In February 2018, I accepted a full-time remote marketing strategist role working for a data analytics and marketing automation firm based in Columbus, OH. I’m originally from Cincinnati and went to college in Columbus (Go Bucks!) and through my extended network landed this job while living in sunny San Diego, where I currently reside.
Rewind about 6 months to the fall of 2017 while I was freelancing, I had discovered this hot and up-and-coming trend of being a “digital nomad” (thanks Google) – working and living anywhere in the world with just a laptop and wifi connection. Discovering that people actually did this fulltime blew my mind! It meant ULTIMATE freedom to me. Combining my love for international travel, experiencing new cultures and meeting new people, all while being able to work and support myself with a job I loved? YAS, please! After diligently researching online and finding a handful of digital nomad companies, I was definitely sold that this was something I wanted to try, but the timing wasn’t right due to finances. Thanks to Facebook retargeting ads, one of the digital nomad groups I had researched (WiFi Tribe) found me again in March 2018. After an extensive interview process to make sure I was the right fit for this growing community of digital nomads, I was accepted into the program. I decided to do a test and commit to one month-long chapter. I never saw myself being a digital nomad full-time, as I love growing my roots deeper here in San Diego, but more of a travel/work opportunity to shake up my routine and get outside of my comfort zone. Three chapters were available during the summer timeframe and I loved the idea of spending four weeks in funky urban Berlin, while also having easy access to other European countries.
5 Weeks in Europe
On June 18, 2018, I embarked on my 5-week digital nomad trip leaving from Cincinnati, since I made a pit stop to see the family and spend time with my colleagues in Columbus. With a quick 24-hour stopover in rainy, chilly Reykjavik for 24-hours, I landed in Berlin on Friday, June 20, the first day of the month-long chapter alongside 20 other digital nomads.
Our home-away-from-home was a co-loving space (a.k.a a glorified hostel) with trendy furniture, funky urban art, and open communal spaces. I quickly learned that many of the digital nomads I was surrounded by actually live this lifestyle year round and enjoy joining up with a community like WiFi Tribe instead of doing it solo.
Monday through Friday was pretty standard as if I was working in San Diego with my Columbus team, except for the 6-hour time difference. I adjusted my work schedule to be online from 12-9 pm Berlin time, which left me my mornings to explore locally, get a workout in, or grab breakfast with my fellow nomads. Most of us worked together on our own work and laptops in the big common room. I enjoyed being around people instead of working alone in my townhouse, but I realized I still missed having the shared experience of working alongside colleagues and sharing in the day to day ups-and-downs that working in-person afforded.
The amazing part of working in a city instead of vacationing was the gift of time. I had four whole weeks to explore morning or night and over the weekends, and be truly immersed in the culture and city instead of just stopping by for a quick few days and jampacking my schedule. Activities were filled with art exhibits, city bike tours, Thursday-night food halls, and plenty of World Cup watching in beer gardens. It was quite the luxury to have a go-to group people to hang out with at all times of the day since usually, I would be back in San Diego working from my PB condo solo.
I really love the food scene and arts culture in Berlin. Being a vegetarian, Berlin was well suited for my diet with plentiful vegetarian-friendly restaurants, including falafel stand on almost every other corner. The Berlin Wall Museum East Side Gallery and Wall were beautifully chilling. It was incredible to see the magnificent structure full of vibrant art still in place and its history and impact on the city.
Outside of my four weeks in Berlin, I spent a long weekend in the beautiful gothic city of Prague, which was a 3.5-hour train ride from Berlin. Prague definitely topped the list with its medieval, romantic, and small-town feel compared to the hustle and bustle of downtown Berlin. From beer gardens and Trdelníks (Prague’s popular donut-like dessert) to the Prague Castle, Prague was the perfect weekend getaway to slow down and experience a friendly and open culture (compared to the more stiff Berliners).
Last but not least, I spent my last five days solo in hot, hot, hot Rome and Florence at the end of July. I ended up taking some paid time off from work and exploring the history and incredible food scene of Rome. Rome in July is sunny and 95 just about every day, and over-crowded with tourists, which became a bit overwhelming towards the end of my trip. One of my favorite experiences was stumbling upon this mom-and-pop Italian restaurant and enjoying a glass of red wine with the most decadent mushroom truffle ravioli and getting lost in conversation with an older couple dining next to me.
So, what exactly did I learn about myself and other people during these 5 weeks and 14,000+ miles across Europe? Umm…a heck of a lot!
The Lessons Learned
- Who you surround yourself with is everything. People will either lift you up or bring you down. Choose wisely.
- Lean on your community, even if you’re 6 or 9 hours ahead while traveling. Sometimes a call to your mom, boyfriend, or bestie can completely change your mindset.
- Always research local transportation before you arrive in a foreign city. After an intense run-in with the Berlin transit authority and an $80 fine later, I learned this lesson the hard way.
- The life you currently have is likely already so full and gratifying, at least I hope it is. I had to spend 5 weeks in 5 countries to find out that everything I was searching for already existed in San Diego and Ohio.
- If everything seems out of your control (i.e. your co-living space is a total nightmare full of partiers and you sleep mo more than 5 hours a night), find something you can control. Working out was my respite during these 5 weeks and helped me stay grounded.
- Whether you’re 25 or 45, I recommend traveling alone as a woman at least once in your life. I was able to find my confidence and independence again after navigating across Europe for five weeks. This was the reminder I needed that even in a long-term committed relationship, I can do anything that I set my mind to.
Would I do it again?
I’m not sure that I would to be honest. As I learned during this trip, whom I surround myself with is everything. As I close out my 20s, I believe life is too short to compromise on things that are really important. I prefer to travel with my tribe of family and friends with shared values. Of course, I love meeting new people while traveling, especially locals, and having that shared experience. I am deeply grateful for this 5-week experience for the lessons I learned and the memories I have.