Transcripts > The Tim Ferriss Show > Cool Tools for Travel – Tim Ferriss and Kevin Kelly
Hello, boys and girls. This is Tim Ferriss and welcome to another episode of The Tim Ferriss Show where it is my job to typically interview world class performers from all different domains whether that be sports, military, business, chess or otherwise to tease out routines, habits, et cetera that you can apply and test in your own life. This episode is a joint episode with Kevin Kelly, one of my favorite people on the planet. You can say hi to him on Twitter @Kevin2Kelly or go to kk.org to see his writing. Among others, 1,000 True Fans, perhaps the essay I’ve recommended the most in the world to the most audiences.
Now, Kevin might be the real life most interesting man in the world. He sports an Amish beard. He built his own house. He spends many months of the year traveling all over, and I’ve always wanted to travel with him. We recently have the chance to head to Uzbekistan together, and I jumped at the opportunity. This episode covers some of our favorite travel tools.
Who’s Kevin? He is Senior Maverick at Wired Magazine which he co-founded in 1993. He also co-founded the All Species Foundation, a nonprofit aimed cataloging and identifying every living species on earth. It’s not a joke. In his spare time, he writes bestselling books, co-founded The Rosetta Project, which is building an archive of all documented human languages, and serves on the board of The Long Now Foundation. As part of the last, he’s investigating how to revive and restore endangered or extinct species including the woolly mammoth. I guess that would not be part of the last… It’d be part of the All Species Foundation, but you get the idea. He’s a busy, busy dude. He’s newest critically acclaimed book is The Inevitable. That is the title. Subtitle: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future.
As journalist David Pogue has said of Kevin, “Anyone can claim to be a prophet, a fortuneteller or a futurist and plenty of people do. What makes Kevin Kelly different is that he’s right. He has an impeccable track record.”
This episode covers quite a bit of cool stuff, all very actionable. I hope you guys enjoy it. We had a blast recording it in the back of a car in the mountains, and I will let Kevin get to it. This is also being simultaneously published on his Cool Tools podcast, which you guys should check out and you can find it at kk.org. Enjoy.
Hi, this is Kevin Kelly. I’m sitting in the back of a car, crossing a mountain pass about 2,000 meters in the Tian Shan mountains in Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan is a Central Asian country that’s generally south of Russia, north of Afghanistan and next to all the other -stans like Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan. Sitting next to me as we cross the mountains is Tim Ferriss, the legendary exploiter and explainer of world class performances, and we’re going to do a joint recording. Tim is going to tell us about his favorite four cool tools, and we’ll find out what he’s up to lately. Tim, why don’t you tell us about your first cool tool.
Okay. The first cool tool ever … Sitting in the back here, we have bags around us, bottles of water, a bunch of different gadgets and objects piled in my lap. The first that I can talk about is actually in my other piece of luggage. I don’t have any checked luggage, and it is a jacket that I roll up and travel with constantly. It’s from a brand called Nau, N-A-U. I believe it’s based in Portland, and you can think of it as a blazer or a riding jacket. What makes it unique is a number of different factors. A, you can roll it up and throw it onto, say, a black T-shirt and you look like you’re ready for a business dinner, or a formal, or semi-formal occasion so it saves me the trouble of packing a lot of collared shirts, for instance.
There are collared shirts that don’t wrinkle but they do take up more space than, say, a black T-shirt. This Nau, it could be … I have several different models at home weather-resistant. Of course, it was designed in the Pacific Northwest. You would expect that. It comes in handy. That would be my first cool tool. Plenty of pockets but there are lapels so you can get away with murder. You could wear it in a light rain or you could wear it at a nice dinner, and it is an incredibly flexible piece of clothing.
One of the hazards for me anyway, if I try to roll up a jacket, I never quite get the wrinkles out. No iron shits, you can hang in your hot shower and it will go dissipate. How does this work in terms of unwrinkling it or does it just magically unwrinkle?
This particular jacket has a number of features I think that disguise wrinkles. There’s also just the material side aspect. The fabric blends that are used tend not to wrinkle, number one. Number two, it has folds, and pockets, and lapels that for whatever reason make any wrinkles less noticeable. Then there’s the collar. If you want to avoid problems with wrinkles generally, at least in my experience, you want darker clothing so that under light you’re not having shadows cast across or beneath the wrinkles. This is a charcoal color jacket.
It’s like your typical suit jacket length or is more like a outdoor jacket at the waist?
I would say typical dinner jacket length so it’s not getting cut off. It doesn’t show any midriff. For those of you looking for that, you’re out of luck. You’d be able to see your belt if it were unbottoned in the front.
Right. That’s very lightweight and tell the readers about how big it compresses into.
If you were to roll it up well, and if you want to know how to roll up a jacket like that well, you could actually go online and look at how, say, a judo uniform is folded. If you roll it up well, you are looking at, let’s just say, the bottom three-quarters, meaning it will cover the very bottom fabric of a standard sized school backpack. We’re not talking about a hiker’s backpack. If I’d estimate, I would say we’re looking at … I get it down to about a roll that is 10 inches in length and about three to four inches in diameter.
That’s very impressive. I carry a lightweight down jacket that compresses into something very small but it’s certainly not as fancy or suitable for dinner jacket like yours is.
A couple of other tips for folks, and I’m by no means a hyper minimalist, say, Appalachian Trail hiker, anything like that, but I also have, for instance, a synthetic because I don’t want to lose the insulating ability. If it gets wet, I have a synthetic down vest that is also stuffed into this backpack which I can put on top of that fancy looking jacket in the case that I need more warmth.
That’s brilliant. That’s a brilliant hack. Again, that’s called the Nau jacket.
Nau, okay. Approximately, what’s it cost? Just give me a range.
That’s a really good question. I bought it a long time ago. It’s not cheap but then again if you’re comparing it to any type of dinner jacket or outdoor jacket, it’s not horribly expensive. I’d say it’s in the 150 to 350 range if I had to guess.
Good. That’s fantastic. What else do you have in your backpack which is stuffed here in the back of our car right now?
In my bag of tricks, I have a a Logitech Bluetooth keyboard. And, just to put this in perspective, it’s slightly larger than, say, a paperback book like a five by eight inch trim paperback book. It is narrow enough that I will very often stick it into a journal to protect it meaning it’s probably the width of 8 to 10 paperback pages, and it holds the charge very, very well so I use this often times. If I have any issue with my laptop, I can pair it to my iPhone, which is a larger sized iPhone, and balance the iPhone or lean it against, say, a glass of iced tea, and I can get any type of writing done that I need to get done.
Also, if I feel like taking a day trip but not taking this backpack, which is one of my main pieces of luggage and stuffed full of stuff, it’s kind of heavy, I can take the keyboard and my iPhone and head off to some coffee shop, say, 10, 15 minutes away without carrying all of my gear with me.
I’m going to try to describe this a little bit further. It’s very, very thin and very lightweight. It feels like it’s made out of aluminum and it has a matte texture, matte finish on it. It feels very velvety and it’s mostly charcoal color with white letters. This would serve as a keyboard with a phone. The keyboard itself is pretty large in terms of your finger space, and so there’d be no cramping. That is really cool.
Yeah. It’s a great device. I’ve had this now for, I would say two years, and I’ve never had a technical fail.
As a form of backup, I find it to be very cheap insurance. As you can see in person, this is lightweight enough that I’m not going to get scoliosis for having this as an additional piece of gear.
I just stick it into a large format journal or even a magazine and I can travel with it.
Yeah. That’s really cool. It pairs up through Bluetooth I imagine, right?
Right. You can pair it up to an iPad if you wanted to as well as a phone, if you happen to carrying one.
Yeah. What’s that called again?
This is a Logitech Bluetooth keyboard.
We’ll put the exact model in the show notes for everybody.
Next up we have … These all travel together. I very rarely take these out of my backpack in this case. This is Mack’s silicone ear plugs, which unlike foam earplugs are not inserted into the ear canal and then left to expand. These are effectively smeared over the ear opening, and you have in all caps, “Do not insert. Just cover ear opening.”
These I found through swimmers in fact, and they are very waxy and almost look like candies, some type of caramel but they’re white-colored. I find them to block sound much more effectively than any type of foam earplug, although there are some good ones on the market, to be sure.
Do you use them just once or can they be reused or recycled or they last a little bit then they get grungy? What’s their use?
I definitely reuse these. I would say, if I had to guesstimate, I would say four to five nights and then they start to lose their adherence.
They get less tacky over time. The most important feature or benefit that I don’t want to overlook is that as someone who tends to rotate from back to side, so I sleep on my back and on my side, foam earplugs will very often hurt. They will get pushed into your ear when you roll onto your side. That is not the case with these.
For side sleepers these are a real cool tool, because they allow you to sleep on your side while you have these earplugs in.
Definitely. Even as someone who kind of tosses and turns in my case, I don’t tend to wake up on my side but I’m constantly going on to my side and foam earplugs often will wake me up.
Okay, cool. Is this mostly just used for sleeping or do you use these for other sorts of sound abatement?
These earplugs live in each of my bags that I tend to travel with. I have redundant caches of earplugs; one in this bag, one in my other bag, and sometimes I’ll even have them in jackets.
Mostly for sleeping?
Mostly for sleeping, definitely.
For sitting on an airplane and you’re trying to read and just want to drown out the sound?
Then you could use them as well, for sure. Or you’re swimming and you want to avoid swimmer’s ear.
Swimmers, right. What’s your fourth cool tool?
My fourth cool tool, and I might go over slightly here, but my fourth cool tool is a neck pillow.
I want one of those.
It’s the size of, I don’t know what you’d call that.
A cantaloupe, like a small cantaloupe or a large grapefruit. You can certainly compress it more. The actual bag that it comes in allows you to wrap it up and then compress it down to a smaller size. It is just a very nice in essence memory foam neck pillow that also clips in the front.
What I’ve found is, not only does it help me sleep if I’m sitting upright, but it’s also very, very helpful for getting to sleep when I’m laying prone whether it’s on an airplane or even in a hotel room if the pillows are of dubious quality.
Do you have to inflate this with pumping air in, blowing air into it, or is it self expanding?
It’s self expanding. You can think of it almost like a sponge-like material that you can compress down. Then when you release it, it expands automatically.
Is it one of those horseshoe shaped items or is it just a little wedge that sits behind your neck?
It is a horseshoe shaped, if you imagine a horseshoe being hung around the back of your neck, that is the shape. It can clip in the front. The design is such that there is a ridge that supports basically the occipital area at the base of the skull.
It’s very ergonomic in that sense.
It is. It’s the most comfortable neck pillow that I have found.
It’s pretty light. It’s a little bulky, but it’s pretty light.
It’s light and as far as neck pillows go, not very bulky at all. If you’re going to have a neck pillow, generally speaking in my experience at least, it’s going to be inflatable and quite uncomfortable or you’re going to end up with this type of compromise. This is the best I’ve found.
It could pretty easily disappear into a day pack.
I think it absolutely could. Certainly, if you wanted you can lash this to the outside of a pack. I happen to have enough space in my bag so I include it, but you could lash it or hang it on the outside.
Okay. Sometimes you have the privilege of flying first class and you can lay down. Other times, if you’re stuck in economy then you really need one of these things to sleep in a seat.
Yeah, I do at least. The last thing I’ll mention and then I want to ask you about an app that you have which is very, very different… So an app that I use a lot when I’m traveling and I use it at home as well is called Apnea Trainer. I don’t use it for its intended use, I have an off label use. Apnea Trainer is used by people who are training for free diving and want to improve their breath hold times.
There are different types of tempos that you can use for different types of training. There’s pranayama breathing. There is the apnea breathing which would be a ratio of inhale, hold, exhale or inhale, hold, exhale, hold. You might have something like five seconds in, twenty second hold, ten second exhale. It’s a 1:4:2 ratio.
What I’ve found is if I only have 5-10 minutes and I don’t have time for my usual morning meditation which I like to do, which is generally something like transcendental meditation for 20 minutes. That 5-10 minutes, or 5 minutes let’s just say, of breathing training with a voice that will count down for you is very much grounding for the rest of the day.
It’s kind of like a substitute to meditation because you’re focused on your breath, you’re focused on kind of holding your breath not just sort of breathing regularly?
That’s right. I would say it is meditation, but it’s a guided breathing meditation that has the side effect of performance enhancement if that’s what you’re going for.
Obviously I’m not a doctor, I don’t play one the internet. People who are listening, especially you crazy haphazard males, do not use this right before you go into the water and don’t try to break any personal records holding your breath without very, very qualified supervision. You can die with shallow water blackouts and other issues. I use this just as a kickstart to my day.
You’re sitting maybe in a position or something, the worst that could happen is you’d fall over.
That’s right. I’m just sitting on a hotel bed or a hotel couch generally.
That’s super. That’s called again?
Apnea Trainer. What is the app that you have on your phone that you were showing me earlier today?
I have a little tiny app on my iPhone, I think it’s on Android as well, actually I know it is. It’s called My Tracks and what it does is it makes a GPS log for our travel, wherever you’re going. The important thing is it does it without having to have cellular service somewhere. In these foreign countries I don’t normally turn my cell phone service off, but it’s still getting GPS signals. Just with that information is enough to create a GPS log of a journey.
The advantage to that is one, you have a record of your journey that you can input into Google Earth just with a KML format. More importantly, if you have a camera that has a clock in it as they all do these days, you can synchronize your clock to the local time. You’ll have a way to timestamp and geotag your photographs, so the software will look at the timestamp for a particular photograph and then it will show you the exact coordinates where that photograph was taken so I don’t have to remember, “Where was I when I took that photograph?” I can just import that into Lightroom or something and it’s going to show me the geographical locations for everyone of my photographs.
I found this fascinating and it also begged the question for me, lets just say you’re going on an excursion through the Grand Canyon or going on an extended trip overseas. Is there a potential safety element where that data could be then pinged back to some type of service that can monitor your last known whereabouts if you go MIA, which if you are a developer of this app or know the developer, we’d love to know the answer or if there’s something similar that’s available, but I thought that was a very, very cool app.
That would be really cool if you could livestream basically your location to permitted interested parties. I would just have to imagine that there would be an app that did that somewhere.
Yeah, you would think there must be one available somewhere. One other cool tool that you have, which is more common here than I would have expected, but in retrospect I shouldn’t be surprised. It is very, very hot here. It can get very, very hot and the sun is extremely powerful to the extent that we visited a solar furnace not long ago that could be used to melt various objects at absurdly high temperatures.
3,000 degrees Centigrade.
Yeah exactly. You have, well our esteemed guide has an umbrella. Smart move to create shade wherever he wants it. You have an umbrella, but you made a modification to your umbrella.
Yeah, so I just had an ordinary, cheap, Chinese, black, really compact umbrella that I carry in my little camera bag all the time, and I spray painted the top of it silver so that it reflects the light and it makes it a little bit cooler on the inside because just with a black umbrella, it tends to absorb that infrared and reradiate it back down on your head. Having a silver reflective layer bounces at least 60% of that back into the sky. It’s a lot cooler. There are versions of the silver umbrella that are extremely lightweight. They’re not as collapsible as the ones I have, but they’re made for hiking.
I think there’s called like the Silver Dome, if I’m not mistaken, and they weigh only a few ounces and people out West if you’re climbing even at the high altitudes, a lot of the long distance hikers now carry an umbrella, portable shade, and they walk along under the shade. The shade follows them, and it really makes a huge difference when you’re backpacking because you can really work up a sweat and a hat doesn’t allow your head to cool off but the umbrella does.
Yeah, so I’ve umbrella envy since I landed on this trip, and Kevin, I’ve had so much fun. I’ve wanted to travel with you for ages overseas and here we are, so I’m really glad that it came together.
Yeah, and Tim, thanks for your great cool tool reviews, and where can people who’ve never heard of Tim Ferriss find out what you’re up to? By the way, what are up to next?
Up to next. Well I have a new TED Talk that should be coming out shortly. Very personal and talks about fighting off the dark moments, overcoming self-doubt and so on, so it’s a very personal journey through how to overcome some of those darker and even dangerous moments.
Yeah, if people search Tim Ferriss TED Talk that will be able to find at least one, potentially two if including the new one, and I’ll be giving away several hundred pages of my favorite Stoic writing along with modern essays that I’ve added in and new artwork and original commissioned illustrations and calligraphy, all sorts of fun stuff. I’ll be giving all that way away for free in three volumes called the Tao of Seneca. So people can just search the Tao of Seneca, free book, they should be able to also find it on Amazon, and that should be available I would say in early to mid-June.
That’s going to be orderable on Amazon and on your website?
Should be available on Amazon. Should be available via PDF. I’m just going to unleash it into the wild, and they can certainly go to tim.blog to find everything related to the project that I’ll have to as well as those e-books and PDFs and everything else.
Oh, blog. Okay tim.blog.
Yeah, tim.blog. It’s a lot easier to spell than the previous URLs, and Kevin, for people who don’t know how to find you and want to learn more, where can they find you?
Did you say KK.pork?
I’m just kidding.
It’s the air pressure. Our ears are not working.
Anything that you’re working on that you’d like people to check out?
Well, I have the paperback version of my book The Inevitable, which is being launched in June. It’s preorder for 12 bucks. It’s cheaper than printing it out yourself, so go there at Amazon and in June I’ll be talking a little bit more about the updated version, which is not updated, so I haven’t changed my mind about anything in the last 12 months about the coming 20 years, so I stand by everything I said. Now it’s in paperback.
Well thank you, Kevin, and we’ve many adventures ahead.
So you have another cool tool to talk about, in fact it’s kind of like just about in my mouth. It’s up against my face. Tell me, what is this thing?
I get that response a lot. This is the Yellowtec iXm microphone, and I travel with this almost always. It is … Let’s see. What would you compare this to? I would say if you took six D batteries and laid them end-to-end perhaps-
It’s like an old-fashioned flashlight.
Yeah, or an old-fashioned flashlight. This is a microphone that can capture just tremendous quality of audio. It automatically equalizes, and it has playback buttons on the side. It all records to an SD card that’s inserted in the bottom, and it’s battery powered so that you can take it on the road. Everything is contained and housed in this one unit that then goes in a tiny zip up bag, so this just lives really inside my backpack, so if I don’t have a chance to bring more gear or don’t want to bring more gear, I can use this at anytime, anywhere, and shazam.
So you might record an introduction to one of your podcasts from the back of car going over the mountain pass in Uzbekistan, right, and so you’d be able to just pull it out and record it, and it would have as good a quality as any real digital studio might.
It very often does. I’ve recorded podcast intros in airplane bathrooms before, which is certainly not ideal, but you can really get away with murder with this device and it makes up for a lot of environmental factors that could otherwise really screw things up. Also, if you’re on the move and you happen to, say, bump into someone who is fascinating in my case, and I say, “Would you mind if I ask you just a few questions,” and they’re up for it, you can really on the drop of a dime capture these moments that would otherwise be lost.
Just to emphasize, this is a microphone that has a built-in recording device into the handle of it so it’s all in one. It’s more than a microphone. It’s a digital recording device built into a microphone.
That’s right, and then when I’m done recording, I would pop out this SD card, I would slap it into a laptop when I have access to one, and drop the file then into a Dropbox folder, which would sync at the first opportunity to connect to WiFi, and then that is available to my team. So, I could send a link to that Dropbox through Slack to my team and off to the races. They have the interview files. They have the intro files, whatever it might be, and then it can all be polished for publication.
So it’s in some kind of a way, except for the ambient sound, it’s a portable recording studio.
Oh it absolutely is a portable recording studio, and I think that some of my best audio that has appeared, say, on the podcast has come from this mic and people find it hard to believe because they’ll ask which studio I use in San Francisco, and I’ll say, “My bedroom and a handheld mic. That’s my studio.”
That’s really great. It’s a really cool tool. Tim, can you give me kind of a range of the price just so we have some idea. We’ll have show notes about the actual particular model, but just give a little bit of a range.
Yeah, if I had to guess on this … It’s been a long time since I looked at the pricing, but I would say it’s somewhere between $400 and $700. It’s not cheap, but when I consider the alternatives, let’s just say the H6 Zoom, which is the general recorder that I use with the XLR cables and the stage mics and everything else involved, you’re getting into a similar price range or above. This just offers a lot more convenience in terms of its form factor.
I have to tell you, Tim travels light. He’s not an ultralight traveler, but a very lightweight traveler with very minimal bags. This is one of the things in your pack, so it’s very impressive that it’s light enough, small enough, that even when you’re not packing much else, you can fit this into, even if you are a very weight-conscious traveler.
Definitely, and I mean there are other alternatives. I mean I had enough space to pack also a Rode i-XY microphone, which is intended to be connected via Lightning port to, say, an iPhone, so I am testing different alternatives to compare sound quality, but thus far the Yellowtec iXm has not let me down, so I’ll continue using it until I find a superior solutions.
Definitely a cool tool. Thanks.