Long Term Travel Lifestyle

long term travel lifestyle

People ask us: What does a long term travel lifestyle look like? After being on the road for 3 years now, I can answer that question.

In general, our days are very fluid. They also vary country to country depending on the customs, accommodations, and activities. But here is an overview of what our life looks like each day.

long term travel lifestyle
Just walking around Annecy, France. Often referred to as “Little Venice” due to the canals through the town.

Fun

Let’s start with the good stuff. Each day we try do something fun. It could be something as small as taking a walk, or it could be a big event like an all-day SCUBA dive. And on some days, “fun” is staying inside and playing video games (me) or watching a TV series (Alicia).

We tend to stay in places where fun things are easily accessible. It sucks to travel a hour each way: that’s basically a commute. So we switch locations often because that cuts down on overall travel time.

kayak tour new zealand
Kayaking in New Zealand

Learning how to live

We have to relearn how to live every time we change locations. From simple things like buying food, to transportation, and even how to work the shower. Imagine everything in your day as being completely different, every few weeks. And I mean everything: different bed, different meals, different home, different language, etc.

Sometimes, we even have to relearn pooping.

It can be very mentally draining, so we travel slower than a person would on vacation.

Sleep

Some cultures have different sleep schedules that basically force us to get in sync. “Siesta” (napping) cultures like Argentina and Spain have schedules that look like this:

  • 9 AM: wake up
  • 10 AM-2 PM: work
  • 2 PM: Lunch
  • 4-5 PM: Nap
  • 5-9 PM: Work
  • 10 PM: Dinner
  • 1 AM: Bedtime

Trying to get lunch at noon or dinner at 6 in these cultures will severely disappoint. Shops and stores close for siesta during the day. Trying to fight against an entire culture is a losing battle, so we take the naps and eat dinner at 10 PM like everyone else.

Exercise

Gyms don’t really want people who stay for one or two weeks at a time, so we mostly do bodyweight movements and running. Alicia does Jillian Michaels workouts¬†on her Kindle device with a yoga mat found at a random store. I buy a pull-up bar when I can find it in local stores. Between pull-ups, push-ups, and running, that fulfills most basic exercises. It might seem wasteful to use a pull-up bar for a week and then throw it away, consider it an at-home gym for $20.

The best part about travel is the constant walking. It keeps us naturally fit and healthy without even thinking too much about exercise.

Eating

picadas buenos aires
Sometimes dinner can be an event, too. Above: eating “picadas” in Buenos Aires. It’s a small meal at 5pm consisting of meats, cheese, and wine. It’s very Argentinian.

We eat what the locals eat. Trying to find an American style breakfast in other countries will generally lead to disappointment. Besides, the local foods are interesting and wonderful.

Eggs and coffee are staples of our diet because they are found everywhere. In some countries (typically South East Asia), getting enough protein can be challenging. But eggs solve that problem and are plentiful and cheap everywhere in the world.

As wonderful as other culture’s food can be, I admit there are times where I crave American food. I binge on the worst fast food when back in the US because it’s impossible to get anywhere else. Even the burgers at McDonald’s are different when traveling because they are from locally sourced beef. Hamburger in the US is typically 20-30% fat, but in other countries it’s 4-10%.

Travel Days

My wife and I travel with backpacks only. When we went around the world in a one year (top 10 and bottom 10 experiences), we stayed in 33 different locations. That’s an average of moving every 5 days! We’re quite experienced at moving around.

And I can say this about Travel Days: they pretty much ruin the entire day. Between checking out, getting to the station/airport, traveling, checking in, getting settled, and finding food, the day is nearly gone. Yes, even for short trips such as moving across town.

While typical vacationers can muster the energy to go sight-seeing (because vacations are less than 2 weeks long), it’s generally better for long term travel not to over-exert yourself like that. Your brain works overtime when you get to a new location because it’s taking in all the new sights, sounds, and smells. It’s mentally taxing to find your way around in the new location. It’s better to get situated and plan a bigger day for the next morning.

Remember, we aren’t on vacation: this is our life. We can’t go at vacation pace every day because we’d drop dead from exhaustion.

Work

Our work life ranges from very little to frantic. In 2016, we took on more work and there were a few months where we locked ourselves to our computers. That killed the south island of New Zealand for us, so we pulled back on the work front. We typically cram work into 1-2 days per week and enjoy a 5 or 6 day weekend. How can we do that? Tip: meetings are a gigantic waste of time and you should do everything in your power to avoid them.

The few meetings we have are typically at odd times because of the time differences. In South East Asia, our meetings are typically after midnight. In Europe, our calls are after 8 PM. The upside to the time differences are that we look amazing because we send emails while everyone back in the US is sleeping! It makes us look very productive. ūüėČ

Would you like long term travel?

I’m not sure most people would like our lifestyle. While it works very well for us, most people enjoy traditional things such as a home and local community. We have to relearn how to live our life every time we change locations, from food to shopping to transportation.

For us, it’s perfect. We just got into Italy yesterday, and now we are going to walk around Rome. It’s not a vacation, it’s our life.

Reverse Culture Shock

home-sweet-home

Returning home after a long travel yields reverse culture shock: your own culture will feel odd and unnatural. I originally dismissed reverse culture shock as made up nonsense for digital nomads to talk about. Then I went through it. It’s real.

Food

I gained THIRTY POUNDS in the three months since being back in the United States from our around the world trip. Holy hell. The food in the US is loaded with sugar. Even Subway is guilty of this: there are 5 grams of sugar in a serving of their Turkey. Go look it up on their site. In their turkey is “dextrose”, a type of added sugar. Why is sugar in something that isn’t even supposed to be sweet? Because food in the US is meant to be addictive. Sugar gives a sugar high (and crash) which allows addiction to form.

We weren’t eating healthy while traveling around the world. Eating out every meal and drinking all the local alcohol. The wine was so good in Argentina we had a bottle every day for a month. Good thing we left or we would have died of alcohol poisoning. But with the ridiculous amount of sugar in the food in the states, maybe it was healthier to stay in Argentina.

People

The people back home¬†were exactly the same as when I left. I felt like I had learned and grown more in a year than I did in the previous 10 years. It was jarring to see that everyone else was still in the same spot. I don’t mean this in a derogatory way as I’m sure people who have had large life events felt the same about me at one time or another. It was weird to see the rest of the world basically frozen in time.

Alicia and I¬†meet doctors, lawyers, and other traditionally successful people when we travel. When they hear our situation, they pause for a moment. The wheels turn. They inevitably reply: “I’m in the wrong profession.”. I’ve heard that statement dozens of times. Because the traditionally successful people pour in tons of hours per week to get all the trappings of success. And some moron like me lives their vacation permanently. Going home and watching everyone fight rush hour traffic reinforces the idea: WTF are people doing with their lives? So much is possible.

Pace of life

Being back home is boring. Boring as fuck. I spend the days trying to figure out how to fill the time. Everyone else has a day job and no free time so it’s a lot of time at home. I guess I’ll try and make more money? Meh, we have more money than we need.

So we book small trips out of the country before we leave long-term again, just to burn time. Mexico and Curacao for diving. Might as well run a half marathon in California at Disneyland. Let’s go visit our parents in both Minnesota and Florida. I hear we can go SCUBA diving in Epcot Center. Heck, let’s go to Las Vegas and gamble because why not?

Routine

Wake up. Work is done before noon. Work out. Take a nap. Play some video games. Is this how people live? Holy fuck kill me.

It took Alicia two weeks being back home before she agreed we should sell the house and get the hell out.

Being a digital nomad comes with a cost

I didn’t know that when I left on our round the world trip that I was burning bridges with my past life. I actually thought that I could just pick up where I left off. But when we got “home”, it was immediately obvious that we were different. We no longer fit in our previous life. ¬†And there was no going back.

What is a Digital Nomad?

digital-nomad-life

I have never gotten more blank stares than when I tell people that I’m a digital nomad. ¬†The questions answered in this FAQ-like article are made by me because people just can’t comprehend what it is we do. ¬†If I included only questions I’ve gotten, this page would be blank. ¬†Just like the stares.

What is a digital nomad and what are our lives like? ¬†A digital nomad is someone who is location independent and makes their living over the internet. ¬†Typically the name digital nomad implies that the person moved to another country, but this doesn’t have to be the case. ¬†Anywhere there is an internet connection, there could be a digital nomad. ¬†Even the south pole in Antarctica has internet!

digital-nomad-life
Chiang Mai, Thailand is a common digital nomad destination due to the cheap cost of living, great food, good internet, safety, and wonderful people.

So you sit on the beach all day and type?

No, but we could! ¬†Though¬†I’m not a huge fan of sunburn. ¬†I’m delicate.

Our office looks a lot less glamorous than you might have imagined.  We sit in our hotel or airbnb room holding conference calls and typing.  The difference is that when we go out of the office for a walk, we go see miles of temples, Inca ruins, a movie set, or stay home and get a great bottle of wine.

waihake-island-nz
Just another day at the office. Waihake Island, New Zealand.

How much do digital nomads work?

This greatly depends on the digital nomad. ¬†We’ve met some people who work 70-80 hour weeks, and some who work 10 hour weeks.

wine-glass-light
Work is dumb. “Let’s go to a winery and get drunk” doesn’t meet a lot of resistance most days.

Did you save up a lot of money?

This is a question we actually do get a lot when we tell people we are traveling for a year. ¬†We have money saved for taxes and emergencies, but nothing¬†we wouldn’t have had at home.

Some nomads do save up money, move to a very cheap location, and start building their business where their money goes a lot farther.

How much do digital nomads make?

All over the board.  Some people aim for the bare minimum and just want to live comfortably in cheap countries while others use the lower expenses of other countries to build their empires.

The minimum would be to make ~$1K per month, but we’ve also met others who make well into six figures. ¬†Personally, we do well for ourselves as we keep only higher value clients. ¬†The minimum of $1K necessary could be lower, but we are assuming a good lifestyle in a country like Thailand with room to cover emergency spending.

What lifestyle do digital nomads lead?

napping-on-top-of-the-world
Work is stressful. Take the edge off by napping on top of the world. With Michelle atop a mountain in Chile.

This depends on the country where the nomad lives.  Generally, digital nomads move to cheaper countries so you can live better than back home and/or save money.

For example, a digital nomad can make New York City money while living a cheap life in Bangkok. ¬†You’d have to really try to spend more than $1K/person per month in Chiang Mai¬†with $2 meals and $20/night hotel rooms. ¬†A $100K salary doesn’t go very far in NYC, but you wouldn’t know what to do with all your money in Thailand.

We’ve lived on the beach or on islands for $20-$30 per night ($600-$900 per month). ¬†That’s cheaper than living in the frozen tundra of Minneapolis! ¬†Most digital nomads hop around until they find somewhere particularly attractive. ¬†When that place stops being attractive, they move on.

reality
I suppose we have to work sometime. I guess. This is what it looks like.  Alicia is holding a conference call.  Lima, Peru.

What type of jobs do Digital Nomads do?

Any job that doesn’t require physical presence can be a job done remotely. ¬†Think about it: did you really need to be at that meeting, or would a conference call have worked just fine? ¬†I shake hands at meetings just to justify why I drove across town for something that could have taken a phone call.

Here is a list of some of the more common digital nomad jobs:

  • Online marketer: SEO, SEM, Affiliate, Social marketing, blogger
  • Content creator: digital creative, writer
  • Entrepreneur: building businesses in low cost of living countries to reduce risk
  • Poker player
  • Programmer
  • IT administrator

There are others, but these are the most common. ¬†I’ll point out what might not be obvious: these are the black sheep jobs of the modern world.

Online marketing is very new. ¬†You can’t get a degree for PPC or Facebook advertising. ¬†As such, these professions have a reputation of being filled with scam artists and people with questionable qualifications.

Content creators are usually seen as “artistic”. ¬†The connotation with that is usually unreliable and/or out of touch with reality.

Entrepreneurs are those people who are deliberately outside of society. ¬†I hate the term, but to use a silly word that is en vogue: they are “disruptors”. ¬†They are trying to create a shift in the status quo and thus will be doing things that look odd to the rest of society.

Poker players naturally operate in a weird space. ¬†The average person believes it’s not possible to win money at all in online poker, and the thought of doing it for a living has baffled everyone I met when I told them I did it for a living (once upon a time).

Programmers and IT administrators might not seem like black sheep in the corporate world, but tech people are… different. ¬†For example, once place that I loved to work had our department stashed in the back of the office where we could close all the doors and windows and turn the lights off while we worked listening to death metal. ¬†So great.

What does this have to do with being a digital nomad? ¬†You’re going to be an outsider. ¬†You will be weird. ¬†Your job will be weird. ¬†Just roll with it.

How did the Digital Nomad life get started?

Slowly! ¬†Despite being able to communicate across the world for a few decades now, the technology still wasn’t there until the mid-2000’s for companies to reliably allow remote working. ¬†Or the internet infrastructure hadn’t improved enough¬†in developing countries.

Tim Ferriss popularized the “lifestyle design” movement in his opus, the 4-Hour Work Week. ¬†It describes how to create internet-based income,¬†use digital tools to drastically lower your time spent working, and prioritize your life for maximum results. ¬†It’s a great book and we highly recommend it for learning time management techniques if nothing else.

Digital nomadism is becoming more mainstream. ¬†Over our trip, we meet people who are actively putting these lifestyle design choices into action. ¬†We’ve met bloggers, IT admins, photographers, entrepreneurs, and more, all working remotely.

Is it easy to get a Digital Nomad job?

No. ¬†It’s still very new, and new things are always met with resistance. ¬†And it’s absurd how people will fight you all the way.

One client I have I hadn’t seen in person for a year and a half even though I was only 40 minutes away. ¬†Over that time I did large upgrades and transitions and everything was just dandy. ¬†But the second I mention we’ll be leaving the country, they pooped themselves.

But just because it isn’t easy doesn’t mean it’s impossible. ¬†It’s only hard because there’s no true instruction manual. ¬†If you want to do it and work consistently at it, I believe most people could achieve it. ¬†As the world becomes even more digital, I only expect it to get easier as well.

How do I get a Digital Nomad job?

  1. Turn your current job into a remote working job
  2. Create passive income that will allow you to manage it remotely
  3. Get a digital job that allows working remotely

#1 is vastly underrated and I think is the best option for most people in a typical professional job.  The 4-Hour Work Week describes how to do this.  The reason I think this is the best option is because #2 and #3 are basically career changes into something so different that most people would get discouraged.

Creating passive income doesn’t have to be¬†as daunting as it sounds. ¬†Saving and buying a profitable online property is one option, as is investing in real estate or dividend-paying stocks over a period of 5-10 years. ¬†While that might sound like a long time, being a digital nomad is a lifestyle: we are doing this for the long term. ¬†The average person has 40+ years in their career, why not spend 25% of it to create a dream scenario for the remaining years?

Most digital nomads are freelancers and/or entrepreneurs.  This is not a life that everyone will enjoy.  Creating value and managing all the risk takes a lot of getting used to.  For example, once upon a time Alicia was very freaked out about taxes.  Tax time for entrepreneurs and freelancers is very stressful as the government demands silly amounts of money.  Did you know your income tax rate could go from 20% to 50% in a single year?  We found that out when the tax man said we owed infinity billion dollars on year.

And lastly, getting a digital job that allows remote work is last on the list for a reason: high competition for very few spots. ¬†Since it’s a remote job, the people in competition for that job explodes.

Would you go back to a typical 9-5 job?

Oh sweet Jesus, no!  No! NO!  NOOOoOOOOoOoOOoOOoOOOOO!

Don’t you miss some things about being back home?

Yes.

We mostly miss the people. ¬†In hindsight, leaving for a year straight wasn’t well thought out. ¬†Why couldn’t it have been two separate 6 month trips? ¬†We’ll be back more in the future.

We’ve actually started to eat Western food once a week or so as the body starts to crave it. ¬†This is more difficult than you think. ¬†When we got to Istanbul, we devoured one thing that was on both our plates: carrots. ¬†Simple carrots. ¬†But coming from a month in Japan, they didn’t have a lot of vegetables with their dishes. ¬†It was mostly meat, rice, and bean sprouts. ¬†Cheese is also rare in South East Asia, so after several months living there Greece better keep an eye on their feta supply. ¬†Because we are hungry.

Routine is also something we miss. ¬†Figuring out a new location is exciting but draining. ¬†We’d be able to accomplish more if we stayed in a single location longer. ¬†Our future travels will have us lingering back home in Minnesota for a time punctuated with travels abroad for several months at a time.

Hair cuts. ¬†Think of how women can have their day ruined by their hairdresser they’ve gone to for years. ¬†Now picture what could happen when getting your hair cut by someone that doesn’t speak your language, doesn’t cut your type of hair, and isn’t familiar with your styles. ¬†Alicia’s hair is getting mighty long!

Western bathrooms. ¬†I’m not surprised the world doesn’t poop and shower exactly like the US does, but I am surprised at how terrible some countries’ bathrooms are. ¬†Squat toilets and wet bathrooms are just gross and really need to be eradicated.

If you have any questions about digital nomads and/or our lifestyle, leave them in the comments and we’ll answer them

But right now, I need to go take a tour of the Bosporus straight. ¬†Who knows when we’ll be back to Istanbul?

6 month recap of our year long round the world trip

chiang-mai-flower-festival

6 months into our year long round the world trip, here are the weird things we’ve learned.

chaing-mai-flower-festival
Celebration at the flower festival – Chiang Mai, Thailand

“Writing in the air” will get you the check across all cultures

Restaurant servers in non-US countries will not deliver the check unless you’ve explicitly asked for it. ¬†Wave your hand like you’re writing in the air, and the server will nod their head and run off to get your bill. ¬†It’s the universal language of restaurants.

Pooping is difficult

western-toilet-warning
A warning in a Bangkok hotel about using a western toilet: don’t stand on it like you would a squat toilet or you’ll fall off and your butt will bleed.

How often do you think about pooping? ¬†I bet it’s not a lot. ¬†But when you’re faced with the prospect of wiping your butt with your bare hands and rinsing with cold water up your bum, suddenly you reach chess Grandmaster¬†levels of concentration.

Other countries have toilet paper, but it goes in a little basket beside the toilet as the sewer can’t handle it. ¬†Hope for clean poops or your bathroom will smell pretty badly until the waste is emptied.

Still other countries will have toilets that are physically impossible for many westerners. ¬†These are squat toilets, and we don’t have the flexibility necessary to make them a pleasant experience. ¬†Think of hovering an inch over the ground with nothing to hold onto. ¬†Falling over backwards onto the poop and urine soaked floor is a real threat. ¬†And after you throw a cup of water down your crack, you continue squatting to air dry. ¬†It’s a humiliating,¬†humbling, and very wet experience. ¬†Not kidding: the recommendation for your first time in a squat toilet is to take your pants off completely.

Pointing is a valid language

yangon-myanmar-menu
The only time our pointing strategy failed us was in Yangon, Myanmar. Menus rarely had pictures on them.

Don’t know the language? ¬†Easy!

Bring up maps, locations, or names on your smartphone in their language.  Show them to the cabbies or whoever, and point at the screen.

Go to restaurants with pictures on the menu.  Point just like a toddler.

With a little amount of preparation, the language barrier is a tiny problem.  In fact, the locals even do it with you as well.  For the total amount, they will type it on a calculator and point to the screen for how much you will pay.

Your smartphone is goddamn MAGIC

Word Lens is an app for your smartphone that will translate signs for you. ¬†Simply point your camera at the sign, and it translates it right into English on your screen. ¬†It’s unbelievable how useful this can be in foreign countries.

It’s mentally draining – no, really!

new-zealand-tire-swing
Stressful times at a New Zealand winery

Routine is not only comfortable, it’s very easy on the mind. ¬†Getting to a new place is stimulus overload and it’s mentally taxing. ¬†We are always tired the first few days in a new location from trying to re-learn how the day to day life goes.

Our first day itinerary in a new country typically looks like this:

  1. Get money from an ATM
  2. Go grocery shopping
  3. Sleep

That’s it! ¬†That’s 24 hours worth of activities for the day in a new city.

The money issue can range from a simple 5 minute stop, to going into seedy areas of town in search of black market exchanges. ¬†Grocery shopping in a new country is one of the harder activities you can experience while traveling. ¬†90%+ of all the items are different. ¬†Different boxes, names, and shapes. ¬†Things you’ve never encountered before. ¬†And since you don’t speak the language, it’s all guesswork.

We originally felt like idiots for not being able to accomplish much on first days in new countries, but now we see it as pretty natural.  After a few days in-country, some things start becoming routine and we bounce right back to productive members of society again.

Your isolation grows

angkor-wat-section
Our work hazards typically include dehydration and sunburn. Part of Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Relating to normal¬†people becomes harder. ¬†Normal people talk about normal things: jobs, cars, commutes, weekend plans, etc. ¬†As a digital nomad, you don’t have any of those. ¬†Every day is an open book, filled with joy and terror. ¬†Joy because each day we do exactly what we want, wherever in the world we want to do it. ¬†Terror because we also shoulder all of the responsibility for our future.

A normal person will describe their horrific coworkers and dilemmas at their job.  We will try to relate with our own on-the-job annoyances, but all that will come out are stories of food poisoning, scamming touts, and how backpackers have ruined yet another beautiful town.

Then the normal people just tilt their head, look at us as if we are aliens, and smile.

South East Asia loves hard beds

It’s like sleeping on the floor. ¬†I’m pretty sure Asian kids watch American cartoons and get confused: “how is that kid not breaking his ankles when he jumps on the bed?”.

South America doesn’t like it when US people refer to themselves as “Americans”

South Americans consider themselves to be “Americans” as well, so they’ll never refer to a US citizen as an American.

Culture is the United States’ greatest export, and it is everywhere

hobbit hole
On the set of The Hobbit in New Zealand. Hobbiton is a very popular tourist destination.

I have heard the song “Call Me Maybe” infinite times while traveling abroad. ¬†Far more than I ever heard it in the US.

Trendy parts of town¬†are often labeled with US monikers like “SoHo”, after a Manhattan district of New York.

Hollywood is pervasive and greatly shapes how other countries see the United States. ¬†As one Spaniard put it: “I don’t need to see Boston, Los Angeles, or New York. ¬†I already know them from all the movies”.

Strawberry Fanta is the preferred soft drink of deceased ancestors

strawberry-fantaSpirit houses are everywhere in Thailand. ¬†They are small remembrances of loved ones long gone. ¬†Plates¬†of food and incense are set out each day as an offering. ¬†It’s not a part of Buddhism proper, just something that developed in the culture. ¬†If you see a drink for the spirits, it will overwhelmingly be Strawberry Fanta. ¬†And a straw, of course.

Your car goes to die in Myanmar

Ever wondered where your 200K mile junker goes after you sell it?  Chances are good it winds up in Myanmar or some other third world country if it still runs at all.  Some teen that tricked out his Scion with custom wraps and rims unknowingly gave a Burmese cabbie a funky little work vehicle.

English on T-shirts is very common even though they can’t read what the shirt says (at least, I assume they can’t read it)

The other day I saw a pre-pubescent girl in Bangkok wearing a shirt that said “Angel Fuck”. ¬†The next day a young man was eating lunch with his grandmother in a jersey that read “PERVERT 69”. ¬†In a Myanmar airport we saw someone with a Nazi T-shirt with the caption “Final Solution”.

By the numbers

  • 9 countries – Peru, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia
  • $32,000 spent – $5,333/month –¬†$177/day
  • 29,000 miles flown
  • 24 airbnb/hotel rooms
  • 370 meals eaten in restaurants
  • 15 SCUBA dives across the Great Barrier Reef, a shipwreck, and night dive
  • 20 pounds lost by John since leaving the US
  • 14 wineries across Argentina and New Zealand
  • 30 days in a row with a bottle of wine in Argentina
  • $7 USD – how much I paid for a man to risk his life
  • 7 national¬†local beers tried: Cusquena, Quilmes, Escudo, Pilsener, Chang, Angkor, Myanmar
  • 7 Batman-themed tuk-tuks across 5 countries
  • 5 new types of animal eaten: alpaca, guinea pig, frog, kangaroo, embryonic duck
  • 4 mountains climbed
  • 4 times chased by a sea lion defending it’s territory
  • 4 cooking classes – Cusco, Argentina, Thailand, Myanmar
  • 3 ancient temple grounds – Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, Bagan
  • 3 ships toured – a destroyer, submarine, and 18th century replica
  • 3 fireworks displays – Cusco, Sydney, and New Year’s Eve in Auckland
  • 3 trips boogieboarding down sand dunes in New Zealand¬†(scroll down)
  • 3 caves – 2 in New Zealand, one in the Galapagos
  • 3 types of toilets – western, squat, bidet
  • 3 times we couldn’t enter a temple because Alicia was dressed like a harlot
  • 3 zoos – Santiago, Sydney, Galapagos
  • 2 – total¬†number of toppings on a pizza in all of Argentina (cheese and onions)
  • 2 incidents of food poisoning
  • 2 bio-luminescent worm habitats – one in a New Zealand cave, the other underwater in Thailand
  • 2 food tours – Yangon, Siem Reap
  • $2 USD – price of a good bottle of wine in Argentina
  • 1 dinner cruise – Bangkok
  • 1 broken iPhone screen in New Zealand
  • 1 time my quadcopter got confiscated by customs – Peru
  • $1 USD – price of a bottle of whiskey in Yangon, Myanmar
  • 0 – number of good napkins in Argentina
  • 0 – number of good wines had in Australia

Looking back, looking forward

We definitely made some mistakes. ¬†It’s impossible not to! ¬†We changed our life completely and into something we’d never done before.

Too many countries and locations. ¬†As stated before, moving around takes a big toll on energy levels. ¬†Our next 6 months have us moving around far less. ¬†At a maximum it’ll be one country per month, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we linger a bit more in some places.

We probably should make a budget.  Moving around is also more expensive than staying put, so our more relaxed travel plans should help out.  Since we were going to be in each place for so little time, we tended to pay an upcharge because of our lack of planning.  We paid this tax in housing, activities, and food.

These more relaxed plans will also allow us to update a lot more frequently. =)

White Castle’s Social Network Inadvertently Ruined My Career

WhiteCastle

I bet you didn’t even know White Castle tried to create their own social network, much less that it could inadvertently ruin someone’s career. The year was 2006, and the rise of MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter were grabbing the headlines. It finally seemed like the internet was rebounding after the bubble burst in 2000 and the Y2K bug threatened worldwide annihilation. Uninterrupted enthusiasm for the Information Age rocketed again upon the back of Silicon Valley. And amid all of this, White Castle wanted in on the action. Their idea to bring fast food into the social space was TrueCastleStories.com (TCS).

WhiteCastle

White Castle’s¬†vision of the future

White Castle has a fanatic customer base. Did you know that they take Valentine’s Day reservations? People without reservations aren’t allowed inside on that day. The tables are done up with tablecloths and there’s a maitre’D greeting and seating the guests. (As an aside, Alicia refuses to let allow us to go to one of these even if we go somewhere else on a different day.) There are clients that hold business meetings at White Castle and the repeat customer rate is very high. The people that love it, really love it. That’s great!

White Castle wanted to capture some of this enthusiasm in the online space. People could create profiles, upload pictures, tell their stories, and have the normal range of interactions that most modern social networks provide. For 2006, this was quite a feat. Web 2.0 hadn’t yet arrived, Google wasn’t really Google yet, Blackberry was the leader in smartphones while Andriod didn’t even exist, and most people in the country were still on dial-up. People forget how much the internet sucked only 10 short years ago. The finished product of TCS was light-years ahead of the then-top social network and Geocites wanna-be, MySpace. How could this fail?

How I got to work on it

Through the magic of sub-sub-sub-contracting, the back-end of TCS was being done by the little company where I worked as a programmer. I’m sure White Castle was charged big money by the design firm and we were getting peanuts. It was basically two people that would bring their vision to life: the very talented lead programmer who had been working on it for months already, and me testing and fixing any bugs.

Hard work does pay off

This was the first real programming project I got to do while at my company, so I wanted to make an impression. While I was hired as a Java developer, most of what I did was bug-fixing and data entry. This project went on through March and most of my time was spent in the office. The lead developer was not only very talented, but an insanely hard worker. I worked weekends and slept in the office to try and keep up with him (unsuccessfully). I won’t claim that I was always 100% focused nor churned out top quality work. But for where I was as a person at that time, it was a really solid effort. Later I would get a 7% raise based on the work I did for this project, 2nd highest raise among the programmers in the company. But first…

Everyone gets reminded of why this was never going to work

The lead developer and I had spent yet another night in the office, but the end was near. We’d deliver the project at 10 AM in the morning and it was looking like it was all ready to go. Well, except for the admin interface where the White Castle people could go in and moderate peoples’ profiles. That part would be ready in a few weeks and wasn’t seen as a show-stopper. Until it was done, White Castle could call us and get inappropriate things removed.

So it was 10 AM, and we had the call to hand-off the website to White Castle. It was important that we met the 10 AM deadline as they were already advertising the site launch in advance. Everything tested fine and there were no error that came through as people created profiles, so we decided to go home to get some sleep.

Obviously at this point, White Castle called up in a panic:

“People are posting the most horrible things! We need them taken down NOW!”.

We logged onto the site and encountered hilarity

  • Stories going into detail about the huge White Castle shits people take due to the food. ¬†They described the rainbow of colors, textures, sizes, and how various menu items affected their fecal output. ¬†Some of the best writing I’ve seen, A+.
  • Stories about getting wasted on every type of drug imaginable and going to White Castle
  • Stories about fucking in the bathroom
  • Stories about gang violence and racism at White Castle
  • PETA posting pictures of cow carcasses and calling everyone murderers

What the fuck did you expect, White Castle? Welcome to the Internet.  This is two years after Harold and Kumar.

The aftermath and closure of TrueCastleStories.com

After laughing uncontrollably for weeks, I felt bad for the people internally leading the doomed project at White Castle. They really cared about the brand and were openly devastated that all their hard work was being ripped apart by the very people that supported the company financially. The stories and profiles that were taken down were mostly created out of love. People were fondly remembering the time they took extacy and fucked in the dumpster out back. But White Castle as a brand can’t cultivate a community around illicit drug use, binge eating, and digestive problems even if that is their core customer.

The sad part was that all of the advertising was purchased in advance. TV and radio spots played all throughout the summer. This meant that the show had to go on. Sporadic updates were made on the project, but that was just putting lipstick on the pig. A year later, the plug was pulled. I don’t know what happened to the stakeholders at White Castle, but I imagine it was a special brand of torture. They got to see their baby come to life, only to realize it was a demon-baby. Then they had to euthanize it. Seriously, I hope they were just fired.

Maybe it was a dumb idea to begin with, but it was bold thinking in a landscape of copycats and timidness.

How’d this wreck my chances for a normal life?

After putting in all that time working, it was time to get my reward. I had chosen to work at start-ups because of the hype around getting ownership and bought out and how ordinary schmucks like me would get millions.  Yes I was young and naive, why do you ask?

I remember sitting in shock, staring at that 7% figure. I was making $50K at the time. It was somewhere around a $4,000 per year raise and I was assured it was very good percentage-wise. I don’t mean to be ungrateful, because it’s not a tiny amount of money… but I made more than that by playing online poker in my spare time each month. Spare time that I had given up to sleep in the office.

While my boss talked, I did napkin¬†math in my head. ¬†$4,000 divided by 10 months is $400 per month, divided by 4 weeks is $100 per week. ¬†If I work an additional 20 hours per week to get that $100, I’m making… $5 an hour.

Any motivation I had for the 9-5 world completely dissipated. My quality of work plummeted.  The dart board and Old English in the pop machine interested me much more than programming.   It was only a few months before I got fired.

I still go to White Castle once a year

Now and then I’ll find myself near a White Castle, and wander inside to remind myself that it’s not my type of food. ¬†I did the same with the office life, heading back for a year to program after playing poker for a few years. ¬†But neither White Castle nor an office job agree with me. ¬†Even if I want them to.

What is your True Castle Story?

Let’s keep TCS alive. ¬†Post your White Castle story in the comments.