Coworking in Chiang Mai at Punspace

Over the last 6-months of working for Automattic, I’ve had the opportunity to work in a number of locations. Early on, one of the things I identified is that I do not like working from home. This, however, flies in the face of what many of the people I work with value working for a distributed company. For me, however, I enjoy having a clearer distinction between my work and home lives. This I just haven’t found to be possible when working from home.

When I was at my previous job, I found that work would tend to eclipse over my personal life if I wasn’t careful and conversely, I’ve found when I work from home, my personal life quickly begins to eclipse my professional life. It is hard for me to exist in both modes at once, so overall I’ve found it to be better for me to have a clear space that I go to for work.

While we were in Texas for a few months, I found myself at a lot of coffee shops, trying to pretend like I was working from a dedicated work environment. This worked fairly well, however, I had problems focusing there, with so many people not there working and feeling guilty if I didn’t buy coffee and such occasionally. Overall, I prefer to just pay for a space and say, “this is where I work.” Because of this, one of the things I decided very early on that I wanted to do for myself when we got to Chiang Mai was to get a membership at a local coworking space.

I initially did some small research through the Hashtag Nomads Slack channel, looking into what was available in the area (sidenote, if you’re looking at traveling, hashtag nomads is a fantastic resource as it is full of people who work and travel from all over the world who love to help each other out). While there are several options in Chiang Mai, I quickly focused in on Punspace for a couple of reasons.

  1. I found a lot of validation that this was a space full of entrepreneurial-minded people. While I’m not currently starting a business of my own, I really enjoy being around others who are. My hope is that as I’m here longer, I’ll get to know some people and perhaps I’ll make some valuable contacts for the future.
  2. It is ridiculously close to where we’re staying. Seriously, it is a 5-minute walk and inside of the same side of Nimman. This has been really great as I’m coming here a couple times a day, so there is next to no commute time.
  3. They have 3 separate internet providers, virtually guaranteeing that I have the best connection possible to get work done. I cannot overstate how important a solid and fast connection is for my job. Not having to worry about the internet working (as I have done for the last few months in coffee shops with shaky wifi) is very reassuring.

I’ve been here for about a week at this point and so far I have zero regrets about my choice. While it is true that it lacks many of the amenities of someplace like WeWork in NYC (free craft coffee plz,) this place is fantastic for being where it is. I’m definitely looking forward to being here for the next 5-weeks or so and hopefully getting to know a few people.

Now I just have to get over my inability to introduce myself to new people.

No big deal, right?

Passport to Asia – Part 3: Chiang Mai

By the time we left Bangkok for Chiang Mai, I finally felt we had a handle on our baggage. Sure, it was still an inappropriately large number of bags, but I think the mere acknowledgment of how hard it was and planning around (and for) it has helped immensely.

Unlike our previous flights, this one not only left during the day but was not even 2-hours long. Bangkok’s airport seemed to be in a state of transition. We arrived at our terminal about 1.5 hours early and spotted yet another foot massage place. After a long while considering whether-or-not to get one (about 30-seconds) I left Lauren (who was at this moment enthusiastic about what I was doing) with our carry-ons and Bear and headed over.

I asked for a 30-minute foot massage and preceded to get my left foot and leg massaged for about 30-minutes (clearly something was miscommunicated). During this time, I began hearing some messages from above letting me know that our gate had been changed. Recognising where the gate that we needed to go was and how much time the foot massage should take, I decided to stay where I was.

As time went on more announcements for our gate change were happening, and as she continued to work on my left leg I started getting nervous. I eyed the clock, doing calculations in my head. I gave myself a cutoff time of 10-minutes and tried to relax. 10-minutes later, she started switching to my right leg … wah?

So, I let her know I had to go. One leg thoroughly massaged, the other one thoroughly jealous, I paid my 250 baht (about $7) and head out to put my shoes on and find Lauren. As I looked out, I found her running toward me with 60-pounds of carry-on baggage and 30-pounds of baby in tow. Seems she had heard the 500-messages about the gate change and was nervous we wouldn’t make it. Lucky for us, the new gate was not too far away and we had 15-minutes before boarding started.

So we headed to an older part of the airport, the kind where you have to take a shuttle bus to your plane, and after some extra waiting, we were off.

Luckily the flight was fairly uneventful. We were greeted with yet another unexpected meal, which I later figured out was included because I was fooled into getting them when I thought I was just adding checked luggage but instead got a package of things in addition (guess those life-saving meals on the way to Bangkok weren’t because the nice staff loved Bear so much).

Chiang Mai’s airport was small and we were through it super fast. Next thing we knew we had our bags on a cart and were talking to the woman at the taxi counter about hitching a ride into town. The total cost of our ride was about 200 baht (about $5.50) and next thing we knew we were at our Airbnb apartment in the Nimmanhemin area.

The apartment itself is pretty basic. It has a bed/living room w/ large flat screen TV. We have a very firm king-sized bed, which is nice because we’ve never had this large of a bed for more than a couple days when we’re in a hotel. Outside of the bed/living room, there is an outer area with a kitchen, a desk, a small table, and the bathroom (in its own room of course.)

Our first couple days were really about figuring out the area, finding groceries, figuring out how to get around, etc. We luckily have two decent sized shopping centers nearby, which both have grocery stores on their basement level. This has been something we’ve learned about both Japan and Thailand so far, that shopping malls tend to have large grocery areas in their basements, along with other restaurant and food options. While it is strange to go to what is essentially a mall to buy your groceries, it is definitely a cool concept.

So far what we’ve figured out about Chiang-Mai is that food options are plentiful and relatively cheap. We’ve found one restaurant that we really love that is a little more expensive, by local standards, but super cheap by US standards. For instance, last night we had 2 fantastic entrees and 2 beers and our total bill was about 995 baht (about $28). Half of this bill was because we had a beer that was imported from Portland, Oregon and it was a bit more expensive than the local lagers. The food itself though was about $14 and rivaled a meal that we might have spent $40-50 on in Brooklyn, so overall it is nice to have found that you can have a nice meal occasionally, and still keep things within budget.

Most days, our plan is to steer clear and stay with the cheaper (but still fantastic) other options. On average, our meals are costing us about 250-350 baht (about $7-10) for the 3 of us.

In terms of getting around, we’re playing with a few options. The taxi options are more like getting in the back of a shared truck and hoping the person can understand enough English to get you close to where you want to go. It seems the way everyone else gets around here is by renting a scooter/motorbike and piling on. We’ve seen families of four on a single motorbike going down the road several times. Our plan is to rent one for a day and for me to ride around a bit solo to get a feel for it, before upgrading to family transport. Eventually, we want to be able to ride a bit out of town to see some of the more spectacular sights that exist on the outskirts.

Overall, we’ve had some good days and some bad days trying to figure things out. Luckily, we’re trending more toward the good days at this point, so I’m super hopeful for the next several weeks. Once we get the motorbike part figured out and can extend our reach beyond walking range, I have a feeling we’re going to open up a whole new world. Lauren already has a huge list of what sound like some pretty fantastic places to go visit. I’m personally excited to go explore a bit and hopefully we’ll get to make some short jaunts starting this weekend.

Now that I’m a bit caught up to the now, I’ll start posting some things that are a little more timely or topical. Let me know in the comments if there is something more specific about our travels you’d like me to explore.

Passport to Asia – Part 2: Bangkok

We landed in Thailand at around 4:30am.

Our flight was one that seemed like it would be one of the worst so far, due to an overly hungry mommy, hassle at the airport due to baggage weight, and everything bearing food being closed due to the late hour. However, upon getting on the plane, we were greeted by some of the friendliest and most accommodating staff, courtesy of AirAsia.

They helped move us to some more spacious open seating and even provided us with an unexpected (but very welcome) late-night meal. As much of a hassle as it can be at times to travel with a 1-year old, there are perks in the form of everyone immediately loving you (or at least loving the mini-me we’re carrying with us). In the end, we got at least a few hours of sleep, with Bear laying on the seat in between us.

Don Muang Airport (DMX) at 4:30am is not exactly the most fun place. It is full of all sorts of people landing from all over the world, most of which, like us, do not speak Thai. Not to say speaking Thai is necessary if you’re an English speaker, but it is nice when you have questions, as not all of the staff knows more than a few words. With that said, all of the signs are in dual Thai and English, so we made our way through Immigration with little difficulty.

The one issue we ended up having that we didn’t know we had at the time, is that we were redirected from the Visa on Arrival line to the Foreign Passport line. The repercussion of that is that we are only allowed to stay in the country for 30-days, without an extension, where we would have had 60-days with a full VOA. As our plan is to be in Thailand for almost 7-weeks, this will be something that we need to fix.

In the end, this should hopefully be more of an annoyance than anything, but it is worth noting for the future to pay attention to what line you’re in if you want to stay for an extended period in a country.

An early morning ride into Bangkok

Getting a taxi from the airport into the Bangkok old capital area was pretty simple. It took a few minutes to show off a map and explain what area we were going to. We had a good 45-minute taxi ride that cost probably about $12.The taxi rates are so low here that you almost feel bad. Once you start to do the math, adding in the cuts people take and the maintenance needed on vehicles and you start to see how little people make here compared to other places. Good for us, but I do feel quite guilty about it.

We stayed at a cool little place called the Old Capital Bike Inn. We were extremely fortunate that they were so fantastically friendly and accommodating here, as we showed up on their doorstep at around 5:30 am, most of the lights were off and the street itself was deserted. I happened to notice someone walk by and after knocking on the door was greeted by a confused, but very nice man who let us in gave us some lemon tea and ultimately let us get our room early, so we could get a few more hours of sleep.

Experiencing the city

Bangkok itself felt very transitory to me. I’m not sure that I had really thought much about any of the trip leading up to our ultimate destination, Chiang Mai, which was a shame.

We spent the first day getting reorganized with our luggage, finding a place to do laundry, and then traveling to the other side of the city looking for sandals and baby shoes. In doing so, we found what Lauren termed the Park Slope of Bangkok. I still don’t see it, but it was definitely one of the higher-end, more affluent areas. For me, there is a sense of small-town community within Park Slope, Brooklyn that I’m not sure we were around for long enough to really get a sense for it.

That said, Lauren very well may have a greater sense of prescience than I and being there long enough might ultimately make the area feel that way for me as well.

On our second day, we headed out to the riverfront, not too far from our hotel and let Bear walk around and explore a bit. From there we walked down to Wat Pho, where we saw some absolutely amazing works of craftsmanship, including the famous Reclining Buddha. Lucky us, not only is there a very famous massage school inside, but Bear was taking a nap in the carrier, so Lauren and I got some pretty outstanding foot massages while we were there.

The other notable thing we went to was the Train Night Market in the Ratchada district. To get there we took a Took Took (yes this is the name, it is essentially a rickshaw attached to a motorbike, and translates roughly to “Cheap Cheap,” which coincidentally is not the case, as this one of the most expensive ways to get around Bangkok,) which was especially fun with a squirming and likely very overwhelmed infant trying to jump from the cart.

We arrived at the market to find a huge amount of shopping, food, and drink options. In fact, it would have been a fantastic place to spend an evening, if it weren’t for the fact that Bear had hit his limits and we should have known better before going. So, after walking around looking for a quiet corner to feed him and failing, we eventually hailed an Uber and headed back to our hotel.This by far is the hardest part of traveling with an infant. There is so much cool stuff to see. Unfortunately, big crowds and late hours don’t really mix well with young children. It isn’t his fault, but it

This by far is the hardest part of traveling with an infant. There is so much cool stuff to see. Unfortunately, big crowds and late hours don’t really mix well with young children, so there are a lot of things that we simply cannot do.

The one lesson that I really took away from this part of the trip is that you have to moderate your expectations on what you can do while traveling. I think our default mode is to do all the things and to go to all the places. Lauren especially has super endurance and will go from sun-up to sun-down with no issues. While I can keep up with her most of the time, so together we can do quite a bit, learning to moderate ourselves so that Bear gets the rest time he needs has been something new.

Overall, we left Bangkok seeing far less than I think we had hoped. It is in many ways like NYC in the travel options, has a ton of shopping available, and so many things to see. The night markets especially are something that everyone should go see if they get a chance. Tons of people, tons of food, tons of stuff to do.

Going back there is definitely on the list. I’d like to go back for a little longer next time and maybe think through some pieces of it a little better. Overall, one of the things I’ve realized about our travels thus far is that while I’m good at working out some of the specific details, I’m not really good at really planning the trip and learning about where we’re going ahead of time. It hasn’t really made anything too unpleasant at this point, but I can definitely see that now that we have a kid, that some extra structure could be helpful in our travel process.

Luckily, I have a wife who excels at these things so far, I just need to be better about joining her in this process.

Next up: Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Passport to Asia – Part 1: Japan

When we left 2-weeks ago I had every intention of posting about the places we would be going on a regular basis. My intention was not just to write a few blog posts, but to keep my family up to date with where we were going so that they wouldn’t feel completely left out of all of the fun. Not only that, but a blog can act as a sort of time capsule to look back and remember. Unfortunately, none of this has happened yet and here we are, in Chiang Mai and I haven’t written about any of the fun we’ve had so far.

As I can’t make up completely for the lack of posting, I thought I’d do a quick wrap up of the 2-weeks of vacation we had and show off a few pictures along the way.

The flight to Tokyo

This was the part that we were both the most nervous about. We flew on EVA Air and having nearly 24 hours of travel plus a 1-year old seemed like it would equal trouble. Luckily for us, our son was a rock star and slept for nearly the whole time. Our first flight was about 18-hours and he slept for about 15 of that and when he wasn’t sleeping, he was pretty fun and playful, even if we were a bit cramped in our economy seats.

We had a 3-hour layover in Tai Pai, Taiwan where we wandered the airport a bit, learned of our son’s rockstar status with the Taiwanese people as a family lined up to have their pictures taken with him (the stereotype so far seems true, Asian people love blonde-haired, blue-eyed babies). After which we had a 3-hour flight to Tokyo, where we landed and it occurred to us that we had packed all wrong.

My wife is a secret Japanophile

Little did I know upon arriving in Japan that we would unlock a seldom seen side of Lauren, her Japanophilia. From Harajuku girls to Hello Kitty and cat cafes, all the way to the creepiest photo booth dress ups you will find, she is obsessed with all things Japan. So much so, that it seems we scheduled to spend far too little time in Tokyo than we should have. To make up for it, a promise was extracted that we would return again so she can bask once again in what she implies is the beginning and end of all culture.

Apparently, there are still a lot of things that I can learn about her.

The challenge of finding food

Of all the things we struggled within Japan, the hardest seemed to be finding a good meal. We would walk many, many miles each day (our record was 18), with Lauren carrying Bear for most of the time. We would constantly pass by restaurants and places, but our unfamiliarity with Japanese cuisine caused us to be very gun shy. The result ended up with us eating far too little throughout the day and then desperately looking for any food we could find along the way.

In the end, it feels sad that one of the best meals we had in Japan was at a burger joint down in Shibuya. I know we could have done better if we hadn’t been so haphazard about meals and meal times.

Pro tip: If you’re traveling, don’t be picky. Either plan out your meals and where you’re going to eat ahead of time or be okay with trying something new.

Mt. Fuji

We took a day trip to go see Mt Fuji. It was pretty awesome to see. Given the short time that we had and the fact we had a baby in tow, there was no way we were going to climb the mountain, however, that is now on the list of things to do next time.

Instead, we took the train to nearby Kawaguchiko, which is one of the 5 lake-towns surrounding Mt Fuji. It was sort of a cool little place, with a much smaller mountain/hill that you could go to the top and get a fantastic view of Fuji from. When we got there we kept remarking that the town itself looked like it could really be anywhere in the US, so that was a little strange.

Overall, this was a fantastic detour and a highlight of our trip so far.

Kyoto

For the last 2-days in Japan, we took the bullet train to Kyoto, which is one of the old towns in Japan. Neither of us really knew what to expect from this part, I think we both expected something smaller, but what we got was a city with a large downtown area, surrounded by smaller communities and many, many temples.

Our favorite by far was Mt Inari, which features 10,000 orange gates surrounding a stair path that goes much, much further than we expected. Was a fantastic couple of hours climbing up and down the path and seeing all the shrines and views of Kyoto along the way.

In the end, we left Japan via Osaka’s KIX airport on a Redeye flight to Bangkok feeling very tired and very excited to one day return. There is no doubt that visiting Japan is incredibly expensive compared to many of the other places we will visit, but it was also very nice to see a slightly different version of modern society. Tokyo especially feels very much like New York City, if New York City figured out how to be twice as large, 5-times as busy, and 100 times more orderly. It was nice to get to spend time in a familiar sort of different as a sort of warm up.

Next up: Bangkok, Thailand.

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How not to pack for a family of 3 heading on extended travel

When we began looking to our travel adventures this year, I became obsessed with the idea of minimalism. I was reading blogs, watching YouTube videos, and looking at all the products that people used to save space. I dreamed of having a single 35-liter backpack that I could put whole life in. Small enough to carry on, but just big enough to fit everything I needed. It seemed a romantic ideal to easily have your whole life slung on your back and have nothing more than what you absolutely needed.

Then reality hit, I wasn’t traveling solo, I was traveling with my wife and 1-year old son.

So while the fantasy is still there somewhere deep inside, I stopped looking at it as the ideal for us. While I maintain that it was smart to become more realistic about what we needed and not think like complete nomads, I think we could have heeded some of the lessons, as we ended up running into a few issues on the way with how we did pack.

Here’s the rundown of what we had to carry:

  • 1 75-liter hiking pack for me
  • 1 75-liter hiking pack for mommy
  • 1 duffel bag for baby
  • 1 duffel bag full of miscellany
  • 1 $20 umbrella stroller
  • 1 WP Timbuk2 backpack full of my laptop + camera + everything else gear
  • 1 small backpack full of mommy + baby stuff
  • 1 even smaller backpack for baby full of random baby toys

All of it was packed to nearly bursting.

All of it needing to be carried.

I won’t go into what was in the bags and what was fully needed, but after hauling all of this stuff through multiple airports and train stations now, it has become clear that we could have made a couple small tweaks to help us be more mobile and stay realistic that we are a family traveling, not full nomads hitting the open road. Instead, we also have a nearly 30-pound baby almost always strapped to mommy, which further decreases what we’re capable of hauling around.

  1. Ditch all the bags we brought and instead buy 2 large-sized plastic shelled suitcases. They are light and don’t have much weight themselves (important when traveling within Asia and you want to meet the 20 kg per person baggage limit), plus they are easier to navigate with when you have limited carrying capacity.
  2. Don’t bring all the random stuff from the store that can be bought where you’re going. We have all sorts of small things that we brought, that while handy, could have been picked up for cheap at nearly any store here. Buying it at home and bringing it just means you have to lug it around. It may not seem like much individually, but add it together and it is a ton.
  3. Don’t bring a stroller if you never, ever use a stroller. We still haven’t used it 2-weeks later. If we need a stroller in the future, we could buy the $20 stroller here for the same price, if not cheaper. We have it now so we’ll likely keep carrying it, but I fully expect we’ll get back to the US in December having barely used it.

That’s my novices list that I’ll try to remember for next time and I’m sure I’ll learn more on the way.

Luckily the rest of our travels will be less hectic than what we’ve experienced so far. Hopefully, we’ll shed a few things before we head to India in November, which will be the next time we’ll have a likely hectic travel schedule.

Our next adventure begins tonight

Ever since we made the decision 9-months ago for me to change to a more location flexible job and to relinquish our apartment in Brooklyn, NY, we’ve been somewhat on the go.

First, we left New York for Texas. The plan was to live with parents for a bit and make some small trips in between. Truth be told, just the travel time between Galveston, TX and Austin, TX multiple times a month was enough to feel like we were travelling a lot. But between that and trips to Belize, Costa Rica, Ireland, Las Vegas, and New York, we’ve been busy.

Finally, though, we have made it to the next stage of our travels. Tonight we embark on a near 24-hour set of flights that will land us in Tokyo, Japan, where we will spend a few nights before heading to Kyoto, Japan, then Bangkok, Thailand, after which we will ultimately be settling into Chiang Mai, Thailand for about 6-weeks before moving onto Bali.

The idea is for me to take about 2-weeks off from work in the beginning and spend a few days in each of these locations as a vacation. Afterward, I will be working a regular schedule from a coworking spot in Chiang Mai.

It is interesting that after all of the planning that has gone into this, it still feels like it has come too soon and that we are nowhere near ready. In some ways, we are probably over prepared, however, I have no question that there will be dozens of things that we will realize that we have forgotten and will need to either buy or send for once we settle into life in Chiang Mai.

None of that really matters, though, because we will figure it all out. We always do.

What does matter is that this is going to be a fantastic adventure and I cannot wait to experience all of it with Bear who has just turned 1 and is just getting to the age where he is starting to experience more of the world. I cannot wait to get to show him a different kind of life in these earliest of years.

My hope is that it will leave an impression in him that although the world is big and full of different people, that it can still feel very small when you realize that everyone, at their core, is really the same. Though I want him to always remain curious about the differences people have, I also want him to see that they don’t separate us, instead, they make us unique and interesting. More than anything, I want him to know that he can learn something from everyone he meets, no matter where he goes and no matter who they are.

For now, though, we have a plane ride with a 1-year old to tackle. That promises to be an adventure all and of itself.

Working from Costa Rica

Hi [boss’ name],

There has been something on my mind lately and I’ve really spent a lot of time thinking about what’s next for me. Here’s the thing, the stress and distraction of daily life has just become too much and I need a break. First, I want to say, I appreciate everything that you and [company’s name] does to make for a fun and attractive workplace. While I do enjoy the free lunches, rousing games of ping-pong, and daily pranks around the office, I’m left wondering, is there more to life than just, well, this? Is there a better way to do things?

With that said, I want to put in my notice, my family and I are headed to Costa Rica to live somewhere new. Sure I’ll still work for you, I just need my space. To see things from a new angle. To experience more from life than just a desk amongst a sea of other desks.

Please know, it’s not you, it’s me.

While I do know that I will miss the in-person presence of all my coworkers, I know that I will be just as effective working with them using a combination of Slack, Email, Zoom, Google Hangouts, and in a pinch, Skype. Overall, I know the gains will be noticeable. My productivity will likely be much higher, as the distraction of all the meetings, office noise, not to mention those rousing games of ping pong, and daily pranks, will have less effect on me.

Instead, I plan to use the time that I will gain, to not only accomplish more for you but to also spend some of it enjoying life. Did you know that Costa Rica is home to some of the world’s best beaches to surf, has some amazing volcanoes you can climb, and some of the most breathtaking wildlife around? I know that both my family and myself will benefit from having a life that is full of wonder and adventure. One where we work to live, not live to work. How could we have gotten that backward for so long?

I know it sounds preposterous. How could this all work?

Twenty years ago, it probably wouldn’t, but luckily we live in world that is connected in a way that has never been previously seen. The old ways of work are outdated, yet we still cling to them like an old religion. I’m not sure I’ll be able to really convince you without showing you it works. So, I ask you to trust that this is best, for both of us.

Feel free to come visit anytime, I’ll do the same. Until then, I’ll see you online.

Sincerely,

Me

A week in Belize

The part of Belize we’re staying in is a small island where the town of San Pedro is located. The island itself definitely appears to exist almost completely at the behest of the tourists that travel here, with condos, small restaurants, and a few bars making up most of what I’ve seen so far.

One of the most striking aspects that I personally love is the apparent lack of automobiles here, except for a few taxis who move people and goods to and from the ferry and small airport. Aside from that, the locals all ride bikes and the tourists ride around in golf carts. Being that the island is at most 6 to 7 miles long, this seems like a perfectly fine arrangement to me.

As for our plans this week, it is all about getting to know each other in person, so that we can work together better from a distance later. We’re doing this through a variety of collaboration through both discussion and project work. It’ll be exciting to see what we build after this.

For now, I’ll leave you with the few pictures I have so far, though I plan to venture out and explore a bit later in the week, and take some more.

You should start a travel agency

That is when I met David.

As a New Yorker, I’m used to the spiel. “I’ve got these kids who need …” or “I need money for …” or simply, “can I have a dollar?” Usually, all but the last are total BS, so it is easy to brush them off and say, “sorry, I’m broke too.” This time was a little different. Instead of starting with the story, he started with an introduction.

“Hi, I’m David,” he said, as he stretched out his hand.

Such a simple gesture, one that you might see just about anywhere else, but rarely do you find with a disheveled man on the street, smoking what seemed to be the butt of a cigarette.

My first reaction, of course, was to step away. Not because he was (potentially) homeless, but because I have a horrid aversion to cigarette smoke. I think having been a smoker myself, once upon a time, has given me a super sensitivity when it comes to burnt tobacco. That and a general fear of the asthma that it inevitably triggered causes me to avoid even a hint of the stuff. The irony of how staunchly I used to ignore my own cigarette smoke as I pushed it on others was not lost on me as I almost reflexively backed away.

Feeling slightly ashamed, I reversed positions and met his hand with my own. “I’m Drew,” I said in return.

Then came the story. He began to relay to me about how he had just been released, was still trying to make his way, and was hoping I had some change. It wasn’t much different than the thousand stories I had heard before, so reflexively my inner New Yorker came forward and offered, “sorry, but I’m broke too.” Almost as an aside, I added, “I don’t even have a home of my own right now.”

Not entirely true, but if there is one thing I can say about myself, it’s that I have a penchant for dramatic statements.

So then he started talking. He asked me where I’m staying. He told me that I look like a smart guy, the kind that likes to read. Not that fantasy or science fiction crap, but good heady stuff.

He asked me if I had ever thought about starting a business.

I told him I had.

He leaned in, whispering to me as if he was going to suggest something elicit that no one else should hear, “you should start a travel agency.”

Confused by the juxtaposition of how he told me and what he told me, I must have given him a funny look. He explained further. A lot further.

“See that over there?” He pointed to the building across the street, though, I think his intention was just to point in the general direction of the docks several blocks away. “Think about all those boats, what is the easiest way to go on vacation? You take a cruise.”

While I mostly disagreed with his point, I didn’t really get a chance to object as he continued on. “If you were to start a travel agency, you could make bank around here. You open one up on every corner. Different names, all around the country.” Seemed more like a Ponzi scheme than a business, but I listened on.

“Think about all the hotels. They sell a room for $100, you get it for $30, that’s pure profit. Or hell, maybe the room is $300 and you get it for $75. I don’t know what the prices are like, but you get my point?”

His math definitely made sense, however, I was starting to wonder how long he had actually been incarcerated and I wanted to ask, “have you ever heard of the internet?” But instead, decided to keep that one to myself. His heart was in the right place and I enjoyed that he honestly thought he was helping out.

Unfortunately, I had to leave and decided it was time to brave the rain.

Before jetting across the street, I said to him, “David, it was great to meet you. I’ll definitely take your words under advisement. Have you ever thought that maybe you should start a travel agency? Best of luck if you do.”

And I was gone. I didn’t want to be completely rude, but the fact was, I did need to get back to work, even if work was just in the coffee shop down the street.

As I hurried down the opposite sidewalk, I heard David shout to me as he shadowed me from the other side. “Hey man, best of luck. My name is David. I’ll see you again.”

Taken out of context, that could sound creepy, but I think he genuinely thought we’d talk again some time. Maybe we will. Maybe he’ll take his own advice and start a travel agency. The idea was out of date, but at least he had some enthusiasm and zeal for it. In the end, that is all that really matters.

The long road traveled

I embarked nearly alone on a Friday morning. One week before Christmas with a packed car, and a dog, for a long drive from Brooklyn, NY to Galveston, TX. The intention up until the night before was slightly different.

The assumption with getting a car before leaving, instead of upon arrival to Texas, was so that Lauren, our son, and I could pack up the car and make the journey together. We assumed a need to maximize available space, so in anticipation, I purchased a soft top carrier and a bike rack for the back. This was to ensure the maximum amount of available space for our crew to cross half of the United States. The reality of our spacial needs, however, was well beyond our imaginings. In fact, within the first attempt to load the car up, I was left with the reality that I had filled the whole of the top carrier and trunk, with only half of what we had to take.

We were out of time and the plan was clearly flawed and needed to be changed. So, we adjusted. In the final moments, before leaving it was decided that Lauren and our son would fly ahead the next morning.  She would be able to take a couple of the bigger items, like the stroller and car seat with her, not only freeing up space from those things but allowing me to flip half of the back seat down, gaining us more valuable space in the car. Since we were going to be staying an additional night, it also meant I had an opportunity to take a few more things to our storage unit before we left.

This would mean that I would be driving with just our dog, alone, for nearly 2000 miles. But it gave us a chance.

When Friday morning came along, I took Lauren and a sleeping Bear to the airport. The departure was quick, at least from my point of view. They would fly to Nashville, TN, where I would meet up with them, before ultimately meeting me in Austin, TX. There we would spend Christmas, then ultimately complete the drive together (somehow) to Galveston, TX. I was taking the long way around it would seem.

After the airport, I moved more of our things down to our storage unit in southern Brooklyn. Next, I repacked the car, with barely an inch of space left to space. Added the dog with his bed, into a small corner of the back seat. Said goodbye to our empty apartment. We were homeless, and by 12 pm I was off.

See you later Brooklyn.

As I crossed the Staten Island bridge, it was unseasonably warm. At 55 degrees Fahrenheit, near the end of December, it was nearly shorts and t-shirt weather. In fact, because of the near warmth and the fact that I wanted to be comfortable for my long trek, that is exactly what I wore. My plan was to drive all the way to Tennessee in one shot. I estimated that with doggie and human breaks, it would likely take until 4-5 am before I would get there, but that was okay. I’d rather have the extra downtime in between legs of the trip, than to sleep. In the end, though, the choice was hardly mine to make.

Pennsylvania took nearly forever to cross, or so it seemed. However, when I finally did the weather started to take a turn for the worst. For the previous few hours, I had seen small flurries of snow here and there, but it was so light, that I assumed it was melting far before it even hit the ground. As I crossed into West Virgina, though, the story changed, as the roads became treacherous.

It was dark at this point, nearly 8 pm. I had been delayed by far more breaks across Pennsylvania than I had anticipated and by the time I was starting to go through the mountains of West Virginia, I could feel the car slipping on the road. My speed started to dip down from the 75-80 mph that I had been driving before, to a terrified 20-30 mph. The roads were covered in a thin layer of white and traffic was proceeding in a caravan of unsettled travelers. Any fear of falling asleep while driving was gone at this point as the combination of Starbucks coffee and adrenalin from my white-knuckled drive was more than enough to keep me going.

It was becoming clear though that I had two options in front of me. Either keep white knuckling it at the crawl I was proceeding at and perhaps end up in a ditch somewhere in the middle of nowhere, all to add likely several more hours to my total drive, or stop at a motel and call it a night. I chose the more sensible of the two.

The next morning, after a nice warm night’s sleep, The dog and I embarked once again. The roads were still a little dicey, but it was light out. The morning sun was already doing its work and I was off. Within an hour or two, I was far enough south, that the roads were completely clear.

West Virginia went on for longer than I expected, then it was onto Kentucky. While the initial intent was to stop at Lauren’s grandparents for a couple of nights in Clarksville, TN, a combination of lost time and the realization that I should probably take the next leg to Austin, TX a tad slower sunk in. As such, when I was told to stop at her other grandparents in Bowling Green, KY. I took it as a blessing that I would get to the stop over that much sooner.

One night in Bowling Green meant happy times for a pent up puppy in the back seat. He got to run around a bit, jump all over some family members, and lick a very happy and mostly smiling baby, before ultimately landing back in the car another 24-hours later.

The road between Bowling Green, KY, and Austin, TX was luckily uneventful. The plan was to make it to Texarkana, Arkansas by nightfall, before ultimately stopping for the night. This meant having only 5-hours of driving left, but it also meant not showing up at somewhere between 3-4 am, and messing with my still undamaged sleep schedule. The reward was definitely worth the small price of the somewhat sketchy Motel 6 that we stashed ourselves in.

One thing that I had always heard but never really understood was how empty the drive through northern Texas could be. From Texarkana to Dallas, the road was almost a blank slate. A canvas someone forgot to finish painting. Brownish green and flat, and missing that all-important element that gives it emotional purpose. Maybe Dallas itself was that purpose, as for as flat and boring the previous 3-hours of driving had been, the eastern approach for Dallas was quite spectacular.

Looming in the west as I drove across the causeway across a small lake, it was perhaps the most impressive entrance into a city that I had seen in my whole trip. New York City itself really only rivals it because of its immensity and the amazing skyline. Dallas, however, seemed like a transition from pointlessness to vibrancy. Something that seemed missing throughout the rest of my trip.

The rest of the trip to Austin, TX was uneventful. We eventually landed in my parents driveway. Unpacked the car, unwound, and awaited the arrival of my better 3/4 later in the evening.

The plan from that point was to spend a few days with my family, work from coffee shops, have some Christmas fun, before ultimately packing the car again and finishing the final leg of our journey to Galveston, TX.

Luckily for the final leg, we had some relief in the baggage department, as Lauren’s sister was making a similar journey home a couple days before and was able to take some of our things with her. This meant that the car, just barely, had enough room for all of our things, leaving the backseat for mommy, baby, and doggie, while I drove the final 4-hour stretch east across Texas.

In the end, we’re temporarily transplanted. Homeless, but with family in the most positive and purposeful way. We’ll eventually land back in NYC, most likely in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Until then, the plan is to allow our families to spend as much time as possible with our son, save some money along the way, and eventually travel for a large part of 2016.

It is hard having given up a piece of our independence. To once again be living with family. To not get to wake up to the city we love. However, the opportunity that we have before us is an amazing one and in 10-years, I know we’ll be happy we made this decision.

For now, our lives will be filled with beaches, biking, and running along hopefully warm beaches throughout what might be a very cold winter for our normal home. I can’t say that I’m sad about this one facet of our journey. I’m, in fact, incredibly grateful for this opportunity to share our son in his formative years and to experience a different side of life for a little while.

The road to get here was a long one. Where it leads in the long term I cannot fully say. I do know that it will steel us in our resolve for the life we choose for ourselves.

2016 is going to be an amazing year.