Genuine Curiosity

Author Dwayne Melancon is always on the lookout for new things to learn. An ecclectic collection of postings on personal productivity, travel, good books, gadgets, leadership & management, and many other things.


Seeing the World With a Backpack

I've traveled a lot on business, but have always been intrigued by the idea of traveling the world for fun.  A couple of sets of friends of mine have done just that:

  • Tom Andrus took his whole family around the world on a very reasonable budget, which you can read about on his  "Six In The World" site;
  • Warren and Betsy Talbot not only did the same thing, they have written books about how to go about it, which you can find out more about via their "Married With Luggage" site.
Tips for Smooth Business Travel.jpg

When you think about international travel - even on a smaller scale than that of Tom, Warren, and Betsy - one of the big questions is how to travel affordably. After all, anyone who has been on vacation recently knows it can be an extremely pricey experience.

In order to see the world in a more budget-friendly way, many people are intrigued by the idea of embarking on a backpacking adventure. Instead of staying at hotels, urban backpacking trips typically involve staying in hostels, which can save travelers thousands of dollars. But before you call the airlines and book your flight to Europe or wherever your case of wanderlust inspires you to go, it’s a good idea to take a little time beforehand and consider how backpacking and hostel vacations are different from a suitcase and hotel excursion.

Traveling Suggestions

The first thing to decide is if you want to travel alone or with a group. While having the freedom to go where you want and see what you want is appealing, there's also safety in numbers. Speaking of which, travelers should make it a point to protect their identity while they're away; for example, signing up with Life Lock before heading on vacation is a good idea, as is investing in a money belt and keeping your passport well-protected.

Most hostels will have lockers, but it doesn't hurt to pack some security accessories. Pacsafe Locks both cover and secure your pack to keep it from being stolen or tampered with.

Packing a Backpack

Packing a backpack for a vacation takes time and preplanning. As an article on the Wild Backpacker website noted, the first order of business is to purchase a backpack that'll fit all of the clothing, supplies and other gear you'll need. Even if, you already have an older backpack that will hold a lot of items, the article suggests investing in a newer, more lightweight model that will still hold a ton of stuff while also saving your back.

In order to pack everything properly, travelers should lay out everything they intend to bring in one spot. For instance, if you're going outside of the United States, you’ll probably want to bring a travel adapter, as well as a headlamp, at least one pair of extremely comfortable yet sturdy shoes, and the correct kind of clothing, for the climate you’ll be visiting. Once you have everything you need gathered together, the Wild Backpacker article suggests loading your pack with the lightweight items at the bottom, than medium-weight, and then finally the heaviest items. Fill all empty spaces with your smaller items like a GPS, snack foods, bug spray and toiletries.

For anyone who is unsure about what to expect, an article that appeared in the Huffington Post offers a first-hand account about the many benefits of staying in such affordable accommodations. In the author’s experience, hostels are clean, welcoming and hospitable places to stay, filled with friendly staff and guests. Many hostels tend to have staff on-site 24 hours a day, which helps with security. Hostels are also extremely easy on the wallet, costing as little as a few dollars a night.

With a little preplanning and a sense of adventure, it's certainly possible to get out and see the world for far less than a typical vacation.

Temptation and strengthening your will


I was just reading an interesting article by Peter Bregman on the Harvard Business Review blogs, called "How to Use Temptation to Strengthen Your Willpower."  It first caught my eye because he was writing about a retreat at a place near where I live in Oregon.

But what really got my attention was the notion of "always wanting more" phenomenon (aka the Hedonic Treadmill) that he describes:

We relentlessly pursue things and experiences that we think will make us happier. But once we acquire them, we quickly return to our previous level of happiness. So then we look for the next thing.

This sounds familiar to me, as my love for gadgets is kind of like this, to name one of my "vices."  Another thing in his article resonated with me, as well:

Maybe getting the object of our desire isn't what we really desire. Maybe it's the desire itself which we desire. In other words, maybe it's more pleasurable to want things than to have them.

In other words, maybe the quest for what we want is worth more than getting it.  In some cases, I think that is certainly true, but we also need to obtain enough of our desired outcomes to drive our sense of progress, as well as to allow us allow us to move to the next phase of our journey.

The big question:  when does our questing become detrimental?  From my experience, there is a fine line between healthy focus and obsessive / compulsive pursuit, or even an addiction.  This is where I find that an objective coach or mentor can be a huge ally - whether it is a friend, coworker, roommate, spouse, or someone else you can trust to be straight with you (like a "sponsor" in a 12-step program).

The other aspect that I really liked about Bregman's article is the notion of using delayed gratification to make the experience more pleasant once you release the tension.  I encourage you to read what Bregman has to say - it is really good.

How can you boost your productivity?

In the past, I've written a lot of things relating to personal productivity here, since efficient & effective throughput is a big quest for me. I recently ran across an article on the Industrial Space blog, called "7 Websites That Can Boost Your Productivity" and I found it worthy of sharing.

The post refers to a couple of familiar tools that I've written about before, such as Toodledo, which I use in conjunction with the Manage Your Now methodology; and RescueTime, which I use to track where I spend my time on my computer.

But wait- there's more!

Eric Thompson, the author of the post, also brought several additional web-based tools to my attention -- ones I'd never heard of before. Specifically, he shares info about Bitrix 24, PickyDomains, Yugma, JetRadar, and Vyew. I won't link to them here - instead, I encourage you to head over to the article on Industrial Space, read Eric's descriptions, and follow the links from there.


I will tell you that I've already added JetRadar to my toolbox - it is a great resource if you travel as much as I do!

And one more from me...

And while I have you, I'd like to mention one other website that has really helped my productivity: Buffer. Buffer, (aka BufferApp) is an easy-to-use tool to allow you to create a reservoir of things you'd like to tweet, and have them go out at scheduled times. I have a schedule set up to send out tweets several times a day, which I like because I can schedule 30 minutes to catch up on my blog and RSS Feed reading, then queue up a bunch of tweets to go out over a longer period of time.


For me, this helps keeping me from "tweet storming" a bunch of posts at once (I find that a bit annoying myself), and creates the illusion that I'm online and tweeting a lot more than I actually am (shh- don't give away my little secret). Buffer integrates with a lot of apps including the Twitter web site, Tweetcaster, the Google Reader feed, and others. Most of the time, I use the BufferApp Safari add-on, which lets me push a button to add a page to my buffer:


As you can see from the dialog, you can post the tweet now, add an image, and/or add it to your Buffer. Once it's in the buffer, it gets added to the list of items to go out on your assigned schedule. I just added the post in the screen shot to my Buffer, and it is scheduled to post Monday at 5:42pm Pacific time.

However, it may not go out at that time, after all… and why not? The answer lies in a cool feature of Buffer: You can edit your buffer - the app provides a web page to manage your buffer, which makes it easy to re-order items, edit them, elaborate, etc. so you can adjust when specific items get posted.

So if you like to tweet, check it out. And, once again, don't forget to check out the "7 Websites That Can Boost Your Productivity."

Counter-productivity tips?

I was just reading an article called, "8 Surprisingly Counterproductive Productivity Apps," which has some interesting items on it.  NapDeskMy favorite is one called iNap@Work, which took the #1 spot:

No. 1 with a bullet? iNap@Work. It’s the productivity app gone so wrong that it could help you lose your job. With counterproductivity as its aim, the app will make you seem busy while — you guessed it — napping at work. To fool the waking dead (read: your cubemates), the app will play a series of sound effects at varying frequencies, including typing, stapling, and mouse clicks.

I played around with this (not for napping, but out of curiosity) and it's pretty entertaining to say the least.  The rest of the list is interesting, as well.

What are your "time sink" apps?

That post reminded me of a tool I've been using called "RescueTime" which automatically tracks your time on Windows and OS X.  I really like it because it not only tracks which apps you are using, but it asks you what you were doing when you return to your desk after a meeting or other reason for being away (sample dialog is below - and you can customize the categories if you want):


WIth RescueTime, you get a very nice breakdown of your productivity through the RescueTime dashboard, along with a categorization of which were the most and least productive categories of time.  The scale ranges from -2 (very unproductive) to +2 (very productive), and you can adjust the categorization to better fit your real view of the world in case you disagree with their classification of an activity.  For example, RescueTime considered LinkedIn to be a -2 (very unproductive) on their scale. I adjusted LinkedIn to be a +1 (productive) since I use LinkedIn to help me in my work and save time.

Once you've been using RescueTime for a while, you can use various reports to see how productive you are and find places where you waste time (your 'counter-productive apps' in a sense).  Here is a sample category breakdown for the month of September so far, based on my utilization:


I don't obsess over these reports, but I do check in a couple of times a month to see how much time I've been spending on distractions.  You can monitor as much or as little of your week as you want, so you can audit all of your time or just your work hours, for example.  I didn't have too many surprises other than realizing how much time I spent playing Diablo 3 last month.

If you're looking for a quick and easy way to track where you spend your time and identify when you are at your most productive, check out RescueTime.  And if you want to take naps at work or engage in other unproductive activities, go read up on 8 Surprisingly Counterproductive Productivity Apps!

I fell off the path and am getting back on...

I recently wrote about Beeminder here, and talked about how much I liked it to help keep me on track.  That is all still true. 

Unfortunately, technology can't always overcome human flaws.  You see, in spite of Beeminder, I missed my commitment to post here at least 4 times per month and wandered off my yellow brick road.


What happened?  

I could make any number of excuses - I got busy, I didn't have a good idea for a post, I was tired, I was on vacation, etc. (all of which are true, but irrelevant).

Basically, I decided to procrastinate when I could've taken a few minutes do write something, or I couldn't planned ahead and written posts early & scheduled them, etc.  In other words, I didn't take proper responsibility for my commitment and didn't hold myself accountable.  It happens.

What am I going to do about it?  

I have paid my pledge of $5 to Beeminder, reset my graph, and am back on the horse trying to meet my commitment of at least 4 posts per month through the end of the year.  And this time, it will cost me $10 if I miss my commitment again.

You know, this made me realize another benefit of Beeminder:  consequences are making me get back to my commitment sooner.  Prior to Beeminder, I could've been a slacker for any length of time and nobody would have known - there is some benefit in a public scoreboard.  If you want to watch my progress, check out my current graph to see how I'm doing.