Source: Hiking and sledding on Mount Rigi with some co-workers. Probably the first picture I've ever taken and enjoyed looking at.

I'd previously mentioned that I had an upcoming work trip to Zürich, and in keeping with my usual blogging tardiness, that trip was two months ago. Actually, I (perhaps ironically) got back from India a few weeks ago, so expect that post soon in a few millennia. But anyway, let's talk about Switzerland: a country of cheese, chocolates, and armed neutrality*.

Waiting to leave SFO on a gloomy evening.

Leaving on a jet plane

As it turns out, Zürich is kinda far away. Like, 5,889.11 miles, give or take a few. Luckily, the Wright Brothers solved this problem a while ago, so off I went on a fancy, new-fangled flying machine in relative luxury. I've been consistently impressed with the quality of economy class on international flights (first Lufthansa, and now Swiss), they really put our domestic carriers to shame. Between the hot meals, warm cloths so you aren't bathing in your own face-grease the whole flight, and honest-to-God leg room, my mind is legitimately blown every time. Fun fact that I didn't know until recently: foreign airlines can't operate point-to-point routes within the US. Given that, it makes sense that domestic airlines aren't really trying that hard, they only have to compete with like two other equally awful carriers on most routes.

Moving on from my tangent: though the plane was a slightly more tubular metal container than I'm used to sleeping in, I slept soundly, in spite of the shape. A short 11 hours after takeoff,** I found myself in Zürich.

Taking the Train

Being able to navigate in a foreign country is a useful skill, not only for Amazing Race contestants. Unfortunately, navigating public transit is also a skill I sorely lack, which is ironic because I used to drive public buses. But anyway, the trains (and the rest of public transportation in Switzerland) are really, really good. So good in fact, it can be a bit overwhelming for someone used to the US's decidedly mediocre public offerings. After a bit of jet-lagged, blank-eyed staring at a departure board for longer than I'd like to admit, I hopped on a train heading in the general direction I was going: Zürich HB, the main Zürich train station.

A rough depiction of what I found myself up against, from DC Rainmaker

The trains in Zürich are buttery smooth, like riding on velvety Swiss clouds. I never noticed how rocky train rides here are, but comparatively, it feels more like I'm riding a jackhammer when I Caltrain up to San Francisco. I'm being dramatic, but the trains in Switzerland are indeed modern marvels of engineering. As a testament to their coolness, a Zürich-based co-worker told me that if the trains are more than a few minutes late, people start Snapchat-ing and Tweet-ing pics of the late train, because they're usually so punctual. Not only are they timely, but they also go everywhere, including up mountains. We were able to get to the top of Mount Rigi with a few trains and five minutes of walking. Take notes, America.

Doing Some Exploring

Regrettably, I didn't have a lot of time to explore. I was, after all, on a work trip. Had that not been the case, I'd likely have started each morning at the main train station and picked a random train to dictate the plans for the day. I did at least attempt to do some exploring though. But words are boring, so instead of making you read about it, here are some pictures.


Lucerne (or Luzern, depending on who you're talking to) has a rich history that stretches back to the 8th century, and you can see a lot of that history in a lot of the architecture, which has been preserved or restored. It's also just a beautiful area.


Some friends were staying in this cool brewery-turned-hotel-and-spa, which has an ornate library area and a bunch of the original brewery equipment.

Snow Pup!

I have an infinitely-exploitable*** soft spot for cute animals. I found this majestic and sagacious creature at the top of Mount Rigi and had to stop for a pic (and some petting).



I was surprised to find that one of my favorite things about Switzerland was the weather. Silicon Valley has a watered-down version of seasons, and Zürich in the winter reminded me a lot of Boston. It was part nostalgia, part missing the sensation of crisp winter air, but in any case it was immensely enjoyable. I frequently found myself stepping outside, solely to take some slow, deep, refreshing breaths.

Language and Economics

It probably shouldn't surprise me at this point, but everyone in Switzerland speaks some combination of German, French, Italian, and English, and usually at least three of those. It's at least in part because the EU is a giant cultural melting pot, but I was impressed no less. Interestingly enough, the Swiss dialect of German is incomprehensible to German speakers from Germany, though the written language is mostly the same. At least that's my understanding. In a vaguely-related train of thought, everyone being so multi-lingual and high-skilled means that even jobs that would usually be considered "entry-level" in the US pay really well. In fact, only 10% of jobs pay less than ~$50,000/year. As a result, service industry staples like restaurants are comparatively really expensive, because people are expensive.


While I (thankfully) didn't do any driving in Switzerland, I did spend quite a bit of time watching other people do it. To my untrained eyes, it looked pretty complicated. There were tons of signs and lanes, and the trains would lackadaisically wander back and forth between dedicated lanes and mixing in with the general population. Switzerland also seems to take joy in sprinkling random intersections with roundabouts. They still drive on the right side of the road though, so no added confusion there.


I forgot how much fun sledding is. I hadn't been since I was a wee lad, and even then I wasn't sledding down full-blown mountains. Rekindling the flames of my childhood, I raced down several sled trails at borderline reckless speeds, laughing hysterically throughout the entire chaotic decent. I definitely destroyed the tread on my boots in the process; stomping your feet is the only way to turn or slow down (unless you're willing to stop with your face). But I'd trade in the tread in an instant to do it again.

*I had the good fortune to sample at least two of those things during my short trip.

**Swiss conveniently flies direct from SFO -> ZRH.

***If you have an adorable dog and need someone to watch and/or walk them, I'm wholly incapable of declining the request.

Source: Trying out a new (slightly less anatomically accurate) truck graphic this time, from Tumundografico

Each financial post I do brings at least a few questions about my plan or different investment strategies. Before we get to it, I'll start with my usual disclaimer that I have no background in finance or financial planning, and taking financial advice exclusively from the guy living in a box truck probably isn't a sound strategy. With that out of the way, let's get to the questions.

Do you invest in bitcoins?

Nope. Aside from reading the white paper on Bitcoin, I'm not all that knowledgeable about it, and my current allotment of funds is about the right level of risk for me (>90% stocks, all broad index funds). Plus, I think unless you really know what you're doing, it's dangerous to treat a currency like a commodity.

Why race to pay off a loan with 3.4% interest? That's equivalent to investing at a 3.4% annual return, which is not a great return rate.

This is referring to my now non-existent student loans. I don't have a great answer for this one, except that I did delay paying the loans off for about six months, for exactly the reason given in the question. However, I do think there's something to be said about the psychological comfort of not having any debt looming ominously overhead. In my opinion, that was worth the decreased rate of return on my investment. In any case, I'm clearly not rushing to get a mortgage any time soon.

Another way of looking at it is that paying off my loans was a way of de-risking my portfolio a bit. The overwhelming majority of my portfolio is stocks, so "investing" $20,000 at 3.4% is like a really well-performing bond. It's a bit of a stretch, but the math works out.

Seems like you're putting a lot of money into accounts you won't be able to access until you're around 60 years old. Wondering if you're planning to save enough in cash or non-IRAs to live on from when you're in your 30s until you are able to withdraw from the tax-advantaged accounts. Have you done the math on how much you'll need during that time?

Nope, haven't done much of the math around this, but we can dabble in it now. I've been known to throw around phrases like "Trinity Study" and "Safe Withdrawal Rate", which is to say once I have a nest egg equal to 25x my yearly spending, I can (in theory) be financially-independent indefinitely. And while that's a good high-level description, it glosses over some of the details mentioned in the question here, mainly that my "nest egg" isn't a single account, it's spread over a bunch of different types of accounts, some of which have disparate and intentionally complicated rules.

My plans are nicely summed up by a Vanguard article I came across recently, titled 5 ways to make your portfolio more tax-efficient. The first item on their list is "Save as much as you can in tax-advantaged accounts", which I definitely do. I max out every possible tax-advantaged account I can get my hands on. The thinking is that the less money I subject to taxes (either now or later), the more money is available to grow and compound.

Skipping item two (and four and five), the third item from the Vanguard article is "Tap into your accounts in the right order", and this is where the math and planning come into play. For the sake of argument, let's say that I do this for 9 years. The first account to draw from is my non-tax-advantaged, normal brokerage account. About a year and a half into my adventure, this account has collected about $55,000 dollars. Doing some extremely conservative calculations (5% growth, yearly compounding, +$33,000/year), I'll have about $450,000 at the end of that 9 year period.

Once I've sucked all of the money out of my brokerage account, the next fund I would dip into is my Roth IRA. The big trick here is that I can withdraw the principal without paying any tax or penalty. Since I'm contributing the max $27,000/year to that, that's an additional $243,000 (remember, just the principal, no gains) I can take out whenever I need. After that's been exhausted, I can take out some tax-free HSA money offset with medical expenses paid out of pocket over the next nine years, and there are a few other rules and exceptions I can use to squeeze out a few more penalty-free dollars (SEPPs, Roth Conversion Ladders, Other Exceptions, oh my!).

Conservatively, that means I'll have $450,000 + $243,000 + HSA and other stuff = ~$700,000. Since 9 years have passed in this hypothetical example, I'd be around 33 years old. Do I think I could make $700,000 last for the 27-32 years until I can start taking penalty-free 401k, Roth IRA, and HSA distributions? Using the rule-of-thumb Safe Withdrawal Rate, this means I'd be living on ~$28,000 a year. While not impossible, it'd be a little tighter than I'd like it to be. I have a few options here for augmenting that income: 1) mess around with SEPPs and conversion ladders, 2) take the penalty, which isn't totally unreasonable, or 3) don't retire in 9 years.

It's very likely that the actual solution here is: 4) all the above. If my goals are in the same place in five years or so, I'll probably quit working in the traditional sense, and pick up one-off contract jobs like I used to do in college. I could also work remotely/part-time. The supplemental income from the part-time work would hopefully be enough to live minimally, but comfortably.

Is there a fee for each time you do the rollover? If so, have you done the analysis to see how long you should wait to do the rollover to the Roth?

Nope! No fees, but I do have to remember to do it every paycheck, because you do have to pay taxes on the gains when you do the rollover. So if I do it immediately, there's usually either $0.00 or $0.01 of tax to pay. But because I'm extremely easily distracted, sometimes I'll forget about it for a week or so, and then I end up having to pay like a whole dollar or two of tax. Not a big deal, but it's something I'll likely have to think about when doing my taxes this month.

I thought if you maxed out your normal 401k (the pre-tax one) you could not contribute more funds to the after-tax 401k in the same calendar year. Am I mistaken about that?

In short: yes, you are indeed mistaken.

In slightly less short: the IRS has two separate limits that are relevant here. The first is the pre-tax employee 401k contribution limit, which is $18,000 for 2017, and only includes your own personal contributions. The second limit is the overall 401k contribution limit, which is $54,000 for 2017 and includes your personal contributions, employer contributions, and after-tax contributions. I contribute $18,000 to pre-tax, and my employer matches $9,000, which leaves me $54,000 - ($18,000 + $9,000) = $27,000 to contribute to my after-tax 401k in 2017.

Thanks for joining us me for probably the least interesting, most detail-oriented Q & A thus far. As always, if you have any burning questions, feel free to pose them in the box to the right (or bottom on mobile), or shoot me an email.

Source: Cloud from WikiClipArt, truck from, you guessed it, Clker

I don't think it rained once when I interned in the Bay in 2014. The summer of 2014, to be specific. Doing a bit of overzealous extrapolation, I came to the incorrect conclusion that it never rains in the Bay, which sounded just splendid to me. Before I moved out here to start a full-time job in 2015, I donated my boots, raincoat, and any umbrellas I had. When I actually got here and bought the truck, I didn't even bother checking for leaks. You can tell where this is going, and anyone from the area knows that I made a grave miscalculation. I found this out the hard way during my first winter here.

If you look at the climate data for the area (which I clearly hadn't), it averages a meager ~0.75 inches of rain over the entirety of May, June, July, August, and September, as my 2014 observations suggested. Much to my chagrin, the weather swiftly turns from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde around October, dropping more rain than the preceding five months (0.85 inches) combined. It doubles down in November and drops twice as much (1.83 inches). It drops that, plus another half inch in December (2.3 inches), and ups the ante another inch for January and February (3.2 inches each). Which leads me to my inspiration for this post: just prior to writing this, it rained for nearly two straight weeks.

Dealing with Mrs. Nature

I have a love-hate relationship with rain. On one hand, it's great not living in an arid wasteland, and the Bay needs all the water it can get. On the other hand, the rain definitely makes my life more challenging. Not only does a gentle drizzle on the box truck roof sound like a safe full of silverware tumbling down an infinite escalator, but my truck isn't exactly waterproof either. Basically, the rain and I are in a nuclear arms race, and I'm definitely losing.

A History of Failed Solutions

When I encountered my first real leak, jury-rigging a pipe and a bucket to divert the water was sufficient. But like a sinking ship in an old cartoon, more leaks quickly sprung up, and I needed to be more proactive in my game of fluid fisticuffs. So I fixed part of the problem, and the leaks lessened. But my Band-Aids were no match for a through-and-through downpour, forcing me to resort to strategically-placed trash bags to contain the current. After attempting to track down the leaks, I went back on the offensive and slathered some marine sealant around what I thought were the problem areas. And up to a certain amount of rain, trash bags and a bit of active leak mitigation actually isn't that bad of a solution. But when it rains for two weeks straight, a few problems start to creep up:

  1. The garbage bags start to accumulate a lot of water.
  2. That aforementioned water evaporates during the day and the truck turns into a weird, damp, Humid Truck Swamp™.

An Inflection Point

The Humid Truck Swamp is more of a nuisance than a real issue, but the whole premise of living in a truck was that I thought I could do it without sacrificing any of my happiness. And there was no sense in trying to spin it, I found this unpleasant.

I've talked about when would be a good time to call it quits, and if I were a slightly more reasonable person, I very well may have decided that this was that time. Maybe the truck isn't actually worth all of this effort. But my skull is a bit thicker than average and deep down, I do legitimately enjoy trying to tackle these kinds of problems. So instead of selling the truck and being normal for a change, I did what any serial sadist would do, and just moved to a more elaborate crutch, pictured here:

Opposing top front corners of the box, looking like a scene from a Breaking Bad knockoff. The Shrek-snot insulation also makes a cameo.

I know, it's looking pretty grim in there. Like, next-level truck dungeon grim. In case it's not obvious what's going on: instead of letting the leaks drip directly into a trash bag, now they drip into an extremely jankily-placed funnel, secured by several feet of extra strong duct tape. The funnel is inserted into a few feet of plastic hosing, which, in turn, is fastened to trash bags of varying sizes by an ever-increasing amount of duct tape. This solves the humidity problem because the surface area for the water to evaporate from is now far, far smaller. I set this up a few weeks ago, and it's actually worked surprisingly well.

Ending the Arms Race

It's painfully obvious at this point that I'm reaching the limits of my mechanical capabilities in this fight. I can't keep relying on ever-more complicated crutches. Further, I have to be careful to not let myself normalize these terrible hacks, lest I end up with an unacceptably low or even hazardous standard of living. This was my line in the sand: It was time to actually fix the underlying problem. Accordingly, I brought the truck into a body shop to get a quote, and I'm hoping to have the box repaired in the next week or so, ending the arms race and allowing me to focus on actual truck improvements.

I'm not sure if there are any good lessons to be learned here. Seven months out of the year, this isn't even a problem, and I'm rapidly on the way to rectifying those other five months. Looking back on it all, I'm actually glad it rains here sometimes. Aside from the obvious environmental problems of not having any rain, it forced me to think outside the box, hone my duct tape-fu, and in the end, make some real, permanent improvements to my home. Plus, how could I appreciate the sunshine without a bit of rain?

Source: As always, truck from Clker, City from 123RF, more fireworks from Clipart Kid, and road from Clipart Panda. Composition haphazardly done by me.

New Year, New Me Same Truck-Dwelling Degenerate

Excuse the contrarianism for a second here, but I'm not a fan of New Year's Resolutions. Don't get me wrong, I love seeing people take the initiative, work hard, and reach their goals. My qualm is that, if you want to change something about your life, just do it. Don't wait until we reach an arbitrary point in our orbit around the Sun to better yourself. After all, January 1st is a day just like any other, nothing makes it any more conducive to success.

Complaining aside, that's not to say I don't have plans for myself in the New Year, I definitely do. They're just the same plans I've been working with and tweaking for the past year and a half. If someone in a hypothetical and unnecessarily violent world put a gun to my head and asked me to sum up, in a single word, what my plans are, I'd probably say: "Investing".


"Investing in what?" you may ask. I've already talked about how I've been investing in index funds like VTI and VXUS through my 401k, Roth IRA, HSA, and brokerage accounts, and nothing has changed there. That's all still on auto-pilot, silently siphoned out of my paycheck and quietly compounding interest. And it's still working really well for me, and has already netted me >$10,000 in dividends and appreciation.*

My investments through Vanguard, a year and a half in.

But with my student loans paid off and a freshly-minted promotion, I should start looking to diversify my assets outside of stocks, especially as I start to build up a more sizable nest egg . So we'll start with some more of the financial investing I'm considering, but that's far from the only way one can invest.


Okay, so the stock situation is solid and doesn't need any intervention, at least until I near retirement and start investing more heavily in bonds, per Bob's advice. But still, it wouldn't be particularly savvy to keep >95% of my wealth tied to the performance of two funds, regardless of how diversified each may be. So, I've been looking at my options, and there are a few promising avenues. for consideration

Real Estate

Brandon, how the hell are you going to invest in real estate when you live in a truck?

It's true, one of the reasons I live in a truck is because housing is ridiculously expensive out here, and buying a home (or rental property) would require me making deals with some unsavory, otherworldly creatures. That said, I can invest in REITs. REITs, or Real Estate Investment Trusts, are traded like stocks, but are primarily invested in real estate and mortgages and other things that track the value of the real estate market. So I might not being able to buy a home, but REITs are a less messy way for a beginner to get into the real estate market. At the very least, I need to do more research on their risks, returns, and tax properties before I actually put my money where my mouth a house is.

Peer-to-Peer Lending

Peer-to-Peer Lending is another type of investing where, you guessed it, money is lent between peers. Sites like PeerStreet and Patch of Land allow you to choose from a catalog of (usually real estate-related) loans to invest in, and as the loan gets paid off, you get a proportional chunk of the interest. You can vary the "quality" (read: riskiness) of the loans you're willing to fund in exchange for potentially higher returns and correspondingly higher default rates. These sites quote yearly returns of 6-12% on your investment, which is definitely enough to warrant a more thorough look.

It sounds good for sure, but there are naturally a few things worth considering. For one, loans are far less liquid than stocks are, it's not as easy to sell your stake in a loan. You can sell your share on a secondary loan market, but that's not nearly as simple as selling a stock. The other wrench in the mix: depending on the peer-to-peer site, most loans are only available to accredited investors, which requires (among other things) having a net worth of one million dollars. As nice as that would be, I'm clearly not there yet. As with REITs above, I need to do more research to determine the viability of investing with these sites.

The Truck

It's no secret that I plan on dumping the truck at some point. Hopefully not anytime soon though; it's not particularly well-suited for being sold in it's current state. If you think about it, there're two groups of people that'd be interested in it: people who need moving trucks, and people who want to live in vans. The problem is that it'd be weird to use as a moving truck, because it has weird amenities, like a coat rack, insulation, a bike rack, and a sky light. And unless you have a routine very similar to mine, the truck doesn't really provide enough utility to make it a full-time residence. So the market for people who would buy my truck as is…well, it's likely just me. And I think it goes without saying I'm not in the market at the moment. I'll save the details for their own post, but I have a bunch of plans for making the truck more palatable for all of those lurking potential stealth campers out there.


Investing in yourself is arguably the most important investment you can make. After all, you only have one fleshy meat body and sponge brain to pilot around your consciousness. We're all pretty much stuck with the results of whatever investments we make in ourselves.

With that in mind, I'd like to read a bunch of books that I've started but have yet to finish, mainly because I have the attention span of a guppy.** I'd also like to finish a bunch of half-written blog posts that have been collecting virtual dust on my server, along with a fancy-shmancy unfinished site-redesign.

On the fleshy-meat-side-of-things, I've been tweaking my workout routine, and I'd really like to break 1,000 combined pounds on my bench, squat, and deadlift, ideally without becoming potato-shaped. On the cardiovascular-side of things, a friend of mine recently mentioned doing the AIDS/LifeCycle 7-day bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles, which sounds like great motivation for whipping my cardio into shape.

Why Investing is the Cat's Pajamas

The nice thing about investing is that the results generally compound on themselves. It's pretty easy to see this with monetary investments, where compound interest and re-invested dividends are real, tangible values. But it rings just as true with investments in yourself as well, just in less-visible ways. For example, regular exercise keeps your resting heart rate low, which means your heart doesn't have to work nearly as hard for the rest of your life. This has great perks, like decreased risk for cardiovascular disease. And if Not Dying™ isn't a good enough reason to invest in something, I don't know what is.

*Naturally, the gains and losses are wholly irrelevant until I start taking distributions and realizing it as income, which likely won't happen for another ten years. Still, it's fun to look at it every so often, even with no intention of doing anything with it.

**For the curious, the books are: The Martian, The Hitchhiker's Guide series, Walden, The Achievement Factory, The Millionaire Next Door, and Search Inside Yourself.

Source: All the photos in this post were taken by my tremendously talented travel companion, who has an acute eye for good photography.

Happy Holidays!

I'm going to need a minute to blow the dust off my keyboard here, I haven't posted in an inexcusably long time. Accordingly, I won't bother with excuses, I'll just get along with the post. To start, a relevant question I received:

Hi Brandon, just wondering if you'll convert your blog into a travel blog if and when you give up the truck to travel?

This is probably in reference to the time I was figuring out when I'm going to sell the truck. Short answer: yes. Slightly longer (and also rhetorical) answer: why wait until I give up the truck to start talking about travel?

For anyone keeping track, my list of travels is woefully short. At the beginning of the year it would have just been 'murika, as in I had literally never been outside the country in my 23 years on this planet, which was deeply troubling to me. Not even Canada. Not even Mexico. Hell, I didn't even have a passport. If not for a chance business trip to Canada and (randomly enough) Bulgaria, my entire list of visited countries would still be a single three-letter line.*

Well I'm excited to share that I added my honest-to-God-first-actual-leisure-travel destination to the list: Iceland.

My plan of record was (and continues to be) to save up, retire early, and travel for some indeterminable amount of time, but that doesn't mean the road to retirement needs to stay stuck in the States. Plus, reading about all of the potential journeys I could take made my travel trigger finger a bit itchy, so when $400 round trip tickets to Reykjavik, Iceland appeared, I had to bite the bullet (excuse the poor combination of expressions) and book the trip.

Preparing for the trip

It's not a huge secret that I don't have a lot of stuff. I've got a bed, a dresser, and about a week's worth of clothes. For reference, here's a recent picture of my closet:

Not a lot going on in there.

One thing worth noting is that my wardrobe is unarguably meant for California weather. After all, it's one of the main reasons I can do what I do. I've got a light sweatshirt and a pullover, but I'd still probably be a Brancicle** in Iceland wearing both of them together. Not only was winter coming, but I was heading for winter. Real winter no less, none of this Bay area oh-man-it's-dropped-below-sixty-it's-so-cold "winter".

So I started entertaining the idea of how to go about getting real winter gear. Did I want to borrow it from a friend? Should I find a place to rent it? Should I just buy some cheap stuff and dispose of it after? After all, truck space is limited. I had to think about this a little bit, and I did a bit of consulting with my past self and Thoreau's Walden. One thing that stuck with me from Walden (not that I've finished it yet) is the idea that if you are going to buy something, make sure it's high-quality. That way, instead of saving a little bit of cash in the short term buying something cheap that needs to be replaced regularly, spend a little bit more and make it last for life. This makes sense, and looking forward, I knew I'd be going to Boston (for Christmas), Zürich (for business), and Alaska (with friends) over the next few months, so I'd clearly be getting a lot of use out of whatever winter gear I bought. After a bit of review-reading and shopping around, I ended up buying a few things to start my winter wardrobe.

In total, I spent around $1,000 on winter gear. Not cheap for sure, but still less than a month's rent for a shared apartment in South Bay. Plus, it's unlikely I'll ever have to buy any of these things ever again. And now for the end result, a happy, unfrozen Brandon:

Me playing with chunks of ice on a black sand beach.

Travel Philosophy

Since this was my first time traveling for no other reason than my own amusement and edification, I didn't really know what I was doing. I definitely had an idealized version of what travel should look like, but outside of that, I was pretty clueless.

To me, travelling isn't about collecting selfies to show off where you've been to people who couldn't care less. It's about learning, and experiencing something new. There's this natural human tendency we have to surround ourselves with people like us, which probably explains why my Facebook feed is an echo chamber for all of the things I want to hear. Unfortunately, that's not how you actually learn anything, or grow as a person. You learn stuff by stepping outside your bubble and looking at things from a new perspective. All of the interesting perspectives are hiding in other people's heads, and the vast majority of those people don't live in Mountain View, California.

Another thing that I'd been thinking about is how, more often than I'd like, I find myself worrying that I'm not living in the moment, that I'm mindlessly going with the ebbs and flows of my daily routine, than my headphones are buried too far into my head too often, which in turn is buried too far into some shifting racket of pixels. I worry that if I don't make a conscious effort to be alive, I'll just be mechanically going through the motions and I'll wake up one day shocked to find out that I'm old and had blindly let life pass me by. I know, I've had this particular flavor of existential crisis before (and it's pretty much the plot of the movie Click), but it's not entirely unfounded. Research shows that time seems to go faster as we age because our brains don't even bother forming long-term memories for our cookie-cutter daily routines. Getting back to the topic at hand, all I'm trying to say is that when I started travelling, I wanted to make sure I was living in the moment and really experiencing it, as opposed to passively observing it, particularly through the potato-quality camera on my phone, but I'll come back to that later.

Ice and Fire

So let's talk about Iceland. I knew almost nothing about the country before I left, having done a downright pitiful amount of research beforehand. Iceland was first settled by Vikings around the 9th century, which fits right in with my preconception of the Vikings as hardy badasses who looked frosty death in the face and laughed heartily. At some point in 11th century, everyone adopted Christianity, though locals tell me the real religion of Iceland is The Church of The Almighty Lamb Hotdog, with houses of worship on every corner.

The hotdogs have crunchy onions and some green Mayo-esque substance. They taste amazing, and I'm not proud of the fact that I averaged more than one per day.

Culturally, Iceland is super interesting, especially if you're from a more mainstream first-world Western country. Nearly a third of the population owns guns, but the police don't carry them, and on average, there's less than one fatal homicide per year. It probably has something to do with the fact that 97% of the population identifies as "middle class". Other factoids on the highlight reel include that Iceland runs almost entirely on renewable energy, mainly geothermal. Ooh, and Iceland's economy is dominated by the fishing industry, and more recently, tourism. I remember reading on the plane that during peak tourism season in 2017, there will be more tourists than Icelandic residents (>300,000).

Left: The Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa. We went right from the airport.

Right: An open-faced breakfast sandwich. Fresh fish isn't hard to come by.

Aside from history and random factoids, the entire country looks like a tourism ad. It's stupidly photogenic. It's got giant glaciers, active volcanoes, stunning waterfalls, hike-able ice caves, unique architecture and so much more. At times, it's easy to believe you're on a different planet. Here's a random potpourri of photos:

Top Left: Hallgrímskirkja, a really mathematical-looking church.

Top Right: Downtown Reykjavik, as seen from the top of Hallgrímskirkja.

Bottom Left: Hundreds of square miles covered in volcanic ash from a past eruption.

Bottom Right: Hiking in some ice caves.

Lessons Learned

So, having completed my first international mini-vacation, it's time to reflect and see what I learned, not just about Iceland, but about myself. Unsurprisingly, I met a ton of wonderful people, locals and tourists alike, from a whole variety of interesting backgrounds, and had the opportunity to acquaint myself with an array of languages, foods, customs, and cultures. I saw the Northern Lights, ate and drank local delicacies, learned a few Icelandic words, and toured some of the most awe-inspiring natural sights I could imagine.

More personally, I learned to balance out my travel idealism with a bit of practicality. It's nice to want to live in the moment and appreciate things for yourself, but that shouldn't preclude documenting the journey. I've noted before that I keep this blog because I have a Swiss-cheese memory, and writing these posts is how I make sure I remember all of this. Well, the same goes for travelling. Watching the sun set on a black sand beach and taking in the beauty of the moment isn't mutually-exclusive with memorializing it in a photo. Stuck in my own idealism, I failed to realize that, and didn't really take any photos. Were it not for my travel companion, my future self would have no way of reliving this adventure, and it was definitely unfair of me to leave that burden on them. Without them, this post would certainly be less interesting, and missing most of Iceland's unique character. So I guess I learned a bit about how to actually travel, which I'll put to use on future excursions.

More than anything, I'm looking forward to seeing where I end up next.

*Just for completeness, the whole list would be:

  1. USA
…and nothing else.

**A portmanteau of the words Brandon and Icicle.


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