What Should I Call This Blog?

Over four years ago, I sold Get Rich Slowly, the little personal-finance blog that I somehow built into a behemoth. After the sale, I thought I’d leave the site quickly — but I stuck around for three years.

Eventually, I moved on. I tried to return to Folded Space, the personal blog that I started in 1997, but it didn’t feel right. Instead, I moved all my writing here to jdroth.com.

“I don’t know what to call my new site,” I told my friend Adam Baker (from Man vs. Debt) at Fincon a couple of years ago.

“You can’t you just call it J.D. Roth?” he asked.

“I could,” I said. “But I want some sort of title that conveys what I’m writing about. I’m moving beyond just personal finance. I want to write about more than money.”

“Well,” he said. “Why not call it that? Why not call your blog More Than Money?”

And so this site was christened.

Time passed. I wrote about fear and happiness and freedom. Much of the time, I didn’t write. Other times, like now, I felt like I was bursting at the seams with things to say. But through it all, this site was More Than Money.

Yesterday, I received an email. A fellow named Gene Dickison wrote to tell me that he owns the trademark to ‘More Than Money’. “I respectfully request you discontinue the use of [the name],” he said.

At first, I thought it was a joke. But a quick check at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office revealed that there are several trademark registrations for “More Than Money”, including one for Dickison and his company. I spent some time reading through the trademark rules and regulations, and based on that cursory scan I felt as if my use of the name were not infringing on anyone’s rights — but at the same time, I don’t want to waste any time, money, or energy to challenge this.

I’ve exchanged email with Dickison — who, aside from making this claim, has been civil and pleasant — and told him that although I don’t agree that I’m infringing, I’ll change the name of this blog.

But to what?

Several folks on social media have recommended that I not name the blog anything. For instance, Rob from Dough Roller wrote:

Rob's recommendation on Facebook

Many people agreed that I should just call the site “J.D. Roth” and be done with it. Maybe so.

I have a couple of weeks to think about this and make a decision. What do you think I should call this blog? And while we’re at it, are there specific topics you come here to read about? I’m always amazed that this site has so many readers, especially given the random topics that I tend to cover. But then maybe that’s why you all stick around: because you know that I’ll write about early retirement, fitness, travel, and cuddly furry animals — all in one place. Thoughts?

On a completely unrelated note, I finally convinced iMovie to upload the 8-minute video I made featuring footage of last month’s our motorcycle trip along the Oregon coast:

This was my first experiment with a GoPro. And although I find much of the scenery pretty to look at, the video will probably only be of interest to hard-core motorcycle fans. You have been warned!

Which Scotch is Best? A Macallan Taste Test

Last week at Fincon, I spent some time becoming acquainted with Shannyn Allan, who writes about finance and fashion at Frugal Beautiful. Though we’ve known each other for three years, we’d never spent time getting to know each other until this conference.

Shannyn says that she can be an enigma to some men. She’s a self-confessed nerd. “Plus, most men don’t know what to think of a woman who orders a ten-year-old Scotch.”

If that’s the case, most men are dumb.

On the final night of the conference, a group of us (a horde of us, really) sat around the hotel lobby, chatting and drinking drinks. The subject of whisky came up again. Since I was sitting with Shannyn and Jim Wang (among whose many blogs is Scotch Addict), I decided to have a little fun.

I found Sylvana, the woman who’d been our waitress all week. “Sylvana,” I said, “I want a couple of glasses of your very best Scotch.”

She went behind the bar and looked at the shelf. “We have a Macallan 18,” she said.

“That’ll be just fine,” I said. I’d never tried the Macallan 18 before, but I suspected it would be good. And it was. I took a glass to Shannyn and I kept one for myself. Once Jim discovered what we were drinking, he ordered one too. We sipped the Scotch and marveled at its smooth and silky nature.

“That’s good,” Shannyn said. Jim and I nodded in agreement.

When we’d finished our drinks, I went back to Sylvana. “It’s my last order of the week,” I said, “and I’d like another glass of the Macallan.” She gave me a sly smile. Then, presumably because I’d tipped well for the last five nights, she gave me a whopper of a pour. The three of us gratefully shared the drink.

Fast-forward to last Tuesday. I was driving home from errands when Shannyn sent me a text. “Is the 15-year Macallan as good as the 18-year Macallan?” she asked. Her timing was impeccable. I was just passing the last liquor store before home. I pulled in to the parking lot.

“Don’t buy anything,” I replied. “I’ll do a little test.”

And so I bought a bottle of the 15-year Macallan and a bottle of the 18-year Macallan. Then, for good measure, I bought a bottle of the 12-year Macallan to add to the mix.

Note: Under no circumstances was this a frugal thing to do, I’m well aware. But I’m a whisky drinker. I knew that these bottles would fit nicely with my existing library of Scotches.

Then I drove home and made a little video:

As you can see, I had a lot of fun with this project. (And as you can also see, I forgot to edit the title card at the end of the clip. Haha.) It’s been pleasing to find that the folks who watch this find it as amusing as I do.

This is the second video I’ve posted this week. (It’s actually the third if you count the video of our recent motorcycle trip.) There’ll be more.

Kim and I are embarking on a fun, open-ended project in 2015 that will be very video intensive. As part of that, we’ll be filming interviews with dozens of people.

But while I feel I’m an acceptable amateur photographer, I know next to nothing about videography. I’ve solicited advice from some of my colleagues (David Hobby, Wes Wages, etc.), and their recommendations will help me track down the lighting and sound gear I need. Having good gear is great, of course, but what I need to do most right now is get practice using the gear.

To that end, I’ll be creating lots of short one-off videos. Many of them will be about silly things — like drinking Scotch. I won’t publish all of them here, but I do hope to share the best ones.

Next up? This afternoon, Kim and I are headed to Oregon’s wine country to do a bit of tasting. Who knows? Maybe I’ll put together a short clip about that…

Blog Consolidation, Step One: Far Away Places

I just returned from Fincon, the annual conference for financial bloggers and other folks who write about money. After a week in New Orleans with my colleagues, I’m inspired to become a better blogger. For me, that’s going to be easy. It just means I have to post more regularly around here!

As part of that, I’ve begun to do something I threatened to do several months ago. I’m consolidating my writing into one place. Instead of having dozens of blogs scattered across the internet, I’m compressing many of them into this single site. That means moving old articles from those places to here.

My hope is that this doesn’t create a deluge in your inbox and RSS feeds. As I move these articles over, I’m giving them their original dates. I hope that means they don’t get published as new, but I could be wrong. I’m also moving many at once so that if they do get pushed out in email, they all get pushed in one giant email on the same day. I apologize for any inconvenience.

The first articles I’m moving over here are from Far Away Places, my defunct travel blog. That blog has been broken for years, and people can’t even view the past posts. Plus, Kim and I want to use that domain for an upcoming project. (I’ve told many of you about this project in person, but I’m not ready to publicize it on the web. Soon though!)

In case you’re curious, here’s a list of the 22 articles I moved over yesterday:

I’m not sure which articles I’ll move next. There’s no rush, of course. And if all of this flooded your inboxes, I might actually put the project on hold. I’m hopeful, though, that this is a way to consolidate all of my online writing in one place!

Please let me know if this process was a problem from your end…

How I Pack for Travel

I like to travel.

Since 2007, I’ve visited twenty countries and eighteen states (where “visit” is defined as “spent the night”). I’m not on some mad quest to uncover every corner of the planet — although that does sound fun — but I like taking time to travel to new places.

Travel isn’t without its annoyances, however. Bad taxi drivers, sketchy hotels, and long layovers are just a few of the headaches we all encounter. To make things easier, most frequent travelers develop certain systems to make life easier.

I just returned from a week in New Orleans, for instance. Yesterday, I rode to the airport with my friend Ryan Guina (one of the funniest and friendliest men alive). To make his life simpler when flying, Ryan does a couple of things. For one, he wears shoes that slip on and off with ease. He keeps his belt in his carry-on until he’s through security. And most importantly, he carries a ziploc bag that contains everything else that would normally be in his pockets.

Smart man. I think I’ll have to copy his ziploc bag trick.

Doing so shouldn’t be too tough. You see, ziploc bags are actually the cornerstone of my own packing philosophy. In fact, when Kim and I returned from Ecuador a couple of weeks ago, I made this short video that explains my entire packing system — ziploc bags and all.

This video contains the exact same info found in this article — but in visual form.

For those who’d like more detail (or who aren’t interested in watching the video), here’s how I pack for long trips.

The Bags

First up, let’s talk about bags. I’m a self-confessed bag junkie, and my closet contains about a dozen packs and suitcases of different shapes and sizes. None are perfect but some come close.

When I travel abroad, I take three bags.

  • First, there’s my main bag. This contains my clothes and my “kits” (explained in a moment) and is almost always (95% of the time) a carry-on sized bag. If I think I’ll be stationary, staying in the same hotel for days or weeks, I might take a suitcase. But generally I take a backpack. My preferred pack is a discontinued model from REI, the 46-liter Vagabond Travel Pack. (There’s an updated model of this pack, but it’s smaller.)
  • Second, there’s my personal bag. This is where I keep the stuff I want close to me at all times: my cameras, my computer, my writing. Whereas I might sometimes check my main bag, I never check my personal bag. This is usually a briefcase-type bag, although sometimes it might be a smaller backpack. My current personal bag is the 72-hour briefcase from Filson. It’s expensive, but I love the layout.
  • Finally, I carry a light, collapsible daypack in the main bag. This is the bag I use while traipsing around Paris or Peru. When I leave my hotel, this is on my back. My current daypack is another discontinued item from REI: the Flash 18 pack. There’s an updated version of the Flash pack but it sucks. The new model has a rigid back which totally defeats the purpose. I don’t know what I’ll do if my Flash 18 gets cut or torn. It’s a workhorse!

These three bags are the backbone of my packing system. Next, lets look at what I carry inside them.

The Clothes

As my ex-wife can tell you, I’m not a fashion-conscious fellow. That’s probably a good thing because travel clothing tends toward the functional rather than the flattering. Or at least my travel clothing does.

When I travel, I usually take two pairs of shoes: a main pair and a comfortable pair. Often, my main footwear is a pair of hiking boots, which I wear on transit days in order to save room in my suitcase. My comfortable pair is usually some sort of sandal (flip-flops, Birkenstocks). Rarely, such as last week in New Orleans, I’ll carry a third pair of shoes for dressy occasions.

On long trips overseas, I bring Ex Officio travel underwear. It’s not flattering nor especially comfortable, but I can wash and dry it quickly. (For shorter trips or for trips in the U.S., I stick with my normal cotton undies.)

Also on long trips overseas, I bring my zip-off pants. Zip-off pants have detachable legs so that they can convert from shorts to slacks quickly and easily. They also tend to have lots and lots of pockets. Some people hate these pants, and I get it. They’re pretty damn ugly — but they’re also pretty damn handy. Do I look like a tourist when I wear them? So be it, I look like a tourist.

When I travel, I always take three to five wool t-shirts. Why wool? Simple. Wool stays cool when it’s warm outside and stays warm when it’s cool. Best of all, wool does not retain odors. I can wear the same wool shirt for several consecutive days and it’ll never stink. I know a guy who once took a single wool t-shirt on a long trip. This was his only shirt. He wore it every day, and he even did daily runs in it. He didn’t have to wash it the entire trip. I swear by my wool t-shirts. You should too. (All of my wool shirts are Icebreaker shirts like this one.)

Lastly, I’ll carry three or four button-down shirts designed for travel. These might have secret pockets or special vents for hot days hiking through the jungle. Which shirts I pack depend on the country I’m visiting and what I plan to do when I arrive.

The Stuff

Earlier I mentioned that I carry “kits” when I travel. That’s because I practice what I call “modular packing”. Simply put, modular packing means I separate my gear into groups of similar items and then pack each group into its own ziploc bag. For instance, I pack everything related to sleeping — my eyemask, my earplugs, my nasal strips, my sleeping pills, my doorstop, etc. — into a single bag.

Note: This is an instance where watching the video will make more sense. If you’re not sure what I mean, go take a gander at my modular packing system.

I have kits for most major activities. I have the afore-mentioned sleep kit, a dental kit, a hygiene kit, an outdoors kit, an electronics kit, and more. Each kit gets its own labeled ziploc bag, and all of the bags live together in a small plastic bin when not in use. I don’t need every kit for every trip. For last week’s trip to New Orleans, for example, I didn’t need the outdoor kit. When I’m packing, I simply grab the bags I need from the bin and I’m good to go.

This system works well except for on transit days. On transit days, I have to transfer all liquids to an extra shared bag so that I can get through security. Once I reach my next stop, I return each liquid to its respective kit.

Perhaps the most important kit in my modular packing system is the bag for travel documents. This is where I keep my passport, along with any vouchers and tickets. As I get receipts on my trip, they go in here too. This is also where I keep my travel itinerary, which is the final piece of my travel gear.

The Itinerary

I’ve learned that for a long trip, it’s vital to have a written itinerary. This document becomes the organizational backbone of the trip.

At the moment I start planning my trip, I create a text document. To start, I include my passport info and my frequent-flyer numbers. As I make my plans, every scrap of info gets placed in the itinerary.

  • When I book my flights, I put the flight numbers, the schedules, the confirmation codes, and everything else into the itinerary. (I’ve developed a standard format for this info.)
  • When I book my hotels, I put the address, phone number, confirmation codes, and other bits of info into the itinerary.
  • When I book a tour or a shuttle, that info goes here too.

Here’s an example of my actual itinerary for our trip to Ecuador last month:

A sample travel itinerary

This document is so important that I carry two printed copies with me. One lives in my pocket at all times and becomes very worn by the end of a long trip. The other lives in the document kit with the passport and my other vital info. Plus I store a digital copy in Dropbox so that I can access it from anywhere in the world.

Note: During our recent trip to Ecuador, I used airmiles to upgrade to business class. Perhaps that was a mistake. Having never flown other than coach, I was unaware just how truly awesome the first-class experience can be. No waiting! Ever! Free airport lounges! Delicious hot food! Hot towels! Free drinks! Priority baggage unloading! Traveling first class takes all the trouble out of travel. It comes with a cost, of course, but sometimes that cost is worth it. For whatever reason, my recent flights to New Orleans didn’t cost much to upgrade — so I did. From now on, I’ll go out of my way to find cheap ways to fly first class. It’s worth it to me.

So, that’s how and why I pack the way I pack. How do you pack? I’d love to learn some new tips, tricks, and tools to make life easier while on the road.

Ecuador 2014: Thoughts on Happiness and Well-Being

Kim and I have just returned from two weeks in Ecuador. For a second year, I participated as a presenter for one of Cheryl Reed’s “Above the Clouds” retreats. Once again, the experience was awesome.

We spent the week of the retreat at the El Encanto Resort outside Los Bancos. (“Resort” is a strong word, in this case. The place was lovely, but it’s not a resort in the way I think of a resort. It was more like a standard American hotel.) El Encanto is located exactly on the equator, near (or in?) Ecuador’s cloud forest. When we woke each morning, we could watch clouds being “born”. Condensation from the river in the valley below would rise in slow, misty columns — not unlike smoke from a bonfire — to form clouds in the sky above. Once, on a bright and sunny day, a wall of fog surged in from the south until everything was dim and grey…and then the fog slipped away as quickly as it arrived.

Our view from El Encanto

Last year, attendees knew me as J.D. from Get Rich Slowly, which is how I’m accustomed to being identified. But this year was different. This year’s attendees were largely unaware of Get Rich Slowly before the retreat. Instead, they knew me because of this blog. As a result, they went into the week with a different preconception of who I am and what I do. It was interesting.

At Get Rich Slowly, I wrote about my struggle to overcome debt and develop smart financial skills. Over the course of several years, Readers got to see both what I did right and what I did wrong. I presented a real-time log of who I was and what I was becoming.

But here at More Than Money, most of my writing has been centered on presenting a (relatively) polished philosophy that I’ve been developing for a decade. My articles have been all about the things that lead to a happier, more successful life. I haven’t dwelt on my past mistakes, and I haven’t spent much time chronicling my current ups and downs. The result? This blog hasn’t painted an accurate picture of who I am today.

“I was so glad you wrote about your struggle with the doldrums,” Jen told me during a chat early in the retreat. “After reading your blog for several months, I’d begun to believe you were one of those folks who had it all figured out, who never struggled like the rest of us.”

I had to laugh at that characterization. Long-time readers (and those who know me in Real Life) are well-aware that although I’m always trying to become a better person, I’m far from having everything figured out! But Jen’s comment made me realize that even while sharing a well-developed philosophy, I need to leave room to explain the process that led me to these ideas and beliefs. It hasn’t been easy or quick! And I’ve made plenty of wrong turns along the way. Plus, the philosophy continues to evolve as I gain more knowledge and experience.

During a stop in the town of Nanegalito, we happened upon a town carnival.

The core of the retreat was a series of two-hour presentations from three different speakers. Like last year, I spoke about defeating fear, creating happiness, and choosing freedom. (These are the very ideas I’ve been writing about at this blog for the past year.)

During her presentation, Cheryl Reed went into greater depth about what it means when you choose to be happy. She shared how she used to search for external sources of happiness (new clothes, new job, new home) before realizing that if she wanted to change her life, she had to change her self. She learned that she had to adjust her expectations. She had to change the way she thought and how she responded to situations. (Sound familiar? That’s because we talked about these ideas here at More Than Money earlier this year.)

David Cain (of Raptitude) talked about how to create a life of well-being. He delineated the difference between happiness, which is a mercurial emotional state tied to exceptional short-term circumstances, and well-being, which is a state of mind tied to more permanent long-term circumstances. “Happiness is like emotional weather,” Cain explained, “whereas well-being is like emotional climate. You’re happy because you ordered the salmon; you have well-being because you live in a city you love.”

I liked this differentiation between happiness and well-being. Sure, you could split hairs over terminology, but it’s the concepts here that are important.

Cain says that we’re taught to pursue happiness instead of well-being. Our biological makeup urges us to worry about threats, hoard resources, and eliminate risk and uncertainty. Deep down, we’re still animals just like any other; left to our own devices, our survival instinct takes over. We have to consciously choose to pursue long-term good over short-term pleasure. Meanwhile, society teaches us to compare ourselves to others and to always want more than what we have. This produces a constant yearning for something different. (In personal finance, we call this lifestyle inflation or the hedonic treadmill.)

With wisdom, we can overcome these outside forces to find a personal path to well-being.

A happy Kim during our visit to the butterfly gardens in Mindo.

In general, well-being is best pursued by:

  • Learning to live in the present. “Suffering comes from resisting the present moment,” says Cain, “from longing for something other than what is.” Once the present is unfolding, it’s already happening and we no longer have a choice about what is occurring, so resisting it only brings unhappiness.
  • Understanding our moods and emotions. There’s nothing wrong with becoming angry or tired or frustrated. But if these are a permanent state, they decrease your well-being. Instead of fighting bad moods or trying to figure them out, learn to “hang out with them”. Don’t make decisions while under the influence of strong emotions, but let them pass.
  • Purposefully cultivating gratitude. Like many before him, Cain says that learning to be thankful for what you have is a key to long-term happiness. Waking in an uncomfortable hostel bed, for example, always makes him grateful for the comfortable bed he has at home. (Or that he even has a bed.) Driving through Ecuador made me thankful for the more calm and orderly roads at home.
  • Learning about and training the mind. If you allow your “monkey mind” to control your actions and dictate your response to life, you’re abdicating responsibility for your well-being. Instead, learn how the mind works. Practice structured meditation and mindfulness in order to feel better and work better. “The more I meditate, the more beautiful I find ordinary moments and events,” Cain says.

Cain says that you ought to cultivate a vision of your ideal life. Where would you live? Who would you be? How would you spend your time? Give yourself permission to pursue this dream. Too many people are reactive, moving away from the things they don’t want instead of toward the things they do. “Fear and desire are competing forces,” Cain says. “But fear doesn’t give you direction and desire does.” (Please re-read that last bit. I’m glossing over it right now, but it’s very important.)

DSC_6691   DSC_6697
During our visit to the school, the kids played with a piñata.

Sidebar: I had a rough stretch early in the trip. First, I dropped my digital SLR and shattered the viewscreen. (Fortunately, I’d brought my “cheap” DSLR on this trip.) It still takes photos, but I can’t preview them or make deep changes to the camera settings. Next, my MacBook Air gave up the ghost. While prepping for my talk, it shut itself off. It didn’t restart until after Kim and I had returned to Portland. (I suspect it didn’t like Ecuador’s humidity.) Then the navigation buttons on my Kindle stopped working. And lastly, my own body gave out on the day of my talk. After my presentation, I spent 24 feverish hours curled in bed. Following my own advice, I chose not to let these minor trials and tribulations get me down!

After our week in the cloud forest — which included hiking, a visit to a nearby elementary school, a tour of a chocolate factor, and more — Kim and I spent a couple of days exploring Quito.

Then, last Monday, we hopped on a plane over the Andes to Coca. From there, we took a boat ride up the Napo River and into the Amazon basin. (Never heard of the Napo River? Neither had I, yet it discharges roughly the same amount of water as the Columbia River!) We spent several days exploring the jungle. We saw heaps of bugs and birds and frogs, but also caught glimpses of monkeys and more.

Kim keeps watch for monkeys and birds in the Amazon jungle.

It was a good trip. We learned a lot and laughed a lot and explored parts of the world we hadn’t seen before. But it’s good to be home. I’m ready to resume writing in earnest — both here and for other outlets — and I’m eager to focus on physical fitness once more. Because, as Jen discovered when she met me, I don’t have it all figured out. I’m still learning and growing, just like everyone else.