lifestyle design | full-time travel | digital nomad | adventure athlete | mindful non-monogamy | yoga on & off the mat
I started writing Sustainable Lunacy in 2009.
The Four-Hour Workweek had been published on by birthday (of course) two years previous; I’d read it in a single sitting, plopped down right there on the floor of the Barnes & Noble on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena, California. I had no interest in getting a virtual assistant, creating a product and/or working just four hours a week. Thing is: I love working. For me—a confirmed autotelic personality—work is life and work is play and play is work and life is play and none of it holds any reliable boundaries against the rest.
The promise of Tim’s book was not a workweek I could finish before breakfast on Monday. It was much deeper than that. It was about the myth of the horizon; that I could pull up anchor and puff up my sails without worrying bout falling off the edge of the Earth.
So I did.
I worked for a year to set up a more-or-less reliable cash flow, currying client relationships as a copywriter between producing gigs. I called myself “Location Independent,” coined by Lea Woodward back when the idea still baffled most people. I registered for a business license under a nickname one of my executive producers had given me, back when I was working the music video beat. "Clever Ginger," she'd called me. That'd do.
I’d planned my inaugural trip to be a volunteering mission to work on a project in Mongolia; at the last minute, the slots all filled. (Whew: Back then, I didn’t realize how important wifi was going to be. Dodged a bullet there.) I switched it up for a gig studying lemurs in Madagascar. Whoops! Civil war. Next idea. Finally, I bought a ticket for East London, South Africa, where I planned to work on a wildlife reserve on ZA’s aptly-named Wild Coast.
I was terrified of Africa. Honestly, I was terrified of being alone. I was afraid of many, many things.
Jetlagged me enjoying Chintsa Beach on the evening of my first day on the African continent, ever.
I arrived not long after my birthday in 2009, staggering down the steps of the little regional air jet into the blinding sun. I was 28 years old.
I had been traveling extensively since the first weeks of my life. That said, nothing before it had felt like this, I realized, as I fought to operate a janky ATM in a crowded arrivals hall, the insect clicking of Xhosa conversation assaulting me from all sides, knowing that I’d chosen to walk away from my rarified position as an LA producer-type to be, y’know. A writer. Out here.
No more penthouse apartment. No more fancy car. Instead, there would just be growth, and constant change, and the coin of seven different countries in my wallet to try to cobble together a tip.
Trying to make Skype work from a pirated connection in Harare, Zimbabwe. 2009.
I am certain to my core that I have never made a better decision.
The old Annette died that day. She’s unrecognizable to me, honestly. This new one has, in the intervening decade, learned to—quite literally—fly. When I think of what my life would have looked like if I’d stayed in LA, it makes me a little sick. "Out here," the many, many things of which I had been terrified fell away.
I never meant to make any money with this blog, and that’s a good thing, because I certainly haven’t. I sharpened so many skills and discovered so many tools along the way that I felt compelled to share them here, in the hopes that the next generation of baby birds waiting behind me would be able to use them. I decided to call it Sustainable Lunacy, because digital nomadism was lunatic, and so was polyamory, and so was BASE jumping.
Now, however, I’m not sure Sustainable Lunacy is so useful. Now is the advent of the pay-to-play digital nomad summer camp (?!) that ships little yuppie flotillas out to serviced apartments in Chaing Mai to enjoy built-in English-speaking friends and not have to worry about SIM cards. Now is the age of co-working spaces in any given city you’d have the desire to live in, where someone will be waiting to happily point you in the direction of an open flat or a shop where you can buy soymilk. Now, a fairly enormous number of people have read Sex at Dawn and The Ethical Slut, and polyamory sure ain't for everybody, but neither is it the stuff of unrepeatable legend. Now, the Perrine Bridge is awash in BASE first-jump courses. Now is easier.
A ten-million-dollar bill found in the bushes. Zimbabwe, 2009.
Also, travel means something different to me now than it did then. And that change makes it a lot harder to preach pack-ya-bags travel as the way forward.
“Genuine travel has no destination. Travelers do not go somewhere, but constantly discover they are somewhere else.
[…] All travel is therefore change within the traveler, and it is for that reason that travelers are always somewhere else. To travel is to grow. Genuine travelers travel not to overcome distance but to discover distance. It is not distance that makes travel necessary, but travel that makes distance possible. Distance is not determined by the measurable length between objects, but by the actual differences between them. The motels around the airports in Chicago and Atlanta are so little different from the motels around the airports of Tokyo and Frankfurt that all essential differences dissolve in likeness. What is truly separated is distinct; it is unlike.
[…] So, too with those who look everywhere for difference, who see the earth as Source, who celebrate the genius in others, who are not prepared against but for surprise.”
— Finite and Infinite Games, James P. Carse
Now, I’m staying. I’m playing an infinite game.
As of today, I’ve just arrived at the end of my first week in Berlin. I’m applying for a freelance artist visa in Germany, and I’ll be staying here for the foreseeable future. I’m falling back from the front lines of the digital nomad revolution. I’ll let the new kids write breathlessly about their newfound freedom from the backpackers’ lounges of Southeast Asia and Prague. I will most certainly continue writing. When I share musings on remote life, it'll be on my Medium channel. Poetry and personal stuff will still land on Here There Be Tygers. And fear not, my regular gigs with Parachutist, the USHPA Magazine and Dropzone.com show no signs of slowing.
Sustainable Lunacy, however, is now complete.
My living room in Neukölln, Berlin. Yesterday.
‘Wait a sec,’ I’m sure you’re thinking. ‘Is there yoga at Planet Fitness? I didn’t think there was. Pretty sure there isn’t. Yep. Definitely not.’
Heh. Well. Yes there is-- the thing is, you have to BYO.
I should know. During the course of completing the first fifty-state skydiving road trip ever accomplished in a single journey, I’ve taken my daily yoga practice to something on the order of sixty Planet Fitness locations around the country. I’ve been the weirdo in the corner doing headstand splits and triangles under the baleful gaze of twenty different television monitors, the insistent signage (NO JUDGEMENT! NO JUDGEMENT! NO JUDGEMENT!) and the baffled glances of lookers-on.
It is weird. Yes. But it has worked.
I can, without reservation, say that choosing to get a Planet Fitness Black Card membership was the best travel planning decision we made when we were charting out Down For 50. For people like us (and, perhaps, you?) a daily fitness practice equals sanity. Doing without--or piecemealing it here and there--was never an option. For this epic quest, we knew we would be quite literally everywhere in the country. And Planet Fitness is, quite literally, everywhere in the country, with its giant buckets of Tootsie Rolls (?!) and its bagel Mondays (?!) and its pizza Fridays (?!) and its big purple shadow looming large.
Did the purple everything take getting used to? Yes. But now I dream in purple. I bleed purple. Hah. So there.
For all its ‘Murican idiosyncrasies, Planet Fitness offers a lot of value. If you’re a digital nomad in America--or regular travel is a part of your lifestyle--it’s a pretty obvious fit. However: this ain’t just for us rootless ones. Indeed: If the idea of situating a daily yoga practice at a $10-a-month gym finally pushes you to unroll your mat and rise to the occasion of that long-ago New Years resolution, so much the better. It just takes a little hacking.
I’m’a tell you how it works.
Your new--uh--yoga studio?
Right, so, yeah... It’s $20 a month instead of $10. The extra ten bucks, however--IMHO--is well worth it. First, with a Black Card you get access to all the Planet Fitness locations (which, for us, is the entire point). Secondly, you get to bring a guest whenever you go, so you can split the cost with a partner. Thirdly, you get access to the Red Light Jiggle Booth. (Okay, the official title is Body Enhancement something-or-other.) The listed benefits of the contraption are almost certainly tantamount to bullshit, but it feels fantastic--and it magically erases my morning just-woke-up-in-an-RV-bed creaks, which is entirely worth the trouble.
There are no yoga teachers at Planet Fitness (unless a rogue instructor has posted up next to you in the “Abs & Stretching” corner). You’re going to need to find your own. Luckily, YouTube is full of remarkably solid yoga teachers--and the videos are, y’know, free. A few of my go-to favorites among the teeming fray:
The music Planet Fitness has chosen for you is not--shall we say--meditative. If you don’t want Ke$ha drowning out your kundalini (or if you don’t want to be constantly answering the questions of curious weightlifters), you’re going to need a way to get your YouTube yoga teacher’s instructions directly into your brain without a tether. I use these SoundPEATS wireless earbuds. I can vouch for how well they stay in, chaturanga after chaturanga.
Planet Fitness does not stock yoga mats. They have short little gym mats made out of shiny vinyl. These are useful for no yogi/ni. Plus: If you take off your shoes without your own mat under those naked feet, you won’t get five minutes into your practice before you have a teenager in a purple shirt bashfully telling you to put them the h*ck back on.
Add to that the issue of comfort. PF gym floors are reliably very hard. Do yourself a favor and use some of the money you’re saving on a very nice yoga mat. This professional mat by Manduka is my choice. It costs about as much as a ten-class punch card at a poshity-poo yoga studio, and it will last you for about a hundred years of dedicated vinyasa flowin’.
Yoga is so much better with blocks and a strap. Planet Fitness has neither. Bring your own blocks and strap, in your own capacious mat bag (big enough to hold the pro mat, the blocks, the strap, a towel and a big water bottle -- here’s mine).
Planet Fitness is not a yoga studio. Not at all. That said: Practicing yoga at a loud franchise gym is just about the best breath-focus practice I’ve ever had. If you can practice here, you can practice anywhere. Pretty soon, you’ll find that you don’t need bamboo floors, perfect sound insulation and the soft plucking of a mandoline to get you into the zone. You’ll just close your eyes, take a deep breath, and be exactly where you need to be--even if where you are is in the middle of a fluorescent purple haze.
And that, my friends, is definitely worth $10 a month.
Over the years I've been doing the LTT thing on the continent, I've tried every method in the book. I've rented from big corporations; I've rented from cash-only mom-and-pops; I even tried buying something once. (Ranks right up there with the worst decisions of my life, that one.) As it turns out--if your passport isn't EU--the best way to rent a car in Europe is to lease a car in Europe. Weird, huh?
As it turns out, flying into France and working with a leasing agency is the highest-value method of getting it done. Leasing kinda sounds like a big, serious, expensive undertaking, but it's actually cost-effective, even if you're spending just a handful of weeks in Euro.
That said: It's not really a reasonable feat to pull off solo. You'll need to find a facilitator. The company that I recommend is the one I work with: IdeaMerge, which specializes in Citroën and brokers tax-free short-term (definition: 21-to-360-day) car leases on a "purchase-repurchase" program (a VAT-avoidance racket that the government of France has authorized since the 1950's). Here's what their deal looks like:
I've had a baby-smooth experience with IdeaMerge whenever I've used them. The paperwork is a little lengthier and you need to have your dates set well ahead-of-time, but leasing really doesn't feel different than the car-rental experience in any meaningful way. (Contrast that with the three months of hair-pulling and teeth-gnashing I did over an attempted car purchase in Switzerland for a car I was never able to so much as drive. Uggggh.)
Vroom! Problem solved, n'est-ce pas?
photo credit: marcoverch Eine ländliche Waldstraße in den Südvogesen aus der Vogelperspektive via photopin (license)
(I'm Annette Lyn O'Neil. Hi.)
I've been a freelancer for my entire professional life, a yogini since 2007, a digital nomad traveling full-time since 2009, an airsports athlete since 2010 and a practicing ethical non-monogamist since 2012. Basically, I've made my life a lifestyle design laboratory for as long as I can remember, and I created Sustainable Lunacy to share what I've learned.
If any of this helps you orienteer your circuitous way through the thorny, startling, abundant forest that looms invitingly aside the path, it would be my honor to show you the little meadows I've found here and there.