Issue #5 · The Modern-Day Mission Trip

Back in March 2020, did you suddenly realize that your only “hobby” was grabbing happy hour with your coworkers or bottomless brunch with your girlfriends? Because I sure did.

December 20, 2022: Greetings from the sunny Oaxacan coast, my favorite place on planet Earth. While I’m beyond excited to be back in my happy place, things certainly got off to an interesting start — just four days into this 8+ month stint around the world, my beloved laptop abruptly met her demise. I opened her to do some writing one morning and… kaput, zilch, nada. Just a black screen, no matter what combination of CTRL + ALT + DELETE + FURIOUSLY SHAKING IT I tried.

Did it get jostled around in transit to Mexico? Perhaps. Did an ant crawl in, discover the absolute Mecca of crumbs hidden beneath my keyboard and also chew up the motherboard? It’s the more likely scenario.

Anyway, I was super fortunate to figure out a Plan B rather quickly, and the past two weeks have been an excellent test of resourcefulness and adaptability (thank goodness for Dropbox and a kind friend who travels with a spare laptop).

Last night, the rollercoaster of nomad emotions continued as not only did my new fancy-schmancy MacBook make a surprise appearance (shout out to Mexican UPS for delivering it 11 days early!) but almost simultaneously, my original laptop AWOKE FROM HER COMA. You truly can’t make it up. She’s on life support but stable, and fortunately resurrected herself before I began spreading her ashes around La Punta. I guess now I'm that friend who travels with a spare laptop.

This whole debacle has put me slightly behind on my newsletter (though I did say it was weekly-ISH, so don’t hold it against me), but I’m finally back with a new blog post that I’ve been really eager to publish. I hope you like it!

The Modern-Day Mission Trip

Season 3 just dropped.

No, I’m not referring to Emily in Paris, though admittedly, it is my Netflix guilty pleasure (have you SEEN the male cast of that show?!)

Instead, I’m talking about my own love affair with living abroad — for the last two years, I’ve lived out of a suitcase, bouncing from city to city, exploring both far-flung and familiar corners of the world, all while working remotely. And after a short travel-hiatus to recharge my batteries, I’ve just set off for year three.

While it requires a lot of sacrifice, I’m beyond fortunate to live this nomadic lifestyle. The freedom, the adventure, the chance to experience other cultures, and the inspiring people I’ve met on the road have all helped me grow as a person. Travel has quickly become one of my life’s greatest passions.

But hold on, let’s rewind for a second.

Back in March 2020, did you suddenly realize that your only “hobby” was grabbing happy hour with your coworkers or bottomless brunch with your girlfriends? Because I sure did.

During the early days of quarantine lockdown, I found myself floundering around my apartment with nothing to do, bored out of my mind and pissed off about canceled plans. I was fortunate that Covid didn’t affect much besides my social life, but I faced the harsh and sudden realization that my adulthood lacked substance.

It was Groundhog’s Day purgatory served with a lack of purpose, and having struggled with my mental health in the past, I knew this was a recipe for depressive disaster. Fortunately, I decided to be proactive and fill my unexpectedly empty days: I signed-up for an online illustration course, jumped on the sourdough starter bandwagon, doubled down on Duolingo and committed to training for my first half marathon. You could call it a bit of an overcorrection… but boy, did it work.

I had never seen this side of myself before! While the rest of the world was in crisis mode, I became the most ambitious, best version of myself. I didn’t realize it at the time, but diving into those little rinky-dink activities is what saved me. I had no time to mope around, I had hobbies to tend to!

This “doing the most” mindset continued to snowball, and (after a few months of impatiently waiting out international border closures) the next thing I knew, I was on a one-way flight to Mexico, ready to cross off the next big thing on my bucket list: Travel.

Like a rite of passage, my first year on the road was full of rookie mistakes, random country hopping, and blind adventure. I had never felt more outside of my comfort zone: “This year for the first time, I went whitewater rafting, took a pasta-making class, learned how to play tennis, went off-roading in the Moab desert, took language lessons, went horseback riding on the edge of the Grand Canyon, tried dozens of new types of foods and performed a duet with a Brazilian girl during karaoke night* at a random hostel in Zagreb.” [Excerpt from Issue #2]

Lesson learned, again: Hobbies are good.

*okay, so calling drunken hostel karaoke a “hobby” might be a stretch, but you get my point

During my second year of travel, I was in the midst (and the mist) of repelling down a 100-foot waterfall, questioning the life choices that led me to this terrifying activity, when a lightbulb went off: Traveling is not only a hobby in and of itself, but it’s also the perfect conduit for discovering *other* new hobbies! When I packed my entire life into a suitcase for the first time, I wanted to simply experience living abroad, visit a few tourist attractions and eat some local food. I never intended to fall in love with e-mountain biking in Slovenia or canyoneering in Costa Rica.

There is of course an “Instagram vs. Reality” truth about nomading: Yes, it’s awesome, but it’s also exhausting. In fact, in my circle of long-term traveler friends, the magic number seems to be between 2-3 years of full-time travel until burnout sets in and they decide to slow down or plant (at least partial) roots somewhere. Sometimes, you’ll even hear nomads talk about feeling like a lost puppy. The world might be our oyster, but with so many destinations to visit, we must decide not only where to go, but more importantly... why. Since I’m right at that 2-3 year mark myself, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on what’s next — especially since I’ve started to notice that same early quarantine “lack of purpose” creeping back in.

I think this is because traveling just for traveling's sake, with the singular intention of sightseeing and exploring is only sustainable for so long. Like the law of diminishing returns, your 50th time wandering around a foreign city is bound to be less exciting than your first:

  • First you visit Prague, do a walking tour, eat at a local restaurant, and visit a museum.

  • Next you visit Berlin, do a walking tour, eat at a local restaurant, and visit a museum.

  • Then you visit Paris, do a walking tour, eat at a local restaurant, and visit a museum.

Sure, for regular folks who take one or two vacations a year, this is a non-issue. But for the booming population of digital nomads, remote workers, location independent drifters (whatever you want to call us), travel admittedly does get a bit stale after a while — unless there’s a prevailing purpose.

Enter the Modern-Day Mission Trip.

First, a quick clarification on the name: I’m not religious and “Mission Trip” has nothing to do with volunteering at an orphanage in an impoverished rural village while spreading the good word (though it totally can if you want!).

Rather, I simply mean clearly stating the intention of your trip — your mission.

Living in a different [city/country] for a few [weeks/months] at a time gives nomads a unique opportunity to go beyond just sightseeing. For example, most people won’t try to squeeze in Spanish lessons on a week-long vacation to Madrid, but if you spend an entire summer there, por qué no?! And while language lessons might be the most common example among long-term travelers, here’s the cool part: Your mission can be literally anything. As nomads, we have so many potential new hobbies and activities right at our fingertips. Just saying, I never stumbled upon a 100-foot waterfall during the seven years I spent commuting to my cubicle job — so why not milk this awesome lifestyle for all it’s worth?

Let me give you a few examples:

  • You could spend a month in Morocco. Or you could spend a month in Morocco, and while you’re there, sign up for beginner kitesurfing classes and discover a hidden talent that makes you excitedly jump out of bed before sunrise.

  • What about volunteering at a vineyard in Mendoza? The cultural experience, life skills (and hey, maybe some free wine?) just might be worth getting your hands a little dirty.

  • A summer living in Scotland would be so nice! But what if you also revived your teenage passion of Highland dancing by enrolling in a class that culminates in a performance at Edinburgh’s annual Highland Games?! Now that’s a story (albeit a bit niche, thanks for the inspiration, @Sharon).

  • You could spend a few weeks in Cozumel getting your scuba diving certification!

  • You could do a yoga retreat in Thailand and become an instructor!

  • You could disappear into a cabin in the mountains and crank out the first draft of that novel you’ve always wanted to write!

The list of possible missions is endless, and the rules are fluid. A mission could last a week, a year, or for the rest of your life. You can even embark on several missions at once. Maybe it’s learning a useful skill that you can implement in your career, or maybe it’s something silly and pointless but brings you joy. It can directly tie into the location you are traveling to, but it also doesn’t have to. Maybe it’s an athletic endeavor, or perhaps it involves cooking or music or art. Simply pursue whatever activity makes your heart sing and speaks to your soul — and be intentional about it.

Because here’s the thing: I believe that everyone has at least one passion or interest that they’ve been putting off exploring. Yes, we’re all busy and life often “gets in the way” (though nomads usually have fewer excuses than most). But sometimes we need that spark of trying something new or taking that first step towards a lifelong goal to snap us out of our monotonous daily routines, avoid travel burnout or provide a bit of direction to our mostly uncharted life paths.

My Mantra: Seize the Day (But Don’t Seize It Too Much)

The funny thing is, in terms of getting out of my comfort zone, I still have a long way to go. I’m far from the most adventurous person out there: I panic in vehicles moving faster than 8mph, I’m a self-conscious dancer, and I’m absolutely terrified of flying (the irony, I know). So while you won’t find me skydiving nor taking bachata lessons any time soon, I try to be open to trying most things.

Since I arrived in Mexico a few weeks ago, I’ve blocked an hour on my calendar each morning to write, and have unexpectedly been playing beach volleyball almost every afternoon (similar to how I discussed that my personality changes from country to country, sometimes I’m surprised by what hobbies catch my attention). Writing and volleyball aren’t particularly gutsy or groundbreaking — a mission doesn’t have to be! But it’s a place to put my focus and energy, and I’m really starting to fall in love with both.

I’ve realized that I am my happiest self when I am learning a new skill, tinkering with a side project or exploring a new hobby. Basically, when something catches my attention and keeps me up all night (this 1am-written blog post being one of those things), those “what should I do with my life??” insecurities seem to ebb while the zest for life seems to flow.

And what a privilege it is to have arrived at the self-actualization stage of needs. While this Tweet is a few years old and my parents are not immigrants, it still resonates with me as I’m part of the first generation forging a path in this new realm of remote work and location independence. We’re the first generation to be unchained from our cubicles and societal norms. We’re encouraged to dream big and dream differently. We have the time and resources to pursue things simply because they make us happy. The opportunity to embark on a Modern-Day Mission Trip is an absolute blessing — as @Bosefina said, “what a luxury it is to search for purpose, meaning, and fulfillment.

Help Me Continue Writing 📝 💛

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PS: I’d love to hear what you thought about this post. If this landed in your inbox, just hit reply! Or if you’re reading this online, send me an email at [email protected] and I pinky promise I’ll reply back.

Here’s a list of every issue if you want to keep reading!

  • Issue #16: Embracing the Blank Canvas [Sep 2023]

  • Issue #15: In Pursuit of an Endless Summer [Aug 2023]

  • Issue #14: Follow Me to Weird Places [Jul 2023]

  • Issue #13: Self-Inflicted Social Overload [Jul 2023]

  • Issue #12: Schlepping It 🎒 [Jun 2023]

  • Issue #11: Finding My “Next Thing” [Jun 2023]

  • Issue #10: Book the Damn Flight and Just Go [May 2023]

  • Issue #9: Choosing Your Own Life Adventure [May 2023]

  • Issue #8: Eat, Sleep, Write, Repeat [May 2023]

  • Issue #7: My First Month of Indie Making: An Honest Review [Feb 2023]

  • Issue #6: Ten Years of Making Money on the Internet [Jan 2023]

  • Issue #5: The Modern-Day Mission Trip [Dec 2022]

  • Issue #4: Ready, FIRE!, Aim [Nov 2022]

  • Issue #3: A New City Every Month: An Experiment in Change [Aug 2022]

  • Issue #2: Defining My North Star as a Nomad [Dec 2021]

  • Issue #1: One Year on the Road: Looking Back [Oct 2021]