Preparing and Packing for a Year of Travelschooling

In the late summer of 1995, Jo and Ed Berger commenced their final preparations for an 11 month backpacking trip which would take them and their two sons ages 8 and 11 (hey, that’s me!) through roughly a dozen European countries. Just one short year after returning, they’d once again find themselves packing for a very different type of trip. This time, the trip offered more space: A 32 foot 5th-wheel trailer and crew-cab pickup truck, but came with added challenges such as different academic needs for the boys and a high-energy border collie which shared the back seat with two teenage boys.

In this interview I sit down with Jo and ask her to reflect on what ultimately worked, what didn’t, what she wished she had prepared differently, and gain insights into the thoughts and doubts she had before leaving for the trip with the unusual insight to weigh in on how those panned out now that the boys have grown up and 20+ years have passed.

You can view my interview with Jo and Ed where we discuss the trip and they reflect on their fears learnings and key pieces of advice in the full interview here.

Nude Austrian Saunas For Beginners

Intro To Austrian Saunas

There are moments in every person’s life where you pause and ask yourself…how did I end up right here, in this moment, at this point in time? For me, one such moment came in the form of a sweat covered, completely naked, Austrian man’s knee resting casually against my own in a lovely dry sauna in the small ski-town of Obergurgl.

It was my first international sauna experience and my first introduction to Austrian sauna culture.  To be frank, I had no idea what I was doing, or what to expect. The result? An absolutely hilarious experience full of culture shock, epiphanies, a whole lot of naked people, and what I think is a fantastic story.

This video is the latest in an ongoing series I’ve produced where I document some of my favorite travel stories.  The goal? To share them with you in roughly five minutes in the same way I’d tell them sitting around a table while sharing drinks at a bar.

So, without further delay – enjoy!

Oh, and for those of you who are wondering: It really was an amazing experience, and I’m now completely addicted to saunas and the Austrian approach. Stay tuned for Part II when things really heat up!

Don’t forget to view previous videos on my youtube channel and to subscribe to ensure you don’t miss out on future updates!

Advice to Graduates: A Reading List To Become a Literate Global Citizen

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I offer this advice to recent university graduates. The final months of university and first few months after academic life winds to an end are intense. You learn a lot and you find yourself adapting and trying to filter through the mounds of advice you’ve received. As you strive to pave a path to success, it’s a challenging time when new habits are formed and some old ones are obliterated. One area that doesn’t get nearly enough attention is your casual reading and information consumption habit.

Quite often it’s easy to assume that as long as we glance at USA Today or MSN News once or twice a week we’ll become highly informed and engaged global citizens. Unfortunately, this isn’t quite the case. I recently came across a study which highlighted the publications that are read in different parts of the United States. You know what it showed? That the people in the more successful parts of the nation were reading publications which were vastly different than those in the less successful regions. This is incredibly important because it stresses the powerful influence of what we read and consume to shape who we are, who we interact with, who we engage with, and the opportunity to enhance our success.

If you expect to engage with people who are active, driven, motivated and successful then you need to be able to carry on a conversation with them – a conversation that understands their area of expertise and passion, that can relate to global events, and which allows you to speak coherently about the world at large both as it exists today, will exist in the future, and existed in the past. In short, social and professional success, both domestic and abroad, is based heavily on your transition to becoming a literate global citizen. To a certain degree this is what your university or masters program set out to help you with. You had to take those general studies courses for a reason! Unfortunately, while these may have laid a solid foundation, in many instances they lacked connection to current events, context, or scope.

The real problem is that unless you find a great mentor or spend hours and hours chasing down less-common publications, it is extremely difficult to build a credible list of publications worth reading on a regular basis. After all, what is credible? What is insightful? What is globally relevant? For many the extent of our dive into news, events and commentary pieces revolves around whatever our parents consumed or was readily available. If they read Fox News, we read Fox News. If they read USA Today, so did we. Many of us decided to avoid reading newspapers and to focus on other areas of interest. These are a few suggestions that have served me well.

Antalya Archaeology Museum

Arm Yourself To Succeed

  1. Understand that there is a large difference between globally-minded publications and nation-specific publications.  Also, that different editions of a news source tend to offer different types of news based on readership. It is also important that you understand that US-based media in general is significantly more conservative than global media, with conservative media in the US highlighting a heavily edited and specialized view of global events and news.
  2. Keep in mind that front page news is usually not the most relevant, useful or even accurate. The things that get the front page headlines are good for a casual conversation over a beer. It’s the other material, however, that will give you the tools you need to succeed in engaged conversation and to chart your path accurately through life.
  3. Read article titles and learn how to evaluate them. While they say ‘don’t judge a book (or article) by its cover’, sometimes it is necessary to avoid getting inundated. Once you establish a familiarity with various news sources and current events, you’ll find it much easier to make an executive decision on which articles to skim, which articles to read in-depth, and which articles to skip.
  4. Don’t be afraid of longer articles.  A lot of the best publications out there offer short AND long form material.  The longer material often offers the depth and context which can be incredibly helpful and necessary when understanding policy or economic issues.
  5. Don’t focus in one specific area. You may be an aerospace engineer, but you should also be reading about news in all other genres and areas of study.

Statues From The Ruins of Perge

The Reading List

In no particular order…

  • Foreign Affairs – Excellent commentary and analysis from a variety of perspectives about the global marketplace.
  • Stratfor – Some of the best and most insightful global issue briefs out there. Sign up for the free intelligence reports. The rest of the content is amazing but too expensive for most of us.
  • Foreign Policy – This publication offers wonderful insights into global, political, military, and economic issues.
  • Financial Times – Excellent financial reporting.  Unfortunately the website is behind a paywall. However a free account gets you 8 articles a month.
  • The Economist – While no longer producing consistent quality, the majority of pieces are usually well written and researched.
  • Bloomberg – Good for news about the US financial markets and some current events from a US perspective.
  • The BBC – Some of the best news reporting left in the business.
  • Spiegel – Quality extended articles from a German/European centric perspective.
  • The Guardian – Another reputable news source with a global mindset and slight European bias.
  • New York Times – Good for US-centric news from a relatively globally minded perspective.
  • Al Jazeera – Some of the best news reporting out there at the moment. Slight middle-eastern bias.
  • PhysOrg – Fantastic scientific news. A must read.
  • In Focus – Poignant photos of current events.
  • NPR – While famous for their radio coverage, NPR articles can also be quite excellent.  Don’t overlook the NPR website for great interviews and news briefs.
  • The Diplomat – News and commentary dedicated to  Asia Pacific.
  • Smithsonian – Excellent articles on a variety of topics.
  • Scientific American – Articles on a wide mixture of scientific topics.
  • National Geographic – More than just gorgeous photography.  National Geographic offers insight into the world at large.
  • The Council on Foreign Relations – Publisher of Foreign Affairs. Has additional material which is useful and relevant to the global environment.
  • Reddit – A social news aggregator.  While it has tons of photos of silly cats, you can subscribe to sub-reddits (topics) in areas you are passionate about. Good for discovering other news sources.
  • TechCrunch – Technology plays an important role in our lives. As do new start-ups.  TechCrunch blogs about both and is good to keep in mind for emerging trends.
  • ArsTechnica – A quality mixture of technology news and commentary from around the web.
  • Breaking News on Twitter – If you use twitter, find a breaking news feed you like and check it every few days.

Nyhavn Details - Copenhagen, Denmark

Tools and Resources To Lighten the Load

Yikes, that’s a long list right?  Heck, to read it all on a daily or even weekly basis would be a huge time drain.  Let’s face it, most of us don’t have time for that, or the energy.  If you did you wouldn’t have time to actually discuss any of the topics you’d have read with other real people!

Ultimately you’ll want to find the right mixture of tools that fit with the technology you have on hand and your lifestyle. Here are my favorites and what I find work well for me.  I strongly suggest evaluating what spare time in your day-to-day schedule is currently being under-utilized. We all spend a fair amount of time waiting for friends and commuting. Getting in the habit of reading an article or two during that downtime instead of sitting bored, playing Angry Birds, or listening to a song can make a huge difference.

  • Google Currents – I love this app for browsing a lot of the news sources listed above quickly and easily while on the go.  I use it while on the bus, while waiting for food at a restaurant, or while relaxing during downtime.  Currents is a simple, but powerful app for mobile devices.
  • Pulse News – Very similar to Google Currents only slightly more streamlined and sexy in appearance. However, the back-end seems to be less able to pull aggregated feeds that combine a resource’s different types of content (eg; VirtualWayfarer’s posts, flickr, and youtube).
  • Facebook – If you are a heavy Facebook user consider seeking out and liking the page for the news sources you like.  Make sure to check settings and to share a post periodically so Facebook is reminded you want to see the latest news and articles embedded in your feed.
  • iGoogle – While fading in influence, the first tab in my browser is always iGoogle.  I have it configured to display the latest headlines from many of the sites listed above.  That way I can browse for interesting articles quickly and easily.

Statues From The Ruins of Perge

Have The Discussions That Matter

This goes without saying but there are few better ways to learn and expand your perspective than to have active discussions on the things you’re reading and learning about.  Remember that one of the most difficult and most rewarding skills you can develop is the ability to ask questions and to admit where you don’t know something. It’s something I struggle with on a daily basis, but something that really does make an incredible difference.  Beyond asking the right questions, make sure to seek out individuals who share your interest and curiosity.  To do this start sharing material and articles you find interesting.  For many of you I think you’ll find that your friends and contacts are a wealth of unexpected knowledge in areas and fields you never would have expected or imagined.

Above all, fuel and nurture your curiosity.  Good luck!

Do you have a favorite news or information source you highly recommend?  Feel free to post it in the comments, just please make sure it’s something more stimulating and useful than MSNBC, Fox News, or the Onion.

Learning Danish – Surprising Realizations

Local Food (The Smorgasbord) - Copenhagen, Denmark

When I first arrived in Denmark I was gung ho about learning Danish.  I felt that as an incoming resident who would be spending two years in the country it was the least I could do to learn Danish during my stay.  To my surprise the majority of my Danish friends appreciated the sentiment but discouraged me from learning Danish – the common statement went along the lines of, “Only 6 million people speak Danish and it is a terribly hard language that is almost impossible to master, besides we all speak English”.  I can’t imagine a similar sentiment being expressed about English back in Arizona.  Granted, it’s a very different situation, but even if it were not, I just don’t see Arizonans ever voicing similar advice.

Eager to expand my horizons and truly immerse myself in Danish culture I decided to take their recommendation under advisement, but push ahead with learning Danish. Now, several months later I’ve had several realizations that have re-shaped my relationship with the language.

The first is that most Danes really do speak excellent English.  It’s almost impossible to find a Dane here in Copenhagen under the age of 40 who doesn’t speak fluent English.  It’s taught in their schools, most of the movies shown in theaters are English with Danish subtitles, and about 70% of the movies and shows on TV are presented in a similar way.  Of those over 40, most speak at least some English.

Danish is an incredibly difficult language. Now, I don’t consider myself a linguist by any stretch of the imagination. Quite the opposite actually, but based on my experiences with Spanish I feel as though I have at least a general baseline to compare against.

The thing about Danish is that it is a fairly guttural/throaty language, it is very general and re-uses a wide variety of words which makes it very contextual.  The words in Danish are also some of the longest I’ve ever encountered which I’ve found challenging as I’ve yet to learn where to pause and what to omit.  In addition to having incredibly long words, many letters of the alphabet in words are actually silent which makes hearing it and reading it phonetically extremely difficult.

The most difficult part of Danish for me, so far, has been the guttural enunciation.  Danes commonly joke that as a non-dane the best you can hope for is to get close. Unfortunately, so far even the simple three or four letter words have largely escaped me. As it turns out, my version of west coast, slightly southern English uses every part of my mouth EXCEPT the parts used in the guttural aspects of Danish. In general the way I’ve learned to talk is with crisp – perhaps harsh is more accurate – vocalizations.  The result is that I can’t even make many of the sounds used in Danish, let alone hear them.  For those of you that battled with the rolling R in Spanish, this is similar, but across the entire language.

On the upside, while I have difficulty hearing and pronouncing the more subtle aspects of the language the one area my English background helps with, is the cross over and use of words which have their roots in Old Norse and the Germanic languages. Words like hour (timer), etc. are clear cut enough that I can make contextual sense of them when reading websites, menus, etc.

The Danes are also very finicky about the pronunciation of words.  What sounds identical to a non-native speaker is often a significant enough difference in pronunciation that the Danes have difficulty recognizing and understanding the word(s) being spoken. I know that for some people, this has been mistaken as being unhelpful, but the more I’m exposed to it, the more I’ve come to realize that it’s deeply ingrained in the complex structure of Danish and the key importance of subtle emphasis and not done out of any sense of elitism or stubbornness.

An additional point of interest has been Dane’s use of English in the midst of general conversation.  As I understand it English (in part because it is a new language) has much more descriptive words for a lot of actions and things than traditional Danish.  As a result it’s fairly common for Danes to supplement Danish with English during the course of their conversations.  Sometimes only using a word and other times switching to English for a sentence before diving back into Danish for the remainder of the conversation.

I’ve been very surprised by the Dane’s willingness to switch entire discussions over into English if an English speaker is present without complaint. I’ve even seen a number of Danes switch from Danish to English when ordering in ethnic restaurants without a hint of complaint or annoyance.  That said, despite English’s generally widespread use in Denmark, the social language barrier you would expect elsewhere between Danes and non-danish speakers is less visible but still present.

I share the above because I’ve been forced to adjust my approach to learning Danish. My previous goal was to be able to speak, write, and read Danish by the end of the year. While I’ve realized that given enough time it’s certainly doable, the reality is that I’m not likely to attain that level of mastery over the two year period I’ll be here.  From conversations, this realization inspires many long-term visitors and expats to abandon Danish all together. Which I also don’t find to be the right approach.

My revised goal is to learn enough Danish that I can hear and understand spoken, conversational Danish when it is occurring around me.  From there, though I’d like to be able to (and hope to in time) respond in Danish. For the time being I’ll focus on responding in English.   This should allow me to participate in many of the conversations that I might otherwise accidently be excluded from without forcing everyone I meet to constantly speak English, just because I’m in the general area.

It is going to be a challenge. The re-training of my ear has already been a surprisingly difficult task, but it’s one which I’ve already found to be quite enriching and informative.  The role of language in learning more about culture, myself, and in shaping this experience has been a significant one, even with my current limited vocabulary of about 5 spoken Danish words.

For now, I’m off to ride the metro, silently mouthing each station name and announcement as I work to acclimate myself to a new world of sounds, words, and grammar. Looking like I’m talking to myself is a small price to pay for the chance to learn a fascinating language with a rich and storied history!