Why you want hard problems and not difficult ones

Who doesn’t like a good challenge? I sure do. I love immersing myself in a problem and working hard to tunnel through its complexities to find a solution.

But, what makes a problem a good one to solve? Which problems should you avoid wasting time with, and which are worth jumping into to start your next wild ride?

Over the years I’ve compartmentalized problems into two categories that have helped guide me: “difficult” ones and “hard” ones.

Difficult Problems

A difficult problem is a problem that drains your mind and body. Everyone involved in these type of problems are spinning their wheels in circles, and are able to squeeze only a tiny of drop of value from each pass. Difficult problems are demotivating, repetitive and often fueled by dark clouds. Difficult problems are overcome, not solved, and one is driven to overcome them as a search for relief.

Their challenges are often emotional ones; often testing patience, not intelligence, persistence, or ideas. Most importantly, when a difficult problem is overcome the end results often places everyone in about the same place they started. A solution is a derivative of your current state at best, and incurs a great deal of wasted time and money. People tend to beat their head against the wall with difficult problems.

For example, problems that arise from convincing someone to want to be a better person, or to want to make better things, are difficult problems.

Hard Problems

Hard problems are a joy, but not at the least bit easy. They are motivated by “why”, “why not” and “how can we make it possible?” Much like difficult problems, they are filled with long nights, and little sleep. Unlike difficult problems (where a relief from the pain endured is what drives you), the pain you endure from hard problems are a bi-product of your insesent need to find a solution; you push-on in spite of the pain.

Hard problems are motivating, inspiring, and complex. They may never find a solution, or its solution is hiding right around the corner; neither of which changes your resolve . Working on a hard problem can feel like chewing on glass while staring into an abyss, but you chew with vigor and you stare like a hawk.

Hard problems create competition, new ideas and challenges with others or within yourself (e.g. “I can do better than that”). Rarely will you see competition arise from a difficult problem.

You know you’ve solved a hard problem when you end up in a place you haven’t been before, with a new perspective and new insight and a new direction to follow forthwith. With hard problems, you are not only avoiding going in circles, you have taken a rocket ship leap to a new planet. The harder the problem, the farther you will fly.  If only you can – just – get -to – the – next – solution! A hard problem requires focus. Neh! A hard problem fuels focus! A difficult one: a distraction.

For example, problems that arise from discussing how  to be a better person, or how  to make better things, are hard problems.

Final Thoughts

Avoid difficult problems if you can. Sometimes dealing with them is necessary, but recognize the difference; don’t let people (or yourself) mask one for the other. It can help both mentally and emotionally. Seek out hard problems by imagining what the world would be like if you solved them.  If you find yourself in a difficult problem see if you can’t upgrade it to a hard one.  How can you change “how come” into “why not”, or “no” into “let’s try and see what happens”?

Best of luck, and may your life be hard but not very difficult! ūüėČ

“If” by Rudyard Kipling with a video by Spy Films

The poem beautifully describes life’s ups and downs and the importance of knowing how to embrace them both. It celebrates the acceptance and abandonment of what you’d love to have or would hate to lose, and, in either case, having the capacity to move forward – without losing yourself.

It’s about putting yourself out there and playing out the entire story. It may be through a startup, a job, a piece of art or a night out with friends. To follow a dream, or to pursue a want, but not to become bound to any one mantra while doing so.

I’ve always had a soft spot¬†for that type of¬†duality-talk. I too¬†believe life provides a bounty of gifts for those¬†that¬†dance the line.

That’s my take anyway, but¬†the only true way to describe how it makes me feel is to be inside my head when I read it. Thus is the beauty of art and poetry: personal interpretation.

Want to take a crack at expressing your take?

Enjoy the black and white video and reading by Dennis Hopper in the video below created by Nikki Ormerod and Spy Films and let us know your take of this classic piece.

from Graham Chisholm on Vimeo.

If by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream‚ÄĒand not make dreams your master;
¬†¬†¬† If you can think‚ÄĒand not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
¬†¬†¬† Except the Will which says to them: ‚ÄėHold on!‚Äô
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
¬†¬†¬† Or walk with Kings‚ÄĒnor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
¬†¬†¬† And‚ÄĒwhich is more‚ÄĒyou‚Äôll be a Man, my son!

Source: A Choice of Kipling’s Verse (1943)

70L Backpack Packing Breakdown. What got in, what got cut and what I wish I had

During our trip around the world we were sure to experience a range of climates. As such, packing the right clothes in the smallest bag possible was a challenge.

Originally I wanted to try “ultra-light backpacking.” That’s where you fill a 35L-45L (or less) backpack with only what you need,¬†expectating to reuse clothes A LOT. There are certain types of clothing that are made for this type of use. For example, there is underwear that claims you can ¬†wear it for 6 weeks without a wash.¬†¬†Jackie talked me out of it – ¬†I’m glad she did.

I ended up going for a 70L bag (50L main bag with a 20L daypack) that is not carry on approved. I was worried about needing to check a bag in on every flight, due to the extra bag fees airlines may charge and the potential for lost luggage, but we decided we “needed” the all stuff we packed below and would make it work.

Most of the things we got below is from REI and Amazon. If you haven’t tried REI I wrote a bit on how I was skeptical to walk in the door at first but happy I did. They are awesome!

A video run through of the bag items a day before we left

What didn’t end up making the cut

I ditched all the wool sweaters and fleeces (top right of picture) and kept one thick hoodie and one long sleeve base layer. I figured layering undershirts could get me through most temperatures – and it has. I also got rid of the pajamas (bottom left of picture)  since my sweatpants (or gym shorts) could be used for sleeping or working out. I also trimmed down my running clothes completely (bottom left of picture) since I could just use my t-shirts and surf-shirts.

What made the bag

  • Osprey Farpoint 70L Backpack¬†(50L w/ 20L Day Pack)
  • 1 power adapter
    • This was a nice grab from when Radio Shack had a going out of business sale. I am wishing we bought two. It’s not something you can just grab on the go, since every other country’s adapters are made for their plug’s inputs. Note, We didn’t bring a converter and haven’t needed one yet.
  • 2 shorts (cotton,¬†one hybrid, one bathing suit)
    • It was nice having the hybrid so that if the bathing suit was wet I had a back up to swim in, and if the cotton one was dirty I had a back up too. Amazing how few people wear shorts in foreign countries. They can see me as a tourist a mile away in these things but I don’t care, it’s hot as hell in some places!
  • 3 pants (one Jeans, one Lulu hybrid and one sweat pant)
    • The tan Lulu pants are awesome. You feel comfortable hiking in them and you can wear them out since they really do look like khakis. Jeans are great to have to feel a bit more dressed up; I use them often. Sweats are good for working out or sleeping in as pajamas, but haven’t used them too often and thinking about ditching them; we are following warm weather mostly.
  • Noise canceling headphones and batteries
    • The headphone cable came in handy a lot when driving. We used it to hook into aux in our rental car to listen to music on our long drives. They ended up breaking, and took a lot of space, so I ditched them a few weeks ago. They were 4+ years old anyway so  I got some great use out of them. Regular iPhone headphones aren’t cutting it when there is background noise so I will need to find replacements.
  • Chromecast
    • A nice bday gift from a few years back from the Mosqueras. I really love having this on the trip. Although, this only works when you are on a private wifi network, like AirBnB rentals, it is small enough to be worth the space for the second screen on your TV for work, maps or movies.
  • 15″ Macbook pro and charger – duh.
  • Assortment of USB cables for iOS and non-iOS devices
    • Sometimes I wish we got rid of a few. But we have so many devices that charging them (or using them) all at once requires more than you’d expect.
  • Android phone (for travel SIM cards)
    • A crappy phone that we can tether to any device for internet or make local calls or texts from. Our phones aren’t jailbroken.
  • iPhone
    • The plan hadn’t run out yet – so we froze our account for 6 months (the max allowed.) It’s been great for WiFi, movie editing, VoIp, hyperlapse, pictures, music and games.
  • Kindle Paper White
    • A solid going away present from the Odios. We use them every day before we go to bed. They’re great for flights and the beach since they are light, don’t reflect sun and have their own back light.
  • Backup Drive
    • Since internet on this trip has been almost non-existent (or slow as molasses) backing up our video and photos quickly has been crucial.
  • Waterproof camera
    • Jackie’s dad got us this for our trip and it has been a crucial item on our trip. Not only for taking pictures and video underwater while snorkeling, but, just as importantly, it has brought us peace-of-mind when it is raining or when we are walking near water or pools. Since it is durable we take it with us everywhere. If it wasn’t, we may have “kept it safe” more and miss some great shots.
  • “Fast dry” towel
    • Meh. We used this once, barely. Since we are staying in hotels we always have had towels. They aren’t great for laying on the beach so we ended up buying beach towels anyway.
  • Button-up wool short sleeve shirt (Icebreaker)
    • Great buy on Amazon. I got it for $60 and see it everywhere for close to $100. It definitely dries faster than most of my other clothes, but the ability to just put it in the sun and it smells fresh after wearing it has been crucial. Whenever I wash clothes or run out this is my go to. It also looks good enough to consider “going out” clothes. Very versatile.
  • 100% Polyester Tennis Shirt
    • This dries super fast BUT it also smells super bad after wearing it.
  • Tee shirts (two light cotton ones)
    • At this point I wish I had more light shirts. Jackie was right. I thought I would wear the icebreaker everyday but even though it smelled less and dried fast we didn’t always have sun or time to clean it when it got dirty.
  • Loose Surf Shirt
    • This shirt is SPF 50 so it adds extra protection from burns on long days in the sun or at the beach. Plus, if I get to go surfing I’ll have a nice rash guard. It is also one of the faster drying shirts in the collection.
  • Camera stand and iPhone stand
    • These items are light and compact, about the size of a cigarette box (only long nice wide.) I needed it to take the upcoming shot of my engagement, but since then I haven’t really used it. I have pretty good selfie arms.
  • Travel under-clothes satchel
    • I use this all the time when flying. It is a good place to keep your passports handy and safe. In shady cities known for pickpockets I use it instead of a wallet to carry my credit card and cash. I always leave my passport locked up in the hotel. Tip: To get a SIM card in each country you need your passport so bring it along with you for that.
  • Bag lock
    • Cheap and peace of mind. Not only for checking bags but a nice to have in places that don’t have a safe. I lock the bag up and slip it under the bed.
  • Collapsible Sun Glasses (Ray ban)
    • I love these things! Jackie got them for me on my birthday and they have lasted longer than any other pair. I think because they are easy to pack or stow in my pocket.
  • Underwear (A few cotton ones and 1 ExOfficio)
    • Jackie was right. Although the underwear claims to be able to go 6 weeks without a wash I really couldn’t bring myself to wear it for more than two days at a time – max. Maybe it does have anti-microbes that keep it clean, but I didn’t feel great about myself inside knowing I had used underwear on. Not worth the $40 bucks. Sure it dries fast but not THAT fast. I’m just not getting the value for the cost.
  • Vacuum Bag
    • This thing is amazing. I just stash all the fluffier items I need for cooler climates in the vacuum bag and it takes up little space. You just smuch the bag and seal it.  Sort of a light weight travel trunk.
  • 4 Shoes (walking, running/sneakers, sandals and boat)
    • Sounds like a lot of shoes – and it is, but I’ve used them all. Not only based on the environment but it keeps my feet from getting too tired. Changing the form of my shoe has kept my feet fresh for the hundred of 30+ miles I walk a week.
  • Fitbit
    • It sure is nice to see a number when you get home from a full day of walking. Turns the tiredness into a feeling of accomplishment.
  • Goggles
    • Worthless. Getting rid of them. Everywhere we wanted to see underwater we ended up renting snorkel gear (or getting it for free with a tour.)
  • Collapsible Pillow
    • Another non-starter. Jackie seems to use hers a lot, but mine has made it out of my bag once. It is super comfortable and compact – but taking it out and unfolding it only to have to fold it and packing a day or so later just doesn’t seem worth it. I typically have plenty of pillows on the bed of the hotel and on long flights they give you a pillow. I can’t bring myself to get rid of it though because that ONE place that I need it will suck.
  • Collapsable water bottle
    • Saw it on Tynan’s packing blog. Seemed cool when I got it, but, again, everywhere we went had cheap bottled water that was cold. It has sat in my bag all but once in an airport when we tried to use it from the water fountain but the taste brought us back to the bottle. I know it’s not environmentally as friendly but – sorry – I’m getting rid of it. Even if we wanted to save bottles we would just fill up an old used water bottle we bought.
  • Bag weigher
    • It has come in hand a few times when the bags seemed like they would go over. Though, we always have gotten away with a few Ks give or take and can’t carry much more. We would probably be fine without it.
  • Bug spray/Sun block lotions
    • Yeah. Especially in all the bug infested parts of the south pacific and beaches we’ve visited. We have gone through these bottles quickly.
  • Toiletries
    • You know, the usual. Tooth brush, tooth paste, nail clippers etc. brought face wash, shampoo, and shaving cream but have used it infrequently since our hotel’s toiletries are usually good enough for me.
  • Plastic Bags
    • Simple but useful. I like using it to cover my shoes when I put them with my clothes. Call me crazy.
  • Dr. Bronner’s Soap
    • A useful soap that can clean clothes, wash hair or anything else you need. We’ve used it a lot for times we didn’t have a laundry service and needed to wash things in the sink. We haven’t used it for the other uses – yet ūüėČ
  • Granola Bars
    • We always grab a box when we can. It has come in handy so many times when we were stuck between meals in transport or at a hotel.
  • Vaccination card
    • I haven’t needed to show it to anyone yet but it is small enough that I am fine to carry it everywhere I go just in case.

All in the bag weighs about 20Lbs + (4.5Lbs for the laptop.)

Since leaving SF I’ve bought …

  • A Battery powered hair trimmer
    • I thought I would go full beard but A) I found out you can’t snorkel with a bear and B) It is way too itchy and hot. The trimmer I got in Australia is surprisingly good. I love that I can drop a few double AAs into it and it works. No adapter or outlets needed.
  • Underwear
    • Per my realization above of the realistic use of my ExOfficos, I bought another pair and will probably get more as the time passes.
  • A polo shirt
    • Again, Jackie was right. I have quick dry and odor-fighting shirts but throwing on a fresh shirt just feels too good to pass up for so little bag space. I got a fake Lacoste in Istanbul for $5.
  • Beach towels
    • They are a PIA to carry, but the “quick dry” towels suck to lay on and we are visiting A LOT of beaches. They are pricey enough (and hard enough to find) that buy-and-ditch doesn’t feel like a good alternative. Having the vacuum bag has helped decrease the space needed to keep them.
  • Sewing kit
    • I have kept the sewing kits we have found in our hotels. It is useful to have a needle and thread for fixing clothes, or patching equipment.

After a month or so on the road I wish I had …

  • Another (compact) adapter
    • Using the computer and charging devices (camera, phones, backup charger etc) would go a lot faster if we had another adapter. Worth the space for sure. And as I mentioned above, you can’t find a U.S. adapter in other countries  :-/
  • Another vacuum bag
    • I can’t seem to find it anywhere else in the world other than REI in SF. I Wish I got two.
  • A pencil and drawing paper (maybe some water color stuff that Silvio showed me)
  • An Umbrella.
    • That being said I’ve only wanted it twice so far. It would have been nice to have, but just carrying it the other 90% of the time would be annoying; I’m on the fence about it.
  • An ethernet cable
    • Another item I *sometimes* wish I had. There have been only a few times I had an opportunity to plug-in for a faster connection. Small item for a nice ROI – I think.  
  • Ketchup
    • They don’t make it like they do at home (and it is rarely available). So sue me.
  • A few bottle top water filters
    • You can’t find a bottle water filter easily like you can in the US. This would’ve cut down the need for water bottles immensely.
  • A bigger collapsable water bottle
    • Like I said in our itemized list, the one we got is semi useless because of how small it is (only a few gulps worth of water for Jackie and I) and because of a lack of a water filter to fill it safely with.

 

What he learned by asking his own questions may shock some – but it shouldn’t

I think this is true all around the world. Rarely do powerful individuals represent an entire nation. Sadly, those that are bent on hate, domination or simply wish to see the worst in people get the most attention in our country and others. That’s what fuels the divide – the news and politics hoping to spark a nation’s fears to cause conflict, get ratings or advance an agenda. Don’t be someone’s pawn. Ask your own questions, start your own conversations and meet the people being ruled by the “other side.”

How we turned our 750 sq ft apartment into two 50L backpacks

‚ÄúHere we go – one month left until move-out day!‚ÄĚ With our plane tickets bought, it just got real.

We posted to Facebook, Craigslist and taped signs on the street, “EVERYTHING MUST GO!” If you we’re looking to fill your apartment with more stuff, Sean and Jackie’s house was the place to be.

IMG_7826
Price check on aisle 1

Why were we getting rid of everything? Well, this wasn’t like any other move-out day because it wasn’t really a move at all. We were going “nomad” for a year and for the first time in our moving history we were NOT figuring out how to relocate our stuff into another set of rooms and closets. It sounds like a subtle difference, letting all the things you’ve accumulated over the years go versus¬†“go somewhere” but the feelings were monumentally different.

IMG_7816
our soon to be filled backpacks

Our goal was to take everything we needed (and I emphasize *needed*) and make it all fit into each of our 50 Liter backpacks. So, goodbye couches, tables, blenders, utensils, and plates. Goodbye to our multitude of change-of-clothes options, Jackie’s coveted hairdryer, and, most notably, our current concept of home.

We’ve been planning this for years, well, at least talking about it for that long. You know the conversation, right? ‚ÄúHey babe, what if we just dropped everything and just – went? Just you and I. Somewhere far away. Wouldn’t that be great?!‚ÄĚ

Bowls of too hot, too cold and just right porridge.

The conversation would usually end with either an imaginative tour of all the top places we’d want to see or end with a comment like, ‚Äúwe have too much going on right now to leave.‚ÄĚ Just like a modern day Goldie Locks it never feels like the right time to make it happen. The economy is always going too well or too poorly – when is the timing just right?

‚ÄúOkay‚ÄĚ, Jackie said, this time changing the typical end-game phrase, ‚ÄúIf we did this what would it look like?‚ÄĚ We talked about going to South America and making our way down to Patagonia. Maybe visit family in DC and then start in Europe? We could make the dollar stretch if we went to the South Pacific, right? How long would we go? Three months? Six? Sadly, the more time we gave ourselves to travel the more things we were able to do and thus – out of time again. In the same way our bag size grew and filled, it never felt like there was – enough. We were living¬†Parkinson’s Law.

I won’t bore you with the play-by-play, but trust me in that researching locations, costs, transit systems and weather had us going back and forth between destinations, routes and timings ad nauseam.

But, now with our plane tickets bought there was no longer an ever widening gap between theory and reality. Our first stop is Fiji and we have 30 days to jettison what we didn’t need, pack what we do, and go.

Next up, making it happen economically!

IMG_7883
Jen C. and Jeff came by to lend a hand and take some stuff

IMG_7898
My view from the backseat of Jeff’s wagon after shoving our couch in it to quickly get it to his apartment on our last day in SF

 

 

We got engaged in Fiji. A nice start to our adventure ahead.

Unbeknownst to Jackie I had¬†been lugging around an Engagement ring on the trip. On every flight and customs check I¬†feared a botched security check would force me to expose the ring I was carrying. My concern almost drove me to¬†propose before we left – but we were starting in Fiji and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do it there. Lucky¬†I made it to the hotel with no security checks. When we arrived at the hotel I hid the box in the back of the safe, covered it with the safe’s matting¬†and other nicknacks Jackie would surely avoid.

It was hard finding the right oppertnity to do it. Not only was there a large box I’d have to conceal in my swim shorts, but we never really planned out any of our days¬†and anything could happen. For example, if we went for a random swim I’d be in a tough situation to leave the ring on the beach or take it into the water. I chose neither. So it sat in that safe for 3 days.

DSCN0199

Luckily the final day before we left was awesome.¬†After an incredible day visiting an uninhabited island and snorkeling with schools of fish we set off to dinner.¬† Before we ordered I “forgot something” back in the room and went to get the ring. As I walked back I tried to conceal the massive square box bulging out of my pants pocket and did so quite successful to my surprise.¬†We had an awesome meal and I asked Jackie if she wanted to take a picture on the smaller island connected by a bridge. (I had been mentioning I wanted to do this¬†from day one to decrease any suspicion.)

 

DSCN0065

As we walked across the bridge I once again awkwardly canceled the box bulge and we made our way to a nice spot underneath some lighted palm trees.

IMG_7970

I had bought a stand for our camera that allowed me to velcro it around a tree or pole. I looked around for something to strap it to.¬†The ruse was simple, we were on vacation, it was our last night in Fiji and I wanted to set up everything just right to take a great shot of us. It was taking me a while to setup and Jackie began getting a little fidgety. “What’s taking so long?” she said. I was actually setting the camera up to take video and not a picture, but thought the need to set up the camera¬†to take¬†a video of us standing on the island at night would be hard to explain. “Almost got it” I said. I caught Jackie on the video dancing by herself (to no music whatsoever) as she waited for me to finish. It was a nice addition to the reel. Once I was done I walked up, turned her to me and dropped a knee.

DSCN0225

She said yes ūüėČ

eng_pic2

Like to travel? Yup. There’s a gene for that.

14381860924_p0_v2_s260x420Every time you see a story like this you can’t help but think about Ethan Hawk in Gattaca. Our lives, actions and –¬†self – broken down into a perfectly predictable set of genes we can architect for birth.

Elite Daily recently reported the discovery of a gene identified as DRD4-7R ,dubbed the ‚Äúwanderlust gene”, that gets us yet another step closer.

You can read more about the findings of the Genetic Basis to a Globetrotting Fanatic here. It explains how the gene is carried by an approximately 20% of the human population and is linked to restlessness and curiosity.

Here’s a fun question, if we ever were able to gain complete control of our genetic make-up would you choose to have the Travel Gene?

wanderlust-large-msg-132647107444

 

Fly in the Asian Pacific: $160 for 30 days of travel

The word on the street Asia_Pacific_Mapis you can fly between Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Cambodia, the Philippines, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam as many as 10 times in 30 days for just $160.

To put it in perspective, a flight from Bangkok to Singapore ranges from $84-$124 one way.

This is not only a cost effective travel deal, but, as you may know, many countries require a proof of “onward travel” to show you’ll be leaving your destination country before you board your plane. This pass would be a great tool to grab some last minute “proofs” when the time comes.

You can read more about the deal on Thrillist here:
http://www.thrillist.com/travel/nation/crazy-cheap-deal-fly-to-10-countries-in-30-days-for-160

Or just bite the bullet and book your travel with AsianAir Pass here:
http://www.airasia.com/ot/en/book-with-us/asean-pass.page

Gyms as a service (GAAS): Finally, better gym options as product services

imgres-1Five years ago I walked into my 24 Hour Fitness Gym and filled out a cancellation form.

“Are you sure that’s all I have to do?”, I asked the front desk rep. “Yup, you’re good to go, good luck with your move!”

Six months later I got a call from a collections agency telling me that I had six months of unpaid membership fees needing collection. Needless to say, it was an awful experience. I am sure many customers end up foregoing upwards of $200 or more in that situation all the time – not me. After hours of phone calls and emails, I was relieved of my “obligation,” but vowed never to use 24 Hour Fitness again – what else could I do than that, right?

In a world when Taxi’s treated you like crap but you still rode in them every day, there wasn’t much you could do with companies like this. Except turn around, take it and walk away.

When I moved back to the area I was a bit hesitant to sign up at any gym, given my experience. I stayed true to my vow and avoided 24-hour Fitness (even though it was cheaper) and signed up at Crunch Gym instead. I had options! Or so I thought.

lsThe sales staff was friendly at Crunch and, as expected, paying for the initiation fee and last month’s dues upfront was a piece of cake. I was instantly a member and assured by the sales staff that, “there won’t be any hassles if you decide to cancel – anytime.” Since then, two years of dues that would have gone into 24-Hour Fitness’ pockets went to Crunch Gym; I had no complaints.

Then moving time came again and I went in to cancel my membership.

“Sorry, you can’t cancel your membership *in* the gym. You have to call this number.” The Gym rep handed me a card. It was a bitter tasting sentence to hear while watching sales staff effortlessly input credit card numbers for the Gym’s newest members.

I called the Crunch cancelation number. “We already charged you this month…” (I come to find this was NOT true) “… and we’ll use your deposit to pay for your last month starting in April. Plus a $2 charge for any differences remaining since we’ve increased membership fees.” It was March 2nd and I was now paying until May 1st.

robber_MGBasically, in one sentence, my “easy cancelation” turned into about $120 of dues over two months toward a gym membership I just canceled. Jackie had the same experience except with a higher monthly membership fee.¬†Crunch Gym robbed $270 ¬†from our household. Poof, just like that, Crunch now has the money and we do not. There is nothing the service agent can do about it and he gives me an email address so I can¬†contact a manager to “have it explained to me further.” Sorry, there is no explanation that justifies being fleeced. I asked for a write-up from him explaining why I am being charged for a service I am canceling so I can submit it to the BBB with my complaint. He said he couldn’t do that. He thanks me for my call and hangs up on me. Note: The things they can and cannot do at these Gyms seem heavily skewed in their favor. Weird, huh?

Jackie said let it go, but that very sentence gave me a pit in my stomach. How many Gyms use this tactic to make up the hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue they see each year? They know most customers will let it go, so they keep doing it. I told the story to a few friends, and, not surprisingly, they tell me that it has happened to them with Crunch and other gyms as well. Have gyms formed a Mafia? I guess they have the muscle for it…

The problem that occurs when companies become monopolies (like Comcast) or mafias (like Crunch Gym and 24-hour Fitness) is that customers don’t have much choice in the matter. In this case, either take it or don’t work out.

Uber and Lyft finally gave us the tools to allow us to ditch Taxi cabs (poor customer service standards and all.) And Netflix, Google, and Yahoo are finally causing Comcast to AT LEAST start honoring their “maintenance window” as they try to prove their worth before judgment day. (Gosh, I sure can’t wait for the day Comcast cries about how unfair it is that Google is taking their business.)

Well America, good news. The new world is being filled with products that focus on value, access, customer service and quality. They are starting to aim their slingshots at the Goliaths we know as gyms.

You have options! You can ditch your P.O.S (and/or overly priced) gym and actually get more for less in the process! A membership where your patronage goes toward the local gyms, you’re experiences are of higher quality and customer service is a tent pole. Now that the game has changed, your “gym membership” can get you into specialty studios, access to activities like Kayaking and sports, and a truly “cancel anytime” philosophy that ensures people that have to leave do so as happily as when they joined.

Here are a few:
fitmob_color.fw_1) FitMobfitmob.com – For about the same price as Crunch (and way more friendly cancelation policy and service) this company offers a membership to a multitude of different gyms and activities. For example, you get access to a awesome yoga studio, or (like me) you can head down to the shore and go Paddleboarding for the day. All free with the membership.

Currently Serving: San Francisco, San Jose, San Diego, Portland, Philidelphia, Austin, Dallas, Seattle

imgres2) ClassPassclasspass.com – Founded by Payal Kadakia ClassPath offers access to a variety of studios you can register online for free with your ClassPass membership. What is great about this experience is ¬†you don’t get a class thrown together by amateurs¬†working for a corporate gym. Instead, you get to go to the best studios in town that specialize in an activity for whatever you want to do. ClassPath is on to something having just raised $14M in funding and growing exponential into more and more cities month after month.

Currently Serving: NEW YORK LOS ANGELES/ORANGE COUNTY SAN FRANCISCO CHICAGO MIAMI BOSTON WASHINGTON, DC SEATTLE ATLANTA AUSTIN CHARLOTTE COLUMBUS DALLAS/FORT WORTH DENVER HOUSTON MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL PHILADELPHIA PHOENIX PORTLAND SAN DIEGO LAS VEGAS RALEIGH BALTIMORE TAMPA ST. LOUIS ORLANDO NASHVILLE KANSAS CITY LONDON TORONTO VANCOUVER

Sorry Crunch, you had your day and just like the Taxi mafia – your time is limited.

More comments available on the public FB post here: https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10152976618217107&id=704372106

**UPDATES***

March 3rd – Still no charges (or pending charges) on my credit card bill from Crunch. The support rep told me it was already charged and there was nothing he could do about it as a result. Nice tactic – untrue after 2 full business days.

(March 2nd) Crunch asked me to contact a store manager – this is what I sent:
Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 5.42.53 PM

 

Update March 4th: If you’ve had a similar experience you can contact Jasmine <Jasmine.Vega@crunch.com>. Below is her email and my reply.

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 1.22.34 PM

March 4th

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 3.33.42 PM

Hong Kong

Hong Kong is deeply integrated with western culture. Although its foundation began with China, it became more influenced by British colonialism and, as such, has developed an identity all its own.

You’ll notice this unique mixture immediately when you arrive. Street signs that line the city are printed in plain English with names like “Queen’s Road” or “Russel Street”. We quickly learned, however, that you can’t count on the English versions of the roads to get around.

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 1.44.20 PM

None of the cabs we took spoke a lick of English, nor did they understand the English version of our destination’s cross-streets. Even more complex, as we learned from some locals, is the Chinese version of the streets don’t directly translations to the English ones. In essence, many streets have two distinct names.

Tip #1: Always take a picture of the local Chinese text of the destination you want to go (or write it down) so you can show it to the cab driver. Learning a nearby landmark’s local name won’t hurt either.

Other than that, getting around town was fairly easy with Google Maps and English (remembering, of course, that it is always a good idea to learn a few local phrases out of respect for your host country.)

times-squareThere is a constant sense of old and new while walking through Hong Kong. A trendy bar filled with young business people dressed to the 9s is placed directly next to a tiny old-style market with burlap bags of dried foods displayed on its stoop. You’ll see bamboo scaffolding next to an ancient temple with rising incense smoke flowing into the neon lights of a brand new bar, only a block away from a two story aluminum-plated Apple store. The city is somehow both completely foreign yet comfortable and familiar.

Tip #2: You’ll notice symbols such as “11/F” on some signs. The pattern refers to the floor an establishment is on. In this case the “11th floor.”

ho-lee-fook-4-818x535On our first night, we stumbled through a neighborhood filled with expats. It took a moment for it to register, but rows of restaurants and bars were completely filled with non-Chinese locals. In a way, it was like Hong Kong’s American-town, nicely balancing out our China-town back home.

The concept of culture fusion continues into the world of food. There’s a continuum of tastes ranging from the very pure and authentic Chinese dishes, to its modern interpretations, all the way to an east-meets-west blend. The first restaurant we stopped into was brand new and, sadly, we were drawn to mostly on name alone. It was called “Ho Lee Fook” and it had a 1-hour waiting list. We used the time to visit some local bars and grab a drink before dinner.

Jackie has an amazing sense of finding “good spots” when we travel. She is an instinctual Yelp database. On our kill-time-before-we-eat bar-cruise her spidey-sense drove us into a small bar called the Three Monkeys. No exaggeration, we had the best drinks we’ve ever had in our lives. Perfectly blended and absolutely delicious. At this point we also began to realize that Hong Kong was not cheap by any means – each drink was around $15+ USD.

sum_1617-2373926169-o

We finished up and headed back to Ho Lee Fook. The hostess led us down into the basement; Jay-Z and Jimi Hendrix’s music filled the rooms. Once we sat down and got comfortable we realized the restaurant was filled with Americans and Brits. We stumbled into another ex-pat bunker.

Restaurant_0

Tip #3: When you are visiting other countries and time is limited you can sometimes get a slight feeling that you’re getting cheated out of your adventure when you get surrounded by tons of your own people. But, in this instance, we recognized that these ex-pat areas were very much part of the local culture and we embraced it. It helped that the food was amazing. The final bill came in around $80-$100.

We hit the must-do list.

27712944We took The Peak Tram up the famously steep climb to the top of The Peak Tower. There you get a 360-degree view of the city, 396 meters above sea level. Walking around the small town at the top of the hill finally gave us a sense of the beautifully lush, island-rich landscape that is Hong Kong.

1.1.1.2-Peak_03

Tip #4: Don’t waste your money on The Peak Tower’s 360-Degree View entrance fee. Wrap around to a nearby building’s rooftops and get pretty much the same view for free. Also, sometimes it’s foggy and you can’t see anything up top anyway. Try to go on a clear morning.

We also headed to see the “big buddha” by the way of gondola and got even more breathtaking views of the country.

hk-cablecar

But mostly we ate.

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 1.39.42 PMI’m not sure, but I imagine it’s quite rare to visit two of the least expensive Michelin star rated restaurants in the world back to back. We had dim sum at Din Tai Fung, which was good but not mind-blowing – and a bit pretentious. Even more memorable was the savory gravy biscuits we had at Tim Ho Wan on the bottom floor of a mall for about $1 each. They close early so make sure you check the hours before you go. We got there a bit late, but they were nice enough to make a few to go boxes for us take out. We shared one biscuit from the bag as we walked away and they were so good I ran back to the restaurant to get six more.

My biggest food fumble was made by my weakness to marketing propaganda. Everywhere we went we saw a McDonalds promoting “the prosperity burger.” I had to know what it was so I finally gave in and ordered it on our last day. All it was was a McRib with onions. Yuck.

prosperity burger

Finally, I want to give a shout out to the awesome stay we had at Hotel LBP. They staff was friendly, the rooms were super nice and we got it at a great price (possible from a promotion.)