What Did Lao Tzu Think of Travel?

Tao Te Ching (pronounced, more or less, Dow Deh Jing) can be translated as The Book of the Immanence of the Way or The Book of the Way and How It Manifests Itself in the World or, simply, The Book of the Way.”Stephen Mitchell

Lao Tzu was a Chinese philosopher (though it’s not clear if the term philosopher existed at the time he lived) born sometime in 6th or 5th century BC. He is known for his book the Tao Te Ching, a book I’ve recently gotten really into. Actually, I’ve been into this this book for a few years now, mostly because of the beauty of Stephen Mitchell’s translation. Stephen Mitchell does not speak Chinese. You’d think this would make the translation suffer, and maybe it has in terms of accuracy, but it certainly hasn’t in terms of beauty. He based his translation on many other translations, and also 14 years of studying Zen Bhuddism. My question is: How do you study Zen Buddhism for 14 years, have at least a vague interest in Chinese philosophers, and not learn Chinese? Was he studying in Iowa? Did he make a point of not learning the language? We’ll never know.

It is fairly clear what some of the ancient Roman philosophers thought about travel, or at least too much travel. As Lucius Annaeus Seneca said in his Letters from a Stoic, “All this hurrying from place to place won’t bring you any relief, for you’re traveling in the company of your own emotions, followed by your troubles all the way.”

Or, perhaps even more to the point, ““If you really want to escape the things that harass you, what you’re needing is not to be in a different place but to be a different person.”

Or even MORE to the point:

“To be everywhere is to be nowhere.”

OK, we get it Lucius, you weren’t too stoked on travel. You didn’t like to just grab your rucksack, stick out your thumb, and see where the wind took you. I don’t blame you! You lived in ancient Rome! Things were probably super rad! Why explores the vast reaches of ancient Europe when you could sit around talking, drinking wine, wearing plain robes, eating plain food, and striving to be content with things as they are?

Because this is common thing, both with the Stoics and with Lao Tzu: If you want to be content, strive to be content with the way things are. Don’t covet something you don’t have, love the thing you already have. He is richest who wants least. All I want to do, ever, is play chess, etc. etc. (This last one is a Bobby Fischer quote and it’s not really relevant, I just like it).

But today I want to talk about what Lao Tzu thought, a man who existed centuries before Seneca and half a world away. What did Lao Tzu think about traveling, and more importantly, living a nomadic life?

It’s important to start with one of the main tenets of Lao Tzu wisdom. One of his main teachings was the so-called art of “non-being,” or “not doing.” Letting things unfold however they want. Being fluid. The soft conquers the hard. The light conquers the dark, etc. etc. “When you are content to be yourself, and don’t compare or compete, everybody will respect you.” – Tao Te Ching Chapter 8.

The first good clue as to what Lao Tzu thought about nomadism (I use it in the modern sense of basically being on the move all the time) comes in Chapter 15: “Do you have the patience to wait, till your mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving, till the right action arises by itself?”

This seems to be in keeping with that Seneca said about travel, that if you want to escape things that harass you the place isn’t the problem, you’re the problem. (Though I don’t think Lao Tzu, in his infinite wisdom, knew what “problems” were.)  Lao Tzu’s advice would be to just sit still, and not run, and wait until the correct solution presents itself. Let the mud settle. Wait until the water is clear.

But THEN, in chapter 20, my favorite chapter of the book, he seems to say something a bit different:

Other people have what they need;

I alone possess nothing.

I alone drift about,

like someone without a home.

I am like an idiot, my mind is so empty.

Other people have a purpose;

I alone don’t know.

I drift like a wave on the ocean,

I blow as aimless as the wind.

This seems to contradict what he said earlier about staying still and quiet until your mud settles. This seems to promote going wherever the wind takes you (in fact it says exactly that). so whenever I need to justify my aimless wanderings, I turn to this quote. This quote gives me comfort, though not really because I know deep down Lao Tzu it’s not really what Lao Tzu meant. In other words, I don’t think these passages refer to travel so much. They refer to something else, something of the mind…

In Chapter 26, his thoughts on excessive travel become clear:

Why should the lord of the country

flit about like a fool?

If you let yourself be blown to and fro,

you lose touch with your root.

If you let restlessness move you,

you lose touch with who you are.

And it doesn’t really matter that the next line is, “A good travel has no fixed plans, and is not intent upon arriving,” because Lao Tzu believed that there was a time for everything, and that we should be like nature. “When it blows, there is only wind. When it rains, there is only rain” (Chapter 23). Which means that yes, there is a time for travel. And when you do it, do it with all your heart, embrace it fully, and don’t doubt yourself. But when the time for travel is over, let yourself be content to stay still. Don’t flit about “like a fool,” because you’ll lose touch with your root, and ultimately, with who you are.

That said, I’ve been in Guadalajara almost a month now.

Time to leave?

 

10 Nomad Essentials

nomad tools

For the longest time I never had a head lamp. I’d use my phone. Whenever I borrowed people’s headlamps I thought, Wow, this is a revelation. Everywhere I look there’s light. But then I saw them wearing the head lamps and I thought, Man this is a revelation. They look so stupid. Plus, I can just use the flashlight on my phone. So I never bought one.

Some of the other things on this list took me a long time to figure out, for example, the Charles Schwab debit card. For years I used Bank of America, and each time I took out money in a foreign country paid a) $5 for each transaction PLUS (!) the fee the local bank charged, and b) 3% on the amount withdrawn. You don’t have to be a master of linear equations to realize this adds up.

This is a list that’s been 14 years in the making. It’s the top 10 nomad essentials, 10 items every nomad must have.

1) Laptop

The value of my laptop has become more apparent lately. It’s where I earn the bulk of my money, whether it be rating Instagram ads for Appen, writing blogs, or teaching English classes online. Which means I should probably buy a case for it, since right now my case consists of wrapping it in a merino wool long-sleeve shirt. But here’s what I figure: A thief sees it and thinks it’s just a tattered shirt, and not actually a MacBook Pro and also the most valuable thing I own.

The cunning.

2) Unblocked Cell Phone w/ good camera

Since since I now work on my phone (Instagram job), it has also become essential. Although it was also essential before, because it was my only means of taking photos and/or videos. The reason I say “unlocked” is because you want to be able to use it in different countries. Another option is some kind of international data plan. Or do like my friend Gilbert does: He uses Project Fi from Google. It works in 135 countries and data costs the same as it does at home. You have free access to over a million Wi-Fi hotspots. I don’t know why I haven’t done this myself, actually. I think it’s because I wish I were a luddite and hate my phone and want it to fall in the toilet.

3) Front Loader Backpack

Unless you’re German or Swiss or living in the bronze age, the days of the top loader backpack are over. The top loader backpack (where you load things through the top as opposed to a front loader which, when horizontal, opens much like a duffle bag), is one of the worst travel decisions you can make. In fact, if you’re going to travel the world with a top loader backpack, you might as well stay at home. Like I said, people with top loader backpacks nowadays are almost invariably German, and almost invariably sunburnt/confused. You see them stroll into some coastal town in Costa Rica where they’ll proceed to instantly pay too much for everything, drink 50 beers, lose their wallets and the next day complain how shitty the town is.

From a cursory glance at Amazon I found this beauty from Gregory Mountain Products. It’s got a 40 liter capacity, which is key: It’s not too big. You don’t want too big. Too big makes you look like a tourist. Too big makes you look German. Too big makes you look like someone it would be good to rob.

4) Head Lamp

Like I said, it took me awhile to realize the beauty and practicality of a head lamp. Mostly, they’re good for reading. I like to read before I go to sleep, and if you’re camping or in a hostel there’s a good chance you won’t have light by which to read. I need my Knausgaard before I go to sleep. I need my Bolaño. I use this one from Black Diamond. It’s cheap, sturdy, and works great.

5) Charles Schwab Debit Card

This is number five, but if the numbers in this post meant anything, it would be number one. This is the single best item any modern-day nomad can have. It’s saved me much money, but more importantly, contributed to much peace of mind. No more having to find a bank that partners with your bank to avoid fees. No more having to worry about how much your fees are eating into your trip budget. No more need to worry about anything (at least when it comes to getting $$$). Not only does this card not have foreign transaction fees or charge ATM fees, THEY WILL REFUND YOU any ATM fee you’re ever charged, anywhere in the world. The importance of this cannot be overstated, but it can be stated. Which is what I’m doing here.

If you want more info on setting up an account check out this girl’s article.

If you decide to open an account email me (whereswetzler@gmail.com) I can email you a referral link so you can get a free $100. There’s no money in it for me but I want you to prosper, faithful readers, like you’ve helped me prosper.

6) No Foreign Transaction Fees Credit Card

Right now, for the first time in a long time, I don’t have a credit card. This is because I’m trying to get a handle on my spending. But usually I have credit cards to get miles, and a feature I look for is no foreign transaction fees. I would mention a few but this article from Nerd Wallet covers it well.

Again, whether it’s 1% or 3%, that’s money thrown down the proverbial garbage disposal.

7) Card Backups

Carry one card in your wallet, and the other card someplace that doesn’t leave the house with you. This is way if you (God forbid) lose one or even more God forbid) get mugged, you’ll have a backup.

8) Extra Passport Pages

A true nomad will at some point need more pages in her passport because the rest of them will be filled with cool visas from Vietnam and Laos and the Kingdom of Bhutan. As of January 1, 2016, you can no longer add pages to your existing passport. You have to get a new one. Which is a bummer.

Here’s an “entertaining” video from the US Passport Service that explains how to do it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hhynPKimDVM&feature=youtu.be.

9) Book

Every nomad needs a good book. A book talks to you when no one else will. A book doesn’t judge. And books are informative. Even guide books. Though obviously if you want the BEST books, click here.

10) Notebook

Finally, when you’re traveling, you need a notebook to record your thoughts, make to do lists, keep track of things, and take notes. Pictures are a good way to record memories but journal entries, or even just disjointed phrases, are better. Looking at a picture can remind you of how you feel now, but only a journal entry can remind you of how you felt then.

I don’t prefer Moleskin.

I prefer classic composition notebooks, like the kind you can buy at an drugstore. (Or if you’re rich buy one of these “Decomposition notebooks,” which have awesome designs on the cover and are much better for the environment.

Can you think of any other nomad essentials? I’m sure I missed something and if I did let me know in the comments or send me a heartfelt, handwritten letter.

 

Special thanks to Stefan Peter-Contesse for his contribution to this blog.

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5 Jobs and One Bonus Job You Can ACTUALLY Do While Traveling

One thing that annoys me about travel sites that talk about jobs you can do remotely or while traveling is the feeling I get that the people who wrote the article have never actually done any of these jobs. For example, they always include “freelance writer,” as if it’s the easiest thing in the world to do. “Oh, you just, like, write an article about the coolest cafes in Mexico City and people will pay you hundreds of dollars to put it on their site.”

Sure.

So that’s why I’ve made this list, five jobs that are feasible because I’VE ACTUALLY DONE THEM. They might not pay a lot. In fact, that’s probably their defining feature. But remote jobs rarely pay a lot. They compensate for their subpar pay with the fact that they’re remote, and you can do them from your phone while sitting in the bathroom waiting for the hot water to heat up (i.e. this morning).

 

1) Search Engine Evaluator

This is the holy grail (ceramic cup) of internet jobs. Or at least it used to be. When I first did this it paid $15.00, they paid weekly, and things were great. In the US this might not be a lot, but if you’re in Mexico or Nicaragua or the Ukraine it’s a veritable fortune. And it’s not difficult work; you’re given a search term like “Best restaurants in Chicago” and you have to decide what ads are good for it.

I did this for two different companies, ZeroChaos and Leapforce, and over the years saw a steady decline in employer quality. Nowadays they still pay hourly but the wage is less and each task has a time THEY THINK it should take you to complete it. This is the only time you’re allowed to report. If they think it should take you seven minutes but it takes you 10, you’re only allowed to put seven minutes on your time sheet. Which is crooked.

Bottom line: If you’re living a country where the cost of living is low this is still a great option. To find out more google “ads rater jobs.” Look for companies like Leapforce, Appen, Butler Hill, and ZeroChaos.

 

2) Social Media Evaluator

This is my current job that I’m working remotely even though I’m not supposed to be. I expect to get fired within the next couple weeks. The job consists of rating Instagram ads. It pays $13.00 an hour. Since I’m not supposed to do it from outside the US, I’m using a program called Tunnel Bear to tunnel into a server from the US (Side note: If you need a VPN and don’t know shit about technology, Tunnel Bear is a great option. Whenever I connect it shows a little bear digging a hole in the ground in Mexico and surfacing somewhere in the US). So while I’m actually in a dingy room somewhere in Jalisco, they THINK I’m somewhere in New York. My cunning knows no bounds.

Bottom line: Don’t fire me, Appen!

 

3) Captioner for Rev.com

I have a love hate relationship with this job that leans heavily toward hate. This job has some pluses, i.e. you can do it from anywhere and there’s no one breathing down your neck or your ear or wherever people sometimes breathe, and the work is fairly easy, just adding captions to videos using the company’s well-designed software.

But man, if you calculate the hourly wage, you’ll want to cry.

Bottom line: If you can type 16,000 words a minute and have ears like a wombat (sometimes the audio is hard to understand) this may be the job for you. For everyone else it’s something to do from time to time but make an extra buck or two for cafe/beer money.

 

4) Hostel Worker

Here’s how you do it: Show up at a hostel, say: “Can I work for room and board or just room or just board or just a place in a closet where I can curl up and not get mugged?”

They say, “Yes.”

Why do they say yes? Because they don’t have to pay you. And they get someone who speaks English.

Bottom line: Hostels are good places to meet people and also observe packs of traveling Israelis.

 

5) Freelance writer

“Hey, bro, what do you do for a living?”

“I’m a writer.”

“Cool! What kind of stuff do you do?”

“Oh, you know, mostly freelance.”

Um, actually I don’t know. Because until you’re really, really established, you’re not a freelance writer.  I’ve gotten paid for a few articles, but I would never call myself a freelance writer. It’s hard to get good money for articles. It can be done, but your prose needs to be dashing, and you need to be tenacious and well-connected. One day, Mark. One day.

Bottom line: There is no bottom line.

Bonus 6) Travel blogger

It might seems like it’s all mai thais on the beach and glamour, but it’s not. It’s also a lot of being away from your family and the ones you love, and sometimes getting bedbugs. But if you have a deep-seated need to know what’s out there, to know what life is like in Japan and New Zealand and South Dakota, and you also want to share your impressions of those places with the world, then go for it.

Bottom line: It’s a tough row to hoe, but deep down you were born to farm.

 

Know of any other jobs that can be done remotely? Let me know in the comments, because I need a new job. Like, now.

A special thanks to Jennifer Gregerson for her contribution to this blog.

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What it Means to Be a Nomad

hitchhiking in chile

Remember how two posts ago I said only had $250 to my name and how I was sort of freaking out and thinking about trying to steal cars in Guadalajara? Or steal anything, really? Well, today I’m much more calm about the whole situation. I got a small job working for my friend Nate doing translation, and more job prospects are on the way. Here’s the thing: I don’t want to put down roots (unless it’s in the German hamlet of Wuppertal; There I will put down roots whole-fucking-heartedly). I want to solidify my nomad lifestyle. I want to make it viable. I want to have several online jobs, I want to make money from this blog, and I want to make money from writing in general. Is it possible to settle down as a nomad, to settle down without staying in one place? Of course it is. Because don’t forget: Being a nomad doesn’t mean you have to move willy-nilly all over the place, randomly ripping yourself apart from a place just because you think you’re supposed to keep moving. Nomadic people traditionally move between good grazing grounds, or good farming grounds. They might go up north in the winter, and then back south in the summer (which is essentially what I’ve done over the past few years). Their movements are predictable, controlled. Over the past few years I’ve generally summered (!) in Seattle and then moved south over the winter. Usually I make it as far as Chile or Argentina and set up shop. This is because I love Chile (and Argentinian girls make me look like a rabies patient), mostly because the climate in southern Chile in the winter is exactly the same as the climate in Seattle in the summer. There are blackberries!  There are tide flats! The only thing different is that it’s thousands of miles away and people speak a different language.

So that’s kind of my thought for today. Settling down doesn’t have to be a physical thing. You can settle your spirit down. You can work out a life for yourself that involves moving around nomadically, but still, to a certain extent, have roots. You can have people that you see regularly, people that you see regularly. You can have routine. You could even have a love life.

Though let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

 

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