Remote Year, Unraveled

Contemplating Contradictions


I’m sitting on a rock overlooking Lake Mary, about 25 minutes outside of Flagstaff, Arizona. My laptop is balanced on my knees, and I’m a conflicted ball of emotions. Remote Year is over. It’s been over for 50 days actually. I’ve been back in the US for 44 of those days, bouncing from state to state, crashing with friends and family, and flexing my new camping muscles when I don’t have a couch to crash on. It’s been a wonderful extension of my Remote Year adventure, continuing to work while traveling. I’ve been able to spend some quality time with family at my sister’s wedding and again in Colorado. I’ve had coffee and drinks and late night catch-up sessions with a ton of friends I haven’t seen in ages, and even made a couple new friends along the way.

But tomorrow I head back to Phoenix. Back home. And I’m conflicted. Not about wanting to go back to Phoenix. The longer I was away from Phoenix, the more convicted I became that that city has become my adopted home. I can’t wait to settle back into my comfortable house (I’ve missed it so!), get back into a steady daily routine, plan happy hours and dinner parties with friends. I’m excited about not constantly living out of a suitcase, being able to cook regularly and returning to the coworking space I work from several days a week.

Unlike some people who set out on a radical adventure like Remote Year, I wasn’t running away from something. I wasn’t trying to flee a broken relationship, or get outta Dodge. I’d had a career change, which opened my eyes to new opportunities and allowed me to tap into something I dearly love: deep, extended travel. The “digital nomad” community of which I have become a part (for better or worse) often eschews the concept of having a home. Even worse: returning home (that implies that you’ve tried digital nomading and failed at it). There is a romanticized — almost elitist — attitude that working from your laptop in an amazing foreign city (bonus points if said foreign city has a beach) is “better” than working from a place you call home (negative points if said place includes an office building).

There are many things that I learned during Remote Year. Maybe I’ll get around to writing a post about all the lessons. One of them is this:

I love to travel. And I love being home. And despite what those damn digital nomads try to tell you, these two loves don’t have to be in conflict.

Travel lights me up. I feel a thrill when setting out to explore a new place. I soak up the sights and the smells and I want to #eatallthethings. My creativity gets a boost when photographing a famous landmark, a beautiful vista or just a really cool door. (Thank you, Morocco.) I love trading stories with fellow travelers, getting tips for the best places to grab a good meal or get off the beaten path. I especially love to share stories about when things go awry and lead to either lessons learned or something new discovered. I will always need to travel.

Being home refreshes me. I find Phoenix to be small enough to have a sense of community, but large enough to offer variety and quirkiness. I love the strong bonds friendship that I have, and I’m thankful that my parents are nearby. I am proud of the home I have built. Over the years I have remodeled, updated, painted, decorated and in general put a lot of work into it. I have more dreams for it, too. With each completed project, it becomes more and more of an extension of me, and I love sharing it with family and friends. When I am home, I am at ease.

It’s not the being home part that has my emotions in a tumult right now. It’s the arrival process. That overwhelming moment of re-entry. It’s the dozens and dozens of conversations ahead of me. The same questions over and over again. (Warning: If you ask me what city was my favorite, I’m going to ask you to come up with a more creative question.) The contradiction of wanting to tell so many stories, but not wanting to come across as one of those elitist douchebag digital nomads. (But while we’re on the subject of digital douchebags, check out the satirical Instagram account my friends created to make fun of the elitist-est digital nomads out there.) The pressure to show that I’ve made something of myself this year, that I’ve brought something of the world back to offer Phoenix. That I know what’s next. The pressure to do this over and over again with all the important people in my life who all want to have coffee/lunch/happy hour with me as soon as I come back.

To be honest, I need to ease into my social life again. I’m not going to pack my schedule with coffee dates and social obligations. I want to go to yoga and work from coffeeshops. I don’t want to do all the talking. Tell me what I’ve missed. I want to meet the babies that were born and the new significant others that have entered the picture while I was away. I want quality time, not rushed time. I want routine. I want my friends and family to be patient with me when I say I’m not available to make a happy hour date until November. Because here’s the thing, I do know a little about what’s next: while my Remote Year may have ended, my Remote Lifestyle is just getting started, and this new routine will include a healthy mix of travel and time at home. And there’s nothing contradictory in that balance.

Next up: Road Trip 2.0 (LA to the Bay Area) during the first two weeks of October.

Also published on Medium.