Courtesy of Zoe Weiner
Courtesy of Zoe Weiner

How One Writer Packed Her Bags and Took Off for a Year as a Digital Nomad

Courtesy of Zoe Weiner
Courtesy of Zoe Weiner

It’s 6 a.m. in Sydney, Australia, and I can hear the waves crashing outside the window of my un-air conditioned Airbnb. In a few minutes, the sun will rise over the ocean across the street, but I'm going to have to miss it. Instead, I'm battling heavy eyelids while I respond to urgent messages from my editor back in New York about a fast-approaching deadline. My friend sits on the floor next to me, explaining in a hushed voice to a client in Chicago that she can't hop on a video call because it is the middle of the night (and she is in her pajamas).

My work day started four hours ago, after a full day of traveling and touring. I have another hour before my shift ends. But when it does, I’ll grab a coffee, then head to the beach to take my first ever surf lesson. By tomorrow night, I'll be heading to Melbourne for the next leg of my trip. I have three stories due before midnight, and no idea when (or where) I’m going to sleep. But this is exactly what I signed up for, and every tired, cranky, over-worked minute has been worth it—even the ones that require being awake for the sunrise and missing it anyway.

After all: This is not vacation.

For the next 12 months, I’ll be living and working remotely in 12 different cities around the world through an organization called Remote Year.


As a freelance writer, I spent much of the last two years hunched over my laptop in my tiny New York City apartment, writing stories I didn't believe in. Bored, lonely, and terribly uninspired, I'd scroll through Instagram and envy those who were bold enough to live the adventurous life that I wanted: climbing mountains, swimming with sharks, and lounging on beaches with names I couldn't pronounce. I’d always dreamed of packing a suitcase and buying a one-way ticket to the other side of the planet, but year after year I found some excuse—a job, a boyfriend, a lease—to stay right where I was.

So it's kind of perfect that it was on Instagram that I first stumbled upon Remote Year. "Become a digital nomad!" the ad beckoned. I clicked. 

Remote Year, I came to learn, is basically a study abroad program for grownups. It hosts groups of approximately 75 remote workers who work and travel together, living in a new country each month for an entire year. You pay the company $2000 per month (plus an initial deposit), and they provide accommodations, travel arrangements, and co-working spaces (or at least a strong Wi-Fi signal). Working, the company makes clear, is a key part of its mission.

According to a Bentley University survey from 2014, the year Remote Year CEO Greg Caplan launched his company, 77 percent of Millennial workers believed that flexible work hours would make them more productive. And according to job search site FlexJobs (which may, admittedly, be biased on the topic), 85 percent of Millennials want to telecommute 100 percent of the time. Pair that with Airbnb's 2016 Millennial travel report [PDF], which found that 70 percent of Millennials who feel they do not have enough time to travel would travel more if they could, and you've got quite the market for a program like Remote Year.

The numbers back this up: According to Remote Year, over 25,000 people applied for 75 spots on the inaugural trip. So, sending in my application two years later, I figured there was no chance I was ever going to be selected. I didn’t even tell my mom (or my boyfriend) that I'd applied.

But a $50 deposit and Skype interview later, I was in.


After I received my acceptance email, I had exactly 75 days to sublet my apartment and pack my life into a 40-pound suitcase. But first, I had to convince my employers that I could make a remote working situation, well, work.

Even if you're not jetting off for a year-long trip (maybe you want to work from home one day per week to cut back on commuting time, or switch to a night shift to complement your spouse's schedule), approaching your boss about flexible hours or telecommuting can be daunting. In order to get the green light, you'll need to present an appropriate, feasible plan to your manager, as well as a willingness to adapt. The last thing you want, after all, is for your unique arrangements to make their job more difficult. 

For me, this meant telling my editors I'd "do anything to make it work" (and meaning it), and committing to working U.S. hours—which, for my first stop, means working from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. local time.

Less than three months after I received my acceptance I had everything squared away, and I boarded my flight to Kuala Lumpur.


My Remote Year group, the ninth to set out, will spend the first four months of our journey in Asia, followed by four months in Europe, and four months in South America.

The big question is: What do I want to get out of this? When this year is over, I want to have a better sense of who I am and more clarity about what I want in my life, personally and professionally. I want to meet people who will push me, and learn about the world outside of the teeny, tiny existence I’ve been living for 25 years. I know I’m going to be challenged in a lot of ways, some that I can predict—like figuring out how to hold down a job with a 13-hour time difference, and learning how to manage living with 75 other people—and others that I won’t see coming. And as I move to each new location and tackle each new obstacle, I'll share what I learn with you at mental_floss. Because you don't need to buy a one-way ticket in order to change your life; that's just my story.

Big Questions
How Are Rooms Cleaned at an Ice Hotel?

Cleaning rooms at Sweden’s famous ICEHOTEL is arguably less involved than your typical hotel. The bed, for example, does not have traditional sheets. Instead, it’s essentially an air mattress topped with reindeer fur, which sits on top of a custom-made wooden palette that has a minimum of 60 centimeters of airspace below. On top of those reindeer hides is a sleeping bag, and inside that sleeping bag is a sleep sack. And while it’s always 20ºF inside the room, once guests wrap themselves up for the night, it can get cozy.

And, if they’re wearing too many layers, it can get quite sweaty, too.

“The sleep sack gets washed every day, I promise you that. I know it for a fact because I love to walk behind the laundry, because it’s so warm back there," James McClean, one of the few Americans—if not the only—who have worked at Sweden's ICEHOTEL, tells Mental Floss. (He worked on the construction and maintenance crew for several years.)

There isn’t much else to clean in most guest rooms. The bathrooms and showers are elsewhere in the hotel, and most guests only spend their sleeping hours in the space. But there is the occasional accident—like other hotels, some bodily fluids end up where they shouldn’t be. People puke or get too lazy to walk to the communal restrooms. Unlike other hotels, these bodily fluids, well, they freeze.

“You can only imagine the types of bodily fluids that get, I guess, excreted … or expelled … or purged onto the walls,” McClean says. “At least once a week there’s a yellow stain or a spilled glass of wine or cranberry juice … and it’s not what you want to see splattered everywhere.” Housekeeping fixes these unsightly splotches with an ice pick and shovel, re-patching it with fresh snow from outside.

Every room has a 4-inch vent drilled into the icy wall, which helps prevent CO2 from escalating to harmful levels. Maintenance checks the holes daily to ensure these vents are not plugged with snow. Their tool of choice for clearing the pathway is, according to McClean, “basically a toilet brush on a stick.”

When maintenance isn’t busy unstuffing snow from that vent hole, they’re busy piping snow through it. Every couple days, the floor of each room receives a new coat of fluffy snow, which is piped through the vent and leveled with a garden rake.

“It’s the equivalent of vacuuming the carpet,” McClean says.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at

Warner Bros.
Rent an Incredible Harry Potter-Themed Apartment in the City Where the Series Was Born
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

The Muggle city of Edinburgh has deep ties to the wizarding world of Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling wrote much of the book series while living there, and there’s even a pub in Edinburgh that named itself after the author for a month. Now, fans passing through the Scottish capital have the chance to live like their favorite boy wizard. As Digital Spy reports, a Harry Potter-themed holiday home in the city’s historic district is now available to rent for around $200 (£150) a night.

Property owner Yue Gao used her own knowledge as a fan when decorating the apartment. With red and yellow accents, a four-poster bed, and floating candles adorning the wallpaper on the ceiling, the master bedroom pays tribute to both the Gryffindor dormitory and the Hogwarts Great Hall. The Hogwarts theme extends to the lounge area, where each door is painted with a different house’s colors and crest. Guests will also find design aspects inspired by the Hogwarts Express around the apartment: The second bedroom is designed to look like a sleeping car, and the front door is disguised as the brick wall at Platform 9 3/4.

Pieces of Harry Potter memorabilia Gao has picked up in her travels are hidden throughout the home, too. If visitors look closely, they’ll find several items that once belonged to Rowling herself, including the writer’s old desk.

Take a look at some of the photos of the magical interiors:

The apartment is available to rent throughout the year through And if you can tear yourself away from the residence for long enough, there are plenty of other Harry Potter-themed attractions to check out in Edinburgh during your stay.

[h/t Digital Spy]


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