Tag Archive: digital nomad

São Paulo City Rocks. Or Sambas. Or Why Not Both?

I visited São Paulo last week, my first time to South America. I loved the city, beautiful and troubled and a place to stretch out and relax part of my brain.

I have few if any photos, because I couldn’t whip out my iPhone 6 on the street to snap them. Behavior standards are different: Don’t take out valuables or wear expensive jewelry, know where you’re going, keep cash in a few places.

With no photos, I’m left with words as my paintbrush. I’ll do my best to share what I saw.

Sao Paulo is ugly on first impression. Concrete block buildings, sprawl like L.A., smog and no beach.

Inside the urban jungle is a jewel.

Street art explodes all over flat surfaces. Faces and suns, dreamscapes and owls and vines, flags and flowers and animals, turning concrete into canvas. In the artists’ alley in Vila Madalena, a neighborhood of bars, houses and galleries, my guide and I met a mural painter. He comes every year to refresh his work, starting from scratch. He was tracing outlines on a red background, two men next to each other, the background uncertain bright crimson, with a note to leave the space clear and respect the work in progress.

Elsewhere, street art shares space with gang symbols that climb up buildings like spiders. In some cases, where 20 stories of a luxury building show markings like hieroglyphics, one per floor, I wonder if the painters started at the top and climbed down. It would be easier. Just break into the building and then rappel down like Batman.

Few people speak English. Portuguese is the language of everything. With my guide, I went places I never could have gone alone. I fit in until I opened my mouth.

Samba is the music of Brazil. At a bar Saturday afternoon, we had fried mandioca (cassava), polenta and coxinhas (chicken dumplings), caipirinhas and then started dancing. It was early, so families and friends danced together at tables. Aunts and daughters, husbands and brothers and boyfriends. A grandmother I didn’t know kissed me on the cheek.

My guide said people who like rock don’t like samba. And people who like samba don’t like rock. I don’t know why. I think they could marry each other and have crazy layered sex, one expression on top of the other, threaded through and inseparable.

Before that we wandered through a flea market at Praça Benedito Calixto, through odds and ends from all times and places washed up on the tables. I bought sunglasses because I didn’t have any.

At the end of every day, I felt dirty. Red clay soil, the afternoon thunderstorm that always came, high humidity and sunlight the rest of the day, grime from outdoor markets and bars and downtown buildings.

The city was founded more than 500 years ago and is far older than North American cities, but grew fantastically in the twentieth century, from 200,000 people in 1900 to more than 13 million today. New and old collide in unplanned chaos. In one trip downtown to the Sé district, my guide and I visited the Bovespa stock exchange (quiet because computers now trade contracts that pit workers used to scream about), the famous Martinelli building with a huge outdoor balcony for cityscape views, a free Mondrian art exhibit, a local cafe and a Benedictine monastery.

Afterward, I retreated to my hotel, showered and ordered room service, remembered I was a stranger, isolated in this oasis. I felt strange and calm and excited.

A futebol game was the highlight of my experience. I’d visited the futebol museum earlier. Now my guide and I climbed the path outside Pacaembu Stadium, entered with our tickets and found seats on the concrete bleachers. I’d always wanted to attend a soccer match, and to do it in Brazil was the best way I could think to fulfill this dream. We sat on the seats and cheered with the crowd for São Paulo. It was a lazy Sunday afternoon, the stadium only one-fifth full so not chaotic but absolutely fun. We yelled, cheered and enjoyed the match, with the win coming 10 minutes before the daily thunderstorm soaked everything.

I was ready to leave and not ready. I’m back and I’m not back. Is it possible to live in 50 places at once and give a piece of yourself to each place, and take a piece of each place in return?

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San Francisco in the Prehistoric Age

I found this ancient essay I wrote for Derek Powazek’s site about visiting San Francisco in 2001, just after the recession devastated the city’s economy. I’d spent a summer there five years earlier, so I wandered around for the weekend noting contrasts and taking notes.

SF Stories (my post is the long one at the top)
http://sfstories.com/post/general/index.010.shtml

I find I can’t conjure that depth of feeling for the ways L.A. has changed in the past decade. It’s different, and I could write about it, but not with so much melodrama.

Amazing Airbnb Number 2 – Reykjavik, Iceland

Today’s Amazing Airbnb is definitely on my someday list. I love Iceland, though I haven’t been to Reykjavik since 2006. Many apartments in Reykjavik are relatively expensive, but this one is affordable and atmospheric. It reminds me of a wooden ship near the ocean.

Cozy 101 Reykjavík apartment in Reykjavik

A cozy little apartment with an ocean veiw. Located on Reykjavíks main shopping and nightclub street in the heart of town. All the main bars and restaurants are within a walking distance from the apartment. There is a supermarket, swimmingpool, tourist information and bus terminal within a 5 minute walking radius. View all listings in Reykjavik

As a quick note, here are the criteria for an Amazing Airbnb:

  1. Relatively affordable for the area (typically $70 or less per night) or monthly rate less than $1700 USD;
  2. Beautiful and/or particularly atmospheric or interesting;
  3. Great reviews of the place and the host.

Amazing Airbnb Number 1

This series of posts will be dedicated to the most amazing, yet budget-minded Airbnbs I’ve found in my obsessive browsing of that site. I’ve stayed at some of these places; others are just on my personal someday list. Unlike most Airbnb best-of lists, all of them are relatively affordable.

Today’s Amazing Airbnb is an apartment on an organic farm in Tuscany. I stayed here and it was a great three weeks. There are two other apartments on the farm as well, but this one was my favorite:

Organic farm hills of Florence 3pax in Incisa, Florence

Apartment in Incisa, Florence, Italy. Poderaccio farm is nestled in the hills between Chianti and Valdarno Superiore, just half an hour from Florence. The guest house is a 18th century farmhouse divided into 4 apartments, renewed in 2012 using greebuilding materials. We only use rene… View all listings in Incisa, Florence

Carless in L.A. and Loving It

I decided to try Medium again. Here is my second post on this beautiful essay site:

I Have No Car in L.A. and It’s Awesome

I’m not sure how it’s going to work for me, but I’ve found a publication I like there and I love writing in their interface, so I’ll probably do it from time to time.

TL;DR: I decided to use Uber and Lyft instead of renting a car in L.A. It rocks, even in Car City.

Los Angeles, Again

Apologies for my absence from the blog for the past few weeks; I spent the time immersed in Udemy, getting my new course ready for publication. It’s submitted for review now, waiting only for an image before it gets set live. I’m super-excited and will let you know more when it’s released.

I’m spending the winter in Los Angeles.

I promised myself last winter, as I was freezing in my NYC apartment with the heat cranked up to max and my poor tree actually leaning away from the window to escape the polar vortex (who knew trees even DID that?), that if I actually went ahead and pursued this plan to travel and learn and find a new path, I’d spend the winter someplace warm.

I chose L.A. I’ve lived here before, for four-plus years in the early 2000s, and I know where to go, where to avoid, where to relax, where to hike. Most of all, I have friends here who I’m looking forward to spending time with, making the city feel more like a village hamlet or a reunion than a sprawling sprawl.

I’m already feeling the pull of L.A.’s unique rhythm, the blend of seasons into endlessness, the no-hurry mornings and the bright blue perfection, though now I am uniquely qualified to fight it with productivity. I spent the last seven years in New York, where busy-ness is a way of life, even when it’s fabricated.

I remember traveling around L.A. when I was working in journalism, wondering as I passed by cafes in the middle of the day, “Who are all these idle people?”

Now I am one of those people. But I’m not idle. In the past month I’ve doubled down on my (now-working!) Xcode plugin, signed up to present it at a SXSW breakfast, added new capabilities and started planning a standalone software product; created a Udemy course to teach basic programming concepts to would-be programmers, non-technical co-founders, and parents and teachers; and fixed major bugs in my flashcard app that were preventing progress. I’ve spoken with a lawyer about creating a company and am prepared to move forward.

I expect to launch all of these projects by the time I leave in March, along with an organic food finder I prototyped last summer. It’ll be an interesting couple of months.

Then I’ll see what sticks.

In the meantime, I’ll enjoy being productive in the midst of laid-back L.A. I’m also trying to get back on track with my organic, hack-your-health lifestyle, which I decided a few years ago was non-optional if I wanted to live an optimal life. It’s super-successful for me when I’m on-board with it, so I’m back on board and ready to enjoy my (non)-winter.

73 degrees. I love it. Lots of work to do.

Nothing Is Perfect: The Less-Good Parts

''The Mouth of the Beast'' from http://www.flickr.com/photos/amiebea/220479689/ by http://www.flickr.com/photos/amiebea/ {{cc-by}}

”The Mouth of the Beast” from http://www.flickr.com/photos/amiebea/220479689/ by http://www.flickr.com/photos/amiebea/ {{cc-by}}

One of my favorite people told me I sound like a superhero. The blog highlights all of the great parts of leaving my job and wandering the world, but none of the snags or tangles along the way.

I’m not sure I entirely agree. I’ve highlighted some of the ambiguous moments, like feeling stranded in Tuscany without a car, struggling with Internet outages and unreliable trains, and getting used to dark nights in farmhouse country. I’ve written about fear.

Partly, I’ve shied away from ungood stories because I don’t want to sound like I’m whining or ungrateful. On balance, this whole endeavor really is pretty great, and I’m happy I did it. I’m also grateful I was able to do it.

But to balance the scales a bit, this post will cover, in an anonymized way, several additional things that weren’t perfect.

1. Cat Bite, Initial Encounter. That’s what the hospital paperwork said when I was released from the emergency room. My roommate’s cat, which hates people but liked me, didn’t like it when I took her photo with my iPhone. It looked like a tiny scratch, but it got infected and my arm turned red. Seven days of antibiotics and stern warnings from my doctors to take all of them. I did.

2. Other Guest Roulette. With Airbnb, when I rent a private room in a host’s apartment, there are always other guests at some point. This has been true 100% of the time so far. Some of the guests were also from Airbnb, and some were friends of the host. Several of the guests were awesome and we became friends; others were less awesome. Only one made me feel truly uncomfortable, mainly because the hosts were also out, but we shared space for just a day and I locked my door while he was there.

3. Type-A, Nature-Lover Shock Therapy. I discovered I may not be cut out for life on vacation. That’s fine; I didn’t think I wanted to spend my life on vacation anyway. But I had more trouble than expected when I stepped away from an always-on, Internet-focused life. It was good for me to have this experience, but it wasn’t as easy or relaxing as I thought it would be. There were also beetles in the farmhouse that made a low, humming buzz that sounded like giant wasps. This terrified me until I figured it out.

4. My Right Foot. I sprained my ankle about 10 days before my scheduled flight to Florence. It wasn’t a bad sprain and didn’t hurt much, so I never bothered to ice it much or use a compression bandage. But I re-sprained it two days pre-flight; it collapsed while I was just standing still (perhaps a bad sign).

It still didn’t hurt much, so I purchased a compression sock and flew to Italy, then ended up visiting the ER the night after I landed. It turned out to be fine, thankfully, and the total bill was 31 euros. A week later, I re-sprained it again in the Cinque Terre, because I was starting to feel better and saw a hiking path near the water that I really wanted to explore. This time was worse — I felt like there was spaghetti in my ankle instead of ligaments and tendons. I finally accepted the need to take it easy. (It is getting better now, fingers crossed — I’m getting SCENAR therapy from my amazing acupuncturist and it is essentially a miracle.)

5. What Now Syndrome. My greatest fear is that I am like a zoo animal that, released from its pen, stands in the middle of a field and doesn’t know what to do. I can do anything, so I do a little bit of everything, and therefore I do nothing. I feel this fear more acutely as the learning-and-exploring phase of my adventures shifts into a do-something phase. I don’t think it’s bad for me to try several different things, and I think as long as I do some real work every day, I’ll figure it out, but it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by possibilities. I woke up this morning from a dream that I won’t be happy unless I’m working hard. I already knew that. And I woke up happy and ready to work.

I can’t help it even now. I’m turning this “Nothing Is Perfect” post into an “Isn’t This Awesome?” post. That really is how I think about the world. But nothing is perfect, and I’ve tried to give you a glimpse of that, to round out the picture and add more humanity to this adventure story.

My Interview with Nomadtopia

I’m excited to share the interview I did with Amy Scott at Nomadtopia: It’s here.

In the interview, I share some of my best advice from six months of travel, learning and exploration, including how I test-drove my nomad plan before taking the leap.

I normally have long blog posts, but this time I’ll let the interview speak for me, and I’ll be back with more later.

Re-Entry

Re-entry is hard.

I landed in New York on Thursday, back from Vienna, zero jet-lag and raring to go. Dropped back into my New York life with a swish like a basketball in a net from halfway across a stadium.

Spent a weekend in upstate, enjoying the woods and hills, then booted up the computer Monday and thought, now what?

Now everything. Now I do everything I think of, for the next few months, to see what sticks and what I enjoy and what I will discard and how Phase Two of my sabbatical/adventure will play out.

Phase One was exploratory and learning-focused. Phase Two will be doing-focused. Phase Three will be I-don’t-know-what. More traveling? More doing? More of both?

I was jet-lagged after all. I kept falling asleep at 7:30. I caught a cold too, which blurred my brain-waves and had me huddled in the office room in my aunt’s house earlier this week, cradling tea and listening to the rain. Learning HTML5, which is easy but easily overlooked so I decided to get it done. Catching up again on Sam Altman’s startup class. Finishing my Venture Deals class.

Finishing the initial-learning part of this journey is scary, because I love learning and at the same time I use it as a crutch to keep me from doing things. If I only knew more. But I’ve learned that I only need to know the minimum possible to get it done at a point in time. Then I can learn more, and improve, and iterate.

I can learn more later. I’ll always be learning more. But I need to start to do more, interspersed with learning, and pair the two like a gas pedal and a brake in a car. Using only one or the other leads to a fiery crash or to going nowhere. Using the two together leads to anywhere a road can go.

Six Months of Airbnb – Traveling in My Own City

Six months ago, I gave up my lease on a Manhattan apartment and embarked on an Airbnb adventure, living in a new place approximately every month.

Before then, I’d lived in a large studio in the east 20s for several years, filling my apartment with stuff and slowly realizing I needed to do something different. I didn’t know what “different” should mean. I’d have a tough day, come home, and buy dresses online to make myself feel better. It was a good feeling that lasted for about 30 seconds after I hit the “Buy” button. Dresses would arrive in boxes, and I’d let them sit in the entryway for weeks.

My parents would bring stuff too — more clothes, knick-knacks, kitchen implements, a form of love that fit my life at the time. I bought feng shui items to try to make my cluttered home feel more open. It worked for a while. But I came home one night last December, walked into my apartment bursting with stuff, and burst into tears.

I felt suffocated. I didn’t know why I was doing this. Why did I need to accumulate more, what was the point, if it held me down and prevented me from trying all the things I wanted to try?

I started to think about getting rid of all my stuff.

Getting Ready for the Leap

I watched videos online of people who’d done it. They had one backpack, and they were roaming the world, doing what they felt like.

That level of minimalism was not for me. I wanted more than one backpack. But I decided to start paring down and see how far I could get.

I gave notice on my apartment at the end of February and called the Salvation Army to set a pickup date. I browsed Airbnb to find promising listings for my new adventure. I wanted roommates, because I’d lived alone for too long. I wanted to shake up my way of life entirely.

One month later, I had three bags of stuff.

Empty Apartment

I walked through my apartment with the super, then closed the door behind me and took a taxi across town to my first Airbnb apartment. There was no moving van and no giant moving fee and no hassle. It was awesome.

Airbnb 1 – April

I chose a loft in Chelsea for the first month, April, living with a fashion photographer. It was directly across from Google and half a block from Chelsea Market. It was also convenient to the subway, which was great because I was still working. I was still weighing whether I needed a change of everything, including my job, or just a change of scenery. I gave myself one month to decide.

The loft was gorgeous, a self-contained space with a living-room area, desk, small mini-kitchen, and loft bed. The walls were covered with artwork, a friendly cat and dog lived in the apartment, and my roommate was the most amazing person I could have hoped for. We talked about life and he cooked delicious breakfasts and we watched Game of Thrones every week. I read programming books in my spare time. I looked out the window and felt life speeding up. At the end of the month, I gave notice at my job.

Airbnb 2 – May

On May 1 I moved to Brooklyn, to a two-bedroom apartment in Boerum Hill. My roommate was in technology, and with similar interests we had great discussions about technology and politics. It took a few days to adjust to the slower pace of Brooklyn — I’d wanted to try it, but at first it felt suburban, and I wasn’t sure about the low-key vibe. By the end of the month, I felt at home. I became friends not only with my roommate, but with his dog, and enjoyed the fully equipped kitchen and projection screen. Also, for the first time, I felt like part of a new community. I was moving toward something instead of away from something.

At the end of the stay, I decided I still had too much stuff. Moving was a struggle, and my suitcase was too heavy. So I left the suitcase behind for my June travels, and just took a backpack and a shoulder bags with a small purse inside of it.

Airbnb 3 – June

After my last day of work, I went to AltConf in San Francisco, so I didn’t rent a place in New York for June. Instead, I stayed in a Pacific Heights Airbnb for a week, in one of the most ideal rooms I could imagine. The Airbnb listing didn’t have professional photos, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. But the place was a tiny brick house on a hilly street, the apartment was clean and quiet and full of light, and the room in the back had a bed, a futon and a tiny fireplace and desk. I slept so peacefully there that, once again, I felt San Francisco embraced me as a visitor.

Airbnb 4 – June

In between trips to visit my parents and to see friends in upstate New York, I spent a few days in Manhattan in late June. I chose the West Village, since I’d always wanted to live there. It was a great experience but really no better than other neighborhoods, which allowed me to put to rest my inflated expectations. The best part was meeting my host and the other travelers staying with her. This is something I’ve found to be true with Airbnb — there’s almost always another roommate in the picture at some point. I’ve been fortunate to have great experiences, but it is something to be aware of, if you’re thinking of booking a private room instead of an entire apartment.

Airbnb 5 – July

After traveling in Canada (at an official B&B, not an Air), I returned to New York in late July for Hacker School. I chose an Airbnb room on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights, directly across from a Le Pain Quotidien. I needed more than just a backpack for the next three months, so I bought a tiny carry-on suitcase that was easy to carry up and down stairs. Along with my backpack and shoulder bag, this was all I had and all I needed.

I loved living in Brooklyn Heights. The room was quiet, huge, and beautifully furnished. I could look out my window and see people dining on roof decks and then go downstairs to see people dining on the street. I didn’t see my roommate much, but enjoyed the conversations we had and then enjoyed the peacefulness of the space and the neighborhood.

Airbnb 6 – August/September

My final stay in New York was in Dumbo, where I’m typing this now. I live under a bridge, and the noise of trains is my companion. I love it, for the time and the place and the atmosphere and the industrial/new/old feeling. The apartment is a mid-century furnished loft, my roommate is amazing, and the little dog is incredibly friendly and playful. The water is filtered, there’s a trampoline to jump on for exercise, and I’ve gotten a lot done while living here.

Dumbo loft

I’m also ready to move on to what’s next. My “rent” next month will be in Florence and Tuscany, where I’m traveling for a post-Hacker School change of scenery. My goal is to maintain my pace of learning while seeing new places and having new experiences and considering what’s next.

I’ll be back in mid-November to decide for sure. My period of discovery will need to shift to a period of implementation or form a strange hybrid of the two, which could be even better.

But I still won’t have any stuff. And I’m happy about that. The important things in life are love, experiences and giving back — leaving something good behind. Stuff has no place in that equation, for me. It gets in the way. It’s a placeholder. I’ve learned to admit it, and clearing my life of stuff has done me a great good. It’s allowed me to see what’s important to me, focus on what’s important, and get things done.

Traveling in my own city, with Airbnb, has been an amazing experience.