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DaedTech Digest: How a Simple Scorpion Can Burst the Travelers’ Bubble

This week, on the slow travel digest, I’m going to move slightly away from answering reader questions.  Instead, I’ll just talk about something people probably wouldn’t think to ask.

When you spend months at a time on the road, weird, local stuff tends to happen the way it does when you move places.

If you’re a “vacation twice a year” sort of traveler, you have limited road weirdness.  There’s a good chance that you’ve never dealt with “blew a flat in the rental car” or “had a pipe burst in my hotel room.”

Should something like this happen, you might well regale friends and family with it for years.  “I was once vacationing in Europe, and I lost my passport, and you wouldn’t believe…”

This style of travel comes with sort of a cocoon of expectations that, by and large, things will go right.  This is because:

  1. It’s a pretty small sample size compared to your regular life.
  2. Travel usually means vacation, which frequently means splurging and luxury.  And less “life happens” things take place in this context.

Spend a lot of time traveling for work, or doing commuter travel, and the odds swing somewhat.  But you’re still in something of a cocoon, even if you’re like me and have encountered both rental car flat tires (more than once) or hotel plumbing issues.

Not so when you slow travel.  But you don’t realize that at first.

A little over 3 years ago, Amanda and I did our first slow travel stint.  We left the banal midwest and went to a place in the woods in Southern Louisiana.  As we unloaded the car in the dark, tromping through a bit of underbrush on this wooded property, I remember fleeting thoughts about the poisonous snakes they have — snakes that aren’t a thing in the midwest.

Is this something I need to worry about as I stomp around here?

Turns out not.  We unloaded our car with 0 snakes encountered and 0 alligator fatalities.  And we didn’t see any of that sort of creature on day 2 or day 3, either.

We went on hikes in forest preserves, poked all around our property, and went exploring without a care in the world.  We were actually hoping to see some of these exotic creatures, albeit from a safe distance.  But no, not really.  Not without visiting a gator farm.  The most exotic things we saw were crawfish holes.

Slow traveling means that you’re moving places for small amounts of time, and you’re embracing the quirks of life there.

So you settle in and then find yourself thinking as if you’re in the traveler cocoon.  But then you see a hairy spider the size of a softball living in a nook of the house.  Or, like us last night, maybe you go into the bathroom and see an actual scorpion, and think, “wow, how exotic… and in the place we’re staying.”

And suddenly, you’re no longer in the travel cocoon.  You’re an actual person living in an actual place, where actual wolf spiders and scorpions are things that locals (you now being one) have to learn to deal with.

If you’re not living a slow travel life, you might go on AirBNB or VRBO or whatever, and light into a host the way you’d light into a hotel if a tarantula wandered in during your stay.  But that’s not fair, anymore than it’d be fair for you to live somewhere for months without accidentally breaking something.

You can expect a long weekend getaway to be local-pest free.  But don’t expect that for multi-month stays, no matter where you are.

A lot of our pictures are sunsets, national monuments, new cities, and good food.  But sometimes they’re just pictures of a scorpion on the floor.  Such is the vagabonder life.

 

Picks

  • I don’t love the user experience, but I’m gradually coming around to appreciating Canva for, among other things, helping me generate graphical pull quotes when I fix up old blog posts.
  • I’m pretty proud of Hit Subscribe’s new results page, which I think is fair game to pick, since I actually had nothing to do with creating it.
  • In honor of a taco tour that we’re taking tomorrow in Austin, I’m going to throw a pick to the general taco scene in Austin, with a special nod to the ubiquitous breakfast taco.

The Digest

And, as always, have yourselves a great weekend.

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DaedTech Digest: How Nice (or Not) Are the Places You Stay?

I’m going to keep the answer train rolling here with the Friday digest.  Last week’s question was about how we sort out exercise on the road, and the week before that, I tackled what we do if (when) we break something where we’re staying.

This week, let’s deal with another one.

Are the AirBNB/VRBO places you stay nicer, the same, or not as nice as what you’re used to at home?

This is one of those questions that’s easy to ask, but surprisingly complex to answer.  I mean, obviously this is going to vary according to budget (and “niceness” of home) in the abstract.

But, if we assume kind of a set budget, then it really starts to vary by destination.  For instance, of all of the places we’ve ever stayed, Ocean Beach, in San Diego, earned us the least “bang for our buck” in terms of the place.  This is because the location was so good.

Now, this is not to say that the place wasn’t nice.  On the contrary, we really liked it.  But it was more expensive to get that level of niceness, than in remote areas, or even less choice locations in nice cities.  And it earned us a lot less space.  By contrast, when we stayed in rural Vermont during the fall, we had a comfortable house that could probably have fit 8 of our San Diego condos in it.

All of this is to say that a lot of factors come into play.  “Niceness” (amenities/swankiness) is just one.  You have to weight that against the amount of living space, the location, and the cost, among assorted others.  And, things get even more nebulous if you expand the definition of “nice” to include things like spaciousness and location.

In the broadest terms, I’ll say that I find our standard of living to feel fairly consistent, whether home or away.  But then again, Amanda and I tend to grow where we’re planted, so we could probably make even something pretty rustic or questionable work and feel happy.

Picks

  • In a nod to a video that I link in the digest, I’ll throw a pick to NCrunch, one of my all time favorite tools: a utility that runs your unit tests continuously and paints your IDE with the results.
  • I’ve picked them before, but I’ll throw ahrefs another one, since it now lets you to conduct keyword research on media other than Google, such as Bing and YouTube.
  • If you find astronomy (or, astrology, I guess) interesting, but have never really bothered to memorize constellations and such, here’s an app to try: Skymap.  Put this on your phone (Android only, I believe) and launch it, and you can wave your phone around while it identifies constellations, stars, and planets.

The Digest

Hey, look, I finally did some stuff this week!

  • Over at our site for aspiring programmers, I did my best to answer the hard-to-answer question, “is programming hard?
  • I’ve also started a new series on the Hit Subscribe Youtube channel, where I’m going to be taking a look at how long it takes to go from 0 to “up and running happily” with a developer tool.  For the first one, I took a look at NCrunch.  If you’d like to see those when they come out, feel free to give us a subscribe over there.
  • Also, I uploaded a Facebook Live video to our Youtube channel with a “what is content marketing” explanation for beginners.  As you can see, we’re now getting fancy with an animated intro.  I actually built that myself after wrangling for hours with a horrible piece of software called Adobe After Effects.  My blood, sweat, and tears are in that animation.

And, as always, please have yourselves a great weekend.

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DaedTech Digest: What Do We Do about Exercise While Traveling?

Another week, another digest post.  Continuing the theme from last week, I’m back to answering people’s questions about our slow travel lifestyle.  (BTW, if you have a question about slow traveling, comment below or tweet it at me).

This week’s question is pretty straightforward.

What do you guys do about working out while you slow-travel?

Amanda and I both have regular exercise routines.  So this concern definitely applies.

Let’s start with me because my situation is simple.  I jog 2-3 miles a day, probably 5 days per week or so.  I’ve been doing this for years, and, for a number of those years, my exclusive preference has been jogging outside.

So for me, the slow travel to warmer climes actually makes things easier.  If I’m in the north during winter, and the world dumps snow on us, jogging gets complicated.  Similarly, getting demolished by a polar vortex would keep me inside.

But in the mild south?  I can just step outside and jog, no problem.  The only peculiarity that I encounter is that the US south seems not to be big on sidewalks.  But street jogging is perfectly fine.

For Amanda, life is a little more complicated.  She lifts weights at the gym, having a membership to Anytime Fitness.  So the first, best option is if one of those is nearby.  That’s often the case.

When it’s not, she joins a gym temporarily, which is difficult, since the main gym business model is to trick you into signing up, attending for a month, and never going again, but still paying.  Still, lacking an Anytime Fitness nearby, she navigates that, signing up for short term membership or else going through the cancelation hoops.

So, yeah.  Working out on the road isn’t really that big of a problem.  And, you can find yourself with a jogging path like this one I had in Ocean Beach, San Diego.

Picks

  • I had a chat with Dave Rael today, catching up a little, so I’ll throw a pick to his Developer on Fire podcast.  He interviews a lot of influential folks in the tech world on there.  I’ve made a couple of appearances myself.
  • If you’re looking for a way to manage/schedule your social media, Hootsuite does the job pretty well.  I think you get a few accounts for free, but I pay for it and am able to manage all of my social media posting, both DaedTech, personal, and the Expert Beginner (as well as some client social media) all from a single place.
  • Amanda gave me an early Valentine’s Day present and signed us up for a curated taco tour in Austin.  First of all, yes, Taco tours are, apparently, a thing.  But secondly, check out AirBNB’s newish “experiences” thing if you haven’t already.

The Digest

  • On a new Freelancers Show episode, we interviewed Liston Witherill about sales strategies for freelancers and business owners.  Some great stuff and tips in there.  I particularly enjoyed the idea of setting concrete goals for each step of your sales process.
  • On this Facebook live, recorded about a month ago, we talked about slow travel and picking a destination for the winter.
  • And, on the next week’s Facebook live, we talk about a week in the life of slow travelers, while we’re on the move.  This is our first episode recorded since arriving in Austin.

And, as always, folks, have yourselves a great weekend.

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DaedTech Digest: Going Places and Breaking Things

This might be my favorite question yet.  Every week, I post one of these slow travel digests, and a lot of them involve answering questions that people ask Amanda and me about our slow travel lifestyle.

Some of these questions are straightforward:

But this one… this one isn’t straightforward.  It’s not relevant to most people that travel for a few days or a week… at least, not for the most part.  But for those of us who are starting to number their time spent in AirBNBs in years, it’s surprisingly relevant.

The Question: How Do You Handle It When You Break Stuff in a Host’s House?

You remember this concern from your days renting.  You’re in a place for 6 months or a year or something, and you mostly try to take care of it.  But then you break something.

And I don’t mean that something breaks on you.  This isn’t the porch light going out or the oven mysteriously not working one morning, where you call the super.

This is you tripping and putting your hand through a screen, or you having hands wet from rinsing dishes and dropping some glass bowl that shatters.  The only call you can make is to the host, to say “hey, sorry, I broke stuff.”

This is a uniquely large danger, given what Amanda and I do.  When you lease an apartment, the landlord leaves you only appliances, carpet and drywall.  When you stay in a hotel, you have things, but you’re not there long enough for them to break.  But now imagine Amanda and me, vagabonding.

Our hosts leave us furniture, dishes, appliances… everything.  And we stay for months.

This is why, even though I rarely receive the question, I love it.  Of course we’re going to break things.  Just as surely as you’re going to break things in your own house in the next 4 months.  So how do we handle it?

So What Do We Do?

1. Try Not to Break Stuff.  Really.

Well, of course, the first thing we try to do is be considerate.  We’ve spent something like a year of our lives in AirBNBs, and, yet, to this day, we’re still way more careful in them, by far, than our own places.

2. Hide the Nice Things that Don’t Matter to Us

Let’s say that we arrived in a place and found a lovely Ming Vase.  We’d look at it, appreciate it, and then carefully put it away somewhere.  Much as we enjoy aesthetics, we try to minimize our exposure to stuff that the owner might prize.

For Amanda and me, this involves putting away a lot of stuff, particularly since we’re always bringing pets with us.  Any of you cat owners will know that vases are a non-starter.  But we have a routine for identifying and hiding anything that we think the cats might mess up and that either of us might mess up.

In fact, we’ve got this down to such a science that one of our arrival tasks is to scan the place for things to put away. We take a lot of pictures immediately upon arrival, noting where everything is.  Then, we start shoving expensive-looking or cat-mischief-attracting things into closets.

When it doubt, hide it until departure.

3. Honestly, Don’t Sweat It

Every now and then, in spite of our best efforts, things happen.  We forget to use a coaster on a table or Amanda slaughters a towel with mascara, or whatever women slaughter towels with.  I could go on, but why bother?  It’s the same kind of thing that happens regularly in all of our houses.

Amanda and I have stayed in people’s houses for months at a time.  We’ve befriended our landlords.  I mean, literally.  We’ve gone out to dinner and thrown back drinks with the folks that rent us their places.  (Good business on their part, since we become de facto big customers, given our arrangement.)

And what we’ve learned is that AirBnB/VRBO/landlord types build minor mishaps into their business model.  They’d rather you use coasters and not slaughter towels, but they account for these things as part of the cost of doing business.  Booking for 3 months instead of 3 days at at time is worth losing a few towels.

Don’t use this as a carte blanche, by any means.  But don’t freak out if you mess up the non-stick coating on a random frying pan in the place.

4.  Follow the Boy-Scout Principle When You Notice: Leave it Better than You Found It

This last bit of advice seems to contradict the last.  But that’s unavoidable, because the back-and-forth between them is really a judgement call.  The last piece of advice is that you should replace stuff, when you think it’s fair (and when you notice).

To make things more tangible, here’s an example.  At our current place, in Austin, our host has a nice, lofted space that I claimed for my office.  Whereas a lot of places we go don’t have a desk setup, this one not only had a desk… it also had a nice desk chair, a side desk, and a shelving unit.  I was in work-heaven.

But, after settling in for a couple of days, I realized that the desk chair wasn’t exactly perfect.  Most of its wheels didn’t slide any longer and one of its arm rests wouldn’t stay fixed in place.  In spite of these imperfections, it did the job.  Well, at least, until it didn’t.  I was on a call one morning and I happened to lean back, which prompted one of its wheels to… implode.  I can’t think of a better way to describe it.

The chair just crumpled, I fell over, and the folks on the call were asking loudly if I was okay while I laughed.  I was fine and the chair was even mostly fine, with the exception of a wheel that just no longer existed.  C’est la vie.

So I did some mental math. Landlord’s old crappy chair.  Didn’t owe him anything, and could probably have sued or something.  But, instead of any of that, I realized that I had another 5 weeks to spend here and that I wanted an office chair.  So, we went to Target, spent $50, replaced it, and sent him a note saying, “your chair broke, but we bought you a new one.”

I recommend this approach when it makes sense.  It builds pennies in heaven for when you deploy the strategy in (3).  It also makes you feel a little better about yourself.  And, finally, it keeps your place looking beautiful, like this.

 

Picks

  • I’m going to throw a nod to someone I respect a lot: Jonathan Stark.  He’s recently launched his pricing seminar, which I highly recommend for anyone looking to go freelance and to figure out how to have a profitable freelance career.
  • I don’t exactly love this, but it’s useful.  The days of being able to use curl to scrape Google’s results are over (I guess they were 10 years ago, but that was the last time I’d tried this).  So, endless curl-scraping would be better, but since that’s not possible, this is the next best things: Google custom search engines.  You can programtically get SERP results for free for up to 100 per day, and for $5 for up to 1,000 per day.
  • For those of you who are Developer Hegemony fans, I’ve had a Developer Hegemony Facebook group for a while.  But I’m now adding a Slack to give people a more private discussion forum, and I’m looking for help with community management (response has been great so far!)  So, if you’ve wanted to participate, but aren’t a Facebook person, you now have a Slack option (email/Twitter/whatever-me for the Slack link if you don’t have a Facebook)

The Digest

This is another week where my internet contributions have been, “meh.”  I won’t bother to promise better things, but I will say that it’s likely I’ll have more videos and posts soon-ish.

And, as always, have yourselves a great weekend.

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DaedTech Digest: How to Start Vagabonding

We’ve been on the move for the last couple of weeks.  Two digests ago we were packing to head from Michigan to Austin for an indefinite period of time.  And last digest, we’d just arrived in Austin.

When we are on the move, I like to chronicle that.  But once we settle, I like to answer questions that people ask me about slow travel/vagabonding.  So let’s do that today.

How Do I Start Vagabonding?

This is a fun one.  I enjoy our nomadic lifestyle so much that I get excited when people ask me, “hey, how can I do that?”  So I’ll lay out how to start vagabonding, at least in broad strokes.

First of All, Let’s Clear the Biggest Hurdles

Before I get into more logistical concerns, you need to understand two important, sort of immutable, things.

  1. You and your spouse would need to figure out remote work arrangements, and I don’t know what to tell you if you have school age children.
  2. You’ll also need to come up with a way to finance the added cost of “road rent,” assuming you own property and want to keep it.  This can be expensive or not terribly expensive.

Regarding number (2), I will say that this is not as big a barrier as you might think.  If you’re a renter, you might just not have a permanent residence for a while, opting to bounce around to AirBNBs between leases.  If you do more than a month at a time on AirBNB, many places cut the nightly rate more or less in half, giving you a relatively reasonable monthly rate.

Another thing to consider is that most people pop for some kind of annual or semi-annual vacation to Cancun or whatever.  All expenses paid, all inclusive, $2,500 per person, or whatever that costs these days.  Now imagine that, instead of taking this trip, you hold those thousands back and use them to rent a place somewhere warm for the winter.  That week in Cancun would get you at least 2 months in our place in Austin.

Hurdles Aside, How Do You Start?

Alright.  Let’s assume that you’ve convinced your employer to convert your jobs to remote ones, dropped the kids off at Grandma’s (kidding, relax), and decided to spend your vacation money on rent for an entire season.  You’re in.

What do I recommend?  Here goes.

  1. Start with not-fun logistics, like mail. Get a digital mail service, such as the one we use, PostScanMail.  Nomadic lifestyle and the permanence of an “official address” don’t mix.  So have your mail forwarded to a service that scans it and sends you emails containing images of your mail.  This lets you decide what to throw out, what to act on, and what to have forwarded.  (You’ll need to open something like a PO Box in each location)  Once you leave, you can just have the USPS forward your mail to the digital service.
  2. Prep for being away from your house.  Amanda and I actually don’t worry that much about being away, due to practice.  But prep yourself.  Line up a friend or family member to check on things.  Install a camera to let you monitor, or home automation stuff to make it look like someone’s around.  Whatever you decide, think about this up-front.
  3. Go domestic, and drive the first time.  If you’ve read The Four Hour Work Week, you’ll find this advice at odds with what he says.  But I stand by it.  Ease your toe in the water by going somewhere within reasonable driving distance.  This means that (1) you can always bail out and go home if anything goes wrong, which offers a lot of peace of mind, and (2) you don’t have to do a crash course in learning to fit your life into a checked back and a carry on.  Also a great option when you have pets.
  4. Start with a month if you’re nervous.  A month is the minimum amount of time to book for a significantly discounted AirBNB rate.  If you’re nervous about this whole thing, try it for a month and take it from there the next time.  Amanda and I threw ourselves into a 3 month commitment the first time, and we loved it.  In fact, we booked an extra month.  And that’s the point.  You can always book more months when you arrive.

I could probably go into a lot more detail, but that would start to get increasingly specific to our situation.  The most important things are to start thinking well ahead of time about what it would mean to leave your place for longer than you ever have before, to plan and pack well, and then just to dive in.  Because, like diving into a chilly body of water, you’re never really going to be ready.  Psych yourself up, and then just say, “screw it” and go for it.”

I can’t tell you how happy we’ve been over the last several years for having taken the plunge.  And a never-ending set of new experiences, like downtown Austin viewed from across the Colorado river, keep reinforcing the wisdom of plunging.

Picks

  • I’m going to throw a pick this week to the aforementioned PostScanMail.  I love their service, because it actually turns your physical mail into an Outlook-like inbox.
  • Last weekend, Amanda and I embarked on an epic walking tour of Austin, which included going to a place called La Barbecue.  They have the best brisket I’ve ever had in my life.
  • I’ve used Hubspot for CRM for a long time.  But only this week did I discover that Hubspot makes a Chrome plugin that integrates your Hubspot CRM with your gmail inbox.  I can, without any effort, log every email exchange into the CRM, leverage email open tracking, add new contacts to CRM, and see information about the person I’m talking to.  As the de facto head of Hit Subscribe sales, this is amazing.

The Digest

Another sparse week on the digest.  I’ve been focused on a lot of business development stuff lately, and the content I’ve been writing for pay has been ghostwritten.  So, I’ve had pitifully little to link up to in the digest.  But don’t worry — more will come soon.  In the meantime, here I am on video.

And, as always, have yourselves a great weekend!