VirtualWayfarer is a blog about Travel with a hostel/backpacking and solo travel emphasis. Alex started off his blog to document his trip around Europe and just never stopped. He focuses on providing storytelling and photography to inspire readers and get them thinking about travel too.
Every year I post 100 of my favorite photos from the year’s travels. Ordinarily, this post comes around the New Year. This year, it and its color sibling will land in the middle of June. The reason for this? Fantastic travels and an expanded focus on travel photography combined with a fairly all-consuming work schedule.
This year’s post includes photos from the United States, Faroe Islands, Iceland, China, Vietnam, Laos, Norway, Denmark, France and Italy. It was a spectacular year of travel and one which was complemented by really getting to know my Sony A7RII. The Sony also brings with it added video capabilities which have led to added exploration with creating video content which you can explore here.
For my daily photo posts feel free to tune in and follow along via Instagram @virtualwayfarer.
Questions about how I composed or took a specific photo? Feel free to ask in a comment. You’re also encouraged to check out my complete flickr albums here which include the many other shots from 2018 (and previous years) which didn’t make it in this post.
As I sat down to write this post I re-visited last year’s reflections. It’s a testament to just how fast the past year has gone by that many of the reflections I’d intended to include in this post were already fleshed out in that post. Looking back and taking stock of it, if the year leading up to my 33rd was an explosion of productivity, reflection and insight – this past year has been much more of a catch-up and logistics year. But, more on that further in. When I sat down to write this post, I honestly didn’t think I had much to add to last year’s musings. Now, a month and a half late and nearly 12,000 words later, I suppose that’s been shown not to be the case. This post is heavy on life reflections and travel considerations. Light on relational musings. As many have relevance across topics, there’s no particular structure or order, just various sub-sections that elaborate on various points of reflection.
As long-time readers know,
every year I write a birthday post that contains general reflections, musings,
and observations drawn from the previous year.
I hope you’ll enjoy these
thoughts and take them for what they are – an attempt to share the
world as I see it and how I relate to it. You can view my 33rd
birthday post here, 32nd
birthday post here, 31st
birthday post here,
my more detailed 30th birthday post here, my musings
on turning 29 here, or
As well as a long-forgotten blog post written on my 23rd birthday (yeah,
I’ve been blogging that long) which you can view here.
I’ve previously written about my desire to maintain balance
between driven career development and quality work-life balance. Recent
dynamics, elements, and refinement of skills have led me into territory where
if I charted a more aggressive path and actively took targeted steps to achieve
it, I’d be able to transition into an extended team management role in an
established organization or potential CMO role in a high growth startup. While
20 or even 26 year old me would see this as a no-brainer, it’s currently a path
I’m actively delaying.
This isn’t out of a fear of ability to deliver, lack of
opportunity or discomfort. As I’ve written about extensively in the past and in
the book, there is always the shadow of imposter syndrome nipping at me. Despite
its presence, it’s something that I register and value, but have partitioned
away. It’s hard to describe, but the
closest I can convey is to draw a parallel to the good and bad angels each with
a shoulder. Only, now, there’s not just a good and bad angel, there’s a caution
angel as well. It drives me to excel, cautions me to remain humble, and nags
with some doubts – but only in so much as other temptations and
motivations. One internal voice among
many that’s there, clearly defined, and easy to navigate.
Rather, the decision to focus on balance is something
different. Mentors hear something different and misunderstand when I say
“balance” and have tried to explain my current focus. They’ll quickly
underscore that it’s easy to maintain balance as a team lead in charge of a
large team or CMO. And like any skill, I don’t doubt that it is. But, the
cognitive cost in both types of roles pivots from creative and fluid to
logistical and empathic. They require a heavy investment in time, in mental
energy, and in shower-thought bandwidth to tackle the constant mixture of
challenges, opportunities, and dynamics that go into a role. From charting a
high level strategy to navigating the complex interpersonal and employee based
logistics that go into being an inspiring and effective leader. Even if a work
day ends at 5, the part that we grossly miscalculate as a society is how we
navigate and evaluate how the excitement, dynamics, and
responsibilities/challenges of that role continue.
With time, I fully expect I’ll be inclined to pivot my
life-style and priorities as a whole in a way that seeks to add more stability,
enhance structure, and to re-order aspects in a way which will not only be
conducive to the balance above pivoting, but actively a goal. But, for now, the
goal is to rigorously defend and strike a balance that – of course – has
degrees of that cross over, but which remains balanced enough to also provide
room for numerous and significant creative and explorative projects.
At this stage in life, the area I get the most reward out of
is the ability to dive into, explore, experiment and master a wide range of
different hobbies and interests. By nature, what makes these compelling is how
diverse they are – not confined by a specific medium, or industry, or
institutional size. This creative space is incredibly challenging to keep
vibrant and to defend. Through each of these annual birthday posts, it’s a
common thread – how to navigate it – how to balance it – and how to still
advance relationships, career, and other pursuits.
My daily routine remains structured in a way that’s designed
to facilitate that. I live in the city center because it makes it easy to walk,
wander, reflect, and to be exposed to a wide range of different people and the
chaos of humanity. I don’t bike to work because the morning commute provides me
with time to activate content, such as publishing photos, while listening to
podcasts to jumpstart my mind. I then walk home because the 3.4 km / roughly 40
minute walk creates a barrier between work and post-work hours. The walk also
re-oxygenates my body and mind and provides an active period disconnected from
the computer where I can call and brainstorm with my parents or work through
the podcasts I’m rotating through.
As I don’t have a partner, I’ll also normally eat along the
way saving myself the hour to hour and a half of daily time spent shopping,
cooking, and navigating all that goes with it.
By the time I get home, particularly if it has been a particularly
demanding day at the office, I’ll also take a 45 minute to hour long nap. Years
ago I learned that there’s nothing as powerful as a nap for downloading,
categorizing, and digesting data. Now, I can feel when the mental buffer is
full, when I’m out of processing energy, and then I will nap accordingly.
This post-work 2-3 hour block is all about taking care of
logistics, but also nurturing a state of creative energy and mental bandwidth
ready and able to fiddle with new ideas, to be creative, and to chase flights
of fancy. From this period comes a
constant stream of podcast or walk-inspired ideas which range from everything
from ideas for new entrepreneurial products, to musings on the global economy,
relationships, or the how and why of what we do on a daily basis and what
drives us. As I hate the single-channel nature of phone calls, this is also the
one window of the day where I’m inclined to take calls and chat. That’s usually
with mom and dad, but occasionally, I’ll schedule others.
From there several nights a week are spent on dance – salsa
or bachata – I try and set aside at least one for dating, though often fail,
and the rest for my own personal time to recharge, work on projects, or edit
photos and video. Importantly, for me, this gives me the opportunity to learn
to slow down and to pace myself and to really enjoy and immerse myself in each
moment while remaining hyper productive and feeling fulfilled.
This goes hand in hand with my focus on travel and how I’ve
built and designed key aspects of my lifestyle to enable and empower travel.
But, more than that, when I speak to balance and defense of that other space,
this is what I’m constantly working to refine. Mostly, because while I take
immense personal pride in what I do at work and my career progression,
achievement, and attainment that’s only one narrow piece of my overall
definition of success and focus on life-richness.
Having said that, what of the career? For the past couple
years I’ve sat with responsibility for our global product marketing as part of
a Navy Seals styled marketing team. One of the quirks of Danish culture and by
extension the concept of Janteloven (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wgde1m8jv-I)
is that you almost always see Danish companies with under-sized marketing
teams. The organization I work for is no different, magnified by being an
The end result is I sit with general responsibility for
product marketing support for all six flagship products, across 26 core
countries with products that operate globally. That funnels into an
organization of roughly 900 globally with a user base of tens of thousands of
clients. I do that as part of an 11 person marketing department servicing our
global footprint of which three colleagues are focused on MarComm activities,
four are designers, two are on events and PR under the guidance of my boss.
Given we’re competing against most of the world’s largest
tech brands – Google, Facebook, Amazon, Adobe, Oracle and other well established
niche players who are predominantly American and bring an American
marketing-centric approach it creates an interesting cultural experience for me
and wonderful set of challenges. The industry – advertising technology – is
also at the forefront of many of the biggest conversations in technology and
society. Democratized content, advertising, data privacy, machine learning and
AI, etc. – which means things are rapidly evolving and constantly dynamic.
All of which feeds into a more general conversation and
question that I’ve been exploring over the last year. Previously, my average
tenure in an industry / role was around 3.5 years. Normally that included the
year it took to get up to speed, a year and a half of extended learning, and
then roughly a year of comfortable delivery before hungering for new
challenges. February marked the four year mark for me in the current company
and industry which also made for a good opportunity to step back and do a
As I reflected on it, I was actually taken by how strong the
social pressures are currently to change just for the sake of changing. We have
pivoted now to a period of cultural FOMO that almost looks askew at anyone who
isn’t jumping every year and a half. And, fair enough, all the indicators are
that if your goal is improvements in title and pay increases these types of
hops are effective. At the same time, given my focus is on maintaining balance
and the value and positivity of my workplace culture – I’m looking at and
defining success differently.
As I looked at my situation I came to a very different
conclusion – I’ve still got more to learn in the current position and the
opportunity itself is dynamic and exciting enough to continue to be very
compelling. The advertising technology industry is, as mentioned above,
absolutely fascinating. It is dynamic and fast paced and serves as the core
arteries pumping the lifeblood of the internet from place to place. There’s
sufficient dynamism there to keep it interesting and challenging for a long
time. To understand it and what’s likely to come also requires a broad
perspective which appeals to my generalist nature.
More narrowly, despite the periodic frustration that goes
with major change, a rapidly evolving organization, and being perpetually
undermanned in my given role. I love the challenge of it, and that one day I’m
crafting a sales narrative for a new product launch with brilliant technical
product owners and then the next discussing a thought leadership piece or
keynote with members of our executive team.
Anchored on both sides by truly brilliant minds who are world class at
what they do.
I’m also fascinated by the progression and maturation of the
organization. While a lot find the
change from scrappy late-stage startup to global and more standardized
organization unnerving, frustrating, or unappealing I view it as something else
entirely. In no small part due to my
time in M&A, when I look at how the organization has grown from when I
joined – 15 or so countries and roughly 500 employees – to an organization in
26 with almost 900 employees, I’ve also been able to watch other aspects of the
organization mature and institutionalize.
I’ve seen major changes to the composition and nature of my own department,
and my four year tenure has been split in half with time spent under two highly
competent but extremely different bosses.
And I suppose of equal importance is the environment. I
adore my colleagues, their energy, and genuinely love the workplace and
workplace environment. As with any organization and the cycles that come and
go, there are periods of ups and downs and where it’s more intense or strained
than others. But, it’s one where I feel supported, engaged, challenged, and
welcomed and as I get further into my career my appreciation for each aspect of
that continues to also grow.
There remains the ongoing question and challenge of what and
how to navigate the perhaps over stated but very real shift that happens in the
mid to late 30s in how we’re perceived as professionals, career mobility,
perceived competence/maximum ability and earnings potential. Pop and other
mentors always stressed that when you’re a student and up until around 30,
you’re viewed as a student or young professional which opens doors, coffees,
and access. Now, further into the career
and my 30s I can definitely feel that changing and pivoting. The implied
expectation that you’re either competition, a threat, less competent, or should
be able to go your own way grows but it’s also replaced by the ability to
switch seats and to pay it forward / provide that type of guidance to the next
generation of students and professionals.
This isn’t to say that opportunities for mentorship and
insight go away or that doors shut. Rather, that the questions need to be more
specific, complex, researched and challenging to generate. That you have to be
more proactive in pursuing and generating those opportunities vs. having them
more readily come your way, and that you have to also be able to bring more to
With an eye to how that transition is evolving, I’m also
mindful of the guidance that earning potential often peaks in the early 40s.
That there’s a general bias that if you’re “CEO” or “CMO” material, you’ll have
achieved it already and proven yourself in the role, and that from there it’s
more of a plateau in earning potential. While I’m somewhat skeptical that this
applies in the same way today as it has in the past, I already see the
challenges it poses for other mid-level roles today and for friends who are
interested in pivoting from executive assistant or teaching roles into
alternate roles that have more of a senior or leadership style profile. But, I
also look at the flip side of that for many mentors who scaled quickly, and now
face the challenge of being seen as over-qualified or overly senior for a wide
range of roles.
So, how to strike that balance? Which choice is right? What’s the right speed of ascension and
timing? It really is a hard one to
judge. In general though, I default back to the approach that has worked well
for me to date. Am I learning? Am I
stimulated? Am I picking up tangential
skills that will be referentially beneficial in future roles/industries/etc?
And is there a compelling thread and story through those experiences that I
will be able to tell in the future?
The past year I’ve seen a lot of friends navigating the
above in different ways and struggling with questions related to career,
trajectory, and definition of self. I’m also increasingly reminded of the knock
on effect uncertainty or lack of fulfillment at work has on all other aspects
of life. It has the potential to poison our romantic relationships, to leave us
feeling disenfranchised with where we live, and to be frustrated by the day to
day experience. As an international
sojourner/expat all of this is even more magnified, as is the potential to use
relocation and change of scenery as a way to drastically bring about that
This, in many cases seems to be a great solution, as there
are many cases where it is essential to fundamentally re-work and re-write
routine, ritual, and daily structure to craft a new and more rewarding
life-balance and experience. At the same
time, just as often, I increasingly see and believe situations where the baby
gets thrown out with the bath water. Where a bad workplace environment,
boredom, or other unhealthy dynamics tied to work or a relationship poison the
air and suck the joy out of life’s daily experiences. In these cases, change is
still essentially important – but more just a matter of pivoting to a new
workplace or change of social routine.
Correcting the Career
Another area I’m increasingly fascinated by is the, what I
now consider, utterly inaccurate narrative we have around life careers. In
general the narrative that’s most commonly told is of the new defunct lifer who
started at a company – worked their X number of years, qualified for pension
and then retired. The qualification duration for most companies ranges from 15
to 20 years. A standard traditional setup in the US was to reach age 55 and
qualify with 20 years of service. Meaning you’d need to lock into your primary
career tract and employer by roughly age 35.
Perhaps I’m in an extreme minority, but the takeaway from this
institutional narrative growing up was the need to find a career and decided
“what I wanted to do when I grew up” and then to commit to it and lock in. With
the implied assumption that any change or pivot would require a complete reset,
be dangerous to long term prospects, and extremely difficult.
Which is complete and utter bullshit. I’ve brushed up
against this topic in the past, including in Practical Curiosity, but as I look
into it more, I’m increasingly convinced that the narrative is even further off
and outdated than we assume.
The sum of the internet is 30 years old. The web, paired
with digital computing, has delivered a sort of mass-extinction level one-two
punch that has fundamentally changed the job landscape. Which, we talk about extensively in modern
media. But, which also isn’t actually all that uncommon. It seems every half-century or so some such
innovation comes along, shakes up the lego box, and dumps the pieces on the
floor ready to be re-built.
About the only consistent in this is that it seems to
accelerate over time and for each mass job extinction, the system that
triggered the disruption leads to even more jobs but significantly – these jobs
have a faster turnover period and shorter life span. A 6th century
farmer was likely born a farmer and would die a farmer. In the modern
landscape, the odds that you finish your career in the same industry or
something closely resembling what you started in are slim to none. Partially
because that industry probably won’t be there, or will require fundamentally
different skills than you posses but also because your professional lifespan is
exponentially longer and has significantly more flexibility.
It’s easy to look at life expectancy in most of the western
world and how it has surged from somewhere between 50/60 years up into the 70s
and 80s. More than that, the quality of your health across that upward
trajectory also remains stronger with it entirely possible and common place to
continue working in some capacity well into our 70s or 80s. All of which I’m sure rings familiar.
Especially with the popularity of the book Factfulness this year.
But, where I find it interesting is when you take these two
and overlap them. Somewhere in the range
of 20-30 extra years of productivity paired with a significant increase in lack
of stability in not just the jobs available on market but industries in general
(ahh the sweet smell of disruption, right?).
Essentially, while the old narrative was likely somewhat
accurate for my grandparents – after all, one was born in 1900, the other in
1916, it was already largely debunked by my parents’ generation and is not only
counterproductive and wrong but downright rubbish guidance and advice for my
generation and those which follow. A model that makes far more sense is one
that not only accounts for and anticipates one career, but in practice three to
If we re-define a career not as a set period working for an
individual employer, but expand that to better account for the current employment
situation – then a career (or passion) period is somewhere between 10-20 years
with the average in the 15 year range.
By this metric, I can start my career at 30 and easily work three
distinct careers and “retire” by 75. If I assume more mobility and take that
down to 10 years a piece, I can start at 35 and still retire by 75. Beyond
that, we can assume that even with some backslide when transitioning from
industry to industry, each is incremental and adds experience which accelerates
ascension or responsibility and mastery in the next. I spoke in part to how
I’ve already seen this in my own career progression and I see strong parallels
in the paths taken by mentors and many dynamic professionals. Which isn’t to
say there won’t be some fields and personality types that manage to maintain
and adhere to a straight line all the way through. Only that they’ll
increasingly be the minority and on an optional trajectory, not a dominant one.
What does this mean for us? It means a focus on education,
skills, and career development that is centered around adaptability and puts
ability to learn and activate skills beyond the ability an excessive focus in a
specific field or role. It means a pivot
in focus that prioritizes the breadth and generalizability of skills over
excessive specialization without potential for diversification. And it means
that when navigating career changes, industry trajectory, and opportunity that
the key is relationship building, competence, and domain knowledge. That so
long as this is taking place, there’s not a set series of steps that have to be
accomplished, or some set lock in where delaying or missing or taking an
alternative approach to what’s couched as a key step is insurmountable.
Ultimately, and importantly, it also means focusing on the richness of the
experience and your personal health and development, not some horrifying
over-stressed my-life-is-over deluge of regret and second guessing each time
you pivot, make a change, or do something that doesn’t directly map one set of
traditional skills to a corresponding set of traditional role development
So much of the stress, uncertainty, and unhappiness I see in peers stems from this uncertainty and constant questions of – am I making a critical mistake? – that I can’t help but see a reframing of the topic of fundamental..
Over seven days we covered more than 2,000 km cutting eastward from the airport to Iceland’s eastern fjords. Despite a brutal windstorm with powerful winds we managed to explore many of the southern and eastern coast’s most stunning natural wonders.
From glaciers to waterfalls and black sand beaches paired with dramatic fjords and rust colored autumn hues, we enjoyed it all. To celebrate the adventure I’ve created the following short film. It goes without saying, but I hope you’ll enjoy – make sure to turn on HD and audio.
Iceland: The Eastward Journey - YouTube
Filmed on a Sony A7RII, DJI Mavic Air, and iPhone 7. Edited in Resolve.
You can find photos from the trip in my flickr albums. Click here for color photos and here for the black and white album.
For years I’ve been captivated by images of China’s dramatic landscapes and nature. So, when opportunity knocked David and I set out on a #brothersberger adventure into Shanghai with plans to wrap up with a final few days and flight home from Hanoi in Vietnam in February 2018.
We weren’t prepared for the cold weather, or for the dramatic impact the weeks before Tet (Chinese New Year) would have on our ease of travel. But, with no concrete plan and just a flexible list of places we were eager to see – we set off.
The trip took us to places well known in China but far less frequented by European and American tourists. Despite a brutal cold spell that left us warming our beds with water bottles filled with hot water from the hotel’s tea kettle and hearty language barriers – we discovered some of China’s most spectacular natural locations.
In this video, join me as I take you through a few snapshots of Shanghai, the nearby Zhujiajiao Water Town and then down to Tianmen Mountain – home of the famed Gate of Heaven, Zhangjiajie National Park which is more commonly known as the Avatar Mountains, and then to the province of Guanxi for the over-touristed Guilin, Lee River, and Yangshuo before ending our trip at the Detian Waterfalls.
Discovering Southern China - YouTube
Filmed on a Sony a7rii and iPhone 7. Edited in Davinci Resolve.
Never let anyone tell you that the Faroe Islands are the same as Iceland, Norway or Scotland. They’re a unique destination with its own raw drama that is unlike anything I’ve had the delight of exploring previously.
The footage in this video was taken over 5 days in early August 2018 on a road trip a friend. We had wonderful weather and the opportunity to explore most of the Faroe Island’s main sights. We got lucky and were able to visit Mykines and to catch it during brilliant weather.
Faroe Islands: Born of the Mist (HD drone footage) - YouTube
Photos from the trip:
You can catch my full Faroe Islands color photo album here.
It’s only within the last couple of years that I’ve actively started renting cars. This was, in part, due to a general fear of driving in various foreign countries, my inability to drive manual, and a casual sense of befuddlement when it came to the tidal wave of fees and shady practices that seem to go hand in hand with rentals in many countries.
I’m freshly returned from Iceland where taking a number of steps and following some basic best practices ended up saving us over $300. Based on feedback from the other travels we met afterward, a number of small mistakes and oversights in the process that very nearly meant we missed out on compensation, and general feedback from friends I’m pulling together this basic overview. It’s not exhaustive, and your individual situation paired with the country you’re renting from should also always be considered. However, hopefully, I’m able to provide a baseline and a few simple steps to protect yourself.
The easier and number one way to protect yourself is to not only inspect the car carefully when you pick it up, but to document it thoroughly using your camera or smartphone using a mixture of still photos and videos.
Increasingly, when renting cars I’m finding that a basic overview of damage is marked in vague terms on a sheet of paper handed over at the desk (or in the case of my rental at the Faroe Islands, sitting in the dashboard). The desk agents are typically apathetic, rushed, and show little concern or desire to update or correct notes made. Given how much time I find they typically spend trying to upsell me on added insurance, protection, GPS devices, and other random nonsense that typically costs as much, if not more, than the original rental they’re often actively disengaged when it comes to marking existing damage. While I haven’t seen this correlate directly into dishonest attempts to charge me for pre-existing damage – it certainly transfers the majority of liability and risk to the renter and potentially pivots things into a you-said, they-said situation which you’ll likely lose.
I’ve also noticed with increasing frequency quite a bit of damage unmarked or unregistered to the vehicles. I’d estimate that around 40% of the rentals I’ve mad in the last few years have had poorly or overlooked damage at pickup. In Romania, it was previous accident damage that had been rebuilt and a missing windshield wiper. In the Faroe Islands (pictured above), it was a missing piece of paneling behind the front tire. In this most recent rental in Iceland it included body scratches, window pitting, and subtle but severe tire damage.
The story, and how it highlights exactly how and why you should thoroughly document the vehicle.
Upon arriving in Iceland and reaching the rental, we were greeted by strong winds, sunny skies, and an added paper slip informing us of a severe weather warning for much of the island and pushing us to pay the extra $150 or so for added insurance. To be perfectly frank, I actually thought it was just a clever marketing ruse to upsell drivers. But, in actuality, as it turned out the first major storm for the year was slated to hit later that day and it brought with it 14m/s winds and some pretty dramatic weather. While it ultimately wasn’t needed to add gravel, off road, and the various other protections which would have fully covered us for our 7 day rental – at the cost of an additional $30 a day – I might have reconsidered had I been fully updated on the nature of the storm rolling in. Instead, relying on the basic rental insurance and whatever added backup protection might be needed via my Visa Signature we proceeded with our rental. Even if we caught a rock in the window – compared to the $210 in added fee premium insurances would have cost and any minimums they might have included – it seemed likely to, worst case, break even.
The rental we received had clearly seen some abuse. With over 40,000 km on it, the driver’s side door had been damaged/obviously overextended by wind previously, there was a long brush scrape down the right side, addition dents and pitting from a sandstorm visible in the body paint and micro-pitting in the windshield. We started our inspection, we noted that about half the damage was noted on the damage summary form, and then despite the rest likely falling below the “threshold” for recording and getting charged, noted it and flagged it getting the form updated and signed off. At this point, it’s worth noting that not only did the rental folks not come out for the initial inspection, they also signed off on the updated damage form without coming out and further inspecting. After having to sign the storm warning slip, I was actually quite happy with and relieved to see that our vehicle was in solid shape but also not a fresh-off-the-lot rental with 50km on it.
Despite being eager to get on the road, we still took the time to take around 30 photos of the vehicle. While the temptation is always to only photograph the immediate areas of damage, past experience had taught me to take a mixture of tight specific shots of damage, but to also take wider shots and to cover the entire car. Thrown off by previous oversights (the back windshield wiper in Romania, and the missing paneling in the Faroe Islands), I took what I thought were exhaustive shots. The car’s location in the parking spot did make photographing the front right side challenging and as it was the last part of the car, I rushed it a bit. But, as a second step I also kicked my iphone over to 4k video and did a slow up and down 360 video of the car as best I could. I also took a moment to photograph the front grill up close, and put the camera down at ground level shooting up to show that there were no shocks or undercarriage components / plastic road guards hanging down or damaged.
Just like that, we were off and away.
Fast forward 1,000 km in a remote fjord with very limited car traffic in Iceland’s eastern fjords. My brother, David, notices a bulge/bubble in the tire as we’re preparing to get back in the car and head down to the nearby village. We look closely, do a bit of googling, and flag that not only is the bubble a sign of a tear in the tire that is likely gradually worsening, but that it’s only a matter of time until the tire blows. Concerned, we backtrack the 30 minutes or so to the one large city in the region, call the car rental, and find a garage who can do an emergency call at 2:30PM on a Saturday afternoon.
During our preliminary call, the rental company says what we expect – get it fixed, it’s probably not safe to drive on, no you didn’t buy tire protection so you’re accountable and responsible for covering the replacement costs. Even driven to the repair shop, an after-hours call, maintenance, paired with the cost of the tire came to around $300. While added coverage via various secondary insurances on the card etc. might have covered the cost, everything looked pretty grim and cued up to at best mean dozens of hours spent fighting in back and forth and intentional bureaucratic nonsense before there was a chance of compensation.
We’d inspected the tires, given them a quick glance, looked closely at the rims which didn’t show signs of damage, and so were left largely assuming that the damage must have resulted from old tire damage that was previously invisible but which we couldn’t prove, or an unlucky rock strike somewhere along the road. The nasty size of the bulge paired with the 1,000+ KM we’d driven also led us to initially assume that it had to be relatively recent damage and not something that pre-dated our rental. Still, David pulled up the photos and video I took at the start of the rental and started to inspect.
The tire in question was the most difficult to photograph and also the last portion of the car I documented during my check. That also meant it was the one part of the car I had the fewest photos of. But, sure enough, in the bottom corner of the photos from that part of the vehicle you could clearly see a smaller, but still very obvious, bulge in the tire partially obscured by the text on the tire. My video footage similarly wrapped up with only the briefest in-view window showing the tire, but still captured it.
We got the tire replaced, saved the receipt, and then at turn in – receipt and photos in hand (I emailed them to myself as a second level of protection against phone damage/theft/bad luck) the rental company quickly reviewed the photo and refunded us the money for the repair within a day. Our up-close inspection at the tire repair shop also revealed a fingernail-sized nick out of one of the rearview lights we had missed on our initial inspection. A quick review of the photos revealed that, here again, though we’d missed it the camera had caught and documented it.
Conventional wisdom and the suggestion to only photograph or mark specific damage presupposes that in a relatively high pressure, time-constrained situation, with potentially inclimate weather (in our case it was wind, in past instances, it was poor light or raindrops) you’ll have perfect observational skills. The reality is that even in the best of conditions this is unlike, and when and where you can’t document it, the burden of proof is on you (and your wallet).
So, for every car rental upon pickup, regardless of which insurance you buy or how new or old the car looks at pickup I strongly suggest you take the time to do a quick photo and video combination of the car.
Take a slow moving 360 video of the car that pans up and down careful to get everything from the bottom of your tires and your tire tread, to the top of the car and the rooftop antenna or sun roof.
From there, you should take between 20-30 photos, potentially more, that combine detailed up-close photos and far away photos of:
The car hood, grill, and lights. Take shots looking down, straight on, and then get down at knee level and capture it straight on.
A shot from ground level down beneath the car to capture anything hanging down or any obvious undercarriage damage.
Photos that capture any seems where multiple door or body panels come together, such as the areas in-front of the tire where it meets the bumper and hood.
All four tires from at least two perspectives, including but not limited to a straight on shot that gets the wheel well, tire, and the rims – any of which might have damage.
A close inspection of all windows for scratch or damage marks, including small pits that might suddenly expand into visible cracks due to added stress, a bumpy road, or temperature changes.
Both front and back windshield wipers.
Potential key damage or scratches to the sideboards and door handle.
The back bumper from top, bottom and the sides. Also, open the read rood and capture any damage caused by suitcases, poles, or other items brought in or out of the car.
Four shots that capture the entire front, back, left, and right sides in single photos.
Just remind yourself when tempted to rush that an extra 15 mb in photos may save you hundreds of dollars down the road.
I’d also flag based on past experiences and researching general business practices, that you avoiding Payless Car Rentals (note this is NOT the company I mentioned in Iceland or the Faroe Islands) regardless of the country is advisable. Both for a consistent history of negative business practices across multiple markets and for appalling support. While Payless is owned by Avis Group, it seems to be one of the most consistently questionable international car rental companies in operation.
Have your own tips or suggestions? Feel free to share them in a comment.
Note – that the above is in no way legal or exhaustive advice. Rather, just suggestions based on personal experience, observations, and a process that has worked well for me.
In this post, I’ll run through an overview of my process, the thought process I went through to shape the book, some of the key research takeaways, and ultimately how I wrote, edited, formatted and published a 210 page, 50,000 word book in print and ebook formats between May 1st and November 4th while working a full-time job. I had my first proof copy printed and in hand September 19th. To hit this timeline I did the majority of my writing between May 1st and July 12th when I sent 47,500 character drafts out to my reviewers. 35% of the copy was a partial re-work and re-write of existing blog content. The remainder was original. This period also excluded a family trip May 25th through June 10th where I was unable to write but did continue to add topics.
At launch the book briefly broke into the Top 100 paid new releases (non-fiction) and made it to #83 on Amazon.com. It also attained the Best Seller tag in multiple categories and now just under a year in it is closing in on the 1,000 books sold mark of which nearly 200 are print copies. This was my first book and I have not done extensive or aggressive promotion for it.
As a lot of people have expressed curiosity about my process, how I managed it so quickly and what I learned self-publishing, I’m going to try and dive into my full process and some of the key takeaways in this post in the hope it’s helpful. Realistically it should apply to any genre or topic.
**Note – shortly after publishing this post CreateSpace was discontinued and fully incorporated into KDP. KDP has since stepped up development and the official rollout for print and digital. Please take that into consideration when doing your research. Migrating my book from CreateSpace to KDP took about 5 minutes and was a smooth process.
Sections in this post (it’s long, but I tried to share as much as I could):
The Decision to Write a Book
Influential Podcasts & Videos
Length Isn’t The Barrier You Think It Is
How I Did It
Amazon Customer Service
Advanced Reviews and Media Copies
Opportunities to Learn
Choosing a Name
Promoting the Book
Quick final thoughts
The Decision to Write a Book
For years I toyed with the idea of writing a book. With over a decade of travel blogging under my belt, the natural choice would have been a travel book – but narrowing in on the theme and content always held me back. Ultimately, I decided to focus instead on a self-help book centered on personal development that spoke specifically to generalists and the trials and tribulations that they face.
While travel is what I’m best known for, it’s a profoundly challenging topic to write something meaningful about. The temptation is to try and write a lonely-planet style guide. While well intentioned, these are a dime a dozen, hard to update, profoundly difficult to source and ultimately not that interesting.
If you’re not writing a guide, then the next most common focus is essentially a long-form blog post about some trip or journey. If it’s a good story then it ultimately leads to insights into life, self-discovery, and some highly entertaining stories. Having never done a trip longer than 3 months and never one with a set or constant theme compelling enough for the grand adventurer or explorer narrative I decided it wasn’t a viable topic. This led me to consider writing a compilation of short comical stories drawn from my travels and adventures. With 50+ countries under my belt and a unique childhood spent traveling, I felt there was potential for some quality stories but when I sat to look at my existing blog posts I realized few were written already and that pulling them together into a cohesive story was an exhaustive task likely to reach a small audience.
The idea for writing a book floated in purgatory for months as I toyed with each of these. Then, as March approached I sat down to write my annual birthday blog post. The post is a reflective ramble that I write every year where I digest and share what I’ve discovered over the past year, what I’m aspiring to learn more about, and key life lessons I want to share. Of all of my content, these posts often elicit the most animated response from readers and friends. As I wrote it, I also realized it also skipped the traveler’s journey narrative for core message delivery and jumped straight to the takeaways. To this end the book also mirrors the structure of these posts with core sections dedicated to thought exercises, life and business success, relationships and travel.
In addition to narrowing in on a topic I felt comfortable writing about, this process also let me adopt a theme which wasn’t narrative based or chronological. A guidebook would have required extensive research, fact-checking and documentation. On the other end of the spectrum, a personal narrative or first-person account would have required I map out my entire story arc, write every aspect in an identical voice, and sit down and write in a chronological fashion that built the storyline and guided the reader to the great conclusion.
Both were red flags. The guidebook was incredibly time and labor intensive and had a high risk of being outdated before I even progressed to editing. Meanwhile, while relaying a personal story or journey – even a series of short stories was similarly time intensive and required a heavy mental load and total mood consistency to hit the right voice and tone night after night. The richer the story, the more work involved and the greater the likelihood of the book becoming the un-finished multi-year project you constantly hear people talk about.
But, by writing an expanded version of one of my birthday posts I was able to identify and then navigate a sweet spot between the two. While conventional wisdom suggested I should stick to just one topic, such as relationships, my overarching focus and theme were empowering and celebrating generalists and the power of voracious curiosity. That meant that I could segment each chapter and each section and then write in whatever voice or context most-apt to the core message. It also meant that by taking a bathroom-reader like approach where each chapter could be read and digested individually, but ultimately contributed to the four core topics and overarching theme, I could write each individually. This process was further informed and guided by a series of podcasts interviews which I listened and was able to pull a variety of important takeaways from.
Influential Podcasts & Videos
In the lead up to my renewed interest in writing a book there were several podcasts that had snippets of information I found profoundly interesting as food for thought and guidance. I love the interviews Tim Ferriss does, not only because from travel to dance many interests have overlapped, but because he deep dives with fascinating people in long-form interviews that go far beyond the Sunday show style 20-minute snippets you normally get.
In his interview with Brazilian businessman and former CEO of Semco Partners Ricardo Semler. Semler discussed his experience taking 9 days to blast together a book [26-minute mark in the podcast]. As he describes it, he sat down, he wrote, and then he more or less slapped it together and published it. It went on to do extremely well and his record combined with the raw and authentic nature of the content outweighed the lack of proper formatting, editing and the coarseness of the copy. While I knew I lacked the audience and innate authenticity of a successful businessman like Semler, and while I know I didn’t want to put out something that wasn’t properly edited or formatted – his focus and approach on delivering the project, in the same way startups are encouraged to prototype and then deliver a V1, then tweak and build once that’s live caught my attention. The end result needed to be good, the quality needed to be there, but of equal importance was charting a path that would let me deliver the book quickly.
The second was an interview with NYT Bestselling author Cheryl Strayed, the author of Wild. In it, Cheryl also speaks to binge writing. But she also elaborates on how she leverages deadlines to drive creativity and manages to balance her obligations to family and other responsibilities. She also outlines the idea of taking 48-hour writer retreats where she sets aside time, goes to a hotel room away from the family and kids – and commits herself to writing. While the whole interview is worth a listen, you can also just do a search for “48” and that will take you to some of the key sections in the transcript.
The third was actually the movie Genius by Michael Grandage with Colin Firth, Jude Law and Nicole Kidman among others. The movie follows book editor Max Perkins at Scribner and his collaboration with Thomas Wolfe. The entirety of the movie focuses heavily on the struggle to find ones’ voice, the balance between including too much or too little, and how to navigate what’s in our heads vs. what needs to go on paper.
It’s a bit more abstract than the above two, but provided a more philosophical muse for exploring the need to strike the right balance between perfect honing and including everything, between letting my professorial tendency to explain and an overly superficial traditional fluff self-help book. It also served as a wonderful reminder that we rarely feel that what we’ve created is worthy and that rejection is just a natural part of the process. Also, that it’s essential to craft, to do the work, but then to believe if you’ve done that work in seeing the project through and putting it out there.
At the same time I’m also a huge fan of the interviews on Edge.org. An early fan of TED, I’ve largely lost interest with the short form format, and the abundance of fluff that now overwhelms the TED platform. In its place, I find the Edge.org interviews, in their crude long-form to be fantastic high level, but still academic, long-form snapshots of fascinating topics. As with Tim’s podcast interviews, these highlight wonderful in-depth topics from brilliant minds and often contain snippets that serve to re-enforce my belief in the need for more cross-disciplinary discussions and in the power of talking about curiosity.
As I was digesting and consuming the podcasts, I was reminded of an observation I’d made almost a decade ago when reading the Starfish and the Spider by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom. Their book was wonderfully insightful at the time, but also contained relatively few words. Growing up, most of my reading focused on high fantasy by authors like Jordan, Goodkind, Tolkien or Martin alongside non fantasy authors like James Michener. Their books averaged 200,000 – 450,000 words per book and featured rich backstories, complex storylines and took years (or decades) to write.
But, as the Silicone Valley crowd went through a period of fascination and re-discovery of many of the greats such as Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations I was also reminded of Sun Tzu’s Art of War. These books barely top 100 pages and are overflowing with valuable lessons but don’t conform to the traditional structure we’re often encouraged to pursue. Anyone who picks up Meditations expecting spelled out life lessons and the look and feel of a modern self-help book is guaranteed to be left scratching their head.
So, I sat down and I started doing some basic calculations. Just how many words did it take to fill a classic paperback with relatively convenient to read font at 100 pages? What about closer to 230 like The Starfish and the Spider? It turns out, shockingly few. If you’re thinking in terms of your college papers, 500 words was a page. Many blog posts these days are targeted at between 300-500 words. But, for a paperback with a comfortable font size you’re actually looking at much less. Realistically, you can manage between 200 words a page for a clean-large font based business book and 400 for more dense fantasy novels. That means 25,000 words should give you a very comfortable 100+ pages, while 50,000 words gave me my 210 pages.
For added context, a typical 20-page college paper at 500 words per page is around 10,000 words. Similarly my entire Master’s Thesis which was around 100 pages was similarly around 50,000 words.
While this is still not an insignificant number, thinking about the book as twelve 2,000 word blog posts was much less daunting than imagining sitting down battle through 400,000 pages.
This might strike some as mental gymnastics. For others, hopefully it underscores the importance of humanizing the task of writing a book and chunking it into something far more attainable and less daunting.
With this in mind, I also set a goal for myself for the book. That each section should be no more than 4,000 words long and that most should aim for 1,500-2,000 words – essentially a relatively long blog post.
I also decided that to keep the project viable, I’d aim for 100 pages (roughly 25,000 words) for the book. This was intimidating but felt like a goal that should be practical and not too much of a stretch. Given the focus of the content and that people had been conditioned in recent years to consume books like Meditations, I felt comfortable that even at that short length and light word count it was sufficient to self-publish and substantive enough to be worth the effort. Ultimately, hitting 25,000 not only ended up being relatively easy, but I blew past that word count and cut myself off due to timing and other obligations just shy of the 50,000 word / 200-page mark. In theory I had sufficient words that I could have gone for a slightly larger word count or page formatting which would have bumped the book closer to 250 pages, but I felt this was counterproductive for what I was aiming for with the book.
I had the advantage of watching my dad go through the process of publishing a number of books through the early days of the self-publishing and print on demand revolution. The good part of that was the opportunity to overhear him talk about working with editors, the exhaustive process trying to find and meet with agents, and some semblance of an understanding about the work that goes into a book. Each of his books were fictional novels with the exception of his non-fiction book about an educational institution he and my mom founded. This also probably contributed to my long-standing assumption that all books required at least 100,000 words and years of work. The unfortunate part was that because he’d jumped in and started publishing the majority of his books in the late 90s and the early 00s, the technology was still relatively primitive and the publishers themselves quite predatory.
I still have vivid memories of him getting 2 cent royalty checks and the palpable sense of frustration at the initial buy-in cost, mangling of the cover with co-branded labels, and various other liabilities that come with those early vendors.
His experiences pitching publishers and publisher agents also stood out as red flags for me and matched closely with the narratives that came up time and time again. Everyone had the same story – a grueling process of pitching dozens of agents and constant rejection which often burned through years of time and energy.
The third option – doing a local run of 20, 500 or 1,000 copies via a local print shop and then trying to distribute and sell them was also something I entertained briefly before deciding it didn’t make sense, was too much work, and required thousands of dollars in outlay with very little probability of recouping anything.
None of these stood out as good options. Then, I stumbled onto the figure in an article that roughly 40% of all print books in the US are now sold by Amazon with roughly 60-80% of all ebooks bought and sold through Amazon (depending on who you read).
As I dug into it further I realized that contrary to what I expected, the compensation ratios via Amazon for ebooks published through their platform were actually quite reasonable.
I set my price within the criteria they outline and take 70% of the profit. That means my take home on a $7.99 ebook is about $5.56. For reasons I’ll get into below, I chose to distribute and publish the print book through CreateSpace, a former stand-alone print on demand company that Amazon bought and integrated into their ecosystem. They’re pushing hard to get everyone to do print and ebooks through Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), but there are still ample incentives that draw most to use a hybrid of the two.
Through CreateSpace’s Amazon direct integration and distribution I’ve set the print price at $12.99. Of this when a book is purchased on Amazon.com I get $4.42 while Amazon takes the base materials price plus $3.37 in fees. An added benefit for anyone looking at global distribution is that CreateSpace/Amazon operate print on demand machines in most of their major markets. That means a machine in the UK, in Europe, in Japan, etc. which also means that if your readers buy through their local Amazon (eg Amazon.de) printing and fulfillment happen inside Europe. That means your readers don’t have to pay expensive import taxes or wait weeks for the books to ship and make it through customs.
But, beyond the fact that the commissions were not only fair, but quite healthy the real point of differentiation for me was that there’s zero cost to publish (or technically just the cost of a proof copy or two). That’s an incredible game changer, particularly when compared to the upfront costs normally required for an initial print run.
I mentioned above that I opted to go for CreateSpace, this was in part on the guidance of a family friend who I later discovered is a professional editor and formatter for Amazon publishers. The deciding factor was that CreateSpace allows you to order as many author’s copies as you want at cost. KDP, at least at that point, required you buy all copies, including proof copies, at retail price. As an aspiring author it’s always nice to have a few copies on hand or for promotional purposes. With CreateSpace that cost me $3.37 + shipping per copy, but that printing and shipping were limited to inside the US. With KDP, you’re looking at whatever your print price is set at including their commercial premium beyond cost.
Both routes easily publish on Amazon.com which also means you’re directly tied into Amazon’s built-in ranking system, engines, top sellers lists, rating systems, and the entire ecosystem which references Amazon. It also means that you’re integrated into their promotional tools and the Amazon Marketing services platform for book promotion and sponsored promotions.
The final added perk is that while both CreateSpace and KDP have fairly robust tutorials, KDP has an extensive set of tools and templates. Including pre-formatted word book templates which are generated and made available for download based on the book dimensions you’re interested in as well as cover image templates and even a rather crude cover editor alongside a nifty tool where you plug in the approximate # of pages and book dimensions and it’ll kick out a PS template you can feed to a designer or use yourself.
How I Did It
Chronology in this section overlaps and draws from many of the previous. Use the above for a better understanding of the background and research that paved the way to and then informed my final process.
Starting in March I created a note on my iPhone. In it, I started jotting down interesting observations, topics, and ideas that popped up in conversations with friends, my own general research, random shower thoughts, and the like. This included topical cues like “Long-term thinking”, “Ant thought experiment”, “Being good enough – almost ran from masters” and similar memory prompts.
I wasn’t yet committed to writing the book, but the narratives from the podcasts and other musings mentioned above were germinating as was a growing desire to prove to myself that I actually could write a book and had enough content to populate the 100 pages of content I was narrowing in on as a goal.
I’ve learned from past experience that I have a 4-8 month attention window for projects. This is the period that I ordinarily have the drive, energy, curiosity and motivation to aggressive create content, seek out new knowledge, and focus on a given project. As I enter the later months in that cycle I tend to tire of the project and either prepare to tombstone (retire) the project or switch it into maintenance mode. While I’m better than many generalists about closing out projects and seeing them to completion / continuing to do maintenance on the project, I know when that window subsides one of two things happen. Either 6-8 months goes by and then I re-invigorate and pick the project back up, running with it with renewed vigor, or I pivot to a new project and interest. I have long-term projects that are somewhat more stable, such as VirtualWayfarer which I’ve been publishing to for 11 years. But, even that goes in these types of cycles.
Knowing this, I also established that to avoid setting myself up for failure or self-sabotage I needed to aim for a 6-month window from first key-stroke to publication. For me, the writing and synthesis is the most interesting part of the process. Editing, formatting, and elements of the promotion range from torture to mundane drudgery. They’re fundamentally important, but challenges I knew I needed to account for and plan to plow though. Especially with the knowledge that they’d come right as my energy level for the project was likely to be flagging.
While this is highly individualized to how I cycle and work, we all have some sort of like-kind base behaviors. I think one of the biggest mistakes people make is ignoring this, not being very aware of it, and actively incorporating it into how they work and plan.
I also knew that while I’d be able to allocate a good portion of my focus and energy to the book, I was still going to be limited to whatever energy reserves I had left in the hours after..
It had been more than 20 years since the last time I’d been to Sicily. My expectations anticipated something entirely different than what the trip had in store for me.
In this combination of footage filmed on Mavic Air, Sony A7RII, and IPhone 7 I showcase some of the rich history, natural beauty, and cultural flavor that we experienced in our week-long road trip around Sicily.
Re-Discovering Sicily - The Island in Bloom - YouTube
– Random Sicilian back roads
– Near Agrigento
– Villa Romana del Casale
While most clips generally coincide to the voice over, due to a mixture of footage and clips, some pieces are spread throughout or sync up in multiple locations throughout.
As we wound through backroads lined by vineyards, rolling fields and a sea of poppies in peak bloom I captured a mixture of drone and vineyard footage. Instead of doing the usual, I’ve decided to compile that footage for this video as a soothing and relaxing piece with much slower pacing. Hopefully, you enjoy the sensation of flying through France’s incredibly poppy fields and enjoy the exploration of colors, textures and patterns.
Provence Poppies in Peak Bloom - Drone Footage - YouTube
The musical piece is an original recording by Maya Haven titled “Remember to Forget”.
Every year I post 65 (expanded this year to 100) of my favorite photos from the year’s travels. Ordinarily, this post comes around the New Year. This year, it and its color sibling (view it here) will land in the middle of April and June. The reason for this? Fantastic travels and an expanded focus on travel photography combined with a fairly all-consuming works schedule. At the close of 2016 I spent 9 incredible days exploring Tanzania and Zanzibar. Those photos are included in this year’s 100 shots and part of the reason that I just couldn’t quite cut things at 65.
This year’s post includes photos from the United States, Mexico, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Iceland, Denmark, China, Romania, Slovenia, and Italy. It was a spectacular year of travel and one which was complemented by a significant upgrade to my equipment in May 2017 when I gave up on Canon, sold my Canon 6D and pivoted to the Sony A7RII. On top of changing camera styles, I also significantly upgraded from one tier of camera to another. I’ve spent the last year learning the new camera and focusing heavily on how to enhance my photography. The photos in this post are taken on a combination of the two cameras. The Sony also brings with it added video capabilities which have led to added exploration with creating video content which you can explore here.
Questions about how I composed or took a specific photo? Feel free to ask in a comment. You’re also encouraged to check out my complete flickr albums here which include the many other shots from 2017 (and previous years) which didn’t make it in this post.