Tag: travel

2020 in Review

In 2018 and 2019 my annual recap focused on the books I read. Books still occupied a large space in 2020, but with so much change I wanted to widen the lens for a year-in-review.

The year’s biggest change was a sharp drop in travel due to the pandemic. Over the last 3 years, annual work and personal travel spanned 80+ days and 75k+ miles. In 2020 I stayed in Portland from late February on, which was a welcome change. It’s my longest work travel gap in a decade.

Morning light coming into Sagrada Família.
Sagrada Família, from a trip in January.

Prior to the pandemic, 2020 was on pace to be an even busier year and January and February meant trips to Barcelona, California, Washington D.C., and India. Staying closer to home left more time for local activity, with hikes on Mt. Hood and Kings Mountain, along with salmon fishing on the Columbia. It was also nice to have more time for cooking, from pot roast to cinnamon rolls and cake.

This lack of travel meant vast amounts of time for reading as I read 103 books across 2020, which is about twice my pace in 2018 or 2019. Most of those were print copies, a change from last year’s Kindle focus. Without needing the portability of a Kindle my long-standing preference for print won out (though shelf space is a concern at this rate).

In fiction I particularly appreciated rereading books, which brought a sense of the familiar back into a strange year. Of new novels I read, Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry for the Future was my favorite, partly because it’s the first science fiction book I’ve read that directly deals with a near future driven by climate change. It was also fun to read Jane Austen’s work, in part for the reminder that people led rich lives in comparatively simpler and more geographically-constrained times.

Of the non-fiction I read, two books stood out. Chris Arnade’s Dignity is deeply compelling and uses a journalistic eye to bring moving stories of people to the forefront. If you add one book to your list I recommend Dignity. Bob Moesta’s Demand-Side Sales, which I shared notes from, is a clear handbook for how to keep the customer at the center of your company. I highly recommend it to anyone working in a for-profit business.

On this site I wrote more regularly about the craft of customer support and started a twice-monthly newsletter in late September. Posts go to both this blog and an email list, for which Buttondown provides just the right level of detail. I like the ability to add to my home on the open web and publish to a known group of readers. But it’s the act of writing and giving shape to ideas that I most enjoy.

2021 seems, more than most, like a year that will laugh at grand plans. My plans are simple: more reading, writing, and time close to home.


Along the Maha'ulepu Heritage Trail.

We just got back from a week in Kauai, which is turning into an annual tradition for us. It’s such a relaxing place to be and with much of the island geared toward tourism it certainly makes vacations easy to plan.

The focus for this trip was getting open water certified for SCUBA diving, which I can now say I am. We went through the folks at Fathom Five, who I’d highly recommend if you’re looking to dive in Kauai. This was by far the most enjoyable training and certification I’ve ever done!

Other than the SCUBA course we didn’t get up to too much. A big part of each day was spent reading, more on that in a bit, and the main other activity was an afternoon hike along the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail (pictured above). It’s an easy 4-mile roundtrip hike with just perfect scenery. Plus there’s a small farm at the end with giant land tortoises.

I also took an afternoon and put together a small WordPress plugin for keeping track of links and bookmarks. I’ve long-used Pinboard for this and used to share links directly here, too. But both solutions felt imperfect. The plugin is just a custom post type with a meta field that pipes into a separate feed. So far, so good.

On the reading front I worked my way through five books. I first wrapped up two that I’d had in-progress from before vacation: The Attention Merchants by Tim Wu and The Overstory by Richard Powers. The Overstory is one of the more thoughtful pieces of fiction I’ve read in recent memory. I then read Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia which is excellent, though difficult to describe. I wrapped up the week by tapping into my inner hermit and read two books on solitude: Hermits: The Insights of Solitude by Peter France and Solitude: A Return to the Self by Anthony Storr.


Hamarikyu Gardens.

We spent 10 days on vacation last month in Tokyo and rather than try to sprint around Japan we decided to settle down in the center of the city and just relax for all 10 days. Turned out that was a great decision as we loved the slow pace staying in one place allowed for.

The highlight was really the sheer abundance of green spaces within the city. For such a densely packed metropolis it was refreshing to be able to also wander through so many gardens and parks. We also spent a good bit of time in various art museums. The very approachable Nezu was great, and includes an incredible garden down the hillside in back.

And as usual I brought half a suitcase of books with me. The list for this trip was Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life, Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning, Thomas Merton’s Thoughts in Solitude, William Irvine’s On Desire, Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing, and Justin Vaïsse’s biography of Zbigniew Brzezinski.


View from La Pedrera.

Last month we took a break from the dreary, January weather in Portland and spent 9 days in Barcelona. While it was my second trip to the city, the first one was for work and I had a cold for much of the week. The weather turned out to be exactly what we’d hoped for: 50+ and mostly sunny.

One of the nice parts about visiting in mid-January is that it’s way off-season. A lot of places were empty and even crowded places were manageable. We had no problem just deciding day-of what we wanted to do most days.

One of the highlights was going hot air ballooning north of the city in Vic. It was a lot colder than we anticipated but the views and experience were fantastic. You can see the Pyrenees peaking out from just under the cloud line.

We also spent time in La Sagrada Família. The light was as amazing as I remember and we were fortunate that for much of the first hour there weren’t more than a few dozen people around.

Toward the end of the week we took the train out to the abbey at Montserrat. The abbey itself is interesting but what really makes the experience are the rock formations around. The path down to the hillside cave was deserted and we had the space to ourselves.

We took it at a pretty relaxed pace over the 9 days so we left ourselves with plenty to do on a return trip. Already looking forward to it!


Allerton Gardens.

Leah and I just got back from 9 days in Kauai. This was our second trip to the island and we enjoyed it just as much as the first. On the activities side of things we went for a hike along the south shore, did two intro SCUBA dives, and more. Plus, this was our view for the week. No complaints.

I also read my way through 5 books: Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson, Museums: A Visual Anthropology by Mary Bouquet, The End of Average by Todd Rose, A Guide to the Good Life by William B. Irvine, and Anathem by Neal Stephenson.

Lisbon rooftop

View this afternoon from the rooftop terrace at TheHouse in Lisbon.

Fort Canning

Singapore skyline

Domed glass


In late-September Leah and I headed to the big island of Hawaii for a week. We stayed in another great VRBO rental with a back porch that went right down to the Kapoho tide pools.

The hiking in Volcanoes National Park was (unsurprisingly) wonderful. The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden was amazing and has a pretty cool backstory.

See the rest of the photos…