In this issue: we're doing things a bit differently. Instead of erudite tomes from adventurers and hapless vagabonds, we're bringing you the scoop on how to follow in their footsteps. We examine the whole idea of what it means to work, to travel, and to completely blur the line between the two. We present The 4–Hour Workweek: Escape 9–5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich, The Family Sabbatical Handbook: The Budget Guide To Living Abroad With Your Family, The Hippie Guide to Climbing the Corporate Ladder & Other Mountains: How JanSport Makes It Happen, and WorldTrek: A Family Odyssey.
The 4–Hour Workweek: Escape 9–5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich
by Timothy Ferriss
The advance copy I got of this book had a curious note on the front: "Warning: Do not read this book unless you want to quit your job." The commercial copy doesn't have that blurb, but it's a provocation to keep in mind as you pick this up. Apparently quite a few people are ready to pack it in and slow down since the book has been selling like gangbusters since it hit the shelves. It's an appealing message that's hard to resist. Outsource anything that costs you more than your time is worth and find a way to offload everything you can—including your job and money-eating possessions. Then go move somewhere that allows you a much higher standard of living. Don't fight globalization; parley it into your own personal gain. As Ferriss sees it, even the most fulfilling job is a pain in the rear if you have to spend 40 to 60 hours a week on it. If that job limits you to a lame "too weak vacation," even worse. There's a big world out there to see so why are you fiddling with your Blackberry and spreadsheets?
Like a breathless motivational speaker or a fired-up preacher, he hits you with so many well-reasoned arguments and directions to a saner life than you can't help getting fired up. Can just anyone follow through and really get to a 4-hour workweek, or even a 20-hour one? And still pay the bills? If you're reasonably intelligent, resourceful, and have the kind of job you can do from anywhere, you could probably chuck it all and get on a plane next month. Goodbye rat race, hello cocktails on the beach. For others, it may not be so easy, which is where things break down a little toward the end of the book. Ferriss made his fortune peddling nutritional supplements and advises readers to follow a similar path. For some this may be appealing if it can be put on autopilot. For others, the thought of being involved in anything having to do with infomercials and e-mail blasts is even more dispiriting than working too many hours in their current job.
Overall though, the book is inspirational and fun to read. The 4-hour Workweek kicks you in the butt instead of telling you to work your butt off, which is a welcome antidote to the rest of the titles on the business shelves. It inspires readers to look at the words work, income, travel, and meaning in a different light and to just say no to the relentless pressures of materialism and career fixation. "Most people, my past self included, have spent too much time convincing themselves that life has to be hard, a resignation to 9-to-5 drudgery in exchange for (sometimes) relaxing weekends and the occasional keep-it-short-or-get-fired vacation." Even if only a few ideas following that declaration work for your life next week or next month, this book is still liable to be a personal revelation and your future workplace revolution.
[See my travel-related interview with Timothy Ferriss.]
The Family Sabbatical Handbook: The Budget Guide To Living Abroad With Your Family
by Elisa Bernick
If you read a lot of travel writing, especially adventure travel articles, you get the impression that nothing interesting happens to anyone traveling with a spouse, much less a family. Expatriate articles and books aren't quite as bad, but it's still tough for families wanting to move abroad to find solid information that answers their questions. The Family Sabbatical Handbook is a breath of fresh air. It covers the bases not from the standpoint of someone who can pack up the studio apartment at home and find two local roommates in a foreign land. It is for those who have gotten to the point of real obligations, families that have to deal with changing schools, selling vehicles, covering the mortgage while away, and setting up online passwords for 14 different financial accounts.
Through personal experience and a few interviews of other families, Elisa Bernick gives a rounded and thorough review of what to think about, what to plan for, and what to take as it comes. It is a refreshingly honest book, with chapter titles like, "I Love My Kids but They Are Driving Me Crazy!" and "Surviving the First Month." Be advised though that the book is very focused on Mexico, where the Bernick family lived for over a year. A wider geographic variety of interviewees would have helped, as whole continents get barely a mention. The cultural considerations and residency issues for many popular expatriate areas around the globe are going to be very different than those in Latin America.
Overall though, this is a worthwhile investment for those looking to uproot the family and live abroad for a while. I'm in the early stages of planning my own family sabbatical down the road and this book not only covered the bases, but raised plenty of issues I hadn't even thought about. With this as a guide and checklist, I know I won't go into the planning process feeling like I have to start from scratch.
The Hippie Guide to Climbing the Corporate Ladder & Other Mountains: How JanSport Makes It Happen
by Skip Yowell
A few weeks ago I threw away my Jansport backpack. After too much basement time, it was looking worn out and sad. It had a good life though. Bought in 1993, it had taken me around the world three times and on several side jaunts besides. I have a feeling that if I told Skip Yowell that, he'd break into a big grin and nod his head. Then he'd head out the door and go camping, hitting the mountains like he has for decades.
The Hippie Guide'is another refreshing business book that doesn't just break the mold'it smashes it with an ice axe. There are no charts, no graphs, no trademark signs next to goofy coined business phrases. Instead it's a story'told like a story around the campfire'of how three hippies followed their passion and created a travel gear empire. Most important, it's a story of how they managed to keep having fun all the way. The book is filled with 40 or so great photos: their VW camper van, high-altitude campsites, and a shot of Tibetan men checking out Yowell's chest hair on an Everest expedition. The title couldn't be more appropriate. There are unapologetic, even gleeful references to the wicked weed and serious drinking bouts (especially amazing since the publisher is a division of Thomas Nelson, known for its religious books.) The lessons learned are folksy and are only original in the sense that so few business leaders actually do them. Only make stuff you're proud of, have fun and share fun with customers, ask lots of questions and just listen.
Even the author seems amazed at how one person's suggestion can change the future. Hard as it is to believe today, nobody sold book-toting backpacks to college kids until a university bookstore buyer suggested it in a meeting with two of the founders. There were no dome tents before Jansport made one and started showing it to dealers on climbs up Mt. Ranier. (Biggest mistake ever—they didn't patent the design.) Yowell notes at the end though that even though he's the only remaining founder, he never actually climbed to the top of the corporate ladder, stopping short as VP of Global relations. "Presidents have to plow through piles of paperwork," he notes. No go, because that would take too much time away from travel. Amen brother. Reaching the summit of a mountain will always be far more fun than the top of a corporate ladder. Reading this book, it's clear he had plenty of fun along the way, both in and out of the office.
WorldTrek: A Family Odyssey
by Russell and Carla Fisher
While The Family Sabbatical Handbook (reviewed above) covers the idea of moving abroad for an extended period, WordTrek deals with an even more daunting plan: taking the family on a year-long trip around the world. Again, there are plenty of books and stories out there on singles and couples taking off to see the world, but precious little on doing it as a family unit.
This book'part travelogue and part advice guide—shows those with wanderlust that round-the-world travel is not just for freaks on the fringe of society. The authors admit to accumulating experiences rather than accumulating things, but otherwise they were a pretty typical family. 'Sitting on the sidelines of the soccer field on a Saturday morning, you probably couldn't pick us out of the crowd.' Yet take off they did, selling a car, stashing possessions in storage, and heading off through Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Russia, Turkey, Egypt, India, Thailand, East Asia, and Australia before returning home to Houston, Texas.
The tone is conversational and direct, with clear-eyed observations and more showing than telling. If nothing else, the Fishers are good editors. In most writers' hands the one-year journey turns into enough details to fill a trilogy. Thankfully we just get the impressions and the highlights, along with tales of typical days getting around, getting meals, and finding a place to stay.
The important lesson is that it can be done, with the right planning and the right attitude. Russell gets annoyed when a motel owner in their departure city keeps saying how lucky they are to go on this trip. "I wanted to say, 'Lady, if there is anything that was not involved in the last twelve months of planning, packing, negotiating and just plain grunt labor, it was not luck!'" It's not the lucky who travel for a year. It's the people like the Fishers: ordinary families who find a way to make it happen.