2017: My Second Year as a Digital Nomad

Nicole Fu working from Passerbuys Lounge, NYC

2017 was my second year nomading. In 2016, I resolved to write more and to blog once a month, and then in 2017 I stopped completely. But it’s 2018 and I’m back!

Highlights:

  • My first protest: the women’s march in Vancouver, which marked the turning point of women empowerment in 2017
  • Visiting New Orleans for the Collision conference and jazz fest
  • Spending my birthday and the 28th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in Berlin at the Berlin Wall. (Then going to a German naked spa!)
  • Hitting 40 countries this year – went to Central America and the Middle East for the first time.

January-March: Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Banff

I was snowboarding in Utah over the holidays, and flights from Salt Lake City to Vancouver on January 2nd were expensive. I don’t know if it was the route, or it was when everyone was traveling back to work. So, I drove to Vegas to catch a $100 flight to Vancouver. It happened to be CES so I managed to catch a friend who was in town for that, as well as some great shows: O, the best Cirque du Soleil show I’ve seen, Blue Man Group, and Penn & Teller.

After nomading for a year, I was looking forward to settling somewhere for a bit. Since I left Vancouver when I was very young, I was excited to check it out as an adult, and get to know my birthplace as well as my extended family.

I really enjoyed living up in the mountains with an unbeatable view, Vancouver’s mild winter, and my nearby community centre where I took fitness classes as well as a 3-month drawing class and gymnastics class. Public transport and car share services did not serve my area though, and monthly rentals were expensive, so I ended up buying a car (which I only managed to sell 6 months after leaving 😭).

I attended some meetups while I was there but didn’t really make any friends (apparently it’s hard to make friends in Vancouevr). St Patrick’s weekend was around the corner and a German friend who I met in Da Nang in 2016 was in Edmonton so I popped over to celebrate it there. The consensus among his German friends and I were that Edmonton is the ugliest city in the world  😂  Yet somehow, the small city had a disproportionately large country music club, which I thoroughly enjoyed myself at.

I spent the next week working in Calgary, and the weekend soaking in all of Banff’s beauty. It was my first time in both, and I loved them. Read more in my Calgary City Guide.

My 3 months in Vancouver I was getting over a guy, and dealing with a client relationship which was getting more toxic by the day. He would iMessage me at all hours of the day with accusations and demands, and at the height of my stress and unhappiness, he/the company was the last thing I thought about before going to bed, and the first thing I thought about when I woke up. I was living in anxiety. Luckily, that ended, and my Airbnb engagement manifested (after conversations that started the year prior).

April-May: New York, Portland, New Orleans, Chicago, Boston

That led me to 4 of the 5 cities above, where they had launch campaigns for Airbnb for Work. One of the things I did for them was events in partnership with WeWork around remote work and travel.

I spent a week in each of those cities, and 2 weeks in New Orleans. I was in New Orleans for the Collision conference and jazz fest, and went a week early to be heads down in work. Again, everything was sold out and really expensive, and out of desperation I posted on the Couchsurfing New Orleans Facebook group asking if anyone had a spare room for rent. Someone responded, and it was even in my shortlisted neighbourhood of Marigny. (You can find other neighbourhoods I recommend in my New Orleans City Guide)

New Orleans has to be one of my highlights of 2017. It was a city on my bucket list, and the original jazz fest was going on while I was there. I loved the different, colourful neighbourhoods. The houses and their unique style. The abundance of jazz: in cafes in the morning, in public squares, on the street at night… I caught up with a nomad I met in Chiang Mai the year before, who was also in town as part of Collison’s Women in Tech initiative. And coincidentally enough, I ran into my SXSW buddy. I also somehow got invited to a “Canadian party”, an off-Collision event, where I met the founder of Bitmoji.

I attended his talk the next day, where he told the story of Bitmoji’s evolution. They were acquired by Snapchat for $64.2 million in 2016, after almost a decade in the making. I learned about perseverance – there are no overnight successes.

I was also really inspired by Chris Sacca and Alexis Ohanian’s keynotes, and was lucky enough to run into Alexis at Cafe du Monde on my last night. I was humbled by their humility, and have deemed Chris my idol. He shocked the tech world when he announced his retirement last year, at age 41, at the height of his career. At Collision, he explained that there isn’t much upside for him to continue working (read: he already has more money than he could ever need), so it makes more sense to help, to do good. I remember him saying that his children will undoubtedly know a life of privilege, so his biggest job right now is “to make sure he doesn’t raise 3 assholes”. 😂

I also enjoyed the talk by Matt Mazzeo, “Chris’ #2”. At 35, he just makes the cut as a “millennial”. However, unlike most millennials, he’s only had 2-3 jobs in his entire career. He made the case for “staying power”, and that strong professional relationships take years to nurture.

(I also heard Corrine Bailey Rae, Sophia Bush, and Alysia Reiner speak, and saw Usher perform at jazz fest, where I ran into Tony Goldwyn 😮)

I’m so grateful for my opportunity with Airbnb. I got to work with a company that I admire, and whose product I use heavily. And because of them, I got to go to New York and catch my sister in her last week of living there. I also got to go back to Portland, a place I first visited in November 2016 and fell in love with immediately. This time, I stayed in my favourite Airbnb by far. In the cutest neighbourhood, and across from a park. The locals I met — including my Airbnb host, the sommelier and the plant expert of the Airbnb Experiences I participated in — made me love Portland even more. I think this whole traipsing around the world thing is in part a recce of where I want to live, and Portland is definitely high up on that list. Nature, nice/friendly people… And living out of Airbnbs is a big interior design research project for my future home 😉 I LOVE the stylish and simple Viennese Airbnb that I’m currently writing this from. Note to self: knobless cabinets and dressers ftw.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also visited Chicago for the first time thanks to Airbnb, and met Jason Fried. Chicago is a place that my best friend and I had discussed going to before, and she joined me there from Toronto. Having deep dish pizza for the first time and doing the architectural boat tour is definitely a highlight of 2017 for me. We had Giordano’s, and I also tried Lou Malnati, which I have to deem the winner.

Lastly, Boston. Somewhere I’ve been to multiple times on short weekend trips from Montreal. I’d always do the same things: walk through Boston Common, have Shake Shack, lobster rolls, wander through Harvard Square. I never thought much of Boston. This time, I got to stay in a beautiful brownstone Airbnb on Beacon Street, and attend YogaWorks around the corner. More than one Boston local pointed out their appreciation for my Boston love on my Instagram. Airbnb truly helps you live like a local. Slow travel helps you to live like a local.

As amazing as the experience was, I was absolutely wiped out from bouncing so much and moving every week. I was looking forward to resting and catching up with friends in Montreal for 2 months after 1.5 years away!

June-July: Montreal, Costa Rica, LA, Toronto

Because of a new client, I actually ducked out to Costa Rica and LA for 2 weeks. It was my first time in Central America! Interesting experience too, during rainy season. I tried to surf once, and failed quite miserably 😛

August: Singapore, Malaysia, Lebanon

I went on my annual visit to Singapore and Malaysia to see family.

Then as it turns out, my best friends (sisters) and their brother were all going to be in Lebanon from Canada for a wedding. Geographically, it was on the way from Singapore to London, and I had never been to the Middle East, so I moved heaven and earth (read: bit the super expensive plane tickets) and went to Lebanon. It was such an amazing experience, and definitely another highlight of 2017. I got to experience a completely new culture, in the most authentic way. I lived with locals, ate like a queen, and had local tour guides.

I also opted for a 12-hour layover in Larnaca, Cyprus on the way to London. It was the perfect amount of time to explore this beautiful medieval city.

September: London

I went to London to help my sister with her move there. We stayed in 3 apartments in 3 weeks, before finding and moving into her apartment. London is not quite my vibe. I did meet up with a client while there, and also hosted a Nomad List meetup.

October: Scotland

Scotland was voted the most beautiful country in 2017. I love Scotch, and since I was nearby and had never been, I decided to check it out.

I was learning that lots of places in Europe have very tough housing markets (London, Edinburgh, Dublin, Berlin), but I managed to find something for my dates via a local site, SpareRoom. Joel was just moving to Edinburgh himself, and his girlfriend was to join him in a month, so they were renting out the second room just for that month. I really lucked out: Joel and I hit it off, and it was an adorable apartment in a little close at the end of the Royal Mile.

I actually knew close to nothing about Scotland prior to “moving there”, and turned to the Scotland Digital Nomads Facebook group for advice (there are no Scottish cities on Nomad List). Given that I love smaller cities, nature, and work in tech, many recommended Edinburgh. And I absolutely loved it. Though admittedly I was getting bored after ~3 weeks, despite having 2 visitors from out-of-town in that time.

I also did a 3-day highland tour before going to grimy Glasgow for a week.

November: Dublin, Berlin

I have a good Norwegian friend from my time in Tokyo in 2010. He now lives in Dublin, we haven’t seen each other in 5 years, and I haven’t been to Ireland, so I headed there for a week.

Many tech companies have their EMEA headquarters there, and I got to meet a number of new contacts. We also happened to visit the Guinness Storehouse on International Stout Day, which made it all the more fun as they had special tastings and river dancing. Google Maps often tells you how long visitors usually spend at a place, and I think it was something like 5 hours for Guinness, which sounded ludicrous initially, but we did end up spending a long time there. We arrived about noon and slowly made our way up each floor, and got to the top just in time for an excellent view of sunset over Dublin.

Nicole Fu Berlin WallI was adamant about leaving for Berlin on 8 November as I wanted to spend my birthday in Berlin. Berlin is somewhere that I’ve always felt drawn to and thought I’d move to, despite never having been. I arrived at the Berlin Wall on 9 November, on the 28th anniversary of its fall, and was close to tears.

As mentioned, Berlin’s housing market is tough, so I didn’t manage to find one apartment for the entire duration of my stay (5 weeks). The first was in the lovely neighbourhood of Bergmannkiez, right off Kreuzberg. I hit it off with my German flatmate too, and he introduced me to Berlin’s cycling rules, German food, and German rap. The second was in the Turkish/Arab/hipster neighbourhood of Neukölln. All neighbourhoods I’d recommend. (Berlin City Guide coming right up)

December: Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Malmӧ, Munich, Tyrol

I was swamped with work in November, and unfortunately, did not get to see as much of Berlin as I would have liked. In a city known for its arts and music, it’s a shame that I did not experience much of it. But surprisingly, I didn’t feel any FOMO. I think it’s because Berlin is somewhere I know I’ll come back to.

My sister joined me in Berlin before we started traipsing around Europe. I absolutely loved Amsterdam and think I could live there. Copenhagen was my first time in the Nordics, and my Swedish neighbour in Montreal turned close friend was home in Malmӧ for the holidays, so I took a quick train over for a day. And as with most Christmases, I spent it snowboarding (this time in Austria!)

2017 in Review

I actually spent a lot of this year rent-free. I stayed with friends and family in Vancouver, Edmonton, Singapore, Malaysia, Montreal, Toronto, Lebanon, and Dublin. I had accommodation comped in New York, Portland, Chicago, Boston, Costa Rica, and LA through working with Airbnb and Outsite. I only paid rent for ~3 months this year (Vegas, Calgary, Banff, New Orleans, London, Scotland, Berlin, Amsterdam, Copenhagen). 😏

Discoveries

  • I found out about Effective Altruism in 2017 and it’s “changed my life” (my mindset, my priorities). Effective Altruism is a community of people who aim to identify the best ways to help others and take action, with the use of evidence and reason. They have a great resource, 80,000 Hours, which I urge everyone to check out. Especially their research on problem profiles. Currently, risks from AI tops their list of global issues. Another urgent global issue is “promoting effective altruism”, which I’ve done some of in 2017 and will continue in 2018. In 2018, I especially want to work with EA-aligned companies, pro-bono or otherwise.

If you want to do good in the world, it’s worth really taking the time to learn about different global problems, and how you might contribute to them. It takes time, and there’s a lot to learn, but it’s hard to imagine anything more interesting, or more important.¹

  • Bralets. ‘Nuff said.
  • Beetroot gnocchi. I tried it for the first time in Glasgow, and had it again in Berlin. Heaven. Ly.
  • BodyPump by Les Mills. I first discovered it in Edinburgh, and then again Berlin. It makes working out and lifting weights so much fun!
  • Guinness. I’m not a big beer drinker and not a fan of stouts, but my time in Dublin has made me a convert. Some say Guinness tastes better there because of the water, and I now find blonde beers like Heineken etc so insubstantial… like water.
  • Sephora birthday gifts are not a thing outside of North America

Reviewing Goals for 2017 and Setting Goals for 2018

  • Passive/semi-passive income
    • I launched a niche site early last year and promptly neglected it. I’ve recently been pursuing a new direction for it – if you’d like to learn how to make excellent coffee at home from the world’s leading baristas, check out Coffee Collectif.
    • A client I worked with in early 2017 re-approached me in late 2017. The company’s grown, and now have an in-house marketing team that they’d like me to consult. That inspired me to get set up on Clarity.
    • I have a Fiverr gig with actionable tips on how to improve your website for SEO and good UX. If you don’t already have a Fiverr account, you can get $5 credit here, then you can get my gig for free!
    • Went up 12-14% last year via my roboinvesting app Wealthsimple.
  • Deepen my yoga and meditation practice. I am committing to do a 10-day silent meditation retreat in 2018, and just thinking about it scares the * out of me.
  • Read 2 books and listen to 1 audiobook each month – I read a number of books, but nowhere near my brainiac sister, who read 85 from June-December (~20 of which she didn’t finish). I finally read How to Win Friends and Influence People, and feel like I should review my notes before each call or meeting in order to remember these tips and make habits out of them. I read and highly recommend:
    • The Mandibles, which is about the US in 2032. I find it especially relevant with the state of US politics now. It also made me acutely aware how food and water is a luxury, and gave me aspirations for urban farming.
    • The Art of Travel – travel is so accessible now, but why do we travel? We are often told where to travel to e.g. the 10 places you must visit in 2018, but not how to travel. Why do so many people take photos with statues? Does it have any significance to them? What should we be thinking about when looking at a statue, at architecture? Let’s not travel for the ‘gram, to check items off a list, or because TripAdvisor told us to.
  • Learn more about art, coffee, and wine. I found out about Google Arts & Culture and have been enjoying learning via their Instagram posts and mobile app.
  • Get back into figure skating + take gymnastics classes. I took a weekly gymnastics class over 3 months last year, and still cannot do a cartwheel or handstand. 😭
  • Volunteer. A decade ago I loved volunteering with Art Outreach in Singapore, which combined 2 of my passions, art, and children.

I found a similar organization in Vancouver, submitted an application right when I got there, and went in for an “interview”. But unfortunately, I was only summoned after I had left 3 months later.  And though there was an open call for drivers in my church’s bulletin every week (to drive the elderly and physically challenged to Sunday mass), they did not call me once. My 3 months in Vancouver was the longest I spent in one place over the last 2 years, but it seems I may have to stay put longer in order to commit to things that require… commitment.

  • Fight climate change. There are basic things we should be doing like turning down the thermostat, conserving water, and taking public transit. (Read more) In the last couple months I started only air drying my clothes, due in part to the lack of dryers in Europe. In 2018 I commit to shopping ethically. To doing online research to only buy from companies that have sustainable practices and don’t harm the environment. I recently downloaded the Good On You app – seems like they’ve done the research for us! Here’s one way we can vote with our dollars. We as consumers have the power to not spend our dollars on brands like Zara, which, amongst other taboos, don’t pay their workers a living wage. Blockbuster and Kodak shut down due to lack of demand. As consumers, we have so much power in our hands. We can bankrupt printing companies by not printing boarding passes, hotel reservations, and declining receipts. Let’s stop buying one-time-use water bottles, and instead, invest in a reusable water bottle, and a travel coffee mug. (Shame on Starbucks who has several outlets with only unrecyclable to-go cups, even if you’re sitting in.)

I spent 2016 nomading Asia, and 2017, a lot of North America. The plan for 2018 is mostly Europe, then I think I want to spend a year in France to work on my French. I’m thinking maybe 6 months in Bordeaux apprenticing in a vineyard, and 6 months in Marseille, by the sea. It’s funny how this “life on the road” is now my normal. How it was scary transitioning to this lifestyle, and now, the thought of settling down somewhere scares me. Where would I pick? How do I pick? How would I stay put in one place for a year? Or more?

I make a good living, and I have a life of travel. I’ve achieved location independence – I have the freedom to choose when and where to work from. I think the focus here on out is on becoming a better human. Practising patience and kindness through meditation. Letting Effective Altruism lead and guide my career. Onwards and upwards! Happy 2018 everyone.

¹https://80000hours.org/career-guide/world-problems/

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