Oh, The Places You’ll Go: My Year in Travel (2013)

For the past five years, travel has been one of my top priorities. I’ve made a habit of taking two major international trips each year. This year was no exception. In 2013, I visited six other countries (three for the first time). I also got a chance for first visits to several states.


In early January, I flew to Houston, Texas to visit with Toni and Amy. Toni and I spent three days giving Amy advice about blogging and marketing. In turn, Amy and her husband treated us to great meals and good wine.

Toni snaps a photo of her 40th birthday dessert
Toni snaps a photo of her 40th birthday dessert

When I returned from my trip to Texas, I embarked upon a one-month detox in which I consumed no alcohol, no caffeine, and very little sugar. My body was grateful.


I didn’t travel in February, but I did move house. After a year in an apartment, I bought a lovely condo in a popular Portland neighborhood.

Becca, Baker, and Kim helping with the move…

Moving in was an adventure. Not quite a vacation, I guess, but still fun.


In late March, Kim and I took our first long trip together. We started with a week in Paris, France. We ate a lot of cheese and drank a lot of wine. Because Kim was still recovering from shoulder surgery, we didn’t do anything too adventurous, but we had fun.

Wine and cheese in France…

After our week in France, we took the train to London, where we rented a car and headed out into the countryside with no plans. We spent a couple of days driving through the beautiful hills and valleys near Bath and Coventry.


Then we drove north through the Lake District and on into Scotland. In cold, cold Edinburgh, we were delighted by the warmth of the people, especially Frank, a friend of a friend. Frank and his family showed us around the city.

Whisky and cheese in Scotland…

After four days in Scotland, we had a marathon day of driving (while both of us were sick!) to reach London’s Gatwick airport and our flight to Norway.


Our trip continued with four nights in Oslo and Bergen, where we joined Chris Guillebeau’s “End of the World” party.

Touring the Viking Museum in Oslo…

We had a good time in Norway, but were glad to escape the high prices and return to London, where we spent four days experiencing everything the city had to offer.

After three weeks on the road, we flew home, rested and happy.


During the month of May, my only escape was for two nights in central Oregon’s Sunriver Resort, where Kim and I joined some friends for an annual weekend away.


June was filled with quick getaways. First, Kim and I spent two nights at the Allison Inn and Spa in Newberg, Oregon. We drove around wine country, got massages, and generally just relaxed.

Then I flew to Cincinnati, Ohio (by way of northern Kentucky) for two days at the Savvy Blogging Summit. Finally, we spent three days in Groveland, California (outside Yosemite National park) to celebrate the birth of Kim’s new nephew, Porter.

The weather was hot, so we spent an afternoon cooling off underneath a waterfall.

After we flew home, I jumped right into work for the third-annual World Domination Summit, which was a smashing success.


I didn’t travel in July, but spent the month reorganizing my life in preparation for new projects. Plus, Kim moved into the condo with me.


At the start of August, Kim and I drove to Boise to visit her father. The highlight of the trip was an afternoon float down the Boise River.

Also in August, we spent a weekend on the Oregon Coast for the wedding of one of Kim’s colleagues.

After three relaxing days at the beach, we drove north to catch a seven-day Alaskan cruise. On the boat, we ate and drank too much. Off the boat, we explored the Alaskan wilderness, including an amazing trip into the heart of a melting glacier.

No joke. This was one of the highlights of my life.

When we returned from the cruise, I had two days to pack before my next trip.


I spent most of September in Ecuador. First, I flew to Quito, where I spent ten days participating in a retreat about wealth and happiness.

Pete and Amy look on raptly as I share some brilliant insight…

When work was finished, I fulfilled a life-long ambition: I spent five days in and among the Galápagos Islands. The experience was magical.

Everywhere you go on the Galápagos, there are sea lions.

After nearly three weeks away, I flew home to resume work on a couple of big projects.


In mid-October, I spent three nights in St. Louis, Missouri for the third annual Financial Blogger Conference. This year, I acted as emcee, which gave me a chance to practice my speaking skills while taking some pressure off conference organizer Philip Taylor. This was the best Fincon yet.

At the end of October, Kim and I took a spontaneous 24-hour vacation to Hood River, which lies just an hour east of Portland. I’d never explored the area. Turns out it’s actually pretty darn fun — a great place for a quick escape.

Hanging out in Hood River…


During the first weekend in November, we drove to Coeur d’Alene in northern Idaho, where we spent three nights at the Coeur d’Alene Resort. The tourist season had ended and it was very cold, so there wasn’t a lot to do. We explored the town anyhow, and enjoyed a tour of the hotel’s vast wine collection.

Exploring the wine cellars at the Coeur d’Alene Resort…


For Christmas, we flew to Bigfork, Montana, a small town on the edge of Glacier National Park. There we enjoyed the hospitality of extended family. We slept a lot and took daily walks in the snow.

Hiking to cut our Christmas tree…


By my count (which, admittedly, may be a little off), here’s how much time I spent away from home last year (not counting nights at Kim’s place). Bold indicates a new state or country for me.

  • Other Oregon locations — 7 nights
  • Texas — 3 nights
  • California — 3 nights
  • Ohio — 2 nights
  • Idaho — 6 nights
  • Missouri — 5 nights
  • Montana — 6 nights
  • Alaska — 5 nights
  • Washington — 1 night
  • Canada — 1 night
  • France — 7 nights
  • England — 7 nights
  • Scotland — 4 nights
  • Norway — 4 nights
  • Ecuador — 16 nights

That’s seven nights around Oregon, 31 nights in eight other U.S. states (including the entire Pacific Northwest!), and 39 nights abroad, for a total of 77 nights away from home. I spent roughly one-fifth of my time sleeping in strange beds this year. (Thus the reason I’m reluctant to commit to things like pets or location-dependent work!)


Next year, it’s unlikely that I’ll travel as much. For one, I’m trying to save money. For another, I want to focus more on work. Also, I want to get into more of routine here at home. Still, I plan to make a return trip to Ecuador (with Kim) in the summer. Plus, I’ll make at least three trips to California in 2014, will visit Hawaii for the first time, will probably make a short visit to New York, and will get an introduction to New Orleans, Louisiana!

Travel remains a priority for me, and 2015 may see some of my biggest adventures yet. But I’ll admit: I’m looking forward to a bit more stability in the year ahead.

Scrawny to Brawny: Eating a Big-Ass Breakfast

In early November, I joined an online fitness forum. Scrawny to Brawny is a year-long program designed to provide structure, feedback, and support while helping participants build lean muscle mass and strength. To start, though, we simply “bulk up”.

Every two weeks, those of us doing Scrawny to Brawny (S2B) are assigned a new “habit”. We do this habit every day for fourteen days. The S2B website asks us to report on our compliance (as well as compliance with workouts and other assignments). After two weeks, we’re expected to continue with each new habit, although we no longer report on it. Instead, focus shifts to a new habit.

Our first habit was to drink three “super shakes” per day. (Each super shake is composed of a bit of milk, a bit of ice, a bit of fruit, a bit of vegetable, and a scoop of protein powder.) Our second habit was to practice good posture and to perform a series of daily stretches. Our third habit — the one we’re practicing right now — is to eat a “muscle breakfast”. While the first two habits were tough, I eventually made them part of my daily routine (and continue to practice them, which is the point). This third habit, though, is killing me.

You see, I’m not a big breakfast guy. I like traditional breakfast foods, such as pancakes and bacon, but on a typical day I don’t eat breakfast until three or four hours after I get out of bed. Even then, it’s usually just a piece of toast (with almond butter) or something similarly simple. When I started the super shake habit, that became my breakfast. I especially dislike eating before my daily workout.

Now, however, the muscle breakfast has reared its ugly head. Every day, we’re supposed to eat:

  • 4 whole eggs
  • about 200 grams of lean meat (ground beef, sliced ham or turkey etc.)
  • ½ cup of oats (dry measure)
  • 2 tablespoons of nut butter (peanut, almond, cashew, pecan etc.)
  • 2 servings of fresh veggies
  • 1 medium piece of fruit, or 1 cup berries
  • 2 tablespoons of a “topper” (sundried tomatoes, pesto, hummus, tomato sauce, spice & herbs, etc.)
  • 1 glass of 

Ho. Ly. Cats.

This habit is hard for me. That’s a huge amount of food, especially for breakfast. It’s tough to wolf it down when I have no appetite. Some days, I have to set aside half of my meal to eat the next day. (Plus, don’t forget, I’m also drinking about 1000 calories worth of super shakes each day, plus eating lunch and dinner!)

At this very moment, I’m staring at a plate filled with 3-1/2 eggs and one chicken sausage. I’ve eaten the other stuff on the list (except the fruit), but there’s no way I’m going to get the rest of this plate down anytime soon. I get nauseated just thinking about taking another bite.

So why keep at it?

This whole Scrawny to Brawny thing is a fun experiment for me. My body is built for long, slow distances. It likes to run and to bike. Its ideal form of exercise is hiking. I can go for hours on end while trekking at high altitude with a pack on my back. I’ve seen other, fitter fellows knocked on their butts by that kind of activity, but my body likes it. It’s what evolution (or god, if you prefer) has designed me to do.

My body is less good at lifting heavy weights. Yet I enjoy this sort of training too. I thought it would be fun to spend a year building muscle in order to see what I’m capable of achieving. Plus, this has provided motivation to get back in shape. (I’d begun the slide into flabbiness.)

As part of the S2B program, we’re required to take monthly photographs of our progress. After only a few weeks, there’s not a lot of visual difference between now and the time I started — except for my back. Most of my exercise the past month has been focused on building back and core strength so that I can move on to more common lifts with good form. I was skeptical that anything had actually changed until I saw this:

Untitled   IMG_0970
The photo on the left is from 11 November 2014. The one on the right is from 14 December.

That’s not a huge change, obviously, but it’s enough. I can see the difference, and I can feel it. So can Kim. Whatever I’m doing seems to be working.

Last weekend, I talked with Cody, my Crossfit trainer (and friend). I told him how tough this was for me mentally. He knows. Most of my life, I’ve been fat. I have a huge mental barrier to being fat again. To willingly pack on the pounds by stuffing my face every day goes against every fiber of my being.

“Trust the process,” Cody told me. “You’re going to gain weight, and some of it’s going to go to your belly. You’ll shed those excess pounds later. You’re bulking now, and you’ll shred in the summer.”

And so, I’m going to trust the process. But it’s not easy!

Following My Own Advice

Because I’m a blogger, I’ve come to know a lot of other bloggers. And because I blog about self-improvement, I tend to know many bloggers who also write about becoming a better person. Over the years, I’ve learned that those of us in this niche often write about our chosen topics because these are the things we struggle with personally. For instance, my buddy Leo from Zen Habits has a website about balance because that’s something that he’s not naturally good at. It takes work for him.

That’s why I started Get Rich Slowly too. I wasn’t naturally good with money, so I wrote about my progress as I tried to get better. Even today, after nearly a decade of reading and writing about the subject, smart money management takes work for me. It’s not a reflex.

I mention this because I’ve noticed lately that I don’t always take my own advice.

That is, I know what I ought to do in a given situation — and I don’t just mean with money, here — but I can’t always make the right choice, even when I know what that choice is.

Some examples:

  • I write a lot about living for yourself and not for other people. In fact, that’s the whole theme of my (as-yet-unpublished) material on obtaining personal freedom. Yet, I still sometimes make choices in an effort to please others. These decisions range from the very small — whether or not to attend book group, for instance — to the very large — choosing which projects deserve my attention during the day.
  • Along the same lines, I don’t think it’s fair for us to expect others to behave the way we want them to behave. We have to accept people as they are instead of trying to impose our wills on them. Sure, relationships involve some degree of compromise, but ideally both people can just be wholly themselves. Well, sometimes I want my friends to be something other than they are. I want them to be ideal versions of themselves. This is unfair of me.
  • Despite my best efforts, I sometimes take things personally. I understand intellectually that nothing anyone else does is because of me. What others say and do is based on their experience and their reality — not mine. But having an intellectual understanding of this is different than having an emotional understanding.
  • Finally, I sometimes make mistakes. I do and say things that aren’t true to who I am, things that are hurtful to others and to my own integrity. I know this is a very human flaw, but that’s no excuse. I’ve done some very dumb things over the past year. I ought to make better decisions.

It’s not that I expect myself to be perfect — although perfectionism is definitely something I wrestle with — but that I feel I’m capable of so much more.

Being aware of my mistakes is a great start, I think. I cannot change or improve if I’m not even conscious that there are areas that need change and improvement. But change requires more than just wishful thinking. Change requires action. If I want to be a better man, I need to be a better man.

Starting today.

How to Become a Writer

More often than you might expect, I get questions about how to become a writer. Specifically, how to become a writer online. Just this morning, for instance, I spent half an hour on the phone with Kimberlee, who wants to make the move from academic to science writer but doesn’t know where to start.

I don’t feel like an expert on this subject — far from it — but I do have some opinions based on my personal experience. Here’s my advice for folks who want to become writers:

  • Tell stories. When I speak at conferences, I try to hammer home this point. My talk at the first Fincon was about the power of story. I’ve stressed the importance of story at the Savvy Blogging Summit. For WDS 2013, I secretly fostered a story-based theme among the keynote speakers. Why? Because people relate to stories. Even if they can’t identify with you and your specific circumstances, stories help them relate to the point you’re trying to make. Story provides context. It’s illustrative. It’s one thing to describe the dangers of credit cards; it’s another to share actual anecdotes of people who’ve spent years trying to recover from stupid spending. When possible, tell a story.
  • Be conversational. In college, I was taught to write in an academic style. Contractions were frowned upon. First person was forbidden. Everything was formal. As a result, everything was also lifeless and dull. In time, I’ve come to realize that good writing — especially for mass consumption — is conversational. In fact, when I work with actual magazine and book editors, they often ask me to be even more informal than I alraedy am. (I didn’t fully embrace contractions until working on Your Money: The Missing Manual. My editor was changing every instance of “you will” to “you’ll”, etc., which helped me realize that contractions make things easier to read. They’re an ally, not an enemy!)
  • Develop your voice. Fifteen years ago, when I began to get serious about writing, my stories mimicked other authors. I wrote a story that was a combination of Charles Dickens and Patrick Süskind. I wrote a story that was all Faulkner and one that was clearly an homage to Hemingway. This sort of imitation is natural, but it’s not sustainable. In time, I found my own voice. I learned to write like J.D. Roth instead of like somebody else. Write in a way that feels easy to you. That’s your voice.
  • Hone your craft. The best writers I know work to improve their skills. They read voraciously; as they do, they pay attention to how good writing works. After reading a great piece, they re-read it to find the form and struture. I once attended a reading by David Sedaris. I was fascinated by the way he’d calmly make a mark on the page every time the audience roared with laughter. He was learning from his audience — and I was learning from him. Good writers also take classes and read writing manuals (such as those listed below). Real writers generate a ton of material that never sees publication. I write all day long, but only about ten percent of what I produce ever sees the light of day. The rest is practice.
  • Edit, edit, edit. Eighty percent of writing is editing. Okay, that’s not a scientific number, but you get the idea. You should spend more time editing a piece than you do writing it — generally much more time. When I was younger, I was one of those stereotypical writers who thought his work was art. It was sacred. Criticism bothered me, and I hated when others offered suggestions for improvement. When somebody edited my work, I felt like they were saying I’d done something wrong. After nearly a decade of writing every day, I have a different perspective. My goal is to communicate clearly with my audience. To do that, I need to edit my own material. I need to polish it, smoothing away the rough edges. And if other people want to help me do that work, so much the better!
  • Write. If you want to be a writer, you have to write. Thinking about writing doesn’t make you a writer, and neither does talking about writing. A writer writes. End of story.

None of this is new, I know. But there’s a reason everyone offers the same advice. It’s because these are the things you need to do to become an effective writer. Like anything else, it takes practices to get good at this job. I often think of Malcolm Gladwell’s point in Outliers. He notes that research indicates that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to become truly proficient at a skill. That’s five years of full-time work. Over the past decade, I estimate I’ve spent around 15,000 hours writing — maybe more. That’s enough time for me to feel comfortable with my craft, to reach a level where I can confidently say, “Yes, I’m a writer.”

At dinner recently, Kathleen (of Frugal Portland) and I talked about writing. She thinks she might register for a community college writing class to improve her skills.

“That’s a great idea,” I said. “I do that every few years. I know I write well, but there’s always room for improvement. I learn tons every time I take a class. And since one of my goals for 2014 is to write a novel, I feel like I should take a class again soon.”

Kathleen showed me the book she was reading, If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland. “Have you heard of it?” she asked. “It’s awesome. She wrote it in 1938 as a guide to her writing students, but a lot of it isn’t even about writing. For instance, she talks about how you can jump-start the creative process just by going for a walk. She used to walk several miles a day, and she says it helped her write better.”

I smiled. “Yes, I’ve heard of the book,” I said. “It’s one of my favorites.” I opened Kathleen’s copy to the first page and pointed to the title of the first chapter: Everyone is talented, original, and has something important to say. “I’ve incorporated that idea into my personal philosophy. I truly believe it.”

“In fact, this is one of the books I push on people all the time. I always have a few copies on hand to give to aspiring writers. I have three at home write now.” (Actually, it turns out I have four copies here in my office.)

“Would you be interested in a list of my favorite books about writing?” I asked.

“Oh, yes,” Kathleen said.

“Done,” I said.

Here are three of my favorite books about writing:

  • If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland. This is an inspirational book that many return to in order to escape the dreaded writer’s block. (In fact, I may re-read a bit of it later today.)
  • On Writing Well by William Zinsser. This book is primarily about writing nonfiction. It offers lots of advice about the actual craft of writing, including clarity, revision, tone, and more. This is another book I keep on hand to give away. (Also see Writing to Learn by the same author.)
  • Weinberg on Writing: The Fieldstone Method by Gerald M. Weinberg. This flawed but brilliant manual describes the author’s method for organizing writing ideas. It’s sort of a left-brained approach to a write-brained activity. I think it’s especially useful for bloggers and magazine columnists.

There are many other books I like, including:

Many people I know like Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (although, curiously, none of these people are writers). Most folks love Lamott’s style. I don’t. She has some good things to say, but I find her manner twee. It’s grating. I’m in a small minority, though, and you will probably love her, just like everybody else.

Every writer has room for improvement. Most of us write every day, and that’s great — that’s the best way to develop skill — but there are other things we could (and should) do to hone our craft. Take classes. Join writing groups. Read books. And, most of all, occasionally do work that requires an editor.