Posts

nomad packing list

I recently wrapped up 18 months of being a nomad. During that time, I lived primarily out of two carry-on bags. Here’s what was in them.

My fully packed Red Oxx Airboss ($275.00) bag weighed in at 22 pounds.

Everything in Red Oxx

It included the following (pictured in the featured image):

  • Homage Zip Hoodie. One of the softest hoodies I’ve ever worn and a main part of my wardrobe. It’s great for fall and spring temperatures, plus air-conditioned summers, and is a nice added layer for really cold winters. $65.00
  • Next Mileskin Jacket. It took me going to Scotland to find a coat that looked good on my slender frame. This is a great winter coat that layers nicely and isn’t too heavy when carrying it. £90.00
  • Tommy Hilfiger Rainwear Jacket (now discontinued?). A very lightweight jacket that repels the rain and can easily be folded or scrunched into a bag. Also makes a decent make-shift pillow.
  • Clarks Leather Sandals. A casual pair of sandals for beach days, laundry days, and quick errands. $29.99
  • Nike Downshifter 6 Running Shoe. $49.94
  • Aldo Men’s Boot (similar to these). The first pair of boots I owned were great but started to fall apart with all of the walking I did, so I switched to a pair of Aldo Men’s boots that are comfortable for most of the day and look nicer than gym shows. $109.95
  • Aldo Edoewin Oxford Dress Shoes. A nice looking pair of dress shoes to go with the navy suit I have for events. $79.95
  • Going in Style Travel Laundry Clothesline. A must-have for drying out clothes in hotels and AirBNBs. $12.95
  • Metolius Carabiner. A carabiner I used for attaching said clothesline to things. $9.95
  • Travelon Inflatable Hanger. For hanging up clothes when a hanger isn’t available; I never used it. $10.00
  • Microfiber Travel Towel. A compact towel that dries quickly. It doesn’t feel nearly as nice as a real towel and can start to smell quickly, but is a must for when you’re crashing somewhere that doesn’t have an extra towel for you. $14.95
  • Parachord Bracelet. A combo chord and whistle; luckily I never had to use it. $8.99
  • Inflatable Neck Pillow. Always better in theory than in practice, I tried using it periodically and never really enjoyed it. I still travel with it just in case. $13.99
  • Bounce Dryer Sheets. These served more than one purpose, including their intended use when drying clothes, but also to prevent shoes from smelling, and to (supposedly) prevent mosquito bites. $15.99 for a big pack you don’t need.
  • Small Lint Roller. Useful for cleaning off hairs and fuzz from your clothes, particularly helpful when you crash at someone’s place who has a cat or dog. $7.99 for 4
  • Uniqlo Men Heattech V Neck T Shirt Long Sleeve. A long sleeve shirt that is thick enough to provide extra warmth but thin enough to be used with other layers. $14.90
  • Woolly Men’s Merino Wool Short Sleeve V-Neck. A staple of any nomad wardrobe is merino wool and this is a cheaper alternative than a lot of other brands. I replaced an Icebreaker shirt that started gaining holes with this one and was happy with it’s performance. It’s odor resistant, easy to wash in the sink, and quick drying. $39.99
  • Icebreaker Men’s Anatomica Short Sleeve V. The second merino wool shirt I bought and worked great in alternating with the other shirt. By switching between the two daily, I could go at least a week between washing if I wanted to. $51.99
  • Uniqlo Men Heattech Tights. Uniqlo calls them tights, I think of them as long underwear, but either way they provide a nice base layer for the legs when the temperature drops below freezing. $14.90
  • Ex-Officio Men’s Give-N-Go Boxer Brief (x3). Another staple of a nomad’s packing list is the underoos. These boxers are odor resistant and quick-drying. With three pairs, you have flexibility and can do your washing every other night. Hang them up while you sleep and you’re good to go in the morning. $14.99 each
  • Darn Tough Men’s Merino Wool No Show Socks (x2). The final staple of the nomad’s wardrobe is socks. These Darn Tough socks work great while wearing tennis shoes. Also odor resistant and quick drying. $15.95 each
  • Darn Tough Men’s Warlock Crew Light Cushion Hiking Socks (x2). A long version of the Darn Tough Merino Wool socks that go great with boots or dress shoes. $19.95 each
  • Suitsupply Sienna Blue Suit. An incredible well-made suit with a tailored fit and a professional look, perfect for the presentations I give and more formal affairs. $599.00
  • Olivers All Over Shorts. Multipurpose shorts that can be used for casual attire, workout shorts, or swim trunks. They’re probably more expensive than what they provide, but nice to cut down on space. $65
  • Uniqlo Slim Fit Straight Leg Jeans. Fashionable jeans that fit well but also stretch when moving around. They aren’t the most rugged–I went through 2.5 pairs during my trip–but there may not be a jean that exists that can survive the wear and tear of nomadic living. The plus is that these are cheaper than alternatives from places like Bonobos. $49.90
  • Adidas Performance Training Pants. Comfortable pants for lounging around or working out in colder temperatures with the added benefit that they are part of the ComedySportz uniform. $29.99
  • J.Crew Slim Washed Shirt (x2). A slim fitting button-down shirt that works great for business casual situations and is part of my standard jeans+button+hoodie look. $19.95 each
  • J.Crew Thompson Dress Shirt (x2). A nicer quality button-front shirt that goes well with a suit. $34.50 each
  • American Apparel 50/50 Crewneck T-Shirt. A casual t-shirt for summer days. $20.00
  • Ohio State Buckeyes Shirt. A casual t-shirt for rooting on the Buckeyes (or showing off Ohio pride). I’m not sure of the price because my mom got it for me.
  • Various Toiletries (see below).

In the Red Oxx Bag was a Tom Bihn Clear Quarter Packing Cube ($32.00).

My Toiletries

I used to used toiletries, including:

  • Travel sizes of: toothpaste, hair gel, shampoo, lotion, sunscreen, body spray, and cortizone.
  • Regular sizes of: bar soap, deodorant, fingernail clippers, cuticle scissors (surprisingly TSA compliant), thermometer, and beard trimmer.
  • A “switchblade” style toothbrush (much better than the ones you put into the long tube).
  • A small plastic soap holder and a small empty spray bottle.

On my back was a Tom Bihn Synapse 25 ($200.00) that carried my electronics along with a few other tools (and snacks!).

Everything in the Backpack

It had:

Check out pictures all of my gear in this Flickr album.

stops on my nomadic journey

Today’s the day. After being a nomad for 550 days, I’m hanging up my traveling shoes and settling back in NYC (Brooklyn to be exact).

From March 1, 2015 to September 1, 2016, I lived out of two bags, traveling the world for work, fun, and selfies. After 18 months, I decided to return to the homeful lifestyle (though I’ll still be traveling quite a bit, including a 3-week stretch that starts in 3 weeks).

To honor the closing of one chapter in my life, I decided to take a quantitative look back at the experience (much like I did when I surpassed 1,000 performances).

Travel by Month

In total, I traveled an estimated 159,023 miles (that’s 255,922 kilometers).

Note: This is only the miles it took to get from one place to another; I didn’t track distance traveled within a destination (such as all the walking I did in Texas when PokemonGo came out).

159,000 miles is the equivalent of roughly 6 trips around the globe (given the Earth’s circumference is measured at 24,874 miles), or one circumnavigation every 3 months.

Mileage by Month

Bar Graph of Mileage by Month

I averaged nearly 8,900 miles per month. A few notes:

  • The most I traveled in 1 month was 28,910 miles in March 2016 (18% of total miles traveled). That involved visiting New York, Madrid, Lisbon, Dallas, Los Angeles, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and San Francisco. 8 major cities in 5 countries in 31 days isn’t bad.
  • The second busiest month of travel was this last month, August 2016, at 12,165 miles, which included trips to London, Edinburgh, Oxford, Chicago, Fort Lauderdale, Cincinnati, and New York.
  • The least I traveled in a month was July 2015 at just 3,240 miles. Even though it was my lowest total, I still hit Cincinnati, Philadelphia, New York, DC, Chicago, and Detroit.

Not all time periods were equal when it came to traveling.

Average Mileage by Quarter

Bar Graph of Average Mileage by Quarter

I definitely traveled the most at the beginning of the year, nearly 50% more than the other quarters. The summer was (barely) my lightest travel time, mostly due to a slowdown in work engagements.

mileage by day of week

Bar Graph of Mileage by Day of Week

Tuesday was by far my busiest travel day at 47,609 miles or 30% of all travel coming on that day. That likely has to do with the fact that flights tend to be cheapest on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

The next busiest was Friday at 28,476 miles (18%). My most relaxed day (at least when it came to travel) was Sunday at 11,084 miles (7%).

Naturally there were ebbs and flows to my travel.

mileage by date

Line Graph of Mileage by Date

The most I ever traveled in one day was 9,130 miles, which included a flight from Singapore to Los Angeles and then on to San Francisco.

I did some form of significant travel on 247 out of the 550 days (45%). On the 303 days I didn’t travel, I often did local trips to restaurants, parks, and theaters, I just didn’t move from one location to another.

A few notes:

  • Over the 550 days, I had 247 stays. 54% of those stays (135 total) were for a single day. 84% were for 3 days or less, 97% were for 7 days or less.
  • The longest I stayed in one place was 18 days, in January 2016, when I stayed at my girlfriend-at-that-time’s (GATT) place in Palo Alto.
  • The most consecutive days I traveled was 17, during my summer 2015 road trip with my brother, when we covered 8,027 miles (6,000 of which were via car), hitting 39 cities in 19 states.

Travel by Location

In those 150,000+ miles I went to a lot of places, including 142 different cities, all 50 states, 14 countries, and 3 continents. (You can check out a list of all the cities if you’re interested.)

All told, I had 609 “visits,” where a visit means I did something in that place, whether it be leading an event, going to a local attraction, or sleeping there (hey, sleeping is something). So if I was driving through and stopped to do a show and then moved on, that was 1 visit. If I stayed in a city for 5 days, that was 5 visits.

table top 10 cities

Table of Top 10 Cities Visited

Despite having left NYC, I still found myself back here quite a bit, thanks in large part to working with companies based here and it being a great launching point for European travels.

The #2 and #3 most popular spots weren’t that surprising, considering my mom lives in Ohio and it gave me a spot to crash when I wasn’t headed somewhere specific, and the Bay Area was where my GATT was and was a potential destination when I decided to stop the nomadism.

On the flipside, I visited 81 cities (57%) just once.

table top 10 states

Table of Top 10 States Visited

The top three states weren’t surprising, considering what I just mentioned about the top cities.

#4 wasn’t a surprise either; my brother lives in Texas and I visited a few times to guest teach his classes, as well as had a couple of events elsewhere in the state. Arizona at #5 seemed high, but it was popular due to conferences and wanting to see the Grand Canyon (which I did twice on these travels).

countries by visits

Table of Countries by Visits

USA! USA! USA! accounted for 89% of my visits. Second was Norway and Singapore where for both I spent 10 days doing events and sightseeing. I was only in Belgium and Malaysia for one night each, still managing to do an event in both.

Travel by Transportation Method

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles isn’t just a 1987 comedy, it was also how I got around during my nomadic journey (plus buses and a ferry).

mileage by transportation

Pie Chart of Mileage by Transportation Method

I took 66 flights (not including layovers), 181 car trips, 47 trains (not including subways), 8 buses, and 1 ferry. A few notes:

  • 72% of distance covered was via flights (114,709 miles). If the average plane speed is 575 miles an hour, that’s 200 hours in a plane, or 8 days. That doesn’t count taxi, take-off, landing, or waiting for the boarding doors to close.
  • 24% of my mileage came by car at 38,936 miles. If I averaged a speed of 60 miles an hour (which is generous considering the amount of time I spent in LA traffic alone), that’s 651 hours, or 27 days, in the car.
  • 3% of travel was by train (or subway) at 4,596 miles, 0.7% by bus (1,077 miles), and 0.00% by ferry (1 trip for 5 miles).
  • My longest flight was 8,800 miles from LAX to SIN (Singapore). My longest car trip (in a day) was 685 miles, driving from St Louis, MO to Burlington, CO (en route to San Francisco).

Travel by Companions

I had the pleasure of seeing and hanging out with hundreds (maybe thousands?) of people throughout my trips. Being nomadic gave me an opportunity to visit friends all over the world, attend a variety of conferences and festivals, and of course meet tons of interesting people along the way.

That said, a majority of my time going from once place to another (e.g. flights) was done alone. 88% of the miles traveled (140,807) were done by myself. As an introvert, I didn’t mind this at all.

5% of travel (7,869 miles) was done with my brother, including our epic road trip in the summer of 2015, and 4% (6,505 miles) were with my GATT, including cross-country drives to and from Palo Alto.

Accommodations by Place

While most of my travel was done on my own, most of my visiting was not. I certainly could not have pulled off this adventure without the help and support of some incredible people.

I mean that on an emotional level, but that’s hard to quantify, so here’s the support some provided on a “you can sleep here” level.

accommodations by nights

Pie Chart of Accommodations by Nights

There were a mix of different types of accommodations, including staying with friends, family, friends of friends (FoF), AirBNB, while in transit, and at my apartment.

Which I guess now is a good time to confess something: though I’m ending my nomadic journey today, I’ve technically had an apartment for about a month. BUT I barely spent time there this last month, which was also my second busiest travel month of the entire experience. Plus 18 months sounds a lot better than 17…

That said, here are a few notes about where I stayed:

  • 38% of my stays (208 nights) were with friends. 86 nights were at my GATT’s place. 28 nights were with my now current roommates, and 25 nights were with my best friend since 7th grade.
  • 32%, or 176 nights, were at hotels. A majority of stays were split at either Wyndham properties (47 nights) or Marriott brands (44 nights).
  • 19% of the time (103 nights), I stayed with family. 72 of those nights (13% of all stays) were at my mom’s. I also stayed with my brother David, my grandma, my cousin Jean, and my cousin Stephanie.
  • 4% of stays (23 nights) were via AirBNB, including 2 nights on a houseboat in Amsterdam.
  • 2% (13 nights) were with friends of friends, including friends through CSz, friend’s parent’s places, and someone’s office.
  • 2% (13 nights) were spent sleeping in transit, including 5 flights, 3 trains, 3 stays in a Walmart parking lot and two different nights in a rest area.

Like I said, I couldn’t have done this alone.

A Few Final Pieces of Data

As of this line, we’re sitting at over 1,400 words for this post, so I’m going to wrap it up. Here are a few random pieces of data that I couldn’t fit anywhere else:

  • I did 151 engagements for work and 136 performances over the 18 months of being a nomad.
  • I traveled with 33 pounds of stuff. On average, I wore 6 pounds worth of clothing, had a backpack with 11 pounds worth of gear, and a carry-on bag of 22 pounds of clothes.
  • I spent $44,000 on travel over the course of the journey, an average of $2400 / month. A lot of that money was reimbursed by clients when they brought me in for various events, the rest was out-of-pocket.
  • On January 1, 2016, after 9 months of traveling (and getting through the holidays), I was statistically the fattest I have ever been. I weighed in at 151 pounds with a 33″ stomach. I’m now back down to 144 pounds with a 32″ stomach.
stops on my nomadic journey

Over the course of 18 months, I went to 142 cities in 50 states, 14 countries, and 3 continents. Here’s the master list of all the places I went.

Bold = when the story takes place for that state with the (#) denoting the order.
Italics = international countries that are outside the scope of the book.

March ’15:

New York, Ohio (1), New York, Switzerland, Italy, France, New York, Virginia (2), Maryland (3), DC, New York

April ’15:

New York, Ohio, New York, Norway, Netherlands, Belgium, New York

May ’15:

Ohio, New York, Massachusetts (4), Vermont (5), Maine (6), Rhode Island (7), New York, Ohio, Tennessee (8), Alabama (9), Mississippi (10), Arkansas (11), Louisiana (12), Alabama, Florida (13), South Carolina (14), Pennsylvania (15), Ohio

June ’15:

Ohio, Illinois, California, Illinois, Iowa (16), Nebraska (17), Kansas (18), Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma (19), New Mexico (20), Colorado (21), Wyoming, Utah, Idaho (22), Montana (23), Wyoming (24), South Dakota (25), North Dakota (26), Minnesota (27), Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio

July ’15:

Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, DC, Pennsylvania, New York, Illinois, Michigan

August ’15: 

Michigan (28), Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, New York, Georgia (29), Texas (30), Arizona (31), Utah, Arizona, California

September ’15:

California, Alaska (32), Canada, Illinois (33)

October ’15:

Illinois, Oregon (34), Washington (35), Ohio, Indiana (36), Ohio, New York, Connecticut (37), New York, New Jersey (38), New York, Ohio, Kentucky (39), Ohio, Canada, New York

November ’15: 

New York (40), California, Nevada, Illinois, Wisconsin (41), Illinois, New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Delaware (42), New York, Ohio, Alabama, Louisiana

December ’15:

Texas, Ohio, New York, Ohio, Missouri (43), Ohio, Missouri, Colorado, Utah (44), Nevada (45)

January ’16:

Nevada, California (46), Georgia, West Virginia (47), North Carolina (48), Georgia, New York

February ’16: 

Maryland (49), New York, Alaska, Hawaii (50)

Note: After I finished all 50 states, I continued to live as nomad until September 1, 2016, going to: California, Illinois, Ohio, New York, Spain, Portugal, Singapore, Malaysia, Arizona, Washington, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Kansas, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Texas, England, Scotland, and Florida.

Nomad City List

Amarillo, TX. Amsterdam, Netherlands. Anaheim, CA. Anchorage, AK. Ann Arbor, MI. Athens, OH. Atlanta, GA. Bakersfield, CA. Baltimore, MD. Bandalier, NM. Barre, VT. Baton Rouge, LA. Berlin, CT. Bessemer, AL. Big Sur, CA. Bismarck, ND. Boston, MA. Bozeman, MT. Brooklyn, NY. Brussels, Belgium. Buffalo, WY. Burlington, CO. Cameron, AZ. Cheyenne, WY. Chicago, IL. College Station, TX. Colorado Springs, CO. Columbia, SC. Columbus, OH. Craters of the Moon, ID. Dallas, TX. Denver, CO. Des Moines, IA. Detroit, MI. Dijon, France. Dillon, SC. Dubois, PA. Durham, NC. Fargo, ND. Flagstaff, AZ. Geneva, Switzerland. Goodland, KS. Grand Canyon North Rim, AZ. Grand Canyon South Rim, AZ. Gulf Shores, AL. Helena, MT. Highland Heights, KY. Hoboken, NJ. Hollywood, FL. Honolulu, HI. Houston, TX. Huntington, WV. Huntsville, AL. Hutchinson, KS. Indianapolis, IN. Jackson, MS. Juneau, AK. Kanab, UT. Kansas City, KS. Kasha Katuew, NM. Kent, OH. Kirkcaldy, Scotland. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Labelle, Canada. Lancaster, PA. Las Vegas, NV. Lincoln, NE. Lisbon, Portugal. Little Rock, AR. London, England. Long Island, NY. Los Angeles, CA. Louisville, KY. Madison, WI. Madrid, Spain. Manchester, NH. Manhattan, KS. Mason, OH. Milan, Italy. Mill Valley, CA. Milwaukee, WI. Minneapolis, MN. Moab, UT. Montreal, Canada. Mt Kisco, NY. Mt Rushmore, SD. Nashville, TN. New Orleans, LA. New York, NY. Newport, RI. Ogden, UT. Oklahoma City, OK. Omaha, NE. Oslo, Norway. Oxford, England. Page, AZ. Palo Alto, CA. Philadelphia, PA. Phoenix, AZ. Pierre, SD. Pikes Peak, CO. Pine Falls, AR. Pocatello, ID. Pomona, CA. Portland, ME. Poughkeepsie, NY. Pringle, SD. Provo, UT. Quad Cities, IL. Queens, NY. Rawlins, WY. Richmond, VA. Rock Springs, WY. Sacramento, CA. Salina, KS. Salt Lake City, UT. San Francisco, CA. Santa Fe, NM. Savannah, GA. Scottsdale, AZ. Seattle, WA. Sedona, AZ. Singapore, Singapore. Somerset, PA. St Louis, MO. Stavanger, Norway. Stevensville, MI. Stuart, IA. Sturbridge, MA. Tarrytown, NY. Topeka, KS. Toronto, Canada. Turin, Italy. Venice, Italy. Washington, DC. Wheaton, MD. White Plains, NY. Williams, AZ. Winnemucca, NV. Yellowstone, WY. Yorklyn, DE. Zion, UT.

Note to future self: I need to visit cities that start with E, U, and X.

returning to nyc

On March 1, 2015, I left NYC to become a nomad. On September 1, 2016, I’ll be returning to NYC to stop being a nomad.

Over these 18 months as a nomad, I’ve traveled to all 50 states, 14 countries, and 3 continents. And I’ve spent 114 nights in the city that never sleeps (often times very much sleeping).

Returning to my former home of seven years was never a foregone conclusion, I anticipated that the allure of warmer weather would draw me to the west coast. But then fate stepped in. And by fate, I mean chance and choice.

During a recent trip back to the city, I visited Brady, Ian, and Matt, three fellow OSU / 8th Floor alumni, and friends who have hosted me countful times (28 to be exact) while nomadding. They just moved into a four bedroom apartment in Brooklyn with another friend from comedy, who stayed a whole month before promptly getting a writing job in LA.

So, they were in need of a roommate. I was in need of a room. Fate? No, but it sure was convenient.

And that’s basically the reason. I mean, yes, I had already done my research and had narrowed my eventual destination to NYC, SF, or LA, and yes, NYC is a great choice for professional, comedic, and personal reasons, and no, it has nothing to do with the fact that Chick Fil A is now in the city.

It really comes down to the fact that moving back to NYC means: I don’t have to find an apartment, I don’t have to research a neighborhood, and I don’t have to figure out roommates. Plus I get to live with three hilarious dudes who root for the Buckeyes (both the OSU athletic team and the delicious chocolate / peanut butter treats).

I look forward to eating $1 pizza and $15 milkshakes, seeing beautiful skylines and ugly subway stations,  interacting with passionate people and aggressive jerks, and using efficient grid layouts and streets that smell like trash in the summer.

All that’s left to do is load up my New York playlist. (And complete the lease paperwork, rent a car, drive to Ohio, remove my stuff from storage, load the car, drive back to New York, unload the car, go to Ikea, buy Lincoln Log-esque furniture, return to the apartment, put it all together, return the car, and take the subway home).

In my 1,000th performance in my 50th state on my 32nd birthday, I shared the journey of what it was like to live as a nomad, why I did it, and what I learned from the experience.

A big shout-out to Civil Beat in Honolulu for letting me tell this story and for putting on an incredible storytelling event.

To learn more about the journey, check out my other travel posts.

walmart parking lot

11 May 2015. Somewhere outside of Portland, ME

I awoke at 06:30 in the morning. It wasn’t the most restful sleep I’d ever had, but that’s somewhat expected when you are sleeping in a Walmart parking lot in a Ford Fiesta.

I had done a standup show in Montpelier, VT the night before and had driven through state of New Hampshire on my way to Maine, and decided to stay the night in my rental car. I certainly could have gotten a hotel room, but I was curious about what the “car in a parking lot” experience was like. That and it did save me a bit of money.

I had done a little bit of research online before attempting the non-luxurious slumber, at least enough to learn that Walmarts were among the most popular car-sleeping destinations. They’re typically a safe spot to set up car camp as they’re regularly patrolled and have a policy that allows for overnight stays.

Despite my research, I had made a couple of rookie mistakes, the biggest being that I had forgotten to confirm that the Walmart was of the 24 hour variety. This one wasn’t.

I had been surprisingly productive before going to bed. Thanks to the mobile hotspot on my T-Mobile plan, I was able to send emails and catch up on a few things that I’d missed during the day because of all of the driving.

Around midnight, I looked up for my work just in time to see some employees locking the front doors to customers. I hadn’t brushed my teeth yet and needed to use the bathroom, so I had to start the car and find a nearby gas station.

Once arriving at the gas station I decided to skip the “brushing my teeth part” for the night as it somehow felt dirtier to open my mouth in the bathroom than just letting the night go by without a rinse.

I finished up and headed back to the Walmart parking lot, trying to find a spot that was reasonably away from other vehicles, not too directly under a light, but also not so far away that it was easily accessed by creatures of the night.

I had woken up a few times in the night to turn the car on briefly to get the air going a little bit, crack the window some, change positions, use my hoodie as a blanket, throw it off as a blanket, try it as a pillow, try other things as a pillow, etc. But in between those moments I actually got some rest. Again, not the most restful of sleeps but it did seem to suffice.

In the morning, as the sun shined through the windows, I awoke. I got out of my car/hotel room and made my way into the now open Walmart so I could brush my teeth, go to the bathroom, and grab a box a Pop Tarts for breakfast.

brussels shopping center

25 April 2015. Brussels, Belgium

I cringed slightly as I took the picture. Up until that point, it was the creepiest picture I had ever taken. Sadly, in less than an hour, it was going to become the second creepiest picture I had every taken.

The picture was of Manneken Pis. I was in Brussels and my companion, friend, and tour guide, Sebastian, a fellow 8th Floor alumni, was showing me around his city.

As we walked around the downtown area, Sebastien shared with me what he had learned in the two years that he had lived in Belgium.

Neither French Nor Freedom Fries

He shared the various Belgian foods that were popular: beer, chocolate, waffles, and my favorite, French Fries. Although to call them French Fries in Belgium is quite insulting.

I was told that fries were invented in Belgium, and it’s clear that today they are still a big part of their culture, with their tiny forks and myriad of dipping sauces to choose from.

The story goes that, during World War II, American soldiers came to Belgium and fell in love with the fries.

However, the Americans weren’t very good at geography, so they assumed that because the Belgians were speaking French, they must be in France. And thus upon their return to the states, referred to the delicious potato treats as French Fries… something the Belgians have not yet forgotten.

Maury Povich of Statues

Brussels BuildingAnother great story, though one likely made up by high school students, was that of a series of statues in one of the squares. 

There, atop one of the buildings, is a statue of a woman holding a baby, but instead of looking at the baby, the woman is looking at another statue.

Supposedly, she is looking at the other statue, that of a man, as if to say, “you are the father of this baby.” That statue, however, is pointing to a third statue, as if to say, “No, he is the father.” Statue #3 is pointing to a fourth statue, who’s looking down, to say, “Yes, he is in fact, the father.

At this point, I started to wonder how true these stories actually were, but ultimately didn’t care as they were thoroughly entertaining.

The Story of the Weird Statue

However, my favorite story brings us back to Manneken Pis and the awkward picture I had just taken.

The great story attempts to answer the question: how did a 3-foot bronze statue of a little boy peeing become the icon of an entire city?

And when I say little boy, I mean little. Not a 10-year-old but a 4- or 5-year-old. And when I say icon, I mean it’s a place where tourists flock with their selfie sticks to take pictures of themselves with a boy peeing in the background.

Mannekin Pis

I don’t know if that just speaks to the uniqueness of the statue or perhaps people’s lack of imagination for other things to do in Brussels, but alas, here I was still in front of the peeing boy, still taking a picture.

The reason for the iconic statue isn’t exactly known, but there are plenty of stories to say why it’s so important, and that’s what I love about the statue.

Some stories are more mundane, such as a witch found the boy peeing on her property so she turned him into a statue, or a father, who had lost his son, promised to erect a statue of his boy in whatever pose he found him in.

There were also a number of stories turning the boy into a hero. One story suggests that the statue was meant to honor a boy who had discovered an effective way of warding off enemy soldiers: by standing in a tree and peeing down on them. Another said that there was a bomb in the city and the little boy had peed on the fuse to prevent it from going off.

But my favorite story was a little bit more elaborate. It claims that there was a great fire way-back-when in Brussels that tragically happened during a great drought. The townspeople didn’t have any water and so they had no way to put the fire out. The town was doomed… until this little boy decided to put the fire out by peeing on it.

Now of course the boy didn’t have enough pee to put the whole thing out, duh, so he had to constantly drink beer so that he could maintain a steady stream to extinguish the fire.

Not only is it a hero story but also one that includes the Belgian beer.

One other great tidbit about the statue is that at one point, French soldiers stole the statue from the town. Later, Louis XVI decided to give the statue back, and as a way to apologize, gave the statue a metal honor. Meaning, anytime a French soldier passes the statue of the little boy peeing, they must give it a salute.

But alas, the tale does end there. For the last stop on our tour of downtown Brussels was where I took the new creepiest picture I had taken, of yet another statue.

This statue depicted a little girl peeing in a squatting stance, weirdly behind a fenced-in area. It was a companion piece to Manneken Pis, but for obvious reasons, wasn’t nearly as popular. It also sadly didn’t have any cool stories to go along with it, other than, “I guess we should make a girl one too?”

Jeanneke Pis (and the Weirdest Picture I've Ever Taken)

amsterdam canal at night

25 April 2015. Amsterdam, Netherlands

My boots landed with a heavy thud as I ran down the Amsterdam street. With every step I took, every move I made, I was missing Biggie Smalls… but also making my way closer to Central Station in Amsterdam.

I had just finished a standup show at Boom Chicago in Amsterdam. It had gone really well; the audience was a mix of expats and Dutch people and they had enjoyed my nerdy brand of humor. I had spent much of the time after the show conversing with people and talking with a few booking agents about possibly coming back to Europe to do more shows.

Those conversations delayed me till after midnight and I was now 12 minutes away from Central Station with the next train leaving in 10 minutes. If I missed the train, I was spending the next 90 minutes or so in Central Station waiting for the train to Utrecht.

I was staying in the Amsterdam suburb because I had discovered on AirBNB there was a houseboat that I could stay on, and I figured if I’m in Amsterdam, why stay in a regular hotel when I can stay on a boat in a canal.

The houseboat itself had been really nice, the bed was small but the shower was surprisingly bigger than the showers I experienced in other spots in Europe so far. The problem with the boat was that it was 40 minute train ride from Amsterdam Central Station, and and even longer wait if I missed the next train.

So my boots hit heavy on the ground as I continued to make my way towards the station.

As I ran, I’d take a few pauses to cross streets against the traffic lights. Not to avoid cars but to avoid getting hit by one of the way too many bikes that were still out on the street even though it was after midnight.

The number of bikes in Amsterdam was crazy. Everything that people normally do walking, people in Amsterdam do while cycling: hold hands, carry umbrellas, take up too much space on the sidewalk. Everything.

So I made sure I was cautious in my hurried movements. At one point, I noticed a nice picturesque view of a canal. It was my first night in Amsterdam so I stopped to take a picture, thinking that even if I miss the train, it was probably worth capturing the moment. Maybe (said picture is at the top of this post).

I then picked up the pace on my jog the Central Station, arriving with two minutes to spare but still in need of getting a train ticket. Luckily I had been in the train station quite a few times and knew the process, but as I arrived, I saw only crowded ticket kiosks.

I decided to take a calculated risk and got on the train, sans ticket (sorry, Mom). In my previous trip from Central Station to Utrecht, no one ever checked my ticket. And I figured that if I was caught, I could plead ignorance as a dumb American and hopefully get by with puppy dog eyes.

Fortunately I didn’t have to use these lyin’ eyes as I made it all the way to Utrecht without incident. I had successfully left Boom, crossed a bridge, and made it to the boat.