10 Rules for Traveling.

That's the view from the Bairro Alto in Lisbon at sunset.

It’s our first night in Lisbon, and we’re hungry. Earlier in the day, we’d passed by a restaurant that looked great — and was busy at lunch, which is usually a good sign — and they’d recommended that if we wanted to come back for dinner, we should either come super early (5:30 p.m.) or late (8:30). We’d come late, but by the time we arrived, they said their dinner service was full for the night.

So we started walking. We passed on Italian food and Mexican food, and weren’t into the steak place on the corner. We stopped at a barbershop that also had a bar inside and got a drink. They recommended a Chinese place up the hill, and so we headed there — only to find that they didn’t serve Chinese food. (Only burgers and cocktails. I still don’t understand why.) We kept walking, and I wasn’t worried about finding a place. I studied abroad in Spain, and restaurants there were always open late, and this was a Friday night, when restaurants are typically open even later. But at about 9:45, restaurants started turning us away. Four or five places told us, “Sorry, we close at 10.” And suddenly, we realized:

We had no idea if we were going to find a place that was open for dinner, we’d walked nearly 10 miles that day up and down Lisbon’s hilly streets, and we were really, really hungry.

So we started getting a little desperate, asking every bar and restaurant we passed — regardless of cuisine — if they were still open for dinner. None were.

I tried to steer us to a local kebab place, since those usually don’t close until 2 or 3 in the morning.

Closed.

We kept walking, and then, finally, on the right, I spotted it: A sushi place with a few people eating outside. We ran in. “Are you still open?” I asked.

“For dinner? Yes, right this way,” the hostess said, and pointed us to a table.

We ordered an excessive amount of food that night — sushi and soups and noodles and beers, as the TV in the corner played ‘00s hits. (I’d never eaten sushi at 11 p.m. while listening to Kanye West’s “Late Registration.” Based on how fast we ate everything they placed in front of us, I think our server thought we’d never eaten before. We ate and laughed and drank and toasted to somehow finding the last restaurant in Lisbon that was still open for dinner.

It was a reminder: Getting lost in a new place can be fun! But maybe next time, we’ll remember to first ask the hotel front desk what time local restaurants close.

With that in mind, here are ten other rules I’ve learned about traveling:

1.) Do something cultural.

2.) Do something active.

3.) Eat a lot.

4.) Try something new.

5.) Meet new people.

6.) Ask locals for recommendations.

7.) Tip well.

8.) If you’re traveling with a friend or a spouse, spend a few hours doing something on your own.

9.) Get enough rest.

And remember: You don’t need to see it all. I love leaving a place thinking, “You know, there’s more to see here! I can’t wait to come back.”

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That’s a photo I took of the view from the Bairro Alto in Lisbon at sunset.

Make Time to Unstructure.

One of the hotels where we stayed had a hike up this scenic overlook. It was one of those things that wasn’t in any guidebook or even on the hotel’s website — we noticed it on the drive in and asked if there was a path to go check it out.

Things are busy these days on the work front: Lots of projects, lots of calls, lots of events. My schedule is always busy, and there’s always more work on the horizon, it seems.

So it’s been incredible this week to travel with Sally to Portugal. This was a trip we booked, on a whim, a few months back. Flights were cheap, and hotels were cheap. We booked those, and left the rest entirely unplanned. A few friends sent over recommendations, but truly, until we landed, we didn’t know that much about what we’d do this week.

When we travel, we always like to do a few things: Eat a lot, try a few new things, do something cultural, and try to get some rest. But otherwise, for a trip like this, the goal isn’t to overplan — our work days are full of structure, so a trip like this is the opportunity to about what I’ll call “unstructure”: The opportunity to leave things open-ended, to figure things out day by day.

Does it mean that we might miss out on something essential? Possibly! (Though the staff at the hotel or the taxi driver at the airport will probably point you towards those things anyway.) We’ve found that if you book your hotel and flights, that provides plenty of structure for your vacation. You know where you’ll be and when you’ll be there. Once you’re there, you can ask questions, be curious, explore, and figure out the rest.

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One of the hotels where we stayed had a hike up to a scenic overlook. It was one of those things that wasn’t in any guidebook or even on the hotel’s website — we noticed it on the drive in and asked if there was a path to go check it out. This photo is the view from the top.

Ask Your Dumb Questions.

That's a photo I took of then-University of Missouri pitcher Ryan Clubb, I believe taken in 2009.

Sports writer Joe Posnanski went on the “Two Writers Slinging Yang” podcast with Jeff Pearlman last week, and he told an amazing story. It’s a story about the time Posnanski, then a young sportswriter covering minor league baseball, had the courage to ask a dumb question of Billy Williams, a Hall of Fame outfielder who was then a minor league baseball coach.

As Posnanski recalls:

So I was sitting next to him, and we were talking a little bit. I don’t even know exactly what pushed me to do this, but I had been dying to know something. I turned to him, and said, “Mr. Williams, can I ask you a question?” And he said, “Yes.” And I said, “What is the difference between a curveball and a slider?”

And as I asked the question — I was probably 19 years old, 20 years old — there were some snickers in the press box, as you might imagine, from people who had overheard. And Billy Williams took my notepad — I had a skinny reporter’s notepad — he took my notepad and took my pen and started to draw the difference between a slider and curveball. And for the next 10 or 15 minutes, he just gave me this masterclass on the difference, how the curveball breaks this way, and the slider breaks this way, but there are different kinds of sliders: This is [Bob] Gibson’s slider, and this is Steve Carlton’s slider, and he would draw that, and this is Tom Seaver’s. He would go through all of that for different players. It was awe inspiring to be getting this lesson about something so basic from one of the best to have ever played the game. 

And at the end of it, he said, “And by the way, don’t let these guys get you, the ones that were laughing. They don’t know the difference either.”

It’s a wonderful reminder: There are things that all of don’t know, but might be too afraid to ask. Why? Because simply asking the question might make us feel like we don’t belong in the room. 

But it’s OK to ask! Be curious, and be willing to ask the questions you need to ask to get smarter. Often, you’ll find that others are more than willing to share what they’ve learned. You just have to be willing to ask the right question first, even if it feels a little foolish.

———

That’s a photo I took of then-University of Missouri pitcher Ryan Clubb. I have no idea what pitch he was throwing in this photo.

When It’s Time to Practice, and When It’s Time to Perform.

that's a photo I took while golfing with my dad on Nantucket, MA

In the year or so since I’ve started playing golf again, there have been good rounds (I shot in the mid-80s last week — a fantastic round for me!) and lousy rounds. Sometimes, I’ll feel super confident with a particular part of my game (hitting shots from inside 100 yards, for instance), and then play again a week later and be unable to hit the same shots. This sort of fluctuation with golf, I realize, is normal. It’s a remarkably difficult sport, one that requires a combination of strategy, strength, speed, skill, and luck. Even great golfers can be inconsistent with their play.

A lot of golf is about feel. I’ve played enough now that I have a decent golf swing, one that I can repeat on a regular basis. But some days, the feel for a certain shot isn’t there. Often, I can feel what’s off, and make an adjustment. But sometimes, I’ve got absolutely no idea what might be wrong, and feel tempted to try to fix things on the course.

That’s always a mistake. Trying to make major changes on the course — where you don’t have the freedom for trial and error — usually leads to more frustration.

Practice is where I have the chance to test and learn. On the driving range, I can experiment with different concepts. What happens if I move my hands forward, or the ball further back in my stance? What happens if tee the ball higher up? What if I try a shorter backswing, or a longer follow-through, on short iron shots? Practice is where I can see what works, with the intent of putting those strategies into play on the course.

When I’m playing a round, that’s where I’m expecting to perform the shots that I’ve practiced. Some days, I don’t have a certain shot, and I’m learning how to adjust on the fly. If my driver’s not feeling right that day, I’ll keep it in the bag and use something else off the tee. There’s a part of me that can feel too proud to do that, a part of me that tries to force a shot that isn’t there that day. That’s when I usually find myself hitting my second shot from somewhere deep in the woods.

When you’re doing the work, there are times to practice, and times to perform. Recognizing which is which gives you the chance to focus on what’s most important for that specific moment, and the best chance to succeed that day.

———

That’s a photo I took during a round with my dad, a few weeks ago in Nantucket, Massachusetts.

The Power of Small, Weekly Habits.

a screenshot of one folder of newsletter examples

A year ago, I realized that clients were asking me, over and over again, for examples of certain things:

Dan, do you have any examples of great pop-ups to convert readers from our website to our newsletter?

Have you seen any good examples of promotions on Instagram?

Do you have any examples you can share of amazing welcome emails?

So I started compiling examples into a big Google Drive file, and shared it with clients. But then I made another choice: I added a weekly note to my calendar to keep adding to the Drive. I created a folder on my laptop where I could store examples that I’d noticed over the course of the week, and then, every Friday, I’d upload them to Drive.

Sometimes I only have an example or two to upload on Friday, and sometimes, I’ll have dozens. But over the course of a year, I’ve uploaded hundreds of examples that I can refer clients to. It’s not an exaggeration to say that this one project has changed the way I work with clients. It’s one thing for me to be tell them about the concept, but it’s another to be able to show them a handful of great examples from their peers.

And had I decided to, say, update the file every month or every quarter, I’m not sure I would’ve stuck with it. (It took a lot of work to upload that first, giant batch of examples!) Instead, by focusing on a small, weekly habit, it feels so much more manageable — and the long-term result has been so much more than I ever could’ve expected.

———

That’s a screenshot of the pop-ups folder. There are now more than 30 examples of pop-ups I love that I can share with clients.

Still Not Dead.

Willie Nelson on stage in Saratoga Springs

I saw Willie Nelson perform on Sunday, and here’s something I didn’t realize about Willie until he walked out on stage: He’s 88 years old.

88! And still performing live, currently on a 14-stop tour over two months in 10 states!

Now, at that age, nobody’s expecting Willie Nelson to go out and play a marathon set. But I was impressed by the way Willie still found a way to put on a great show:

• He limited the set list to an hour — he’s played about 11 songs per night on the 2021 tour so far, instead of what had been 17 song sets pre-pandemic, per data on Setlist.fm.

• He loaded the lineup with not one but three openers, stretching what would be a normal concert into a six-hour-long festival.

• He toured with his son, J. Micah Nelson, and let him take lead on a few songs. (Willie’s kids can really play, so fans didn’t mind Willie taking a step out of the spotlight for a few minutes.)

• He didn’t waste much time with banter, saying a few words between songs — or just moving right into the next number.

All in all, it meant a set with a lot of hits and very little filler. I’m sure Willie would love to have the energy of a younger artist, able to go out and play for 2+ hours as a headliner. But he’s 88, and he’s got some limitations — and he still found a way to make it work.

As Willie sang that night: He’s still not dead, and still on the road. Impressive stuff.

———

———

That’s a photo I took of Willie and his band on September 12, 2021, in Saratoga Springs, New York.

What Was In Might Now Be Out.

the view from Louis Armstrong Court

A story from the U.S. Open:

It’s the first round of the tournament, and I’m watching Reilly Opelka, a 6’11’’ American with a massive serve. (The fastest I saw him serve: 141 mph.) On one point, he serves just a little wide, and there’s that familiar call from the umpire: “Out!” He hits his second serve (something merely around 105 mph), and a rally ensues. Another ball goes just beyond the baseline. Again, that familiar call: “Out!”

Except that this time, I’m looking around, and can’t figure out where the voice is coming from.

There’s the umpire in their chair, but they’re not in position to make a call like that. There are the ballboys, but they don’t make calls like this. (Some are teenagers! The winner of this match will make $115,000 — there’s no way the U.S. Open would let them make these calls, right?)

It happens again a few minutes later, a male voice yelling “Out!” just after the ball misses the line. But again, I can’t figure out where it’s coming from.

Naturally, I turn to Google, and there’s the answer:

NEW YORK, Sept 3 (Reuters) – Ash Barty, the No. 1 seed at the U.S. Open, watched on match point as her opponent’s backhand sailed long on Thursday, prompting the familiar sound of a linesman yelling, “Out!”

There was no line judge, however. The call was a recording, triggered after an advanced system of cameras known as “Hawk-Eye Live” tracked the ball until it landed out of bounds.

For the first time, the tennis major has installed electronic line-calling on every court, replacing human judges who were responsible for determining whether, say, a serve traveling at 140 mph touched a line the width of a ruler.

At first, it feels a little strange. Tennis has always had these moments of confrontation between the players and umpires. (Go to YouTube and search, “You cannot be serious.”) So to lose that felt initially like losing a little part of the game.

But the more I watched — and I saw matches on Tuesday, and then again Friday — the more I came to appreciate the robot umpires. Some of these balls were hit so hard, and so precisely, that it felt impossible for any human to actually know whether they landed in or out. On Friday, I sat just a few rows up from the baseline,, and couldn’t tell if several shots were in and out — they were simply too close to call.

Things change, and that’s OK. So often, we get used to the manual way of doing things — taking on specific tasks, because it’s the only way to do so, until the moment when we find a way to do things faster and more effectively. It’s hard to embrace change, but I know for me, when I find a way to get faster at my job, I try to take advantage of it. (After all, there are only so many hours in the day, and every hour I waste on manual tasks is one I could be using to help a client.) Sometimes, that means finding a calendar tool the help me speed up the process of booking a meeting. Sometimes, that means using tools like Zapier to automate previously-manual tasks. And in the future, it might mean hiring people to take on work that used to be central to my job.

What are the essential tasks that only we can do, and what are the things that can be automated? At the U.S. Open, I got an answer to that question — and in the end, really liked what I saw.

———

I took that photo at the Angie Kerber-Sloane Stephens match at Louis Armstrong Court.

Finding the Energy (On the Days When You Just Don’t Have It).

Denis Shapovalov pumps his fist after winning a point during his first-round match

I went to the U.S. Open yesterday to watch some first-round tennis matches. If you’ve never been to the U.S. Open, you should really try to go if you can — even if you’re not a tennis fan. The Billie Jean King National Tennis Center is an absolutely spectacular place to spend a late-summer day. Sure, you can go to one of the big courts to see big names — Arthur Ashe Stadium seats nearly 24,000, and it’s where you’ll find stars like Novak Djokovic and Naomi Osaka — or you can check out one of the outer courts, where you’ll catch top 100 players playing for just a few hundred fans. (Yesterday, I watched a matchup of two top 75 talents from the second row. Pretty cool.)

But one of the highlights of the day was watching Denis Shapovalov, the tenth-ranked player in the world. He played at Louis Armstrong, the second-largest stadium on the grounds, in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon. His was the third match on that court that day, and many of the fans who’d come for earlier matches had drifted out to other courts. Shapovalov played a stadium that was less than a third full.

Still, Shapovalov’s a star in the tennis world, and a player who could absolutely make the finals in Queens this week. To win the U.S. Open requires a player to win seven matches, and the men’s matches can last up to five rounds (and can sometimes go as long as four or five hours). Shapovalov couldn’t afford to let his match go long. He needed to dispatch his opponent (Federico Delbonis, the 47th-ranked player in the world) as quickly as possible.

Shapovalov did just that, winning in straight sets (and in less than two hours). But what I found fascinating was the way Shapovalov stayed engaged at every moment in the match. In front a sparse crowd that seemed more interested in checking their phones than watching the match, it would’ve been easy for Shapovalov to lose focus. But without the crowd keep him engaged, Shapovalov found his own ways to bring the energy. After every point he won, he gave a little fist pump. After big shots, he looked over at his box, nodding to them and letting them know that he was locked in. After breaking serve or winning a set, he’d let out a little scream, or a “Let’s go!” A few times, he gestured to the crowd to make noise.

This was the sort of match — against a talented and experienced opponent — where Shapovalov could’ve lost focus for a bit and let the match stretch into a fourth or fifth set. But he simply refused to let himself disengage. He was both player and hype man, never letting his attention drift, even when the crowd’s energy dropped.

I spent the subway ride home thinking about ways to try something similar with my own work. It’s easy for my energy to slip, especially at the end of a long day of calls. Maybe I need to find ways to take small breaks: A walk around the block to reset, or even a few jumping jacks in the ten minutes between calls. Maybe I need to start keeping a gratitude journal, so I can use those few minutes to jot down thoughts about the good that’s come from that day.

But seeing Shapovalov play, I was reminded that to be at the top of my game, I have to find ways to maintain that focus throughout the day — especially when the energy isn’t naturally there.

———

I took that photo of a Shapovalov fist pump during yesterday’s match.

Saying “No” Isn’t Easy.

That photo of a beautiful stop sign in Portugal comes via Kristaps Grundsteins and Unsplash.

I’ve written before about the importance of saying “no,” about how you have to be careful what you choose to work on, and why turning down work is often the right move.

But the truth is: I’m still not very good at saying “no.”

It’s hard to turn down work — especially when it involves projects I’m excited about. It’s hard to turn down revenue for the business. It’s hard to say “no” to people I’d love to work with.

I know that saying “no” is often the right move for me. But it’s still hard to do.

Right now, I’m reading “Eat a Peach,” the memoir from chef David Chang, and he talks often about the pressure of working as a chef — one whose success opened up all sorts of exciting new opportunities for him: Opening new restaurants, writing books, even TV. He writes that at times, he felt like he needed to hit rock bottom before he would be willing to change the way he worked.

“The paradox for the workaholic,” he writes, “is that rock bottom is the top of whatever profession they’re in.”

That line’s stuck with me the past few days. I’m not a celebrity chef, but I’ve been lucky to have had some success — and to have gotten a little publicity — the past few years. I’ve gotten all sorts of interesting new opportunities as my business has grown.

And I’m starting to understand what Chang might have experienced himself. I love to do this work, and if I could say “yes” to every potential client, I would. 

But that’s not an option.

So I need to keep getting better at saying “no.” I need to do it for my family, for my friends, for my business, for my industry — and for myself. Saying “no” is what I need to do make sure I’m prepared to say “yes” to the right opportunities going forward.

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That photo of a beautiful stop sign in Portugal comes via Kristaps Grundsteins and Unsplash.

I Don’t Have a Bag of Magic Beans.

that's a photo of the LOL sign at the BuzzFeed office on 21st Street in New York.

A former BuzzFeed colleague of mine just left a job there for a new role, and we had lunch the other day. She asked me if she should know anything about working at a new job — a real job, where there isn’t a test kitchen and where staff writers don’t wear JNCO jeans as a fashion experiment.

“They’re going to think you have magic beans,” I told her.

She looked at me funny. (And I don’t blame her.) I went on.

“When you leave BuzzFeed for a new company, they’re going to unusually curious about what you’ve learned at BuzzFeed. They might think you know some sort of deep secret of the internet — that someone on the BuzzFeed team, on your first day, gave you the cheat code to unlock all that internet traffic that BuzzFeed gets every day. And they’ll be a little disappointed when they find out that there isn’t a secret to BuzzFeed at all.”

I paused for a second.

“There wasn’t any big secret to BuzzFeed — just a set of lessons that helped us build a platform that readers loved. Remember those lessons: Test out weird ideas. Be willing to look stupid, and be willing to move on when things don’t work. When you get the chance, hire smart, curious people who listen to one another. Make sure you have the tools you need to test out your ideas. Make sure you know what you’re measuring when you do the work.”

She nodded along.

“Just show up and do the work every day,” I reminded her. “I’ll take your work ethic and the lessons you learned from BuzzFeed over a bag of magic beans any day.”

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That’s a photo of a giant LOL sign that hung at the entrance to the BuzzFeed office on 21st Street in New York.