I'll Try Most Things Once

My experiment with We Roam Orion has been interesting. I like the people I'm traveling with, they're funny, they're smart, and they're interesting. I like having the logistics aspects handled for me when I'm super busy. For example, in May, June and July, I worked about 200 to 225 hours each month. Combined with personal and work travel, I also had an 8-week period where I was in the US (work) - Panama City (work meeting) - US (work) - Morocco (personal) - Helsinki (work) - Estonia (personal) - Prague (personal) - Chicago (work) - Prague (personal). I barely had time to sleep let alone take care of other items, like looking for apartments, travel arrangements, and coworking space arrangements.

On the other hand, there's the loner streak in me. The do it different. Do your own thing. Buck convention type of attitude. I am, after all, probably the only visibly tattooed person in my peer network in the industry I work in. And it has not been a detriment because I believe it makes me work harder to constantly prove myself. I'm also a bit of a weirdly sociable introvert. I love my alone time. I have no problems with wandering the world by myself. Yet, admittedly, I may get bored with myself or like the possibility of more social contact, hence my current situation.

But so far, my preliminary assessment is that this is the kind of program that is better for :

  • People who are going remote for the first time whereas I've worked in a remote capacity since 2011 and have been completely location independent for 20 months
  • It's also good for people who haven't traveled extensively before. Prior to meeting up with the group, I had spent a solid year outside of the US, traveling through 19 countries over 12 months. Followed up by an additional 9 countries by myself
  • Extroverts (or lazy introverts as noted by another WR member) whereas I'm a proactive introvert who will go out and explore and be comfortable doing so alone
  • People who don't necessarily like talking to or getting to know locals. I have no problem talking to strangers. And I have no problems with randomly walking into new boxes or scenarios. I mean, I do some of that for my job anyway when I'm asked to do work on something I have no clue about. I have no shame when it comes to giving people my business card. You never know when you might see someone again or have an interesting conversation or whatever!
  • People who enjoy imbibing and going out late to enjoy the local night life. I have low tolerance for alcohol and my schedule is pretty much the opposite because I want to work out in the morning. I'm also older, so the partying is not so fun
  • People who enjoy larger groups. I do much better in 1-3 person groups, personally

With that said, I may or may not rejoin the group in Latin America as I was initially planning (one month on, one off, one on, one off, and two on). I've traveled extensively through the region and speak enough bad Spanish that it is easy to navigate. I can also do it way cheaper. I also have a network of people and places that I've established. For Europe, I think it made partial sense between my crazy work schedule and the possibility of comparable (maybe a bit more expensive) pricing between housing, transport, activities, and coworking space. However, next time I swing back through the EU, sometime in 2018, I'll manage all the stuff on my own so I can wander through some other areas and revisit other places. Plus it's so easy to meet people in the EU that you don't even need a built-in network. Just say hi, chat with people, give out your business cards, go work out at a local gym (best place to meet new people, I've found).  

Regardless, I can say that I'm never unhappy to try something. It never hurts to ask. It never hurts to try something new (within reason). We'll see what I decide and where I go in the next few months.

My plans are to go Berlin and Split with the group, then I go back to the US for office time for a few weeks and then Boston for scientific congress meeting for work, then La Paz, Bolivia for pre-acclimatization, then Mendoza for my 20-day expedition on Aconcagua, then New Orleans. I would definitely still like to go to Santiago. Colombia too as I've only been to Cartegena and Bogota for work and didn't get to really enjoy it, plus I have a medical director client from the pharma side who grew up there and can provide some recommendations. Maybe El Salvador, as there are coworking spaces there. 2018 will see more time in Africa - Namibia, South Africa (a cardiologist I have worked with has family there, so I can certainly email him for recommendations and maybe have tea with his mother), maybe Rwanda, and definitely Kenya (booked a night at Giraffe Manor!). Maybe Madagascar, depending on time and coworking space. And then India or Bhutan, depending on finances - Bhutan for a 30-day Great Snowman Trek if I can swing the $10k. Maybe Australia. Then back through the EU? TBD. As long as I have the work, I can go where I want to go.

 

Getting Used to This Social Thing, Thoughts on the Last Few Weeks

It's been weeks since I feel like I've been able to catch a breath and get my life back into some semblance of order. Namely, getting my workouts in, which is becoming more and more important with my 20-day Aconcagua expedition only 142 days away. It's also one of the few moments when my brain lets go of all the racing thoughts that have taken up permanent occupancy. Am I missing a deadline? Which client is this for? Which project is this for? What therapeutic area am I working on again? What do all my deadlines look like 1 to 3 months in advance so I can work everything else in around it? Have I invoiced all my clients. When do I need to send my time sheets? Did I forget an email? Did I forget to respond to someone? 

Anyway, I'm writing from Prague where I recently started meeting people from the We Roam Orion crew. I think anyone who decides to take this route in life is a little bit of a weirdo in their own way haha. I think the most interesting part for me is getting used to being more social, perhaps. Between the year of traveling with the also introverted ex-gf and then 6 months of floating around the world solo, my hard-leaning introvertedness, exaggerated by my work-induced exhaustion, more work-related live meetings than I've had in a while, and too little time to unwind and recharge, I needed to call it a night for dinner and non-work-related catch-up at the apartment. And I have to manage my tendency to be super introverted and antisocial, knowing that too much alone time for me is a bad thing at times, hence this tangential experiment for me. What better way to balance out someone like me than having a wide range of people to engage with in new locales - it's much more likely to draw me out for exploration. 

At the moment, however, I do have to prioritize rest/health/work time over everything else, knowing that a live work meeting for two days leaves me completely exhausted. Plus I have to tack on two long-haul flights back and forth from Prague-Chicago, plus a difficult work project, plus the other work projects that are circulating, and the fact that I need my brain to be sharp and functional in order to execute the job that I do. I'm hoping that by mid-July, things will be slightly more sane so I can enjoy myself a bit more. 

Highlights from today:

  • I chatted with my Uber driver on my way back to the apartment after work. He was of East Indian? or Middle Eastern descent? In other words, he's not white. The usual questions of where you're from etc. Of course, I still get the, where are you from. As in, what is your ethnic origin? I wonder if white people get asked this at all. Ever? Because I seriously get this all the time. I asked the cab driver how long he's been in Prague (8 years) and if he liked it (he said good and bad). I asked him what was the bad? For him, he deemed CR as more racist than some other countries in the EU, and very white (I told him that if it was any consolation, a good portion of the US population would also hate him for not being white and that many people would think he was a terrorist). And he said that the Russians were much warmer and friendlier than Czechs. He also told me that the neighborhood that we're staying in is a gypsy neighborhood, which I was really excited about because I find outsiders of particular interest, for personal reasons
  • Have been enjoying my side chats with Brad. As I learn about the wide variety of jobs that people in the We Roam group do, I have so many questions. It was interesting hearing Brad talk about recruiting candidates for Up with People, the filtering process, and the qualities that he's looking for in candidates. Which I found to be so completely different than the qualities that we look for in med comms, never mind the interview and the filtering process! It was also intriguing how sociocultural factors had to be accounted for in the interview process with regards to questions and eliciting responses. I'm curious how everyone else in the group would list out what they're looking for in candidates in their field. I have more thoughts on this but my brain is a little fried so I can't expand on this further at the moment
  • CrossFit sled sprints. I have never done these before and they were terrible. I could barely walk after 5 rounds of 40 meter sprints with 80 kgs on the sled. It was that terrible. You're talking about 20-30 seconds of work for 5 rounds. Yet it was so hard. But fun, in a really sick and twisted way. I'm just super happy to be able to work out again

Taking Those Risks

As a female traveler, and especially when you travel by yourself, you always have to wonder if you're making the right decisions on a near constant basis. Should I wave down this cab? Should I get in this car? Should I respond to these guys who are talking at me? Should I ignore the guys talking at me? Do I smile? Do I make eye contact? Should I walk around after dark by myself? Should I take up this guy's offer to show me around? Do I need to be prepared to fight? Are these guys going to rape or mug me? Etc. It can get a little tiring sometimes.

However, it doesn't mean that you have to shut yourself off to all possibilities. I think it's a constant risk assessment based, in large part, on intuition or gut feel. 

Tonight was one of those moments. I took some time out from working so I could do a weekend in Fez and Chefchaouen. At the moment, I'm in Riad Borg Derb in Fez which I left around 8:30 pm in an effort to find dinner. As I was walking out, a young man called out to me to follow him. I said no, I was going to get dinner. But he insisted and said that he worked at a riad where I could get dinner. He also showed me a photo of him at work. 

Normally, if this exchange had happened in Marrakech, I would have definitely said no. In fact, my first day in Marrakech, a guy on a motorbike followed me and kept on telling me he would take me to the square and to see the tanneries if I would hop on the back of his bike. But he seemed sort of sketchy and super pushy, not taking no for an answer. So I kept on saying no and he would drive off but then reappeared on two other occasions. I guess it doesn't help that I'm really easy to spot. I think he also told me to go f#&k myself (or something along those lines) when I said no a few times. 

But tonight, I didn't feel as sketched out and said why not. Of course, as we walked through some of the darker parts of the neighborhood, I wondered if someone would come up behind me and assault me or if I'd be led into a trap. And the ex-fighter part of me was on alert to the possibility of violence and to be ready, JUST IN CASE. 

However, Lhassan was just taking me to Riad Rcif, which is an absolutely stunning place. The mosaic tilework and the woodwork in this hotel is AMAZING. The crazy thing is that you could just walk past it and never know how beautiful it was inside. Regardless, I was the lone diner and enjoyed a substantial spread of cooked salad items, a chicken tagine, and dessert, plus a beer on Lhassan (of course, I did watch to see that it was opened in front of me). I also got a chance to see the awesome views from the terrace after which I asked Lhassan to walk me back to my riad because I was unfamiliar with the winding route (FYI, it's so easy to get lost in a medina). On the way back, I briefly played with an adorable puppy, met his mom and brother, who tagged along for part of the walk (and were super friendly), and talked to one of his friends for a few minutes. And then I was dropped off at my riad to conclude a pleasant evening which started with an attitude of, ok, why not? 

And to top it off, my Bolivia-residing Mexican photographer friend, whom I met in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, is on WhatsApp so we can harass each other (me with Google translate to help with my Spanish) sporadically. I am hopeful that I will get to see her in November as I plan on returning to Bolivia so I can pre-acclimatize in La Paz before heading to Mendoza for an attempt on Aconcagua. Additionally, a random connection I made in Quito (a stranger, whom I spoke to for a few minutes during dinner and who ended up surprising me by paying for my dinner and then subsequently found my LinkedIn based on snippets of our conversation) sent me an email (we've exchanged a few) wondering where I am in the world and touching upon his future travels and feelings about the death of possibilities that come with the death of friends (as the price of longevity). 

Sometimes it's so easy to remain closed off. But sometimes it's more fun to be open-minded and curious about the possibility of saying yes to an unplanned event. In some cases, it leads you to connections, even if brief, with people who may be on the same wavelength as you in more ways than family or friends, most of whom drop off when you no longer live the same life as they do. It is really about the human connection. We are all very much the same more than we are dissimilar. 

 

From Seed to Fruition

When I talk about location-independence, I think it's easy to gloss over how long it's actually take to make it happen, from the first time I thought about traveling for more than 2 weeks at a time, to where I am today with a raggedy-looking passport that has seen better days but plenty of adventures.

But first, I have to say that it's part luck, part timing, plenty of planning, and LOT of hard work. When I look at the sequence of events that have culminated in recent events, everything started over a decade ago.
 

2003

After working at the bench in R&D at the NIAID, NIDCR, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, and Progenics Pharmaceuticals, I decided to go back to school for a PharmD.

I had considered a PhD in molecular virology or something infectious diseases-related, but every PhD I met said it wasn't worth it. I had thought about medical school and had even taken it as far as the MCATs and getting wait-listed for the program at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Science, but I felt ambivalent about it, never mind the don't ask, don't tell policy in the military at the time.

2008

I landed my first agency job. I had no clue what medical communications was about. I had no idea what medical writing was. But there I was, thrown into the fray on a big blockbuster brand at the end of its lifecycle. A great way to learn, but definitely a bit of trial by fire, which I think is the best way to go about it. If you come out of it okay, you've been tempered like steel. Hopefully more resilient and stronger than you were before. If it wasn't a good trial by fire, I'd probably liken it it to being thrown in front of a bus. I think if you've been in the industry long enough, you get to experience both ends of the spectrum. 

2010

I ended up leaving the first agency. Part of it was the appeal of better pay (of course, who doesn't like that), more responsibility (a double-edged sword), and exposure to different therapeutic areas.

Another part of my resignation conversation with the boss focused on salary in relation to student loans because I had left school with $72,000 in loans. By 2010, I think the balance was $65,000. The other part of the conversation was about the possibility of taking a sabbatical from work to travel but their policy was a resounding NO. Which helped push me out the door.

After that, I bounced around at a few agencies, kept on paying down my student loans, and then went freelance in 2014.

2014

Going freelance in 2014 was probably one of the scariest decisions I've ever made.

When you're on staff, even if the company can up and fire you, your day-to-day is generally more stable or has a greater semblance of stability than that of a freelancer. As a freelancer, I've had days where I woke up thinking that I would have a full day of work only to find emails telling me to hold off on a job and by noon I'd be slammed again with work from other clients. 

As a freelancer, too, even if you've got a good commitment from one or two agencies to do work, there is a deep-seated and unshakeable paranoia that makes you say yes to more work than you need. Part of it is fueled by the need to cover your bases. JUST IN CASE. So you think 2 or 3 clients is a good number. But then the work is sporadic for 1 or 2 clients. So then you say yes to 1 or 2 more. And then one delay on one project means all your deadlines for all your clients fall around the same time and you end up swamped. But you're also grateful because you're busy and busy is better than NEVER WORKING AGAIN. Which is a deep seated and irrational and persistent fear that I butt my head against yet find myself strangely reassured to hear from other freelance friends. Because they know the fear whereas when I was on staff, I was completely oblivious to it.

While my clients may not love it when I'm slammed and can't commit more time to them, I am grateful that they accommodate my schedule (and travel). And I accordingly prioritize my clients based on the relationships we've built. I jokingly say that my main client relationship is like the perfect relationship that I don't have in my personal life. A great science team (especially appreciated when I have spent too much time by myself and I think I don't make sense and need other people to bounce ideas off of), nice and smart people that I enjoy working with,  interesting and challenging projects, the kind of integration and responsibilities that you don't get with most other clients (ie, business pitches, working on RFPs, live meetings, responsibility for content, etc vs being the anonymous fingers on the keyboard). Oh, and the freedom to travel for me (and them) and to work for them at the same time. So they get most of my time and they are literally the only compelling reason I have for coming back to the US for more than a few days at a time. I also think it's essential to have some face time (workload permitting) every so often.

Some days, though, I feel like I'm the equivalent of the office feral cat that disappears for a while and then comes back a little bedraggled (after 361 days of travel, I came back maybe 15-20 lbs lighter, minus a tooth, and had experienced a terrible food poisoning episode, rabies PEP, dengue, a broken toe, a successful mountain climbing summit, and the collapse of a 4.5 year relationship).

I also have two other long-standing relationships that are awesome in different ways and I'm happy to be working with them again! Thank you, everyone. I can't tell you how much I appreciate the relationships we've built over the years.

Anyway....tangent aside, 2014 was a very busy year. Too busy, but again, as a freelancer, it's nice to be busy. And I was able to take advantage of being busy to earn more than I would have as a staff employee. With that in mind, I was able to pursue my two primary goals: pay off my student loans (approximately $55,000 in 2014) and save for extended travels. 

2015

2015 was another busy year. Too busy again. I hadn't worked out consistently in 2014 let alone 2015. BUT, by May 25, 2015, I had paid off the remaining $30,000 of my student loans. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. The insane work hours I put in were worth it even if it sort of sucked for a while and I was bursting blood vessels in my eyes on a regular basis.

At that point, the only thing left to do before embarking on extended travels was making sure my finances were in order. But the sheer amount of work I was doing at that point was more tolerable because I didn't have to juggle two financial goals at once. I also had a departure date and could look forward to doing some volunteer work and taking a much needed sabbatical from work-induced burnout. 

And so I set off on November 15, 2015, for a 19-country, 361-day trip around the world. 

2016

At some point during my travels, I had updated my LinkedIn to say that I was looking for a 100% remote position. I totally forgot about it until my previous and current main agency squeeze (as I like to say) saw my profile update and asked me if I would take on work, even though I was in Bangkok at the time. So after 8 months of not working, I started working sporadic part-time hours. I worked from Bangkok (hotel and Wolf coworking space), Myanmar (the Novotel at Inle was decent to work from and Hintha coworking space in Yangon), Malaysia, Nepal, Fort Kochi, Greece, Rome, and Barcelona (at Transforma BCN coworking space). And as the time neared to return to the US in November, I started emailing old clients and sent out my CV to numerous other agencies (most didn't bother responding, but that's fine). 

2017

Which brings me to today, 2 days away from flying to Morocco for a 4-month stint after a month in the US following 3 months in Latin America. Then I'll be back at the office in October. 

I think the most challenging thing is the perception that my availability will be more limited. I reiterate here that at this point in time, my priority is full-time work. If you have work to throw at me, I'll take it if I have capacity. Yes, I also want to do tourist activities, but I already had a year of doing whatever I wanted every day. At this point, I prefer structure to my days and the mental stimulation of work. The weekends are for sightseeing whenever possible, but I enjoy the weekday routine I establish wherever I go, which typically looks like the following:

  • Wake up at 5:00 am
  • Drink coffee
  • 6:00 am workout
  • Breakfast/shower get ready for work
  • 7:30-8:00 am, start working until dinnertime
  • Dinnertime at a local place if possible
  • Relax until my 9:00-10;00 pm bedtime

I'm not as exciting as people think. In between the fun things, there are a lot of hours spent working.  I think the main differences are that I like my freedom more than most people, I'm not particularly close to my family, I have no relationship/children/pets, and I have a really high tolerance for change. Let's face it, living out of 2 bags for 18 months is not most people's idea of fun. Some days I'd really like a hot shower or a bath tub to soak in but even those things are hard to come by in some places.  

Wherever There's a Bed

 

Nomad life isn't for everyone. Actually, it isn't for most people who like having a regular schedule, amenities, lots of things, a sense of ownership, etc. Living out of two bags can be challenging at times, but I rather like this minimalist approach. I feel like I buy less and waste less, aside from the flights, obviously.

One of the things that I get asked about is how frequently I move around. Yes, the pace the last 18 months has been a bit fast, but I'm okay with it. If I feel the need to, and can slow it down, I do. I actually will be staying in most places for 3-4 weeks, if possible, although with work trips, things get a little broken up and hectic here and there. But that's okay. I'm used to it.

So, at this rate, since November 2015, I've slept in a wide range of places! Here's a more or less full list. 

  1. Finca La Puebla, Costa Rica 
  2. Flutterby House, Uvita, Costa Rica
  3. Cafe Mariposa and Guesthouse, Cerro Chirripó, Costa Rica
  4. Cerro Chirripó base camp, Costa Rica
  5. Expedia, Hotel Posada Canal Grande, San Jose, Costa Rica
  6. AirBnB, Backpacker La Bo'm, Cusco, Perú
  7. Salkantay trek campsite #1
  8. Salkantay trek campsite #2
  9. Salkantay trek campsite #3
  10. Salkantay trek, hotel (I can't remember the name), Aguas Caliente, Perú
  11. Expedia, Hacienda Plaza de Armas, Puno, Perú
  12. Sleeper bus, Puno to Paracas 
  13. AirBnB in Paracas National Reserve (no longer listed), Paracas, Perú
  14. Expedia, Hotel Gran Palma Paracas, Paracas, Perú
  15. AirBnB (no longer listed), Lima, Perú
  16. AirBnB, Auckland, New Zealand
  17. AirBnB, Rotarua, New Zealand
  18. AirBnB, Wellington, New Zealand
  19. Dusky Lodge and Backpackers, Kaikoura, New Zealand
  20. AirBnB, Christchurch, New Zealand
  21. Hostelbookers, Franz Josef Montrose, Franz Josef, New Zealand
  22. AirBnB, Auckland, New Zealand
  23. AirBnB, Sanur, Bali Island, Indonesia
  24. Friends of the National Park Foundation, Nusa Penida, Indonesia
  25. AirBnB, Ubud, Bali Island, Indonesia
  26. Bali Wildlife Rescue Center, Tabanan, Bali Island, Indonesia
  27. AirBnB, Rama Garden Retreat, Nusa Lembongan, Indonesia
  28. AirBnB, Sanur, Bali Island, Indonesia
  29. Expedia, Morwing Hotel II, Taipei, Taiwan
  30. F Hotel, Kaohsiung, Taiwan
  31. Deb's parents' apartment, Kaohsiung, Taiwan
  32. Ooshima-san's house, Hirakata, Japan
  33. AirBnB, Kyoto, Japan. Kyoto
  34. AirBnB, Osaka, Japan
  35. AirBnB, Yugawara, Japan
  36. Kimi Ryokan, Tokyo, Japan.
  37. Expedia, Hotel Kanda-Jimbocho-Ekihigashi, Tokyo, Japan
  38. AirBnB, Tokyo, Japan
  39. AirBnB, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia 
  40. Ger #1, Amarbayasgalant Khiid, Mongolia. 
  41. Hotel, Bulgan, Mongolia.
  42. Ger #2, Mongolia.
  43. Ger #4, Mongolia.
  44. Ger #5, Mongolia.
  45. Ger #6, Mongolia.
  46. AirBnB, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
  47. Sleeper train, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia to Beijing, China
  48. AirBnB, Beijing, China. Hutong style
  49. AirBnB, Xi'an, China.
  50. Sleeper train, Xi'an to Chengdu then regular train to Leshan, China
  51. Ctrip, Ibis Leshan City Center, Leshan, China
  52. Xixichiang monastery on Emeishan, China 
  53. Expedia, Leeden Hotel, Chengdu, China
  54. Sleeper train, Chengdu to Anshun, China
  55. Double Tree by Hilton, Anshun, China
  56. Sleeper train, Anshun to Kunming to Lijiang
  57. Ctrip, Yue Gu Lu Inn, Lijiang, China
  58. Ctrip, Shangri-La Home Inn, Deqen (Shangri-La), China
  59. Expedia, China Old Story Inns, Dali, China.
  60. AirBnB, Kunming, China.
  61. Expedia, Tu Linh Palace Hotel, Hanoi, Vietnam.
  62. Sleeper train, Sapaly Express, Hanoi to Sapa. Note, the Sapaly express is way more comfortable (thicker mattresses and blankets) and spacious than the Violette train despite the Violette train being newer
  63. Expedia, Sapa Dragon Hotel, Sapa, Vietnam.
  64. Sleeper train, Violette train, Sapa to Hanoi.
  65. AirBnB, Hoi An, Vietnam
  66. AirBnB, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam.
  67. Bus/sleeper bus (Giant Ibis) Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh/Phnom Penh to Siem Reap.
  68. Expedia, Ombra Angkor Hotel, Siem Reap, Cambodia
  69. Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary, 100 km outside of Siem Reap, Cambodia
  70. Expedia, Prince D'Angkor Hotel, Siem Reap, Cambodia
  71. Booking.com, Dokchampa Guesthouse, Don Khone, Laos
  72. AirBnB, Pakse, Laos
  73. Expedia, Cold River, Luang Prabang, Laos
  74. AirBnb, Bangkok, Thailand
  75. Expedia, Novotel Bangkok Fenix Silom, Bangkok, Thailand
  76. Expedia, Pat's Klangviang, Chiang Mai, Thailand
  77. AirBnB, Chiang Mai, Thailand.
  78. Panviman, Chiang Mai, Thailand.
  79. AirBnB, Lotus Boutique House, Yangon, Myanmar.
  80. Expedia, Best Western, Yangon, Myanmar. 
  81. Expedia, Gracious Bagan Hotel, Bagan, Myanmar
  82. Hotels.com, Novotel Inle Lake, Myat Min, Myanmar
  83. Hotel Grand United, Yangon, Myanmar.
  84. AirBnB, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
  85. AirBnB, Bangkok, Thailand. 
  86. Hotel Osho Home, Kathmandu, Nepal.
  87. Hotel Radisson, Kathmandu, Nepal.
  88. Lukla Everest Teahouse
  89. Campsite 1 
  90. Campsite 2
  91. Campsite 3
  92. Campsite 4
  93. Campsite 5
  94. Campsite 6
  95. Campsite 7
  96. Campsite 8
  97. Campsite 9
  98. Campsite 10
  99. Campsite 11
  100. Campsite 12
  101. Campsite 13 (I may be forgetting or adding a few?)
  102. Lukla Everest Teahouse
  103. Hotel Radisson, Kathmandu, Nepal
  104. AirBnB, Le Linda's Homestay, Fort Kochi, Kerala, India
  105. AirBnB, Mumbai, India
  106. AirBnB, Athens, Greece
  107. AirBnB, Santorini, Greece
  108. AirBnB, Athens, Greece
  109. AirBnB, Rome, Italy
  110. AirBnB hosts' home
  111. AirBnB, Barcelona, Spain
  112. AirBnB, Barcelona, Spain
  113. Sublet, NYC
  114. Kimpton Rouge Hote, Washington, DC
  115. Sublet, NYC
  116. Parents
  117. AirBnB, Piermont, NY
  118. Parents
  119. AirBnB, Accord, NY
  120. Parents
  121. AirBnB, Harlem
  122. Parents
  123. AirBnb, Managua, Nicaragua
  124. AirBnB, Managua, Nicaragua (different place because of accidental double-booking; better wifi)
  125. AirBnB, Montevideo, Uruguay
  126. AirBnB, Asunción, Paraguay
  127. Cosmopolitano Hotel Boutique, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia
  128. Lodge in Parque Amboro, Bolivia (my favorite place!)
  129. Cosmopolitano Hotel Boutique, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia
  130. AirBnB, Quito, Ecuador
  131. AirBnB, Quito, Ecuador (first host didn't tell me she was showing the apartment to potential buyers)
  132. AirBnB, Panama City, Panama
  133. Parents
  134. AirBnB, Stamford, CT
  135. Aloft Hotel, Panama City, Panama
  136. AirBnB, Stamford, CT
  137. AirBnB, Marrakech, Morocco
  138. AirBnB, Rabat, Morocco
  139. Riad, Fez, Morocco
  140. Back to #13

Forthcoming in 2017

  1. TBD hotel, Helsinki, Finland (work trip)
  2. AirBnB, Tallinn, Estonia
  3. We Roam - Prague, Czech Republic
  4. TBD hotel, Chicago, Illinois (work trip)
  5. We Roam - Berlin, Germany
  6. We Roam - Split, Croatia
  7. AirBnB, Stamford, CT
  8. TBD Ecuador/Bolivia
  9. Mountain climbing trip, Mendoza, Argentina
  10. TBD
  11. Hotel, New Orleans, Louisiana

 

Overdue Updates

Admittedly I sort of suck at keeping a daily blog. There's always something else that takes up my time, from conversations (digital or live) with other travelers, to practicing some Spanish, tourist activities, working out, reading, and working. They all take precedence over trying to keep people updated as to my whereabouts and even then, my little snippets on Facebook do tend to serve the same purpose but with less of a time investment. Because let's face it, blog posts can eat up time and they're not as fun in some ways. 

But here I am with some thoughts. And I'm procrastinating on pre-work that I've assigned myself before an ebook chapter kicks off at the end of the month, which isn't all that far away and it's in an area that I'm completely unfamiliar with. Not like I haven't been in that position numerous times and I'm grateful that I seem to be the type of person who can, and will, pick up on new things as needed. I think it suits my personality. I get bored of doing the same thing over and over, so the novelty of something new is motivation for me and I bring more energy to those projects because the fear of failure is more intense. 

I'm writing this comfortably ensconced in my hotel room at the Cosmopolitano Boutique hotel in the first ring of the capital of Bolivia, Santa Cruz de la Sierra. I arrived here yesterday after a somewhat long flight from Paraguay. I had thought about taking a bus from Paraguay to Bolivia, but I'm glad I chose not to after my 24-hour stint from Uruguay to Paraguay. I wasn't in the mood to do another day-long trip. Additionally, because I only have two weeks in Bolivia, I have less time to waste to do at least 1 or 2 fun things. I was still tired from a 7:20 am flight with a layover in Sao Paolo where the connection process, being stamped in AND out of Brazil (so happy I have a 10-year multiple entry visa because I don't know what would have happened otherwise), had me cutting the line to make my flight on time (I got to the gate at 10:00 am when the flight was due to leave at 10:25 am). 

As is my habit upon arrival in a new place, I consult Google maps, mark off some nearby restaurants, landmarks of interest, and grocery stores. Then I hit the grocery store to pick up snacks and shampoo and conditioner. One thing to note about Latin American grocery stores is that every mercado has a locker to store your bag. In fact, it's not an option. There are security guys who tell you to stick your bag in the locker. But you can use your credit card everywhere, even in some of the smallest towns in Costa Rica. I'm so happy I invested in Visa when it went public, but too bad I didn't have more money to buy thousands and thousands of shares, because damn, I only have chump change compared with other people. 

Regardless, I do like this hotel quite a bit and this is more of an upgrade (price-wise) than I was paying for the apartment. However, I do miss the convenience of making coffee whenever I want to, having a laundry machine (dryers are rare outside of the United States), and eating breakfast when I want to. On the plus side, I get a fancy breakfast made for me every morning while I'm here. On the downside, I'm back to doing my laundry in the fancy tub until I can find a lavandería. 

So I sit here, more than halfway through my 13-week stint away before I'm due back for the promised face time at the office with the super flexible and accommodating agency that I contract with on a long-term basis. And then I'm allowed to jet off overseas again, which I greatly appreciate! It's like the perfect relationship that doesn't actually exist haha.  

But now is a good time to sit, reassess, and wonder.

Reassessing is pretty clearcut for me. Because being on the road is exactly where I need to be right now. After some tumult in my personal life, I'm enjoying going to bed early and waking up at 5:00 am. I'm enjoying solo tours. I'm enjoying eating dinner by myself wherever I want and whatever I want to eat because I'm not picky and also enjoy eating where the locals eat. I'm enjoying reading the books I somehow stopped reading over the last 2-3 years. I'm enjoying working out at CrossFit boxes around the world (I even bought myself a Mbarete CrossFit shirt from Paraguay because I had such a nice time there). I'm enjoying talking to strangers because even if I may be introverted at times, and not so interested in staying up late because it'll throw off my 6:00 am workouts, I like learning about how people live their lives in other places! I'm also really enjoying doing whatever the heck I want to do (if I have time) like sandboarding. I'm enjoying going anywhere that sounds interesting and not restricting myself only to those places that are popular on the tourist trial. Indeed, In Paraguay and Bolivia, I've gotten quite a few questions about why I chose to come here. I always say why not?!

I'm also wondering where I'll go and what to do. But I suppose those are the benefits of having options. I do know that there are at least another 50 countries I absolutely want to visit. Maybe all! But definitely these: Algiers, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Belize, BHUTAN!!!, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Denmark, East Timor, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Guyana, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Iran, Ireland, Kazakhstan, Kenya, South Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Madagascar, Morocco (have a flight booked), Namibia, Nigeria, Norway, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Scotland, South Africa, Suriname, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Zaire, and Zimbabwe. 

I guess I'll just have to continue playing it by ear. And I'm okay with that. 

 

Day 4, Montevideo, Uruguay - Rest Day=Early Work Day

Because I don't know if I can do CrossFit 5 days a week, I took today as a rest day. So it ended up being a long work day, partially because I also get distracted by the news coming out of the states. It's always fascinating observing the US news from outside the US. 

At any rate, I ate part of a takeout dinner for breakfast instead, along with some of the chivito bread because it's so soft and doughy and delicious. Then headed over to Espacio Serratosa around 8:00 am where I was probably the first one here. One thing about Uruguay, people start late. This is very distinct from Nicaragua where everyone is an early riser and the earliest CrossFit class was at 5:00 am. I prefer the earlier the better, honestly. I find I get more done with my day. But when traveling and working abroad, you have to be flexible.

Anyway, really do like this coworking space. I have a lot of room to spread out and the price is WAY cheaper than the coworking space I used in Yangon, Myanmar! Yes, Myanmar is way more expensive than you think for some things, like fitness centers and coworking. It'll be on par with NYC prices. Here I'm paying $12 per day (US$183 with taxes included) for 15 days here AND a locker to store some of the stuff I don't want to lug back and forth to the apartment. 

There was no rain when I left the office so I made a point of wandering down to the Puerto Mercado for dinner, just to try it. I had a Merluza fish with potatoes. It was pretty good! And not meat. They do eat a lot of meat and the meals can be heavy here, so I will put on weight here lol. The Puerto Mercado was nice enough albeit it is definitely a place for tourists as well. But there were plenty of locals. If this were in NYC, it'd be a hot spot. The Ciudad Vieja area is still run down and businesses are trying to rejuvenate it. I sort of like the decrepit areas although there are quite a lot of homeless people. Which is a bit surprising I guess. I wonder what that's about - if they are out of the public support system, opted out, etc. And what are the resources for these guys? Or are there none? I'm very curious. I also like walking past people hanging out on the sidewalk chatting and drinking their mates. Where NYers clutch their cups of coffee on the go, Uruguayans clutch their thermos and mate gourds. It's quite awesome. 

 

Day 2, Montevideo, Uruguay

A not so exciting day but surely a very sore day to come. I started it out at the Crossfit Cimarron, which is nice enough to let me train there. I think it's about US$65 for 12 classes over 3 weeks. Not bad at all! The workout was the Jared...800 meter run, 40 pull-ups (LOL, I have zero so I did ring rows), and 70 push-ups x 4 rounds for time with a time limit of 35 minutes. I finished 3 rounds. Ow. my chest hurts as I type this. I was wondering why I was so sore when I woke up this morning. And my back. : p

Then I went back to the apartment, ate breakfast, showered, and went over to Espacio Serratosa to work for the day. Nothing exciting. Remote working full time is not as exciting as one may think. But I like the change of scenery. I like wandering around a new place, even if it's on my way to or from the office space. I like taking in the sights, the buildings, the sky, the temperature, the glimmering water in the distance. There's always something new and stimulating in even the smallest things. I think that's the difference. Because at home, the old is old for me, and I find it stultifying at times. I admit that I like novelty in life. I get bored with things when they become routine. So this is not a bad way to go. 

The coworking space is nice and spacious. And I briefly met an American from Iowa! I think he was the first Iowan I've met. We didn't speak much aside from a hello and where are you from and what's the password and then we both had to get to work. The wifi is great. I was on VPN with no problems, moving files around from cloud drive or server to wherever was also super easy!

Other than that, I'm in a holding pattern on some projects while we wait for client comments so I harassed other people for work :). Hurray. I like being able to make money because then I can donate to things like the ACLU. I donated $50 yesterday and I would like to continue donating. And then I finished my night by wandering down to the central area and ate dinner at La Fonda. A gigantic plate of fish with onions and peppers and potatoes. Delicious bread. And dessert all for under 300 Uruguayan pesos or less than US$10. Not bad at all because this city is somewhat more expensive in some ways than I thought. In other ways, far cheaper (ie, working out, the coworking space). Then I closed out my night by getting into 1Q84, which I'm carrying with me. I'd like to get through it while I'm here so I can stop carrying it! It adds a decent amount of weigh to my backpack haha. I am also making more of a point of reading more for pleasure than I have in a long time. 

Day 1, Montevideo, Uruguay

I arrived super early after a LONG day of layovers and flights. Ugh. I always think that South America isn't that far, but it is! It took us almost 24 hours to get from JFK to El Chalten in Argentina a few years ago!

I'm staying in the slightly sketchier Ciudad Vieja area of Montevideo. I did pass a lot of VERY nice and large and modern beachfront houses along the Rambla overlooking the Atlantic. It seemed quite posh in areas. This area, not so much so I'm wondering if maybe I pay more to move to a more secure-feeling spot (my door lock is also broken so I can't lock my room when I go out and the front door latch is not quite secured to the door fully [although the lock is separate from the handle]). I think Espacio Serratosa also has lockers so if I feel that the space is secure enough, I could lock up my computers there and stay in this spot. I'll see how I feel in a day or two. 

And it's funny, I'm finding that Latin America AirBnB listings are far messier than they look in photos. Sometimes they are quite accurate, like in SEA. Here, not so much. I attribute it to these dudes opening their homes to strangers since dudes are not known for their cleanliness. Otherwise it's a large and peaceful space with a hot shower, a kitchen that I can use to prepare meals because it's actually quite a bit more expensive here than Nicaragua. So I made some pasta and vegetable meals for myself, but I may get tired of cooking for myself and just do oatmeal breakfast at home then a cheap sandwich for lunch and a better dinner. I'll sort out a rhythm for myself soon enough.

I also walked around a little bit today. Montevideo is DEAD on a Sunday because most businesses are closed. Managua also felt a bit dead during the day but people came out during the night. So it's partly a function of culture and schedule. Here in Uruguay, they tend not to start early. In fact, the earliest Crossfit workout on schedule is at 7:00 am! At least there's a 2-hour difference so even if I get a "late" start to my day, the regular day on EST hasn't started. 

I also noticed that people in Nicaragua are WAY nicer than people in Uruguay. I blame it on proximity to Argentina because Argentineans do have a reputation for being...not so nice. I bet it bleeds over to here. I have gotten a LOT of hard stares for the tattoos, which is similar to how people stared at me in Argentina. Yay, fun. And less people are willing to say hello or smile in my general direction. It's a hard stare. A flat stare. Or serious side eye to look at my tattoos. If you're going to judge me, don't throw shade. I appreciate it more when people ask me straight up what the deal is with the tattoos, like my cab drivers in Nicaragua. 

Anyway, I am looking forward to getting back on schedule tomorrow. I'll be starting my Monday through Friday working at Espacio Serratosa. Excited to be surrounded by other professionals! Give me more work! :)

Transit Life, January 28, 2017

I am writing this from the Gastro Pub at the San Jose, Costa Rica, airport. It's an airport that I'm quite familiar with because we traveled through Costa Rica last year. In fact, it was the first stop on our world trip. And now I'm back with a 5-hour layover before I head to Lima for another layover and then to Montevideo on a redeye. 

What amazes me is how so many airports in "less developed" countries, have free wifi that works AMAZINGLY. This is compared to the ripoff Boingo wifi hotspots in the US. You have to pay for it, it's not cheap, and it sucks. It's so slow. I just had amazing wifi in Nicaragua at the airport and now here. 

Regardless, when you've been on the road so much, being on the road and having layovers is all part of the process. I'm trying to stir up some work for Monday and Tuesday. I mean, I believe I have sufficient work that I can do, but I want to be conscious of budget on these projects and not just futz around working on them when there are only so many hours to be billed. It's basically a waiting pattern for some projects - for client comments, etc. That's the nature of the business. And then it'll all come at once, which I'm expecting at the very least!

I am excited to get to Montevideo, though. I'll be able to fully unpack my bags and set up shop. I'll also have to make a point of hitting the supermarket so I can stock up on foodstuffs for breakfast and possibly lunch. I'll likely go out for at least one meal every day. 

For now, I'll work on a chapter update from the airport. I see a few other nomadic workers with their laptops out. I also have a great location with my back to the corner and an outlet to charge my devices.

 

Nica Life, January 27, 2017

Today will be an unexciting day. I am happy to say I made it through my 6:00 am Crossfit Las Colinas workout with Ivan. We did 12 minutes of 45 seconds on and 15 seconds off of planks to work our core. Then we had a terrible 25 minutes of increasing number of reps (1, 2, 3, 4, 5....) of the following: hang power clean, burpee over the bar, and then thrusters. The suggested weight was 65 lbs for women for the clean. I could do that for fewer reps but had to eventually take weight off. And I'm not so strong on weighted thrusters so I eventually took more weight off that. And I don't want to hurt myself, which is likely if I try to push it too hard. My hands are busted, as in, they are sore. At least this grip strength work is good for climbing, which I hope to partake in at the bouldering club in Montevideo.

My workload for today has consisted of tweaking slides for a vaccine project, I need to submit invoices, arrange times for teleconferences, get on a teleconference for another project, wait for two references for ebook chapter updates, and perhaps get a jump on research for another ebook chapter that I'm doing. Also waiting to hear if I get more work from a new client (thank you!!!). I admit it, I like working. Too much downtime and I get mentally bored and stilted and stagnant. I need the stimulation to feel sharp and alert.

This is my serious setup for when I am 100% online for work for the day.

This is my serious setup for when I am 100% online for work for the day.

Oh, and the rest of today will consist of packing a few items in preparation for an early departure tomorrow. I'll be heading to Montevideo. I am actually really excited about Montevideo! I'll be working from a dedicated coworking space (Espacio Serratosa) with an adjoining restaurant. That way I can network with other digital nomads and freelancers or businesses in Uruguay. And I can socialize a little bit and go out with people. I've also started trying to connect with other digital nomads but most seem to be in southeast Asia. It's also hard to find other queer digital nomads....not so many of us, unfortunately? So the only other thing I've got planned for tonight is dinner with Caz and Ted (UK and US, respectively). Caz is a lady from the UK who runs a vintage clothing business. Ted is a retired gentleman from Detroit who has been to Nicaragua a few times before and did a stint with the Peace Corps many years ago in Costa Rica. 

Dinner with them was quite good. We went to Jimmy Three Finger's Alabama barbecue. I would never go to Alabama so this was the closest I'll get, because they do know how to do barbecue. It was a nice evening out getting lost looking for the old location and then finding the new location. Some conversation, good food, and just hanging out with other travelers. I may be introverted, but I do like getting to know strangers and see how they tick and what their perceptions are of the US, like Caz, who said that most of the television shows depict the US as a bunch of idiot hicks. And that was confirmed during her visit to Florida but then she felt better about the US after going to California, after which I told her that mainly the west coast and northeast go against the grain of those shows. The rest of the country....well, I dunno. I'm biased, but yes, the perception in the UK must be that we're all a bunch of idiot yahoos. 

Nica Life, January 26, 2017

I'm rather amazed at how time flies. Considering how I booked this trip to Nicaragua on such short notice, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that it's already Thursday and I head out to Montevideo soon! 

Highlights of the day. I'm attempting to write things down, but I may get lazy with this. And I'm also ambivalent about having this here versus a more personal site? I guess the boundaries are blurred because it's a remote working/travel trip but the priority is work. 

When I booked the lodgings for the places that I'd be staying at, I did look at the proximity to fitness centers of any sort. Depending on the country, it can be difficult. However, the Americas are way better about it than, let's say, Nepal or India. So I'm all good. In fact, yes, I did start doing Crossfit while in Rockland because I can no longer do Muay Thai without a great deal of pain or discomfort AND there are no good Muay Thai schools anywhere outside of Manhattan. I know that sometimes people think it's a bit cultish, and it can be if you choose to let it be. I know I have a lot of limits from age and injury, but it's been nice getting back into shape after almost 3 years of slothfulness. 

With that said, today was the third time I went to the Crossfit Las Colinas near my AirBnB. It's been nice working out with other people. And it's an interesting mix of locals and people who have moved here from elsewhere or who are visiting. In fact, the owners are a couple from Atlanta who took over the box 4 years ago. I was attempting to speak terrible Spanish when the wife told me that it was okay to speak English. And it was funny when she said that she hadn't seen a US $10 bill in a long time. 

Today's workout was bench presses with increasing weights, 12-10-8-6-4-2 weights. Then a 25 minute time period for the metcon, which consisted of 4 rounds of 100 double-unders or 200 singles, 12 handstand pushups, 20 sit-ups, and a 400 meter run. I managed to do the metcon in 18:51 but I'm not sure if the 400 meters was accurate because I was estimating 5 minutes per round knowing how fast or slow I run 400 meters in general. I also met a 1/2 Asian 1/2 Nicaraguan American from LA who is married to a Danish man and has lived in Nicaragua for 11 years. We were commiserating about the state of affairs and discussing life in Nicaragua and options for living outside the US. 

Anyway, I spent a few hours of the day wandering around the city. It's surprisingly not very crowded and not too exciting. I sort of wish I had headed down to the south near the beach where I found a coworking space. I would have also loved to head into the forest, but since work is the priority, I'll have to put that off until later. And, I only had a week here. Sometimes you just don't feel like hopping from place to place every few days, especially after I spent most of the last year doing that. It's also harder to get work done when you're that mobile. The next time I will make sure to do so. Oh, and that coworking space didn't have any hot desks, so it wouldn't have been so useful. Even though I can work from the places that I'm staying at, sometimes it's nice to meet other professionals who may or may not be digital nomads. 

Regardless, I basically walked from the lake back to the Intercontinental, a few miles in the hot sun. I also did a quick jaunt through the National Museum. It was US$5 and it had some interesting history about Nicaragua. For example, I had no idea they had mastodon fossils in this country! And a lot of ceramics. From what I have seen in museums throughout the world, ceramics. Ceramics. So many ceramics. You can get ceramic-ed out, sort of like you can get templed out in Siem Reap. Oh, and please note that the signs are only in Spanish. I could read a decent bit of it but I notice that I get mentally tired if processing ALL Spanish for too long. Funny how the brain works. But apparently my spoken Spanish is bad but not so terrible that I can't have conversations with my taxi drivers about where I'm from, what I do for work, if it's my first time in Nicaragua, if I am traveling by myself, how many tattoos I have (and why I like tattoos), and if I'd tattoo my face. My listening is slightly better, but if someone speaks too quickly, it's difficult. 

I also did not feel unsafe walking around, even through slummier areas. There were always plenty of taxis that I could have waved down. And lots of rocks to brain someone in case of emergency. It was also broad daylight, which is always the best time to wander about and feel relatively safe. And then I got takeout from La Colonia (el combo tres con una Coca Cola cero con hielo) because I was feeling antisocial, lazy, and like the new space I got shuffled over to (pictured below). I was able to transfer 209 PDFs, via Google Drive, to my other laptop and from there, moved it all onto the server via VPN! Yay, technology! However, I had to spend 15 minutes on the phone with IT (AGAIN) to resolve a) not being able to log in to the IT problems ticketing site when I was able to do so a few days ago and b) not being able to get onto VPN (AGAIN). Thankfully both problems were resolved. I also spent some time expanding my LinkedIn network and messaging some people in my network about different things like work needs and work visas in case I want to be able to work for UK, Singapore, or Hong Kong agencies. 

 

My second AirBnB because the app messed up my booking. But I like this one better. 

My second AirBnB because the app messed up my booking. But I like this one better. 

Full Time Digital Nomad Life - Nicaragua

Here I am, safe and sound in Nicaragua. 

It took a bit longer than I thought to get here, but that's because most of the trips taken last year were a few hours apart in SEA. Sometimes it's easy to forget the distances when going north to south or vice versa. 

I admit that I booked my ticket to Nicaragua only a week in advance. I wasn't planning on coming here but then a few things changed and I I figured why not check out another country. Especially when I could change or cancel my flight on Copa for free!! If I had had to pay a penalty, this leg of the trip wouldn't have worked.

I am staying at an AirBnB, at a colonial mansion. I am also close to a CrossFit gym so I can keep on training and making progress with recovering my strength and fitness. It should be interesting learning how to say all the lifts in Spanish, but that's part of the fun. And sometimes part of the fun is picking a place, doing no research on what to do, and landing there! However, I rarely overplan travels because I know it's more at the mercy of my whims or situations.

Today I will go out and explore a few surrounding areas. I think that will be about it for touristy stuff while I'm here for the week. I have a few projects on my plate that require 40 hours of work, at least, this week. I am more than happy to have the work, though!!! I truly appreciate having clients who don't mind me working remotely. 

PS, wifi situation in Nicaragua is not so great. I might even say it's worse than Kathmandu and Kathmandu was actually pretty decent. Vietnam had the best wifi of any country. Oh, and apparently there are no coworking spaces here, but there is an Intercontinental hotel that I may visit because they have a business center and I can hopefully work from there. It's also a little more central to the downtown area. The only thing I would hesitate doing is wandering around with my laptop(s) while sightseeing. 

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