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Home is where I let my toes touch the shower floor.

I’m not sure why that is, or how I even noticed, but whenever I take a shower in a new place, my toes never touch the ground. A new apartment, a hotel, a friend’s place, for whatever reason scares my toes and they flee the ground as far as they can.

The Mongolian Countryside

You could easily attribute it to germophobia, but I’m not sure lifted toes would make anyone any less susceptible to hordes of fungal and bacterial armies on a strange shower floor. If you have at all been paying attention to the places I stay and the things I eat, you would realize “germophobe” is not a title that applies to me anyway.

Yet so it goes, showering with my toes raised from the wet ground day after day as I settle into a new place. Eventually, given enough time and comfort, they will gently rest to the ground as they are intended. Each place is different. In Japan I found many friends quickly and immersed myself in the culture and they settled in after about two weeks. India took over a month before they trusted the tile there. Most places never see the day.

Like now, in Mongolia. I’ve lived here for over a month now and I realized this morning that my toes have yet to touch the floor. I’ve climbed several mountains, ridden horseback through the countryside, and eaten lots of local cuisine, yet my toes still tell me that this is not home.

The locals don’t speak English, and my Mongolian is still atrocious. I have met plenty of expats here, but so far I haven’t clicked with anyone. They all seem to be biding their time until it’s their turn to leave, and bonding is generally done over complaining about the food and culture, neither of which is my style.

I’m not giving up yet, though. There’s still more country to see and more people to meet, and I’m not ready to let my toes win yet.

Mongolian Sunset

Onward to Mongolia

Taken during a recent flying lesson above San Francisco

In a few hours I hop on an airplane to Mongolia. I’ve never been before, and I know very little about it. I saw a documentary partially set there once, and it showed people living in tents with cows, trying to stay warm. While this may still exist in the country, I am headed to the largest city in the country, Ulan Bator, where I suspect they may have discovered buildings with walls.

To be honest, I’m not even sure that’s how you spell the name of the city. I’ve seen it spelled several different conflicting ways, sometimes with a lot of extraneous vowels. This means I’m not even quite sure how it’s pronounced.

And I’m moving there today.

“This is how I live” is something I find myself saying more and more to people lately, as they ask about my lifestyle and what it’s like. I hop from country to country, sometimes for a day or two, sometimes for months on end. A good part of my time is just spent in transit. Hours on a bus, a day on a plane, a few minutes on a subway, a week on a train. A lot of the time they feel more like my home than any building I may be staying in.

Which makes sense, as I generally spend more time there than on any given bed or couch. Crouched over in a random airport terminal reading a book or wandering the halls with my iPhone out, hunting for free WiFi so I can figure out how I can get to my next destination.

That is another word that seems to have lost most of its meaning for me. Destination. Most people generally refer to it as a specific location, an end goal. These are kind of people who ask me unanswerable questions like “How much longer are you going to be traveling?” and “Where do you live?”. My destinations have typically become people now, as I figure out new ways of staying in touch with the kind of people that I am attracted to. Hilarious people who are making their way intentionally through life, as opposed to letting it happen to them. The kind of people who have the self-confidence to throw themselves into an absurd situation knowing they will make it out with a great story, and the humility to accept when it all falls through.

Laughing about the situation the entire time, naturally.

An unexpected miniature rave inside a winding labyrinth.

As we, these amazing people and myself, wind through the streets, we quickly discover that destinations are one of those things for when you feel lazy. A destination is an established place that you are going back to because it was amazing last time and will continue to be, so you can relax in knowing it’s a safe choice. Much more frequently we find ourselves walking, riding, and talking our way through random places, finding something that looks amazing nearby to try, once someone realizes they are hungry.

This is how we discovered the most delicious ice cream in the world, here in Berlin. We were wandering the streets between a shopping district and some sort of fair when we saw an artisanal chocolate shop. After perusing their gallery of different chocolates all wrapped in the same clear wrapper, we decided on the ice cream in a freezer off to the side. Specifically, I got the dark chocolate.

There’s a story my mother likes to tell about me, from around when I was 12 years old. I was generally kind of talkative, but during one meal I was particularly quiet as I was eating amongst everyone else. After a while of just eating in silence, I looked up and proclaimed to nobody in particular, “I. Like. Food.”

This generally holds true to this day. As such, the next few minutes after finding this dark chocolate ice cream are kind of hazy, as I kind of disappeared into eating. I do recall that it seemed like there was only enough ice cream to make it not just a cold scoop of delicious chocolate, and my friend recalls me making moaning noises. As this is all I’m left with, I am forced to reconcile this by concluding that this is the most delicious ice cream in the world.

Which makes me wonder what will be in Uulaan Batoor. What will be amazing there? Who will have amazing stories and things to teach? What will be the things that I tell friends “You have to visit, just for this.” about?

I honestly don’t know, and I really can’t wait to find out.

This is how I live, and this is why I live this way.

My favorite tip for being able to afford to travel well.

One of the most frequent questions I get asked is “How do you afford to travel so much?” In all honesty, it’s a lot cheaper than you would imagine (most people think of vacation budgets, not daily life budgets), and I have a number of tricks for making it even easier and more enjoyable. This is my favorite one that most people don’t consider.

Just another exotic locale.

Save money by spending more.

Yesterday I was talking to someone about how I travel the world with everything I own in one little backpack, and I got one of the standard responses, “I could never be prepared for everything with that.” She proceeded to list off 20 pairs of jeans, a big list of medical “just in case” things, and completely different outfits every day of the year. She was so freaked out on one trip when she discovered she only packed one pair of jeans that she immediately went out to buy more.

And somehow she doesn’t see the irony of the fact that she’s never prepared. She has to buy even more things last minute because she has so much stuff that she can’t bring with her. She is gushing money by spending it on a million little things that never actually help because she never has any of it with her.

I just spent $200 on a single pair of pants. Considering you can get perfectly solid pairs for $50 or less, that’s a lot to justify. But for me, it’s easy. (More about the amazing pants later.) Because I have such limited space, each thing I buy is going to displace something else and it has to be the best possible version it can be; durable, versatile, and useful. I only have one pair of pants and one pair of jeans, and this gets me through every possible scenario, and they get a lot of use. Compare that to her 20+ pairs of jeans for over $1000 total (that she likely never uses) and you quickly understand how much money I’m saving by buying the best possible things for more money.

Climbing in style.

You know that dresser that’s been handed down through your family for generations? You know, the solid mahogany one that is gorgeous and works just as well as the day it was made with no maintenance. The one with history that brings a smile to your face. Now think about that coffee table you got on sale at IKEA. The one made of compressed tree flakes that a corner broke off of when you bumped into it, so you repaired it with a Sharpie. The one that you could toss over your head with one hand if you wanted, but you debate whether it’s worth it to move it to a new place or just get a new one.

That is the difference between paying for quality and looking for the cheapest price possible. Typically, paying 50% more for something gives you something that is a joy to use and lasts five times as long. Finding the cheapest possible option gives you something that doesn’t quite do what it advertised, and starts falling apart a week after you getting it, quickly causing you to spend even more money to bandage together something you never really wanted to the first place so it can keep hobbling along doing not what you wanted.

Why would you put yourself through wearing ill-fitting, itchy clothes or getting frustrated at a computer because it is failing you yet again? There is an expression, “Buy it right or buy it twice.” I think this expression severely underestimates, and doesn’t consider the fact that you have to use the piece of crap you just bought so cheaply.

By doing a little research before you buy and getting the amazing new thing that is genuinely amazing, you are supporting the small people who did all the work to make these amazing things. Would you rather support them or the weasels who rush in after the hard work has been done and cut as many corners as possible to make it cheaper?

Everything I own!

I’m not saying you should spend lots of money all the time. Be selective about what you buy. By having everything I own in one carry-on backpack, I have limited space for everything I own. This means every purchase I have gets carefully researched and mulled over, because every single thing I buy has to earn its keep, lasting a long time through various situations that can wear down lesser things quickly. You don’t need to limit your space in order to follow this philosophy, you just need to change how you think about purchases.

The next time you are thinking about getting that jumbo pack of socks in a plastic bag that will be itchy, fall down within minutes, and have holes within a few weeks, think about spending more than the cheapest possible option to get some that are buttery smooth and will last you years into the future. You can get something high quality that will make you happy every time you use it, or you can end up paying more to keep replacing the same cheap crap you hate to use. Don’t be afraid to spend a lot on things you will actually use, then use them all the time. It will be a little painful at first, but in the long run you will save a ton of money and only have high-quality things that make you smile every time you use them.

P.S. Those pants I mentioned at the top? Outlier Climbers. They are classy enough to be solid dress pants, stretchy enough to rock climb or do yoga in, and durable enough to last for years. Some days I never want to take them off because they are so comfortable. Go. Get some. I don’t get a penny for recommending them, they are just that good, and I want to see them thrive.