I designed this experiment to explore a longstanding question in my life about travel: would I enjoy a fully nomadic lifestyle?
Travel is one of my favorite hobbies, it’s my single greatest container for growth, it’s the vehicle in which I engage in experiential learning, and it’s been a tremendous bonding experience for my closest relationships.
Traveling is such a priority that my husband and I plan our lives around it. For example, in 2011 we moved from Chicago to Detroit so we could have our home base in a city with a low cost of living. This domestic geoarbitrage enabled us to use what we saved in housing costs and property taxes to fund our travels.
Currently we spend every December in Mexico for our annual retreat. Our winters (January – May) are spent in Venice Beach, California. And we plan several short international trips throughout the rest of the year (e.g., last year we visited Bhutan, Italy, Germany, Nepal, Switzerland, Tibet, and Thailand).
And when it comes to experiential growth, our vision is that:
“we visit the most magical and mystical places on earth and live in the most inspiring locations.“
For most people (including my husband), 6 months per year of travel is more than enough. But I have found myself desiring more travel and have a long list of places that I want to visit and live before my time on earth expires. And the older I get, the stronger my motivation for seeing new places, meeting new people, and learning about how other people construct meaningful lives.
While I went through my own post-retirement transition process after we FIRE‘d, I’m still conducting early retirement experiments. So this summer, I designed an experiment to focus on answering my burning travel questions: would I enjoy making travel a lifestyle (instead of a scheduled activity)? In other words, what would my life be like if I became a digital nomad?
Designing an experiment to answer this question was quite easy because there are plenty of programs that allow travelers to try the digital nomad lifestyle. It was just a matter of picking one that best fit my needs, inviting my boo to join me (he declined), registering, and packing my bags.
I chose Remote Year for my experiment to test the following hypotheses:
- Hypothesis #1 :Traveling more than I currently do will increase my happiness.
- Hypothesis #2: A different pace of traveling (a new country every month) will be more satisfying than our current pace (several months in the same place every year and a few short multi-country sprints).
- Hypothesis #3: Traveling with other nomads will enhance my travel experience.
My Remote Year cohort consists of 22 humans, ranging in age from 26 – 71. We are mostly American, slightly more women than men, and I am one of only 2 married people (both of us are traveling without our spouses). Every month our group is supplemented by several “citizens” (Remote Year’s term for alumni) who join us in a specific city for the month.
Our travel itinerary is as follows:
- June: Split, Croatia
- July: Lisbon, Portugal
- August: Valencia, Spain
- September: Cape Town, South Africa
I set off for Croatia in late May to join my Remote Year cohort (we are called “Davinci”). During the first month, I shared a flat with two men (who were delightful flatmates). If you’re curious what our flat looked like, here’s a short video tour:
As of this post, we’ve completed our first month of travel in Croatia. It was a month full of adventures, challenges, and growth including a whole bunch of firsts for me:
- Zip-lining over Cetina Canyon
- Presenting in the Pecha Kucha format
- A romantic holiday with my husband in Venice, Italy
- Attending the wedding of dear friends in Vittorio Veneto
- Side trips to London, Oxford and Stratford-upon-Avon
- Seeing the gender-reversed version of Taming of the Shrew at the Royal Shakespeare Theater
- Attending FI Chautauqua
- Reading great books by people I connected with this month (The Simple Path To Wealth by Jim Collins and Smart Investing by Sun-Jung Choi)
- Birthing a brand new idea for a philanthropy project and getting immediate feedback on it from likely participants (and then iterating….) and
- Completing the 30 Day Alcohol Experiment
In the midst of all those firsts, I’ve also learned quite a bit about myself. I’m not judging any of it as good or bad, just recording it as observational data. For example:
- I prefer quality over quantity of experiences
- I’m more people-curious than place-curious
- I feel JOMO (joy of missing out) more frequently than I feel FOMO (fear of missing out).
And the biggest challenges of my first month have been:
- Navigating the reality that I’m not drinking alcohol, but alcohol consumption plays a central role in group bonding and most evening/weekend activities.
- Realizing that I grossly underestimated how much alone time I need to re-energize on a daily basis. I said “yes” to too many activities, got drained, and then got sick at the end of the month.
- Acknowledging that I felt homesick a lot of the time. This is the longest I’ve been away from my husband in our 24 years of marriage. Even though we Skyped on a daily basis and spent a few days together in Italy, I missed him (and the life we’ve created) terribly!
I’m only one month into the journey, so it’s too soon to tell whether my travel hypotheses will be supported (or fail to be supported) by my data. But as we move on to Lisbon, I’m making a few adjustments to align my travel experience with who I am as a human being. Specifically, this month, I’m:
- shifting from a shared flat to a private flat,
- reducing the number of group activities I do each week (so I can fully enjoy those activities and better balance group-time and alone-time),
- planning to be more pro-active about meeting local people who share my interests (books, writing, entrepreneurship, personal development…)
The most important lesson I learned this month is that even though I’m traveling with a group, I am 100% responsible for my daily experiences. On the days I was clear about who I am and what I want, I had an amazing experience. And on the days I went along with the crowd, I ended up exhausted.
I hope that my transparency about what life experiments actually look like (the good, bad, ugly and beautiful) will help those of you designing them for yourselves.
p.s. – if you have any questions about Remote Year, the details of nomad life, living in Split, or designing life experiments, post them below!