Posts tagged "Travel"

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I want to travel more. It's a well-documented desire of mine. Specifically, I want to plan my own trips, because I've historically been pretty terrible at it. I even made a "process", which I'll paraphrase here:

  1. Wait until a particularly whimsical mood strikes.
  2. Bike aimlessly until you find a book store.
  3. Enter the book store.
  4. Find the travel/travel guide section.
  5. Close your eyes.
  6. Spin around, preferably 3-5 times.
  7. With eyes still closed, pick a travel guide off the shelf.
  8. Buy the travel guide.
  9. Read the travel guide.
  10. Go there. Optional: Be merry.

Using this bulletproof approach, I had picked out a destination, Taiwan. I don't want to say I'm giving up on all of that, because I'm definitely still going to do it…I just went somewhere else first. To explain where and why requires the slightest bit of backstory.

Oregon (aka The Slightest Bit of Backstory)

In 2017, I saw my first total solar eclipse in Oregon, and it left quite an impression on me. The sky darkened over the course of a few minutes, taking on a weird, twilight-esque hue. The temperature dropped by 10 or 15 degrees. Birds started acting strangely. Suddenly, it was very dark, the sky ringed with light on the horizon. I looked directly at the sun (normally an ill-advised thing to do), my eyes meeting a black orb surrounded with the wispy, shifting tendrils of the Sun's corona. I can understand why ancient civilizations believed in some truly crazy gods. Needless to say, I was hooked.

The main barrier to my newfound addiction: total solar eclipses are finicky. They don't happen often (~less than once a year), and they happen over an effectively random stretch of the planet. Post-2017, the next one wasn't until 2019, and it had every intention of passing over a narrow strip of South America, visible in small parts of Chile and Argentina. Even more rudely, this narrow strip (in dark red below, call the "path of totality") had the audacity to avoid most of the major cities that would make viewing it easy.

Pretty and informative diagram from Time and Date.

That said, I wasn't going to let the machinations of a few stubborn celestial bodies rain on my parade. So, a few months ago, I traveled 6,000 miles for an event that lasts approximately, you guessed it, 2 minutes and 17 seconds.


Chile Chile Chile, where do I begin. It all started about a week before I took off…

Preparations (Or a Lack Thereof)

…because that's when I actually planned (and subsequently booked) the trip. I recognize that this was Not Smart of Me™ for no less than 13 different reasons. While I won't enumerate all of them, let's take a peek at a few here.

13 4 Reasons Why Booking My First Solo, Non-Work International Trip One Week Prior to Departure Was a Bad Move™
  1. Stuff gets expensive.
  2. One week isn't a lot of time to plan.
  3. I've made this mistake for every trip I've done in the past.
  4. I knew I was going to do the trip a year and a half in advance.

I've gotten into this bad habit of not really planning my trips, because they're usually for work. That means most of the blanks are already filled in for me: dates of travel, places to stay, itinerary, etc. None of that was true here, and I wasn't really setting myself up for success by not budgeting the time for it.

In spite of my best efforts however, I still managed to pull the trip together. I had churned through enough credit cards to pay for the round trip flight, even accounting for how inflated the prices had become. And I used my solitary week before departure to figure out the absolute basics:

  • Visa requirements (None)
  • National Language (Chilean Spanish, among others)
  • Season & Climate (Winter at the time, but not in the bitter New England sense)
  • Risk of danger? (Not particularly)

After one week of frantic and frenzied Googling, I had all my flights and accommodations and odds-and-ends booked, and a plan that looked roughly like the following:

  1. Get near the eclipse (San Francisco -> New York -> Santiago -> La Serena)
  2. Stay in an Airbnb in La Serena
  3. Watch the eclipse
  4. Take a bus to Santiago
  5. Stay in a hostel in Santiago
  6. Explore Santiago
  7. Get home (Santiago -> New York -> San Francisco)

Okay, I swear I won't make another list or trademark Another Random Phrase™ for the rest of the post.

A pretty basic plan, I'll admit, but it covered all the bases. I'd fly to near the eclipse (three flights), get used to the area, see the eclipse, take a bus to Chile's capital/largest city, stay in a hostel, (perhaps) meet some people, explore the city, and fly home from there (two flights).

The Arrival

My first couple days were fraught with all the hurdles Murphy's Law could cook up. Flights were delayed, phones weren't working, and for a brief, suspenseful, and utterly nerve-wracking moment, I truly believed my Airbnb didn't actually exist. Once everything was all sorted out and I got settled in, the adventures began.

My first order of business was getting some food. La Serena (the largest Chilean city where the eclipse was visible from) is fairly small as far as cities go, and not particularly known for its food. Accordingly, I opted to pick up groceries so I could cook for myself. The reason for this was two-fold: 1) it's a good way to save a few bucks while travelling, and 2) I never get to cook for myself, the truck being devoid of appliances…and electricity…and food.

I took a bus to the local Lider (a chain acquired by Walmart) and marveled at all the little differences and things entirely lost on me in my day-to-day life. Milk was in un-refrigerated boxes, as were eggs. Jelly came in little bags. You weigh your fruits and vegetables where you get them, not at the register. This last one got me good, it took a fraught game of charades for the cashier to explain the concept to me at checkout.

My second order of business was getting really familiar with the buses and the schedule. Because I booked so late, all the hotels in La Serena were booked and I ended up in Coquimbo, ~10 miles from La Serena. I wanted to make sure I didn't miss the eclipse because of my own ineptitude at catching the bus.

Looking out from my Airbnb in Coquimbo. Off in the distance, just barely visible, is Coquimbo's main attraction, Cruz del Tercer Milenio, which is a ~270ft concrete cross.

Settling In

After a few days of learning the ropes, I had a couple basic takeaways:

1) My single, meager year of high school Spanish was no match for literally any conversation I attempted to navigate. Chileans speak far too quickly for my untrained ears, and the Chilean accent kinda drops the trailing sound off a work (like in French), which means things just sound different. Two of my most commonly used phrases (in Spanish) were "More slowly, please" and simply "What?". Hand gestures abounded.

2) Chilean money is infinitely entertaining. A bunch of bananas cost $616, because Chilean pesos use the same dollar sign ($) used for US currency. Technically they do have cents (centavos), but in practice, I didn't see any coins for less than 10 pesos.

3) Chilean buses are wild. I drove buses for four years in college, so I like to think I know a thing or two about them. Chilean bus drivers are on a whole 'nother level, and clearly competing in some bus rodeo that I'm not privy to. They whip those buses around like it's nobody's business. At one point, the bus I was on hopped a median because it didn't want to wait in traffic. My terror was matched only by my admiration.

El Eclipse Solar Total

Perfect eclipse-watching weather.

The day of the eclipse (July 2nd) rolls around, and I'm ready for action. I get to La Serena with plenty of time to spare. My lack of planning (see above) meant that I had forgotten one crucial tool: eclipse glasses. No problem though, everyone and their grandpa is selling cardboard eclipse glasses downtown, at a 10x markup. I fork over the cash and continue onward. Such is life.

Walking around with my eclipse glasses in hand, freshly divorced from ten US dollars, I decide I want to watch the event in relative quiet. There's a big eclipse festival going on downtown, so I start to head away towards a quieter residential area. The city slope downward from downtown to the coast, which means there are plenty of uninterrupted views of the sun. I walk a few miles, then sit down on a stone ledge alongside the sidewalk. And I wait.

I lied (multiple times) when I said that the eclipse only lasts two minutes and seventeen seconds. In actuality, the eclipse was nearly two and a half hours. It's just totality, the part people travel to see, where everything gets dark, that's so fleeting. When I sat down, the partial eclipse was just starting, so I had nearly an hour until the main event.

So there I was, sitting alone on my stone ledge, staring at the sun, paper glasses on my face, when an older lady strolls by pushing a small folding cart, clearly puzzled as to what I'm doing. I've since forgotten the smaller details of our interaction (such as her name), but she was Mormon, and had lived in La Serena her whole life. She was delighted to hear I came from California: her Mormon friend, who she kept an old picture of in her purse, lived there too.

We conversed mostly in Spanish, with very heavy use of a notepad that she would write down words in, and I would translate on my phone. She was infinitely patient. We spoke of the eclipse, the current goings-on in Chile and the US, the weather, and of family and religion. She initially tried to watch the eclipse by putting her flip phone's screen to her eye with the camera app open, which was an ultimately unsuccessful approach. We sat on the ledge for two hours, passing the glasses back and forth to watch the progress of the partial eclipse, sometimes in total silence, sometimes just pointing in delight at the progress the moon was making in its journey towards totality.

She had never seen a total solar eclipse before. In fact, she hadn't even realized one was going to happen then and there. To this day, I'm not sure what I enjoyed more: the eclipse itself, or the look on her face when it finally happened. She was so completely in awe and overjoyed, it was truly a special moment, and I couldn't have asked for (or planned) a better eclipse experience if I had tried.

Eventually, totality passed. My new Chilean friend and I parted ways, the brief intersection in our otherwise disjoint lives now over. I bused back (in obscene traffic) to my Airbnb, reflected a little on the experience, and packed my things for Santiago.


My bus to Santiago was scheduled to leave at 10 am. Out of an abundance of caution (and partially by accident), I ended up at the terminal at 8 am. With plenty of time to spare, I ordered a coffee, opened a book, and partook in my favorite pastime: people watching. Transit hubs are great for people watching, because they're frequently where people are beginning (and ending) different chapters of their lives, and they're full of people from diverse backgrounds.* It makes it easy to come up with grand backstories.

The six and a half hour bus ride was mostly uneventful. My seat was in the front row of the second-floor of a double-decker bus, which afforded me some pretty incredible views as we barreled down the Chilean coast. The TVs were playing clearly pirated rips of some straight-to-DVD movies, featuring such blockbusters as The Christmas Chronicles and The Crucifixion.

Eventually, we arrived in Santiago, and suffice it to say, I was unprepared. I had been disarmed by my few days in the quaint, laid-back La Serena. As it turns out, Santiago is a bustling metropolitan area, with a population larger than Los Angeles. When I got off the bus, I was wholly overwhelmed. It was loud, crowded, dirty, and I was legitimately thinking of shortening my trip by a few days and just heading home. Then I realized that every bus terminal in every major city in the world is loud and crowded and dirty, and it wasn't particularly representative of the rest of the city.

I eventually got my act together, purchased a bus card (bip!), and bused to my hostel. I started researching what there was to do in Santiago, and quickly realized Santiago was basically made for me. It's walkable, and chock full of sprawling public parks, high-quality (and frequently free) museums, cute little coffee shops, and even nearby hiking opportunities. I totally could have spent a month there and barely scratched the surface. After an hour or two of researching, I cooked up the following rough itinerary:

  • Thursday, July 4th
    • Plaza de Armas
    • Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino
    • Museo Historico Nacional
    • Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral
    • ProntoMaticwhich is a laundromat, because I ran out of clothes.
  • Friday, July 5th
    • Hiking at Cerro San Cristobal
    • La Chascona
    • El Hombre Araña: Lejos de Casa
  • Saturday, July 6th
    • Parque Forestal
    • Bellas Artes

I'm not going to tackle each item one by one, because this post is already criminally long. So here are some pictures I took with my standard potato-quality smartphone camera:

From top-left to bottom-right: (1) Palacio de los Tribunales de Justicia de Santiago, where Chile's Supreme Court sits, (2 + 3) the mind-bogglingly massive Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral, (4 + 5) statues in Plaza de Armas and Parque Forestal, (6) the view from halfway up Cerro San Cristobal, and (7 + 8) posters at the movie theater.

Those three days were an absolute blur: I spent a dozen (or more) hours exploring museums and churches, learning a bit about Chile's history (both before and after Europe came knockin'). I checked out book stores and coffee shops and caught a movie and, at one harrowing point, got lost on my hike and stumbled onto someone's haphazard settlement in the woods. They were not happy to see me. Safely back down the mountain, I reached a serious milestone when I successfully ordered an empanada (sin carne), and was then able to pay without having to look at the register display (dos mil dos ciento = $2.200 CLP = ~$3 USD). I made some Brazilian friends at the hostel and we went out for dinner/drinks/dancing. The night included several glasses of a Chilean drink called Terremoto, which literally means "earthquake". It's some unholy concoction of alcohol and pineapple ice cream, and I look forward to never drinking another one again.

When I started planning the trip, it was originally "the Eclipse trip". After my whirlwind tour of Santiago, it's now "the Chile trip". I had dramatically underestimated Santiago as a destination unto itself, but I'm happy to report that it proved me wrong (over and over) in the best way.


Now that I've got my first solo (non-work) trip under my belt, I'd like to refine my travel philosophy a bit. In no particular order:

Doing the mundane things is just as important as doing the attractions. Shopping for groceries at Lider, doing laundry at the local ProntoMatic, or struggling through ordering an empanada, it's all part of the experience.

Pictures aren't a bad thing. I've always shied away from taking photos when I travel (or go to events). In the past, my rationale has been that I want to be present and live in the moment and all that other romanticized garbage. I'm also just cognizant (read: self-conscious) of looking "too touristy" when I pull out my phone and stand awkwardly in the middle of a crowded place to snap a pic. But photos can be useful. For one, they keep my blog posts from being uninterrupted black-and-white-wall-of-text tirades, adding a bit of color and space. And for two, my memory is total garbage. It doesn't matter how "present" or "in the moment" I am if I forget everything a few days later. Pictures last much longer,** and they'll help me remember when my mind fails me.

Learn the damn language. I eked by with my limited Spanish, but I could have had a bunch of more meaningful interactions (and been less reliant on my phone) if I had studied up beforehand. I'm certainly not saying I should be fluent, but ~a month of practicing the basics for nights and weekends would have gone a long way.

Don't book first, ask questions later. I had a great trip, don't get me wrong, but I could have made it even better by planning things out. If I had booked farther in advance, I could have coordinated a hike through the Elqui Valley and sampled local pisco brandy and watched the eclipse from a remote hilltop. But then again, I had a pretty great eclipse experience as it was. I'm still all for spontaneity, but it doesn't work well for events that attract a lot of people.

Obligatory Housekeeping Item

The small-to-mid-sized elephant in the room is just how long it's been since I've last written. I actually started this post while I was still in Chile, over five months ago. My defense: I've been busy. In the interim, I've been to Shanghai (twice***), Chicago, Boston, Orlando, and Boulder, and in the next few weeks I'll be in Boulder (again), Boston (again), Chicago (again), Malawi, and Kenya. I've spent my free time updating the blog infrastructure, reading my usual cocktail of self-help and sci-fi, and getting side-tracked building low-quality novelty sites.

That said, and armed with a new arsenal of organizational techniques, I plan to write more frequently and clear through my backlog of blog email. Well, maybe when I get back from Africa.

*After all, the need to travel from point A to point B cuts across all demographics. Certainly more interesting for people watching than your average yoga studio.

**Barring bad personal data hygiene, of course.

***Technically, my first trip to Shanghai was right before I went to Chile, but let's not get stuck on the specifics.

Source: Get it? It's a Red Solo Cup™. The amount of effort I put into selecting or drawing a post picture is based on nothing and varies wildly from post to post.

I'm completely going to ignore the fact it's been four month since I wrote last.
Writing is hard sometimes.

When I started the blog, I talked a lot about my travel ambitions, mostly about my romantic and hyper-idealized fantasies about perpetually travelling. My thoughts on the topic have shifted a bit, but the core reasoning still stands: I think travel is the best way to expand your understanding of the world and the people in it.

While I've definitely stepped up my travel game in the past few years, most of my trips have been planned by other people (friends, work, significant other, etc). Even though they've all been great trips, I want to start doing solo trips, which means being a more active participant in the whole trip planning process. The logical first step is to figure out some sort of process for planning these new Big Boy Solo Trips™ of mine. After much thought (read: no thought), I came up with the following proposal.

The Proposal

I'll take (roughly) two solo trips a year: one will be domestic, one will be international. The domestic trip(s) will probably be decided by what flights are on sale and/or fair dice roll. The international trip will be chosen via the following Very Serious™ 10-step system:

  1. Wait until a particularly whimsical mood strikes. If you're also feeling wanderlust-y, that helps too.
  2. Bike aimlessly until you find a book store. Try to find a different book store every time you do this, for maximum whimsy.
  3. Enter the book store. Act casual.
  4. Find the travel/travel guide section. If they don't have a travel section, the cooking section will do just fine restart at step 1.
  5. Close your eyes. Bear with me here.
  6. Spin around, preferably 3-5 times. Trust me, this is very normal and won't look weird to fellow book store-goers.
  7. With eyes still closed, pick a travel guide off the shelf. You can probably see where we're going at this point.
  8. Buy the travel guide. Money can be exchanged for goods and services.
  9. Read the travel guide. This step might take some time, you can exit the book store at this point, leaving patrons to wonder what just happened.
  10. Travel somewhere entirely unrelated. Just kidding, travel to the location in the travel guide.

If that system sounds weirdly specific, it's because I already did steps #1 through #8, and I'm retroactively formalizing it. Last month (on a particularly whimsical and wanderlust-y day), I went on a post-work bike ride to nowhere in particular, and ended up at a book store, in the travel section, with my eyes closed, feeling slightly dizzy. I ended up walking out with the following:

The fruits of my first-ever Very Serious™ 10-step system run-through, naturally under sketchy box truck lighting.

As you can see from above, my first solo, personal, international travel destination will be Taiwan, and I'm looking forward to learning about it over the course of the next few months. Turning my short attention span to domestic travel, I actually recently went on my first solo, personal, domestic trip, which was to Austin, Texas, and was a genuinely wonderful time.

Why Austin though? That's a long story, perhaps for another post. Though I will say, the choice was based not on price nor dice. Don't worry, a fair amount of whimsy was still most definitely involved.

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: 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.

Source: Question mark from Online Web Fonts, clock from ClipArt Best. Looking at this again, it would have made more sense to put the clock in the dot of the question mark…oh well.

As of me typing these words, my little truck experiment has been going on for over a year and four months. That's been more than enough time to see a thousand different questions fly through this site and my inbox, and every so often I'll sit down and answer a few of them. But there's one question that I haven't answered, and can't seem to escape. It's usually one of the first questions to come up in conversation, and half a bazillion variations of it are sitting in my queue:

How realistic is it to live in a truck for the next 10 years?

How long will you continue to live in the truck?

Are you going to use your savings to make a down payment on a house?

Are you comfortable living in a truck indefinitely?

You get the idea. Basically, people want to know when the hell I'm going to get my shenanigans together and be a normal, functioning member of society. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I've been avoiding the question, it's just that I've never had a good answer. Normally I'll say something like:

"Whenever the truck stops making sense."

Standing alone, that answer is pretty useless, and I definitely don't have enough of the Mr. Miyagi swagger to make it sound sagacious or insightful. But anyway, this post is all about figuring out just how truck-filled my future could be.

If you've been following along with my story disjointed ramblings for a little while, you probably have a pretty good sense by now that I have literally no idea what I'm doing. At all. Sure, I plan things out sometimes, but I hardly ever consider how to piece it all together. I'm just kinda playing things by ear: trying to live as simply as I can, attempting to figure out what I want out of life, and deciding what happiness means to me. So it's fair to say that I haven't put a ton of thought into a timeline for migrating out of the truck and into a more permanent crash pad. In my defense though, the actual "migrating out of the truck" part would take all of 10 minutes. But anyway, to figure out how long it makes sense to stay in the truck, let's go back to the beginning, to figure out how we even ended up here.


When I started this adventure, all I knew was that it didn't make a lot of sense for me to get an apartment. I'd spent a summer out here two years ago, and from that experience, I could confidently say that I'd rarely be home. Plus I consider traffic a form of torture and I'd rather spend my money building stupid things, like bike racks and my future. So this was the logical conclusion extreme, and I bit the bullet betting that this lifestyle would be simpler, without actually sacrificing my happiness or anything else I cared about. And I like to think it's paid off. So as weird as it is, the truck just made sense for me, given where my priorities were (and still are). There's not really an endgame; as long as my goals stay the same and the truck remains a valid tool for achieving them, I'll stick with it.

So... how long will that be?

If we're looking for a milestone that makes sense to stop with all this truck business, losing my go-to parking spot probably would have been as good a time as any to call it quits. Clearing out my student loans would have been a satisfying high-note to end on, and rounding out an entire year in the box would have worked too.

More recently, someone asked me how my retirement nest egg is doing, because the savings clock only shows how much money I'd have saved over a hypothetical apartment. Between the various retirement accounts, I just broke into six-figure territory a week or two ago (semi-independently confirmed by Mint). $100,000 is a nice round number, why not call it a day, drive my truck up to the city, and toss my bed and dresser into a respectable studio apartment? Hell, why not take those savings and put a down payment on a house? Why am I still spending my slumbers surrounded on six sides by an super-sized sardine can?

Well, because it still makes sense.

While a lot of stuff has changed over the past year, that hasn't. And if after two years, or five years, the truck still maintains all the properties that originally drew me to it, I'll still be here. It's weird though, because on the other hand, there's actually very little that keeps me from abandoning it at any given second. For example, if I went back and found some huge hairy mutant spider in the truck tonight, there's a 96.4% chance I'd never sleep in it again.

Or maybe I'll go back one night and find it burned to the ground in some freak accident. I honestly don't even think it'd be a big deal. I mean, what would I really be losing? A bed and a week's worth of clothes? Hardly worth ruining a perfectly good day over.

But let's assume for a second that the mutant spiders only come out while I'm sleeping, and the truck doesn't burst into flames on a whim. What do I think the plan will look like?

The Closest Thing to a Plan

There's always this implicit assumption in every question about my future plans: that I'll be moving into an apartment/house at some point. But, if everything goes to plan, it'll be the exact opposite. I've talked pretty seriously about spending the rest of my life traveling, so let's take that as a given and see where we're at.

Through that lens, the truck feels more like a stepping stone, a transition phase. In the same way that college is a transition from living at home to living in the real worldideally, the truck is a transition from living in a singular, fixed place to living everywhere…and nowhere at all. Becoming sufficiently comfortable with the truck, my next home will ideally be nothing more than a backpack. I'll hop around the world as passports and seasons and retirement monies allow, staying in hostels and exploring the places that words in my travel books couldn't possibly do justice.

So long story short, I don't know how long the truck will be a part of my life, but I'll enjoy it while it lasts.

Source: Truck from Teletrac and Map from Simple Icon

Brief note: I wrote most of this on the plane, but it took me a few days to getting around to polishing it up.

I've thought travel, I've talked travel, but aside from a few fleeting flirtations with decidedly domestic destinations, I hadn't really done much of it.

Until now, that is.

By the Numbers

I'm currently writing this at 35,000 ft, traveling at 556 mph on my way back from a business trip. By the time I touchdown in San Francisco, I'll have covered 13,587 miles in the sky and 34 hours and 31 minutes in airplanes and airports, meaning that this trip handily accounts for more travel than any two of my previous trips. Spanning four countries and as many languages, I had the chance to explore what might as well have been new worlds to me and dust off my paltry high school French knowledge in the process, which was actually même pire que je pensais. My genuine apologies to anyone who was forced to struggle through a conversation with me and my rusty, awkwardly accented French.

Making Memories: Montréal, Munich, and more

Aside from the business portion of the trip, which proved to be wildly insightful and informative, I had some opportunities to really get a feel for what certain sections of the world have to offer. In short: new perspectives and a few centuries of lush, vivid history to explore. I ogled at Old Port, partook in poutine and attempted to understand the underground. I meandered around Mont Royal, savored smoked meats, marveled at massive museums and cathedrals, and even won a few Leva at a Bulgarian casino. I chowed down on Currywurst in Frankfurt and put back a beer in Bavaria. I — I could keep going, but I'm sure you get the idea at this point.

Reaffirming the Future

The trip also served to remind me of my plans for, well, the rest of my life. As a refresher, the current course I've been carving (hopefully) leads to retiring young, traveling the world, and working on technically challenging projects of my own design. But up until now, most of what I liked and knew about travel was learned secondhand, vicariously absorbed through books and videos of people who'd actually made their way out into the world. Looking back, it was probably a little risky to plan for a future I knew so little about, and dedicating years of my life in pursuit of it. But now I've gotten a taste, and I can imagine myself spending several seasons in the cities I basically sailed through and still have more to see and explore. It's easy to get caught up in your own little comfortable corner of reality, forgetting that there's a whole world full of ideas and perspectives and cultures that you'll never experience if you don't dive into them. I've said before that I enjoy stepping outside my comfort zone, and being dropped in a country where I can barely tell the bathrooms apart was certainly a great way to do that. So on that front, it was nice to see reality lining up with my goals.

There's this weird dichotomy that exists with planning things. I like to be spontaneous and leave myself flexible for anything that may pop up, yet I'm planning details for things ten years down the road. It's confusing, to be sure. I recognize that I'm not the same Brandon I was two years ago, and that Brandon was different than a Brandon from two years prior. I'm an undulating, four dimensional stream of Brandons being shaped by my own ideas and environment, trying to figure out what makes sense to do with the one shot I get at this whole "life" thing.* I can't expect that Brandon ten years from now will be anything like The Brandon I Am Now™, except for hopefully a few guiding principles. Trying to setup for a future is dangerous like that, and the best I can do is open as many doors as possible while I'm young so that all I'll have to do is pick one when the time comes.

*Reading this over, it sounds like I'm stoned out of my mind, rambling on about the universe and higher dimensions. I can assure you that that isn't the case, but looking out over a stunning skyscape above a glimmering Greenland will do strange things to your perspective.

Source: The blurryface treatment returns for my dearest mother, who stopped by to see my new digs and make sure I haven't become too deranged, back in November. I like the juxtaposition of a normal family photo with a decidedly non-traditional backdrop.

I've discussed my homelessness on here before, but between my camping trip a few months back and my early retirement revelation, I now have a whole new lens to examine it under.

Getting Nostalgic*

So let's take it back more than 12,500 years: humans aren't doing anything productive. We're hunter-gatherers, we set up camp near wherever we think the food (berries, plants, and huntable animals) will be at. We build simple structures to protect ourselves from the elements, but we take them down and start over somewhere else when the food supply dwindles. Most of our time and energy is put towards the highly productive task of not-dying.

It isn't until we get our collective act together and develop agriculture about 12,500 years ago that we actually settle down in one place and make permanent homes. Here, homes still have the purpose of protection from Nature's hissy fits, but also act as more durable places to set up shop for the long haul. So people build settlements, but naturally there's not a ton of infrastructure; it's not like you can ride 50 miles in any direction and still have your daily Starbucks latte. Anchored to their large slash-and-burn farms, people tend not to move around much, barring war or particularly malevolent acts of nature.

How 'bout Now?

A lot has changed in the past decade or thousand. It took two days of me lounging around in a tent to realize that we have the luxury of an unprecedented level of mobility. Long before home ownership became something to check off of the "American Dream Bucket List," homes were just a place to not die, conveniently positioned near your farm and the rest of your relevant infrastructure. In this wondrous modern era, resources like food, water, plumbing, electricity, and even Internet are more or less ubiquitous in most of the desirable parts of the planet, and we have the modern miracles of cars and planes to travel to them. This means that, for certain lifestyles, the home can take a position of obsolescence. Anecdotally, I had no problem leaving everything (not that there was much to leave) behind for a weekend, and settling down 200 miles away with nothing more than a wallet and a bag of clothes. That's a big difference from 12,000 years ago: if you packed your bags and traveled 200 miles you'd likely find yourself 200 miles from the nearest human being, and you'd make some nice puppy chow for a pack of wolves. More comfortingly, now that humanity has settled pretty much everywhere and bent nature to our will, we have all the allowances of modern life all over the place, with a greatly reduced risk for puppy-chow-ification.

The reason we don't take advantage of our profound mobility is obvious: we've cast our anchors. We're anchored to our jobs, to our families, to our weekend tennis club meetups, and even to the piles of stuff we've been accumulating in garages, sheds, desk drawers, and cabinets. For the majority of people (who by and large are not travelling salesmen), it's completely unfeasible to dig this ever-more massive anchor out of the mud it's so firmly embedded in. Who would have thought that a basement full of forgotten Christmas presents would be a modern day Excalibur?

Loosening The Sword

I'm making a very conscious effort to make sure my life doesn't play out like the scene I set above. While the truck is still my "home", the traditional idea of home plays a much less important role in my life. Yes, I'm still anchored to the Bay by my job, but if all goes to plan, that'll only be the case for a proportionally short period of time.

When I first set out on this journey eight months ago, I thought I had it all figured out. I was going to truck it up for a few years, and then spend six whole months travelling before returning to work for the next 30-odd years. This was before I knew about the Trinity study and withdrawal rates and 401k's and HSAs and IRAs (oh my). But now, with everything falling into alignment, it seems silly that I thought six months would be enough time to do all the travelling I've spent my youth dreaming about. How could I possibly see everything there is to see when travelling 500 miles in any direction might as well be a new planet?

I guess I was worried that if I didn't travel soon, I'd never do it at all. But, if a bit of delayed gratification is all it takes to turn a six month trip into a lifelong adventure, I'm more than on-board. Plus, now that I'm more settled in my job, I'm finding that I do get to do a fair bit of work travel (in fact I'll be visiting two countries next month alone). My work-sanctioned excursions will be more than enough to tide me over until I can make travelling a full-time job. Then, I won't even have to drag up my anchor (since I'm hellbent on keeping this metaphor going). I'll just quietly cast the chain overboard and watch it sink down as I drift off into the sunset.

*I did really, really poorly on the AP US History exam in high school, so take everything I say with a kidney stone-inducing amount of salt.

Source: Dagny Taggart

In Charting the Waters, I mentioned two books that I picked up to get myself in the travel mindset. Last week, I set aside an hour and read through the lighter of the two: How to Drop Everything And Travel Around The World.


Overall, I thought the book was a worthwhile read. As far as actual, concrete information about travel and destinations, it was pretty light (the whole thing is only 56 pages), but it was certainly helpful in orienting my mind with respect to my future world tour.

Getting Excited

The book did quite a nice job of selling the concept of travel. Not that I needed any convincing whatsoever, but I was definitely getting excited just reading through the first few chapters, thinking about the planning process and choosing my destinations. In particular, the book included a quote from travel writer Pico Iyer, as follows:

We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again- to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more.

-Pico Iyer

The beginning of this quote is a little too Confucian for my tastes, but nonetheless I agree with its sentiments. There are plenty of things that can only be properly experienced in-person; a newspaper or computer screen simply won't do it justice. It goes almost without saying that travel falls into this category. And while I'm not quite done being a "young fool" in the first place (I do live in a truck, after all), travel will likely kindle a child-like awe contrary to what I've experienced in my (short) adult life.

Tips and Tricks

While the book didn't have much concrete information on travel destinations, it certainly provided me with new, useful travel information.

Traveling Light

I've managed to pack my life into a 2' by 2' area in the back of a truck, and thus like to consider myself well-versed in living minimally and "packing light". That said, the book had valuable advice on what kinds of clothes to bring with you to maximize utility and minimize the raw weight and volume of your baggage. I wouldn't have even thought of bringing quick-drying shirts with me on my voyage, so that was a good tidbit to discover.

Regional Snapshots

One of the useful things the book provided was single-paragraph snapshots of different areas of the world, broken down into 8 regions (South/Southeast Asia, South/Central America, East Asia, Europe, Africa, North America/New Zealand/Australia, Central Asia, and the Middle East). What was particularly nice is that it took the perspective of an English-speaking American, and outlined how cultures in each region are going to vary and what sort of differences Americans can expect.

Random Tidbits

Did you know that just the act of planning a trip makes people happier? Me neither, but it's apparently a studied phenomenon. This, along with tips for spotting a good food cart, where to find not-sketchy housing, how to do travel research effectively, and how to travel alone versus with a partner, are all useful pieces of information provided by the book in various forms.

All in all, the book helped me get my head in the travel game and get excited for planning my future trips. For $3, totally a sound investment.

So I've been at work almost a month now, and living in the truck for just as long. I've definitely established a comfortable routine, and I'm a lean, mean, code-producing machine on my team, so everything is going good. This means I can focus my non-work hours to the real goal: the big trip.

The Trip

When I interned in Silicon Valley last summer, I realized a few very important and related things:

  1. I'm horrifically uncultured/culturally-unaware.
  2. I'd like to change that.
  3. The world is full of beautiful and amazing places.
  4. Of all these beautiful and amazing places, I've only ever seen a small handful of them.
  5. I'd like to change that too.

I've mentioned this here and there, but as a reminder, the end-goal of this whole situation, the culminating experience of 4+ years of van-life, is a world-encompassing expedition. Realizing how little I've done, seen, and know helps me put into perspective just how important this goal is for me. I want to experience as much of the world as possible, and over the course of the next few years, as I save money and my stocks vest and my investments grow, I'm going to plot out the journey in excruciating detail, making sure that I don't miss anything. I'm only going to be young and able for so long, now is the time to do this.

Plotting the Course

Right now, I have a very broad idea of what I want to do, and a very limited idea of what is actually out there in the world for me to experience. I know I want to spend at least six months traveling. I know I want to visit all the (inhabited) continents. I know I want to learn the basics of a few languages. But beyond these few basic desires, I don't have much concrete knowledge as to what I should even be looking for. Luckily, I'm not the only human being on the planet, and I can draw on the near infinite wisdom of the rest of the world's past and present human beings through the endlessly useful invention of The BookTM. To get warmed up, I've purchased two whole books.

Book #1: How to Drop Everything And Travel Around The World

A vaguely gimmicky title yes, and not a super thick book, but it has exactly what I need: firsthand travel experience from someone way more knowledgeable about the topic than me. The text certainly isn't exhaustive, but at the very least, it'll point me in the right direction regarding things like: learning languages, adapting to new cultures, understanding the philosophy of travel, and tons of other useful skills. It's basically a Sparknotes-edition of what I want my life to look like a few years down the road.

Book #2: 1,000 Places to See Before You Die

This book is some serious business. In it's physical form, it's 1200 pages of tiny text, a nearly comprehensive guide of places to travel to, and what to do when you get to them. And while it's naive of me to make any estimates without having read any actual content yet, I'd like to reach at least 250 of them in this trip. That may be a feasible goal, it may not be, I have absolutely no idea at this point. But reading this book, in it's entirety, will help me understand more about the cultures of the world and how to adequately approach them, as well as less abstract, more practical things like where to stay, what events to go to, and what to eat.

Like I said, this is just the start, and I'm sure I'll have a better idea of what to read/do/learn next once I start reading these books. I have years to go, and all the time I need. The sky is the limit and the world is my oyster: you bet I plan on being the most high-flying fisherman I can be.


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