Ignite Chicago: Well-Designed Travel

By: Smith Schwartz |

Tonight, I’m so excited to be presenting at Ignite Chicago. I’m basically going to be speaking about how we’ve been doing what we’ve been doing for the past year. It’s gonna be a good time.

If you’re free tonight and want to come out, there are still a few tickets left. If not, here’s a transcript. You’ll just have imagine the uproarious laughter of the crowd when they laugh at all my jokes.

This is my home. About a year ago, my husband and I got rid of our apartment and belongings to live a life on the road. We thought if we can work from home, why can’t home be anywhere we want it to be?

Our goal is to travel at a pace that allows us to capture the subtlety of the neighborhoods and cities that we visit.

This means we don’t end up with your typical backpacker checklist of tourist sites and countries visited, but we move at a slow pace that allows for exploration yet still facilitates a normal work schedule.

Now, I could put on my travel blogger hat and tell you about all kinds of things we did like indulging in a 9 course brunch in Buenos Aires, or about climbing the teeniest of spiral staircases tower above the rainforest canopy in Panama, but I’m not gonna bore you with travel stories. For more of that, just follow me on Twitter.

What I’m here to talk about today are the nitty-gritty details of how we do what we do.

Previously, we had comfortable life here in Chicago. We’re both homebodies, so our home was one of the biggest priorities for us. It was really great. But: we spent way too much time there.

We knew this was the time for us to take the plunge. We could always move back, but if we got more established, bought a house, had a kid, this window of opportunity might just pass us by.

So, we had a garage sale to end all garage sales. Well, technically we didn’t have a garage, but we did have a living room that we turned into a showroom of sorts.

With the help of a few great friends, we sorted and priced out our belongings from the first four years of married life and got rid of everything in one weekend. And, I got to wear this fabulous fanny pack so I could wheel and deal.

So, what did that leave me with? How did I function without all my stuff?

I narrowed down my wardrobe to fit into one internationally-sized carry-on bag. Since we plan to skip as much wintertime as possible, I don’t need much in the way of clothing.

My philosophy about clothes is that instead of having a stuffed closet full of options, I have a few things that I really love. And as you can see- I get a lot of use out of each item. But the downsides is when you wear the same thing all the time, your photos look like they were taken in one day.

But, since we’re mostly hanging out in cities, I can usually just go out and get whatever I happen to need at the time. Going on a random scavenger hunt is a great way to get to know our new neighborhood better. And who knows who you’ll meet or what you’ll learn along the way?

And I carry lots of other miscellaneous gear with me. A while back, I blogged this photo, and some commenter asked- why so many electronics? Is everybody a blogger these days?

Well, I blog, which is how they were reading the post and leaving the comment, so it was a confusing criticism at best. But electronics are vital for this way of life. Not only for work, but it’s important for us to always have the ability to stay in touch with friends and really cute family members who are scattered all over the place.

One way we planned on doing this was to port our numbers to Google Voice and we’d grab a local SIM card in each new place. Easy, right? Well, not always so much. For instance, in Argentina, you can only purchase SIM cards at a place called a pharmacy, which only sells candy and oddly enough, phone accessories.

But the biggest logistic we have to deal with is: where do we live? Luckily for us, we live during the time of Airbnb, vrbo and HomeAway. So, mostly, we live in other people’s homes.

So, I have an embarrassing confession to make. People ask me a lot, how do we choose what neighborhood to live in? You guys, I totally just Google “hipster neighborhood”. It’s super embarrassing, but I’ve found it really is a reliable way to find a great place to live that centrally located with lots of fun stuff to do nearby.

But even the most precise Googling doesn’t always cover everything. That mailbox was across the street from our place in Austin and really freaked me out for some reason.

And yes, there was even the occasional unlivable situation where we had to quickly move out. But, since we’re light on our feet, we can handle it and move on.

So, the point is, having less stuff means we are more mobile. We can carry everything we own on our backs and be on to the next location at a moment’s notice.

To me, this parallels nicely with my day job. As I go throughout my day building and designing websites, I can’t help but constantly think about how mobility affects what is built on the web. Mobile design slims things down and streamlines information into only the most basic of components. Sounds familiar? It’s the same way I live my life.

It’s that simplicity that makes this not only sustainable, but attainable for others, maybe even you. We don’t have a trust fund and we’re not supported by a billionaire patron (though if you’re out there, call me). This kind of life works by shifting our focus away from possessions and emphasizing experiences. It’s by only by letting go that we’ve been able to gain so much.