I was recently interviewed by Metro International, the world’s largest free daily newspaper, about my book. This is what I said and thought you might enjoy:
In your book description you say that excessive “internetting,” smartphoning, and social media make us miserable, Why do you think that?
That’s not my opinion. There’s an overwhelming amount of research that proves that virtual socialization is no substitute for the real thing. In fact, it’s even worse since infinite scrolling on screens is either curated highlights that make our own average lives feel worse by comparison, or endless online news that make the world sound a lot more worse and scary than it really is.
In this connected world, do you think you can really manage to live disconnected? How?
As outlined in my book, not only can we successfully disconnect, we can thrive more offline when we find a good balance of it. Smartphones, the internet, and social media aren’t all bad. But they can be if we allow them to be. The trick is setting boundaries in ways that allow them to work for us instead of letting them interrupt and dictate our everyday lives. Continue reading…
The following is an excerpt from a graduation speech my father Brent Snow gave in 2008 at the University of West Georgia:
I grew up in the deep south—deep southern Idaho–so I picked potatoes rather than cotton! My family was very athletic and my older brother Bruce was probably the best all around athlete in Idaho when he was a senior in high school. Being two years younger, I was constantly compared to him in every sport I played as well as in academics. While I was often on the “short” end of those comparisons, I never resented being so. I respected and admired him a great deal and thought it was an honor to be compared to him.
After finishing my Ph.D. in 1979, I became a faculty member at Oklahoma State University. After I had been there for a couple of years, my Father called me and said he was coming to Stillwater and maybe we could go see a couple of basketball games that were on the schedule. This was quite common for us as athletic events were really an excuse to be together, laugh, and for me to be interviewed about how I was doing—was I doing what I should as a Dad?, husband?, and in my work? I loved those interviews with my Father as he would listen and share some advice and wisdom all the while watching a point guard hit a three pointer! You didn’t have to know my Dad very long to realize he was a very wise person.
After one of those games on the way home, we had been talking about my Brother and me always being compared as athletes. I decided to try to be a little clever by putting my Dad on the spot and testing his wisdom:
“Well Dad, how would you compare Bruce and me as athletes?”
“In what sport?” he said –surprising me that he was willing to do so.
Valentine’s dinner with kids at home beats crowded restaurants
Like any red-blooded American, I grew up observing Valentine’s Day, albeit casually. I traded candies with classmates, chocolates and stuffed animals with crushes, and used to take my wife to “romantic” dinners at crowded restaurants.
It was not an enjoyable experience, especially the latter. A few years after marriage, my wife and I started eating Valentine’s dinner on another day the week to beat the crowds, but that didn’t feel right either.
Then one day nearly 10 years ago, my wife proposed a radical idea: “Why don’t we stay home and cook a nice candlelight dinner with the kids and celebrate all kinds of love, not just romance?” By this point, I didn’t really care since nothing seemed to work. “Sure,” I said. Continue reading…
Planning to visit London but now sure what to do while there? Here are some iconic highlights for first-timers, things repeat visitors may have missed, as well as special considerations, things to avoid, and where to stay. Continue reading…
I volunteer with a support group that counsels and encourages ex-prisoners back into society.
It’s heavy stuff, especially since many of them are homeless when they first get out and largely ostracized by friends, family, and greater society. Those are hard conditions to beat, which is why so many of them return to prison (upwards of 70%).
That said, these meetings are usually incredibly warm, uplifting, humbling, and inspiring. Just last night, one participant expressed frustration in how difficult it can be to leave negative relationships behind, especially if you don’t have any positive relationships to replace them with.
In other words, misery loves company. As social creatures, many humans would rather stay with toxic people than endure loneliness.
When I quit recreational drugs, I spent a lot of lonely nights on my own. My friends were still good people, but I had to remove myself from negative behavior.
It was hard. But after a while, I gradually started fellowshipping with less dependent, more “naturally high” individuals. That felt wonderful and totally worth the temporary loneness I suffered in order to meet them.
So if you’re in an unhealthy relationship but don’t want to be alone, that’s understandable. But it’s better to brave temporary loneliness than to endure ongoing negativity.
My sister-in-law challenged our family to a plank-off recently. Person who could plank the longest wins. “I don’t know,” I said. “I can’t stomach those things for 30 seconds.”
Or so I told myself.
Before continuing my story, a quick note: Like any inherently lazy human, there are a lot of exercises I hate doing. But planks are the worst—invented by Satan himself. They’re right up there with Turkish getups, mountain climbers, and wall sits as most uncomfortable for me. So I wasn’t enthused to participate.
“I’m in!” my wife said. My daughter, too, was excited to compete. “I’ll try,” I relented, offending Jedi Masters everywhere. Continue reading…
Learning this number-to-time scale blew my mind recently.
We all know that a million, billion, and trillion are very big numbers. But we often don’t appreciate the staggering increases between them. For example, a million seconds equals eleven days. That’s a lot, but two weeks isn’t that far away. A billion seconds, however, is over 31 years—either a third or even half of a lifetime depending on how healthy you are. Now that’s a lot.
But a trillion is unfathomable, if not completely unrelatable to our lifespan. In fact, a trillion seconds is over 31,000 years!!!
Earlier this month, I finished a gripping non-fiction and superbly reported book on the terrorist civil war that devoured Northern Ireland from 1969—1998 (aka The Troubles).
Written by Patrick Keefe, Say Nothing is a shocking, deplorable, and sometimes asinine account of two groups of Christians who looked identical, spoke in the same English accent, and only disagreed upon which country they did or should belong to (i.e. United Kingdom versus Ireland). That disagreement, amazingly, caused them to terrorize and kill each other to the tune of 3,500 people, most of which were innocent civilians. To get an idea of how crazy the conflict was, the Irish Republican Army (which was largely a guerrilla group of terrorists) would sometimes bomb civilian buildings, alert civilians a couple hours before the bombing so no one would get hurt, then absolve themselves of any “accidental deaths” because they weren’t responsible for any civilians that didn’t get the message to stay away.
That about sums up the logic behind The Troubles, which thankfully ended two decades ago. But man are the stories from the past as thought-provoking as they are tragic. May history never repeat itself. Four stars out of five.
Not only is 2020 the start of a new year, it’s the start of a new “roaring twenties” (hopefully one that doesn’t end in another Great Depression). That’s exciting–the new decade part, not depression.
Regardless of what greater society elects to do, I’m here to tell you that individual people can change. Granted, a lot of people try and fail to change, especially in January. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us are incapable. It just means change is hard.
It’s easier, however, if we make small, daily choices that can have a big impact on our future prosperity, health, and fulfillment. For example, here are 10 simple things you can do on a daily basis to improve your future and slay the next decade of your life. Continue reading…
As Pogue seemingly sees it, this new economy of article-to-film adaptations turns previously idyllic literature into modern day “trash,” which is as harsh as it is inaccurate. For example, Say Nothing, a book written by the New Yorker’s Patrick Keefe and based on his previously published articles, is hardly trash for soon becoming a TV series. In fact, the book is phenomenal and proof that great authors and their stories deserve to be told across as many mediums and adaptations as possible, in an effort to reach as many people as possible—even ones that don’t like to read books or long-form articles.
Over the holidays I read The Body: An Occupant’s Guide by Bill Bryson, one of my favorite authors. It is well-researched, captivating, and enlightening. It loses steam in the third and final act, however, which is why I dock it a single star, while still recommending it. These are my favorite passages:
It’s a slightly humbling thought that the genes you carry are immensely ancient and possibly—so far anyway—eternal. You will die and fade away, but your genes will go on and on so long as you and your descendants continue to produce offspring. And it is surely astounding to reflect that not once in the three billion years since life began has your personal line of descent been broken. For you to be here now, every one of your ancestors had to successfully pass on its genetic material to a new generation before being snuffed out or otherwise sidetracked from the procreative process. That’s quite a chain of success.
The body is often likened to a machine, but it is so much more than that. It works twenty-four hours a day for decades without (for the most part) needing regular servicing or the installation of spare parts, runs on water and a few organic compounds, is soft and rather lovely, is accommodatingly mobile and pliant, reproduces itself with enthusiasm, makes jokes, feels affection, appreciates a red sunset and a cooling breeze. How many machines do you know that can do any of that? There is no question about it. You are truly a wonder.
With such an unrelenting work rate, it is a miracle that most hearts last as long as they do. Every hour your heart dispenses around 70 gallons of blood. That’s 1,680 gallons in a day—more gallons pushed through you in a day than you are likely to put in your car in a year.
Even with the advantage of clothing, shelter, and boundless ingenuity, humans can manage to live on only about 12 percent of Earth’s land area and just 4 percent of the total surface area if you include the seas. It is a sobering thought that 96 percent of our planet is off-limits to us.
When a teenager struggles to get up in the morning, that isn’t laziness; it’s biology. Matters are compounded in America by what The New York Times in an editorial called “a dangerous tradition: starting high school abnormally early.” According to the Times, 86 percent of U.S. high schools start their day before 8:30 a.m., and 10 percent start before 7:30. Later start times have been shown to produce better attendance, better test results, fewer car accidents, and even less depression and self-harm.
Medical science has never produced a more noble and selfless group of investigators than the pathologists and parasitologists who risked and all too often lost their lives in trying to conquer the most pernicious of the world’s diseases in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. There ought to be a monument to them somewhere.
As Daniel Lieberman told me, reaching 80 is largely a consequence of following a healthy lifestyle, but after that it is almost entirely a matter of genes. Or as Bernard Starr, a professor emeritus at City University of New York, put it, “The best way to assure longevity is to pick your parents.”
It is an extraordinary fact that having good and loving relationships physically alters your DNA. Conversely, a 2010 U.S. study found, not having such relationships doubles your risk of dying from any cause.
I was recently asked my approach to sales, given that I spend significant time asking people if I can write for them. Here it is in its entirety:
“Hi, human. I sell this thing for a living because I believe in it. It’s benefited myself and others like you. Are you the right person to pitch? If no, do you know someone who is? If yes, is now a good time?”
That’s it. This gentle but persistent approach has served me well, because it respects timing as much as finding and asking the right person.
What are borders for anyways?—There was a time when you had to commit a crime, or be suspected of committing one, to have your fingerprints and photograph taken by an officer of the state. Now all you need to do is take a trip.
Examining illegal birth names—Some working-class names aren’t just looked down upon, they’re illegal. But these laws, which stretch from New Zealand to Tennessee, are often more about oppression than public decency.
What it’s like to eat meal replacement shakes for two years—Whether nutrient shakes are the food of the future, however, is up for debate. Julie Heseman, a principal at food service industry consulting firm Foodservice IP, thinks this type of product won’t take off for one reason: it’s just not tasty enough.
Why a pop star walked across America—Years after he took that pill in Ibiza, Grammy nominee Mike Posner left behind his life in L.A. to go on a 2,851-mile journey in search of redemption, motivation, struggle, and triumph.
Several years ago, I visited San Diego for a story I wrote for Paste Magazine.
While there I met two Latino immigrants who are now paragliding pilots for one of the best paragliding spots in the whole world—Torrey Pines.
The first was named J.C. Originally from Venezuela, “I come to America twenty years ago with only $70 and a parachute,” he told me when I asked about his story. “Now I have a wife and kids and pilot parachutes for a living,” he added.
Another man named Junior told me he used to make sandwiches for the Torrey Pines cafe before becoming a full-time pilot. Today he regularly takes paying guests on controlled spiral spins and up-downs above the beautiful coastline. “The American Dream is a live and well,” he told me then.
I realize this small sample size cannot and does not speak for every immigrant or domestic American story. I also realize this is a topic many people will disagree on.
But in my experience, I meet more believers in the American dream than not. And as long as immigrants keep coming in at record numbers, the outside world seems to think the same.
Can’t fault them for trying. Or better yet, doing. It’s the type of believers I want my children to share their future with.
This story first appeared in Paste Magazine after the heated election of President Trump
I just returned from an extraordinary hike through Patagonia’s great outdoors (review here). When I left, the world was collectively bracing itself for a politically incorrect and hugely unpredictable man to assume America’s highest office. Two weeks later, I returned to a world that was deeply concerned about Donald Trump’s hasty, religiously-profiled, and arbitrary American hold on accepting immigrants and visitors from seven Middle East countries.
Seemingly overnight, the world had become a more isolated and divided place. In uncertain times like this, it’s best to batten down the hatches, stay inside and keep to our own, right? At most, whirl a few zingers on social media from the comforts of home maybe?
While I can’t do anything for the millions affected by the travel ban and am hesitant to recommend visiting unwelcoming or otherwise hostile places, my answer is an emphatic “NO!” Continue reading…
I recently visited Berlin for the first time to commemorate the 30th anniversary since the fall of the wall. While there I took several fascinating tours of this war-torn, politically complex, once divided, but now peaceful capital. (Incidentally, Berlin unexpectedly became one of my favorite European cities—right up there with Rome, Ljubljana, Budapest, and Paris.)
Although I’m usually not a history buff, while touring the capital I was struck by the swiftness of Hitler’s dictatorship, which was as breathtaking and brutal as it was conniving and sabotaging. Upon returning home, I was coincidently introduced to Secret Hitler (a very fun board game), which further piqued my interest in the reviled dictator.
To that end, I downloaded his personal biography (Mein Kampf) and read his entire Wikipedia profile. Here are some of the more interesting facts I’ve learned so far about the most hated villain the world has ever seen: Continue reading…
As parents for over a decade, my wife and I have forced a lot of dogma upon our five children. Some might call us total meanies for doing so. Nevertheless, here’s how we’ve indoctrinated them so far: Continue reading…
I’m quick to extol the benefits of expressed gratitude. Not only is it scientifically proven to make us happier, it can be super easy to do—if you get in the habit, that is.
Take thank you letters for example. All you have to do is think of someone who has blessed, supported, buoyed, transformed, changed, or even saved your life. Then visit them, call them, or write them to express your gratitude for helping you. (For more tips, click here)
I like to take this a step further, however. Eventually you might run out of people to thank. What can you do then? Thank them again for their continued support. Then again and again. When that gets awkward, I move to the next best thing. Continue reading…
Leading research has the answer. It is this: unconscious (or otherwise subconscious) thought is often better at making inspired decisions than our conscious thought.
In that way, those who work smarter, not harder, let their subconscious go to work. They don’t sit in front of a perplexing problem for prolonged periods of time, forcing themselves to find a solution, even if they’re not in the right mental state to solve it. They let their mind breathe.
Let me give you an example. I was recently faced with an important personal decision that seemingly needed to be made immediately without accurate information being available. I was feeling social pressure to make a decision that very afternoon.
Instead of doing that, I went for a walk by the river without directly thinking about the concern. I took a break, both consciously and presently. When I returned 20 minutes later, I felt refreshed. My mind felt clear. Only moments after arriving home, I decided what to do (something I hadn’t first realized) and I felt confident in my decision.
In hindsight, I believe I made the smarter and right decision. But only because I allowed my brain to work smarter, not harder. As we temporarily walk away from our problems, we let your unconscious mind do much of the heavy lifting. Doing this actually allows faster problem solving, while avoiding the “wheels spinning in the mud” syndrome that too many people succumb to.
At least that’s been the case for me. You should try it. All the smart kids are doing it.
There’s a great line from Goonies uttered right before the second act. “Kids suck,” grumbles an exasperated Mother Fratelli, having been reminded how unruly children often are.
There’s no denying what a pain-in-the-ass kids can be, especially while traveling. There’s also no denying their ability to help us see the world with younger eyes again, laugh more, soften calloused hearts, learn new things, reawaken zest and relive the past.
Depending on your outlook, the trade-off is usually worth it. For the brave souls traveling with kids, here’s how to minimize collateral damage on your next trip. Continue reading…
“I’m not mad at you,” she said. “I’m happy that you get the opportunity to make some money. I was blessed for a while. I hate to see it go. Now it’s your turn to be blessed.”—Shannon Mulcahy from Indiana after losing her job to an offshoring immigrant in a story published in the New York Times.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the difference and importance of both skepticism and optimism.
For example, whenever I ask someone if they’re a pessimist or optimist, the latter will always embrace the label. But the former will almost always reply with, “I’m a realist,” or “I’m a skeptic.” They do this, I guess, because pessimism has a negative connotation.
Although I wholeheartedly consider myself an optimist, I fully embrace skepticism, however, when it comes to educating myself, asking questions, reporting the news, or examining a complex or controversial topic.
In other words, “consider the source.” Don’t just accept something you hear as fact. Challenge it. Probe it. Make sure it holds water before believing it. Ensure the person delivering the news is in an objective position to give it. If not, be skeptical.
In that regard, we can all be realists and skeptics when it comes to seeking the truth. And similarly, we can all be hopeful optimists when it comes creating and striving for a winning future.
Written in 1962 while Toole was stationed in Puerto Rico on military duty, the novel has been described as “Don Quixote meets the French Quarter,” which is a total abortion. In truth, protagonist Ignatius J. Reilly is much more likable, hilarious, and compelling than the former. His misadventures through New Orleans with an ensemble cast of nearly a dozen charismatic characters are a joy to read, as is Toole’s exceptional writing, satisfying storytelling, and clever dialogue.
In short, I could not put Dunces down and cannot recommend it enough. Sadly, the Pulitzer Prize-winning work wasn’t published until 1980, this after the author was rejected by multiple editors who called his writing “pointless,” which partially caused him to succumb to depression and later suicide in 1969.
Thankfully Toole’s mother and an a university professor re-pitched the book posthumously until it was finally published. I’m so glad they did and wonder what could have been had its genius author lived to tell another tale. “Just wait till they hear all that originality pouring out of your head.”
After years of asking, I finally caved into giving my oldest child a “smartphone” for her 14th birthday. I say “smartphone” in quotes because we really just bought her an iPhone without a carrier plan (aka the latest iPod touch).
To use her phone and send and receive calls and texts from a virtual number app, she must be connected to wifi. She’s happy for now, although this is likely only a two year stop gap until she starts driving and we start teaching her full smartphone etiquette before she leaves home.
But for now, we’re all happy. Especially since my daughter has agreed to obeying the following rules, as outlined in my book: Continue reading…
My family drove the colloquially famous and incredibly scenic Alpine Loop in Provo Canyon this month for fall foliage. And when armed with her new camera, my wife captured a few excellent wide-angle shots: Continue reading…
I’ve been a professional writer since 2005 and a full-time writer since 2007. I moonlighted for a couple of years before transitioning to a full-time freelancing journalist, a “calling” I continue to this day.
Since then, these are some of the most frequently asked questions I get from aspiring writers or otherwise curious email inquires:
How do you become a self-employed writer?
My advice: write everyday and ask 50 people if they will publish your best work. If they all say no, ask 50 more and so on. This never fails but most writers will never do this and therefore go unpublished and unpaid. Usually I don’t even have to ask 50, but in two exceptional cases, I asked over 100 before someone said yes: My first story for Wired Magazine about college footballcomputers and my first travel column for Paste Magazine. Both were huge wins for my career and would have never happened had I quite after asking just 50. The harder you work, the luckier you get. (See also: How to succeed: Don’t quit until everyone in the room tells you “no”)
Is it actually possible to make a decent income at home and support a family by being self employed writer?
Yes. I’ve worked from home for the last 15 years, make a good income, and have six mouths to feed (wife and five children). In my experience, successful self employment requires persistence, low overhead (i.e. low maintenance lifestyle), extra emergency savings, and a willingness to sell your craft in addition to the craft itself. Self employment isn’t for everyone, but it can be done and is remarkably rewarding.
“As America’s youth have slipped away from organized religion, they haven’t quite fallen into wickedness. If anything, today’s young people are uniquely conscientious—less likely to fight, drink, use hard drugs, or have premarital sex than previous generations. They might not be able to quote from the Book of Matthew, but their economic and social politics—which insist on protections for the politically meek and the historically persecuted—aren’t so far from a certain reading of the beatitudes.
“Most important has been the dramatic changes in the American family. The past half century has dealt a series of body blows to American marriage. Divorce rates spiked in the ’70s through the ’90s, following the state-by-state spread of no-fault divorce laws. Just as divorce rates stabilized, the marriage rate started to plummet in the ’80s, due to both the decline of marriage within the working class and delayed marriage among college-educated couples.”
That’s me 10 years ago on my 30th birthday. Sunburnt. Pudgy. Elsewhere in thought.
I don’t mean to overstate my “condition,” but if you look at photos of me from 2003–2009—the workaholic, internet-addict years—you will see that my eyes rarely, if ever, smiled. I wasn’t depressed or miserable, per se, but I was in a perpetual funk. Wheels spinning without much forward movement. A prolonged period of FOMO which prevented me from thriving in the present with the three, happy cuties you see pictured beside me.
Back then, I neglected my family, my health, my spirituality, my social life, and my hobbies. Ironically, my self-absorption also hindered my work, because my efforts were so short-sighted. Hard working, yes, but with less purpose, focus, and fulfillment than I’ve experienced in the years since.
“We didn’t do as many fun things as a family and you rarely initiated anything,” my wife told me today. “You were always working nights, fixated on your phone, and brought your laptop to bed with you.”
Gross! A couple weeks after that photo, however, I would abandon that stagnant period of my life though a life-changing “Montana Moment,” which I wrote about in my book, Log Off: How to Stay Connected after Disconnecting. I’m so grateful for that experience and the decade that followed.
Obviously, we each learn different things at different times. But if my story can help anyone else in even the smallest of ways, we all win. Offline really is better. Fall down seven times, get up eight.
When I first started writing my book Log Off, I was surprised by the lack of research on excessive smartphoning, internetting, and social media. While there was some (mostly negative), there are still a lot of unanswered questions on how the behavior affects the quality of life in both children and adults.
To that end, I’m launching a nonprofit research foundation this year to study, promote, and lobby for the real-life effects plaguing so many. In the coming months, I hope to start conducting national surveys and educating the public beyond what my book started.
Until then, here’s a roundup of the most concerning research to date:
After finishing Riders of the Purple Sage this week, I would add Zane Grey to that honorable list, especially since he was a dentist by trade, a semi-professional baseball player, and only wrote his popular adventure novels on the side!
But not only is Grey a great writer, he was also a pioneer. In fact, Riders invented the Western genre of storytelling when it was first published in 1912. Gun fights, southwestern backdrops, life and death on the American frontier.
But don’t let that genre or any misconceptions of it deter you. Riders is really two love stories in one, starring both a heroine and two heroes. It’s fantastically descriptive and emotionally engaged. I only dock it one star because there were a few times where Grey’s prose goes confusingly off trail, which forced me to re-read and decipher some paragraphs for clarity.
Yesterday is my favorite movie of the year so far. So long as you can suspend your disbelief for an hour and a half, it’s a wonderful, heart-felt, and fist-pumping story about music, chasing your dreams, honesty, distraction, and following your heart. 4.5/5 stars (in theaters)
My other favorites of the year are as follows (Updated):
Over the last year, my book sales have spiked during year-end holidays, new-year festivities, start of summer, and back-to-school. I suspect that’s because my book is an introspective experience, so it’s only natural that readers increasingly reach for it during introspective times of the year.
Whatever the reason, for a limited time you can buy the book for 25% off ($6.99 ebook; $8.99 paperback; audiobook also available). If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll consider it and share it with friends, family, or someone in need.
Although a little thing, Log Off had a big impact on my life, and I hope it can for yours too.—Blake Snow
As a long-time tech journalist, I’ve noticed an interesting trend over the years. Companies who aren’t really tech companies will call themselves that anyway.
This is because “tech” is a lot like “new,” “free,” or “sale.” These words get people’s attention. So a lot of companies say they’re “tech” for the free publicity.
One such company is WeWork, a real-estate company that leases short and long-term office space stocked with free beer, cool lighting, and a community-for-hire for remote workers like myself. Continue reading…
Bloomberg reports, “Unfortunately, there will come a point where over-tourism makes travel both logistically inconvenient and much less enjoyable for everyone. The problem can be ameliorated by spreading tourists around to less crowded destinations, as Japan is trying to do. Some destinations, like Amsterdam, are cutting back on advertising and self-promotion. But eventually there will be no choice but to start charging tourists a fee… Trips to premium destinations such as Venice will eventually become things only the well-off can afford.”
Because we’ve commercially enjoyed airplanes for half a century, however, we now take them for granted. We bemoan their 20% delay rate. We ignore an accident rate of LESS THAN one in a million (safer than driving). We overlook the wonderful places airplanes take us, the game-changing experiences they enable, and the beautiful things they deliver (including flowers).
After seeing this movie, I’m gonna bask in their awesomeness. I’m going to treat airports as speed portals to this big round ball. The next time I pick up a two-day package from Amazon, I’m gonna pour a little out for the flying metal tube that brought the world to my doorstep. Seriously, not even monarchs had it this good. Continue reading…
“It doesn’t hurt to ask,” is one of the many sayings I live by. While there are some exceptions to this rule, it is mostly true and has served me well.
This is especially true when flying. Some passengers keep to themselves for fear of troubling flight attendants. But most flight attendants want you to have a good flight, which makes their jobs easier.
That said, you can often get the following seven things for free on your next flight. You just have to ask. Continue reading…
Not only does the book demystify the Wild Wild West, of which only half of what you heard it true (although the other half is still amazingly true!), the book clarifies the always complicated Indian-American relations as the nation expanded west to California. That understand is powerful enough.
On top of that, however, Blood and Thunder is an epic telling of the heroic Kit Carson, who scouted the west for early pioneers and settlers to eventually follow. For its well researched, balanced, and shocking reporting, I award it five stars out of five.
These were some of my favorite passages:
From an early age, Carson learned an important practical truth of frontier life—that there was no such thing as “Indians,” that tribes could be substantially and sometimes violently different from one another, and that each group must be dealt with separately, on its own terms.
The trappers murdered Indians in countless kill-or-be-killed scenarios, and some made a practice of hammering brass tacks into the stocks of their rifles for every native dispatched. But their greater slaughter was unwitting: As the forerunners of Western civilization, creeping up the river valleys and across the mountain passes, the trappers brought smallpox and typhoid, they brought guns and whiskey and venereal disease, they brought the puzzlement of money and the gleam of steel. And on their liquored breath they whispered the coming of an unimaginable force, of a gathering shadow on the eastern horizon, gorging itself on the continent as it pressed steadily this way. Continue reading…
My family and I have had a memorable and adventurous summer so far.
In addition to a remarkable rafting trip, we’ve sustained two emergency room visits (broken elbow, large fishing hook removal), gotten lots of extra sun (without any burns), and planned one more road trip before it’s “back to school.”
Although I’m a big believer in buying experiences over things, the following five products have undeniably delighted our household this summer: Continue reading…
The documentary makes a convincing argument that structured specialization prevents our children from achieving greatness, especially in athletics, but also in other disciplines.
After interviewing and examining the upbringing and work ethic of over a dozen all-star athletes and musicians, the movie concludes that if you want your child to be great, raise them on a well-rounded diet of interests and physical activities. Do this until at least late high school or even college in some cases. Only then should children focus and devote the majority of their time to one pursuit.
Although it seems counter-intuitive, the filmmakers argue that this strategy allows our youth to play by different rules and see things differently. And there’s strong evidence suggesting this cannot be done if aspiring athletics, musicians, and others are strictly raised on only speciality from a young age, which is increasingly the norm now. That’s bad because youth specialization stifles their creativity and innovation and prevents them from developing other muscles and talents that can have a positive crossover effect on their primary passion.
I’ve worked a number of different jobs since first entering the workforce at the age of 16. (Before that, I unofficially worked as a lawn mower, paperboy, and child laborer from time to time.)
In order of appearance, I’ve worked as a fried chicken cook, warehouse manager, youth soccer coach, cell phone clerk, corporate travel agent, web designer, blogger, and (for the last 13 years) a writer-for-hire.
That last job really feels more like a calling than work, however, and within that category I’ve written a lot of different things. One of my favorite things was answering reader letters at a now defunct print magazine called GamePro. (Fun fact: I started writing as a game blogger before transitioning to tech, trade, and travel journalism.)
At the time, I was their news editor, which meant I mostly produced and managed a small team of three daily writers, myself included. The managing editor then took the best of said news for republish in the monthly print edition. Continue reading…
Since its release 10 years ago, the U.S. Passport Card has been issued to more than 17 million Americans, or around 10 percent of all passport holders, according to the State Department. Although half the price of a Passport Book, which grants full access via air travel to nearly all of the world’s 200 countries, Passport Card holders can only access 10% of nearby international countries and are limited to land or sea travel.
In other words, Passport Card holders can travel by car throughout North America, or by boat to the Bahamas and much of the Caribbean. More specifically, they can legally enter and exit the following countries: Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, The Bahamas, British Virgin Islands, Caribbean Netherlands (Bonaire; Sint Eustatius and Saba; Curaçao; Sint Maarten), Cayman Islands, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Jamaica, Montserrat, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent, the Grenadines, and Turks and Caicos.
For Americans with only a Passport Card, what’s the best foreign place to visit? Of the 19 countries allowed, these are the top-rated destinations, according to online traveler reviews, media rankings, and my own personal experience. Continue reading…
More than 80% of American adults own a smartphone, reports Pew. Consequently, an equal number are more than capable of conducting office work at all times of day and from anywhere.
Because of this, a concerningly large number of employees voluntarily work on vacation, nights, and weekends. It’s so easy that many of us simply fall into bad habits, thinking that the act will get us ahead.
Smartphones have gotten ridiculously expensive. In the last couple of years alone, premium handsets have nearly doubled in price to over $1000. It’s enough to make even the most loyal iPhone fans switch to better value Android phones or upgrade to older but cheaper models instead.
Two new smartphones released this summer are bucking the trend, however. My favorite is the $400 Google Pixel 3a (pictured right). Its camera is not only stunning, but the best of any price range (really!). It has a gorgeous OLED screen, a battery that lasts for days, and a headphone jack. My only quibble is it’s a tad tall and not waterproof.
If you want the fastest phone on the market with the nicest screen and an equally good 4k camera, the OnePlus 7 Pro (pictured left) is also fantastic. Although a little big for my pockets, it’s loaded with a nifty notchless screen and software features that outpace nicer Google or Samsung phones. In short, the OnePlus 7 Pro is basically $1000 phone for less than $700.
Granted, the pesky green text messages of both aren’t as reliable or as good as Apple’s best-in-class iMessage. But outside of that, both come highly recommended with unlimited free photo storage.
Though I dabbled with Atari in my nascent years, I was raised on Nintendo. I have so many fond memories of the console because I spent so much of my childhood with it. Don’t get me wrong: I think gaming today is just as good (if not better) than it was back then. But one generally enjoys reminiscing about the past. I am no different.
Allow me to indulge.
The year was 1988. Christmas was quickly approaching. My brother and I had heard really good things about this game called Tecmo Bowl, so we asked our mom to buy it for us. About a month before Christmas we spotted the first gift under the tree that was the size and shape of a game cartridge box. Being the busy woman that my mother was at the time, plus the fact that she had to track presents for six total children, my brother and I couldn’t help ourselves. So we prematurely unwrapped the present after school one afternoon without her noticing.
Sure enough, it was the much-anticipated and sought-after Tecmo Bowl, starring the untackle-able and greatest athlete of all-time, Bo Jackson. Of course, we started playing immediately. Once the first play session was over, we re-wrapped the gift and slide it back under the tree at night. Next day, rinse and repeat. Pretty soon we started inviting friends over to play as we were the first ones on the block to get the game. By the end we were so brazen, we didn’t even care when my mother approached our room, opened the door to see a group of boys playing “some video game,” and just assumed it was a title we already owned.
On Christmas day, my none-the-wiser mother handed me and my brother a tattered, repeatedly-tapped, re-wrapped present, and with a sweet smile asked which of us wanted to open it. It was no use. We had all grown tired of the game after playing it daily for a month straight. I hope our feigned faces still had enough smile on them to show our appreciation for the great gift it was and will forever be.
This story first published Dec. 12, 2005 on Infendo, a video game blog I founded and later sold.
I visited Austin and Tucson earlier this year and was surprised by their size and subsequent lack of professional sports, which hurts their notoriety and familiarity in an otherwise sports-crazed nation.
Meanwhile, Green Bay, Wisconsin—home of the well-known Packers—is the smallest city in America with a pro sports team (just 100,000 residents).
What other large cities might fly under the radar, then, due to a lack of professional sports?
Many years ago, Disney released a Pixar film that had a profound impact on the course of my professional life.
At the time I was a full-time video game critic for several online magazines. I had a knack for raking mediocre games and announcements over the coals. I gained a reputation for publishing smart but scathing copy. Back then, I felt it was my job, if not duty, to critique everything I touched as if the orbit of the Earth depended on it. Continue reading…
Here’s something you might not know about my work as a writer: 30-40% of my time is spent asking people if I can write for them, while the remaining 60-70% is spent on actually writing.
In other words, I’m either a writer who knows how to sell or a salesman who knows how to write. Consequently, I would’t have survived the past 15 years if I hadn’t asked thousands of people each year to let me write for them. I would have wilted long ago had I listened to the few rouge naysayers that rudely tell me to get lost sometimes.
Case in point: of the hundreds of emails I send on a monthly basis, the vast majority are ignored. Continue reading…
Prior to graduating from college, I played drums in a trio band. We mostly played Killers, Interpol, Franz Ferdinand, and Led Zeppelin covers in our bassist’s basement. We maybe played once a week for a month or so and didn’t even have a proper name. But we still wanted to rock.
Anxious to play a live set, we caught wind of an “Acoustic Battle of the Bands” to be played at BYU’s 22,000 seat capacity Marriott Center. I remember thinking, “Who says we can’t rock that? It says ‘acoustic,’ not low energy or slow tempo.” So we traded our electric guitar for an acoustic/electric and proceeded to tryouts that were being held in some small theater room in the English building.
Upon arrival, we were clearly out of place. As we lugged our full drum kit, half stack bass rig, and guitar amp down the hall, dozens of Dave Mathew wannabes practiced three chord love songs in squeaky voices to admiring girlfriends. My opinion of humanity worsened a little that day. But I digress. Our name was called, we entered the room and setup stage.
Music has remained an everyday part of my life since first being exposed to the Beach Boys, Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Abba, and Technotronic as a young boy and later Metallica, Nirvana, Green Day, Snoop Dog, and The Prodigy as an adolescent. In my late teens, I took a liking to classical, jazz, country, Elvis and much in between.
Usually I’m too busy enjoying music both new and old that I fail to promote the best of it beyond those within immediate earshot. Today I hope to remedy that, at least according to the many airwaves that have reverberated in my home, eardrums, and car recently. They are as follows: Continue reading…
Even Tim Cook, CEO of Apple and the most addictive phone ever invented, knows this. In a recent interview, Cook said, “We’re all using [our phones] too much, especially parents.”
He added, “It is clear that there are certain apps that people can get in the mindset of just scrolling through mindlessly and continuously picking up their phones and looking to see what is happening this second. Do I really need to be getting thousands of notifications a day?”
I reviewed over a dozen different brands of energy, protein, granola, or otherwise snack bars this spring for a story I’m writing on the best travel foods. Although they’re not as easy to find as others, Zing Bars were the best overall in terms of taste, texture, and nutrition. I also liked RX Bars (which are probably more durable as a packable food) but they’re a tad pricey and the texture too chewy for some. As for best value, my family enjoyed Nature Valley protein bars. I’ll still reach for raw foods where available, but all three are conveniently packaged snacks I’d buy again.
You are bound to encounter a noticeable number of people in life who don’t watch TV, avoid books, or ignore performance art and sports altogether. But you’ll probably never encounter someone who doesn’t watch movies—they’re that universal.
Because of this, film tourism (or “location vacations”) are a big deal. Indeed, an untold number of scenic or otherwise interesting places might not have entered our collective radars had some movie director chose to shoot somewhere else.
Of those immortalized backdrops, few trips are more iconic or deserving than to one of these. Continue reading…
On a recent fishing trip with friends, in which we purposely neglected to pack in food, in order to make our catch really count, I went empty-handed after two full days of fishing. Thanks to my more-skilled-than-me buddies, who generously shared, I didn’t go hungry, however.
After serious bouts of self-doubt and nearly giving up on the third day, though, I decided I wasn’t going to quit until I caught at least one keeper. After empowering myself with that mindset, I actually ended up catching five that evening—enough to feed me and my friends, who coincidentally failed to catch one on that final day (really!).
On the return hike home, I thought a lot about dependency, perseverance and the power of determination—in life as much as business. Here’s what that experience taught me.
A strange thing happened to me recently. I started getting invites from consumer goods companies to attend travel-related press trips. For instance, a deodorant company built an epic treehouse in Tennessee and wanted me to stay in it, even though it’s not available to the public. A razor manufacturer wanted to fly me and a guest to the Bahamas under the guise that I’d mention their name while writing about the completely unrelated resort.
Why are companies doing this? Because people don’t watch ads anymore. That and up-and-coming generations increasingly value experiences (such as travel) above things (such as consumer goods or even cars). In any case, I had previously declined these invitations. That is until Chevrolet offered to let me drive their new electric car through Rocky Mountain National Park. Since both of those interest me, I begrudgingly said, “Yes!” Continue reading…
A businessman was standing at the pier of a small coastal village in Mexico. Just then, a skiff docked with one humble fisherman inside. His boat contained several large yellowfin tuna.
The businessman complimented the fisherman’s catch and asked how long it took to reel them in. “Only a little while,” the fisherman replied. The onlooker then asked why he didn’t stay out longer to catch more fish. The fisherman said he had enough to support his family’s needs. “What do you do with the rest of your time?” the man pressed.
“I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siestas with my wife, stroll the village each evening, sip wine, and play guitar with my amigos,” the fisherman replied. “I live a full life, señor.” Continue reading…
Before taking office, the vast majority of U.S. presidents were lawyers. President Trump, on the other hand, was a real estate developer, TV star, and hotelier of 14 properties—some of which by name-only.
One of those properties is Trump Waikiki. On a recent trip to Oahu I stayed there because at the time of booking and during my stay, Trump Waikiki was the number one rated hotel out of 84 in Honolulu, according to TripAdvisor.
That alone piqued my interest, as did the political novelty. But the real reason is because I was being hosted by the hotel in the hopes that I would write about it. And here we are. Not because I was contractually obligated to. In my capacity as a travel writer, I never guarantee coverage, meaning if I feel something doesn’t deserve your attention—even shiny freebies—I don’t write about it.
I feel fortunate to have visited 33 countries (plus territories) on six different continents so far.
And yet I’ve only scratched the surface—just 13% of the world’s 200 countries. Furthermore, the above map is grossly skewed. I’ve only visited 70% of America’s states. I’ve yet to visit mainland Asia, the Middle East, and 90% of the rest of Africa. And I’ve visited just one state (New South Wales) of the USA-sized Australia.
Granted, I have no intention of visiting every country on Earth. It doesn’t take that many to realize we’re all the same and that we live on the most beautiful rock in the observable universe. That and I still have a lot I want to do in my own backyard and on repeat trips abroad.
There’s solemn appreciation whenever I tell someone I’m headed to New Zealand. “Oh, wow!” they say. “My [insert relation] has traveled the world and that’s their favorite place.”
That reputation isn’t lost on me. But I wanted to know for myself—what’s so special about this two-island nation near the bottom of the world?
For one thing, it’s a long way away. Up to 10,000 miles for most people. In my case, it was 14 hours one way by jet. But after visiting both islands this month, I’d travel twice that number to visit New Zealand again. Here’s why. Continue reading…
I believe excessive internetting divides and might someday conquer us.
In fact, it already spoils teamwork and our ability to have intelligent conversations about controversial topics, such as climate change, immunizations, nutrition, and politics. It does this because the unlimited amount of information and opinion found online actually heightens our susceptibility to confirmation bias, the cognitive disorder that most of us suffer from in which we tend to only listen to information that confirms our preconceptions and worldview rather than challenging us toward progress, compromise, and trade-offs.
Put simply, it increases hive-mindedness and groupthink.
Further, excessive internetting increases our susceptibility to information bias and the ostrich effect. The former has proven to weaken our decision-making since access to less information often results in more accurate predictions and decisions. The latter relates to the above. Since we can indulge and decide which worldview we choose to see now by filtering out things we don’t like to confront, it’s easier now to delude and shield ourselves from complex and uncomfortable realities. Thus, excessive internetting solidifies cognitive dissonance. Continue reading…
Not long ago, I wrote a seemingly simple story that forever changed the amount of adventure I’ve been exposed to ever since.
For years leading up to that moment, my wife pleaded with me to take her and our kids to Disneyland. Although I went there as an eight year old boy with my family, I remember enjoying nearby Huntington Beach better than I did the actual park. So I told myself in the ensuing decades that Disney was a tourist trap and the great outdoors were the place for me.
Turns out, both man-made and natural wonders are for me. I probably wouldn’t have learned that truth, however, if it weren’t for my wife’s sage approach in tricking me to give The Happiest Place on Earth a fair shake. “Blake,” she said. “You could write about your experience—review it, report on how much you hate or love it.”
I’m genuinely happy with my life; who I am, the love I’ve found, the family and friends around me, a job that doesn’t feel like work, and the lifestyle choices I make that add to my fulfillment.
Nevertheless, I stumbled upon a YouTube video recently that made me feel inadequate and insecure. The video was cut by a young, good-looking couple with glamorous clothes doing glamorous things in exotic New Zealand.
“I’ve been to New Zealand before,” I defensively thought to myself, “But I was wearing ordinary clothes and didn’t look like a model while doing similar things.” I clicked on another video, showing the couple taking their kids snowboarding. “I’ve taken my kids snowboarding before, but we didn’t look that good while doing it.” Continue reading…
Over the last five years, I’ve written and published hundreds of travel dispatches for CNN, National Geographic, USA Today, LA Times, Lonely Planet, Fodor’s, Orbitz, Frommers, and Paste Magazine. For my most recent articles, click here. For some of my recent favorites, see below:
The following was presented last week as part of my book event series
A year after publishing my best-selling book, Log Off: How to Stay Connected after Disconnecting, the most popular question I’m asked is, “How do I get my kids off their phone?” After speaking with many psychologists, researchers, parents, and tech experts, in addition to testing said advice on my own household, I’ve found five convincing answers to this timely and challenging question.
But why are so many people asking this question? The short answer is parents love their kids and know first-hand how addictive said devices can be, especially for developing minds. The long answer involves stark evidence that smartphones: a) complicate childhood, b) increase exposure to bullying and sexual content, c) impair sleep, and d) increase both anxiety and depression.
Because of this, most psychologists, medical experts, and even tech executives recommend delaying or waiting until age 14 for basic voice and texting phones, and then up to 16 for smartphones and/or data plans. “There is no reason that a teenager really needs a smartphone,” says one Silicon Valley psychologist. “They are not taking care of a family, nor are they running a business. Therefore, a basic cellphone should be adequate for their needs.”
When you consider that these devices can be just as powerful as (or more so than) driving a car, it’s no coincidence that the ideal age falls within legal driving range of 14-16 (depending on the state). Nevertheless, the responsibility lies upon parents, guardians, teachers, and our collective villages to teach and instruct children on how to use and get the most from this powerful tools while avoiding the negative heads-down behavior they often cause.
If you’re hoping for a silver bullet to rid your children of their bad phone habits, I cannot help you. But if you looking for proven advice that’s easy to understand but often difficult to master, consider these five effective ways, according to the latest research: Continue reading…
It took the world a long time to discover Patagonia, the trendy adventure area shared by both southern Chile and Argentina. While other mountaineers had been hiking and climbing the Alps and Rockies for over a century, Patagonia wasn’t explored much until the 1980s. In fact, the recreational area didn’t become mainstream until the 21st century, when more accessible transportation, lodging and tourist amenities were finally added.
What’s all the fuss about? In between knife-like mountains, this is arguably the best place in the world to see moving glaciers. It is also a great place to meet gentle but playful people.
Last month I had the chance to examine this hauntingly majestic land up close on a guided tour with National Geographic Expeditions, the society’s official tour operator. Spoiler alert: it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Here’s what I witnessed hiking to what some call South America’s greatest “national park.” Continue reading…
Frankenstein back with 28 staples (credit: Lindsey Snow)
Life isn’t fair.
I was born with an 80 year-old back. Not exactly 80, but old. It first broke when I was 29. After surgery, it worked again, but only for another six years. It teetered and failed again late this summer in the same spot — a re-ruptured L4/5 disc. The thing was so decrepit, my surgeon had to remove the remains and fuse my spine.
Now I’m resigned to a life of low impact and light lifting. I can’t even hold my youngest brown-eyed boy in his final months of baby-dom, let alone lift a gallon of milk for a month. I can’t return to full activity for six months until the vertebrae fully fuse. And after that, I’m advised to give up running, basketball, soccer, and maybe wake boarding or else.
But it’s not all bad. In fact, I’ve got a heck of a lot to look forward to—a lot more to live for. While having my body deteriorate ahead of schedule and the long recovery are both humbling, I also feel inspired by the experience. Here are 10 things I learned post surgery: Continue reading…
Buying experiences is more fulfilling than buying things. That much we know. Which is why many of us have bucket lists. With so much to see and do in this wonderful oyster we call world, you’d be crazy not to keep a list of things to experience before kicking the bucket.
At the same time, there is no bucket capable of holding everything life has to offer. And more than one person has surely died focusing on what they didn’t accomplish rather than what they did. That’s a shame, because from the top regrets of the dying, “wishing I had traveled more” didn’t even make the list.
Not to get all schmaltzy on you, but the trick to planning adventures is not to plan too much. Here’s how you can do that and back into unplanned encounters more often, while still enjoying the anticipation, financial savings, and day-dreaming perks the bucket list affords. Continue reading…
Six years ago, I published one of my most popular blog posts entitled 8 people you should be extra kind to. If you haven’t read it already, I suggest you do. If you have, I encourage you to read it again as a refresher. It can make the world a better place.
Although it’s a fact that today’s world is healthier, wealthier, more peaceful, more welcoming, and overall better than ever before (more proof here), it’s also undeniable that online comments are nastier, ruder, more divisive, more hateful, more emotionally charged, and more intimidating than ever.
With that in mind, USA Today recently published a nationwide survey of harassment in America. These were the seven groups that reported the most hateful comments, and consequently the ones you should be extra kind too: Continue reading…
Remember that time you went online in search of a simple answer, only to find yourself, two hours later, clicking on links that had nothing to do with the original answer you sought?
That’s a dopamine loop. It’s the scientific reason we end up online more than we plan to. It explains why we can’t put our smartphones down. It explains why some people neglect real life in favor of virtual life. And it leads to compulsive disorders, similar to those who are addicted to chemical stimulants and depressants such as cocaine, caffeine, methamphetamines, nicotine, and alcohol.
“Dopamine starts us seeking, then we get rewarded for the seeking, which makes us seek more,” explains Dr. Susan Weinschenk. “It becomes harder and harder to stop looking at email, texts, web links, or our smartphones to see if we have a new message or alert.”
Worst still, research shows the dopamine system is bottomless. Since it doesn’t have satiation built in, dopamine keeps demanding “more, more, more!” And it goes absolutely bonkers when unpredictability is introduced—say, an unexpected email, text, or app alert from who knows what and who knows whom. Surprise! It’s just like Pavlov’s famous and classically conditioned dogs, for those who remember your introductory college psychology course.
“It’s the same system at work for gambling and slot machines,” explains Weinschenk. “Since dopamine is involved in variable reinforcement schedules, it’s especially sensitive to dings, visual alerts, or any other cue that a reward is coming, which sends our dopamine system raging.”
And so we stay online and on our phones longer than anticipated. We forgo our offline lives. It’s science.
My wife recently commanded Alexa to “Play John Williams.” For the next several hours, our household was treated to harmonious hit after hit after hit.
I’ve always considered Williams a genius composer since I was first exposed to his music as a boy. But I’m still in awe of the dozens, if not hundreds, of moving themes he wrote and even continues to write, such as this one: https://youtu.be/65As1V0vQDM
Like nearly everything else Williams touches, the above is remarkably regal. And like all of his contemporaries imply in the excellent Score documentary, Williams is the most prolific classical composer still alive.