Working Remotely as part of a Distributed team

When explaining our nomad lifestyle to others it takes a few minutes to iron out the details. That is if they are actually interested enough and don’t just assume we’re homeless vagabonds. Usually they start out thinking we’re trust fund babies or some form of “we’ve struck it rich and don’t work anymore”. Then, they usually think along the lines that we’re taking a gap year and have saved up months or years of expenses and we’ll head home broke and have to rebuild, or even that we’re travel bloggers somehow making money by traveling…

The reality is (sadly) we’re not loaded and I still have a job. I work as a web developer building websites and I work remotely, or you may be more familiar with the term “work from home”.

Dilbert to the rescue

I’ve had many surprised or even confused responses from people. “How can you work from all these seemingly random places?” “Are you doing contract work as you go?” “Do you work for yourself and just support your own clients?” No, while these are possible, I work remotely as an employee for a company. I’m part of a the workforce at 10up, and they allow me the flexibility to work remotely. I’m on a team of others that work remotely. The whole company in fact works remotely We’re all remote! Or better put, we’re a distributed team.

I enjoy this setup, because the company has specialists in things like winning new clients and projects, dealing with things like SEO and project management, account management and server infrastructure, accounting and billing clients and other legal issues, as well as the HR issues like health insurance and payroll etc! I don’t excel at any of that. But, I do have a specialty as well, I’m a web developer, and I didn’t want to go out on my own because I’d be required to either pay people/services to do all that for me, or somehow figure it out myself. It’s been a perfect setup that allows me to live my dream lifestyle as a nomad and travel the world as a way of life.

This dream came up in part when I first heard about companies that allowed employees to work remotely 100% of the time. I’ve done stints of remote work and always enjoyed the experience; the extra time and the freedom it gave me. So, I began looking up (and stalking) companies that are set up this way. To make a long story short, I found a distributed team at 10up and have jumped into this nomad life! I’m grateful for the company I work for, the work is truly interesting and I’m growing as a web developer, while also living my dream lifestyle. Talk about a good work-life balance!

Along the same lines, here’s a video from Matt Mullenweg, co-founder of WordPress and CEO of Automattic, a “parent company” of sorts of the WordPress foundation (the software that runs a third of the internet). Like 10up, Automattic is another distributed company, and I really enjoyed how Matt talks about all this. He even mentions the nomad lifestyle! I wanted to share this video because it explains why a company would want to be distributed.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x6fIseKzzH0

Some even choose to not even have a home base. They’re nomads. Whether they’re in RVs or traveling through Airbnbs, they’re in new places every day, week or month.

As long as they can find good WiFi, we don’t care where they are!

Matt Mullenweg

I’m happy to be a part of this growing group of digital nomads. I feel like I’ve won the lottery because I traded in a daily commute for world travel.

Touristing in Fiji, Heading Down Under

Though one of our goals is to not tourist, our flights went through Suva and Nadi, and gave us a lot of time to kill in each city. We had about 8 hours in Suva and 23 hours in Nadi! We did not want to hang out in the airports all day for two days so we went out to see what we could find.

After landing in Suva and taking a break to recharge phones and look up what we could do in our window of time and playing card games to corral the kids, we went out to see what there was to see. We hired a taxi van because a family of 6 can’t fit in anything smaller. We had looked up a couple things, and rather than go to the touristy markets, we went to a rainforest park. There was a little hike down to the river with a waterfall and a swimming hole. It was awesome! Not only a swimming hole but a rope to swing off the top of the falls and drop into the water hole at the bottom. We tried our hand and enjoyed the swing, but also enjoyed watching some locals doing incredible flips and tricks. There were a couple of friends that were olympic material. One would swing out and swing back and pick up the friend and swing together, then they’d jump off while pushing off each other and spiral twist back flips all the way down into the hole! Another guy climbed the tree, up above the rope knot and just jump into the water, it had to be 50-70 feet tall! We really enjoyed the cool water and playing in the creek above the falls. It was a great break between airplane flights, it was nice to see another part of Fiji as well. Talking with our taxi driver was humbling as well. His small wages and the house he pointed out and the nicer if hours he drives. 60+ hours per week and earning the equivalent of $20 a day. We got back to the airport when we wanted to, but I’m reality we had a couple hours to spare. It took all of 10 minutes to get through security and check in for the flight, so we played cards for a couple hours and made friends with the security and airport staff.

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Heading to the airport all smiles after a week at Vorovoro – though we were quite sad to leave.
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Our Taxi around town in Suva
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The view as we drove around town
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Colo-i-suva National Forest Park
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The swimming hole
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Swinging in. Likely the most graceful dive ever…
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Playing cards and visiting with airport security

We arrived in Nadi and headed to the hotel we had booked. We’d heard and read that it was very family friendly, and it was. But it also felt a bit fake to me. After being in Vorovoro and seeing real Fiji life, the ironed shirts and matching sulus, drinks delivered on platters by smiling but silent servers felt detached. It felt like a production or presentation at Disney world. Don’t get me wrong, Disney world has its place, but it’s certainly not a place where you get an authentic experience with real people and real culture. It’s all pretend, and that’s the point there… Disney isn’t real. It was great to have a pool and to relax most of the day in it and reconnect with friends and family. It was also an awkward and stark difference after the cultural experience on the island. Having Fijians serving us and drive us around when we didn’t know them or share kava or live with them was hard. It felt like a sterilization to placate the wealthy tourist who doesn’t want to be aware of the culture or the people, who doesn’t want authenticity, who is not comfortable with seeing the economic divide in their face. Fiji is a beautiful country though, I hope people learn too that Fiji is a beautiful people as well.

Not being good at touristing, making friends with taxi drivers and security officers and not wanting to be served drinks on platters as we sit by the pool is a sign that we are doing something right, right? Maybe we were just missing our new island family.

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He was so excited to finally see our matching luggage on the belt (he’s been asking about this since we left home but it’s somehow the first time it’s happened (from carry-on only to no belts in the tiny Fiji airports)
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Taking a hotel pool break after the traveling and 2 days of short flights
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Catching up on Pokemon catching

We did have a little scare at Nadi airport checking in to head to Australia. All our boarding passes printed fine at the kiosk but one kept giving an error, so we had to go to the counter to figure that out. It turned out that even though our electronic visa application had been approved, it had since changed! One of our six visas to get into Australia was revoked… How exciting! Then they said it was only because the birthdate was wrong on the application compared to the passport. So, we had to reapply before we would be allowed to enter the country. This significantly added to the stress of the day. (After spending hours at the airport and not seeing any of our last 4 flights in Fiji board until flight time, we didn’t feel pressed for time, so we were a bit later than the recommended 2 hours for international flights.) Reapply for a visa to entry the country which you are currently about to board a flight for, no big deal. Luckily Australia has a fast and electronic application process, so they let me use their computer to get on and reapply really fast, and it actually worked! I just had to correctly enter the birthday and pay another application fee (luckily it’s only $20 Australian). My best guess, since I honestly do a decent job remembering my kids birthdays, is that I entered the date American-style (month, day) whereas it’s required to enter in like-literally-the-rest-of-the-world-style (day, month). Luckily they approved us with enough time to run to the gate and board the flight! If it hadn’t worked, we had already decided to leave 1 kid behind, I’ll let you think on who it was… (feel free to guess in the comments!)

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Thank goodness for a near instant electronic visa application!
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The sprawling city lights of Melbourne were quite a shock to take in after spending a week with barely any electricity!
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The winter temperature was more of a shock when we stepped outside. We were freezing at midnight and had to wait an hour for a taxi that was big enough for the whole family. We should have just taken two, but we weren’t thinking clearly.

Off the grid in Vorovoro, Fiji

Our time in Fiji was amazing! We were on a small island that is a couple kilometers square and stayed for 8 days. It’s just north of Labasa, on Vanua Levu. We Flew to Labasa, took a taxi to the coast, and then a boat (like a little motor boat) to Vorovoro. We stayed in a vale (hut) with 6 beds so we all had space. Our vale was steps from the beach on the edge of the village. We had compost toilets, bucket powered showers we filled with collected rainwater, solar powered charging stations and communal meals with everyone (courtesy of Misi) and kava on the grog mat every night. We went snorkeling and fishing and played volleyball and swam at the beach and enjoyed the company of the Fijians and the wildlife. They had an injured pet fruit bat (Becky) in the kitchen hut where we could pet and take care of him. There were chickens wandering the island with baby chicks. A guitar and ukulele in the grand bure. Plenty of hammocks around the fire ring and along the beach. We enjoyed walking along the beach and finding hermit crabs and shells, walking into the water and looking at the coral and fish and even snorkeling right off the beach and finding more. Mat weaving Fiji style, visiting the primary school on neighboring island Mali in the village of Lingalevu,

We went one day out to a reef and saw loads more fish and beautiful coral and even sharks!

The food

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Fiji was colonized by the British, and to farm sugar cane they brought over a large population from India who knew the crop already (and they had also colonized). There is still a large Indian population in the area, and they have greatly influenced the cuisine. They eat curries and rice all the time on Fiji, but they have their own treatment with local vegetables, we mostly had fish curry and chutney. It was delicious, and not usually as spicy as the Indian food I’m used to, but it was still really good. We ate coconut, fish, chicken, fish, rice, curry, chutney, pancakes (which were more like scones or donuts), bananas , oatmeal/porridge.

The Language

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  • Tui Mali – the chief of the Mali tribe.
  • Bula – Hi (literally it means life or health)
  • Bula Sia – The local way to say it on Vorovoro and the surrounding area of Labasa.
  • Vinaka – Thank you
  • Yadra – Good morning
  • Kerekere – Please
  • Tulou – Excuse me
  • Moce – Goodbye (pronounced Mo-they)
  • Sulu – The traditional skirt everyone wears.
  • Kava – The traditional drink of Fiji. Also called Grog.
  • Tanoa – The traditional bowl where kava is mixed.
  • Sevusevu – Ceremony when you arrive at a village. You bring kava root and present it to the chief.
  • Cobo – (Thombo) the deep handed clap you do on the kava mat
  • Oh ya – What men say as they approach a home.
  • Manavanduuu – What women say as they approach a home. They say this right after the men would say Oh ya. It’s kinda sung and trails off at the end like an echo.
  • Bongi – What everyone says at night as you first approach a home or kava mat.
  • Dondo – When on the kava mat, men sit cross legged, and women sit with both legs to the side on the knees. Sitting there for hours and visiting is great, but your legs get very tired, so the chief can call a rest by saying ‘dondo‘. We had a good joke going around the village that we needed a ‘full body dondo’
  • Kerekere vaka cangu – What you’d say on the grog mat when you’re ready to go to bed (not sure the exact spelling or meaning, but basically means, can I please go to bed?’ you ask the chief after you get everyone’s attention by cobo-ing three times, and he will say ‘Vinaka‘)
  • Lovo – The underground oven meal/feast. Super heat rocks in a fire and place them in a hole covered with food to cook. Including fish, chicken and veggies and then you cover with banana leaves and then dirt to keep the heat it and let it cook for about an hour and a half. The fun part is digging it up without burning your hands too bad!

Kava

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Kava deserves it’s own section here. Every evening after dinner will be a time everyone comes together in the big pavilion called the grand buré. Kava is a root, which they will pound into a powder and then mix with water to make a drink. Kava doesn’t necessarily taste good, but it’s not that bad either. It makes your tongue and mouth go a bit numb and tingly at first. They say it relaxes you and that once you’ve had it daily for a few weeks you can get drunk off it, though there is no alcohol content. I don’t remember the word in Fiji, but it sounds like “lambchop” in english and someone once confused the two, so now they just say that. Not like a crazy drunk or a sloppy drunk, but a mild mumbly laughing drunk. We never felt anything other than a tingling in our mouth though. But it’s not just a cup or two, they will sit for hours and hours on the mats, basically from dinner until bed, all night even sometimes. They combine the crushed kava root (they just use stones or metal or anything hard to pound the root) with water into the tanoa. Then they use a coconut shell as a cup and dish it out for everyone one at a time. They will pass the cup from person to person, and to receive it you cobo once, and after you drink you pass the cup back and cobo three times. There are kava guards that sit next to the tanoa and pass it around to people and keep the kava stirred and mixed. They will pass to everyone there and then take a break until the chief calls for another round usually 5-10 minutes later. There is a special kava ceremony when you arrive in a village called a Sevusevu, where the visitor presents the chief with a wrapped kava root and states the intention of the visit, then they are received by the chief as family (literally one of their own) and he will speak for the land and the ancestors in welcoming you to the land. There is also another similar ceremony when you leave , we were able to participate in a couple and see a few more of these types of ceremonies and it was nice to learn the rhythm of it all.

Off the Grid

We were off the grid because we did not get cell service where we were, and there was not much electricity anyways. There is a charge station for phones and things, but half our stay the solar panels or batteries did not work, so we were always trying to conserve our charge. IT was really nice to not be connected to things like Facebook and instagram, though some of you worried about us going dark. We did find after a couple days that there is a peak you can hike to that we did get signal on, so we would go and post photos and send messages to let everyone know we were still alive.

Bridge The Gap

As we mentioned earlier, we were on Vorovoro as guests through an organization called Bridge the Gap. They are in partnership with the chief and other tribal leaders to help the people live sustainably and adjust to the local challenges of climate change. Read more about their mission on their site. It was a great cultural experience to learn about the traditional of Fiji and get to know the people.

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We’ll have a few more posts about our time in Fiji, so stay tuned! In the meantime, here are some more photos:

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The Jump

While having a blast at the reunion, we were also busy getting our final packing finished and the last purge. We had a few things to finally let go of, like our pillows and other random things, like our minivan…

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We luckily found a great buyer who was in need of upgrading their vanimal and they dropped us off at the airport!

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It was quite a strange feeling having just sold our last vehicle and jettisoned anything that wouldn’t fit in our suitcases and backpacks and to step onto an airplane! Very freeing, but also quite anxious. There were second thoughts and moments of panic, but we reassured ourselves that we’d done the planning and preparations and now was time to jump!

It was also very freeing to let go of everything society says we should have and accumulate and work hard to keep. We no longer are living the “American Dream” of owning our own house (and paying the bank dearly for it in interest and insurance). A yard to call our own to play ball with the kids, our own kitchen, and growing some veggies or spices. We do value that and are still interested in that, we just have a different dream right now. We want to travel light and experience different cultures and places, we want to go not as tourists, but as travelers and learn from the experience. We also want to learn to detach from the things and stuff of our commercial consumer culture. We want to JUMP! You can too!

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Our first jump is to fly from SLC to LA to Nadi, Fiji to Labasa, Fiji, then a taxi to the docks and a boat to Vorovoro for a week of culture experience living sustainably with a Fiji village. More on that to come. The fun part was crossing the date line, in that we left LA on a Thursday night, and arrived in Fiji Saturday morning, yet only 12 hours later. So we jumped into the future too!

PSA: Moab is hot during the summer

Driving from Colorado to Utah is beautiful and I was able to literally “work on the road” again as we went, though some places along the interstate don’t have much as far as data connections. I was able to get my work done still.

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My kind of corner office… Coding + Roadtrip = Codetrip

We were heading to Utah and we wanted to return to Moab for some family hiking. We visited about 10 years ago and thought the kids would love it. As we pulled in the night before we decided to check the weather and we were a little surprised. We hadn’t put two and two together, that it was summer and we were heading to the desert. Not sure why we hadn’t even thought about that yet, but we had just enjoyed some beautiful weeks in Colorado. Anyways, it was hot than expected so we rearranged our schedule to hike early in the morning before it hit 100 degrees since it would stay above 100 until 8pm when it started getting dark.

We had a good hike to the delicate arch though and the kids became convinced we were trying to kill them with the heat already, so we called it a day and went to hydrate and swim at the hotel before heading north.

Doing Yellowstone National Park, Day 2

 

 

In the morning, after staying at the Old Faithful Inn, we got more familiar with old faithful by watching a couple more eruptions and visiting the education center. From there we had to get outside and went on a geyser and hot spring pool hike. It was amazing to see all the colorful pools and spring streaming geysers!

“The vivid colors of Beauty Pool’s basin and runoff channels are created by microscopic lifeforms. Incredibly, these organisms survive and thrive in an environment that would be lethal to us and most other living creatures. Scientists are just beginning to understand these lifeforms: amazingly, hot spring environments may sustain a diversity of organisms rivaling that of terrestrial rain forests.”

My favorite is at the end of the hike (of course), it’s called Morning Glory and it’s a very vibrant and colorful but still pretty small pool.

Next, we hiked back to the education center to finish some work and check on Old Faithful again. We caught the video they show after every eruption too. Highly recommend it!

Then we were off to check out the Grand Prismatic Spring! It’s very similar to Morning Glory, just lots bigger! So big, in fact, it’s kinda hard to see. I can tell that most of the famous photos are arial views. It’s just down the road a few miles but it was equally amazing!

Arial view of The Grand Prismatic Spring

Sadly, we had to head south already from there to get through the Tetons and down to Jackson hole. We’re total fans of Yellowstone though and will certainly be visiting again, hopefully with more time on our hands and an RV/camping gear. I had a work conference to attend with my new company 10up. They’re a distributed WordPress agency and it’s thanks to a company like them that we can nomad like we do! While I was in Jackson for the week, the rest of the crew went to visit family in Canada! It was a beautiful drive exiting the park and going through the Teton National Park too.

I think there were a couple other National forests or parks we drove through too, all beautiful. Here is the instagram roll from the day:

 

Doing Yellowstone National Park, Day 1

We drove from South Dakota and through Wyoming to get to Yellowstone and it did not disappoint. We arrived through the West Gate and headed right for a couple places on our short list. We had to drive a few hours through the park since it was already late in the day. It was a beautiful drive though around the lake. We came across some snow and had to get out and play a bit. There was some thermal activity on the banks of the lake too, so wild to see steam coming out of crevices in the ground! We spotted some wildlife as well, a few buffalo, deer, a bigger deer maybe elf or antelope and a young grizzly bear in the road (sorry, no bear pics this time). There were quite a few spots we had to pull off and just soak up the scenery!

We got to Old Faithful to see it erupt at dusk.

We were lucky to have made a reservation at the Old Faithful Inn though and were impressed with how fancy and unique it was!

It was great to spend the night in the park and not have to drive all the way back out! We’d probably prefer to camp there, but as we don’t have the RV (yet) or the camping gear (anymore) the inn was the option and I’m glad we went for it. A fun experience overall and so nice to see Old Faithful out the window first thing in the morning!

Good Times at Badlands National Park

As we were heading towards Wyoming from Indiana, we noticed signs to the Badlands, and having heard about them and looking up details as we approached we decided on a small detour to check it out. We were happy to present the rangers with our newly printed 4th grader pass which got us in free! We were pretty immediately impressed with a great overlook as we made our way to the information center, so we had to get out!

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We were struck with blasts of wind as enjoyed the canyons and cliffs.

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Then we saw something coming over the hills behind us, like a brown cloud and then we realized it was a sandstorm! So we ran to the car. Most of us made it in time, the rest of use was picking sand out of our hair and beards the rest of the day.

We checked out the Ben Reifel Visitor Center to learn all about the history of the area and participate in the Junior Ranger program. We were thoroughly impressed. We’re really glad that we stopped in to see the Badlands National Park and happy to report the badlands are a good time.

Housesitting For The Win Win

So, how do we (a family of 6) afford all this travel? We’ve had this question over and over. To appease or travel bug we initially had the plan to buy an RV or 5th wheel trailer and travel North America via campsites. There would be a fairly large upfront cost of purchasing the RV and/or truck. Plus, since I work remotely, dealing with mobile internet options looked expensive at best. We love the idea of taking home with us though, there’s something to be said for having our own space which we could transport to any place. Plus, we’d mainly be staying in campsites, and we love camping. I also had an international travel itch and I worried an RV wouldn’t scratch my itch for long and I’d still be restless. Simultaneously, we looked into long term airbnb/vrbo hopping. Since monthly rates are much better than the standard rental rates, plus we’ve heard you can negotiate even better rates if you contact the owner previously.

Housesitting

After some discussion and research online we started considering housesitting. The more we looked, the more sense it made for us. There is even a website that connects sitters with those looking for house and pet sitters called trusted house sitters. We set up a profile and browse available sites and apply. It’s set up for pet sitting and house sitting, so not only do we get to watch for someone’s house, but we get to watch their pets too! There are dogs and cats of course, but also horses, chickens and even kangaroo! Saying goodbye to our own furry family members was one of the hardest parts of preparing for this lifestyle change for our family. So, we’re happy to have the option to include animals in our world travels.

Trusted house sitters has international listings too! So with a passport and a desire you can go sit all over the globe! We get to visit new places as we house and pet sit. It’s a classic win-win! We take care of someone’s home while they’re away and we get a furnished place to stay. The homes will have a home feel and furry friends to love while we save on our budget to do things while we’re there. Many house sits are in a home that has a stable internet connection already. Some house sitting are asking for a weekend or a few days, but some (the ones were more interested in) are for months at a time! We can stay in a country for a couple months at a time usually without even needing a visa, just a passport. So, our first house sit is in Colorado since we had some open time between a work trip and a family reunion. Then we’re going international and flying to the Pacific for a few more: 4 lined up in Australia and New Zealand through October!

House sitting seemed like a crazy idea when we first heard about it, but the more we looked into it, the more sense it made for our family and our plan. We were able to go international and have a home base that feels like a home (because it is), enjoy the company of pets and make some local connections with people that actually live in the places we visit. We have been able to secure 5 months of housesitting in under two months of membership. We’re still new to the site and the process, but as we go we’ll only get better at it, we’ll even rack up reviews from our sits that will better qualify us for future sits. It has been a slight struggle for us to find family friendly homes and pets, but enough opportunities that welcome us, appreciate our vision and are happy to have us in their home to keep an eye on things and walk the dogs.

If you’re interested in trying housesitting out, go check out trusted house sitters, (this link will give us both a discount). While the house sitting itself has no monetary exchange, you do have to sign up for an account on the website with a fee, which I’m ok with, since it ensures that the housesits and applicants are serious users and not just casual curious browsers or spam.