The art of working everywhere

A “nomad” by definition (my definition) is someone who can travel while working.

That means anything from taking a three-week vacation (while only getting two weeks off) all the way to full-time travel.

The trick isn’t the travel, but the work.

Nomads don’t need special equipment, for the most part. Laptops serve as the form-factor of choice for most white-collar types, and laptops are perfectly nice computers for working while traveling.

Special equipment may include (depending on how you travel and where you go) outlet converters and additional protection, including water coverage, for your gear.

Two additional considerations: 1) stealth; and 2) efficiency.

Carrying your fancy first-world problems (your pricey laptop, expensive smartphone and other shiny objects) to less-than-fancy districts is probably a bad idea. So for some types of travel I recommend camouflaging gadgets.

Apple products are particularly identifiable as high resale-value objects that, as such, are attractive to crooks.

You’ll want to hide that Apple logo.

Also, I’ve found it enormously helpful to make my work situation highly efficient.

It takes a long time to boot a laptop, find the password for and log in to a WiFi network, then struggle with slow WiFi. It’s time-consuming to manage files across multiple devices. It's inefficient to find oneself unable to work offline. And if you’re a heavy keyboard user, as I am, a less than perfect keyboard can really slow things down.

Another bonus for efficiency is the ability to capture ideas and get incoming notifications on the fly, even if your hands are full or while you’re walking around.

I’ve been working to solve all these problems for myself (your mileage — a.k.a., your “computing” requirements — may vary).

The result is my new setup. Let me explain what I’m doing, then why.

The centerpiece of my work is a 10.5-inch iPad Pro maxed out on storage (512 GB). It’s got a SIM card in it. It’s not a duplicate SIM — I removed the SIM from my phone and I’m using it in the iPad. When abroad, I get a local pre-paid SIM for data, and use it in the iPad, not the iPhone.

My iPad is protected by a Pad & Quill Contega Linen case.

I have an Apple Pencil and AirPods.

And the pièce de résistance, my keyboard, is an Apple Wireless Magic Keyboard. The keyboard travels in a case specifically made for that keyboard by Hermitshell. Happily, that case also has just enough room for the Apple Pencil.

All this goes into a tiny, nondescript backpack I carry around. Or, I carry the iPad (in its case) and the keyboard (in its case) together in my hand. When I carry it, the iPad looks like a paper notebook. And the keyboard case doesn’t look like anything interesting. The AirPod case goes in my pocket.

When I’m ready to work, I open the case and flip the cover around to the back, using it like a “clipboard,” usually with the Pencil. If I have a table, I open it up at an angle and break out the keyboard, then use it like a laptop.

I don’t always have to fuss around with random WiFi connections, and instead use the mobile data connection.

Walking around, I may wear one AirPod to interact with incoming calls and notifications and as a way to get random information via voice.

Meanwhile, I use my iPhone only for taking fast photos, listening to music and podcasts while trail running and a few other limited uses. It connects only via WiFi.

This setup is the ultimate nomad rig for me. It’s mobile, efficient and camouflaged. The use of an iPad as my main computer is heavily improved by the beta of iOS 11 I’m running. (I am, of course, looking forward to more stable future versions.)

Your perfect set of gear may be different. But when you’re living nomadically, it’s a great idea to optimize for mobility, speed and stealth.

Last chance for Barcelona!

After months of work, our Barcelona Experience is coming together beautifully! 

Amira and I are back in California now. But in a month we’ll be heading back to Barcelona to finalize everything for the Big Week (September 12 to September 17). 

(It’s still possible to join us; we have one spot left for a couple! CLICK HERE TO GRAB THE LAST SPOT!)

Wait, Mike, did you say “months” of preparation?

Yes. Putting together a week like this requires painstaking exploration, testing, tasting, research, legwork and, above all, relationship building. 

We’ve assembled a cast of brilliant food visionaries, including (in our opinion) Spain’s best baker, affineur, wine-maker, organic chef, mixologist, vermouth maker and others. 

Some of these amazing people are innovators. Others have been faithfully preserving Catalonian traditions for decades. 

We’re going to enjoy Barcelona’s best beaches, tapas, markets, wine bars, chocolate and churros, neighborhoods. 

But some things are best when homemade. So we’re going to make them, together, led by our carefully selected local experts. 

We’re doing this event in Barcelona only once. We’ll never do another event in that city. 

One event. One spot open. Get it here

(Or, send me an email at mike@elgan.com) if you have any questions!

Putting the 'Bar' in Barcelona

I'm not a big bar guy, and generally don't drink distilled beverages (I do enjoy great fermented libations like very good beer and very good wine.) 

But I make an exception in Barcelona. Some years ago, the city enjoyed a revival for certain types of beverages, especially vermouth. In fact, the entire nation of Spain got struck by vermouth mania about three years ago, with Barcelona leading the charge. 

Today, you can find the best vermouth in the world house-made in some of Barcelona's coolest and hardest-to-find bars. 

Vermouth, of course, is fortified wine enhanced with herbs and bark. And it's also used in a variety of mixed drinks. 

A small number of Barcelona mixologists are masters at the art of combining vermouth into a delightful — and delightfully herbal and natural — cocktail, which is pretty much the opposite of your average mixed drink in your average bar. 

Several Barcelona bars also make their own amazing gin. Interestingly, gin started out as a medieval medicine. And the gin you find at ordinary bars still does taste both medieval and medicinal — like some kind of industrial solvent. 

But some of the gin I've tried in Barcelona is positively delightful in its herbal complexity. 

Of course, we're going to spend some quality time enjoying the very best bars in Barcelona during our Barcelona Experience 2017.

Join us

 

 

The donkeys of Morocco

Morocco is a reasonably high-tech country. Everybody's got a mobile phone. The cars are all pretty new. WiFi is everywhere. The house in Fez where we're now living even has home automation stuff all over the house, including sensors on the doors and motion detectors for the lights. 

Still, donkeys still do a lot of the work here. They serve as transportation, as well as "trucks" for carrying stuff. 

This is especially true in the Fez medina (the ancient part of the city). The narrow, winding Mediaeval streets here can't handle scooters, which are banned. Wheeled cars, pushed by men, are used, but they struggle to get through the crowds of people. 

Only donkeys can make it through the medina carrying heavy loads, and they're used for just about everything. Some guys are controlling three donkeys at once, usually with voice commands. 

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Smartphones and Sunsets in the Sahara

I write professionally about the cultural changes brought about by technology, which is often smartphone-centric technology. 
 
Most American smartphone users, especially business owners, also use laptops, tablets and probably servers and other advanced business technology. 
 
I met a young entrepreneur this week who is running his entire startup from two phones. 

His name is Mohammad, and he's a Berber Moroccan who, along with his brother Said and their uncle, are building a tourism business in the Sahara desert. 
 
Before I tell you more about Mohammad, first let me tell you about his travel business. 

It's called Trips Around Morocco. Right now, they offer camel rides, camel rides to overnight desert camps, guided driving tours all over Morocco, and they're building a hotel they say should be done in six months. 
 
I love their business. And I'm not alone. They have perfect reviews on Trip Advisor

We encountered Trips Around Morocco when Amira discovered them after extensive research. We wanted to experience a night in the Sahara, so she booked their camel-ride-to-Berber-camp package. 
 
We arrived at a hotel-like Berber-style building, which was like a holding area for tourists waiting for departure into the desert. 

There were two groups. One was a group of eight visitors from China. The other group was Amira and me. 
 
At the appointed hour (they time the trip to coincide with the setting sun), we walked out over a flat gravel plain to the waiting camels, which were tied around their front legs and sitting on the ground. 

Mohammad wrapped Amira's scarf around her head and face Berber style to protect from sun and sand. They assigned a camel each to Amira and me. We straddle them, they got up, and one of the staff — a guy in his early 20s whose name I don't recall — walked through the sand in his flip-flops guiding the camels. We three humans and two dromedaries sauntered through the sand, leaving the other group behind. 
 
(Note that it was the first day of Ramadan, so these guides are walking for miles through the Sahara in direct sun with zero shade without drinking water or eating anything since 3:30am.)

We were immediately in the dunes, which were breathtakingly beautiful, a deep orange color that deepened as the sun sank on the horizon. 
 
After about 45 minutes of travel, our guide "parked" the camels, and invited us to the top of a very high sand dune to watch the setting sun. He sprinted up the dune like he was being propelled by jets. We awkwardly groped our way to the top over time, struggling mainly to avoid burying ourselves in the sand-avalanches we were creating. 

We spent probably a half hour on top of the dune taking pictures. Eventually, Mohammed showed up with the Chinese group. He posed for some pictures with us (really hamming it up). Every once in awhile, he checked his two mobile phones — one an Android smartphone and the other a tiny feature phone. (More on that later.)
 
After the sun set, we came down from the dune, mounted our steeds and rode another ten minutes to the camp. As our guide was dealing with the camels, he told us the camp was over a dune and that we could proceed. So we did, and there it was — 10 camel-hair Berber tents arranged in a U-shape. 

The camp had one Berber camp guy, who spoke no English but did speak some French. He showed us our tent and told us we should go have tea at a picnic table in the center after freshening up. (The spacious tents had showers, flushing toilets and sinks inside — not sure how they do that...)

We arrived at the table, and tea was ready. But our host was gone. It was just Amira and I in the camp, alone for about 20 minutes. My guess is that they went to a nearby place or SUV for "iftar" (the breaking of their Ramadan fast), guzzle water and wolf down some food.

Around this time we realized that we were the only guests at the camp. The Chinese group had gone to the "luxury camp," which had plastic tents and other luxury things. 
 
Our camp guy brought a bottle of cold water, and eventually a tagine, as well as some bread and fruit. 

We had brought some cherries we bought at a roadside stand outside Fez and Mohammed and the guys were gobbling them up (they don't grow cherries anywhere near the desert). We couldn't eat them all, and Mohammed took the remainder to break his fast with at 3am.

We had been eating tagines all over Morocco, and we expected the food to be bad. They were, after all, camping in the desert. 
 
But the chicken tagine (which also had hard-boiled eggs, olives, potatoes, beans, onions, etc.) we were served was by far the best tagine we've ever had in Morocco. It was incredibly delicious. 

After this amazing dinner, Mohammed, two guides and our camp host all played drums and sang Berber stuff, inviting us to join in. We then got to talking with Mohammed, and learned more about his business. 
 
He had worked for years in restaurants and hotels and saved up as much money as he could. His brother and uncle saved, too, presumably. He then went into business for himself buy buying two camels, and provided desert camel rides to visitors. 

Over time, they expanded into driving tours, camps and began construction of a hotel. 
 
We talked late into the night, and Mohammed occasionally checked his phones, explaining that when he got a booking or post on Trip Advisor, he would get a text message alert on his feature phone. 
 
By climbing to the highest nearby dune, he could actually get cell reception good enough to reply to queries, confirm reservations and so on. He told us those two phones were his only "computers" upon which the entire business was run. 
 
Amira made sure to book when the sky was clear and the moon at its least visible, a sliver in the sky. The stars were mind-blowingly clear and numerous. 

We asked the guys to set up a bed for us outside our tent so we could sleep under the stars. They actually put a full bed there, with sheets and heavy, warm camel-hair blankets. 
 
So we retired, and watched the stars. We saw dozens of shooting stars. As we were falling asleep, the Milky Way was rising over a dune to the East. Amira woke up in the middle of the night, and it was directly overhead, an awesome cloud of light spanning the sky. 

Next morning, our camp host clapped his hand from his bed (he was sleeping on a rug on the sand) and said "sunrise!, sunrise!" until we got up. 
 
We clambered up the dune, watched the sunrise, then grabbed our gear and headed back to the camels. (Most of the time, they serve breakfast in the camp, but because it was Ramadan they served it back at HQ.)

At the staging area, we were the only guests. The served us a generous breakfast. They offered us showers, but we declined. 

Our driver came out (he had been doing Ramadan feasting and napping all night). And we took off. 

Mohammed and his family are providing mind-blowing, bucket-list experiences for people from all over the world. 

They're really doing is sharing a bit of their culture and environment with visitors to Morocco, and it's a magical experience.

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The Medina Diet

Here in the oldest part of Fez, called the Medina, there are five kinds of food available from the hundreds of stalls that line much of the area.

The first kind is expat tourist chow. These restaurants are owned and operated by Brits or Americans or Spanish people and they bring an international sensibility, and often acceptable WiFi, to the dining experience. I had a camel burger yesterday at one of these places. Moroccans generally don't eat camel burgers. But I love such places because you can often hang out there for hours, use their WiFi and work.

The second kind is locally owned tourist chow. These are restaurants and food stalls designed mainly for tourists but conceived and run by locals. They often try to provide an "authentic" Moroccan experience for foreigners.

The third kind is locally owned snack foods for locals and tourists alike. These businesses offer ice cream cones and lemonade and other foods that you can find everywhere in the world.

The fourth kind is locally owned food places mostly for locals, but which some visitors also buy at. These businesses sell Moroccan style bread, dates, olives, produce and other foods that are aimed mostly at locals. Some of these have actual dining rooms off the street, but they often do some or all the cooking on the street. Some of these are frequented by locals only because of their location. Others have a small percentage of foreign customers because they're on the major thoroughfares.

And the fifth kind is local-only-local food. People are selling live chickens and stuff like that that tourists aren't going to buy under any circumstances.

We do consume some of the first kind — expat tourist chow, because the space they provide is best for working (especially if they have roof-top tables where the WiFi reaches).

But our main diet is the fourth kind — locally owned food places mostly for locals. We're mainly on what I call the Medina Street Food Diet. Last night was a perfect example.

We spend most of the day at Cafe Clock, which is an ancient riad converted into a restaurant by some expats from Europe or America — not sure. We started out on the second level, but after a few hours it got hot so we moved to the rooftop. I drank coffee, and a little mint tea. We ate a little and worked a lot.

As the sun was setting, we headed back to our riad. We stopped at stall that sells awesome pickled veggies and olives, and grabbed a bag of each. They we found a guy with a bread cart, and picked up a Frisbee-size disc of Moroccan bread from him. In our riad, we had farmer's cheese we got the day prior from a guy with a stand at the entrance to the Medina. Plus we augmented this with olive oil we bought in Spain.

The aforementioned cheese guy let us try all the stuff he was selling. One was milk fermented in a glass. It's like kefir, but they add the milk to a glass (it has a liquidy custard-like texture but very mild flavor), and the glass sits there all day in the open, unrefrigerated. He also had a huge bucket of buttermilk, and you could see big chunks of butter floating in it. We tried it all and it was all delicious.

Other street vendors sell various sweets, covered in pastry dough, deep fried and drenched with honey or simple syrup. They keep these in big glass display cases, each of which may contain hundreds of wasps flying around and landing on the sweets. (We didn't have them because they're deep-fried.)

Another example was our lunch today. We were on our way through the Medina on our way to some WiFi, and spotted a big metal table full of tagines. The place looked totally legit, with an interior dining room with 100% of the customers were locals. So we asked for a tagine and a couple salads, and they brought it all, plus bread. We ate it with our hands local-style. It was delicious.

Americans are often freaked out by street food. The vendors are handling things with their bare hands. Refrigeration is non-existent. Things aren't covered.

My son, Kevin, has always been a reckless connoisseur of anything sold out of an outdoor cart. In recent years, I've come around to his point of view. In fact, when we were in Mexico City last year, I came to the realization how much I love street food that's aimed at locals.

I've gotten sick before while traveling. Once I got incredible gastrointestinal problems from coffee I bought from a Honduras gas station. I got super ill from Cuban Zika fumigation. But I never got sick from street food. Ever.

We're health nuts. Some Moroccan street food is unhealthy, and we avoid it. There's lots of fried stuff, and other foods are loaded with sugar. The bread is industrially leavened, as is the case with most of the bread in the world. (These are often modern versions of traditional foods that were baked instead of fried, sweetened with honey and dates instead of sugar and fermented with starter instead of yeast.

Other Moroccan street food is healthy, such as the range of fermented milk products, olives and other fermented and pickled vegetables, and of course natural produce, including dates, and we're living on that stuff, mostly. Lots of vendors sell soup, sandwiches and stuff like that. We do have bread but keep it limited in quantity (some foods like tagines and sandwiches really need the bread).

(Interestingly, most of the fermented milk and soups come in glasses or ceramic bowls — you stand there and have it, then hand the vessel back.)

The best stalls always have a crowd of locals clamoring to buy, and these places are worth the wait.

In any event, we're living mainly on the Medina Diet. (In fact, to a very large degree, we came here in order to be on the Medina Diet.)

Today it occurred to us that we have so much food to explore, and so little time.

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For the Love Of Tapas

One of the great joys of living in Spain is tapas culture. In its purest form, the enjoyment of tapas involves long evenings drinking slowly and talking rapidly. Each new round of beer or wine is accompanied by a small plate of delicious food traditionally chosen and paid for by the bar. 

One joy about tapas: the element of surprise. No paralysis of choice. No buyer's remorse. You get what they give you. There's no menu. There’s no charge. It's wonderful. 

Great tapas are one of the greatest food experiences you can enjoy. 

Tapas are mostly an Andalusian thing. Outside Southern Spain, tapas often work differently. 

Here's Barcelona's dirty little secret: Great tapas this town are hard to find. 

There are two main reasons for bad tapas in Barcelona. 

Many tapas restaurants list tapas on a menu, and charge for each dish individually. There's nothing wrong with that. In fact, it's a good thing, because it enables tapas to include more expensive ingredients and for the customer to be charged accordingly. 

But most Barcelona tapas restaurants list their tapas on a permanent menu. And that's a problem. 

Tapas tend to be best when they're assembled with ingredients of opportunity — seasonal produce, seafood that happens to be abundant in high quality on a random Tuesday, that sort of thing. Constructing an all-year, every-day menu means tapas bars will exclude seasonal ingredients and special ingredients. 

There are ways around this, of course. Some tapas bars offer "specials" of the day or simply inform customers which items on the menu are unavailable. 

The biggest problem with tapas, however, is when they're designed for tourists rather than locals. 

Here in Barcelona, tapas bars are everywhere. Instead of tapas being made constantly and coming fresh out of the kitchen, they're often pre-made in large quantities, then displayed and stacked on plates on top of a counter top in a way visible to passers-by. Bars try to be more impressive by making large quantities and showing them off in large stacks.

Technically, these aren't tapas. They're called pinchos. And they're sort of like the Basque version of tapas. Unlike tapas, pinchos are not traditionally "free." You pay for them separately from drinks. Most pinchos involve something placed on top of a slice of bread with a single toothpick holding it all together. Sometimes they add up your "bill" by counting the toothpicks left behind. 

A typical scenario on major tourist thoroughfares in Barcelona is a charming old-looking establishment that says "Tapas" on the outside, but with pinchos on the counter. That's the winning combination. The reason is that tourist are more familiar with the word "tapas" but pinchos are stackable and impressive. 

In the tourist places, these stacks of pinchos often sit there for hours. The bread is getting soggy and stale simultaneously. Grime and dust from the city are coating them. Making matters worse, items are designed to survive this ordeal and still look vaguely edible by the time they eventually reach somebody's mouth. So they tend toward big slabs of meat or fish, and entire categories of tapas and pinchos are eliminated. 

In other words, when you're targeting tourists, tapas don't have to taste good. They don't even have to be tapas. They have only to look good. So all effort is focused on the appearance and ingredients, food handling and other aspects suffer. Tourists aren't going to become regulars anyway, so no harm done to the business if the food sucks. (In real tapas culture, each bar is in a contest with the other bars for the affection of regulars.) 

Another problem is that Spaniards like to close their shops for siesta, national and local holidays, and for family time when the kids are out of school. In a tourist-intensive city like Barcelona, non-Spanish tapas bar owners (immigrants from Asia or the Middle East, mostly) have an advantage. They stay open during siesta and holidays, and can thereby make a lot more money — enough to pay inflated building rents in heavily trafficked areas. 

All this results in the proliferation of tapas bars in tourist areas that aren't owned by Spanish people, aren't coming from tapas culture and don't have good tapas and they advertise with mishandled pinchos. These bars are a simulacrum of real tapas bars, but the tourists keep them in business. 

Tapas and pinchos are like pizza. Even when they're bad, they're still pretty good. And when they're good, they're spectacular. 

The good news is that incredibly great tapas and pinchos bars do exist in Barcelona, and we have found them all. 

During our Barcelona Experience 2017, we're not going anywhere near tourist tapas. We're going straight to the best tapas made with high quality and seasonal ingredients that are fresh and made to order. And, of course, we’ll enjoy some freshly made pinchos, too! Come and experience the real Barcelona with us and the best bar food this beautiful city has to offer.

There's nothing in this whole world like great tapas and pinchos in an authentic or visionary bar in Barcelona. You simply MUST experience this

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