"Write a blog," they said. "It'll be great," they said.

Greetings and welcome to my blog. If you’re reading this you’re probably a good friend of mine or maybe an old friend/classmate/colleague that I haven’t talked to in years save for a few Instagram likes and Facebook comments. You may even be a new friend trying to figure out where I lie on the crazy spectrum. It’s okay, I probably have stalked or will stalk your page too. In fact I wrote about it once, but we won't get into that here.

No matter who you are, I welcome you, but I’m also here to warn you. What you’re about to embark on is a journey through my mind (each little voice in my head says hi by the way). I can’t guarantee it’s going to be any good or even entertaining so at the end of each blog post I’ll include a special TL;DR/CliffsNotes version for those of you that don’t like reading, but still secretly want to know what’s up.

So you’re probably wondering: “Marissa, why are you starting a blog?”. And to that I say, “New life, who dis?” But seriously, as some of you may know, I’ve decided to try out this whole digital nomad thing and on February 17th I packed up my life into a few bags with 5-months worth of stuff. I spent 2 weeks in London at the end of February and I have now been living/working/traveling with the Remote Year Crew in Lisbon, Portugal since March 4th. After a month in Lisboa it’s off to Split, Prague and Cape Town for a month each then some more solo travel through the end of July.

Yes, you read that right. While the rest of my friends are off getting married and starting families I’m doing an “adult study abroad”. Why? Because I can. But mostly because after living in San Francisco for 9+ years, it was time for me to shake things up a bit. Also, being single in the City by the Bay kinda sucks so, like, sue me for broadening my dating pool. I’m trying Grandma, I really am.

Anyway, I’m not sure what this blog is going to be about exactly. I’m hoping the ideas will just flow as each day passes, but it may very well end up being a “what not to do when traveling for 5 months” type thing. After all, self-deprecation is my speciality. And at the end of the day isn’t it nice to know that we’re not all perfect? Like I mentioned earlier, not making any promises here, but to start, here are a few rookie mistakes I’ve made so far, along with some other thoughts about my experience:

WHERE I WENT WRONG:

  1. Bag choice. This was the cause of one of my first “oh shit” moments of the trip. My main suitcase is amazing, but it’s the carry on situation that I’ve totally messed up. For some reason I decided to bring two backpacks. It seemed rational at first, you know, with the whole hands free thing, but as soon as I let go of my checked bag (that was balancing my smaller backpack) and had to really strap into my terrible decision, my 5’1” frame quickly rejected the idea as I waddled to the gate like a baby penguin. Not a good look. A few bruises and awkward glances later, I’ve switched things around a bit, but it’s not much better and still too damn heavy (see point #2 for the reason why). Needless to say I was relieved when TAP airlines forced me to check my larger backpack. Normally people would fight them, but I was like “You mean you’re not gonna charge me?! Here, take it!”

  2. Too much stuff. I brought a first aid kit for heaven’s sake. You know, as if I’d never be able to find a bandaid in all of Europe. To be honest, I can’t remember the last time I actually cut myself either. Plus, everyone knows that a bit of toilet paper and some pressure goes a long way. Come on, Marissa, get it together! I suppose there are worse things one could bring. I guess it just kinda comes with the territory as the daughter of two parents who always taught me to be prepared for anything. I don’t know if you know this about me, but I don’t like surprises guys! In fact, you’re reading the blog of a girl who—in preparation for a minor surgery in 7th grade—had her dad pinch the skin on her hand while she wasn’t looking so she could prepare for the “pain” of the IV. Why I was more afraid of an IV than the actual surgery itself is still a mystery to this day. Anyway, you’d think that Marie Kando-ing my apartment would’ve inspired me to embrace more of a minimalist mentality for this trip, but somehow I threw all the life-changingly magical tidying skills out the window and literally bought everything on every digital nomad packing list I could find. I guess you live and you learn and then you get rid of shit you don’t need because you can’t carry it anymore—it’s the digital nomad way! Anyone need a bandaid? (P.S. Did I really start this section with the phrase “heaven’s sake”? Yikes. I’m turning into an old lady.)

  3. A duel with black ice. There are some things you just can’t learn in a book. And one of them is walking in snow. At first this California girl was overjoyed with the beauty of the London's first snowfall of the season. As each dusty flake floated down from the sky, I prayed that my life would suddenly turn into the musical of my dreams for just one second so I could spread my child-like wonder and cheer up all the angry looking Londoners. However, a brief run-in with some black ice soon turned me into one of them. Luckily (or not) I was in the middle of sending my sister a video message while walking on said ice so the memory of this experience will last forever. TBD on whether or not I’ll share this video publicly. However, if you want to cry tears of laughter, send me a DM and maybe I’ll gift you with 10 seconds of my embarrassment. Anyway, I soon developed what I call my “grandma shuffle” which saved me from future falls. I now know why snow days aren’t actually all that fun.

  4. Spanish is not like Portuguese. Okay so I’m not a total American idiot. I knew this, but I think there was a part of me that thought my Spanish knowledge would help me a bit more than it did at first. I knew I couldn’t just speak Spanish outright so I ended up becoming a mute for my first few days in Lisbon (before a brief Portuguese lesson that saved my life). The only word I knew was “Obrigada” (thank you) so at first I would basically just squeak and point to things on menus because I was too afraid of offending someone. It was a bit awkward to say the least, but luckily a nice lady called me out while I was out to lunch by myself and said “nice try, but most people are going to want to speak English to you anyway”. Now that I have a few more phrases in my arsenal I’ve been trying them out and then let the person I’m talking to decide whether or not they want to speak English. I do struggle with the ambiguous physical look my parents blessed me with—which causes people to assume I speak Portuguese—but thankfully I now know how to inform them that I have no idea what they’re saying: “Não falo português, but obrigada for assuming I do”.

Don’t get me wrong though, my trip has been so much more than overstuffed backpacks, impromptu ice skating and awkward interactions!

Four weeks in (2 with Remote Year) and I already know this is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I’m uncomfortable in the best way possible, I’m meeting people from all over the world and I’m immersing myself in a new culture for longer than a few days. I know most people think I’m just on an extended vacation, but the work aspect actually keeps me grounded and forces me to use my time wisely. By the way, shout out to my Fitbit peeps for their patience and for not totally hating me for doing this crazy thing.

Speaking of time, this is one of the main reasons why I decided to go on this adventure in the first place: To shake up how I spend my time. To use it to grow personally and professionally. To break free from the 9-5 mentality that has been ingrained in me since I was young. To watch a little less Netflix. Sure, there is nothing wrong with some mindless down time or even a bit of structure, but when we allow these things to dictate our lives, they are no longer ours. This experience is all about taking back control of my time. Taking a good look at how I spend every second, every minute, every hour and learning to use them in a way that makes every conversation, every meal, every piece of entertainment more than just a passing moment—no matter what part of the world I’m in. And most of all, since I’m working remotely while I’m here, it’s about filling every working (and waking) moment with purpose.

Needless to say, I’m still pinching myself because I actually made it to this point. I pulled the trigger. I booked the flight. I jumped head-first into the unknown. What was once a pipe dream is now my reality and I can’t wait to see how it all unfolds. Thanks for joining me on my journey. More to come!

TL; DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read)
  • OMG I started a blog!
  • I’ve added “digital nomad” to my LinkedIn description.
  • If you are ever considering bringing 2 backpacks as carry ons, DON’T.
  • Black ice is a bitch.
  • Languages are hard.
  • Somebody pinch me. Is this real life?