Some would say that “great things never come from comfort zones.” This February, I have put this very philosophy to the test as I embark on a yearlong journey around the world with more than sixty-five working digital nomads —remote professionals— balancing both travel and work.

Taking the Scenic Route

Kublai Remote Year StatisticsNearly six months ago, I came across a website called Remote Year—a program dedicated to creating work and travel opportunities for professionals. A yearlong program, Remote Year brings sixty-five people from diverse locations around the world and from varied industries together to share one common experience: the opportunity to explore the world while making a living. Traveling across three continents in twelve cities, the “digital nomads” become part of a community that embraces cultural experiences and work-life balance.

The idea of being immersed in something new, diverse, and challenging was intriguing to me. Though part of a great community at Overland, I felt inexperienced compared to many of my fellow colleagues who are well-traveled and globally educated. Thus, my decision to apply for Remote Year was easy. The difficult part came shortly after, with an application process that spanned several months. Once accepted, I agreed to join in on the Remote Year: Kublai 2017 class. Stepping out of my comfort zone was in full force and was about to be elevated to a whole new level—pitching this “crazy” yet amazing opportunity to my employer.

Unlocking My Embedded Potential

One of the things I love about working for Overland is the chance to go beyond a service—in our case architecture. As a firm—on each and every project, in staff meetings and side committees—we are all encouraged to go beyond the “task” itself and to “unlock the embedded potential.” With this same principle in mind, I received support from Overland’s leadership. Overland recognized the opportunity and challenges at hand for both the firm and my personal development.  Overland is not new to working around the world, with projects in China, Mexico, and in the Middle East. However, there is a renewed focus for the firm to strategically map out where around the world we can make our biggest impact through projects and people.

Menara KL Tower

Along with the Petronas Twin Towers, Menara KL Tower is easily Malaysia’s most recognizable and popular landmark. The gleaming tower is visible from almost anywhere in KL. It provides the highest view of the city, and is even more spectacular at night.

Nothing Easy Stays the Same

My whole life has changed to pursue this one-year journey. Having little travel history, especially internationally, I was surprised at all that took place in order for me to purchase a one-way ticket to Malaysia. A few of the top personal sacrifices include:

  • Renting out my home
  • Moving my keepsakes into a storage unit (Much of what I own was sold.)
  • Vaccines for twelve cities across three continents (The cost of these was not covered by insurance—ouch)
  • Banking Plans (international credit cards, debit cards, etc.)
  • Packing my life for one year into a carry-on and one checked bag
  • Saying goodbye to my family, friends, dog, car, and everything else I love
  • A rollercoaster of emotions including excitement, fear, nervousness, and gratitude
  • A 30+ hour flight including four layovers to get to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
The busy streets of Kuala Lumpur reveal local bargains with many shops and dining.

The busy streets of Kuala Lumpur reveal local bargains with many shops and dining.

Travel with Training Wheels

"Riding bicycles will not only benefit the individual doing it, but the world at large."
— Udo E. Simonis, Emeritus Professor of Environmental Policy at the Science Centre, Berlin, January 2010

This quote is greatly inspirational when I consider the year ahead. Like learning to ride a bike, I hope to start with the basics, practice daily, and learn as I go.

I have limited travel experience, and sending a fulltime employee abroad for a year is a first for Overland as well. I anticipate learning, growing, and celebrating achievements along the way. However, I am also open and accepting to any failures, uncertainty, and emotional blues that may arise. The challenges associated with a time difference of  +14 hours in Asia, +8 hours in Europe, and +4 hours in South America will be difficult not only for me but for my Overland team. Communication and a sense of community will be critical for this to be a success.

Starting with the basics (the training wheels), I plan to be diligent with two key principles each day — balance and mindfulness (being present). My hope is that through daily practice of balance and mindfulness, I will set myself and Overland up for a breakthrough year. Professionally, I hope to bring courage, opportunity, and flexibility for my fellow officemates. I want to establish relationships with people and in places that will allow Overland to continue to make an impact around the world. Personally, I want to gain perspective and practices that will change my life for the better—experiencing new places, cultures, and people—and will document my journey via a personal blog: www.balanista.com.

The course of this next year while remote will be truly transformational. I’m excited, nervous, and determined to make this next year one of transformation for both Overland and myself. Here’s to being a digital nomad for a year!

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