I was eating leftovers over the sink with plastic silverware.
The previous morning, Marisa, her mother, and I had braved the line at Screen Door for one last Portland brunch. I finished the remnants of my chicken and waffles, doing my best to not to make a mess on the freshly-scrubbed counter and floor in the kitchen.
The apartment was completely empty. The cleaning service had left it sparkling. There was so much reverb when I spoke that it felt closer to an echo.
The giant living room I’d loved so much was bare. I’d taken the blanket and pillows we’d slept on the night before out to the trash.1 Nicole from the cleaning service had taken nearly everything else — “I didn’t bill you for the hour I spent loading your stuff into my car,” she texted me later.
Only two small suitcases, two backpacks, a box of last-minute chores, and a couple small trash cans remained.
This is everything I own, I thought to myself.
Marisa showed up around five thirty. We threw away the final few items from the fridge and tossed the trash — cans and all — into the compactor on the building’s first floor.
We wheeled our luggage out of the apartment and I locked the door. I stopped by the manager’s office. My heart was hurling itself against the walls of my ribcage, and I ran through the checklist for the hundred-thousandth time.
It’s all done. The apartment is empty. There’s nothing left to forget.
I felt a little dizzy as I dropped the keys in the mail slot. They hit the bottom of the container on the other side with a nauseating finality.
“That’s it,” I said. “I’m officially homeless.”
Ever since I started talking about my experiment in permanent travel I’ve been met with some variation on the question, “Are you excited?”
Reactions from my friends and family have ranged from excitement and good-natured jealousy to near-panic and quiet disapproval,2 but — regardless of their view — everyone wants to know how I’m feeling about the trip.
It’s a question that feels like small talk. But as I went through the motions of responding — “Yeah, it’s going to be a great adventure!” “I know, I’ve heard amazing things about Italy!” “There won’t be any pizza left by the time I leave!” — pointed out something disconcerting to me as the kick-off date drew nearer: I wasn’t feeling excited.
I wasn’t nervous. I wasn’t afraid. I wasn’t second-guessing my decision.
I wasn’t… anything.
Flight DAL418 to Milan was to me — as far as I was emotionally processing things — just another flight. My 59th of the year. Another 3,982 miles added to my SkyMiles balance.
The realization that I wasn’t emotionally addressing this trip concerned me a little. Was I compartmentalizing too much? Was I bottling up my excitement and fear, wiring up an emotional booby trap that could detonate at at any moment? Was I in for a truly spectacular breakdown in JFK, collapsed in on myself in the Terminal 4 Starbucks, sobbing uncontrollably, feeling a year’s worth of repressed feelings all at once?
The night before the flight, I was restless.
All of the work was done. The tickets were purchased. All we had left to do was show up at the airport on time in the morning.
We ate our last meal in Portland at Robo Taco around nine. We ordered burritos and settled into a dimly lit corner. To my left, a muted television played PBS reruns.
“Are you okay?” Marisa asked me between bites.
I was giddy. Nervous. Excited. Relieved that the work of severing my ties to Oregon was finally done. Happy that I’d found a traveling partner. Scared that I was jumping with both feet into a world I don’t fully understand.
“This feels like the first day of school,” I said. I was eating my burrito with a fork and knife because I’d squeezed too hard and broken the tortilla, spilling the contents out the back. “I’m happy and sad and excited and scared. It’s that feeling of ‘into the unknown’, you know?”
The conversation lulled as we finished eating, and we watched Bob Ross paint some happy little trees. Then we headed for the airport hotel.
At four this morning, Marisa’s alarm went off. She got up to shower, and I went back to sleep.
At ten to six we were in the security line. Six fifteen we were at the gate with coffee in hand. On the plane by seven.
As I write this, I’m somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, getting further and further away from a home I no longer have. All of my former possessions are settling into new homes with the friends and strangers on Craigslist who bought them. The apartment I locked up last night has already been rented to new tenants; I imagine they’ll start moving in this weekend.
Everything I own in the world is in two bags: one at my feet, and one above my head. I didn’t leave behind a storage unit, or an attic-load of furniture for my parents to hold onto. This is it. These bags. The clothes I’m wearing.
In a few hours I’ll be in Milan, Italy, hauling my two bags into a stranger’s home.
I should be sleeping to ward off the imminent jet lag, but I’m still restless. I can feel the weight of my eyelids, but I can’t stop thinking about the adventures that lie ahead — pizza! gelato! and I guess some old buildings and stuff3 — and the problems I haven’t solved yet.4
I still don’t feel as excited as is maybe appropriate. And I certainly don’t feel as worried as my mom probably is.
But I feel a pressure building in my chest and throat that makes me want to either burst into laughter or tears. I feel proud that I have built a career that allows me to take this trip. I feel lucky to live in an age where technology allows a lifestyle like this to exist. I feel hopeful that my research and preparation will prove to be at least mostly correct.
I’m not exactly sure how I should feel about all of this. But I’m absolutely sure that I’m ready for it.
- I sold, donated, or gave away nearly everything I owned that was suitable for reuse. However, bedding is gross to share with a stranger, and my sheets had worn to the point where — a couple weeks prior to throwing them away — a hole had opened up near my (apparently) razor-sharp toenails.↩
- Not disapproval in the sense of, “You shouldn’t do this, it’s a bad idea,” but more in the sense of, “I don’t understand how you’re going to make this work and therefore cannot condone your actions.” No one has told me I shouldn’t take this trip; I’ve just had a few people find the whole concept too big and daunting, and from them I’ve been met with a lot of uncomfortable silences and worried groans. (“Mom, I’m going to live in Europe for a year.” Mom emits a sound similar to Tina in Bob’s Burgers.)↩
- Marisa: “You talk like we’re only going to be eating while we’re there.” Me: “Well, we are only going to be eating while we’re there.” Marisa: “We’re going to see museums and architecture and stuff, too.” Me: “I mean, sure — on the way to our next meal.”↩
- I still don’t know for sure how this whole “unlocked phone with a SIM card” thing will work. I forgot to save the directions to the first Airbnb, so I need to find wifi access before we can get there. I don’t speak Italian. I just learned that people in Barcelona speak Catalan, which I didn’t even know was a language until a few days ago.↩
What to do next.
If you’re like me, the idea of traveling permanently while making a living probably seems like a dream — but you don’t think you can pull it off.
I felt that way right up until I actually boarded a flight to leave the United States back in 2014 — and now I can’t believe I didn’t start living this life sooner.
The secret to a life on your terms — work where and when you want, living anywhere in the world — is remote work. And there’s good news: it’s easier than ever before to join the ranks of location-independent workers around the world.
I want to help you. The best remote workers all have a set of non-technical skills, and I’ve put together a free 6-point checklist to help you master them — and ultimately master your time and ability to work anywhere in the world.