management company. On a typical day she worked from 7 am to 4 pm, and had constant calls with the company’s offices in India and China. Some days she went into an office, but she would often work remotely. So when a friend forwarded her an article about Remote Year, she applied right away.
“I love travel and thought it sounded interesting, so I applied online just to see what would happen,” she told Yahoo Finance.
The next phase of the application consists of answering several essay questions, and a Skype interview. After getting accepted, both Utt and Walsh were shocked at how easy it was to get their companies on board.
The next obstacle was financing remote year, which is possible, but requires a bit of planning. The program asks for an upfront deposit of $5,000, followed by 11 monthly installments of $2,000. Members have to pay for their plane ticket to the first destination and back home from their final destination, but all travel between cities during the year is included. Your monthly payments cover accommodations, which usually consist of a hotel room or apartment in each city. Everyone gets their own room, and many of the rooms also have kitchens for travelers to prepare meals. The monthly payments also include workspaces with Internet, activities and community events. In the end, travelers can expect to pay around $28,000 to participate in the program. Most employers won’t help financially, but you’re earning your regular paycheck, so you’re still making money along the way.
“The cost was similar to my expenses in Minneapolis when I was paying for my rent, car insurance, utilities and other expenses,” says Utt. “People in the group from New York and Los Angeles really thought it was a good deal because living in those cities is so expensive.”
“I was actually able to save a little money during my remote year,” Walsh says. “But I also did a lot of side trips to other places and ate out a lot, so I could have saved more money if I didn’t do those things.”
Challenges of the nomadic life
Living in some of the most exotic and scenic places in the world sounds like a dream, but a remote year isn’t a vacation. Utt is quick to point out how difficult it was to balance work with her desire to see everything during her travels.
“Living in Asia was hard because I was working 7 pm to midnight just so I could be on calls with coworkers in the US,” she says. “And when I was in South America, the time zone was similar to my home office, so I was really busy, because people would ask me to call into meetings. I didn’t have much flexibility.”
In addition to adjusting to new cultures, languages, time zones and living conditions at every stop, the group had the added challenge of acclimating to new communal work spaces, which varied from city to city. “Some were nice open spaces, and some were like traditional offices with cubes,” says Walsh. “You become adaptive and learn to work from almost everywhere.”
Traveling in such a large group was also a new experience, especially with participants ranging in age from 22 to 48. While the group traveled together, each digital nomad was free to travel around independently. Work spaces were provided, but members could work from wherever they wanted. They could travel around the country at their own pace; group activities were optional. It’s also important to note that more than a dozen of the original group members decided to discontinue the program before the year was up. Reasons for leaving varied, but according to reports, some people left because of changes at their job, and some left because the program wasn’t right for them.
While autonomy was important, Walsh says he was still able to forge strong bonds with new friends.
“I tried to take advantage of every activity and spent a lot of time with the group. A lot of these people encouraged me to work and think differently,” Walsh says. “Many of them have become great friends that I’ll keep forever.”
The inaugural remote year ended in June, and there is currently another program underway. Another group will start their adventure in September, and Remote Year is currently recruiting for programs launching in January, February and March of 2017.
Utt is now living and working back in Minneapolis, and Walsh has also returned home to New Jersey — exploring ways to incorporate a life of travel into his everyday life. He has fond memories of his year spent abroad, and encourages any digital nomad interested in Remote Year to take the leap and apply.
“Don’t hesitate to do something a little crazy because you’re worried about what it will do to your career down the road,” says Walsh. “For me, Remote Year was such a learning experience on every level, and now I feel better at my job and more in tune with how to handle my business.”
Brittany is a writer at Yahoo Finance.