In the early days of Lauren Bernal’s career in advertising, she would save up all her vacation days and book a trip to faraway lands or catch a cheap flight over a long weekend, then return to work and save up for another getaway.

It was a cycle that satisfied the 27-year-old copywriter’s travel itch until the day she discovered Remote Year.

Remote Year is an organization that provides a foundation for professionals to work and explore the world as part of a vibrant global community. Entrepreneurs Greg Caplan and Sam Pessin founded Remote Year in 2014 on the premise that traveling the world and accelerating a career don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Remote Year participants, who range in age from 21 to 64 and come from around the world, apply to join the program and, if selected, make a down payment of $5,000, then pay $2,000 a month to cover travel and lodging. The Remote Year organization plans the itinerary and makes all travel arrangements.

And unlike other work-abroad programs in which you teach English in Egypt, rustle cattle Down Under, or prepare meals in the Swiss Alps, participants work remotely at their own individual jobs from a new location each month. Some make arrangements with their employer to work remotely for a year; some work as independent contractors, and others work for employers that partner with Remote Year.

“We’ve seen architects and retail industry employees, as well as small-business owners and freelancers, flourish on Remote Year programs,” stated Krista Canfield McNish, communications strategy consultant at Remote Year. “We’ve cheered on program participants as they’ve garnered promotions and smashed sales quotas while working abroad.”

Remote Year also partners with businesses looking to improve talent recruitment and retention, provide professional development and engagement opportunities, and even reduce the overhead of in-office workers.

A graduate of the University of North Texas, Bernal learned of Remote Year from a Facebook ad and applied the same day.

“I desperately needed to get away,” she said. “I had been in Dallas since after college, and I hardly was able to explore the world. Though I did get to go a few fun places for client-related things through work, I needed to get out of the country. I fell in love with travel at a young age while singing in The Children’s Chorus of San Antonio.”

Though Bernal’s employer wasn’t willing to keep her on during Remote Year, she was able to pick up freelance writing and design work and continue to build her portfolio. She began her Remote Year in Lisbon, Portugal in 2016.

When not working, she learned to surf and ride a camel. She experienced colorful vistas and life without running water. She hiked mountains and overcame culture shock. She made best friends and started an online journal at Your Travel Blog Sucks.

“It seemed like I was putting my career on hold, which made it really difficult for me to leave,” Bernal said. “I loved what I did, and my job revolves around constantly building a portfolio. But you know what? A year is nothing. And I’ve also really re-prioritized what’s important to me going forward. That whole ‘work-life’ balance thing is pretty real.”

When the Rivard Report caught up with Bernal last month, she had returned home to San Antonio from her 12-month trek around the world – Argentina was her last stop – but was off again soon afterward. As a Remote Year “Citizen of the World,” she took advantage of available discounts to join other Remote Year programs already in progress.

Bernal spent the month of September in Chiang Mai, Thailand. She’s currently living in Kyoto, Japan, but will move to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, next month. She’s still freelance writing and designing, but also works for a matchmaking service.

During her official final month with Remote Year, she wrote: “I think I kind of expected to come back a ‘changed’ person in the sense of worldview, experiences, and relationships. This year has been one of changes, and I am so grateful for what I’ve gone through – the ups, the downs, and the plateaus. … I’ve left pieces of my heart, my soul, and my dignity all over the world. And, I’m returning with both more and less of what I started with.”

McNish said Remote Year has two groups kicking off next month. The program currently operates in about 20 cities around the world, so since each program doesn’t visit every possible city, Remote Year helps participants select the program departure dates and cities that work best for them.

“In addition to the travel logistics that Remote Year provides, we also provide a lot of on-the-ground programming participants can take advantage of, including local experiences and cultural tracks that help remotes better understand and connect with the places they are living in,” McNish said.

Currently, Remote Year has participants from about 40 countries. Couples who attend together may qualify for a discount. Although such a program may seem best suited to Millennials, Remote Year once had an applicant from Kentucky, a 71-year-old man who worked in real estate.

“For many of our participants, the community they travel with throughout the year-long experience ends up becoming like an extended family,” McNish said. “It’s a community they keep with them long after their trips wrap. The new friends and professional connections our participants form during their Remote Year often last a lifetime.”

Even after traveling around the world, Bernal agrees that getting to know others in the Remote Year community was the best part of the experience. But there are challenges to overcome.

“The worst parts? Missing important, actual family events back home,” she said. “I’ve never missed Christmas with my family as well as a bunch of other holidays until Remote Year came along. I also experienced a family death while abroad, which was extremely difficult.

“Another hard thing to deal with? Time zones. If you’ve got clients in Texas and you’re in Asia, that’s a 12-hour difference. It’s a hassle sometimes, but definitely worth the hard hours to continue to be able to travel and work at the same time.”

Bernal set goals for herself and her work, and in meeting those goals during Remote Year, the experience “completely and utterly” changed her life and outlook.

“You truly have no idea what you’re missing unless you get out there and see it,” she said. “The world is so big yet so small. It’s inevitable to get caught up in our own little local bubble. But once you leave and see life outside of a smaller reality, it’s hard to justify closed-mindedness and misunderstandings that people have about the rest of the world.”

Bernal can’t name a favorite city or country, even after visiting some of the choicest destinations on the planet – Morocco, Peru and the Czech Republic, to name a few. “Every place is different and special and great and horrible for very different reasons.”

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the business beat reporter at the San Antonio Report.