There it was, staring back at me in kilos, that six months ago, I wouldn’t have been able to convert into pounds without Google. Perhaps it wasn’t written in the black-and-white bluntness I was used to, but nevertheless, it couldn’t be ignored. I squinted my eyes and held my breath as I looked down at my hand, facing the unarguable truth I couldn’t avoid.
I had officially gained ten pounds on Remote Year.
I knew there would be no denying the scale since a fellow remote laughed about his weight over beers two nights before. He had bungee jumped off the Auckland Bridge in New Zealand and I found myself mesmerized by the idea. It was an experience I always wanted to share with my father—a bucket list item I felt compelled to have in his honor. A way of showing him that even if his limbs wouldn’t allow him the slightly stupid bravado of a daredevil, I could step up to the ledge in his place, representing our surname for all it was worth. Mom didn’t need to know.
And I didn’t want to know about those pounds.
“But they really write your weight on your hand?” I gasped, trying to calculate which experience I feared more: hurling myself off a bridge or knowing how much I had packed on since I started this journey in August. I glanced across the table to a fellow former New Yorker who quickly became one of my closest friends in Yugen. Her eyes grew wide as she brought cider to her lips and she reminded me that I shouldn’t bungee jump. That it was dangerous. Why would I willingly do something so life-defying when I could stay safe on the platform, on the ground, in this world?
It felt a lot like the question I asked myself in March of 2017, when I was accepted into this year of a lifetime…
…the days that followed the invitation were ripe with questions and plenty of internal chaos, that frankly, I already knew the answer to most of the hypothetical worries: “But what if it ruins my career?” “How can I possibly leave all of my friends?” “But I’m turning 30 next year, is this smart?” “How can I do this?”
“…how can you not?”
My friend in New York typed back to me a few days later in late March, when the dust had settled and I was one-fourth of a way into my “two-week decision-making period.” Those 14 days felt endless to me—holding a secret I couldn’t tell anyone until I made a choice. Nearly every 24 hours I teetered, wondering what route would reap the most success and the most happiness. Which one I would regret less and which I’d value more. Sleep was an illusion I chased those evenings, prompting me to text my friends at ungodly hours.
“I don’t know. I worked so hard the past few years to get in shape and I finally did. I feel great. How can I possibly work out five times a week and eat healthy when I’m in Portugal? Or Buenos Aires? Or anywhere in Asia? What if I gain the weight back?”, I texted, realizing how ridiculous the blue boxes looked when I sent them. How ungrateful they read.
“So, you lose it again. You’re not going to gain it all, maybe some…
…”But are you really going to pass up a year-long trip around the world to be a size four?” she persuaded, her dependable realism blinking through my iPhone.
I knew she was right—and yet, the fear lingered.
Even after I forked over that $5,000 deposit on April 2, sitting at brunch with my mom and downing a bottle of champagne.
Even when I quit a job I loved, whose philosophy turned me into the healthiest version of myself I’ve ever been.
Even when I passed up on another drink or a fried appetizer during my countless ‘see you abroad’ dinners I had with my New York City friends.
Even when I boarded that one-way flight to Croatia by way of Greece on July 25.
And all the way up until I met the 57 (amazing, awesome, ridiculous, beautiful, insane, strange, infuriating, incredible) individuals who were destined to be my travel buddies for the next 365 days.
It lasted until the first week was over and I stood in the middle of my Croatia apartment after a day of island hopping, with my hair salty and scrunchy, my stomach full of a myriad of booze and snacks I normally would never eat, and I thought:
“Wow, this is what it means to be happy. This is what it feels like to be content.”
That feeling has waned and changed as we’ve transitioned from Portugal to Japan, from Thailand to Argentina, and all of the shifts in between. It’s come and gone, as I’ve scaled each city, trying to find my groove and understand my purpose. My goal. My ‘why.’ It’s fleeted and it’s flung to me, as I invested in friendships and in places, in experiences and in the moment.
Seven months later, I still feel 100 percent cemented in my decision, so thankful I took the leap of faith.
Even so, that anxiety proved warranted.
The pounds came, they gained and they stayed.
But, what I didn’t expect is through travel, through Remote Year, through these Yugens, through challenging my own boundaries and that infamous comfort zone…is how the scale has lost it’s eminence.
As much as I thought I loved my active, boxing and bootcamp tango in New York, and as satisfying as it felt to finally be the elusive size I thought I needed to be, this trek has taught me just how much I used exercise as a way to escape… well, everything else.
I picked working out over living in each and every moment.
I booked a class instead of booking a date, or a plane ticket. I pushed myself to the extreme chasing a vision of perfection that I thought would make me confident. That would make me loved. I prioritized “calories burned” or “calories consumed” over the priceless laughter of my friends, whose company I loved more than any endorphins an hour-long workout could provide.
During those years, I did lose 25 pounds. I did have an almost six-pack. I could do anything a fitness instructor asked me to do. And ya know what?
I was miserable.
Disenchanted. Dissatisfied. Uninspired.
Remote Year has packed on the pounds but more importantly, it’s over-packed my heart.
I wouldn’t trade all of those experiences for another 10 pounds.
If I wanted, if I cared, I could have regrets about all those fatty meals. But that guilt would discount my experience. It would take away from the gift of buttery, thick mashed potatoes from friends who stood firmly next me through a scary dental experience in Thailand.
Or it would discount the purchase of ‘chippies’ in Dubrovnik that helped cement a friendship that has endured through it all, no matter how many bumps we’ve navigated along the way.
Or the complicated Croatian stove that took three Americans, an Irishman and an Englishman twenty minutes to figure out – but produced the pasta and garlic bread meal that cleared away our differences, revealing our shared sentiments.
Or the countless beers on many hills, beer halls and sunsets in Prague, watching the light reflect off the faces of previous strangers who had become my companions.
Or the juice wine boxes that were less than an Euro in Lisbon—and were definitely packed with sugar—but traveled nicely to the harbor, where we were all mesmerized by the passion of the Portuguese – and one another.
Or the obsession over 7/11 pancakes in Japan, which became the positive thread in our community, right as we were fraying at our ends, battling the ebb of the flows we were warned would happen. It became both breakfast and a gesture, reminding us that we can get through any country, any city, anything… together.
Like attempting to order a takeout pizza on a website that was translated from Japanese and kept crashing, but working together with one of my best friends because it was raining in Kyoto. And no amount of our ‘endless summer’ nomadic clothes layered together could keep us warm enough to venture outside.
Or eating french fries and burritos that took two hours to be delivered, sitting crossed-legged on top of a table in Bali at 3 a.m., following a day of beer olympics that left me sunburned and further romanced by the charm and strength of our group.
Or beers at sunset on Bondi Beach in Australia. Or a plethora of meat at an asado in Buenos Aires. Or all of the mango sticky rice, and red onions so good you order them as a side to your fried fish tacos in Thailand.
Sure, the foods of the world haven’t been nutritionally sound, but they also haven’t been sought in desperation or to ease an angst. Food isn’t a comfort that insulates me from reality – it’s a safe, warm place in my new reality. My so-called ‘new normal’, that’s now, just normal.
In a way, the idea of gathering around a meal—no matter if it is expensive grapes at the Ritz Carlton or a warm coffee from a vending machine with buttons in a language I can’t read—has become something I look forward to.
In fact, I’ve never spent so much of my life dining with other people, for breakfast, for lunch, for dinner – and repeat.
Our meals—that always come with a heaping side of laughter—remain among my most treasured memories. They are much of what I will remember when I think back upon this year—and not only because they were mostly delicious, but they provided a space to connect. To talk. To reveal who we are and where we’re coming from, what we mean and how we feel.
We sliced the bread and served the wine, and we became a family.
We are a family.
And even if I didn’t know it when I decided to join Remote Year, I was doing more than taking 12 months to see the world. What I was actually choosing were these people. And this remarkable life we’ve created together.
So, I choose every last 20-something person dinner that we used to attempt to split evenly—and now is an easy one-card solution with instant Venmo payments.
I choose each random gathering of five people I don’t talk to that often, but find myself sitting by a pool, in a park, on a trolley, in a red car or a tuk-tuk—or anywhere—sharing Pringles that somehow are in every corner of the planet, from Morocco to Malaysia.
I choose every Wednesday Wine Night that’s grown to mean something undefinable to me, a simple collective of people who I lean into, whose companionship warms my heart—and my belly.
I choose piling together all of the cash we have to feed any Yugen when they reach an uncomfortable, tantrum-like stage of hanger.
I choose months of fruitful conversations and shared laughter and learning how to say ‘cheers’ and ‘thank you’ in each language.
…and getting them all mixed up when we have too much to drink….
….and always having too much to drink, but never regretting it because you’re never alone in the hangover.
I choose the freedom that living each day, without wondering when I’ll work out or what I’m eating, has given me.
I choose the permission to indulge in my life and in all of its flavors and spices, it’s creations and it’s gatherings, without thinking heavily about the definition in my arms. Or my stomach. Or my legs. Or my chest.
I choose the weight I’ve gained on Remote Year because I no longer need to run away. I don’t have to escape. I don’t need an outlet.
Those are my ten pounds of happiness, of acceptance, of gratitude, of friendship, of fulfilment, of bliss, of adventure I’ve gained that’s far more important to me than posting a selfie that makes me look skinny.
It’s ten pounds of the second best decision I’ve ever made in my adult life – only second to moving to New York, which made Remote Year possible.
It’s ten pounds of the me that I always knew I could become… if I just took the chance.
If I just jumped.
– – –
“Okay! It’s your turn!” the far-too-cheery New Zealander shouted.
We went in order of our weight – the heaviest first, the smallest last. I was the first of the women, meaning, yep, I weighed the most. Great. The assistant repeated my weight a few times—just in case I didn’t remember. Just in case she couldn’t read my hand.
“Are you ready?” she asked, motioning me to step down and begin the seemingly-longest walk.
“It’s going to be okay. I’m safe,” I asked and she confirmed, likely not the first time she’s had to quite-literally talk someone off a ledge, instead of on it. She double-and-triple checked every last hook and cord and instructed me to put my sneakers over the edge, revealing the 130 feet below me. The weather was cloudy but the water was blue, and my heart started to race faster.
“Alright, smile over there. Now above you. Now, what do you want to say to the camera?”
“Love you Yugen!”
I said, without thinking, without pausing. It was the first three words that came to mind. (Sorry mom!)
Three words that hold more significance than the KGs written on my hand.
Three words that filled my head as I free fell and bounced back up, screaming and laughing, laughing and screaming until I pulled the release on my feet, sitting upright as they pulled me back to the platform. My hands were free, my body was secure and I leaned back to catch a glimpse of the Auckland skyline.
“Love you Yugen,” I whispered again, to no one. Just to myself, just in that moment. Just to remember all of the reasons why this journey is so special.
And yes, I do love Yugen. I love Remote Year. But I also love how the experience has changed me. How it’s opened my heart and my worldview, my perspective and my mind. How it’s challenged me and shaped me, liberated and persuaded me.
How it’s given me 10 mother fucking pounds of weight…
…and 10 years-worth of memories that were worth every last, single, indulgent, wonderfully-weird, perfectly-ripe, masterly-prepared, kinda strange… bite.
Now, pass me the chippies.