Ilona Bernotaite: How One Trip Turned Into a Lifestyle

Feb 10
Interviews

You probably already know that here at Kilo Health, we pride ourselves on our people. They’re crazy, creative, hard-working, and know how to have proper fun. We’re lucky to get to work alongside this amazing bunch every day, and it’s only fair you get to know them too. Here’s the first story from Ilona Bernotaite to kick off our new series of blog posts where we’ll introduce our Kilo Heroes – people with inspiring stories you’ve got to hear.

Ilona: How one trip turned into a lifestyle

Have you ever had the urge to just get up and leave to change the scenery? I have, and so I did. Packed my backpack and left for Asia for four months. It was nearly 6 years ago, and I’m still on my “world tour.” I’m actually writing this from Australia and will be heading to Vilnius in a month. And then? Who knows, I like to surprise myself.

I wasn’t always like that. There was quite a bit of planning in my life before then. I used to work for a big international company (like, really big, 30,000-employees-in-my-department kind of big). Every two weeks, I would fly back and forth from Vilnius to Barcelona, hopping from one country to another in between. My personal record was 6 countries in one week (I know, insane).

It was cool, but not cool enough to make me want to do it forever. Sure, business trips let you see the world basically for free, but honestly? You don’t get to see much, except airports, taxis, hotels, and the office. Which, I realized, was not what I wanted. What I wanted was a life full of memorable experiences and people. So, one day, I decided to go on a solo adventure to Asia. Six years and 50 countries later, I can safely say that it was the bestdecisionever.

If you asked me what it’s like to travel for six years straight, I’d tell you it’s not as complicated as you may think. Of course, I had to start by downsizing all the stuff I owned, but there’s something very liberating about being able to fit all your belongings into one suitcase. I used to own quite a lot of clothes (you know, shoes, bags… the usual). Now I have two pairs of jeans, a pair of shorts, a few T-shirts and dresses, a few pairs of workout shoes and a pair of flip-flops. And every time I need to buy something new, I know that something I already own will have to go. I mean, there’s only so much room in one suitcase.

But you still couldn’t call me “the ultimate minimalist.” There are things I can’t resist, like new technology (I mean, anything from smartwatches to NC headphones: you name it, I have it) and bikes. I buy a bike in every country I stay in for at least a few months. In the past year alone, I bought four. But you’ve got to get around somehow, right?

But regardless of how long I stay in a country, I always do something memorable and specific to the place. For example, I learned how to ride a motorcycle in Vietnam, finished a Thai massage course in Thailand, meditated with Buddhist monks in Laos, volunteered in a Malaysian village – you get the gist.

I try to really immerse myself in the culture, and, being a 100% people person, the most magical thing for me is meeting new people, new mindsets, new ideas. It really opens your eyes and inspires you in ways you never thought possible. Imagine all the stories you get to hear every day! From baristas to entrepreneurs, everyone has a story, so there’s something to learn from every single person you meet. And you meet loads when you travel. I’ve become more open, flexible, tolerant, and curious. Trust me, my horizons have been broadened a lot since I took off to Asia. 

Figuring out work stuff wasn’t difficult either. Traveling has actually helped me advance in my career. I’ve met so many business-minded people along the way. I was inspired to the point that I even started a few online businesses of my own. You work smart, you work efficiently, and combining traveling with work is a piece of cake. 

I’m not saying there aren’t any challenges. There are, trust me. I’d say the biggest one is the time difference. There’ve been countries where I’d have to start work at 3 AM or finish at 2 AM. But it’s all about balance and your attitude. If you have plenty of time to do the things you enjoy, if you love your job and work with people who are almost like family, you’ll be happy and productive no matter when or where you work. Besides, the pandemic has finally made employers and employees realize that you can work wherever, whenever, and still deliver great results.

That’s actually one of the biggest reasons I love working at Kilo Health. It’s one of those rare companies that are compatible with my nomadic lifestyle. It supports its employees in whatever makes them happy. And if it means you’re at your most productive at 6 AM sittin’ on the top of Kilimanjaro, fine, do it – they’ll only cheer you on. 

Me joining the company was totally spontaneous. I was in Bali at the time, texting back and forth with the one and only Tadas Burgaila (our CEO), and somehow ended up getting an offer to supervise Kilo’s co-found program. I thought, “Why not?” and decided to come back to Lithuania and stay here for a couple of weeks so I could meet the team in person. It was only five months later that I realized I was still in Vilnius. I had so much fun getting to know the people and the company that I completely lost track of time! I’m also taking on a new role as the CPO (Chief People Officer) and couldn’t be more excited.

I feel like I’ve found my place, and it’s going to be a long, fun ride. Do you know this stereotype about digital nomads eventually becoming yoga teachers or snorkeling instructors? Not me – I love working in HR, I love people, and I love the fact that I found a place where I can continue doing what I’m passionate about and have the freedom to travel the world at the same time. I’m truly hashtag blessed (sorry, couldn’t resist). And to anyone who says, “I’d kill for a lifestyle like this, but I don’t have it in me,” I say – of course, you do. If I’ve figured it out, you will too.

What am I going to do next? Still not sure. I have this crazy idea to rent a few apartments across countries so I can have my own little corner in different parts of the world. I already have one in Vilnius: we share the rent with a couple of friends, and whoever needs it stays there. Hit me up if you want to join me on this project. Actually, hit me up if you just want to grab a cup of coffee together. As I said, I love meeting new people, and I’m flexible – it could be in Vilnius, on Zoom, or maybe somewhere in Bangkok? Who knows where our paths will cross.

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