Ashley Edokpayi: 12 Cities in 12 Months with Remote Year [Interview 22]
It's always a special treat for me to link up with friends, or friends of friends, from back home while living abroad. Something about reminiscing on what our cities used to be like back when we were young and carefree, while catching up on what brought us both to Thailand or Malaysia at the same time years later... it just feels cool, you know?
So when Ashley left a comment on my IG pic last February saying she'd be in Kuala Lumpur (my new city at the time) in October, I had her visit to look forward to for months.
Ashley Edokpayi spent all of 2017 traveling the world for 1 month at a time through a program called Remote Year. Everyone who participates has their own thing going on – their own remote job, business, project, etc. – but they come together as one big travel tribe and spend the year experiencing completely new ways of life.
Ashley's group spent portions of the year calling 12 countries home across South America, Europe, and Asia (plus several side trips). Thanks to great timing, we got to hang out in both KL and Chiang Mai! I so enjoyed hearing about her exciting adventures around the globe as she rounded up her last few months in Remote Year, and I know you will too.
Although it's difficult to capture the full magnitude of an opportunity like this, Ashley does a great job of painting the picture through dreamy visuals (I can't get enough) and this fascinating recap she shared with us here!
Wanna know what it's like to spend a year globe-trotting? Read Ashley's vivid story below and learn what she loved most about each city; how she found a remote job that allowed her to continue traveling instead of having to return home; and how she managed to get work done + stay sane in between all the flights and adventures.
KW: What made you decide to join this program and commit to a whole year around the world? Was it something you knew you had to do from the jump?
AE: I learned about Remote Year from my friend Joi, who encouraged me to apply. I'd always wanted to travel the world but college, graduate school, and my career kept me stuck in DC. I'd always craved culturally immersive experiences, especially living in the DMV area, which is one of the most diverse regions of the country. Before 2017, I'd only been outside of the U.S. twice, and once I got the offer to join Remote Year, my intuition told me it was now or never! I had to take the risk and do it.
What was your experience like traveling for a year straight? (Where'd you go? Any major epiphanies? Highlights and lowlights?)
In July 2016 I was presented with the rare opportunity to drop everything I knew, escape my comfort zone, and travel the world with a group of 70 wanderlusting strangers for 12 months. In September 2016, after going back and forth with the big decision, I finally said yes -- and quit my 9-5 corporate media relations job in Washington, DC.
On January 1, 2017, I boarded a one-way flight to Mexico City, embraced the unknown, and never looked back. It was the best decision I've made in my 26 years of life.
To summarize an entire year living and working in 12 different cities is nearly impossible, but when I reflect on the experience there are some major themes that come to mind -- Growth. Limitless. Awareness. Unity. Gratitude. Vulnerability. Connectedness. Beauty.
My journey began in Latin America, where I spent 6 months with my Remote Year tribe (Meraki) learning how to live like a local in Mexico, Colombia, Peru, and Argentina.
The culture and traditions of each country were extremely unique, and the passion the locals displayed for their country was beyond admirable. Each city holds a special place in my heart for different reasons -- in Mexico City (where I'm now revisiting for a few weeks), it was the spicy street food, the lush parks, the sacredness of ancient rituals and ruins, the late night's Salsa dancing, the markets.
In Medellin, it was the coffee farms, the mountain + jungle hikes, the vibrant cafe scene, and the community's dedication to debunking Colombia's cocaine-capital myths and showing you their beautiful country.
In Buenos Aires, it was the sexy tango-dancing, the familial carne asadas, the underground music scene, and the wine tastings (best Malbec I've ever had). All of these places felt like home, and always will.
For the summer, my travel tribe headed to Europe, where we lived in Prague, Belgrade, and Valencia.
With architecture and scenes straight out of a storybook, Prague was one of my most pivotal months. I dedicated all of my time to self-care by returning to my vegan diet, practicing yoga outdoors, letting go of weights that were holding me down back at home, and meditating every morning. Combatting anxiety and intense mood swings, I'd finally hit a beautiful breakthrough and reminded myself that I was always in control of my reality.
It was also when I realized the impact travel can have on your mental health, both good and bad! It's so very important to find ways to keep yourself grounded and sane through all the wandering.
In August, we headed to Belgrade -- a grungy city with a facade that reflects the traumatic aftermath of constant war bombings year ago. I strayed away from the group for the first couple weeks to visit Budapest and Croatia.
Croatia offered the most stunning turquoise waters I'd ever swam in, which was a lovely treat during the European heat wave.
In September, we made our way to Valencia, Spain, where the beach was a short bike ride away and I overate paella on a weekly basis. YUM.
The last stretch of our journey took us to Southeast Asia! A region I'd wanted to explore since I was a little girl. I'd always been drawn to Eastern spiritual practices, every type of Asian cuisine, and was beyond antsy to experience everything.
Before arriving in Kuala Lumpur, I made a 10-day pit stop with a couple friends in Marrakesh, Morrocco. I could write a book about my experience there, but I'll share my favorite highlight -- I camped out for a night in the Sahara desert, which included a sunset camel ride and playing drums with indigenous Berber's under the moon + stars. Top three favorite moments of 2017, undoubtedly.
From Marrakesh, I headed to Indonesia for a quick writer's retreat, where I first experienced the pure magic that is Bali -- where I'd later return to.
Once I finally made my way to Kuala Lumpur, I was overwhelmed by the number of huge malls, pollution, and unforgivable humidity. I only really enjoyed the 24/7 street food, my visit to the Batu Caves, and linking up with the lovely Kristen of LITT Nomads :).
November took us to Chiang Mai, Thailand, where I immediately fell in love with the curries, temples, meditation, waterfalls, mountains and the warm-hearted, friendly people. In Thailand, I found true peace within, and I'm eternally grateful for it.
Finally, we ended our journey in Kyoto, Japan. A clean and quiet city where the group could reflect on the year, enjoy unique Japanese cuisine together, and prepare to part ways as we entered the next chapter of our lives. I drank matcha lattes every day, ate way too much gyoza and cherished the final moments we'd have with all of Meraki in one city.
2017 was the best year of my life. I wake up every day thinking about I am forever changed, with a new lust for life and excitement to explore more corners of this world. My heart, soul, and spirit have never been so damn FULL, and I'm grateful beyond words.
How did you find your remote job? I can imagine that great remote jobs are competitive positions; what qualities/skill sets of yours do you think earned you the role?
Funny story! So, I began Remote Year unemployed with just enough savings to get me through the first couple months. As a former control freak and perfectionist, this was a huge gamble for me and I figured if I didn't find anything remote by end of February, I'd go back to DC and rethink the remote lifestyle. I hit a new low at the end of February, with less than $20 in my bank account and no real job leads. I'd lost hope of the year working out.
But the universe had a plan for me, and to my surprise, everything aligned in mid-March. I got hired via Skype at my current remote job as a Communications Specialist at Blue Practice -- a media and public relations agency dedicated to sustainable causes and organizations. I think both my skills and values landed me this job, as I have a strong background in multimedia as well as a deep passion for the environment, live a vegan lifestyle, and want to do my part in creating sustainability awareness.
How did you manage to balance full time work with full time country hopping every month? What did that career transition teach you about yourself/life?
Working remotely full-time requires a ton of discipline and focus. I've always been an ambitious, driven individual and am able to zone out and get work done when needed, but being surrounded by other remote professionals living the same lifestyle is what made the transition seamless for me.
Our local coworking spaces were typically great for productivity, and working from cafes became an exciting part of the new work lifestyle. The biggest challenge was the fluctuation in my work hours -- I was required to be on Pacific time no matter where I was, which resulting in me working long evenings in Europe and overnight graveyard shifts in SE Asia. It was definitely difficult, but I believe it was worth it for all I got to experience during my free time.