“I am losing precious days. I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains…” — John Muir

Whenever I conceive of some bold idea, it comes with a potent mixture of enthusiasm and fear. I’m eager to pursue my new plan but worried about the consequences that might come as a result. What if something goes wrong? What if I haven’t thought things through? What if I fail? What if I succeed?

Sometime last spring, Kim came to me and said, “We should buy an RV, and then we should take a trip across the country.”

I embraced the idea immediately. I’ve always wanted to do a cross-country road trip, but never felt like I had the time or the resources. Plus, I didn’t have anybody to do it with. (Kris was never keen on this kind of adventure.) Now, however, I have all three: the time, the resources, and the companion. Kim planted the idea in my head — and it took root.

We didn’t do anything about this theoretical cross-country RV trip for a long time. Neither of us has ever owned a recreational vehicle. And although Kim has spent some time in motorhomes and trailers, the whole notion of buying and owning an RV seemed somehow overwhelming. For me, it was a brand new world filled with unfamiliar jargon and terminology, a world full of big expenses. Plus, making a trip like this poses massive logistical challenges:

  • Where would we store an RV before and after our trip?
  • How would we budget for the upfront expense? The ongoing expenses?
  • What should we do with our condo while we’re away?
  • What would Kim do about her job?
  • How would we handle mail? Friendships? Other ongoing obligations?
  • Could our relationship survive months (or more) in close quarters?

We spent several months cogitating on the idea, taking no action. We talked with others who had made similar trips, picking their brains about the pros and the cons of long-term travel on the road. We looked at trailers and motorhomes, trying to decide which features we liked and which we loathed. We read. We watched videos.

Last autumn, we finally started making some moves. We attended the Portland RV show and began looking at RVs on Craigslist. After a few months, we purchased an RV of our own: a 2005 Bigfoot 30MH29SL. We spent a few weeks prepping the rig for adventure and, finally, last weekend we took it out for its maiden voyage.


Here’s a quick video tour of our rig…

I’m pleased to report that everything went swimmingly. We love it.

As I say, whenever I make a big move like this — and this move cost us $38,000 up front and will take about a year of our lives — my excitement is mixed with trepidation. In this case, the trepidation appears to be unfounded. During four days in the Columbia Gorge, Kim and I had a hell of a lot of fun. Sure, we encountered a handful of challenges (a water heater that wouldn’t heat, a campground next to a busy rail line, a dead battery, etc.) but we resolved them easily and moved on. We worked well together.

It’s clear to us now that we can do this crazy little cross-country trip. We don’t know exactly what we’re getting into, but we know we can muddle through whatever misadventures might await. Kim and I have decided that we really will do this crazy thing.

We have an official launch date: We want to hit the road on April 1st. (Yes, we know that’s April Fools Day. Yes, we think we’re funny tempting fate like that.) In four short weeks, we’ll board Bigfoot and drive south, spending some time in northern California (we’ve already booked a camp spot in the Yosemite Valley on April 12th) before winding our way through the Southwest. By mid to late May, we intend to be heading north through Colorado, then Idaho and Wyoming (hello, Yellowstone!) and Montana.

At some point, we’ll head east (through Canada? through the Dakotas? we’re not sure…) to Minneapolis. We intend to be in Charlotte, North Carolina in mid-September for a conference, but our plans between Montana and North Carolina are vague. After the conference, we’ll stick on the East Coast to see the fall colors and to explore New York. As autumn moves to winter, we’ll wend our way to Florida, and then to New Orleans. By Christmas, we think we’ll be exploring Texas, which everyone tells us will take at least a month. And after that? Who knows?

Our map of places to see
Our current map of potential places to see. There’s so much!

As you can see, our plans are a little nebulous. That’s fine with us. Our motto as a couple has been, “Go with the flow.” We intend to keep it that way. It’s not the destination that’s important to us, but the journey. We want to embrace the spirit of adventure, to take time to get to know the people and the country we encounter. We fully expect our plans to change along the way.

Note: As we travel, I’ll continue to publish here at foldedspace. I’ll even share bits and pieces from the road. But if you want to read travel-specific info, you should subscribe to Far Away Places, our travel blog. Over the past two months, I’ve quietly been prepping that site for prime time. It’s ready enough now to point you in that direction. At Far Away Places, we’ll publish photos and stories documenting our trip, plus lots of other stuff about life on the road. If you don’t want to follow another site, have no fear. If there’s anything truly important, I’ll cross-post it here.

When this trip is over, we’re not sure what we’ll do. Maybe we’ll return to the comfortable life we currently enjoy. Maybe we’ll pack up and repeat this process in Australia or Europe or South America. Maybe we’ll become even bolder, reduce our belongings to a bare minimum, and then backpack across the world (as our friends Scott and Chelsea are doing this year). Or maybe we’ll find someplace along the way that feels so much like home that we stop and stay and never leave.

Whatever our future holds, we’re eager to get started. Our test run last weekend was wonderful, and now we feel like high-school Seniors. We know we have to finish some final work, but we can’t wait to get out there and live on our own in the Real World.

Adventure awaits!

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My friend Lane wrote the other day with a question:

Do you have an article somewhere talking about how to survive long flights? I’m making my first ever trip to Europe in May and have no idea what I am in for on the flight!

Unfortunately, I’ve never written about this topic before. So, I did what any blogger would do: I wrote 2500 words of advice on how to make air travel more manageable.

First of all, realize that a long flight doesn’t have to be a big deal. Though airlines do pack a bunch of people onto their planes, they’re also pretty efficient about keeping folks calm and distracted. That said, I do think it’s a good idea to be proactive.

I’m no pro traveler, but I’ve taken nine long international round-trips since 2007, and in that time I’ve developed some techniques to make the experience more comfortable.

Waiting for the bus in central Turkey
Dealing with delayed buses in central Turkey.

Be adaptable

My number-one rule of travel — and not just for flights — is to go with the flow. Expect the unexpected. Roll with the punches. Things will go wrong. I’ve traveled with folks for whom surprises can ruin a flight (or a day of touring). That’s a choice. When your flight is delayed or somebody steals cash from your wallet, you get to decide how to respond.

I’ve found that I’m much happier — and so are the people around me — if I just take things in stride. That’s one reason I try not to over-plan my trips. If I’m locked into a schedule or agenda, I’ll get stressed when a museum is closed or I go to the wrong train station. But if I relax and accept everything that happens as part of the experience, everything turns out fine.

True story: When Kris and I flew from Washington D.C. to South Africa, the flight carried a youth group going to do mission work. The plane stopped to refuel in Senegal. When it did, some folks got off and others got on. Unfortunately, for some reason, one of the youth volunteers had only been booked through to Senegal and not to his final destination; his seat was assigned to a man boarding the plane in Dakar. Despite vocal protests from all involved, the young man had to leave the plane. (I can’t recall if anyone got off with him, but it’d only make sense that an advisor stayed in Senegal too.) Now that is an unplanned event.

Choose your seat carefully

There’s very little you can control about where and with whom you sit. For instance, Kris and I once found ourselves in the midst of a group of Russians on holiday, all of whom were boisterously drinking and shouting and having a fine time. We, on the other hand, were miserable. It’s tough to read or sleep or watch a movie when everyone around you is laughing and pouring vodka shots.

Another time, I was seated in front of a woman who would not stop talking — even though we were on a night flight back from South America. All she did was bitch and moan and carry on with her seatmate while everyone else was trying to sleep. Turns out she owns a cake shop not far from where I live, a shop I’d never been impressed with anyhow. Now I tell everyone I know to steer clear of the place. She’s lost business because she wouldn’t keep quiet on a plane.

True story: On my first trip to Ecuador, I met Mr. Money Mustache at the Houston airport. We’d booked seats next to each other on the flight, he next to the window and me in the middle seat. As the plane took off, we started chatting. All the way to Quito, we got to know each other and spent time preparing our presentations. It was only a few days later that I realized nobody had ever taken the aisle seat. “What the hell was I thinking?” I asked Pete. “I should have moved over to give us both room.” Pete smiled. “Yeah,” he said, “I was wondering about that.” He’d elected to be adaptable instead, to simply accept the socially awkward geek next to him. He didn’t get tense or cranky.

Since you can’t choose the people around you, it’s important to make the most of the few things you can control. (Again, this includes controlling your attitude.)

So, for instance, do not sit next to the bathrooms. I’ve done this before, and let me tell you it’s not pleasant. On a three-hour flight to St. Louis, it might not be a big deal to sit next to the toilet. But on a trans-Atlantic flight, the toilet gets a lot of traffic, which means nearby seats contend with the folks in line — not to mention the odors. Not fun. Now I make sure to pick a spot away from the toilet.

It’s also important to know which seats are best for you. Kim, for instance, gets up and down a lot, so an aisle seat is usually best for her. I like to stay put. My bladder is a one-percenter, so I’m good with a window seat. And, to be honest, I don’t even mind a middle seat most of the time, so I’ll take one if it’s the best way to avoid problem areas (such as the bathroom).

Tip: I asked fellow traveler Tyler Tervooren for his tips for long flights. He suggested that when you’re traveling with another person, one of you book the window seat and the other the aisle seat. “People don’t want to sit in the middle, so those are the last seats to go. If you leave a gap, there’s a better chance you’ll get all three seats. And even if you don’t, the other person will probably trade with one of you to get out of the middle, so you’ll end up next to each other.”

Flying into Ecuador
Flying into Ecuador. (Photo probably by Mr. Money Mustache.)

Upgrade strategically

I have some friends who refuse to take long flights unless they’re in business class or first class. I never understood this until recently. On last year’s flights to and from Ecuador, I used miles to upgrade our seats to business class. Hello! The larger seating area, the better food (and service), and the access to airport lounges made the trips so much smoother. As a result, I even paid to upgrade the longer legs of my flights to and from New Orleans last fall. Would I pay to upgrade on regular domestic flights? Unlikely. But you can bet I’ll consider the option on international travel in the future.

Especially on the flights to your destination, the extra comfort and relaxation can be worth the cost. For me, the upgrade is less valuable on the return flight. Generally, I’ve budgeted a day or two to recover at home, so if I arrive exhausted, it’s no big deal. I’ll just sleep it off. But I don’t want to waste time recovering from the flight when I’m visiting an exciting new place.

Create a cocoon

Here’s one of my top tips for travel: ALWAYS TAKE AN EYEMASK AND EARPLUGS. I have no sympathy for folks who complain about noisy trafic in Lima or Rome, or who can’t sleep because there’s too much light on an 18-hour trans-oceanic flight. You know conditions will suck sometimes, so prepare. Rather than bitch about babies crying in the back of the plane, be proactive.

Carry an eyemask. These come in handy in hotels or on planes — and at home from time to time. Even a cheap eyemask is better than nothing. But a top-quality eyemask can improve your quality of sleep dramatically. Before my last trip to Ecuador, I picked up this cushioned eyemask from REI. I’ve used many masks before, and this is the most comfortable and effective model I’ve encountered. (They dye stains, though, so be warned.) This is the top-rated mask at Amazon, but I haven’t tried it myself.

Also carry earplugs. You’ll have to determine which type provide the perfect balance of comfort and noise reduction. Personally, I prefer headphones for plane travel. I use earplugs in hotels and at home, but on a plane I tend to use noise-canceling headphones. When I’m awake, they’re good for watching movies or listening to music. When I’m sleeping, I turn on some sort of looping white noise (my personal favorite is this recording of a midnight rainshower in Hawaii).

Finally, many folks — and I’m one of them — like to use an inflatable neck pillow on long flights. These look dorky but they’re so much more comfortable than airplane pillows.

Note: Before my 2013 trip to Ecuador, I visited my doctor for something unrelated. I mentioned that I have trouble sleeping on planes. “Here,” he said, and he pulled out his prescription pad. “Use Ambien. Take one as the plane pulls away from the gate and you should be ready to sleep by the time you’re able to put your seat back.” Holy cats! The dude was correct. Now I take an Ambien at the start of every long flight, and I’m out like a light, usually waking up just as we’re preparing for our descent.

In 2011, this was everything I carried for five weeks in Peru and Bolivia
In 2011, this was everything I carried for five weeks in Peru and Bolivia.

Pack wisely

I’m an advocate of packing light. It’s my goal to never check a bag when I travel to another country. (I also try not to check a bag on return flights, but I’m less militant about it. If my traveling companions check their bags, I may do so too. And sometimes I’m returning with more than I started with, so I have no choice but to check something.) Light packing offers all sorts of advantages over traveling with too much gear, but one of them is that everything is near you on the plane.

Whether you only have carry-on baggage or choose to check your luggage, you should plan ahead for the flight. Kim likes to keep the space under the seat clear for her feet, which means she only has a few necessities in the seat pocket. (This is another reason it’s good for her to have an aisle seat: If she needs something else, she can stand up and get it out of the overhead compartment.)

I, on the other hand, don’t mind having a small bag under the seat. Sure, I have to cram my feet in around it, but this also gives me access to more options. I have my iPad handy (for movies and games and music), a book or two, and some writing tools. I even have my laptop under the seat in case I get ambitious. (Believe it or not, I’m most productive on long flights. I write like a mad man!)


The video version of how I pack for travel.

Be prepared

Be ready for each step of the journey. You know you’re going to have to take your shoes off at security, so don’t wear complicated lace-up boots. Wear something that slips off. (Slip-off shoes come in handy again on the plane; you can easily put them on and off while seated.)

Also, you know you’ll need access to your passport and other travel documents, so keep them handy. I’m always baffled by the folks who have to search for their boarding pass or who have to spend two minutes getting things ready at the security checkpoint. Why is it a surprise that you need those things?

Maintain an itinerary

I shared this final tip in my travel packing article, but it’s worth mentioning again. I’ve learned that for a long trip, it’s vital to have a written itinerary. This document becomes the organizational backbone of the entire journey.

At the moment I start planning my trip, I create a text document (although you might prefer a spreadsheet). To start, I include my passport info and my frequent-flyer numbers. As I make my plans, every scrap of info gets placed in the itinerary.

  • When I book my flights, I put the flight numbers, the schedules, the confirmation codes, and everything else into the itinerary. (I’ve developed a standard format for this info.)
  • When I book my hotels, I put the address, phone number, confirmation codes, and other bits of info into the itinerary.
  • When I book a tour or a shuttle, that info goes here too.

Here’s an example of my actual itinerary for our trip to Ecuador last fall:

A sample travel itinerary

This document is so important that I carry two printed copies with me. One lives in my pocket at all times and becomes very worn by the end of a long trip. The other lives in the document kit with the passport and my other vital info. Plus I store a digital copy in Dropbox so that I can access it from anywhere in the world.

Your Turn

Yesterday, I had lunch with my friend and mentor Tim Clark. Tim travels a lot for work, making regular flights to Europe and Asia. I asked him for his thoughts on making overseas trips more bearable. He said:

  • Stay hydrated — but don’t eat much. If you don’t drink enough water, you can end up miserable, but the same is true if you eat normal meals. Remember that you’re not being active. You’re essentially in a resting position for eight or twelve or eighteen hours. Eat lightly.
  • Get up regularly and move around. I don’t do this, and I suffer for it. When I get off the plane, I’m cramped and fatigued. Folks like Tim make a point of moving around and stretching at regular intervals.
  • To avoid jetlag, stay up until normal bedtime at your destination. Resist the urge to take a nap. It may also help to get on your new meal schedule as soon as possible.

What about you? Can you offer any advice to Lane about how to survive long flights? Do you have any tips or tricks for coping with the cramped spaces or avoiding jetlag? (I’ve never been able to beat jetlag, so can’t offer any advice there.) And if you have any good travel stories, we’d love to hear them.

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After my complaints that I performed poorly during my interview with Yahoo Finance last week, it’s interesting to see how everything turned out. Here’s the article and video about my experience being audited by the IRS:

It’s instructive to see how professionals take thirty minutes of footage and edit everything down to two minutes, fifteen seconds.

I’m well aware the importance of editing, of course. I preach editing fundamentals when I speak at blogging conferences, and I’ve learned to edit photos (both individual photos and collections).

But as Kim and I move toward future video projects — such as the Awesome People Project, which I’m eager to pursue — I’ll need to learn to sharpen those editing skills. Right now when I create video, I typically compress by about half. If I take twenty minutes of video, my final product is usually about ten minutes long. I know each circumstance is different, but I feel as if I have a lot of room for improvement.

Practice will be key. I know that. Right now, however, I’m not practicing. I’ve been too busy with RV stuff and focusing on fitness so that I’m not working with video like I should. Time to fix that, I think.

Any suggestions for short subjects you’d like to see me make? I’m willing to do anything about Portland or finance or comic books or whisky…

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I was interviewed this morning for a segment on Yahoo Finance. It didn’t go nearly as well as I had hoped. I was nervous. I fumbled when I spoke. I couldn’t remember what I wanted to say, even though I was speaking about my own experience.

Preparing to be filmed for Yahoo Finance
Here I am, talking to thin air…

As I stumbled — stopping and re-starting my sentences again and again — I began to panic. What was happening? I’ve been interviewed dozens of times in the past year, and I’ve interviewed dozens of people myself. I never have problems. I’ve had several interviewers praise my poise recently, but poise was nowhere to be found today.

Searching for Answers

While driving home, I tried to figure out what went wrong. Jeremy, the producer, had been friendly and organized and very clear about what he wanted. I spent plenty of time reviewing the topic we’d be covering (my tax audit in 2014) and I felt comfortable with the material. When I reached the television studio where we filmed the segment, I spent half an hour chatting with the woman who was managing things on our end. Everything should have gone great!

But it didn’t.

“You know, I always suck at television interviews,” I thought. But I know that’s not true. Sometimes I kill it when I’m on TV. Sure, I’ve had several bad experiences before, but it’s not true that I always suck at television interviews.

So, what makes some of my TV interviews go well and others poorly? Was there a common thread? I tried to find a common thread.

“Well, my favorite TV segments have been the ones where I’m actually talking with a live person,” I thought. I remembered a bit I did on DIY Christmas gifts a few years ago. For that, I stood in a local TV studio and joked around with the program’s host. That was fun. Or once in Denver, I did a segment about Fincon where I chatted directly with the news anchor. That went well too.

But what about the times I’ve sucked? There was the time I did a piece for a station in Miami. I sat in a local TV studio and talked to empty air, staring directly at the camera. I bumbled my way through that one too. At the time, I attributed my poor performance to the fact I had a high fever, but looking back I now see similarities to today’s situation. In both cases, I was talking to nobody — looking into empty space while trying to act like I was an expert.

“Aha!” I thought. “This is similar to my public speaking problems. When I’m on stage speaking to an audience, trying to play the expert, I don’t do well. I get nervous. I stumble and lose my way. But when it comes time for questions and answers, I shine. I do great when I’m interacting with somebody, when there’s a give and take, a conversation. It’s tough for me when I’m left to ramble on my own.”

After experiences like this, there’s a part of me that wants to pack it in. I want to decline all future interview opportunities. But you know what? I’ve spent the past decade learning that in order to grow, in order to enjoy life, in order to become a better person, I have to do the things that scare me. I have to face my fears and act despite of them. Will I fail? Absolutely! Sometimes I’ll fall flat on my face. Other times, like today, I’ll shuffle and stumble and be awkward. But in the long run, these failures make me better. I improve by looking at what went wrong and trying to correct it the next time.

Never Give Up

Before the interview this morning, I was thinking about the notion of never giving up. My thoughts were prompted by a trivial experience.

Over the past few months, I’ve been playing a bit of Hearthstone, which is an online card game. I like to play in the Arena, which means I pay two bucks create a deck from random cards and then am matched against random opponents. I can continue playing until I’ve lost three games.

During my Hearthstone games, it’s common for me to fall behind early. It looks like I’m going to die an early death. It would be easy to quit when my opponent is crushing me after only a few turns. But here’s the thing: My style of play is slow and methodical. Despite falling behind early, I often rally to take control of the match. Longer ago, I did concede matches if I fell behind, but now I know never to give up. There’s a good chance I’ll rally for victory.

This “never give up” attitude applies to the game at another level. Sometimes when I build a deck, I’ll lose my first two matches. In the past, I’d just throw in the towel. I wouldn’t play a third match but would instead scrap the deck and build a new one. Not anymore. I’ve learned that even when I start 0-2, I can often finish with three or four or five wins. Yesterday, for instance, I almost gave up after being crushed in my first two matches with a new deck. Instead, I gave the deck another chance. I won. Then I won again. And again. In fact, I won six straight games, which earned me enough in-game currency to build a new deck for free. But I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I’d given up after losing my first two games.

“Never give up” is a common admonition in game and sports. “It’s not over until the fat lady sings,” we’re told. As many of you know, I’m a big fan of The Amazing Race. After watching 25 seasons of the show, I’ve learned a couple of things about the competition. The first rule of the Race is to always read your clues. (It’s mind-boggling how many people lose because they didn’t follow instructions.) But the second rule of the Race is to never give up. No matter how wrong things seem to have gone for a team, there’s always a chance they’ve been worse for somebody else.

In Praise of Perseverance

This “never give up” attitude is applicable to the real world too, of course, and in non-trivial ways. During the 1990s, when I was buried in debt, I wasn’t good at persevering. I’d spend a month or three trying to pay down my credit cards, but then give up at the first sign of adversity. I did the same thing with my fitness. I’d lose a few pounds but then return to my gluttonous ways at the first temptation.

It’s trite, I know, but when I look at the people in my life who have been most successful — by whatever means you want to define that word — they’re the folks who don’t let setbacks rule their lives. They fail forward, using mistakes and adversity as a launching pad to self-improvement. It’s all to easy to use mistakes and setbacks as an excuse to not achieve the things you want; but it’s better to take the tougher route, to wrestle with these obstacles and overcome them.

I’m curious to see how this morning’s Yahoo Finance interview comes together. Maybe the final product really will suck. Maybe I was so nervous and incoherent that the producer won’t be able to create anything worthwhile from the footage. On the other hand, it’s possible that there’s enough material there for him to make me look charming and insightful (ha!).

Regardless, I know one thing: I’m not going to give up. The next time an opportunity comes along to do a television interview, I’m going to do it — even if it means I’m talking to empty space again. Someday, once I do this enough, once I fail enough, I’ll be just as good at giving TV interviews as I am at writing blog posts.

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21 January 2015

The KonMari Method: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

I stopped by to visit with my friend Amy Jo the other day. While reading this blog, she had noticed I made an off-hand comment about wanting to sell my old laptop. “I’ll buy it,” she said. “Great,” I said. “And while I’m at it, I’ll bring Ossley some books. I’m purging again.” Long-time readers […]

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7 January 2015

No More Back Broken: Thoughts on the Creative Process

I’ve written a lot about building confidence and overcoming fear. It’s something I wrestle with all of the time. Despite all of the things I’ve accomplished, I’m always apprehensive about starting something new. People have liked what I’ve done in the past; will they like what I do in the future? Via Andy, here’s an […]

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31 December 2014

Checklists for Daily Life

Recently, one of my readers pointed me to an old New Yorker article from Atul Gawande. In “The Checklist”, Gawande describes how one simple change seems to be revolutionizing medicine: the use of checklists. Modern medicine is complicated. There’s a lot of stuff that doctors and nurses need to know and do in order to […]

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10 December 2014

Buying an RV, part one: Searching for the Perfect Used RV

Last weekend, Kim and I moved from casually browsing RVs to searching in earnest. We spent much of Friday and Saturday touring coaches, both used and new, trying to learn more about what we do and don’t want in a rig. Part of the problem is that everything is theoretical at this point. Neither of […]

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4 December 2014

How to Become a Better Communicator

As I continue to do more public speaking — whether on stage, on air, or via recorded interview — I’m becoming interested in what does and does not make an effective communicator. But I’m not just interested in how to communicate with a passive audience; I also want to be a better conversationalist with my […]

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2 December 2014

Stumbling Toward Perfection: An Interview with Leo Babauta

In 2007, Leo Babauta started Zen Habits, a blog where he chronicled the changes he was trying to make in his life. For the past seven years, he’s documented his successes and failures as he’s striven to stop smoking, lose weight, get out of debt, and otherwise improve his world (and the world around him). […]

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