Unsettled Diaries: Designing For Life In Motion

Bali. Bangkok. Barcelona. Marrakech. Porto.

Not the most reasonable itinerary for three months on the road, unless you happen to be Unsettled’s Head of Experience.

From tropical beach days to sipping Spanish vermut and wandering through Marrakech’s old Medina, Leilani Franklin-Apted (AKA Lala) is one busy woman.

Since September, she’s been on the road leading retreats in Bali, Barcelona, and Porto, training the newest batch of Unsettled Experience Leaders, designing the Unsettled 2018 calendar and, in between, still managing to make a pitstop in Thailand and pay a visit to our newest retreat location in Africa.

Luckily, home is an interesting concept for Lala. Born in the US to a Californian mom and a Fijian dad, Lala moved to Asia when she was a kid and has since called Thailand ‘home’ for most of her adult life. However, with a childhood spent around Southeast Asia and a recent stint living in Spain, she doesn’t feel tied down to Thailand’s busy capital. “I have an apartment in Bangkok, my family is still there, and my dog too, which means it technically feels like home even if I’m never there. I also still had an apartment in Spain for a few months this year, so apparently, I like to collect apartments that I can’t stay put in!”

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Being on the move has always felt natural to her. With a background in design, teaching fine art, content creation, and brand development, Lala transitioned out of her Bangkok-based career in fashion and textile design and into a phase of her life where she realized that she could have the location independence that comes with being a digital nomad.

“I started a copywriting collective, which meant I could all of sudden move anywhere and still work remotely... I chose Spain, and I loved it; I had a great social life, great set of friends, a cute apartment with a view of Sevillian orange trees out the windows. At first, it was all I needed! Except, eventually, as I started to settle down, I found it to be quite lonely professionally. Turns out this is a common theme around being a digital nomad”.

Something most people seek freedom from - a social professional structure - was exactly what Lala says she missed while working as a freelancer. She had fantastic clients who she shared great relationships with, however, she missed having coworkers, peers, colleagues, mentors, and yes, even bosses.

“I missed having a social group who understood what I was doing professionally. I missed creative conversations around collaborations. In that sense, I realize now that I was lonely. Spain is a great social energy, but I wanted more of a community to help me grow professionally.”

So, in the last few months of 2016, Lala started to ask herself a series of important questions:  “Who is trying to do something unique in the space where you can be independent, have all the freedom that comes with being a digital nomad, but still have a community?” And “what does that look like in the real world?” She was still looking to be independent and continue her travels, but she was also looking for a space where people were working and growing together in a highly collaborative way.

It was in exploring this space that she came across Unsettled.

“I immediately fell in love. Finding elements of my own life’s journey within Unsettled’s mission and vision means that this work is a very personal thing for me. When I design retreats around the world for Unsettled, I think about designing life experiences. I think about how I want to live my life and building a community that lives the way I have lived since I was a little girl, in between cultures and countries, but in a very meaningful way. All of this is very multicultural, very international, not tied to one place, and involves sharing commonality through diversity,”

Growing up as a Third Culture Kid, or TCK for short, Lala deeply understands how you can piece together a whole new culture when fully immersing yourself in a new context, a new country, and a new community. And she applies these ideas directly to designing Unsettled experiences.

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“I see one month with Unsettled as a sort of incubation period, where we can test out what it’s like to get out of our comfort zone and live somewhere completely different, while at the same time co-creating a new culture together.” she explains.

“At Unsettled, we believe life is the most full when you stay connected, engaged, balanced and intentional around three areas of your life: People, Place, and Purpose”

These three Ps, which are the pillars of an Unsettled experience, are what ultimately helped Lala realize that Unsettled provided the perfect framework to marry her design and teaching skills with her love for traveling and passion for creating.

“What’s unique about an Unsettled retreat is that you can’t recreate anything we do. Every month in every destination is a once-in-a-lifetime co-created experience that is responding to a unique expression of people, place, and purpose. It is intrinsically special and different every time because our participants are co-creating with us.”

In her work as Head of Experience Design, Lala strongly believes part of living a healthy digital nomad life involves connecting like-minded people with each other, maximising the potential they each bring with them, and allowing them to add to the experience in their own way to make something totally new.

Photo by Bali September participant Dilyana Krasimirova. 

Photo by Bali September participant Dilyana Krasimirova. 

“We create a fluid and versatile structure, and to ensure we stay grounded, every week, we include spaces for us to engage around People, Place and Purpose, but the rest is up to us as a group to create together during our month. Coworking and coliving is the ultimate vehicle for co-creating and as humans, we feel so good when we get to create our lives”

By this point, Lala has become a seasoned nomad, and has come up with some key tips for living and working on the road. So what words of wisdom does she have to say on living the Unsettled life?

Q: With all of your traveling, how can you get any real work done?

The digital nomad life is a slippery slope! But we need to remember that in order for this lifestyle to be sustainable, you can’t get into vacation mode. It’s OK to work only six hours a day and not 25-hours a day! But for you to work and explore at the same time, you have to put in the hours and not get into sightseeing mode.

I remind myself, ‘Hey Lala, you enjoy your life more when you’re doing some work and you’ve had times when you haven’t had the work and you got bored, remember?’. So my biggest productivity hack is to grow yourself professionally while you’re having fun socially.

Q: With job perks that include hopping from one continent to another at a rate of about one per month, how do you pick your favorites?

Photo by Barcelona participant Katie Jane Martin. 

Photo by Barcelona participant Katie Jane Martin. 

It’s all about balance. Barcelona has a sense of urban chaos, while Bali has a deep sense of spirituality and purpose. I love sharing the Bali experience with people because Asia is my home turf, and to share my experience with others means a lot to me.

At the same time, Spain was also my home away from home for the past two years, so it is hard not to be just as in love with it. It’s the opposite of the barefoot Bali life (and I have to remember to put shoes on before heading out!), but Barcelona’s buzz, vibe, and fuller lifestyle can be addictive.

And then Porto actually can be the best of both worlds. It’s small like Bali, but it has European history like Barcelona. It has the beach, but also the vineyards; it’s a sweet spot. Ultimately, each place has a unique flavor that it brings to the table and it is hard not to want to taste them all!

Q: With multiple destinations regularly on your itinerary, how do you balance feeling ‘settled’ while you’re living Unsettled?

A house plant! I was given one when I was leading our October Barcelona retreat and even though it stayed there when I moved on to another destination, I like the idea that I could make the space my ‘home’ for the 30 days I’m there. It’s really important you take ownership of your spaces. I get out of balance in every other way, but one thing I know is that my physical space matters to me.

So I’ll bring a throw, a yoga mat, or little things which make me feel more comfortable while I am pushing my comfort zone. I love to settle and nest, which is the opposite of living Unsettled in a way, so learning how to do that at stay mobile is a great way to challenge myself. And this is also exactly why we usually do 30 days on an Unsettled trip … because you are not just traveling; you are really living! So I like to embrace the month and really un-settle in!