What are you afraid of?

What are you afraid of?

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

Next destination

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!

Be Intentional,

Joe

3 days in Hong Kong

3 days in Hong Kong

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.

Be Intentional,

Joe

A practical guide to planning and packing for trips

A practical guide to planning and packing for trips

Planning

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:

Start early

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.

Mindset

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.

Where?

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.).

Basic Research

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?

Initial bookings

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.

Organize

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.

Deeper research

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

Packing

“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…

Be Intentional,

Joe

Around the world in 18 days

Around the world in 18 days

A few years ago, my family and I took a one month mini-retirement to Ireland and England.  Before that trip, we applied for two British Airways Visa cards (one for my wife, one for me).  Each card gave 100,000 frequent flier miles for signing up and meeting a minimum spend.  We used some of the miles on that trip, but most of them have been sitting unused (dumb!).  I recently got an email that said the miles were about to expire, so I did what most people would do.  I booked an 18-day, 25,000-mile trip around the world.  I’m leaving soon and I’d love to have you follow along.

A bit about the trip

I’ll keep the specific destinations under wraps for now, other than to say I’ll be leaving home and flying west.  My itinerary has 10 flights and I’ll be spending time in 4 countries (plus two more for connecting flights).  That’s waaaaay more stops than I would normally recommend for a trip of this length, but I’m not really looking at the trip as a relaxing vacation.  Instead I’m viewing it as a bit of a combo between a work trip and a lifestyle experiment that will give me some interesting things to write about at Intentional Retirement (as well as our Facebook page).  I’m able to connect into my work computer remotely and I have a phone plan that works seamlessly in 170 countries, so I’ll be communicating with clients and working a “normal” day most days.  I also have some fun activities booked at each destination, so I’ll be writing about those, as well as about things like how I plan trips, how to pack, demystifying travel, spontaneity, being proactive in retirement, designing your ideal lifestyle, taking risks, finding your purpose, location independence, remote work, overcoming excuses and living an intentional life.

Why?

The expiring miles were a good excuse, but truth be told, the trip has a bigger purpose.  My goal with Intentional Retirement is not just to sell books or write articles, but to help people actually make positive changes in their lives.  To nudge them from apathy to action.  So I hope the trip is fun and interesting, but mostly I hope it inspires you, in some small way, to get your own dreams off the drawing board.

Up next

Next week I’ll post an article or two about how I plan trips and what I’m packing for this trip (hint: almost nothing).  Then I’ll hit the road.  I’ll be posting articles to the site as I go, but I’ll also be posting some pictures and videos to our Facebook page, so follow along there to see the good, the bad and the ugly of how the trip is going.  And if you have any friends who might be interested in following along (or who, like you, want to live an intentional, meaningful life), please email this article to them or share it on social media.  Have a great weekend!  And as always…

Be Intentional,

Joe

A Long Life vs. A Good Life

A Long Life vs. A Good Life

Hardly a day goes by that I don’t see an article about how to live a longer life.  Drink coffee.  Don’t drink coffee.  Eat a paleo diet.  Be a vegetarian.  Do yoga. Meditate.  Do this to avoid Alzheimer’s.  Do that to minimize the risk of prostate cancer.  Of course, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be healthy and live a long life, but what about actually having a life worth living?  Isn’t that more important?

A long life is good, but only if you’re healthy, happy and fulfilled.  So try to get your recommended fruit and veg, but don’t forget why you want those extra years to begin with.  Is it just to be alive?  To check off another year on planet earth?  Or is it to actually use those years to live a meaningful life?  Of course, everyone would say it’s the latter, but our actions don’t always reflect that. We procrastinate.  We don’t take our plans and dreams seriously.  We put things off until “someday.”  How can we do better?  Below are a few practical ways to add life to your years (rather than just years to your life).  Each is punctuated with a quote taken from the essay On the Shortness of Life by Seneca.

Spend

Carl Sandburg once said “Time is the coin of your life.  It is the only coin you have and only you can determine how it will be spent.”  A few extra years would be great, but how have you spent the last 10 years?  How are you spending this year?  How about today?  Stop wishing for more time and start actually using the time you have wisely.

“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing.”

Simplify

Don’t spend your precious time and money pursuing and maintaining a lifestyle that isn’t what you want.  That feels pointless and toilsome.  Decide what’s important to you.  Invest in that.  Cut out everything else.

“It is inevitable that life will be not just very short but very miserable for those who acquire by great toil what they must keep by greater toil. They achieve what they want laboriously; they possess what they have achieved anxiously; and meanwhile they take no account of time that will never more return.”

Start

One of the biggest unintended consequences of “planning for retirement” is that it trains us to procrastinate.  Yes, it’s important to save for your future, but that doesn’t mean ignoring your present.  Life is meant to be lived.  If you’re trading the very best of your present for some uncertain future, you’re doing it wrong.  Plan for your future.  Make the most of your present.  Those things aren’t mutually exclusive.

“Putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future. The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today. You are arranging what lies in Fortune’s control, and abandoning what lies in yours. What are you looking at? To what goal are you straining? The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.”

Be Intentional,

Joe