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.
I’ve been reading Jonathan Haidt lately and find his work fascinating. From his latest book, he debunks the following three myths that make our kids and ourselves worse off:
Children are fragile—what doesn’t kill them makes them weaker (which is why so many parents coddle now)
Always trust your gut and seek out confirmation bias (which is how we quickly dismiss opposing ideas and evidence)
Life is a battle between us and them and black and white (which is why we verbally fight as much now as we used to physically)
Haidt is quick to point out mounting research showing that we live in the most physically safe, peaceful, and prosperous time in history, despite our very real problems. But believing in the above only makes the world more offensive than it really is.
For a more fulfilling and less aggravating life, we must roll with the punches, look for disconfirming evidence, and treat most of life’s tragedies as the complicated gray messes that they really are as opposed to always looking for a villain to place blame upon.
I finally figured out what Salesforce is. While I disagree with the author’s assertion that capitalism is somehow more culpable than other economic systems—research suggests it is, in fact, the most efficient of all the available imperfect systems—this story on corporate culture and jargon is bloody brilliant! “You know there are some lefty politics going on when the monks get priority over the veterans.”
Social media needs an “away” message. I’m only including this one because I completely disagree with the author’s assertion that we should worry what other people think about us online, especially while we take extended or permanent breaks. Although well-intentioned, this is wrong on so many levels.
In 2007, an international body polled more than 100 million people to name their favorite, man-made monument from a list of 200 nominees. After all the votes were counted, these were named the winners—aka the “New 7 Wonders of the World.”
I’m flattered by the Midwest Book Review’s endorsement of my book and “Reviewer’s Choice” award to the syndicate libraries and media outlets it contributes to.
The concept of “offline balance movement” is genuine and Blake Snow’s Log Off is this plug-in generation’s playbook for true social networking emancipation. Exceptionally well written, organized, and presented, Log Off: How to Stay Connected after Disconnecting is a well timed ‘how to’ manual for social media emancipation and control that should be a part of every community, college, and university library collection. It should be noted for the personal reading lists of students, academia, and non-specialist general readers that Log Off is available in paperback, digital book, and audiobook formats.
For its disjointed story, distracting dong shots, artistic cinematography, impressive set production, and a few emotionally gripping moments, I award Roma—the highest-rated movie of the year—3.5 out of 5 stars. Cynics will love it!
Turkey, ham, presents and Santa are no longer the only staples of the holiday season. Smartphones — and more specifically family members staring wide-eyed at screens around the dinner table — have become a common holiday sight.
Utah author Blake Snow wants to see that change. His book, “Log Off: How to Stay Connected After Disconnecting,” chronicles his divorce from a life in front of screens. Having spent time as a tech blogger and a freelance writer, Snow knows putting the phone down for good isn’t an option in today’s world, but he’s learned to find a balance that allows him to use his phone as a tool rather than allowing it to become a way of life. His book — a “self-help memoir” — aims to help others tackle that seemingly impossible task.
“I want to take advantage of these powerful devices and tools,” he said. “But I want to set boundaries with them, rather than have them hinder or distract me from doing the things I love.”
Snow spoke with The Deseret News to share his best tips for putting down the phone during the holiday season and how to sustain minimal phone usage long after Christmas dinner is over. Continue reading…
I’m happy to report that my book, Log Off, became a best-seller this year. I know it’s a little thing in the grand scheme of things, but it’s a big deal to me.
Recently a few family, friends, and work colleagues asked me about buying the book in bulk to give as personal or tax-deductible work gifts this year.
To that end, I can order author’s copies for $10 each with free shipping. If that fits within your gift-giving plans, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to place an order. E-book and audiobook copies are also available.
On Earth, 12,450 miles is the farthest anyone can get from home. Take one more step in any direction, and you will have started your return journey from the halfway point.
Until I visit one of these places (aka 45° meridian east), I came as close to that point as I ever have last month. The distance from my home in Provo to Durban is over 10,000 miles, where I began a life-changing journey through the motherland.
I should have grasped this impressive separation sooner than I did. Upon booking airfare, total flight time read over 22 hours across three flights. “That’s a long haul,” I passingly noted, before moving to other travel arrangements. Continue reading…
It’s been invigorating to watch my bestselling book make waves throughout the year. As we enter the holiday season, I’m excited for its ability to connect with readers during an especially introspective time.
After all, I conceived Log Off, wrote the bulk of it, and even published it during the holidays, so I’m excited to see how it’s received during its first full Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year season.
To the hundreds that have already read the book, thank you. I’m honored. For those who haven’t already, here are seven good reasons I think you should.
After Sears filed for bankruptcy (and likely its ultimate demise) last month, a part of my childhood died with it.
Long before I was born, Sears served as America’s first Amazon, allowing the entire country (especially rural parts of it) to mail order just about anything from a fat catalog. They didn’t offer two day shipping, but they delivered at a time when no one else did. Continue reading…
Missing the story. Rebuilding public trust starts by including more voices in the media and diversifying (or at least offering empathy training) to mostly white newsrooms, argues The Columbia Journalism Review.
Believing without evidence is always morally wrong. Or so convincingly argues Aeon.
Inside the booming business of background music. Why retailers and sports teams are spending big money on music design, according to The Guardian.
Why saving the world is crazy hard. According to a hard-to-read personal account of third-world atrocities by The Walrus.
How $3000 elite teams are killing youth sports in America. Expensive travel leagues siphon off talented young athletes and leave everyone else behind, reports The Atlantic. (Which is partly why my wife is starting a non-profit competitive league next year—go Lindsey!)
I spent nearly 10 years researching and experimenting with healthy connectivity habits for my book, Log Off: How to Stay Connected after Disconnecting. The book contains dozens or reports and studies from “real news” outlets and distinguished universities from around the world, all of which conclude that excessive internet, social media, and/or smartphone use make us miserable. More specifically, overuse makes us more isolated, less confident, prevents us from experiencing the more stimulating analog world, and even dumber.
But recent research suggests that digital abuse may be even worse for us than originally thought. In an eye-opening expose this week, The Atlantic reported on the rise of sexual recession, in which young people are engaging in fewer intimate relationships than ever before and marrying less. Excessive phone use shoulder much, if not all, of the blame, the magazine reports. Continue reading…
I’ve recently published a lot of interesting reports for commercial clients, but all were either ghostwritten or NDA’d, so I’m not at liberty to share them. I hope to share some upcoming public ones soon, however.
In the meantime, I hope you enjoy these—a couple stories for mainstream travel media and a couple involving my book.
I was recently interviewed by popular author Melinda Emerson, aka SmallBizLady, for an upcoming podcast about my book Log Off. This is what I told her.
Why should I read your book?
I believe we live in the most distracted, bottomless, demanding, opportune, and noisiest time in all of human history. That makes finding offline (or digital) balance very hard indeed. It’s a great time to be sure, and we’re all empowered with more life-changing tools than ever before (i.e. internet, smartphones, work from anywhere). But we must deliberately harness these powerful tools with measured boundaries, otherwise they can dictate how we live our daily lives rather than consciously choosing how we want to. But offline balance isn’t just about good health—it’s the key to greater income, growth, fulfillment, freetime, and lasting relationships. That’s what my book puts forth in a short and prescriptive 100 pages.
Why is online addiction a growing problem?
While online addictions certainly existed in the desktop and laptop computing days, they didn’t go mainstream until the smartphone era about a decade ago. To compound the issue, the more information and entertainment that gets digitized, the easier it is to get lost in the bottomless search for distractions.
How does too much internetting negatively affect our lives?
The last decade of research shows that excessive internetting, smartphoning, and social media make us miserable. There are two reasons for this. First, online abuse stifles our individual and collective creativity and productivity. Secondly, it keeps us from bonding and connecting with others in more meaningful ways. That is to say that social media is mostly the illusion of relationships. True relationships develop largely offline, though facetime, human touch, body language, and shared presence and experiences. While social media can sometimes facilitate that, it mostly isolates us. In fact, in-person meetings have dwindled in the social media era, as opposed to being boosted by it. This all matters because all of us want to contribute and all of us are social creatures. Continue reading…
Cheaha Overlook, Alabama courtesy Jim Vallee/Shutterstock
Over the last 15 years, I consider myself lucky to have hiked half of America’s national parks and many of the world’s top 10 hikes on six different continents. None of that would have happened, however, if it weren’t for the unassuming beauty of a little state park in eastern Alabama.
I didn’t grow up hiking. My parents took my siblings and I on vacation to Yellowstone, theme parks, and several beaches instead. There we mostly sightsee’d, thrill rode, and relaxed.
That all changed after I enrolled in college. On a whim one weekend, some friends and family members decided to hike Cheaha State Park. Just a two hour drive from my hometown, I went for the company, but stayed for the view—specifically Cheaha Overlook (pictured).
Truth be told, I had never seen anything like it. After a moderate walk through the woods, we arrived at the rock around sunset and I’m sure I uttered something like “Wow!” Looking over a valley that big made me feel small. And I’ve been chasing that feeling ever since.
To this day I prefer wide open spaces over the alternative (i.e. caves kinda bore me). What’s interesting, though, is I didn’t set out to be a hiker that day. Nor do I necissarily identify as one today. Hiking the outdoors is just something I enjoy doing, especially as a vehicle to explore new places or witness the seasons change in my own backyard.
In that sense, hiking Cheaha for the first time was one small step for me, but one giant leap for a hobby that has filled my life and taken me around the globe. I’m forever grateful I tagged along that day. Itchy feet, keep itching.
But that’s a story for another day. Today I wanted to share my favorite songs while making the seven hour roundtrip drive. From most righteous to least righteous, with links to streaming audio, they are as follows: Continue reading…
I was recently asked which three books changed my life. This is what I said:
A Short History of Nearly Everything. How did we get to where we are today? Bill Bryson spent three years asking dozens of experts that very question to produce this awe-filled masterpiece of everything we know and don’t know about the world. Unlike other “science” books, Bryson turns astronomical numbers into metaphors you can not only understand, but gain inspiration from.
Log Off: How to Stay Connected after Disconnecting. I’m biased because I wrote it, but the explanations, principles, and lessons contained therein changed my life and can for anyone else who struggles with digital obsessions. At just over a 100 pages, the helpful advice can be read over a weekend, if not a few hours.
Honorable mentions: Thinking Fast and Slow—a tad dense a times, but also the most empowering research on how to use your brain more wisely. The Book of Mormon—also dense at times, but waaaaay better than the Bible if you want to understand the doctrine of Christ, which also changed my life.
I read a thought-provoking story recently about Othea Loggan, a Chicago man who has bussed tables at the same restaurant for 54 years. He still works there today, earning just under $3 more per hour than minimum wage. With tips and annual bonuses, it’s estimated Loggan earns $14 an hour bussing the same tables he has for over five decades.
Unlike most entry-level bussers, Loggan gets five weeks vacation per year and works at a place he seems to really enjoy. Like every other busser, he gets no retirement or health insurance, however.
Despite all of this, Loggan (and his full-time working wife) raised a family, bought a house, and is seemingly happy, or at least he isn’t verbal about expressing any regrets. In fact, his son says as much. “My father is old school — never complains about nothing, never. My mother too. There were times it was hard to get food on the table, and they did not complain. But he got this job, he did it well, held on to it, and there needs to be a lot of respect for someone like that.”
The chef that has worked with Loggan for more than five decades says the same. “I think Loggan just decided to be a busboy. He is content. It’s all he wants. So I ask — isn’t that OK?”
After all the votes where counted, only The Colosseum (Italy), Machu Picchu (Peru), Chichen Itza (Mexico), Christ The Redeemer (Brazil), Petra (Jordan), Taj Mahal (India), and The Great Wall (China) were left standing. As the only survivor of the “Seven Wonders of the Ancient World,” the Pyramids of Giza (Egypt) were granted honorary status.
Because I like lists, glowing recommendations from large samples, and travel, I’d like to visit all someday. So far, I’ve experienced Machu Picchu and The Colosseum and think they exceed expectations. My friend James has visited six of eight and dubs Machu Picchu his favorite.
Readers—have you visited any of the seven wonders? Have a favorite? Where would you start?
I have a confession to make—when it comes to raising a family, I don’t believe in “quality time,” a phrase you’ll often hear in America as justification for earmarking or designating an especially important encounter with children.
In truth, I just believe in time. And sometimes that time is nothing more than quantity. In other words, I try to be accessible and available to my children, even if I don’t have something particularly profound to say or a bond-worthy experience worth sharing. For example… Continue reading…
I didn’t realize until recently, but I had forgotten who I was. I had forgotten where I was from.
More than 15 years ago, I left Carrollton, Georgia for the great American west. Like many others from the former, I graduated from Central High (class of ‘98—go, Lions!) and began my collegiate studies at the University of West Georgia. Halfway through my bachelor’s degree, however, I had a change of heart and transferred to a prominent university in the mountains of Utah.
To be clear, I wasn’t running away from the admittedly rural town, county, or “Peach State.” I relished my upbringing there. But sometimes the soul asks to see someplace new. In that sense, I was running towards something new, fully expecting to return someday.
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown is a wonderful story about overcoming neglect, economic depression, immense pain, and even global fascism in the 1930s. With exception to the Nazis, the characters are likable. The prose is poetic. And the well-documented feat is awe-inspiring. Five stars out of five.
These are my favorite passages:
The sport offers so many opportunities for suffering and so few opportunities for glory that only the most tenaciously self-reliant and self-motivated are likely to succeed at it.
Physiologists, in fact, have calculated that rowing a two-thousand-meter race—the Olympic standard—takes the same physiological toll as playing two basketball games back-to-back. And it exacts that toll in about six minutes… The common denominator (of rowing)—whether in the lungs, the muscles, or the bones—is overwhelming pain.
For eight hours a day, he shoveled steaming asphalt out of trucks and raked it out flat in advance of the steamrollers, the unrelenting heat rising from the black asphalt melding with the heat from the sun overhead, as if the two sources were competing to see which would kill him first. Continue reading…
After writing a story for USA Today (plus slideshow), I had a hard time shaking Japan from my memory. In fact, not since South Africa has a country changed my perspective as much.
In truth, Japan is the most foreign place I’ve ever visited. I mean that in a largely positive, often disorienting, and sometimes frustrating way. Looking back, here’s what I learned most: Continue reading…
Although I’m a devoted World Cup fan, you don’t have to be a soccer fan to enjoy it. The hard-to-believe true story, mob-like drama, and lavish chicanery are more than enough to keep the average reader interested.
Written by Ken Bensinger, a wonderful wordsmith and storyteller, the book is the most well-researched non-fiction I’ve encountered since Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit or Unbroken.
For its ability to show how bribery hurts everyone except the few involved, I highly recommend it.
Hi, readers—My new book, Log Off: How to Stay Connected after Disconnecting, is on sale this week for just $5.99 (45% off). If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll read the Kindle, audiobook, or paperback version. If you have, I hope you’ll share a copy with your friends and/or review it on Amazon. Thanks for your support.
In terms of health, nutrition, income, vaccinations, education, sanitation, transportation, homes, lifestyles, modern conveniences, violence (i.e. death from wars or terrorism), abuse, and many other parameters, the world is a much better, happier, healthier, and peaceful place than ever before, according to consensus data.
Why does the news and human perception bemoan our impressive existence rather then celebrate it? The short answer is fear sells and human are irrational beings. But Rosling adds 10 specific myths that keep us from seeing the truth, along with ways to fix them.
In fact, Irish, South Africans, Canadians, Australians, Kiwis, and even four-time World Cup champions Italy call the sport something other than “football.” In addition to America, the first five say “soccer,” while the latter call it “kick ball.”
“Soccer’s etymology is not American but British. It comes from an abbreviation for Association Football, the official name of the sport. For obvious reasons, English newspapers in the 1880s couldn’t use the first three letters of Association as an abbreviation, so they took the next syllable, S-O-C. With the British penchant for adding ‘-er’ at the end of words—punter, footballer, copper, and rugger—the word ‘soccer’ was born, over a hundred years ago, in England, the home of soccer. Americans adopted it and kept using it because we have our own indigenous sport called football.”
There you have it. Don’t like the name “soccer,” blame the British.
Smartphones, gossip, social media, substance abuse, endless email, mindless web browsing, too much TV, video games, unnecessary meetings, bargain hunting. When done in excess, these activities zap you of energy, productivity, a willingness to serve, and ultimately fulfillment.
It doesn’t have to be that way, however. Here are five ways to rig your environment for greater success and happiness: Continue reading…
Derek Buck in 2015 overlooking the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee
I’ve never stayed in bed all day. At least not for mental reasons.
Thanks to the optimistic and high-energy genes I was gifted at birth, not to mention some healthy lifestyle habits (regular exercise/activity, balanced diet, lots of sleep, an appetite for reading, and scheduled relationship time), I’ve never felt depressed for more than a few hours at most.
So it’s difficult for me to relate and empathize with those who struggle with depression. I’m not saying that depression is invented. Not at all. But I am saying that it’s difficult for me to identify with or understand depression because I’m wired so differently.
My friend Derek Buck, on the other hand, knows depression all too well. I’m not sure if he’s up to his knees or up to his neck at the moment, but his excellent writing on the subject has increased my sympathy. Continue reading…
Here’s how “This American Life” listeners recently reacted after the podcast interviewed a right-wing student who was berated to tears by a left-wing teacher who didn’t think right-wing ideas deserved a voice on campus:
I don’t even want to listen to this bullshit. I’m so sick of [you] highlighting the right. You don’t have to give equal airtime to stupidity just because stupidity took the office.
Thanks for giving voice to a fascist organization. I’m out.
So many pieces about how we “elite” liberals just don’t understand conservatives.
I understand them just fine. They’re usually racist, don’t “believe” in science or facts. I’ve had enough of these kinds of “but what about the poor conservatives?” pieces.
Honestly, I’m getting a little tired of This American Life’s fixation on conservatives. I really have no interest in them or their feelings.
“This intolerance to even listen to someone else, that’s new among our audience,” says journalist Ira Glass in his excellent commencement speech on the rise of fake news and extremely divisive audiences. He went on to call the reaction “dispiriting.”
I completely agree and would only add that an unwillingness to listen to opposing ideas, even hateful ones, is as tyrannical at it is radical, ignorant, and fearful.
What luck we have. Not only were we born on the most marvelous planet in the observable universe—not to mention the only habitable one out of gazillions—but the one we inherited has seven distinct, magnificent continents.
Picking just one experience from each that best personifies the greater landmass is an impossible job, not to mention totally unfair. But life isn’t fair. Nor is this column. If you need someplace to start when attempting to bag all seven continents, make it one of these iconic and universally well-rated encounters. Continue reading…
Many of us spend the majority of our time indoors, breathing stale air, working under artificial light, and staring into glowing screens. While none of these things are toxic, at least in moderation, they can have a monotonous, if not negative, effect on both our performance and overall health, research shows.
What’s the antidote? More outdoors. Namely, spending more time walking in the woods, hiking in mountains, being near bodies of water, and simply just spending time in nature, under the sun, and breathing fresh air. Here’s the science behind the latest findings. Continue reading…
Even if you think you’re honest person, your integrity will forever be challenged, usually when you least expect it.
I recently learned this lesson after a client tried to overpay me by $20,000 on two separate occasions. The first time they simply wired the money into my account without realizing I was already paid. “Either they sent duplicate payment or liked my work so much they gave me a huge bonus,” I thought to myself. I knew it was the former, but sat on the blunder for a few days before notifying the client.
The reason: The devil on my left shoulder made a convincing argument. “Blake,” he said, “maybe you didn’t invoice them the first time?” Nope, I checked my records. I’ve been paid in full. “Okay,” he went on, “but they’re a billion dollar company. They won’t even notice the misplaced $10,000.”
“I doubt it,” the angel on my right shoulder replied. “Imagine if someone got fired for this. Besides, you didn’t earn this money. It doesn’t matter if you omit or commit theft—stealing is wrong. You’re better than this.” Continue reading…
While I’m far from being a “diamond” level frequent flyer—ya know, the ones who travel well over 100,000 miles per year—I’ve learned a thing or two about deftly navigating the airport as a frequent travel columnist.
The first is that the big metal tubes that jet us around the world in hours (as opposed to months that it used to take) are downright awesome—the first world-wide web and easily one of the greatest modern inventions of our time. The sooner you appreciate this, the less miserable you’ll be while traveling.
The second is that a little pre-planning, shortcutting, and forward-thinking can greatly improve our enjoyment of the mostly friendly but sometimes hostile skies. To make the most of your next domestic or international flight, consider doing all of the below: Continue reading…
“The reality is that calling a business a ‘tech company’ is a ploy to make it sound exciting to potential consumers and investors, not a method of assigning greater meaning,” aruges David Yanofsky for Quartz. “The moniker says nothing about what type of company it actually is, only that it is a business that uses at least one technology to provide its product or service.”
He goes on, “The era of tech companies is over. To stay competitive in today’s marketplaces, every company, by the current standard, could be called a tech company, which of course, is another way of saying that none of them should be.”
For the first five years as a self-employed writer, I passionately and excitedly burned the midnight oil, thinking the act would get me ahead. While it certainly helped to cut my teeth and quicken my understanding of the craft, in hindsight I spent much of that time with my head down, spinning my wheels in the mud, and failing to see bigger ideas and opportunities.
That is until my “Montana Moment,” a life-changing and completely off-the-grid vacation in Big Sky Country that upended and improved my relationship to work in more ways than one. Since that fateful week, I’ve enjoyed record personal, professional, and social growth. But only because I radically changed my underlying approach and motivations for work.
Why do some people like to travel more than others? Are nomads born or raised?
Furthermore, why do I keep an ever-growing list of places to visit that I can never seem to get a handle on, despite having visited hundreds of amazing places on six different continents?
In an effort to find answers to some of those questions, researchers recently identified the so-called “wanderlust gene” (DRD4-7R, to be exact), which is present in about 20 percent of humans. This gene is said to cause a strong desire, if not impulse, to wander, travel and explore the world.
As a working journalist and travel columnist, I was recently tested for this gene by Curio Hotels. After vigorously swabbing the inside of my cheeks, I seal-locked my specimen in a plastic bag, overnighted the sample to a lab on the East Coast and awaited the results. Continue reading…
In recent years, a new ideology has emerged. It is this: work-life balance is impossible; therefore, humanity must embrace work-life blending instead.
I tried work-life blending for six years before we ever called it that. I’m here to tell you it stinks and is largely a pipe dream—nothing more than a new term coined by self-absorbed workaholics to justify their personal regrets, negligence, and imbalances in life.
Now let me tell you how I really feel.
The phrase work-life balance entered our lexicon when faxes reigned supreme, the 1980s. Knowledge workers, globalization, and computer networking went mainstream that decade, and, with it, the temptation to work ’round the clock on the Hedonic Treadmill (i.e., the misguided belief that the more money one makes, the happier they’ll be). Continue reading…
(For Entrepreneur)—In the 15 years I’ve worked for myself, the last decade has been much more profitable than the first few years. Though several factors contributed to my successful turnaround, one in particular has led to more confidence, inspiration and awareness than any other: adventure travel.
I’ve met plenty of frequent business travelers who want nothing more than to stay home once they get there. They certainly don’t want to leave their creature comforts for something as seemingly trivial and meaningless as scaling mountains, walking quietly in nature or surfing Australia for several days. I get it. But I promise that adventure travel can do wonders for our business lives. That’s especially true if we consider travel an educational experience more than anything else.
Solely for the fun or challenge of it, I’ve visited nearly half of America’s national parks, stepped on five of the seven continents, explored dozens of foreign countries and met hundreds of people who are smarter than me. Doing so taught me several lessons that I’ve put to good use after safely returning home. They are as follows: Continue reading…
Last summer, I was invited to play a game I had never heard of: “Pickleball,” a regional sport that resembles tennis on smaller courts but is played with paddles (like table tennis) and a specialized wiffle ball that travels much slower than either tennis or ping pong balls. This makes the game easier to pick up and ultimately compete against more advanced players, something neither tennis or ping pong are good at.
Admittedly, it may sound boring and look peculiar. But over the last four months of playing, I’ve become an enthusiastic participant, devoted fan, and happily retired tennis player who now plays pickleball upwards of twice a week. I’m not the only one. Continue reading…