Work/Life Hacking

Scandinavians Share Secrets to Surviving Darkness

Posted on: Monday, January 18th, 2021
Posted in: Sabbatical Shuffle, SoulTrain, Unplugging, Work/Life Hacking | Leave a comment

  • Danish art about getting hyggelig from a boutique in a small coastal town 

As a 100% Scandinavian mutt, I’ve enjoyed unforgettable travels in their lands, and maintain a stubborn habit of studying their ways of life.  Healthcare consortium Kaiser Permanente recently posted an article promoting the simple but effective ways that those Nordic folks deal with darkness, both literal and metaphorical.

This ain’t brain science. Yet these rituals may work brain-mind-body miracles. We’ll embrace the language barrier + share some ideas, in case these days have you feeling dark, hopeless, scared, anxious, intimidated, worried, numb, confused, lost, pissed, catatonic, bored, or otherwise not quite euphoric.


BreakAway has preached this until if we scream in the forest, no one will hear us. Point is, every moment outside improves your well-being. A long sojourn in the mountains might be idyllic, but even a walk in the park will work wonders. In my Scandi and Scandi-American Midwest memories, every farm and yard had chairs and benches all over the yards—among other toys and cues to lure you out-of-walls. And oh, those sweet porches…


Yep, it’s about that simple. Get up, sleepy head, and hear the birds when they are most robust. You start the day chirpy, happy, and ready to flutter into the to-do list. Hey, if the birds can do it, you can too!


In Sweden, work is scheduled around the break, not VV. And this is not just a slouch and stare at the phone moment. Rather, there’s conversation, calming, resting, and reset. I remember this ritual at both sets of my grandparents’ farms and beyond. So simple, yet almost transformative. The laughter, the sharing of thoughts and info, the camaraderie. And then…back to work. The fresh cookies and cakes were pretty good too!


This word has been trending so long I almost feel sheepish and ba-a-a-d to use it. But hey, I grew up with hyggelig, so who needs trends? Hygge, of course, means embracing the darkness by lighting a candle, a fire, a twinkling tree. Piling on another posh pillow. Hugging blankets and sipping something warm. And don’t forget soothing MUSIC! Just get comfie. Summer will be back soon enough.


As BreakAway has always promoted, Everything in moderation . (Including moderation.) LAGOM, which might translate to “just the right amount,” suggests we avoid, say, over-eating and N’flix binging. And that we un-rest the butt and move more. Get the chores done. But then take enjoy coffee break!

Perhaps a shot of akavit at the end of the day? Just sayin’. Ha det godt! (Norsk.)

Og behold troen. (More Norsk.)

Translation: And keep the faith.

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Forbes & Motley Fool Endorse BreakAways

Posted on: Saturday, February 8th, 2020
Posted in: Sabbatical Shuffle, Work/Life Hacking, Wily Mktg | Leave a comment

To everything there is a season: A time to work, a time to play. 

The BreakAway Crew has been selling sabbatical lifestyles since 2008. Yet we’re always delighted when bigger influencers like Forbes and the Fool affirm our Big Idea. Both approach the topic from a career-centric POV. And that’s swell, since most folks have a career-credit-card focus and that encourages MYBA room to romp in the equally vital faith-&-freedom space.

  • Iconic takeaways from media masters

You can peruse these articles quickly, but here are the primary reminders in case you need to get back to tic tok. 

Career breaks…


Since they give you a chance to try new challenges, embark on an entrepreneurial endeavor, diversity your skill set, volunteer for something impressive, up your passion profile, boost your confidence, and more.


Because these days, so many jobs are LinkedIn-predictable and (for many) STEM-ish. Travelers have grander perspectives and wider exposure. Savvy employers want nothing less. As we say at BreakAway, it’s about self- Wily Mktg.


This will make more sense as the Millennials take over. And they will comprise 35% of the work force this year. And get this: 84% of them foresee career breaks in their future.


Since, frankly, that’s a career (and well-being) killer. Forbes says that 23% of full-time employees report burnout often; another 44% say it hits them sometimes. Our side-EFX-free RX: BreakAway ASAP.


My favorite. Paths, passion, restlessness, test drives, that whole deal. And our Motley not-so-foolish writer remind us that, depending on your age, many retirement funds are eligible to pay for your adventure. (Why wait until you’re old and rickety!?!)

  • Free your mind and your ass will follow

So says one of my heroes, George Clinton (and Funkadelic). Our fine writers agree but might paraphrase thusly: 1) Free your mind and your career will follow. 2) Free your mind and your career break will follow. 

So do like Forbes and the Fool and start planning BreakAways into your life already! Or just agree that careers are long yet life is longer so…When the time is right, why not go? 

PS Thanks, Forbes and Fool!

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Stop SM and Smell the Roses

Posted on: Sunday, October 13th, 2019
Posted in: Unplugging, Work/Life Hacking, Wily Mktg | Leave a comment
Kirk Horsted

A shocking amount of both sabbatical and SM news arrives from India, Europe, and places that have forever taken free time seriously. FBOW, we often overlook it like arrogant Americans. But sometimes, one realizes that, rather like the lessons of travel itself, there’s much to learn beyond the pond.

Recently, Mumbai’s published a warm and provocative article about a successful pop musician, Vasundhara, who one day realized that SM had taken over her life, damaged her career and real-world interactions, and brought on a case of anxiety that was causing bodily harm. “Likes” had replaced hugs—and the results were toxic.

Her solution? A 6-month SM Detox. The cravings hurt at first. But she pushed herself toward impressive projects including a teaching position in the arts, singing lessons that improved her ability to sing with the whole body and increased her range, a new single, and a how-to book for musicians trying to break into the industry.

In other words, all those hours of SM posting may have seemed like savvy, modern-day marketing. But when compared to face-to-face connecting? Waste of time!

She’s returned to SM, but selectively. Her new discipline allows 40 minutes every other day. And she aims to never turn back. As she says, she’s realized the “superficial information” from SM floods you with false impressions of people, and that, “We have forgotten that we are wired to wired to look at a person, get non-verbal cues, and hear their voices.”

A psychologist who helped with this story + the BreakAway Board of AdvisorZ recommends you can read all about it and study their excellent SM Detox tips here.

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Sabbaticals Becoming Influential Marketing Fad

Posted on: Wednesday, October 2nd, 2019
Posted in: Sabbatical Shuffle, Work/Life Hacking, Wily Mktg | One comment
Kirk Horsted

Hey, would YOU like $30K to take four weeks off? Or how about being sponsored to spend 3 months in Italy revitalizing a fading village? Or, if all that sounds too cushy, why not embark on a 30-day eco-journey that reaches its peak with 10 days in Antarctica assisting with pollution research?

Sounds tempting, right? Of course! But there’s a catch. For starters, your chance in all cases are about, well, 1 in a million. Then there’s another catch: You’ll have to become a social-media barker for your sponsor. And there are more catches, including that a part of you (and your “content”) will forever be owned.

These are brilliant—and ultimately cheap—marketing schemes by savvy companies who prefer screen-based advertising to traditional tactics. Stok Cold Brew Coffee is behind the $30K sabbaticals. Airb&b came up with the Italian village concept. And if Antarctica is your fantasy, you can thank airb&b for that one too, along with their eco-partner Ocean Conservancy.

The upside here is that these promotions are calling attention to—and perhaps somehow doing something about—sad realities like dying small-town Italy and even-more-dying Planet Earth. (The Stok deal seems to not worry about social redemption—just social media).

On the sidelines, some pundits are thumbing their noses at these efforts. They note that candidates’ selection criteria will be heavily weighted on their influencer power, how airb&b’s success has worsened the affordable housing problem (which itself brings about pollution), and how dubious airb&b’s own record is when it comes to any environmental leadership or guidelines (not to mention that the travel industry is responsible for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions).

Welcome the relatively new phrase: Crisis Capitalism. Nowadays, certainly someone will have get-rich schemes from viewing dying species, seeing the ice caps before they melt away, and swimming with the dolphins while we still can. You can track back to Mr. Marx himself if seeking the roots of such opportunistic thinking.

Yet let’s hope the motives of and outcomes from this burst of sabbatical/save-the-world bingo makes some positive things happen. Heck, if the increased awareness about sabbaticals helps people move beyond today’s perceived priorities and toward a path beyond the BreakAway obstacles, then sign me up—however slim the odds I might actually find myself enjoying free lunch while spiffing up ancient Italy.

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Self-Transformation in 100 Minutes?

Posted on: Thursday, August 13th, 2015
Posted in: Work/Life Hacking, Blog | Leave a comment

Can you change your life by taking 10 minutes a day to “slow down and soak life?”

In June, a group of wired young women posed that challenge to their online communities—and got 200 participants in 185 locations to take the plunge. They report that “97% met their pre-challenge intentions.” Many were rich in “aha moments.”

  • The endless roots of SM

Our kindred friends at offer the ever-relevant reminder that even ten minutes a day can change your perspective, mood, and (maybe) life. From “daydreaming on purpose to lying on the ground for 10 minutes to dancing in the kitchen,” turning off the relentless life loop can feel as freeing as flying.

So imagine the magic that happens from three (or 12) months away from the I’m-so-busy routine. The Career Break community and the BreakAway Fan Club preach that potential, yet live at least 97% of our lives as heathens—obsessed by our own to-do lists and called to various screens that look nothing like long-term travel.

The four BreakChanger gurus appear to lead rigorous online lives. Indeed, the 10-for-10 premise and audience roots itself in social media—a great way to find participants while also marketing one’s personal brand and, in these cases, professional services.

  • Good for them!

So this idea is basically a win-win-win; it’s good for the Breakers, good for business, and good for the world. I love the simplicity of the challenge: Can YOU take a 10-minute break for 10 days? If so, how does it change you? There’s no word on whether fall holds a new opportunity to chill out for, say, 15 minutes for 15 days.

  • Is the 10-minute meditation next?

While some folks worldwide meditate as a way of life, others dabble in it, rather like workouts and diets. And this dabble-practitioner (of all the aforementioned, I suppose) has learned one overarching fact about meditating: It’s hard work.

Achieving the discipline for the daily “sit” can become unattainable, annoying. Taking months-long classes can seem to drag on for years. The group quiet time can make one’s brain howl while the body craves a recliner. Outdoor walking meditation includes risks like boredom, insensitive panhandlers, and disdain for one’s climate. As for the full-day retreats: Those can compare to interminable experiences in hospitals (yourself or a loved one) and yet, at times, the blissy euphoria more often obtained from catching a nice buzz. Both may happen, over and over, during the same day-long retreat.

Yet those days are unforgettable, and certainly mind-opening. Even though nothing happened. Perhaps that’s the point.

So if our BreakChanger friends can approximate those lessons and find refreshment in 600 seconds a day, more power to them. I may be older, from Mars (not Venus), and less committed to online living. But having mostly fallen off my meditation wagon (as I do every summer, when I seem to “need” it less), that 10 for 10 program sounds pretty good right about now.

I bet it will work. In fact, I guarantee it.

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Workation vs. Vegecation…

Posted on: Monday, January 26th, 2015
Posted in: Work/Life Hacking, Blog | Leave a comment
Well, the Vacation Revolution we announced in the last post is confronting resistance already. The NYT reported last week on the trend of “workations.” That’s when high-wired, workaholic types travel to exotic, “all-inclusive” destinations decked out with cool necessities like wifi, tech gear, office space, new coworker-pals and, of course, killer coffee.

  • The next big co-working thing

Early adopters, entrepreneurs, and idea-mongers are showing up in droves—to places like Surf Office (in California and the Canary Islands), Mutinerie Village (a restored farmstead near Paris and, soon, Coconat, a bucolic retreat near Berlin.

Why not? Why not go hang out somewhere suave where you can work, network, and surf both waves and webs 24/7? If you’re young, worldly, and omni-connected—and you hate unplugging (and love working)—then this is for you. Oh yeah, it may help to have deep pockets or a generous expense account.

The idea further validates the co-working movement, which is uplifting news for local pioneer, CoCo. Maybe the next expansion for CoCo is a space in a retired Minnesota lake Resort!

  • The next big un-working thing

Speaking of lakes, folks are also coming in droves (and pickups, ATVs, and snowmobiles) to vegetation retreats atop frozen lakes. Some call it ice fishing. Some just seem to meditate for hours, staring at a hole in ice. Some, though not all, catch bottle bass. They also collaborate, as in, “Catchin’ anything?” But very few of them require laptops, cell phones, or wifi.


To be sure, these peaceful people most likely return to work the next day. So their vegecation is temporary—unlike our workation friends who never seem to shut down.

To each his (or her) own. But every single soul I’ve invited to the Ice Shanty has loved their retreat into the comfortable, low-stim sanctuary. Things like giddiness, games, candles, and singing happen. Things like work, worry, and selfie-importance don’t.


When I ask my friends, “Why is this old, little trailer so magical and fun?” They usually say something like, “Because we’re away.”

A BreakAway comes in many forms. That includes 1974 ice-fishing campers on ice, and maybe even surfing workations by the sea.


Still, I’ll take the vegecation over a workation. Work will wait. Chilling out in the present moment won’t.

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Travel Joy Is 52% Anticipation

Posted on: Thursday, January 26th, 2012
Posted in: Work/Life Hacking, Blog | 5 comments
Survey sez:  52% of the happiness we derive from travel is experienced before we even arrive at our destination.*

If that’s true, then why not always have a getaway in the planning stages just to boost your spirit?

I witnessed such a “joy of anticipation” at a BreakAway Meetup on Monday of this week.  A good 25 people showed up out of the gray to talk travel, share memories, and say hey to Sherry Ott (of Meet, Plan, Go! fame)—who shared amazing laptop pics of her Mongo Rally journey.

A joyful time was had by all—really!

  • Big bios, big plans

The most eye-opening part, though, was listening to strangers talk with palpable commitment about their travel dreams.  Dreams?  Make that Realities.  Most of these new friends have already been to exotic places—and most have specific plans for more.

In a few days, one leaves for an extended stay in South America.  Another flies out next week for annual school-building work in Haiti.  One is scheming to restore a storm-damaged catamaran and start a kite-sailing charter.

  • $5 days in Europe, $5 burgers, and the Battery Killer too

We were also fortunate to host published travel heavy-hitters like Doug Mack (just back from Cuba) and Leif Pettersen (soon off to Romania to write for Lonely Planet).  High-5s to the good service and $5 burgers from Wilde Roast.  And many thanks to the friendly travel enthusiasts whose energy and synergy felt contagious.

To quote the old cliché:  Getting there is half the fun.  That’s worth remembering when a BreakAway seems far away.  Keep the faith—and 52% of the joy can set in before you even set sail.

*according to TravelSupermarket

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11 Q: Sherry Ott Rallies (in Mongolia!)

Posted on: Saturday, January 21st, 2012
Posted in: Work/Life Hacking, Blog | Leave a comment
If the career-break movement really ever does catch wildfire, some of us will get so rich that we go on perma-break, right?  Until then, the people provide a rich enough payoff.  Like meeting Sherry Ott, who’s graced these web pages before and motivates thousands through Meet PlanGo, her own travelblog Ottsworld, and more.

Although she’s highly inspirational, she also may be crazy.  I mean, who else signs up for a 10,000-mile car race through remote Mongolia’s deserts and mountains—all for charity, chills, and thrills—that in the end leaves her wondering,

What will I ever do to top this?”

Why not ask her yourself…when Sherry guest-stars in our Breakaway meetup on Monday night (1-23-12), and tells tales taller than Mongolian mountains.  We’ll be at Wilde Roast, on the river, sipping wine and spreading the career-break gospel (and gossip).

Meantime, please enjoy Sherry’s responses to the BreakAway 11Q.  You’ll get a taste of Sherry’s unique travel genius—and of what it’s like to take an outlandish journey with three veritable strangers.  Just for kicks and craziness.

We hope to see you Monday night!

  • Biggest getaway challenge

Getting out of a Kazakhstan police station I was being held in.  (you need to come out and meet me on Monday to hear the rest of the story!)

  • Grandest arrival

Our first day arriving in Brussels to stay with my friends there.  When we arrived at 11PM after driving all day from the kickoff party in London, we walked into their apartment and they had champagne, wine, cheese, and a grand feast for us all prepared!  We ate like kings and stayed up until 2AM giddy with excitement from the beginning of the rally.

  • Favorite place

Camping in the middle of nowhere in Kazakhstan under a full moon.  I have no idea where we were, but drinking beer until midnight sitting on our little camp stools under a full moon was perfect.

  • Logistical nightmare

Navigating Mongolia.  Geez – where do I start?  There are no roads in Mongolia, there are only dirt paths that spread out like tendrils of a complex spider web.  We used a compass and an out of date map to attempt to determine our way.  And consider this, with no roads, that means there are no bridges either.  Water crossings were an adventure and a nightmare at the same time!

  • Most meaningful moment

The first glimpse of Ulaanbaatar (exactly 5 weeks after we left London) sent chills through my body.  I was overcome with emotion – a giddiness and sense of accomplishment that is unparalleled.

  • Worst disaster(s)

Knock on wood – we didn’t have any major disasters.  But here’s the ones that sort of qualify:

Mechanical – busting our exhaust system and muffler, as well as our front shock in Mongolia.

People – There were some pretty major fights in that little car.  Tears, yelling – you name it.  One that ended in the car screeching to a halt in a cloud of dust and people getting out screaming at each other.

Technical – The day we left London we ‘bricked’ my iphone and it no longer even booted up.  Since I’m a travel blogger I rely on my smart phone for staying connected while traveling.  We had to try to get it repaired along the way and ultimately I had to buy a new one while in Germany!

Administrivia – We didn’t have the right paperwork for our car’s title which is a big issue when crossing borders in this part of the world.  We were able to forge a copy of our title while in Kiev and we’d hold our breath through every border crossing hoping they didn’t realize it was a copy and not the real thing.  Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.

Other Teams – A team we had been caravanning with were out at a nightclub in Russia when someone drugged their drinks.  They were taken out in the forest outside of town and robbed.  Even after the incident – they kept going and made it to the finish.

  • Serendipitous experience

In Aktobe Kazakhstan while stopped at a stoplight we were lost as usual trying to read maps and make guesses on which way to turn.  A man pulled up next to us in an old, white car and beeped.  We all looked and he started to try to speak to us; he simply said “Tourist?”  We said yes, and then he gave us a little heart shaped key chain and drove off.  It was an odd encounter, but we attached that key chain to the headrest of one of the seats, and after that moment our luck started to change.  When we turned in the car for the auction in Ulaanbaatar, the key chain was still there.  Despite that fact the many children were asking for it, we always kept it for good luck.

  • Strangest encounter

Once we arrived in Mongolia, everyone wanted to buy our car; our beat up, dirty, sticker-filled, falling apart car.  Locals would stop us at gas stations, accost us at a stop light or ride up to our camp site and try to communicate with us to find out what we were doing there.  We’d try to explain through charades that we were driving to Ulaanbaatar for charity, but they’d always ask us if they could buy our car.  Some would also ask if they could buy our tents, camping gear, and headlamps too; they wanted to purchase every last bit of stuff we owned.  We were like walking billboards to these people who had money, but didn’t have products to buy.

  • Requisite health dilemma

Nothing major on this front.  I think all of us are full time travelers and were pretty used to ingesting foreign bacteria!  Our biggest health issue was that early on while in Europe one person had a cold and inevitably we all got the cold since we were stuck in a small space together coughing and sneezing.

  • Profound take-away

Traveling by car in this manner, completely independently, was some of the most challenging travel I’ve done.  Every day you are faced with decisions and you have to make decisions based on the unknown (road conditions, language barriers, mechanical issues, where will you next find food).  But I was once again taught the lesson that people will always try to help you when you need it.  We relied on locals along the whole route; they gave us food, directions, parts, did repairs for us, brought us gifts, and took care of us.  The more unknown you have to deal with, the more you have to simply surrender control and rely on others.

  • Re-entry vibe

I was left with this post-event low and lingering question of “What will I ever do next to top this?”

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11Q: Julie DuRose Blooms

Posted on: Friday, October 14th, 2011
Posted in: Work/Life Hacking, Blog | One comment
When Julie DuRose speaks at our panel of five at Meet, Plan, Go MSP next Tuesday (10-18-11), you can expect stories of escaping academia, exotic foods, and solo travel. As a women.  In outlandish lands.  With nary an itinerary.  Not only did she survive, she thrived—and can’t wait to fly away again.  (See bio below.)

These traits alone make her a perfect panelist.  But her clever demeanor and gift of story will light up the room, and enlighten fellow dreamers and schemers.  The world is ready for her book, Wake Me for Meal Service.  But alas, we’ll have to wait until it’s finished, published, and perfect.  With her talents, the wait won’t be long.  And after that?

My best guess is we’ll be needing a go-away party—to wish her Godspeed before she embarks on a book tour, or perhaps more urgently, another big BreakAway.

So see her while you can.  Meantime, thanks to Julie for taking on the 11Q challenge.  Take a read.  Soak in her courage.  And please join us at Honey on Tuesday night.

  • Biggest getaway challenge

My then partner (and travel-mate) and I are both planner types and have a head for details and problem solving, so the multi-country itinerary was not a big deal at all. What was difficult, though, was agreeing about what all to save (or not save), and what to get done (or leave unfinished) – which lead to the challenge of picking a date. This was likely more about the fundamental ways we were incompatible, though, than it was about the nature of the tasks at hand. (May you all have an easier time of it!)”

  • Grandest arrival

My father & stepmom bought us two nights at Le Meridien in Kuala Lumpur over New Year’s. We went from backpacking through leech-infested jungles to sipping European wines in fluffy white bathrobes. I hadn’t seen a bathtub in months, and this one was magical.”

  • Favorite place

When I was riding my motorcycle through Alaska, it was Alaska. When I was in New Zealand, I thought it was New Zealand. When I was in Bali, it was Bali, and when I was in Rajasthan . . . well, you get the idea. The only place I didn’t think was worth the trip was Invercargill, whose claim to fame is that it is the southernmost city in the world. That was pretty much the most exciting thing about it, too.”

  • Logistical nightmare

Buying five train tickets as a woman traveling alone in India was a three-day project. You can pay a travel agent to help you with things like this, of course, but I don’t find that nearly as satisfying or memorable. (Oh, and whenever possible, take the train.)”

  • Most meaningful moment

“Most” is again an impossible designation, but I often think about a time when a young Cambodian man got on his scooter and rode through the streets looking for me to apologize that his father had displayed anger in the restaurant where I had just eaten. We had never met before.

I also think a lot about the grand hospitality I received over the course of a year, and in particular, this amazing couple in Anchorage that shared their home and their lives with us for three weeks, and included us on a trip into the Arctic.”

  • Worst disaster

I can’t think of any “disasters” really, but my (initial) traveling companion and I fought a lot – and often publicly, since our “homes” were basically on our backs. (There is definitely a loss of privacy on the kind of trip I took.) At the tail end of a particularly long – and silent – flight, it became apparent that the man next to us had no idea that we were even together. That felt like something of a disaster at the time, if only on a relationship level.”

  • Serendipitous experience

Serendipity is the rule when you give yourself over to travel. One of my favorite moments of serendipity was meeting two amazing guys from Dayton, Ohio, near the Taj Mahal. I was putting out a table fire at the time, but that is a long(er) story.

You know, it got to the point that whenever something went wrong – when I got horribly lost or sick, or my vehicle had broken down, for example – I was overcome with this wonderful kind of calm anticipation about what remarkable thing or person was waiting for me just around the bend.”

  • Strangest encounter

Firing an AK-47 in Phnom Penh, I suppose, or a forbidden taxi ride through Bangkok when the city was on fire and under lockdown in April of 2010.”

  • Requisite health dilemma

You name it: Jellyfish attack in Indonesia, dysentery in India, Chikungunya in Thailand, bedbugs in Cambodia . . . Each time I needed medical care, though, I was profoundly amazed at how much easier, more accessible, and more pleasant it was then any healthcare experience I’d had back “home.”

  • Profound take-away

For “profound,” you’ll have to buy the book.”

Re-entry vibe.

Honestly? America feels like a forced labor camp – except the “labor” is willingly participating.”


Julie DuRose When Julie quit her teaching gig at The Ohio State University to travel the world for a year, she let her appetite guide her. She shucked oysters at the Russian River; picked cranberries in the Arctic; tried stingray in Malaysia; ate jellyfish in Singapore (that was revenge); popped oven-roasted tarantulas in Cambodia, and ate fruit she’d never heard of – jackfruit, salak, rambutan, and the sexiest of all, the delicate mangosteen. All of it surprised her, as did the hospitality of her fellow humans. From Carmel to Anchorage to Kona, HI, throughout New Zealand, India, and S.E. Asia, she never imagined how many folks would be part of her extended travels – not to mention her life thereafter.

Julie DuRose is former chef and current M.F.A. candidate in nonfiction, currently writing a memoir entitled Wake Me For Meal Service. She lives in St. Paul, though she dreams of Myanmar.


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11Q: Intrepid traveler Doug Mack

Posted on: Friday, June 17th, 2011
Posted in: Work/Life Hacking, Blog | 2 comments
“Wouldn’t have regretted a single penny.”  “Overthinking it.”  “Things went downhill quickly.”  “The city of lights earned its title.”

In 11 quick questions, Doug Mack serves up just a taste of his bold trip through Europe with no guidebook—except a dated (as in 1960s!) gem he found at a book festival.  His idea was so clever, and his trip so epic, that a publisher picked it up immediately.  (But you’ll have to wait until 2012 to buy your copy.)

To hear more—live and in person—please join Mr. Mack and me next Thursday, 6/23, for a MeetUp at Ginger Hop in Nordeast Minneapolis.  Meantime, read on to learn more about the bottom line of his big idea:  “Travel is more fun when you’re a bit ignorant.”


  • Biggest getaway challenge.

Well, I suppose money and vacation time are always the biggest hurdles, and they were for me, too. I had a small  travel fund built up, but also put a fair amount on a credit card, considering it an investment that would, I hoped, pay off in the long term in the form a of a book deal. I’m very lucky that things really did work out that way, but even if they hadn’t, I’m a big believer that experiences are more valuable than stuff, and I wouldn’t have regretted a single penny.

I also didn’t have much vacation time built up at my day jobs (yes, jobs plural), but I was fortunate to have accommodating bosses who were willing to let me take a fair amount of time without pay.

I’d been thinking about a big trip for years. Over-thinking it, actually—trying to find just the right time, just the right circumstances. Worrying about the details of the journey and wondering who would fill in for me at work. There came a point, though, when I decided to just do it. I traveled to Europe for a couple of weeks in 2008, and then came back and thought about how badly I wanted to return … and then, the July, I just decided I was going back for six weeks, in August. Just told myself I was going to do it with minimal preparation. Possibly the best decision I’ve ever made.

  • Grandest arrival.

Venice. Seriously, the sense of arrival there is without peer: you step out of the train station and you are on. The Grand. Canal. And it looks exactly like you think it looks: the water teeming with gondolas and dinghies and delivery boats; the elaborate stone bridge leading to the other side; the elaborate and slightly crumbling historic buildings. I got there just after sunrise, when the soft amber light and long shadows made everything seem all the more dramatic and impossibly picturesque.

Unfortunately . . . that was the best part of my time in Venice—things went downhill quickly (a long story in itself). But the arrival. My God. Amazing.

  • Favorite place.

Hmm . . . I hate this question, to be honest, because I have a hard time answering it. (Actually, I just blogged about this problem.) Depends on the day. Lately, I’ve been craving gelato and on a historic-building kick, so right now I’ll say Rome. If you’re ever there, go to Gelateria del Teatro. Thank me later

  • Logistical nightmare.

Well, when you travel with a 45-year-old guidebook, every day is full of minor annoyances—logistical headaches if not nightmares. Beyond that, though, there was a train ride from Munich to Zurich. Should be simple: You get on in the first city, then off in the second. But if the person at the ticket desk in Munich gives you specific instructions that turn out to be wrong, the journey is a bit more complicated. My friend Lee and I ended up riding five different trains, with a brief detour through Austria (which was not included on Lee’s Eurail pass, although the attendants never noticed when the checked our tickets). There were a few moments of minor panic and several long hours of unnecessary train-riding.

But I really can’t complain. I mean, we were riding a European train (safe and comfortable) through the Alps, so we had a front-row view of countless chateau-lined villages and towering peaks and sparkling lakes with crumbling castles on the distant shores. Not bad scenery to stare at, slack-jawed, for a few hours.

  • Most meaningful moment.

Sunset at Montmartre in Paris. My outdated guidebook said I should go there at dusk, but didn’t explain why or what you’d see—so I went without any expectations.      Now, apparently most people already know this, but it turns out the reason you go there is that it’s a hill with a view of the whole city. So I get to the top and I there it is: Paris laid out below me, sprawling to the horizon, the street lamps just switching on as the City of Lights earned its title. It wasn’t meaningful for the amazing view, though (at least not per se) but for the fact that it was such a powerful example of the (occasional!) benefit of a bit of lowered expectations and willful ignorance. I’m certain that if I’d known what was up there, I would have looked for photos on Flickr beforehand and built my day around getting there at precisely the right time for the ideal light, and generally built it up in my mind such that it could never live up to the hype. Instead, I saw it without that filter of expectations, and it was all the more enchanting and revelatory, a discovery rather than just something to check off my list.

  • Worst disaster.

I almost feel guilty saying this, but I really didn’t have one. I could stretch the definition and talk about some frustrating experiences getting lost or having hilariously awkward conversations with restaurant workers and hotel desk clerks who couldn’t understand why I was toting around this old guidebook. But no real disasters. They make for good stories, I realize, but I’m content to avoid them.

  • Serendipitous experience.

So many, starting from the moment back in Minneapolis when I happened upon this old guidebook at a book festival. That night in Montmartre might not have been truly serendipitous, but it definitely had an element of accidental discovery. And in Zurich, which is by far the most expensive city I’ve ever visited, Lee and I were feeling broke and exhausted one afternoon, when we stumbled upon a long line of locals outside a hole-in-the-wall cafe. It turned out to be a genuinely cheap (and not just by Zurich standards) takeout joint with excellent food.

  • Strangest encounter.

In Paris, there was this one restaurant that my guidebook (have I mentioned it was a bit outdated?) described for a good half-page—it’s incredibly cheap, it’s a hidden gem with no other tourists, the décor is classic Parisian bistro, all tile floors and wooden booths and plants in massive urns.

So after several frustrating days of bumbling around Paris, I go there, thinking, sweet, a cheap, quiet meal—finally! The first thing I noticed upon arrival was a huge poster in the window, advertising the Jack Nicholson/Diane Keaton romantic comedy “Something’s Gotta Give.” There’s an article with the poster, noting that part of the movie was filmed there. Meaning it’s now a huge tourist magnet. And not at all cheap. I walked in and the maitre d’ gave me this horrified look that basically said, “Ah, merde, another one of those Diane Keaton groupies.”

You’ll have to read the book for the full story (sorry!), but it was a spectacularly strange and awkward meal.

  • Requisite health dilemma.

I had a really bad cold in Vienna and wandered around the city in a haze of sinus pain and cold medicine. Add this to the fact that this was about two-thirds of the way through my trip and I was getting jaded and tired, and you have a recipe for some serious grumpiness and ennui. I moped and sniffled my way through Vienna, although I did at least try to cough in 4-4 time, in keeping with the musical spirit of the city.

  • Profound take-away.

Travel is more fun when you’re a bit ignorant. By that, I don’t mean culturally unaware or ill-equipped to travel but rather trying to do as much as possible relying simply on your own wits and common sense. I’m typically a control freak and a technology-addicted over-planner, but traveling without much research or planning forced me to just go with the flow and also to learn constantly, to be forced to be tuned into the place/culture and try to soak it up quickly because it was the only way I could survive.

I doubt I’ll travel abroad again without a modern guidebook and some internet research, but I’ll also try to remind myself not to be constrained by all of that information, either, and to get lost and rely on good old-fashioned serendipity as much as possible. There’s nothing wrong with being a bit confused—in fact, I think it makes travel all the more delightful and rewarding.

  • Re-entry vibe.

Jarring, particularly since a week after I got back from Europe, I went on a cruise with my parents, my sister, her husband, and their year-old twins. After solo backpacking around Europe, being on a cruise ship was like mainlining American culture in all its excess: Endless buffets! Cheesy comedians! Cabin attendants! Duty-free shopping at every turn! It was refreshing to see familiar faces and hear a familiar language and sleep without being woken up by the students in the hostel room next door . . . but still: deeply, inexpressibly jarring. My own country felt entirely foreign.

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