How to Design Your Own Remote Year
Every digital nomad (or aspiring digital nomad) has heard of programs like Remote Year, The Remote Experience, WYCO. There's a myriad of companies now catering to this idea of helping a remote worker find a place to live and a coworking space in different parts of the world. While obviously, this sounds like a dream situation for someone who is location independent and loves to travel, these programs are wildly expensive.
Remote Year charges $5000 upfront and then another $2000 a month just to set things up for you. Plus, you still have to pay for all your food and excursions. Who has $5000 just stashed away? (Clearly I'm a milennial, which is why I assume no one else has a savings account too) That is a crazy amount of money that could be easily spent in a much better and productive way. The perks of these types of setups are that you get a more crafted experience by experts, so you're paying for a service that allows you to feel more taken care of. But if you're already a remote worker, it's likely you're pretty darn independent anyway, so why not create and design your own experience so you can save money and have more agency over where you choose to go and how long to stay?
Before You Start
First things first, do you have a remote job? If you don't, either find a way to make your current job remote, apply for other gigs or just become a full-time freelancer. This is easier said than done, but once you attain a job, you're free to create a life for yourself that is unrestrained by cubicles and a commute. Good industries for this are marketing, writing & creative, tech and customer service. I have some tips for finding work like this here >>>> HOW I BECAME A DIGITAL NOMAD + REMOTE WORK RESOURCES
The next thing to do is to figure out your travel style. Not everyone is cut out for living out of a suitcase for a long period of time. Test out this theory for yourself before committing to a full-time digital nomad lifestyle. Start with a one-week trip, the bump up to two and three and more until you figure out where your comfort zone lies in terms of being away from home. Some people learn they can't be away for more than a few weeks at a time, and if this is you, then perhaps being a part-time digital nomad is a better life for you. If you feel that having all your belongings in a suitcase that you haul around is okay, then move forward with the plan.
There's two types of digital nomad travel; whirlwind adventuring and the slowpoke. Whirlwind includes not having a super set plan and just hopping from place to place as you feel, often not spending more than a few days in each spot and always being on the go. This style lends itself better to nomads who work without a timetable. If you're a filmmaker, photographer, writer or have a job that doesn't require you to be online at a certain time for meetings or scheduling, then this pathway can totally work for you. If you have a job that requires more time in front of a computer and you have calls that are specific to a timezone, it may not be the best for you, as you'll get exhausted after a short time of trying to keep up with work and do tourist activities.
For those who love the idea of getting a sampler of each place and not worrying too much about setting a long-term plan of travel, you can follow a whirlwind adventuring path. In this case, your wild spirit can be super flexible and where and when you go. To prep for this journey, all you need to buy is one-way plane tickets and at the most, pre-plan a little bit.
A month in advance is a good way to make sure your costs are kept down and you're not wasting money. Booking.com is my best friend for finding a place to stay because you can make a reservation and cancel it if you end up not going and you don't lose any money. Because you're only staying in cities for a short time, staying in a cheaper hostel will be helpful due to spending money on transportation more often. Short-term stays in hostels are either a hit or miss depending on who you're stuck in a room with, but if you're hopping around at this quick rate, a hostel is probably your main chance to meet new friends.
If you're trying to figure out the best way to get between two cities, Rome2Rio is great for showing all the possible ways and how much it costs. A cool site that can help you create itineraries for a region and gives you a chance to randomize it, Eightydays.me is a fun tool to play with.
If you budget about $600/month on dormitory-style room accommodations and another $300 for transport between cities, you've already spent less than half of what Remote Year costs per month just to visit one city.
Example Partial Itinerary
New York > London > Paris > Copenhagen > Budapest > Prague > Rome > Marrakech
New York > London = $150
London > Paris = $65 (Eurostar Train)
Paris > Copenhagen = $50
Copenhagen > Budapest = $45
Budapest > Prague = $25 (Flixbus)
Prague > Rome = $80
Rome > Marrakech = $41
4 nights in London at Astor Queensway Hostel = $140
4 nights in Budapest hostel = $50
4 nights in Marrakech hostel = $30
Keep in mind that because you're living out of a suitcase, you may have to take a slightly more expensive flight because budget airlines will charge you an arm and a leg for baggage bigger than a backpack. It's usually better to just pay for the more expensive flight that includes a carry-on or checked bag because you'll end up paying the same amount once you pay for the baggage fees on the cheaper flights.
If you need more time in a place because your job needs you to be online during USA business hours or you have work calls that are mandatory to attend, it's imperative to your mental and physical health to take a slow travel route. This allows you to be up at 5 am to do work stuff, but also won't mean you lose a day out exploring because of this. Two to four weeks in a country, city or region will allow for this.
For a longer jaunt in a city, a private room will be better for your sanity so you can come home after a day out and have a sanctuary to escape into. And even though a private room is more expensive and makes it harder to meet travelers at your accommodation, you'll have more time in the location and can meet people in other places.
When you do longer-term stays, an Airbnb is usually the better choice because people's homes usually are more secure, private and have stronger wifi for all your work needs. And since you're there for a longer period of time, you can find a place that's not right in the city center and it will be less expensive than if you find a hotel or hostel right in town. The only con of Airbnb is that you have to pay in advance and it's difficult to cancel a booking last minute and get your money back. Subletting is also an option, but it's difficult to do in a country that is not your own, but entirely possible if you have the drive to make it all work.
If you budget about $600-1000/month for wherever you choose to stay, and then another $100-300 for transport between cities, again, you're spending much less than Remote Year can offer you based on their one-month in a city itinerary.
Example Partial Itinerary
Seattle > Japan > South Korea > Hong Kong > Australia > New Zealand
Seattle > Japan = $435
Japan > South Korea = $66
South Korea > Hong Kong = $130
Hong Kong > Australia = $120
Australia > New Zealand = $140
7 nights in Tokyo guesthouse = $170
14 nights in Seoul guesthouse = $335
11 nights in Hong Kong guesthouse = $418
This is the big question for all remote workers; Do I need to get a coworking space? Some people feel that they have to have somewhere to go every day or else they go crazy. Having an unofficial office to commute to that has wifi, desks, and coffee is definitely a great thing to have, but it's not a MUST. Depending on where you are in the world, coworking spaces can be very expensive and a waste of money out of your budget. But then there are places like Chiang Mai in Thailand where you can get a membership to a coworking space for $125/month (compare that to New York City where prices are $250-500+).
The alternative to paying for an official coworking space is to find a cafe with strong wifi and good coffee. Of course, this can be a fool's errand. Cafes with good internet can get slowed down by lots of people using it. Or the cafe may have a terrible atmosphere that you can't work in for more than a short time. It can be a game of trying to find the right place to work, but that's what the internet is for! Google and Facebook groups for digital nomads is your best friend for working through these issues. Nomad List can give you a better look into what other expats are using and their recommendations.
Alternate spots to try for a place to work are libraries, hotel lobbies, or purchasing an item like a Skyroam so you can use wifi anywhere (use my code SOMECALLMEADVENTUROUS for a 10% discount). No matter which of these you choose, it will be a lot cheaper than whatever a digital nomad program will charge you for the membership, so it'll be more beneficial for you to set this all up for yourself rather than depend on the program to do it for you and overcharge in the process.
Freedom of choice
The best part of doing it all yourself is that you don't have to stick to anyone else's plan but your own. I've read that most Remote Year participants drop out of the program before the half-way point and that's really unfortunate. A year of being told where to go could be very stressful for someone who's independent, so why not make it your own? The perks of doing a program like this can be beneficial to someone who is too afraid to take it upon themselves to design a unique life for themselves, but the point of pushing off into the digital nomad world is to take a big chance and do something new and scary.
However, if the idea of having a consistent group of nomads surrounding you for 12 months is exciting and feels comforting, there's no shame in that either. You'll just be spending a lot more money for that extra layer of security, whereas there is beauty in trying to figure out things for yourself.
2018-2019 will be an exciting year for me because I will be moving from part-time digital nomad to full-time and designing my own year of working remotely from various countries. I'm excited to share this journey with you and updating the blog along the way. It'll be a great chance to not pay rent in New York City for a year and have that money to put towards accommodation elsewhere (aka finally staying in private rooms vs overcrowded hostel dorms). I'll be taking the slowpoke style journey and spending up to a month in a country so I can feel less stressed when trying to balance work and play. Watch this page to see what stops are coming up next on my around the world tour.