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Tag: The Big List


The best system of any kind is the one you actually use. In which case, the best system of any kind for me will always be on paper. I can’t seem to stick to any kind of technological thing with any regularity. Except maybe email, but no one else seems to love email as much as I do (except maybe Strong Bad?), so that’s kind of futile.

However! In terms of organisational apps, the one I have been coming back to, at least when I remember to, is Trello. I do love it. It’s super simple and it lets you drag and drop things around. I have it on my phone and in a perpetually open tab in Firefox on my computer, and it syncs automatically. You can have as many boards with as many lists as you want. And if I would just stop scribbling a million little post-it lists and get a bit more disciplined about dropping everything into Trello, I’d probably be way less scatterbrained than I am.

It’s kind of like a digital version of the massive post-it calendar I made, just for lists. I think that’s why I like it – for a digital thing, it’s fairly tactile. I did give up on using it for everyday stuff because I ended up writing things on paper or the back of my hand anyway. (Old habits die hard. I will always write on my hand because IT WORKS.) But a few weeks ago I realised I wasn’t really maintaining a Big List of crap to do for this trip properly, so I created a new board and I’ve been trying to dump everything on it that pops into my brain and haunts me with the threat that I’ll forget to do it and ruin EVERYTHING.

That’s maybe a little dramatic, but there are a lot of things that could be fairly major that either aren’t as immediately obvious as visas and tickets or aren’t as everyday as food and soap. For example, the thing that prompted me to start the list properly was the fact that I am allergic to shellfish and I am going to southeast Asia. I don’t know HOW allergic to shellfish I am because ever since having a fairly unpleasant reaction when I was younger, I just don’t eat it. And I carry benadryl everywhere, but I’ve never been tested or gotten an epi-pen or anything.

This is not something that worries me in my normal life because it’s pretty easy to avoid and I’m also able to communicate that it’s an issue. But if I consumed a bunch of crustaceans by mistake in the course of my travels, I have no idea if I’d have a way bigger reaction that I did when I was a kid or none at all. I don’t want to find out the hard way. SO. I kept randomly thinking, ‘Oh, I should probably get that checked out, you know, soon.’ Then I’d forget about it again. Then I’d remember a few weeks later and worry about it. And forget again because I didn’t write it down.

So now it’s written down. I just have to DO something about it. But at least it’s on the list.

I’m thinking I might take some time to do some sorting of this list while I’m sitting on my delightful train trip in the States next week. It’s entirely possible I’ll just start out the window listening to podcasts the whole time instead, but I should probably crack the whip a little. I’ve got about 6 months to go here, and that’s a long time, but it’s also not a long time.

I don’t think I’ll EVER have the list of things to do completely under control, and that’s probably fine, but I do want to make sure I at least cover the important stuff. Like, if I have rough plans for ‘this is what I’ll do if my computer gets stolen’ and ‘this is what I’ll do if I get incredibly sick’, at least if it happens I’ll have thought about it when I wasn’t in the middle of a crisis.

ANYWAY. If you love a list like I love a list, Trello is pretty great. So check it out.

Figuring it out. Or not.

The summer sky at home

A view I won’t easily give up

It’s sometimes hard to feel like you’re progressing in any way when the few things that are really important to you are the ones you cannot, and will not ever be able to, control.

I often feel like I am living out a spectacular comedy of errors. A hilarious, shifting, personal disaster in which I think I know what I want and what is going on right in front of me, but the universe, like clockwork, reminds me that it’s not so and never will be.

Humbling as that may be, it’s hard to learn it. It’s hard to digest that you are not the only one feeling this way, or being awkward, or not understanding what you might actually want all the time. Even if, as I’ve been trying to do more, you consciously remind yourself that the people sitting in the room with you are probably feeling as conflicted and chaotic and drained and ecstatic and turned-around as you are – in their own world, it’s just as weird.

You can read books or listen to songs or watch movies that feel like they are speaking directly to you about your current state of mind on love, life, politics, animals, technology, whatever. And those things come from actual humans and you know that. You can have a conversation with one of your friends in which you feel he may as well be speaking off a record made of your own brain tissue because he’s perfectly articulating how you feel about work at the moment, even though he’s telling you how HE feels about HIS work. You can have a discussion with another friend about travelling alone as a woman that reminds you why you’re doing what you’re doing, and why other people are bold enough to do it too, and what The Point Of It All is.

These things can happen and you can recognise that you’re all in it together – one big boat of humanity (I’m on a boat!) – and everyone is doing their best with it. But despite all the evidence, you just can’t get inside it, so it’s sometimes hard to make yourself believe you aren’t slowly going mad in your own little bubble.

I know everyone has their own personal internal battles with what they hell they should be doing and where they should be going. Sometimes knowing that helps me with my own. But it’s a lot like having a certainty that there are countless parallel universes that you can’t even fathom – it’s comforting to imagine, but none of them will ever beam you the answers.

I don’t know where I want to be most of the time. I can’t pick a side. I exist on this spectrum in between things. In work I can’t define what it is I’m best at, aside from connecting the things other people are best at and hopefully making them better. (Hey hey, liberal arts education at its finest!) But it’s pretty hard to articulate that. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to have picked a track, like doctor or lawyer or something, and know that that’s me for life. Mostly. I know that’s not how it usually plays out forever and ever, and I know most people are actually like me in that there’s not one thing they’re just MADE to do. And that’s fine. This isn’t really a complaint – it’s standard human frustration.

I like the idea of job security, but I have absolutely no desire to be on any kind of career track and I get restless pretty easily. (I feel like that should dovetail pretty well with my wanderlust.) I just want to learn. Make stuff. Make stuff work. Fix stuff. Figure stuff out. But it doesn’t always particularly matter what kind of stuff. I don’t need to be in charge or get any kind of grand recognition, I just need to see things happen. Results. Ticking things off the Big List. Even tiny ones no one else particularly cares about.

My motivation to plan or DO shit has a slow-motion, tsunami-sized ebb and flow. When things are moving, they are moving big and fast, but when they’re not, it’s hard to fight the drain. And then it’s easy to start questioning the work I’m meant to be doing or the thing I’m trying to make work.

It’s the same with all these travel goals I have. Sometimes I’m all over the planning, and sometimes I just think: WHAT. This list is getting out of hand and I would like a nap now because I am too exhausted to picture the end result.

The idea of going of on some never-ending trip is appealing in a sort of romantic sense, and some days I think it would be amazing. But I also really love home. I love my flat. I love Edinburgh. I love feeling like I am where I belong. Finally. Which is slightly ridiculous because I can’t even stick with just one nationality, but then that is the pull of the world on me.

I have been looking at the year ahead, the finite amount of money and time ticking away, and I’ve been having trouble placing definitions on what it is I want to do. I know I’m not alone in this, but when you have the conviction to start an entire blog about shifting your life to accommodate a particular travel goal, it seems somehow more important to keep public track of your continuous internal dialogue on the matter.

(And if you’ve got this far, it’s an awful lot of dialogue, eh? So, I salute you. We’re nearly there.)

I have a personal absolute minimum goal of spending at least a month on this trans-Siberian adventure. Life shifts, goals and budgets and all manner of other things change, but that much I know, and I suppose that’s a lot more than I can say for any other area of my life. Beyond that, I’ve been trying to come up with the maximum I’d like to shoot for. Or even that I can handle. (On my own at least.)

The more I think about it, the more it creeps in around the 3-month mark. Somehow this is disappointing to me. Perhaps because I feel like I should want to be away for longer. But I’m finding that I just don’t think I do.

Starting over is hard. So. Fucking. Hard. I have lived in the same flat for nearly 8 years and I love it to bits. It is practically a part of me. I moved around so much when I was little and I’ve lived in a lot of places that never felt like they were somewhere I or my family truly belonged. The places I have the strongest attachments to are the places where people have installed themselves. The places my grandmothers still live in, and maybe my favourite house in the world, my parents’ friends’ house, which I recently got to see again after over a decade. They still live there and it still feels like the homiest home I have ever been in.

I really want to own a place. Eventually. But the place I am now has evolved with me and the minute I go start over and buy somewhere, I start that nesting period over again. That’s a different kind of adventure, and a worthy one, but a sense of home is a hard thing to let go of when you have it for yourself for the first time. I do also think when you have a partner, another person can be home, but right now it’s just me, so it becomes about a physical place because making it about just you – being complete and sane AND being your own home – is too much of a burden to put on yourself.

If you’re travelling indefinitely, you have the option to not think about permanence for a while. But I want to think about it. I want the best of both worlds like I always do. I want to skip off to another country for a month or two and be able to settle right back into my own space when I’m tired of that.

There is nothing impossible about that particular lifestyle. It just requires a whole lot of money that I don’t and won’t have.

So as with so many things, this becomes about compromise. And I don’t even have another person to compromise with, it’s just the two sides of me. It’s pretty hard to reason with yourself. I’d much prefer having to sort it out with another human with their own muddle of views and reasons. There might be an argument or two but it somehow seems a cleaner, more defined process when there’s a separate entity involved.

For now, I think being home will tell me why I want to travel, and being away will remind me why it’s so important not to stay away. I just have to figure out how to make that work. In my head and in real life.


…and that was pretty heavy, so, yaknow, I’m gonna go eat a cookie or something. I suggest you do the same.

Ready, steady

Signed, sealed, delivered. Not too bad a start, really.

I don’t really do resolutions. There’s plenty of stuff I want to do this year, but putting some arbitrary stamp on them isn’t really my jam. Plus, once you call it a resolution, I feel like it’s that much more likely to fade into oblivion. Much like most of my ‘look at all the stuff I’m definitely gonna do on my two weeks off!’ list.

It’s the last day of those two weeks and while I’ve done a fair few things, I definitely did a bit more relaxing than getting stuff done. This probably isn’t so bad, but it does point out, once again, my ability to look at a period of time and decide I must be able to cram more into it than humanly or even dimensionally possible. Followed by me continuing to ‘learn’ that I usually try to do WAY too much.

This makes me a little worried about everything I want to do this year. I now have ten months til my intended go time, and man, ten months can go FAST. I don’t doubt I’ll get to the Trans Siberian, but I definitely need to do some Big-List-Fu in the next few weeks so I can stop freaking myself out about ALL THE THINGS there are to do.

One thing I DID sort out on this glorious two week break was my citizenship application. It’s done! It’s away! Now all I have to do is wait (and plan the party). I’m excited about it. I’m relieved it’s out of my hands. I’m ready to move on to the next thing.

I also did a massive clear out of clothes and papers (so many papers) and just general crap clogging up my closet and my life. That felt pretty good. And in between, I watched a lot of Netflix, went to some films, drank and bitched with friends, and walked around a lot. And today I cleaned my kitchen. And decided that my next baking quest is to perfect the savoury muffin once and for all, because DAMN I love me some savoury muffins.

On top of everything, I now have an impressive list of reading recommendations from all the brilliant people I know (Facebook is good for SOME things), so when the planning gets a little too immense, I can disappear into some amazing stories.

I’ve got a few new series in mind for the blog this year, so I’m off to work on the ideas for some of those with the rest of this last day off. Watch this space!

Back to work tomorrow. Bring it on, 2015.

Goal number one: BOOM!

As of today, my credit card balance from my trip to Africa (and from life in general) is CLEARED.

So, from now on it’s paying off in full and saving everything I can for the trip.

Short post, but big friggin’ deal.

Travel prep: immunisations

I know, I know. SUPER FUN. Also: PRICEY. But then, it’s pretty hard to put a price on your health once you start thinking about it.

Sunrise and coffee at Big Cave, Zimbabwe

Not visible: the mosquitoes (and their diseases) I was not worrying about because I was prepared.

I recently scheduled my Hepatitis A booster so that the barrage of jabs I had before heading to Africa could be that much closer to fully effective. Once boosted, I will be covered for Hep A for 10 years. And 5 for Hep B, but I need to wait until January for that. I know this is utterly thrilling discourse but I like to see it as an excuse to take MORE TRIPS. Get my money’s worth. But let me back up a little.

When I booked my first trip that involved places where protecting your immune system was a prerequisite to being let in to the country, I knew it was gonna cost me, but I did NOT research much ahead. And that shit added up quick. Even with the straightforward, non-marketing-led advice of the doctors and nurses at the NHS travel clinic (‘You absolutely need THIS, don’t bother with this one, this other one is probably smart to have in your circumstances…’) I felt like it wasn’t something I should skimp on.

Some things were free on the NHS (I love you, NHS):

  • Tetanus, Polio, Diphtheria booster
  • Typhoid
  • Hepatitis A (including a booster 6 months later)

Some things were very not-free:

  • Hepatitis B series – series of 3 (not including booster in January 2015) – £46.79
  • Yellow Fever – £52.50
  • Rabies – Series of 3 intradermal at £21 each – £63
  • Malaria prophylactics – Malarone for entire trip plus 7 days after – £70.56

The good news is, a lot of these cover me for a long time. Yellow Fever and Hep A give you ten years. Hep B apparently gives you five.

Rabies protection isn’t necessary for another 10 years for travelers unless you’re going to a high-risk area. The rabies vaccine wasn’t mandatory, but since I was going to be camping, occasionally remotely, and around wild animals (yay!), I decided it was worth the extra protection. It doesn’t prevent the disease completely, it just gives you extra time to get to treatment if you get a bite. And the fatality rate of rabies is fucking 100% so, time is good.

Typhoid is only good for one year, but luckily it’s free. And the Tetanus, Polio, Diphtheria booster should technically be the last one I need, but if they recommended it at some point, it’s not like I’d say no.

In any case, that’s all £232.85. That does not include the cost of the buses (so many buses) to get back and forth to the million appointments at which all these were administered. It also doesn’t include things like hardcore mosquito repellant and a personal first-aid kit. That stuff maybe altogether cost around £40. And while I was lucky enough to not have to use much, I’m glad I had it.

One first-aid kit thing I would absolutely recommend saying yes to at the travel clinic is a pack of Ciprofloxacin. It cost me £10.50, and I did not have any gastrointestinal issues on my whole trip. I can honestly say that one or two times, that was thanks to this stuff. You basically take one dose the minute you feel any inkling that your insides might betray you, and it sorts you right out. And it REALLY DOES. So. Worth it.

Anyway, for Africa alone, this makes medical costs alone equal the cost of a European city break. And I imagine all of this is even more expensive in the US where you have to contend with medical insurance and jerkface pharmaceutical companies. But again, you have to weigh the cost against the potential of something nasty ruining your holiday. Or your life. Do the research ahead of time and budget it in and you won’t be quite so shocked as I was.

I did moan a bit about the cost to begin with, but honestly, the more annoying part was the logistics of all the appointments and timings of when doses needed to happen. Forget the money – if you’re going somewhere exotic, start scheduling your jabs as far ahead of time as possible so as not to suffer running around like mad in the entire two-month run-up to your departure.

The good news is, along with other pre-trip anxieties, the mad rushing about and the receipts with big numbers on them fade quite nicely into the hazy bits of the past that don’t matter once you’re on that trip. Because you took care of that stuff so you don’t NEED to think about it.

Next time around, obviously the longer the trip means the more I’ll have to figure out ahead of time. But at least I know to start now.

Digital downsizing

Facepalming at my computer

DOWNSIZING. This is pretty much how I feel about the process.

I decided almost immediately when I started this whole shift to the travellin’ lifestyle that one of my first moves would be to get my digital life in order once and for all. I still find it ridiculous that a digital life is even a thing, but I think that’s my resistance to becoming completely consumed by technology rather than my resistance to reality.

I’m a reasonably organised person, but somehow in all the years I’ve lived my life on computers, I’ve failed to have a proper, consistent system for keeping all my digital crap in order. Moving your digital life around is unlike moving your physical life around in that you don’t really see all the stuff you’re taking with you, no matter how big or unruly it gets. If you’re anything like me, when you get a new computer, you just chuck everything from the old one onto the new one and never really pay a great deal of attention to what’s in all those boxes. They just come with you because they’re there. At least when you move house, you’re motivated to get rid of some of your old shit so you’ve got less to lug up and down stairs and shove into closets.

So this time, I’ve declared, will be different. This time I’m going to clean out my digital past and try to be as ruthless with it as I’m trying to be with the clear-out of my physical stuff. The first milestone on this particular adventure will be upgrading/downsizing to a Macbook Air (wooo, new toy!). I’m currently on a nearly 3-year-old 13″ Macbook Pro. It’s in fantastic shape, but the smaller and lighter I go, the better. And this computer has 500GB of space on it where the Air I’ve currently got my eye on has about half that. So I’m immediately being forced to chuck some things out.

Rumour has it that Apple will be releasing new Macbook Airs in September when they’re meant to announce all manner of other new gadgets, so I’m waiting to see if that will bring a higher capacity 11″ than the 256GB you can get now, but I also think that maybe it’ll be good to be confined to less. Because much like all the extra crap sitting around my house just because it has space to be there, I don’t actually USE most of the files taking up all that space on my computer. I’m only using about 242GB of my current space, but that’s too close to the line I’m shooting for, so I’ve already started the process of cleaning out.

Not surprisingly, the majority of that space is music (97GB) and photos (52GB). The hardest things to get rid of.

So the first thing I attacked was my image folder. I started with around 57GB of photos, and I didn’t really get rid of much in terms of unique content. Most of what I cleaned out consisted of:

  • Doubles and triples of the same files
  • Random images saved from the interweb in college for now-forgotten reasons
  • Album art
  • Vast selections of AIM user icons
  • Alternate versions of the same picture
  • Bad pictures of food

It took HOURS to do this. And it was, in some ways, a pain. But it was also just as nice as when I did the same purge on my physical box of photos in my parents’ basement last year, in that I got to look through 10-15 years of photos and memories from all different points and places in my life. And it’s nice to be reminded of what you have and where you’ve been and people you don’t see anymore.

I won’t be getting rid of most of the rest of what I have because I think it’s great to be able to look through your own history like that. Particularly as a way to combat homesickness or general travel fatigue. It’s built-in therapy. As well as an instant storytelling aid for people you meet along the way. So once the actual chaff was chucked, I was happy that I’d pared it down as much as necessary.

The music is the next thing to attack, and that’s a little less straightforward. The 97GB I have now is AFTER clearing the doubles generated by moving my collection between computers. It’s so easy to justify keeping everything because it’s only taking up digital space. But I’m willing to bet I’ve never even listened to about 10-15% of what I’ve got on iTunes at all. This comes from the massive amount of music I got from other people over the Washington College network. Things that I grabbed just because they seemed like ‘good things to have’. Quite a lot of Beatles and Zeppelin for example. I love the Beatles, but I don’t really like Led Zeppelin enough to own nearly their entire catalogue. And there’s a lot of other stuff in there that I like well enough, but just never, ever listen to and probably never will. Half of it is probably a digital rip of the CD I once had and sold or gave away because I knew I wasn’t going to listen to it. So why is it SO HARD to delete the files?

Thanks to Spotify, I can listen to most any of this stuff whenever I want without having it on my own computer, but for some reason it’s still hard to shake my stubbornness about not having it MYSELF. I think this is because I’m one of those people who still buys CDs (and the occasional collectable vinyl release) because I really value the idea of having a proper music collection, at the very least of your favourites. No matter how ruthless I get about purging my earthly possessions, music is important.

I think some of the experience of having music is lost when it all only exists digitally. I still love putting in a physical album and listening to the whole thing. I like album artwork and liner notes and knowing who helped the band out and seeing flippant comments and inside jokes among the credits. I like the deliberate effort of physically going to the shelf and choosing the thing you want to hear at that very moment. And if I ever need to put my stuff in storage, a good bit of what’s there will be the music I refuse to get rid of. My CD collection isn’t nearly as big as it once was when I was a student with nothing but disposable income and space in my parents’ house, but I still have the stuff I really love, and I still buy releases by my favourite bands. I always will.

Despite all this, I know I need to cut back on the digital front. I also know I’ll never miss the stuff I do decide to delete because I don’t miss it now. I barely know it’s there. No one can give equal attention to over 21 days worth of music, and according to iTunes, that’s what I’m currently sitting on. So, as a first goal, I will set 70GB as a target. I should really get rid of more, but hopefully once I get to 70GB, I’ll be on a roll and it’ll be easy to keep going. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Outside photos and music lies a whole mess of other files I need to whip into shape with a proper filing system, but that’s a story for another post.

The Big List

I did a lot of stage management and theatrical production in college. I loved it, and I imagine a lot of that is because it allowed me to organise everything ever. Perhaps this is why big projects don’t really freak me out too much – they’re just opportunities to corral madness, which is an activity I seem bizarrely drawn to.

I don’t really have any involvement in theatre these days, unless you count being present in Edinburgh during August, but there are SO MANY production things I use on a daily basis, particularly Stage Manager-y things. My favourite and most useful of which is the Big List. You may have many, many little lists on scraps of paper, in your email, and scribbled in pen on the back of your hand (guilty), but the Big List is the glue that holds the show – and post-college, my entire universe – together.

The Big List is what it says on the tin. And EVERYTHING goes on it. It’s really just a way to keep all the smaller lists you have running at once friendly with each other. It’s dumbed-down project management. It’s simple. It’s soothing. It works.

Whenever I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed, by a single project or ALL of the Life Things, I remember that all I need is a Big List. When everything is out of your head and on the list, you can breathe because you don’t have to actually keep track of all the things anymore. The List does it for you. And then you can break it down.

Back in the dark ages of college, before iPhones and shared calendars and apps and all the tech business we have now, my Big Lists were always in a Word doc, updates periodically printed to be placed in the front of my notebook and scribbled on. Now I’ve moved on to Big List of the Future, first in a Google doc, and very recently in Trello. (I’ll review Trello in a later post, but I will just say right now, after only a week, I am loving it.)

In any case, this is the Big List for my epic trip. I wanted to lay it down here so you can see what I’m dealing with. Right now it’s just high-level categories, but it will soon sprout details. I’ll update it as I progress, and I’ll link out to all the bits I write about along the way.

Adventure prep GO


  • Clear credit card debt
  • Student loan management
  • Savings
  • Money on the road
  • Permanent address


  • Current job
  • Current freelance work
  • Location independence


  • UK citizenship
  • Gear needed
  • Tech upgrades
  • Medical
  • Getting rid of all my extraneous crap
  • Storage of the crap I don’t get rid of

On the road

  • Accommodation
  • Transportation
  • Insurance
  • Data storage and backup
  • Rough route plan