Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes. How do you measure a year? The cast of the Broadway musical RENT might say in sunsets and cups of coffee. I can’t count the number of bottles of wine I drank, or ice cream cones, or mosquito bites, or how many times I had calls drop during my year working remotely for NetSuite traveling with Remote Year, but I was able to put together a few of these numbers to measure my year:
342- Number of days I spent outside the USA
22- Number of countries I visited
82,500- Number of miles I flew
167- Number of friends I added on Facebook
6- Number of pairs of sunglasses I lost
182- Number of Uber rides I took
63,435- Amount of money I spent
17- Number of languages I can say “Cheers”
37.4- Weight of my suitcase in pounds
472-Number of photos I posted to Instagram
0- Number of tattoos I got
When I look back at the list of goals I made for myself when I started this year like “learn Spanish” or “learn to salsa” or “publish a book” I didn’t accomplish any of them, I didn’t even come close.
This year tested me in ways I never imagined possible. I was homeless, I was misunderstood, I was happy, I was in danger, I was scared, I was poor, I was rich, I was robbed, I was in awe, I was naked, I was in love, I was spontaneous, I was complacent, I was spiritual, I was confused, I was embarrassed, I was proud.
So many things happened to me this year that it’s daunting to try to explain how I feel to even my closest friends. “Where was your favorite place?” “What was your favorite food?” I find people don’t know what else to ask me.
Would I do it again? Was it everything I hoped it would be? Did I discover the meaning of life? No one has asked me that yet. I certainly saw a lot of lives; lives very different from the life I had known before. I had simple, uncomplicated moments of pleasure, and difficult, complex moments where I questioned everything I thought I knew. I learned things about myself I didn’t expect. I grew empathy for others I never knew I could feel. There were moments when I was proud to be an American, and moments I pretended to like maple syrup and hockey. There were times I felt so empowered and so grateful, and times I felt completely defeated.
I think everyone goes through the same range of emotions every year no matter where in the world they are, my experience is no more significant than yours. But when you are in situations where so much of your life is unpredictable and uncontrolled, and your ability to communicate what you want is often unlikely, it amplifies each of these emotions. Asking for what you want in 10 different languages isn’t even the hardest part, it’s figuring out what you want that is most exhausting.
Whereas I used to occupy my thoughts with higher level ideas like “should I go after this promotion?” or “do I want to date this guy?” or even trivial simple questions like “where should I go for dinner?” I have had to replace those with so many lower level needs like “will they take my credit card, do I need to show my passport, how do I get cash, what’s the exchange rate, how do you even say ATM here, how much should you tip, why can’t we split the check, why does it say Visa on the door but they only take MasterCard?” and “can I drink the tap water, where can I buy water, why does the market sell bottled water with tap water in it, did I check the seal before I bought it, can I ever have ice again, is it ok if I just brush my teeth, beer is cheaper should I just drink beer?”
This year I went through some literal shit when a sewage block in Colombia flooded the streets, I lived without water when a landslide in Peru forced the city to ration all the water, and I was detained in a police raid in Serbia when a drug cartel started a fight at a club. But I also watched the sunrise over the Charles Bridge in Prague, I stood in Dracula’s castle, I went scuba diving with giant Manta Rays in Costa Rica, I swam with sharks and penguins in the Galapagos, I went to a West End show in London, and I sampled the best ceviche in the world.
My Remote Year experience was certainly an intense and memorable year, but it was not the most impactful year of my life yet, or that I will ever have. Every year we each have the opportunity to make our experiences what we want.
To be totally cliché and end this post with another Broadway musical reference from Wicked: “Who’s to say if I’ve been changed for the better, but because I did this year abroad, I know I’ve been changed for good.”