How to live out of one suitcase as a couple

My wife and I live out of one suitcase as a couple.

We have been doing this since November 2016. This minimalist approach served us perfectly while living in and visiting almost 20 countries. If anything, we still have too much stuff.

And although we travel full time and live out of one suitcase (plus our hand luggage), we’re by no means living some strict, puritanical lifestyle. 

I don’t notice any profound difference from the days when I had endless amounts of clothes, apart from having less decisions to make every morning and more money in my pocket.

Just like traveling full time, living out of a shared suitcase draws the same questions time and time again:

“You live out of one suitcase? Is that even possible?!”

My response is:

“Yes. It absolutely is.”

Here’s a comprehensive breakdown of how you can rid yourself of all your life’s clutter, refocus your attentions on quality over quantity, and learn to live out of one suitcase as a couple (or solo).

So get comfy, and enjoy your last few minutes of looking at all your clothes without slightly resenting them.

 

From daydreamers to minimalists

You know that feeling when something you’ve dreamt about for years is finally about to happen? That was us in late 2016!
We both worked at a NYC startup while saving for our TWO weddings (Things got out of my hands, but that’s a story for another article—definitely not one talking about minimalism 😀 ).
Every chat we had— whether it was on the subway ride home from work, at brunch, at Happy Hour(s), or over breakfast— focused on the same thing:

Traveling the world full time together.

It seemed impossible. But we were already used to impossible by then.

The path of most resistance

From visas (I’m Irish and Rachael is American), through fulfilling our own personal ambitions—I did a Masters in Writing back in Ireland while Rach went to Paris to work as a bike tour guide— we never chose the path of least resistance. In fact, we always seemed to take the scenic route, which was probably a harbinger of the years to come. No one starts a great story like:

“Hey, remember that time when everything worked out perfectly as planned for me at the first attempt?”

Or at least if they do, tell them that they’re literally the worst at stories. After Rach and I got back to being on the same mass of land at the same time, we began to address every roadblock stopping us from traveling full time as a couple. One day, there were no roadblocks left.

The runway is clear

With nothing standing in our way anymore—and people sweat life’s little blockades way too much anyway—we booked a one-way flight to Paris and began to plan the biggest adventure of our lives. But as our daydream-to-reality departure date sprinted towards us, we were confronted with an unexpected question: “How much stuff do we need?” Or rather,

“What in the world are we gonna do with all our crap?!”

  This set a chain of events in motion that I’m so thankful for. Well, I’m thankful now. I may or may not have been jumping around my room clutching my precious items insanely like Gollum in Lord of the Rings at first. Ah, life…

The clutter purge begins

Rachael and I began to jettison the non-essential items from our life. We were gobsmacked by how much clutter we had accumulated in just over a year and a half of fairly modest New York City-living. We slowly began to get rid of stuff, but there was a lot of:

“But I love this t-shirt I haven’t worn in 6 months…”

Our efforts began to pick up steam, mostly because we had a lovely roommate and weren’t gonna leave him with an apartment full of our crap when we flew to France, like “Peeeeeeeace out!” Here’s us burning all the clothes we didn’t need to keep warm.

It worked perfectly at the first attempt!

We soon realized the more deadwood we dumped, the more we wanted to dump. We completed the task amazingly and then we left for JFK triumphantly.
We patted ourselves on the backs, delighted that we were now fully-fledged minimalists and had cut out every single non-essential item from our lives. 
Except that we hadn’t.

We were nowhere even close.

But we continued to improve over the next year. And, over 15 months later, we’re still going strong and getting better.
.  .  .
So, here’s what we learned from living out of one suitcase as a couple for 15 months and counting, and how you can do it too.
.  .  .
If you think you can handle it, of course.  Dun-dun….

Why live out of one suitcase?

First off, why would you even bother consolidating your worldly possessions? That’s a very good question.

And for some people, it’s a terrible idea.

  • Do you derive untold happiness from having a new outfit for every day of the month?
  • Are you a sneaker-fiend that simply can’t live without that intoxicating new trainer smell?
  • Do you place a lot of self-worth in being the guy in the office with the slick new tie?

If this is the case, then the juice of minimalism just isn’t worth the squeeze for you.

The ultimate goal of consolidating your life is increased happiness. Why would you give up the things that bring you unbridled joy?

But, if you’re like most people, although you still like the ties, trainers, and infinite outfits, it’s not integral to your happiness.

The crazy thing is you’ll quickly realize that you actually LOVE getting rid of all those inessential things that you LIKE.

Here’s why:

Your stuff kinda owns you

Stuff sneakily accumulates in the background over the years, like compound interest. An impulse buy here, a birthday gift there, and before you know it, your jam-packed drawers become a source of anxiety.

You toss shoes into the back of your closet for 6, 12, 18 months at a time. Out of sight, out of mind.

And although you may not wear something for donkey’s years, the thought of having it there gathering dust is weirdly comforting. That’s how you see all those poor hoarders on TV with homes full to the brim of junk.

It didn’t happen overnight. They just never had the opportunity to stop and think because they never needed to.

You spend SO much less 

A huge, positive side effect of getting rid of all your crap is the impact it has on your finances.

 

When I realized that cutting my possessions down by four-fifths had zero negative impact on my happiness—the opposite, in fact—it rebooted how I thought about adding anything non-essential into my life.

Sure, you might say stuff like

 

“You can’t take it with you”
but do you act in accordance with this? Or would you roundhouse kick a geriatric to get
your shoe-size during a 50% off sale?
Reactive consuming—you know when you’re mindlessly meandering around Target/Penney’s/Primark dropping junk in your basketwill absolutely slaughter your wallet and any minimalist aspirations you have.

So, when it comes to the short-lived dopamine high of retail therapy,

 

JUST SAY NO.

 

You won’t believe the dividends cutting out impulse buys will pay; from your bank account to your peace of mind. This is particularly true when you’re traveling full time.

Side note: If you fly more than one a month like us, having just one checked suitcase saves you hundreds. We flew ~17 times last year, and just having one suitcase saved us ~$700.

 

Your head is 100 times clearer

I’m far from the sharpest knife in the drawer, but it seems to me that ‘conventional wisdom’ whenever there is money to be made- is flawed. Intentionally so.

Not to be all tin-foil hat, but Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays invented the modern form of advertising. It was engineered to convince people they were incomplete.

Well, incomplete until they purchased the (insert item here) being shoved in their faces.

If you think about it, advertising wouldn’t work if we all had high self-esteem. We’d simply purchase the item we needed at the best price. So simple.

But just like being born into the religion your parents happen to follow, without questioning its merits or an alternative, our generation are devout materialists.

And if you can side-step this ‘you are what you own‘ system- which is literally designed to undermine how much you value yourself- that’s got to be a victory for your day-to-day happiness, right?

Okay, enough with the ‘why’. 

 

Let’s get to the ‘how’.

How to live out of one suitcase as a couple

Empty your closets and drawers into a big pile in the middle of your room… I’ll wait. 🙂

.
.
.
.

 

If this pile is approximately 18 stories high and looks like it needs its own postal code, congratulations! You’re normal.

But if you’re too anxious to say goodbye to a large percentage of this, it’s okay to leave now.

I’ll see you in a year or so, yeah?

 

Still here? Great!

It’s now time to comb through this leaning tower of clutter and separate it into 3 new piles:

  1. • I wear this all the time

  2. I’m happy get rid of this

  3. Hmmmmm….?

But, what to do with your stockpiles?

If you’re about to begin life as a digital nomad, time is of the essence to cut down on your stuff. It serves as a terrific fire under the ass. Be ruthless.

Put every item on trial for its life.

Whether you’ll be a digital nomad or not, I highly recommend giving yourself some hard deadline, goal, or other form of accountability.

Okay, first things first:

Everything from pile #2 goes. BAM! Bag it up!

I wrote an article about how to get rid of your stuff, but the Spark Notes version is:

When getting rid of nice stuff you don’t need, donate as much as you can to a homeless shelter. You can gift stuff to friends, too, but only if you truly think they’ll actually want it.

REMEMBER: If it serves no value to anyone and only takes up space, dump it.

No one in the world, besides you and your Mum, care about your personal nostalgia. Nostalgia literally means a pain. Don’t be a pain when giving a gift. Give something that will add value to their life or dump it.

For pile #3—AKA: the largest pile—there’s a verrrrry high probability that it can all go.

In fact, as you ease yourself into the minimalism mindset, you’ll realize that a decent chunk of pile #1 can go too (Whaaaaaaaat?!!!). It’ll take you a little while to come to this conclusion, though.

The point is, everything that makes it into your suitcase must be a ‘definitely’, not a ‘probably’.

The 80/20 principle

I’m a firm believer of the 80/20 principle, or ‘the law of the vital few’. In essence, it states that you get 80% of the results from 20% of the causes, but it seems to extend to almost every area of life:

  • If you’re a freelancer, you get 80% of your income from 20% of your clients.
  • As a landlord, you get 80% of hassle from a certain 20% of your tenants.

The trick is identifying this all-important 20%.

For the purposes of this article, we’re focusing on the 20% of clothes that you wear 80% of the time. You know the ones… Can you picture them in your head? Good.

These are the clothes you’ll want to be bringing along for your journey. You also want to keep these items in mind when you’re purchasing new gear. Is that leopard-print leotard still worth the purchase?

Oh it is? Totally your call.

Quality over quantity

If you research minimalist blogs or documentaries, one thing you will hear repeated constantly is the old adage “quality over quantity.”

Like all cliches, the insightful sentiment has been used so much over the years that its value has been diluted. So, let’s rebrand this threadbare old phrase:

“Aim to have much fewer things but ensure they’re all of better quality.”

If you’re going through the life motions, like I certainly was, you inadvertently become a card-carrying member of the Throwaway Society, which is the polar opposite of the quality over quantity parade.

Do you flit between “Look how small this new phone is!” and “Look how huge the screen on this new phone is!” every two years?

Are your tech or style trends being dictated by the people who stand to make money from? Will they move the goalposts once you’ve made your purchase so that they can get more of your hard-earned cash?

We don’t realize—or conveniently ignore—that the vast majority of stuff you buy has been built with planned obsolescence (phone getting a bit slow after that update?) or is just plain bad quality.

If we are going to have fewer things, we will obviously use the items we have much more often. This means we will need them to last longer before they’re replaced.

But if they are poorly made, intentionally designed to fail, or developed to become out-of-date or out-of-style in a year, you’re in trouble.

 

Bigger picture

When you’re making a purchase, try to think cost-per-use as opposed to upfront dollar cost on the day. Focus on the value, not the price. Sure, that shirt will cost you 11 bucks today, but will it look like toilet paper after 3 washes?

But if that pair of leather boots costs, say, $150 and you wear them 520 times over the next 2 years (going off the rough estimate of wearing them 5 days a week for 2 years, which is actually conservative when you only have one other pair)—that’s like 28c per wear.

Plus they look better with age.

Elon Musk thinks 100 years in the future when making decisions. Why don’t we start with 3?

 

Recognize excuses immediately!

We have an extraordinary ability as humans to create fictional stories in our heads that make us the hero or the victim in any situation.

Never the villain.

Your brain is like a biased propaganda machine. These ‘fictional stories’ are also known by the simpler term:

EXCUSES.

And anyone who’s read the amazing/slightly primitive The Magic of Thinking Big by David J. Schwartz knows that excuses will stop you achieving basically anything worthwhile in life if you let them.

It will certainly stop your quest to live out of one suitcase as a couple in its tracks. If you’re trying to consolidate your stuff, you can’t allow any space for excuses.

If it begins with an

“Aww, but…”

You’ve got yourself an excuse, my friend.

 

Your minimalist suitcase

Purchasing a much smaller suitcase is an amazing method of minimalist shock therapy. It sounds deceivingly simple but you’ll won’t believe how much easier it becomes to trim the fat when you have no choice.

The suitcase we first started traveling with was almost novelty-size large, in hindsight.

At the time, we thought we had gotten rid of the absolute maximum we could. Today, our current suitcase looks like the young baby of our first one.

And we can still prooooobably go even smaller.

 

Pack smart for travel

Dense items like shoes should always be kept out of the suitcase where possible. Try to fit them all in your respective hand luggage.

Stuff those shoes up with socks, tights, boxers, or anything else that will fit in them.

Laptops and cameras should always be in your hand luggage, too. This is as much to do with your peace of mind as minimizing the weight of your luggage.

Make sure your laptops and iPads easily accessible for when you’re going through airport security. There’s nothing worse than having to empty your carefully-packed hand luggage with 30 people in their socks tutting behind you in line.

Fold and roll your clothes up as tight as you possibly can when placing them in your suitcase. It should feel like stacking burritos. Or, for a wrinkle-free approach, try ‘bundle wrapping’.

Packing cubes are the future, too.

If you assign your cubes into specific categories—say underwear, t-shirts, jeans—all you need to do when you arrive at your destination is remove each packing cube and place them straight into your drawer or dresser.

 

Pack clothes that play nice

Living out of one suitcase as a couple means sacrificing certain things. One such sacrifice is having new outfits for every day or occasion. What I’ve found extremely helpful is packing items that can look good separately or in tandem with your other clothes.

More muted colors are recommended as opposed to ostentatious statement pieces, but that’s 100% your call.

For instance: A black t-shirt, grey jeans, and a pair of brown leather boots are perfect for basically any casual thing you do (as a guy).

But if we’re going out for dinner or somewhere nicer, I can throw a blue button-down or a blazer over the t-shirt. That blazer goes great over a round-neck sweater, too.

You get the idea.

You want clothes that work great by themselves AND play nice with the others. If your clothes were people, pack lots of Ed Sheerans and not so many KanYe Wests.

Open this link in a new tab to see some minimalist ‘capsule wardrobes’ for both men and women, and filter it by your preference.

 

One in, one out.

Here’s another helpful thing to keep in mind when fine-tuning the contents of your suitcase:

Operate a strict ‘one in, one out’ policy. Like a busy nightclub on New Year’s Eve.

Again, put everything in your suitcase on trial for its life. Everything must be there on merit, and any item that is added must be better in some way that the one it replaced.

Don’t worry: When items are no longer useful they go to a lovely farm in the country for the rest of their days.

 

Digitize as much as you can

 

One thing I want when I have a home someday is a sprawling library full of books I adore and some others that I pretend to adore because I think it makes me look smarter.

“No, Geoffrey, the chapters in Ulysses are actually referred to as episodes.”

In pure suitcase terms, though, one 300-page book weighs more than a pair of runners.

So, if jogging is your thing—and it’s my favorite way to get to know a new city—are you willing to give up a month of jogging for that one book? Sophie’s choice, I know, but the good thing is that you don’t need to choose.

Berks

You can fit more books than you’re ever gonna read on a Kindle or other e-Reader. Or just download the Kindle App on your phone if you want to keep it even more minimalist.

Calibre is an unbelievable free program for arranging your Kindle library, or converting free PDF versions of books you find online into .mobi files you can read on your Kindle.

Or you could listen to audiobooks instead?

Audible gives a free trial—I’ve done like 3 of ‘em—which allows you to download 3 books to your phone that you can keep after your trial expires. I recommend downloading books that you can re-listen to multiple times like Sapiens by Yuval Noah Hurari or The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k by Mark Manson.

Youtube has a surprising amount of audiobooks too; particularly in the old-school personal finance field, which is my current kick (Rich Dad, Poor Dad, for example).

If you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber, they have Prime Reading which offers you free ebooks and a limited number of audiobooks.

Okay, we’ve firmly established I’m a book nerd.

The best freemium storage apps for full time travelers are:

They’re perfect for storing everything from photos and videos, to snaps you take of business cards so you don’t need to carry them around.

 

Keep your partner accountable

As the months traveling full time as a couple whizz by—and believe me, they will—it’s important to keep stock of what you have. Did you add anything this month? A pair of trainers maybe? A new headband, Rach?

Be honest, Rachael…

SIX NEW HEADBANDS, are you serious?! 😀

Seriously, though: When you’ve come this far, and done all the hard work, why slip back into old mini-hoarder habits?

In fact, if you’re not careful, these seemingly insignificant additions will bleed into your travel partner’s half. By the same token, make sure they’re taking the minimalist approach as seriously as you are.

Unless you’re both taking the whole minimalist thing seriously, it won’t work for either of you.

 

Unisex items

So, yeah, I’ve started wearing Rachael’s clothes now, no biggie. No, by this I mean that any item that works as both his and hers, frees you up a precious space in your suitcase.

For example:

We got these awesome thick unisex winter socks at the Union Square Christmas Market one year, and we can both wear them.

Also, stretchy ankle socks are perfect for the gym or jogs and take up barely any space at all.

Things like hoodies can double up, too.

AKA: My wife steals my clothes.

We even have an awesome safety razor we both use—after switching out the blades, obviously—which frees up space. Side note: This razor was a godsend (I don’t make any money from recommending it).

For less than $25, you’ll have enough razors to last you BOTH a year. I went through 15 painful years spending stupid money on those expensive, razor-bump-giving crap you see marketed on TV all the time.

Rant over.

Take advantage of two-in-ones, as well. For example, a friend of ours purchased a pair of sweatpants that look like dress pants and he loves them.

They actually look cool and are maybe worth a purchase somewhere down the line.

Just pair them with your tuxedo t-shirt and you are now simultaneously ready for the Opera and Walmart.

 

Ask your host for stuff

If, like us, you choose to travel month-to-month through Airbnb, here’s an invaluable tip:

Ask your host if they have, say, a hairdryer or a blender in their apartment before you book, even if it isn’t listed.

In some cases they will.

In many others, they’ll say they do and then go and purchase one for you—and their future guests—before you arrive. It makes sense.

Wouldn’t you spend $25 to guarantee an entire month’s rent?

One thing travel has taught me is never be afraid to open your mouth. Whatever about the expense, it’ll save you schlepping a hair dryer around the world.

What’s the worst that can happen, somebody says ‘no’?

Delegate who carries what

Although this isn’t technically a ‘minimalist tip’, it’s relevant to packing. And, also, this is my article, damnit! Decide in advance which one of you will carry, and be responsible for, what.

This is most important for passports, boarding passes, expensive electronics, and any other tickets. Assign a specific pocket or hiding place for passports that never changes.

You know when you have that momentary freakout when you think you lost something and start patting your pockets frantically? This tip avoids that.

 

The stuff you can’t throw away

I wouldn’t be the most sentimental person in the world, but obviously there are some things you simply can’t dump, donate, or give away. A wedding album for instance or something your grandmother gave you.

“Why don’t you just digitize your wedding album and throw the hard copy away, Keith?” I hear you ask.

Good idea. You can bring it up to my wife, though.

Some people put stuff into storage, but to me it seems stupidly expensive when you’re living on one-way tickets and don’t know when you will return.

For this kind of sentimental stuff, important documents, or other things that you don’t want to bring with you but know you will use again—a nice suit, for example —here’s what we do:

We keep a suitcase in each of our parents’ houses—one in Ireland, one in Missouri—that holds these things.

Every time you’re home, you can peruse these cases to see if there’s anything you can get rid of.

In conclusion

There you have it; your comprehensive guide on how to live out of a suitcase as a couple. After that steep initial learning curve, it gets easier and more rewarding with every new country you travel to.

And without all the mental clutter- and financial hemorrhaging- who knows what you’ll achieve?

You might even write the next great novel that I’ll have on my hypothetical bookshelf.

 

 

Thanks so much for reading! Have I missed any tips here on how to consolidate your life into a suitcase? Is there anything more specific you’d like to know? Tell me in the comments!

And if you loved it, give it an ol’ shareen.

 

How to travel full time (as a couple or solo)

It didn’t seem real. It couldn’t be real.

We were finally doing it.

In November 2016, I stood in JFK airport with my wife, Rachael, about to board a flight for Charles de Gaulle.

Paris by itself is a dream of bucket-list proportions for many. But here’s the thing:

 

We weren’t coming back.

 

 

At least, we weren’t planning to. We were hoping to make this 6-week stay the first leg of an indefinite stretch of time spent traveling full time together throughout Europe.

That was nearly 15 months ago.

And, after living in 14 countries, we’re still going strong

I mean, we’re absolutely bored to tears of each other by now, and our marriage is hanging by a thread, but apart from that, it’s going pretty well. I joke, I joke. It’s been the best year-and-change of both of our lives and with every move, we continue to fine-tune the process.

Wherever we are, from Prague, to Dubrovnik, to Berlin, we are asked:

 

“How do you do that?”

Most people are genuinely interested, and some would love to do it themselves. Others are hoping you’ll say something dumb like:

“It’s all on a high-interest credit card” or “Oh, I’m old money, dear…”

It makes it easier for them to justify why they aren’t doing it.

Traveling full time isn’t for everyone. But for those who are interested, this article is for you.

Now, whenever someone starts to ask me how we do it, I’ll place one finger on their lips, and creepily whisper “Shhh...” to stop them talking.

I’ll then direct them to this article.

Right, let’s begin, friends.

The mindset of traveling full time. And life in general.

“An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.”

And when it comes to traveling, that pound of cure will cost ya.

I can’t state enough:

If you continuously make last minute travel decisions, it would be more efficient to stay at home and burn a pile of money in your garden.

Sure, things will come up last minute. Exceptional circumstances and emergencies are unfortunately a part of life.

But, all things being equal, your core travel plans—such as accommodation and flights—should be ironed out at least a couple of months in advance.

But… Don’t Procrastinate.

A lot of people we’ve met recently declare that traveling full time is a dream of theirs, too.

And they would be doing it if it weren’t for ‘X’.

No, they’re not blaming troubled rapper DMX for the fact they aren’t traveling.

This ‘X’ is an interchangeable excuse that people use as the perceived roadblock between them and a life of traveling.

Fair enough, a few of these are legitimate. Most of them, though, not so much.

Spoiler alert:

There’s Never A Perfect Time To Travel.

Actually, there’s never a perfect time to do anything. Life doesn’t tend to line up 10 green lights in a row for you.

Anything worth having—a digital nomad life, for one—will force you to negotiate a red light or three.

 

“Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life.”
– Jerzy Gregorek

 

Tuesday Blues 🌊💦

A post shared by Keith Bohan (@keithbohan) on

 

If it’s something that you really want to do, then do it.

Sure, take some time to research and plan like I mentioned above, but don’t conflate research with avoidance or procrastination.

If you postpone anything long enough, an actual, insurmountable red light will probably appear and give you the real excuse you were looking for.

Less Is More.

If you’re like me, and every word ending in ‘ism’ makes you roll your eyes, let’s avoid the term ‘minimalism’.

But that’s basically what I’m talking about.

Rachael and I travel with one combined suitcase and a backpack each for hand luggage.

It’s so much easier than I thought it would be. This website breaks it down further, but basically, this is my motto:

 

Don’t bring anything you’ll “probably” use. “Definitely” items only. And any item you’ve brought with you to 2 countries without using, bye-bye.

 

At Christmas, we bought an even smaller suitcase, so we had even less wiggle-room.

I laugh when I think back to the gigantic suitcase we brought with us, that day in JFK. We could fill it up three times with what we travel with today.

Also, R.I.P to that suitcase.

Gone But Not Forgotten. 🙁

Like the 5 stages of grief about my late suitcase, consolidating your stuff works like this:

  1. You chronically overpack fearing that you don’t have enough.
  2. You realize you brought too much, so you jettison, say, 10% of you stuff.
  3. You notice that you didn’t miss that 10% at all, so you nix another 10%.
  4. Emboldened by this, you overdo it and jettison like 50% of your crap.
  5. With basically nothing to wear now, you figure out your sweet spot.

I’m a firm proponent of the ‘fewer, but better quality’ model. This works for everything from stuff, to clothes, to friends.

Flying By The Seat of Your Pants.

Alright, let’s get you on a plane. Google Flights is a genius piece of travel technology, and one that we use a lot. If Google Flights was a book, it would be faded, a little bit dog-eared, and have countless sections highlighted.

The beauty of Google Flights is that it works whatever your travel preference. For instance:

Looking for flights to a specific city? You can subscribe to price alerts.

Just wanna get your ass on a place and don’t really care where to? You can see the cost of all available options from your city.

If your dates are flexible, better still.

For a terrific, much more comprehensive guide on harnessing the genius of Google Flights, open this link in a new tab for after.

The Roof Over Your Head.

We chose Airbnb 99% of the time. Ever heard of it? All jokes aside, here are some money-saving tricks:

First, Get €35 Off.

Use this link if you haven’t signed up yet, or get your other half to do it if you have.

Book For An Entire Month.

In many cases, Airbnb hosts offer anywhere from a 10-60% discount when you book for 30 days or longer.

It makes sense:

The hosts spare themselves the daily bother of checking baffled foreigners in, corresponding with them, answering the same ol’ questions, giving them recommendations, hiring cleaners, etc.

Win-win.

Have Standards, Damnit.

When searching for your Airbnb, have a list of deal-breakers and filter out the also-rans. For instance our non-negotiables include:

  • A WiFi connection strong enough to have video calls
  • A washing machine
  • An oven
  • Completely separate sleeping, living, and working spaces.

Bringing Ireland's Pancake Tuesday to Budapest.

A post shared by Keith Bohan (@keithbohan) on

 

Another great thing I’ve noticed is that, if you ask your host whether they have something small—like, say, a blender— there’s a good chance they’ll just go out and buy it for the sake of locking down a month’s rent.

Don’t Be Afraid To Open Your Mouth.

Like that free blender you just snagged, you can also ask for a discount on the apartment itself. We’ve been given discounts on apartments, even when there already was one included in the price.

 

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”― George Bernard Shaw

 

Sometimes hosts will be happy to compromise with you, sometimes not. If you ask politely, it’s all good either way.

And Then, Keep Talking.

This is a big one and it works in myriad ways—at home or abroad.

For some reason, people think pride is a finite resource. They fear that asking a question, or putting themselves out there, will bruise their ego irreparably.

Don’t be one of these people.

Wanna see if you can get a little bit more of a discount from your Airbnb host? Ask them before you book.

Unsure of the best, most affordable local spots? Get a local bartender’s recommendations (after buying a couple of drinks and tipping obviously).

Know someone who’s been to the city you’re planning on visiting? Meet them for coffee or share a virtual beer with them over Skype while you pick their brain.

Want to know if your job is doable on a remote basis? Arrange a meeting with your boss.

Speaking of which:

How To Afford Full Time Travel.

If you want to travel full time longterm, having a steady-ish digital job will be worth its weight in gold.

My wife, Rachael, and I became digital nomads in two entirely different ways.

She started her own travel business from scratch. Like many businesses, she can run it from anywhere with a WiFi connection.

 

 

#BossLady

I, on the other hand, fell face-first into digital nomadicy.

I walked into a meeting with my boss to quit my job, yet walked out as a full time remote contractor. And it was HIS idea! Better to be lucky than smart, I say.

There’s no set strategy, but the main thing to remember is this:

 

If your job is doable from home, it’s doable from Budapest.

 

Who knows, you might be just one not-even-that-awkward conversation away from being a digital nomad?

Spending Money Abroad (Minus Stupid Fees).

Call it a pet peeve, but I hate giving banks a morsel of my money.

“So, you want me to pay you for the privilege of having, and loaning out, my money at a profit?”

Every time I can avoid fees—and they’re excessive when you’re abroad—I do.

In general, when you factor in the withdrawal fees (from both your home bank and the one you withdraw from) and the ~3% conversion fee, it can cost up to $15 per withdrawal.

Screw that. Here’s the antidote:

How To Dodge International Transaction Fees.

Aside from not getting charged with every transaction, many of these cards will give you double points for things you needed to buy anyways.

You can redeem these points for hotels, flights, etc., when you accumulate enough. As an Irish man, I was very skeptical about these credit cards, but I’ve been converted.

Rachael and I use a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.

We’ve plans to upgrade to the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Do your research and pick the card that’s right for you. The Points Guy breaks all the cards down in much more detail than my writer brain could right here.

 

It Goes Without Saying…

Pay the balance off on your card at an obsessive rate. I’m talking every other day.

You can’t play the system if you’re paying interest. Set reminders on your phone, too, it’s easy to get distracted.

 

“Wait, did you pay off the card?!”

Now That You Have Your Card…

Pay with your shiny new flexible friend literally everywhere it’s accepted.

Sometimes you’ll get a little eye roll or a

 

“Oh, you don’t have cash?”

 

I mean, I even did this myself when I was a bartender. They’ll get over it, don’t worry.

You’ll definitely get over it during your free hotel stay(s).

And another, hint:

Add your card details to the Android/ Apple Pay on your phone to really speed things up. Nearly every coffee shop and supermarket accepts mobile payments now. Boop!

Cash Is King.

Obviously, there are places where cards are not accepted:

Little corner stores, street markets… Hungary. Unless you’ve brought cash with you, you’ll need to go to an ATM. To avoid the fees listed above, here’s what you should do.

Form An Alliance.

There are a number of major international banks in what is called the ‘Global ATM Alliance’.

Long (boring) story short, they came together and agreed to waive international transaction fees for all the customers of their banks.

These banks include mammoths like Bank of America, Deutsche Bank, and Barclays. See the full list here.

Google And Go Big.

From there, a simple Google of the nearest ATM and you’re good to go. For example:

 

“Nearest Deutsche Bank ATM near me”

 

I take out $300 at a time, to negate the conversion fee if there is one, and for convenience. This nearly always lasts us both the month.

Now, The Food In Your Belly.

We all have our go-to’s, our creature comforts. Some are common (coffee) while others are more unorthodox (heroin).

When you first arrive in a new city, you want to be able to step into a supermarket already knowing exactly what you are going to toss into your basket.

For me, it’s porridge, a bag of almonds, a few bananas, and a box of lemon & ginger tea.

That’s breakfast for like 2 weeks taken care of for $8.

In terms of main meals, have some staples in your holster, too.

Rach is the cook and makes a mean spaghetti and this other mouthwatering savory tart thing with zucchini and goat’s cheese.

 

Whatever you love, know the ingredients and have them ready to go before you hear (or say): “You hungry?”

Live A Little.

Obviously, you can go out to lunch and dinner as much as you wish, but don’t do it every other day because there’s “nothing in the house”.

That mentality will soon leave “nothing in your pockets”.

Again, when you do go out to eat, do some research before picking a place.

There’s nothing worse than walking into some random spot because it’s close and then dropping a week’s grocery money on something that’s “Meh…

Your Dream Is Waiting.

I hope that’s a good overview of how we travel full time.

Although there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach, many parts of it ring true for everyone. If you have any questions, comments, or additions to the list, please feel free to let me know.

But if you take just one thing from this article, let it be this:

 

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

 

So, if traveling full time is important to you, it’s time to get planting.

 

FLORENCE: BALLOONS, WINE, FOOD, (MORE WINE), AND FUN UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN

On the FlorenceTown Vespa Tour in Florence, Tuscany.

It’s hard to do anything in Florence without feeling like you landed a walk-on role in a romantic comedy. From sunrise to sundown, it makes for a dreamy backdrop.

Here’s a list of the most enjoyable, unforgettable experiences in Tuscany’s capital city, Florence. They were so jaw-dropping, I had to pinch my wife, Rachael, to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.

That’s how it works, right?

Rise and fly: Sunrise Balloon Ride in Florence.

“Rise above it” is a cliched piece of advice in conflict resolution. But, if you have a hot air balloon, it’s actually a pretty solid plan.

What better way to spend a dawning day than soaring over Tuscany’s countryside?

You can even get picked up from your hotel and driven to the launch site, just about the time the sun is thinking about getting up for work. While you take pictures, a jump-suited troop inflate multicolored balloons with hot air.

And then it’s up, up, and away!

Rising in tandem with the sun, we floated at the front of a four balloon cavalcade for 45 minutes. Rachael and I spun continuously in the balloon’s wicker basket so we didn’t miss a second of the gorgeous panorama.

And, sure, we ended up accidentally landing in the field of a local farmer, but that only added to the experience. Anyway, I expected a slightly inaccurate landing after watching The Wizard of Oz documentary.

After getting back on solid ground, they had a tasty spread laid out for us: Local cheeses, meats, and bread, not to mention the earliest ever glass of Prosecco I’ve ever had.

A stunning way to start your day. And resolve a conflict.

This morning I taught Rach how to drive a manual hot air balloon. She grew up driving an automatic one. 🎈

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The greatest gifts come in small packages.

In Florence, and Italy in general: Breakfast is different. There isn’t an egg or piece of bacon in sight. You’ll see some restaurants offering ‘English breakfast’, but you didn’t come to Florence for the same ol’ same old, right?

No, a typical Italian breakfast is small and sweet. Not unlike Betty White. So- in the name of cultural sensitivity- you must eat pastries for breakfast. How much of a free pass is that?

Pair the pastry (or pastries) with an espresso, and there you go! You’re now basically from Florence.

Tourists and Florence locals alike adore the ‘Starbene’ bakery. Incidentally, it’s gluten-free, although this has zero impact on the scrumptiousness. For the non-scientists among you: Gluten-free pastries actually cancel out, like, 93% of calories.

Don’t fact-check that.

Beep-beep, vroom, vroom…

You’ve started your day like a dyed-in-the-wool Tuscan. Don’t stop now! And what could be more Italian than riding Vespas together?

I’d recommend this activity year-round, but fall is a particularly heart-swelling time of year to zip through the dancing leaves, vineyards, and idyllic Italian towns.

Giuseppe from FlorenceTown Tours expertly guided us through the amber countryside. We set off from the center of Florence, then stopped off at the local market in Greve and finished at a scenic winery.

PSA: Abstain from tasting wine until you’ve parked your Vespa for the day.

If an Irishman says that, you know it’s serious.

After a day on Vespas, you’ll experience Vespa-envy each time you see suave Florentians zig-zagging between traffic. The bugs in my teeth were testament to a day spent smiling maniacally on a Vespa.

 

Just the one 😉🍷 🔸 @florencetown

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It’s always 6:30 somewhere…

We’ve all heard “It’s always 5 o’clock somewhere”. In Florence, you want that clock’s hands to align at 6:30: Aperitivo time.

And although Italian Aperitivo is ‘like’ American Happy Hour, there are some key differences. In fact, it even differs from spot to spot.

Buying a drink usually grants you access to unlimited food ranging from bread, cheese, meat, and chips, to much more fancy. My favorite Aperitivo spot is actually one of the city’s simplest ones: Gosh*. (That asterisk is part of the bar’s branding, this article has no footnotes).

Entering Gosh* is like stepping into the 1920’s. Kind of like Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris, but with Flamingo wallpaper.

Florence, Tuscany's Gosh bar for aperitivo

You’ve got to experience this place to believe it. The owner is also an interior designer and it shows.

Aside from the Flamingo wallpaper, there is romantic lighting and slick copper tones. Most importantly (let’s be real), they have incredible cocktails. Aperitivo drinks traditionally consist of classics like the Aperol Spritz or Negroni, but feel free to experiment. Gosh* has an extensive cocktail list.

If it’s busy, prepare to wait a little longer than you’re used to for your drink to arrive. But this is Tuscany: People do things slower, and it’s always worth the wait.

Now that you’ve eaten, it’s time to eat.

Oh, is it already time to eat again? You’ve really twisted my arm, Florence.

At 8pm, local favorite, Fiaschetteria Nuvoli opens its doors. Blink and you would miss the entrance, except that here will be a humongous crowd outside the door in advance of opening. You’ll get in either way, but a reservation will save you 10-15 minutes standing on line.

The building itself harks back to a simpler time: Grey stone walls, long tables, and little caves throughout.

The food is mouth-watering. Whatever you’re in the mood for, you’ll find it here. Although they literally have pieces of meat hanging from the ceilings, the vegetarian among us adored his meal, too. That vegetarian was me.

Our friend had rabbit ragu with gnocchi, a Tuscan specialty, and still talks about it. They even make their own wine! There’s a beautiful, communal, familial ambience here.

Big plates, big gestures, big personalities. We laughed with our server from start to finish.

Truly, Tuscany takes some beating.

My wife and I travel full-time, and Florence grasped a special part of our hearts. And, yes, it also added some ‘special’ inches to my waistline, but I wasn’t coming to Florence to each lettuce.

From the elation of sunrise balloon rides together, to the thrill of seeing each other in the rear-view mirror of a Vespa, or even simple things like seeing candlelight flicker in each others’ eyes in the quiet corner of a Florence restaurant, there’s something here for everybody.

Long after our Tuscan balloon ride, our feet still haven’t touched the ground.

Vienna’s Wachau Valley. And the struggles of being named Keith.

The Wachau Valley is a wine region west of Vienna. Apart from the vineyards, it’s an all-around paradise of rolling hills, shimmering water, and heart-exploding views. This week my wife and I used a company called Vienna Explorer (no affiliation) to cycle around the Wachau Valley (pronounced ‘Vack-Ow’) and drain a few wine bottles along the way. It costs €64 p/p and lasts about 10 hours in total. It was the coolest thing we did during our month in Vienna. Try to get Stelios as your guide if possible. Enjoy the blog!

 

IT WOULD BE EASY TO presume I’m knowledgeable about wine because:

1. I consume a lot of it.

2. I’m Irish.

3. If you agree with #2, you just committed a hate crime my friend.

4. I worked in bars for five years in NYC, London, and Ireland.

Truth be told, I’m not at all. I spoke before about the all-consuming fear felt by Irish people: Being accused by fellow Irish of having ‘notions’ about themselves.

Considering this, what could be a riskier pursuit than wine tasting?

 

 

RISKY BUSINESS & KANYE WEST

Picture the scene: You’re holding a glistening wine glass by the stem, which you swirl elaborately so its contents ‘breathe’. You then stick your snout into the glass and inhale.

You trade vague adjectives with your drinking buddy like ‘buttery’, ‘minerally’, or ‘chewy’. Once you are both content with your adjectives, you take a slurp and swish the wine around your mouth like Listerine.

After swallowing, if you don’t use spit-buckets- which don’t exist in Ireland- you discuss the finish. Is the finish ‘rich’ and ‘complex’? What are we talking about here: Wine or KanYe West?

No, as an Irish person, I’m genetically allergic to such pursuits.

That said, I have a great deal of respect for those who possess this elite knowledge, palate, and balls.

 

AVOIDING 7 YEARS BAD SEX

Experts talk of a wine opening up, but I love wine for another reason: It opens people up.

It’s not as basic as just getting drunk with people. Sharing a bottle of wine is the perfect ice-breaker. There’s a kind of ‘breaking bread’ feeling as you share a bottle around a table. Since there are four solid glasses per bottle, it creates a more intimate group.

It’s not like buying 15 shots of Jaeger.

Pouring the glass, saying ‘Cheers!’ (never without eye-contact*), topping up people’s glasses, going around the table… The laughs and the conversation always flow easily. And after a glass or two, you’re all mates for life. Or, at the very least, for the duration of the bottle.

*Cheers’ing without eye-contact gives you seven years of bad sex. #science

Because of this, wine tours are a perfect way to meet like-minded, fun people while traveling. Everyone is interested in another culture and open to new experiences. And, worse case scenario: Wine.

While spending a month in Vienna, we went on a wine tour- on bikes- through the Wachau Valley.

 

 

Our Uber pulled up to the Vienna Explorer office at 9AM. Here we met our guide, Stelios, and 15 fellow weekend wine enthusiasts. We also signed waiver forms; probably clever when you’re putting strangers on bikes after a bottle of wine or two. Or three.

At 9:30, we walked to the train station together. Once we knew we were in time for our train- which takes an hour and change from the city center- we gathered in a circle and began to introduce ourselves.

 

DEFINE YOURSELF IN 4 SENTENCES

This is something I struggle with: How do you give an accurate representation of yourself in four sentences.

“Hi, I’m Keith…”

After your name, what truly describes you above everything else? Your nationality? If you’re British or American in 2017, you have to deal with people’s personal impressions or opinions on your country- regardless of how you think or vote.

It’s usually a pretty safe bet being Irish though. What are they going to say to me?

“You guys like to drink!” or “I heard your country is a well-known tax haven for U.S. corporations’ European headquarters”.

“And I’m Irish…”

I hate “So what do you do?” questions as much as I hate people telling me what they do before I ask. Surely, how you pay your bills shouldn’t be in the first 4 things about you as a person?

“And I’m a travel writer.”

 

 

Okay, okay… I was on the spot and didn’t have a time to think.

“My wife and I work and travel around Europe full-time.”

Then I stopped talking and looked at my aforementioned wife. It was the easiest way to switch the focus onto Rachael. She has a BFA in Musical Theater and is in her element in the spotlight.

Soon the introductions were done and our Wachua Valley-bound train pulled out of the station.

It was a rare day in Vienna. The view from the train got more stunning the further we ventured from the city. Large ornate buildings were replaced by small cottages, exotic looking trees, and green fields. Our group consisting of Irish, American, Hong Kongese, Greek, Canadian, and Finnish people hurtled onwards.

I liked the Finnish guy, Milos. We started talking to him by chance at a cafe around the corner from the tour office before we all realized we were going to the same place. He worked some big job in Helsinki, although he had spent a lot of time living abroad in places like Hong Kong. His wife was back in Helsinki, and about to give birth to their daughter.

We sat together on the train along with Lydia, a lovely student botanist from Hong Kong and a quiet American guy from my almost alma mater, UC Berkeley.

We had a good group.

 

TOUCHDOWN IN VIENNA’S WACHAU VALLEY

The train screeched to a stop. We walked to a nearby garage to pick up our bikes. After I carefully applied my factor 275 sunscreen, we began to pedal towards our first winery of the day in the Wachau Valley.

Vienna is bike-friendly from start to finish: The land is flat and bike lanes are plentiful. The views in Wachau are otherworldly. In hindsight, I would have paid for this tour for the cycling scenery alone.

There’s the sparkling water of the Danube to your left and vine-covered mountains to your right. Myself and another tour member, also named Keith, guarded the back of our wine-seeking cavalcade. Keith, a 60 year-old TV producer for PBS in Vermont, was fascinating to chat to.

Just like with fellow left-handed people, I feel an inexplicable affinity for other people named Keith. Except for Keith Urban.

Keiths have gone through a lifetime of people misspelling their name ‘Kieth’. And when a Keith will politely say “It’s actually spelled K.E.I.T.H,” they will often be told: ‘It’s I before E, except after C.” This is where the misspeller will ‘C’ a look of disgust spread over Keith’s face.

Also, Keiths can rarely, if ever, find any stock mugs or fridge magnets with their name printed on it in gift shops. Granted this affected me more as a 9-year old on school tours, but still: Screw you Johns and Annas.

I’m just putting the pieces together that I married a left-handed women named Rachael with two A’s. Coincidence?

Needless to say, Keith and I got along swimmingly while we cycled to the first winery. Our Greek guide Stelios was the man. He made Austria’s 4,000 year wine history fascinating.

Although Austria’s on the same line of latitude as parts of France, it has its own microclimate in wine terms. This means that, from year to year, Austrian wine differs wildly. Lack of consistency isn’t necessarily a good thing or a bad thing- after all, who wants a completely predictable life?- but it does add an element of chaos each year that most other wine producers don’t face.

And then, Stelios told us Austrian Wine’s dirty secret.

 

4,000 YEARS OF WINE INDUSTRY OBLITERATED

In what was otherwise a great year for humanity, 1985- the year I was born- is the most scandalous year in the history of Austrian wine.

A small number of wine producers, perhaps frustrated with those damned unpredictable grapes decided to take matters into their own hands. If you wanted to improve your family’s wine, what would you do?

That’s right! They added diethylene glycol, an ingredient found in anti-freeze. Suddenly, their wines tasted sweeter and more full-bodied. Everybody wins, right?

When the anti-frozen cat got out of the bag, it crippled the entire Austrian wine industry. 4,000 years of stellar wine production evaporated in the blink of an eye. In fact, it even damaged the Australian wine industry. Less worldly wine drinkers weren’t sure of the difference between the two countries and didn’t want to take the risk.

Whenever you feel like you’re mixing up Austria and Australia, remind yourself:

There are no kangaroos in Austria.

After the First World War, they had been the world’s third largest wine producer. Now, Austria was forced to start afresh from ground zero, even those who had no part to play in the scandal.

And start afresh they did. They rolled their sleeves up and began a new era of wine production. Slowly, Austria’s wineries began to find their feet.

Today, close to 80% of Austrian wine is consumed within Austria. 83% since I arrived. About 70% of this is white. I rarely drink white wine but, hey, when in Vienna…

We made our way around the Wachau Valley, stopping at three wineries and a restaurant.

I’m a big fan of being outdoors. Anything that keeps me away from a laptop or phone screen all day is good with me. Well, apart from when I update my Instagram story; I’m not an animal.

We all exist within hunter gather bodies (fist-bump to evolution), so being out-and-about for large chunks of the day is our natural state. It makes us feel happy. So, too, does copious amounts of wine, but I don’t think that’s down to evolution.

When we finished up at the final winery, we didn’t want the day to end. After a brief meeting of the minds at our table, a bunch of us decided to buy a few bottles for the journey home.

 

THE NEVER-ENDING BOTTLE

Heading home from the Wachau Valley to Vienna’s city center, we enjoyed a delicate blend called ‘Train Wine’. Unsurprisingly, the ride home was a blast for everyone. We arrived back into Vienna at 7PM, to coincide with the sun set.

The Danube Canal was lined with tourists and locals alike, reveling in this sun-kissed Saturday. Half of the group waited around and enjoyed the final bottles of Train Wine along the canal. We were surrounded by people determined not to let this rare day in early April slip out of their hands before their respective weeks began.

There we all sat, legs dangling over the river Danube, laughing and chatting about everything and nothing: the sun, the moon, and the stars. I felt on a high from my day in Vienna’s Wachau Valley. And copious amounts of exceptional wine.

Everyone contributed their bottles to the cause and the hours from 7PM to 10 melted away. The moon switched shifts with the sun. It seemed like one everlasting bottle went around our circle.

We drank straight from the bottle. No swirling, sniffing or describing anything but the day we had all spent together, and where we would all go from here.

Just my style.

 

 

 

 

Jogging While You Travel and Illegal Trespassing

Jogging while you travel is the fastest, handiest way to get to know the area you’ve just moved to. It might also stop you dying so soon. If you’ve got other good ways to get to know a new place, I’d love to hear them! Enjoy.

KICKING THE BUCKET LIST

We ran over the finish line of the 7K Race in Vienna with smiles on our red faces. It had been my wife and I’s dream to complete this Herculean task for well over 25 minutes. Here’s how it all came about, one stormy Viennese Sunday.

The morning yawned to a start in the typical sluggish Sunday way. You know the ones: When the light peeping through the shade leaves you wondering whether it’s 6am or 10. My wife, Rachael, was sleeping soundly- borderline comatose- beside me. Rach is a much better sleeper than me but I’m not jealous. She seemed so peaceful that it would have been a crime to wake her up.

After waking Rachael up, I convinced her to join me on a jog around our new Austrian neighborhood. We’d been living in Vienna’s Jewish District for almost a week but had yet to explore.

We both have our own one-person businesses- Rach is a boutique vacation planner, I’m a freelance writer- and this week had been busy. Today was our chance to put it right. We could simultaneously stretch our legs and our knowledge or the area around us.

It was grim. ‘It’ meaning both the weather outside and Rachael’s per-jog mood inside. We wrapped up and prepared to hit the mean streets of one of Europe’s safest cities.

JOGGING OUR MEMORIES

Although our apartment is beautiful and modern, the apartment building is pre-World War II. The gold plaque outside the building remind you of the horror that took place here all those years ago when people used to be irrationally afraid of immigrants… … … … …

We’ve all heard of railroad apartments, but ours is a railWAY apartment:. There is an actual train-track going through the building. Because of this, I’ve never gotten lost even once exiting the building.

We followed the train-track until the building’s door slammed shut behind us. Our feet began to slap the rain-glistened sidewalks. Apart from the rain spitting half-heartedly at us, it was good jogging weather.

Much like in Paris, Vienna grinds to a near standstill on Sundays. I could count on one hand the shops, bars and restaurants that were open as we zig-zagged though the winding streets.

Our new Austrian friend, Julia, told us that most of these businesses close on Sundays by law. I thought that this was a lovely, family-friendly idea for almost 3 hours until we needed to buy food later that day.

We jogged on for 15 minutes before arriving at Prater Park, known locally as The Wiener Prater (‘Wien’ is German for Vienna). We’d been here once before to spend a sunny afternoon.

Asleep at the wheel 🎡

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But today, something was different. The whole of Vienna- or so it seemed- had converged on the Park to jog. Hundreds of people, young and old, nimble and glacial, circled The Prater in an Austrian assembly line.

BORN-AGAIN JOGGER

I’m an avid, if unremarkable, jogger. It only became important to me as I began to travel more extensively. The fact that jogging decreases your likelihood of death and strengthens your body never really mattered to me. Much like spinach. I love to jog because it blows away the mental cobwebs.

My love for jogging while traveling began when I was living with seven of my Irish mates in a studio apartment in Berkeley. This is a long story that begins with my friend and I pretending that we were UC Berkeley students to the realtor, and also that only two of us would be living in the apartment. As I would crawl unceremoniously over a floor of squeaky air mattresses, the thought of having a whole new city to jog was cathartic.

Jogging gives you time to clear your head. Or to process your first months in a new country without your friends fighting over whose bottle of Coca-Cola had just exploded all over the freezer. Each footfall reenergizes your patience like the power bar on a charging phone. I took this Born-Again Jogging While You Travel mentality with me from then on wherever I lived: From SF to NYC to London to Paris. Prague, Budapest, and now, Vienna.

The other reason jogging and traveling go together like Garth Brooks and plaid shirts is that it’s the perfect way to figure out the lay of the land.

When you’re jogging, you don’t look like a tourist: There’s no language barrier, no accent, no cultural faux pas… no seeds, no stems, no selfie sticks. And for those of us with a poor sense of direction that you will later deny if your wife asks you, getting lost actually works in your favor.

Your jogged steps feel more like they are playing to the rhythm of the city, even if your verbal interactions mostly involve you smiling dumbly at waiters.

I’d never heard of the Austrian people’s love of jogging though. But then, I hadn’t known about Hungarian people’s infatuation with sour cream, either. We moved forward to investigate.

Like most jogging scenes there was plenty of spandex, lots of luminous, and tons of sweat. But these people all had one other very noticeable thing that we didn’t:

Large rectangle stickers with their race numbers. We’d happened upon a sign-up only 7K race.

After sneaking in, we did our best to look inconspicuous. If you know my wife, she has her own unique version of inconspicuous. It involves recording Instagram stories, staring around her wide-eyed, and laughing.

We worried that a fellow jogger would peak at our stickerless tee-shirts and halt the whole race. Or pictured one of the stewards rugby-tackling us out of nowhere. But, as 1 kilometer turned into another, we realized something we both already knew but forget all-too-often:

No one gives a shit about you.

Now, this lack of interest is not malicious in any way. People just have much better things to worry about. In fact, they could be jogging to try to forget about them. At first glance, people betray little of what’s bouncing around their minds. It could be an overdue bill, a twinge in their knee, their ex’s last Facebook photo, their kids sudden aloofness, that pimple on their cheek.

We all have to remind ourselves that we’re not the center of the universe. This is especially difficult if you were raised by an Irish Mother feat. Doting Aunts and Grandparents. I mean, they can’t ALL be wrong about me. Onwards we ran.

“ICH LIEBE DICH!”

Rachael and I chatted as we rounded the corner for the final straight. Although we had joined the race about 3K in, it was technically our final straight too. I had long-since stopped secretly resenting the fact I couldn’t listen to Garth Brooks on my earphones while I ran. I loved being part of this diverse crowd. Some older men ran past cheering family members. One man, a serious jogger-type, zoomed past the girl beside us with a quick “Ich liebe dich!” (I love you).

Nearing the finish line, Rachael asked:

“Is that the sound of a marching band?”

“Ha!” I scoffed, “Be more American, Rach”

We spotted the source of the noise: an old man rolling a giant suitcase on the cement pavement. One minute later, we encountered a marching band.

They cheered us on, unaware/ indifferent to the fact that we were trespassing on the race. The drumbeat energized us, and we bounded forward until we reached the the finish line. Panting, flushed, heartbeats reverberating through our bodies, we high-fived, delighted with ourselves.

We peered around at the scores of beaming runners celebrating what they had achieved.

Call it an accident, call it fate, call it lack of research. It was such a memorable experience spending a random, rainy Sunday in Vienna surrounded by a bunch of people that didn’t give a shit about us.

HUNGARIAN THERMAL BATHS AS SEEN THROUGH SQUINTY EYES.

The Hungarian Thermal baths are a must-do in Budapest. I checked the Széchenyi Thermal Baths out and sampled the private beer baths where you drink unlimited, well, beer. This was all in the name of research and you’re welcome. If you’re thinking of going- and you really should- there’s a checklist of everything you need to bring to a thermal bath at the bottom.

Széchenyi Thermal Bath full on a nice day.

Széchenyi Thermal Baths, Budapest. I’m the guy with six-pack.

At 7AM my feet hit the floor of our apartment in the heart of Budapest’s Jewish District. Shit was going down today. We were going to the Thermal Baths.

HUNGARY’S THERMAL BATHS.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t even know Hungary had thermal baths until a week before I moved there from Prague. But I now have an eternal respect for the Hungarian people.

Sure they showed strength and dignity in surviving Nazi and Communist regimes. But mostly it’s because they managed to make what is essentially drinking in a giant jacuzzi all day a cornerstone of their culture. I’ll drink to that. Actually, put that in past tense.

We arrived at the baths at 9AM. I dunked myself into the steamy cyan-blue water, and showed off to my wife with extremely basic handstands. She wasn’t impressed for some reason; probably because she’s made of stone.

Tuesday Blues 🌊💦

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^^Don’t act like you’re not impressed ^^

After I quit the tomfoolery, we waded to the edge. The low morning sun was glaring down, and the whole bath was lucky enough to experience my world-famous squinty face.

Turning away from the sun, I cursed the fact that I’d left my shades at home.

“If only I had sunglasses,” I thought.

I then rejected the ones Rachael offered me because I am too cool. She insisted, I presume because she wanted to enjoy her day without my squinty face. I stood firm because men are awesome. If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.

Image of me taking a jog before going to the baths.

“No, I’m totally fine.”

THERMAL WATER AND NARCISSISM.

Three guys in overalls marched from the main building. They all shared the weight of what I presume was a pre-Communism era wooden ladder before stopping at the edge of the bath I was in. Jerking the ladder open, they placed it precariously under a pool-side lamppost.

It was odd seeing these men in overalls while the rest of us basked in next to nothing. When I’m on holiday I kind of presume the rest of the universe is too. While they screwed in new bulbs, I thought back to when I bartended a block off Times Square in 2011.

During my first week, I sauntered down 44th street in all it’s gaudy fluorescence thinking: “I’ve made it.” I may have been walking to a job that only ‘paid’ me in the tips I earned, and sometimes no one came in, but it felt like I’d reached some watershed moment in my life.

Fast-forward one week, though, and I was rushing, tutting, and evil-eyeing all the happy tourists blocking 44th Street. Walking through the iconic Times Square had now become mundane and annoying to me. It was my commute.

Every paradise is probably someone else’s 9-5. Just let that sink in for 8 minutes.

WHY I’M READY TO RETIRE (AGAIN).

I looked forward to retirement a long time before ever getting my first job. Even at 15, packing bags in a toy store and washing dishes in a restaurant, I dreamed of the day when I wouldn’t need to work for ‘the man’ anymore. The man was called Richard, actually.

Anyways, I changed my tune in my mid-twenties for 2 reasons:

  1. My dad, who’s by no means a workaholic, doesn’t love retirement nearly as much as he expected to.
  2. I’m annoying to be around when I don’t have something to keep me busy. Wait a minute… THAT’S why people asked me to start writing a blog!

But there was a group of older Hungarian gents at the Thermal Baths that made me change my mind. Again.

I spied them playing chess and drinking beers in the corner when I was able to open my eyes wide enough to look around.

Although, there was a strict No Alcohol in the Bath policy (3 guesses how I found that one out), the lifeguards weren’t pestering them. They were regulars here, just like the men you see playing chess in Stuyvesant Town or Washington Square Park. This was their day-to-day.

An American college student waded over and waited for them to acknowledge him and ask him if he wanted to play. They didn’t.

There was an almost familial ease about the group, both in conversation and in silence. These guys must have known each other forever. They’d probably lived through Communism together.

I could see them all in their 30s and 40s, after another brutal work week, talking about when they would be able to play games of chess waist-deep in thermal water. And here they were.

The OGs of the Hungarian Thermal Baths

The OGs of the Hungarian Thermal Baths

So, yeah. I’m ready to retire. In Hungary. That American kid will probably still be there, waiting for a game.

UNSPOKEN AGREEMENTS IN THE HUNGARIAN THERMAL BATHS.

I’m a big fan of unspoken agreements. But when you move to a new place, these invisible understandings can take a while to get used to.

For instance, in New York it’s a given that one of you will be 20 minutes late for brunch. In Paris, if you ask for ‘un café’, it’s understood you want an espresso. In Ireland, “I’ll come for one pint. And, I mean one,” means anywhere between 8-15.

I came across another interesting unspoken agreement at the Thermal Baths.

Many bathers rent towels and put down a deposit before spending their days marinating. Every towel is identical. If someone realizes their towel is missing, they steal the next one they see rather than lose their deposit. It’s the circle of life.

When my wife realized her towel was nicked during her first trip to the Hungarian Thermal Baths, she told the life guard.

“Okay,” he said, “just steal someone else’s.”

Thankfully, our Airbnb host left us towels adorned with gigantic tigers. Try stealing that.

I’LL GO TO THE BEER BATH FOR ONE. AND I MEAN ONE.

Beer baths are exactly what they sound like but better. They add dashes of wheat, and barley, and a bunch of other crap that exists in beer to the bath. So, in that sense, it’s a literal beer bath.

But, going back to unspoken agreements, 2 things are understood by you and the person tossing barley into the bath:

  1. Hot bubbling water, yeast, and wheat probably won’t make you healthier.
  2. You’re here for the unlimited beer that you self-serve from the tap beside your bath.

The beer baths cost about $20 each for 45 minutes. As I paid, the stingy Irish man in me calculated how many beers I would need to drink to get my money’s worth.

“Challenge accepted,” I thought, and did a loud evil laugh as the nice guy working there handed me my receipt.

In the baths, my wife and I practiced balance and efficiency. As the sweltering bath water, dehydrated us, we rehydrated ourselves with beer. That’s balance. A couple of times we cut out the middle man (the glass) and poured the beer straight into our mouths. Efficiency.

It’s also safe to say I got my $20 worth.

UNTIL NEXT TIME…

There are some experiences in life where afterwards you feel like “Shit. That was unique.” The Széchenyi Thermal Baths are undoubtedly one.

Relaxing, refreshing, and affordable. I can’t recommend them enough.

We waddled towards home with our tiger towels in our pruney hands and began to discuss retirement.

YOUR SZECHENYI THERMAL BATHS CHECK-LIST.

  • Book online ahead of time here and screenshot the confirmation email.
  • Leave all expensive jewelry, golden knuckle-dusters, and tiaras at home.
  • Hungary’s Old School. Some days are men only, others women only. Check ahead.
  • Bring a bag along with you for towels, wallet, flip-flops, sunglasses.
  • Bring your own towel. The weirder, more distinctive it is, the better.
  • For couples, one locker will suffice. Wait, you haven’t seen each other naked yet?
  • They take credit card everywhere inside so bringing cash along isn’t necessary.
  • If you’re going in the morning, when the sun is low, sunglasses are a good idea.
  • There’s food there, but no a huge selection. I’d eat a solid breakfast beforehand.
  • Your entrance allows you to stay at the baths from 6AM to 10PM.
  • It costs 5400 Hungarian Forints on weekdays, which is $19 or €18.
  • Weekends cost 5600, which is a negligible difference.

Take it all in!