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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