It was probably a Saturday evening in between the sixth and seventh episode of a typical Pitbulls and Parolees binge-watching marathon when the credits paused to ask: Are you still watching?
Not many things can bring me more joy than Tia Maria Torres matching a down-on-its-luck pitbull with a loving family, so all signs pointed to the answer being a resounding yes.
Before I resigned the fate of my Saturday night to be consumed by the good deeds of TMT, though, I had one of those moments when you see yourself in the reflection of the black TV screen and go “…yikes!”
I was 26 years old and living in one of the most fun cities in the US — Austin, TX. I should have been out with friends eating Via 313 pizza on Rainey Street — not crushing entire seasons of Animal Planet shows in one sitting, regardless of their undeniably addictive nature.
I picked up my phone, fumbled my way to iMessage, drafted a feeler text to see what the crew was up to that night, and indecisively hovered my thumb over the send button. After some contemplation, I ultimately put my phone on silent, tossed it on the coffee table, and resumed the P&P marathon.
The truth was I felt too apathetic and unmotivated to do anything, and had been feeling that way for a while. I was comfortable with not going out, with not exploring, with not doing anything besides my daily routine of work > yoga > Netflix > repeat.
It was just so, so easy.
While I did nothing about it at the time, I knew deep down that was probably not what a painfully single 26-year-old should have been doing. Wanting a change, but not really knowing what kind of change I needed, I decided to pull what was probably a classic desperation move and put down some money for a puppy later in the year.
I didn’t know it at the time, but one of my employer’s perks was about to put my life on a trajectory that I before never would have thought remotely possible.
RetailMeNot, my employer for nearly a year and a half at that point, was an Austin tech company with amazing perks . Perks like a sponsored exchange program to go work in our foreign offices, which included the likes of London, Paris, and Amsterdam.
I had never been overseas and assumed that once I had my dog, traveling would mostly be a pipedream. I figured I might as well apply so that I could say that I had been to Europe before beginning to make my dog dad dreams come true.
Lo and behold, I got accepted to do the exchange program in London and eight weeks later I was on a plane to Heathrow. Wanting to really get the most out of the trip, which was undoubtedly going to be the last time I would be traveling internationally, I added two weeks of vacation time after the program to find out what backpacking through Europe was all about.
After three and a half weeks of easy living in London, then comfortable backpacking with friends throughout Europe, I was left with four final days in Greece, traveling solo for the first time. In Greece, I got to experience what it was like to truly be outside of my comfort zone, made friends from all over the world, and experienced all of the other amazing things that happen once you finally do let go.
Those incredible four days in Greece opened my eyes to a different perspective on not only travel, but on life, too.
Suddenly the apathy and desire for comfort that I felt back home was replaced with passion and excitement and plans for the future — three things I hadn’t had in a long time. On the plane ride back to Austin, I jotted down ideas of where I wanted my next trips to be, not knowing when I’d have the time or money to pull them off.
At that point, specifics didn’t matter. I was too excited about all of the new possibilities to care. It was like there was a door that was hiding a lifestyle that I both didn’t know existed and didn’t know that I desperately wanted, and I had finally been handed the keys.
This post-vacation high lasted six days. I know the specifics because it was on my first Friday back in the office when I happened to see a video ad while scrolling through Facebook.
I remember seeing some dude throwing his suitcase on a bed (which my OCD-esque personality did not love, but okay) followed by some people working at cafes and at rooftop pools. “Damn, that would be nice,” I thought. After I watched the ad once or twice more, I finally clicked on it.
It was for a company called Remote Year that enabled you to travel abroad with a community of other people while working for your current employer. Had I seen this ad a month or two earlier, I would have Command+W’d that window without hesitation because there is no way on Earth that someone like me could possibly do that.
I had just worked remotely in London for two weeks and not only had it been easy, it was incredible!
That was when this crazy, semi-terrifying realization dawned on me…I could actually do it.
Then a second, even more terrifying realization dawned on me…I really wanted to do it!
That’s some impressive targeted advertising.
I dragged my coworker over to my desk and asked her if I should apply, or if I was insane. She reminded me that I had nothing to lose, and 10 minutes later I had submitted my first round application.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but from the moment I hit the submit button on the application, my fascination with this lifestyle and my determination to make it a reality for myself would become all-consuming for the next six months.
There was only one catch: in order to do Remote Year, I would need to have a remote job. Well, I already had a job — one that I really liked — but it was definitely not remote. All I really knew was that this was going to happen one way or the other.
Now all I had to do was convince both Remote Year and RetailMeNot that this had to happen, too. Well, that, and I had to get back that deposit I put down for the puppy because nothing seemed crazier to me at that point than getting a dog.
Not even selling all of my things to travel the world for an entire year with a bunch of strangers.