1. It’s ok to wing it.
I’m a planner. Not an every-detail-must-be-known type of planner, but I like to know the general sequence of events. And if things change, that’s ok, but I usually have at least a general idea of what’s going to happen. Part of the benefit of The Remote Experience is that they plan everything for you – flights, housing, co-working space, sponsored events, etc. So going into this, I knew very little besides the four cities I’d be living in. And you know what, it’s been very freeing. There was almost no stress leading up to leaving, no hours of research trying to determine which hotel is better than the next. And it’s meant that I can simply enjoy whatever the day may bring. Go on a hike in the morning with some friends? Great! Sit at the Riva and read a book? Yes, please. Work from a café with a “co-worker”? Absolutely!
2. The kindness of strangers is universal.
Everyone has been incredibly nice in Split. Whether it’s my kayaking instructor, my neighbor Wanda whom I met on the staircase or the Croatian architects with whom we share our co-working space, people have stopped to chat, give recommendations on places to go, or simply introduce themselves. But nothing beats the lady from the ćevapčići stand (and no, I don’t know how to pronounce that either!) A 20 kuna bill and a 200 kuna bill look very similar. Except one is $3 and one is $30. I ordered a ćevapčići, a pita stuffed with roasted red pepper spread and something similar to sausage links, and it was 19 kuna. I handed over my 20 kuna bill and walked out. A couple of minutes later, I heard someone repeatedly yelling so I turned around, and saw the ćevapčići lady running after me, sweating, huffing and puffing. I stood there slightly confused as she walked up and handed me a handful of bills and change . . . from the 200 kuna I mistakenly gave her!
3. If you want to live, you’ll look both ways before crossing the road. And then look a second and third time.
There are no traffic signs in Split, except ‘yield’. Stop signs at a four-way intersection are for amateurs. Here, you just go for it. Which makes crossing the street interesting as you have a continuous stream of cars coming from every direction. But unlike the US, drivers are courteous and understand what ‘pedestrians have the right of way’ means. So before walking into the street, I’ve learned to look 17 times to make sure there’s no sneaky car, then you just have to walk across, trusting the driver has no interest in actually hitting you.
4. First impressions are so often wrong.
To be completely honest, my initial impression of Split, outside of Old Town, was that it was a little run down. It didn’t have the charm of Italy or the shiny newness of Sydney. But then I found out that Croatia is technically a third-world country so of course it wouldn’t have the same feeling as other places I’ve visited. And I all of a sudden thought it’s slightly run-down nature was because it’s well lived in. I realized the metal covers to all the apartment windows aren’t for security; they’re to keep the bright sunshine out so you can sleep past sunrise (and not swelter in the morning). The slightly abandoned feeling squares, which I was walking through at off times, are actually lively during the morning and early afternoons with locals meeting for a coffee and kids playing in them until dark. And as soon as you get away from the main tourist areas, you see everyone who actually lives in Split out enjoying the beautiful weather, parks and beaches.
5. We all know America gets a bad rap for serving large portions. Except in Croatia, this only seems to apply to drinks.
The general portion size of our meals hasn’t been too different. But what I can’t get used to is how small all of the drinks are. One small cup of water at dinner, if any at all. One shot of espresso. A mini glass of wine. The one exception? Beer! Those are gigantic. Which is fine by me.
6. Internet makes all the difference.
When I first talked to FWI about doing this, the first thing HR said was “the world is flat, you can really work from anywhere”. Croatia has (basically) free internet everywhere. For the price of a cappuccino (10 kuna/$1.50) you can sit at a café for as long as you want and use their wireless. And the internet at my apartment and working space is better than my Chicago apartment. So not only is there no interruption with working, it also makes it really easy to stay connected to people back home. I FaceTimed with my parents for an hour the other day. I gchat with Mikela all day. Text with friends constantly. You start to forget you’re 5000 miles away.
7. Working remotely seems to be the same, no matter where you are.
Similar to HR’s response to doing The Remote Experience, Janet’s comment was “there’s not really much difference between you sitting in Chicago or sitting in Europe.” And she’s right. I still talk to everyone on Skype or through email. I still feel slightly disconnected from my team. I still move from apartment to coffee shop (ahem, café) to other locations based on my current concentration level. The one main difference is the times I’m working. But as I’ve mentioned before, I’m actually kind of enjoying the schedule.
8. Good footwear is invaluable. And I’m still trying to find the perfect pair.
It’s no secret you walk a TON in Europe, I’ve been averaging about 9 miles a day. But after I wore my Birkenstocks all over Italy last year, I thought I had found the perfect pair. Except that they gave me a big blister on the bottom of my foot this time around. And I have twin scabs on the top of my feet from my Rainbows. And my Toms officially stink from my sweaty feet. Luckily, I copied Danielle’s cute Sperry’s when we were in California and they seem to be the best option . . . so far. However, I’ve fared much better than my friend Catherine, who has resorted to wearing her old, cheap, rubber sandals she brought strictly for the beach because all of her other shoes have given her such bad blisters.
9. Listen to the locals.
Related to number 2, everyone I’ve encountered has been so friendly. And they have provided invaluable recommendations on where to go, where to eat and what to see. Yes, research can definitely help, but at the end of the day, the best advice comes from those that have lived here their whole lives.
10. Traveling is humbling.
I’m reading Bill Bryson’s Neither Here Nor There and he has a quote that perfectly describes one of the best parts of traveling:
“I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.”
If you try and fight this, you’re going to be stressed out the whole time and miss out on so much. You have to embrace the fact that you’ll rely on made-up sign language to communicate. You have to realize you’ll feel utterly stupid slowly counting out your coins one-by-one trying to come up with the right change. You have to understand that you just have to smile and laugh when the lady at the farmer’s market has to resort to writing the price on your vegetable bag because you can’t understand her. And those humbling experiences are what teach you so much about yourself and others. And they make you a better, more understanding person for it.