Sustainable Lunacy

>> Rethink your way to a wildly better life.

Pimp My Layover

Posted by Annette on August 24, 2016

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Crappy options? Take heart.

Everybody fusses over the nonstop flight, but y’know what? Layovers are not necessarily the manifestation of unholy darkness.

Breaking up a long-haul flight into more manageable pieces is actually better for your body. A good layover allows you to get stagnant blood recirculating, stretch out and hydrate. If you play your cards right, it can even net you a bonus adventure.

It’s really easy to pick a flight based on price alone. Like: really easy. It’s tempting to let the difference of a handful of dollars can tip your decision-making--and land you in a world of bleary, sleeping-across-the-metal-airport-seat-dividers hurt.

I’m not going to advise you to make it rain, here. Don’t, like, splash out on the five-digit, first-class, climate-controlled individual superpod with a personal butler. That said, hear this: you won’t regret spending a few more dollars, if it means you arrive in comfort and style. And how about arriving in comfort and style that’s disproportionate-in-your-favor to what you spent? Now we’re talking.

1. Shop for the layover you want.

When you’re planning a long journey, look for flights with an overnight layover in a city you’ve never been.* It’s kinda like speed-dating for travel, in that you get a quick taste of a place you might otherwise never see. I’ve had great luck with this method, as it introduced me to Riga and Seoul, among other cities that were question-marks to me before I dipped my toes in for a day or so. Be open-minded about where fate's suggestion lands you--part of the fun is setting out into the unknown and un-previously-lusted-after.

Pro tip: Hipmunk is great for this.

2. Be ready with several hours of content.

Look forward to your long layover time as a golden opportunity to gorge on the content you haven't had several uninterrupted hours to get to yet--but make sure you have access to them offline. Download the movies you've been meaning to watch; Instapaper the 20-page articles you've been meaning to read; sync to your reader the books you've had on your list for ages. It's astonishing how much material you can get through. (We trucked through five episodes of The Expanse at the otherwise-existentially depressing Addis Ababa airport last week, for example, making lemonade of the biggest lemon in the air travel game.)

3. Find a gym nearby.

If your layover is just a few hours long, plan to sneak a workout in there. It’d be great if airport lounges got with the program and started regularly incorporating fitness centers, but while that’s a pipe dream, look to the communities right outside the airport ring road.

On a recent four-hour jaunt at the Vienna airport, for example, I was able to walk right across the street from the terminal into the stunning, brand-new Fit Fabrik Flughafen. After a great yoga practice, a run on the treadmill and a stint in the sauna, I was more than prepared for the rest of the journey.

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That sweet moment you're like THANK GOD I AM IN A NICE GYM.

4. Day rooms are a thing.

...and not just for awkward too-shy-for-mile-high hookups, either. Most airport hotels offer deals for rooms used just during the daytime, usually by jet-lag averse travelers who want a hotel gym, a nap and a shower with their WiFi and waiting. Sniff around if that appeals to you.

5. Class it up.

Especially if you’re a location independent professional in need of the space, internet and strong coffee to blow through a backlog of travel-tardy tasks, you can’t keep living without lounges, dear reader. Seriously. A loungeless layover is like a wingless bald eagle.

I’ve been a Priority Pass member for years now--and they’re worth their weight in gold on long travel days when I don't have premier airline lounge access. Traveling in the upper cabins will get you in to those, and my friend Chris Guillebeau has some great tips to get there. Eventually, you won't let a spend dollar go by without making it work for your travel goals.

The moral of the story? A layover can be just what you need to level up your next adventure...and the next time you’re faced with a big gap between flights, perhaps you’ll see the magic twanging around in there.


*Check the visa requirements, natch.

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IKEA Hacking (for Digital Nomads)

Posted by Annette on June 14, 2016

Ikea-slovakia.jpgWant a pretty-much-free co-working space with bottomless coffee? Thanks be to Sweden, it's here for you.

Here's how it went down.

I was one of two digital nomads, bombing across Europe--uncharacteristically, in an actual vehicle--from the tippy-top of Scotland all the way to the heart of Slovakia. Challenge: our SIM cards were only functional for practical purposes in the UK and at our final destination, but we weren't spending sufficient time in any intermediate country to bother getting connected there. 

And we had deadlines. Looming deadlines. Wi-fi was hard to come by, as was a comfortable place to squeeze in a couple hours' work. Things were getting a little, um, stressful.

Then, suddenly, the blue-and-yellow bulk of an IKEA sign blocked out the sun for a moment as we were driving along.

"Why don't we just stop there?," my companion asked.

Oh my god, I thought. Why did I not think of that before?!

I've long been a breathless fan of clever IKEA hacking in the context of hacksaws and drill sets. After all, in a conceptual sense, lifestyle design is all about taking readily available, workhorse components and customizing them to suit your precise set of needs...but I'd never thought about what IKEA-hacking might mean for me as a fast-moving digital nomad. As it turns out: it's about as satisfying as finding yet another brilliant way to use that same damn coffee table, and it's a hell of a lot better than spending half of every day fighting with wonky hotel internet.

Evil, you say? Hold your horses a minute.

The necessity of IKEA underlines the differences between the needs of a tourist and the needs of someone who is making a living on the road. Should a tourist go from big-box store to big-box store to upload their Instagram selfies and check Facebook? I'll be the first to lob a hearty hell-no at that--but if you're a digital nomad, purism gets you in trouble. Fast. Your billables are the only thing standing between you and game-over, and you've got to make sure you have a reliable means to get 'em done.

1. It's reliable.

In mom-and-pop venues, you might spend a disproportionate amount of your desperately needed working time to get parked, seated, plugged in, connected to the internet and served. At any given IKEA, that ain't the case. The WiFI works. The food is standard. When you walk in, you don't have to speak a word of the local language to navigate the space and get what you need. 

2. It's economical.

At less than a Euro per coffee--and around a fiver for a satisfying lunch--you won't be spending the money you're making, even if you're a fresh-launched noob.

3. It's impossible to miss, even if you don't have your tools.

If you don't have mobile data and you don't have a local map, finding anything off the main roadway is a ballache. To find an IKEA, all you need to know is what highway it's next to and the very-general stretch of road it's on--the enormous signage does the rest. Whew.

4. The seating is appropriate for your needs.

You can almost always find a nice spot to spread out. The staff doesn't hover. The music isn't cranked up. This sets the IKEA solution apart somewhat from the other evil-overlord-with-free-Wifi standbys (McDonalds and Starbucks, of course).

5. It's open late.

In countries where everything closes after 5pm and on Sundays, this can be a lifesaver.

6. This solution works really well if you're in Europe.

Of 370 IKEA stores in 47 countries, the highest concentration is in continental Europe. It looks like it could work in some places in the States, too, but I haven't tried it.

Here's the official map:

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One week and six IKEAs later, we had made it across eight countries with our sanity and client relationships intact.

I won't be in the mood to so much as smell another meatball for a while, but I'll happily wave a little Swedish flag in gratitude to the soulless corporate behemoth that facilitated those workdays. 

Tack så mycket, IKEA. Tack så mycket.


How Zombie Dragons Will Make You Better

Posted by Annette on March 25, 2016

My current majesty.Y’know what self-improvement has been missing all these years?

Zombie dragons.

And oceanic armor. And mana points. And health bars. Basically, what self-improvement has been lacking is Habitica.

Habitica, simply put, is an MMORPG that turns the contents of your real world into a -- well -- World of Warcraft. It takes all your tasks (habits, dailies, and to-dos) and manifests them as what they really are: a bunch of little monsters you have to conquer in order to get awesome. The better you are at conquering them, the more you progress within the context of the game. If they conquer you, it shows you in a very geek-accessible way how much you’re backsliding.

I tried to explain my near-fanatical Habitica obsession to someone recently. I’m not sure I properly made my point.

“Yeah, but there aren’t any rules,” he insisted. “You can just make things up and win the game. ‘Make tea.’ ‘Make more tea.’ ‘Make tea again.’”

Yeah, sure. You could do that. But it wouldn’t be *fun*. And let me tell you: making it hard for yourself is fun. It’s very fun.

Habitica works. And it does so because it uses the four horsemen of the bad-habitpocalyse to align your best self against the forces of what you know, deep down, is your tendency to be lazy.

1. Instant Gratification

When you sign up, you feed Habitica a list of the quotidian habits you want to encourage, the tasks you want to be sure you complete on specified days of the week, and the contents of your to-do list.

When you check one of these off the list, Habitica immediately rewards you with exp points, mana and gold. As those experience points stack up, you level up. You get stronger. Your stats increase. You start unlocking features. Your avatar gets really cool-looking. (“LOOK! I am riding a MANTIS SHRIMP! Mwahahahaha.”)

Even the widdlest successes that you’re eager to bag (flossing, much?) toss you an immediate reward. The result? They’re no longer meh-whatever-maybe-tomorrows. You start doing them.

My favorite feature, however, is the way Habitica encourages the breaking down of everything you do into simple, achievable steps. You get more rewards for every to-do-list item you turn into a checklist. From “do the dry cleaning” (1. Collect; 2. Drop off; 3. Pick up) to a work project that spans a couple dozen checklist items, Habitica incentivizes you to actively organize your attack of the things you need to get done. Pure gold.

2. Consequences

You feed Habitica bad habits, too -- the ones that need to die. Whenever you indulge in one of these (or fail to complete one of your daily tasks), your health bar starts to retreat. Once it drops to a certain point, you lose some of the progress you've made in the game.

The little health bar is kinda magical. It gives you a visual indication when you’re not doing the little things that keep you feeling “together,” even if they’re small enough to escape your notice during a busy day. Usually, it inspires you to find the few minutes you need to get them checked off. This sweeps away little bad habits before they accrue, and breaks procrastination cycles before they wreak real-world havoc.

3. Accountability

Not everybody thrives on outside accountability -- but most people do. Like: a lot.

Like any MMORPG, the Habitica game has a community you can plug into. The Habitica “guild” system helps you hook up with players that have similar interests (and obstacles). If you want to bring your own, you can.

Once you’re connected, you hold each other accountable by competing and collaborating. You dig into “battles” as a group, and it’s motivating. For instance: if you blow off the gym on a day you say you’re going to go, the monster you’re fighting within Habitica hurts everybody. Ouch.

If you like to roll solo, you can totally do that too.

4. Convenience

Habitica lives in the same places your old, oh-so-ignorable to-do list used to: across every single one of your devices. It’s at your hungry little fingertips. All the time.

This, suffice it to say, is really powerful stuff. I'll offer myself up as an example. Since I’ve started using Habitica a handful of months ago, I’ve:

  • Increased my hours on the yoga mat by a factor of two, in the process adding asanas to my practice that I never thought I’d get myself into.

  • Organized several overwhelmingly long-tail work projects along very clearly navigable roadmaps.

  • Significantly advanced the way I study languages. Now I study three languages, daily, in three different ways (the variety of which really helps with retention).

  • Added a new language entirely -- Portuguese!

  • Reintroduced and reinforced the habit of keeping a daily journal.

  • Started watching at least one Ted talk every day. Most days, because I’ve started looking forward to it so eagerly, I watch three.

  • Successfully kept Facebook use to a strict 15-minute daily limit. Making this stick was a huge surprise...and a resounding win, believe you me.

...and I’m adding more stuff all the time, because guess what? As it turns out, it all fits into my life. All the things I was thinking one-day-I-oughta or when-I-have-a-slow-moment or maybe-someday. ALL THE THINGS.

I’m willing to bet that your one-day-I-oughtas actually fit into your life, too.

And maybe what you need is a zombie dragon to ride around on and chase those lofty goals.

Just sayin’.


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Sustainable Lunacy is about challenging everything you've been told about what "works" in a lifestyle. For more information, click here. Otherwise, read on...


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