I mentioned that the book I brought on this trip was Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, ruler of the Roman Empire from 161 to 180 AD. To the extent that I read books on philosophy, I tend to enjoy those that give practical insights into how we should live. As a Christian, I read the Bible on a regular basis for that type of instruction, but I also enjoy reading the occasional Stoic, such as Seneca, Epictetus and the aforementioned Marcus. (Note: I’m not equating Christianity and Stoicism. There are certainly differences between the two (e.g. religion vs. philosophy), but some similarities as well. In particular, their emphasis on things like wisdom, kindness, humility, stewardship, contentment and self-control).
As I was reading at breakfast this morning, this passage from Meditations caught my eye:
“Suppose that a god announced that you were going to die tomorrow or the day after. Unless you were a complete coward you wouldn’t kick up a fuss about which day it was—what difference could it make? Now recognize that the difference between years from now and tomorrow is just as small.”
That is so true. How many times have you looked back on a year or two or ten and thought about how quickly they passed?
If I told you that you were going to die 30 days from now, you would likely use those days very intentionally, spending time with those you love, mending relationships, maybe even doing a few of the undone things on your bucket list. I think the point Marcus is trying to make is that if I told you that you were going to die 30 years from now, it should produce the same response. The difference between 30 days and 30 years is minimal. They will both go by in the blink of an eye. So be very intentional with each day. Don’t procrastinate or put things off until “Someday.” Don’t use “retirement” as an excuse for life avoidance or as a synonym for when you actually plan to start living. The clock is ticking and, even if you have decades left, you barely have any time at all. Be intentional and make the most of it.
Where is Joe?
Good question! I’m starting to get a little confused myself. Apologies for being behind on my writing. I mentioned in my last post that I was in Italy. I flew from Paris to Naples and then from there spent several days in a little seaside town called Positano. From there I went to Munich, Germany where I connected with a few friends, explored the huge open-air market, and took several tours, including a beer and food tour of the city’s many breweries. I’ll write more about all that soon, but for now, I’m in London and I’ve got a flight to catch as I keep pushing west. I hope you’re doing well, wherever you are today.
France is a few days in my rear-view mirror, but I still wanted to share a few quick stories about my time there. I flew from Hong Kong to London to Paris (HKG to LHR to CDG in airport parlance), picked up a rental car and drove a few hours to the charming town of Bayeux in the Normandy region of France. I rented a little flat on a quiet back street and used that as a jumping off point for several days of adventure.
Just walking around the town was an experience. I’m always awed by how old everything is in Europe. The origins of the town of Bayeux can be traced back to a Gallo-Roman settlement in the first century BC. It has survived a number of invaders over the years, from the Viking raids in the 9th century to Hitler in the 20th. I was fascinated by the cathedral, which is 1,000 years old, and the central role it played in William the Conqueror’s invasion of England (Visit our Facebook page for a bit more on that story and to see a short video I took of the bells ringing one night as I walked back to my flat).
I chose Bayeux, because I wanted to tour the World War II sites around Normandy. My wife and I were in Paris several years ago and my one regret from that trip was that we didn’t have time for a Normandy day trip, so I wanted to right that wrong.
To make the most of my time, I hired an experienced guide named Colin McGarry. He’s originally from England, but met and married a French girl years ago and has been guiding around Normandy since the 1980’s. He met me at me flat the morning after my arrival and we drove first to Omaha Beach. He spent time talking about the big themes of the invasion (e.g. strategy, logistics, etc.), but also took a deep dive into many personal stories and recollections of both Americans and their German counterparts on that day of days. I’ve read several books on World War II and watched a number of films like Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan, but nothing can quite bring that history alive like walking the beach where so many struggled ashore or running your hand over the broken concrete and twisted rebar of a German machine gun nest.
From the beach, we took the short drive up to the American Cemetery and spent time discussing how it came to be, the soldiers that are still missing and the upcoming 75th anniversary next year. We also walked to dozens of specific graves where Colin told me stories of heroism and heartbreak from D-Day as seen through that particular soldier’s eyes. Throughout the rest of the day, we visited a number of other sites around the area including Utah Beach, Pointe du Hoc, St. Mere Eglise, Brecourt Manor, St. Mere du Mont and Carentan. The entire day was both fascinating and, as you might imagine, very moving. If you enjoy history, I’d encourage you to add Normandy to your to-do list and if you want to do it with a guide, hire Colin. He was wonderful. Touch base with me and I’ll send you his contact info or you can Google his name and track him down on the internet.
The next day I drove a few hours south and west of Bayeux to Mont Saint-Michel. It is a small island, a few hundred meters off shore, that has a population of about 50 and is home to a famous monastery built in the 8th century. Because it is relatively close to shore, the island is completely surrounded by water during high tide, but is accessible to visitors when the tide is out. I paid a few Euro for an audio guide and spent time walking from building to building and room to room around the 17-acre site, learning about the hundreds of years of history that preceded my visit. I finished around noon and was starting to get hungry, so I stopped into a small restaurant for lunch and ordered a meal that the island has become famous for: a very fluffy omelet. When it first arrives, you think you will have a hard time eating it all, but when your fork slices through it, you realize it has an omelet texture on the outside and an airy fluff of egg bubbles on the inside. The best way I can describe it is to imagine the head of foam on a beer. That is the texture of the inside of the omelet.
An unexpected surprise
Hunger satisfied, I returned to my car and punched in the coordinates for a little town called Villedieu-les Poêlles. Before leaving home, I read an article about a famous cookware company in the town called Mauviel 1830. My wife loves to cook, so I thought I’d swing by the town, tour the copper workshops and see if I could find her a gift that she would enjoy and, perhaps more importantly, would fit in my backpack. When I got to the town, I stopped by the tourism office for directions and learned that Mauviel was not the only artisan factory in the town. In fact, the town was loaded with craftsmen (and women) who, along with their predecessors, had been practicing their trades there since the middle ages.
One in particular that sounded fascinating to me was a bell foundry that is the source of the bells for many of the famous cathedrals in France and around the world. A tour was 8 euros, which ended up being the bargain of the trip. Touring the foundry and learning about the process (little changed for hundreds of years) that goes into making a bell was fascinating. When hired to produce a bell, the craftsman chalks the weight of the bell and the name of the church onto the wooden beam above his station. Then, using a mixture of clay, horse manure and goat hair, he crafts an interior and exterior mold for the bell that, when fitted together, leave a cavity inside where the molten brass is poured. That all sounds difficult enough, until you learn of the complex math involved in calculating the appropriate shape and thickness of the bell so that it will ring the desired note (requested by the church) in perfect pitch over its 250-year life. Today, the calculations are performed by computer. For the hundreds of years prior, the craftsmen had only their brain power, pencil and paper to do the math. Again, it was all really fascinating. Visit our Facebook page for pictures.
After the tour, the day was growing short and I still had a 4-hour drive back to Paris, so I hit the road. I made it to the airport around 10 pm, dropped off the rental car and took a taxi to my hotel. After a few hours sleep, it was back to the airport for an early morning flight to Italy and the next leg of the trip. More on that soon. Thanks for following along.
What are you afraid of? Be honest. We all have stuff that scares us. Maybe it’s something big. Maybe small. Regardless of what it is, the outcome is often the same: Stasis. Fear acts as a roadblock that keeps us from doing something. Fear is often the great preserver of the status quo. It keeps you from having that uncomfortable conversation with your spouse or friend. It keeps you from going to the doctor. Or asking for a raise. Or joining the gym. Or dealing with an addiction. Or moving to a new town. Or changing jobs. Or starting a business. Or making new friends. Or traveling. These fears, big and small, stop us in our tracks and the longer we allow them to persist, the more insurmountable they seem.
But here’s the thing. Almost every fear that you and I have—those things that have been holding us back for years and that are keeping us from the things that we genuinely want from life—can be overcome with a few seconds of uncomfortable action. It reminds me of that quote from Matt Damon’s character in the movie We Bought a Zoo:
“Sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage. Just literally 20 seconds of embarrassing bravery and I promise you something great will come of it.”
This is true because fear isn’t something that persists for very long in the face of action. Once you start, the fear subsides and you focus on the action at hand. In that sense, inaction is much more uncomfortable than action because the fear and anxiety of inaction is a long-term state. We marinate in it, sometimes for years. Once you start, however, and push through the fear with a short burst of bravery, the fear subsides and your focus shifts to whatever it is that you’re doing.
I’m writing about this idea because I’ve had constant reminders about it on this trip. When traveling, especially internationally, there are dozens of little fears that crop up. Not being able to speak the language. Driving a rental car in a strange city. Figuring out the subway. Those things can make you want to curl up in a ball in your hotel room and cry. Fortunately, inaction isn’t really a choice. Scared of driving? Too bad. You’ve got 100 cars behind you. Subway make you nervous? Unless you want to sleep at the airport, you’d better take a stab at it. So you do. And…hey…what do you know! You figure it out. Maybe you didn’t do it perfectly, but you survived. You learned something and built a bit of confidence that you can keep in your back pocket for the next challenge. More importantly, fear vanquished, you get to do the thing that you’ve been wanting to do. String a bunch of those together and you have a life that is rewarding and untarnished by regret.
So I’ll ask again: What are you afraid of? Whatever it is, you have a choice. You can let it fester and keep you from the life you want or you can muster 20 seconds of bravery and take the first step toward resolution. Choose the former and you’ll likely be miserable. Choose the latter and you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner. Good things are just on the other side of an impermanent barrier that can be breached with a few seconds of bravery. What are you waiting for?
“Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. What if they are a little coarse and you may get your coat soiled or torn? What if you do fail, and get fairly rolled in the dirt once or twice? Up again, you shall never be so afraid of a tumble.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
I wrapped up my time in France yesterday and hopped an early morning flight to Naples, Italy. From there I came to a little seaside town on the Amalfi Coast called Positano. I’ve got four days here with a few concentrated on work and a few for activities (e.g. visiting Pompei and Vesuvius, hiking the Sentiero degli Dei (Path of the Gods), etc.). I’ll get a post up soon filling you in on my time in France. Thanks for following along!
Greetings from Hong Kong! The trip has been great so far. The flight from LA was a bit of a marathon (I slept for eight hours and still had time to watch four movies), but the payoff has been worth it. The city is a super interesting mix of people, cultures and activities. In many ways it is one of the most developed cities in the world. The public transportation system is the best I’ve ever used, the cityscape is jaw dropping and the restaurants and shopping are top notch. In other ways it feels a bit exotic. You can haggle for goods at local street markets, buy unusual food at street stalls or spend hours just exploring the endless streets and back lanes.
There is so much to do, that three months wouldn’t be enough to do it justice. That’s good news though, because no matter how long your itinerary, you’ll have plenty to fill your days with enough left over to warrant a return trip. I only had three days, so I hit the ground running. I landed about 8 in the morning, went through immigration, picked up my pre-purchased train pass from the MTR counter and headed into town. The airport is on an island outside the city, but the train whisks you from that island to Kowloon and then to Hong Kong.
I found my hotel with no trouble, but it was too early to check in, so I just dropped my bag (“Excuse me sir. Is this your only bag?”) and went out to grab some food. My brother-in-law is a pilot and told me about a local chain called Tim Ho Wan that has good food at a reasonable price. As luck would have it, there was one nearby, so I walked there and managed to order a tasty lunch by pointing at things on the menu and hoping for the best. The food was good, but I also ended up having company. The restaurant was crowded and I was sitting by myself at a small table when a woman and her daughter walked up and asked if they could sit with me because there were no other seats. That’s not something you’d expect in the US, but it was great. The woman was originally from Hong Kong, but they now lived in London and were just back visiting her mother. They were kind enough to help me plan out my day and gave me some recommendations for things to see and do.
I eventually got checked into the hotel and spent some time in the upstairs lounge catching up on work and communicating with clients, friends and family back home. That done, I went out for more exploring, the highlight of which was probably the Temple Street night market which is block after block of stalls selling everything from electronics and paintings to souvenirs and street food. I’m traveling light, so I didn’t buy any souvenirs, but the atmosphere was great.
My big activity on Day 2 was a hike called the Dragon’s Back that I booked on Airbnb. I met my guide (an ex-pat from Australia named Alex) and fellow hikers at the Shau Kei Wan MTR station and we took a bus outside the city. The hike follows a jagged ridge line that looks like a dragon’s back for about 5 miles and it ends at a little beach town called Tai Long Wan (Big Wave Bay) where we had a cold beer and a swim in the South China Sea to cool off. It was a fantastic experience. Thanks to Rory, the founder of Wild Hong Kong and our guide Alex for offering such a unique adventure.
Today I’ve got some work I need to do in the morning and then this afternoon, I plan on visiting Victoria Peak (great views of the city). Tonight I’m going to the horse races at Happy Valley where races have been held since 1846. I’m told that it’s THE place to be on Wednesday night. From there, I’ll hop the train to the airport where I’ll catch a midnight flight to London and then another flight to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. I’ll pick up a car there and head west to Normandy (I saw Paris on a previous trip) where I’ll be staying in the town of Bayeux. I hired a guide to take me on a tour around the beaches, cemeteries and other sites related to D-Day and World War II. It should be fun. Thanks for following along.
Tomorrow I get on plane and start a 25,000-mile journey around the world (I’ll share my first stop at the end of this article). The purpose of the trip is to have a little fun and to hopefully inspire and encourage each of you to be intentional and proactive with your own plans and dreams. With that in mind, I thought it would be good to start with something practical. What’s the process I use for trip planning? How can you use it to plan exciting trips before and during retirement? Here’s the process I use:
Each year, around this time, I sit down to plan our travel for the coming year. Starting early is often a must if you want to make reservations at popular places. It also gives you time to digest trip expenses and coordinate logistics (e.g. time off work, childcare, dog sitter). And don’t underestimate the benefits of anticipation. Booking early also means months of excitement and anticipation for you and your travel companions. Can you book a trip last minute? Absolutely (see also Travel Roulette). But booking early often means more availability, more time to pay, less stress and more anticipation.
Repeat after me: “Planning a trip takes effort and it will cost me some money.” Taking a trip is awesome, but planning a trip takes effort and a willingness to spend money, make decisions and even take a few risks. Those things introduce friction into the process that cause many people to quit. Push through this resistance by acknowledging ahead of time that the planning will have its challenges, but it will be worth it.
Throughout the year I jot down ideas and save articles related to places that look fun or interesting. When I sit down to plan, I whiteboard a bunch of potential ideas and then we talk about them as a family. We highlight several ideas depending on what we’re in the mood for, our budget, time frame and type of trip (e.g. outdoor, city, learning, relaxing, strenuous, group trip, etc.).
Once we have a list of places, we start doing some basic research. What is the best time of year to visit? What are the main things to see and do there? How many days do you need to do what you want to? What do available flights look like? What lodging options are available?
Once I’ve done the basic research and have the broad outlines of a trip, I try to get the big things settled. For me, that usually means airfare and lodging. Once those are booked, the trip is real (woohoo!). And by getting them done early, you can take advantage of more availability (especially if you’re booking tickets with frequent flyer miles) and lower prices. As I mentioned earlier, it also gives you time to digest expenses.
Once you start booking things, it’s important to get everything organized and outlined into a day-by-day itinerary. The easiest way I’ve found to do this is by using the TripIt app. When you get confirmation emails from airlines, Airbnb, rental car companies, and the like, just forward them to TripIt and it instantly creates a new trip for you and organizes all the details into an easy to read itinerary. I can’t say enough great things about this app. There’s a free version, but the paid version is totally worth it if you travel often.
At this point, I usually buy a few books to start doing deeper research about the place we’re visiting. If we’re going to a city, I like the City Guides from Lonely Planet. If we’re casting a wider net, I’ll get the country book by Lonely Planet or Rick Steves and I’ll also usually get something from Eyewitness Travel because the pictures help to give me a sense of the place. I’ll also use the internet to visit tourist bureau websites, blogs, and travel sites like Trip Advisor where thousands of other travelers have written reviews and talked about their favorite things to do at the place I’ll be visiting. As I find things that look fun or interesting, I’ll book them or make reservations and forward the details to TripIt. This includes things like walking tours, restaurants, sites we want to see, activities we want to do, etc. I leave room for flexibility and serendipity, but I try to give the trip enough structure so that we’re making efficient use of our days. Once everything is planned and the departure date nears, I figure out what to pack
“When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.” – Susan Heller
What type of trip? The first step to packing is to think about what type of trip you’re taking. What’s the weather like? What types of things will you be doing? Packing for a ski trip is different than packing for the beach. Packing for a destination wedding is different than packing for a camping trip. Think about what you’ll be doing, what the weather will be like, what kinds of clothes and gear you’ll need and plan accordingly.
Pick a good bag. Your luggage should match your trip. If you’re hiking the Grand Canyon, invest in a quality backpack. If you’re taking a quick weekend trip to celebrate your anniversary, a simple weekender duffel will do. If you’re planning a three-week cruise, get yourself some sturdy luggage with a bit of capacity.
Lay it all out. Lay everything out that you plan on taking and look through it with an eye on paring it down to the essentials. Do your outfits mix and match? Can you pare back bulky items, like shoes? Are you taking things that you can just as easily buy at your destination? If you take too much stuff, it’s stressful. If you don’t take enough, it’s stressful. Really think through what you’ll need and what you’re likely to use and try to strike the appropriate balance between not enough and too much
Pack it efficiently. Once you have everything finalized, pack it up. The goal is to get the maximum amount of stuff in the minimum amount of luggage, without exceeding the 50-pound weight limit that most airlines impose. That means use packing cubes, compress, roll instead of fold, etc. In other words, pack that bag like it’s a clown car.
What I’m taking
One of my inspirations for this trip is the pioneering female journalist Nellie Bly. She approached her editor in 1888 with the idea of turning the fictional account of Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days into reality and writing dispatches along the way. All she took with her was the dress she had on, an overcoat, a few changes of underwear, some toiletry items and 200 British pounds. Everything she packed fit into a small handbag. Here’s what I’m taking:
- The clothes on my back (shirt, jeans, belt, shoes, watch)
- A 25-Liter Patagonia Black Hole Backpack
- Two shirts, two pairs of lightweight pants, socks and underwear
- A few toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, floss)
- A lightweight vest and a hat for cooler weather
- My MacBook and phone so I can connect into my office and communicate with clients and people back home.
- An Anker charging block
- A Field Notes journal and pen
- One paperback book (Meditations by Marcus Aurelius)
- My passport, credit card and some cash
I’ll buy anything else I need as the trip progresses. That includes clothes, which I will buy as needed (probably just a shirt here and there) and then donate when it’s time to change. That might sound expensive at first, but it will almost certainly be cheaper than the baggage fees I’d pay if I were checking luggage on ten different flights. It should be a fun and interesting experience and I’m looking forward to talking with you along the way.
The first stop is…drumroll…Hong Kong via Los Angeles. I’ve got some fun things planned, including a visit to a famous street market, a hike called the Dragon’s Back, and plenty of food sampling. I’ll talk to when I get there. Until then…