Archive for Lessons Learned

Staying up Late in a Van

Normally when I can’t sleep it’s no problem to stay up & surf around Wikipedia or the BBC. Now, it’s a blessing.

We’re currently taking advantage of the cheapest way to live in LA: park your camper on the side of the street. It seems that we’re not the only ones either, there’s tons of RVs & vans all over the place, more than anywhere else. There’s also a lot of $1M houses and I suspect a correlation. But I digress.

Living in a van is a truly unique experience. For one, when people walk through a parking lot back to their car, they probably don’t expect anyone to be having dinner near by. Little do they know of the society of folks who are cooking pasta just a thin sheet of aluminum away!

Similarly, an oft overlooked necessity of life is… how can I put it gently… relieving ones self? Not having a toilet on hand dictates that you either consume & locate yourself strategically or get creative with containers. Let me say that crawling out of the van, groggy and hungover, at 7:00am in an otherwise peaceful & orderly neighborhood, looking for a bathroom, makes you question your life choices.

So, what I’m saying here, is that there’s a lot more to consider than not having a lot of closet space. Living in a van requires that you develop new abilities to transcended comfort and societal norms, and it’s not for the faint of heart. But it will help you realize what you need and what you can live without.

Lately we’ve had to question the “luxuries” of trying to: get online, go to the bathroom, get a shower, exercise, eat well (or at least decently), and get a good’s night sleep. Hopefully you’re not taking all these things for granted.


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Entering Yellowstone

Snow BallWe’re about to go to the dark side of the Moon. Almost. We’re actually driving up into Yellowstone National Park for a 4-night camping extravaganza, and there probably won’t be any sort of way to communicate. At least there wasn’t when we drove through Big Horn National Park, which was amazing. I’ve uploaded one picture to whet your appetites, more will be coming after we get back. Luckily my mother (henceforth referred to as “Mama,”) provided us a care package to supply us with a few warm meal options, including Tuna Helper! Now how did she know we loved tuna? : )

It’s also worth mentioning that we learned an important lesson about large vehicles. Trying to decelerate a 5000 pound vehicle over a 2000 foot drop in elevation can make your breaks catch on fire! Smoke, anyway. Apparently the sign that read “Trucks Use Low Gear” also applies to Class B RVs as well.

Give us a break, we’re computer guys.

(Edit: and by Yosemite, I meant Yellowstone :-))

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Back in Ship Shape

The van is fully functional! The guys at Frank’s did a great job, and cost significantly less than Ben’s dad’s estimate. If they weren’t busy helping other customers out when I left I was gonna snag an honorary H.t.b.o.t.I. photo.  Oh well.

Penguins  Orchids

While I waited I checked out the Lincoln Park Zoo (left) & Conservatory (right). They’re both surprisingly big, and pleasantly free. I got the broken-spirit vibe from a lot of the animals at the zoo, but the plants seemed to be decently happy. Surprisingly the Conservatory was the more interesting of the two. After feeling pumped up about my superior intelligence and opposable thumb, I proceeded to place my $18/5-day transit pass into the dollar bill scanner. The words “don’t act like a monkey” were all too audible despite Ben not being there.

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Lifecation Tip: Weather on the Go

Find yourself eating every meal in different ZIP codes catching glimpses of the Internet on the hot spot du jour? One way to make this lifestyle a little smoother is a handy little website called IP Weather. It’s a bookmark that will give you a 3-day weather forecast based off your IP address. Neat, huh?

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Lifecation Tip: Planning Your Attack

Planning a trip into a new city can get tough. There’s all sorts of questions: What are you going to see? Where are you going to stay? How will you get around? One of the best tried & trusted tools of the traveler has been, no surprise, the map. But paper maps get folded, torn, lost, and above all else, are hard to share with other people. Even more difficult is collaborating on these maps with all your buddies.

Enter the “My Maps” feature on Google Maps. It’s a relatively small feature to the already superbly popular mapping program, but it provides a lot of bang for your buck. Basically you can use it to scribble on maps to mark areas & points of interest. We here at are using it to figure out things like:

  • Where all the Wal-Marts are
  • Where the coffee & free WiFi is
  • What sites we want to hit up
  • Where the bars & restaurants are
  • And when we park, where the hell we left the van!

Toronto is the first city we’ve really put it to use, but it’s already proving very helpful. I could have prevented myself from stealing WiFi in a urine-infested park if I used this in Montreal. Anyway, enough rambling. Check out our map if you’re interested!

A legend is provided after the cut.
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Popularity: 29% [?]

This One Goes Out to US Customs

We’re not sure if this rule always applies, but it seems like taking small roads across the boarder is a much better idea than larger ones. Getting into Canada via some tiny little road was a snap. The guy asked us if we were bringing anything in, Ben says “only what’s in the van,” and we cross over. Ok, maybe there was a little negligence on the Customs Officer’s part, but whatever. We’re good people.

Traffic at inspection Customs Sign

Getting back into the US we decided to shoot straight down I-87. BAD IDEA. The traffic there was horrible, as you can see in the left photo. As we finally got closer I saw a bunch of signs that I thought were amusing (right photo,) but apparently the Customs officers didn’t. They detained us for about 15 minutes, asking questions and attempting to delete my photos the entire time. While they didn’t manage to do that, they did manage to record a voice memo, which I kindly put at the bottom of this post. Enjoy!

I can’t even operate the computers at work, I can’t operate a digital camera.

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Web 2.0/3.0/X.X??? This One’s for the Marketers

Expert online marketer Andy Beal was not only kind enough to sit down with me for an interview, but was also kind enough to mention Road Trip 2.0 on his much-acclaimed website, Marketing Pilgrim. For those of you who may have ended up here from the Marketing Pilgrim post, welcome!

Imagine this:

You’re driving around Boston on Lifecation. You’re looking for the best Irish pub in town, and have no idea where to start or who to ask. You prefer a bit of a dive bar with sports playing on multiple TVs and a late 20s/early 30s crowd. You are looking for a hotel in a specific price range, and would like for it to be near the bar…you don’t know how late of a night it’s going to be, since the Red Sox are in the World Series, after all.

As you drive into the city, your GPS/Cell/WiMAX Phone displays a comparative list of bars and hotels within 5 miles of each other. Each bar/hotel combination also displays the level of matching criteria based on your previously-input requirements. A dive bar with sports on multiple TVs, but with a college crowd, might display as matching 67%. It may be paired with a hotel two miles away that meets your price range, amenities, and availability at 90%.

A couple of blocks later, you happen upon a bar and hotel combination that are both 90%+ matching your criteria and within a mile of each other. You set it to book your room, park at the hotel, check in, and head straight to the pub just in time for the opening pitch.

Andy mentioned the fact that so many people are trying to define Web 3.0 as Web 2.0 becomes more settled into our marketing psyches.

In my opinion, Web 3.0 is in the works and it’s a combination of three key things that are happening:

  • Microformats
  • GPS/Geographic Location
  • Open Wireless Networks

What Are Microformats?

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Mobile Lifestyle Lesson: Always Have Something to Do (Especially if it’s analog)

Today, I’m spending most of the day as a work day…I just spent quite a bit of time putting receipts into our shared Google Spreadsheet, which we’re using to manage and balance expenses.

One of the things that I’ve learned on this trip is to always have something to do, because you never know when you’re going to not be able to do what you intended to, when you’ll be waiting on someone for something, or when you’ll end up on a Metro with 20 minutes to burn.  This happened a bit ago as I ducked into Starbucks to get some work done…no power outlet and my laptop battery was dead.  Here I was, with a stack of receipts and nothing to do with them.  Since I rode my bike here, I’m a few miles from the van and my books that I usually bring along with me.

What I did have, however, was the smaller of my two digital cameras and a stack of receipts.  I also have a group of virtual assistants based out of India through a company called GetFriday.

As I was organizing my receipts, waiting for a power outlet to open up, I seriously considered photographing each receipt, sending the images to GetFriday, having them enter the data into a pre-formatted spreadsheet, then I would just copy that to the shared spreadsheet.  The idea is that I would be able to at least make progress in the meantime rather than simply wasting the time away, listening to my iPod, waiting for an outlet to open up.

Cumbersome?  Absolutely.

Luckily, as I was organizing the last of the receipts, a table opened up near an outlet and I input them myself.

But, I think that this exemplifies the mantra of “Always have something to do” and what becomes possible.  When I talk to people about outsourcing, the first response I always get back is something to the effect of “I have no idea what I would outsource.”  Until I made the jump and hired them, neither did I.

In this instance, what would otherwise be considered laziness could have turned into an efficiency.

Next time, though, I’ll be sure to have a book on hand.

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This One’s for You, Jonathan

I got the chance to go on a weekend-long camping trip a few weeks ago with my brother, Jonathan. Along with many other things, one of the topics that often came up with a sense of vigor, paralleled only by fans of Nascar talking about Dale Earnhardt, was the glory that is: Hot Sauce. More specifically, Texas Pete.

Jonathan adds Texas Pete to everything…pizza, eggs, chicken, sandwiches, cereal, beer…you name it, and the Pete is right there on it.

I’ve often been perplexed by this behavior. While I find hot sauce to be a mystically delicious element essential to the Earth’s being, I never found it necessary to add to everything and certainly never envisioned caching a full bottle, or even half a bottle.

On this trip, like the essence of water, Texas Pete has become a thing of necessity. It doesn’t need cold storage and, as Alexi noted last night, it has the right balance of salt, pepper and vinegar to add a never-overpowering flavor to just about anything.

As we were finishing up our amazingly delicious burritos, made with left over cow’s arse, I noticed that the bottle of Texas Pete was almost gone…after only two weeks of making use of it.

At first I wanted to cry since we were almost out. In fact, I’ll even admit it…I shed a tear.

But then I realized the inherent cosmic glory that radiated from the situation - not unlike how a golden God beams its energy over the land of its people - and was, again, at peace.

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Things I Bet You Didn’t Know About Burlington, Vermont

We’re not in Burlington. But we drove through it. Little did we know…

  • Burlington is the largest city in the U.S. state of Vermont.
  • With a population of 38,889, Burlington is the core of one of the nation’s smaller metropolitan areas.
  • Burlington is also the smallest U.S. city that is the largest city in its state.
  • As of 2006, the Burlington metropolitan area has an estimated population of 206,007, approximately one third of Vermont’s total population.

I was wondering where everyone was and why it was so quiet.

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