Sunday, September 17, 2017

Bus, Train, or Plane - Go Euro

I've been living in Germany for about 2 years now and have had a lot of fun exploring Germany and other surrounding European countries. One of the biggest expenses of traveling are the transportation costs. Fortunately, Europe is densely populated with amazing sights to see in a much smaller geographic area (compared to Canada). There are numerous travel options available, but sometimes the choices can be a bit overwhelming. I've listed the main options that I've used since moving to Europe, from most affordable to priciest.

Long distance buses are relatively new to Germany because trains used to have a monopoly on city-to-city travel. Now there are a lot of options available, like FLiX Bus and Dein Bus. This is by far the least expensive way to get around and most buses are equipped with WiFi. The downside is that the buses can sometimes be delayed and the spaces are a bit tight.

Train is my favourite way of getting around. There is more space than the bus and it's easier to walk around (some trains have dining cars too). The downside is that trains can be slightly more expensive than buses, but are usually less expensive than flying.

Train stations are usually located in the city center, as opposed to airports which are located in the outskirts of the city, which means you don't need additional transportation to get to the city. In addition, there isn't the hassle of security for riding the train. So when you add up the extra commuting time to get to the airport, plus security and commuting to your final destination after arriving at the airport, you can easily shave off two or more hours of commuting by taking the train.

 In Germany, there are a few discount train options available. There is the 'happy weekend ticket' (Schönes-Wochenende-Ticket) which you can only purchase on Saturday and Sunday for €40 (plus €4 for each additional passenger, up to a maximum of 4). This ticket allows you to travel anywhere in Germany by train for the day.  Sounds great, but you cannot use the high-speed train services, which means that it will take a lot of transfers and time if you want to go far (i.e. Stuttgart to Hamburg). Nonetheless, this ticket is great value, since it also gives you the flexibility to hop-on and off the train for the whole day.

Also, there are regional day tickets which are not restricted to the weekends, but only allow you to travel within one or a group of neighbouring sates. For instance the Baden-Wüttemberg ticket allows you to travel on all local train services within  Baden-Wüttemberg for the day. The cost is €23, plus €5 for each additional passenger, up to a maximum of 4.

Plane is the fastest long-distance (> 300 km) travel option. One of the lowest cost carriers in Europe is Ryan Air, which can actually be cheaper than the train in some cases. However, their travel routes are limited. To find what the best combination of travel method is for you, I've found a website that compares the three main travel methods, finding the optimal combination based on time and price: Go Euro.

If you're in Tübingen, don't forget to say hello!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

5 Tips from the 4-Hour Workweek

I recently stumbled upon a series of YouTube book summaries by Clark Kegley. Clark does a great job of distilling (self-help) books down to a few useful tips that you can apply to your everyday life. Although not a substitute for actually reading,  these book summary videos can be a useful tool to help recall important tips from the book. Here are my top 5 tips from Tim Ferriss's 'The 4-Hour Workweek':

1) The 3 currencies of life: time, energy and money
When you're young you have a lot of time and energy, but usually you lack money. When you're an adult usually you have energy and money, but you don't have time because you're working. Finally, when you reach old age, you have time and money, but you no longer have energy.

The important point here is not to value life by a single currency (money), but instead see that life is made up of multiple currencies. With this concept you can try to manage, leverage, and exchange these currencies throughout different stages of your life.

2) Four W's of Freedom: who, what, where, when
Money is no longer the yard stick that defines being rich, instead it's freedom. What does freedom mean? Freedom can be defined as having control over the four W's:

Who - choosing to work with people you like and respect
What - choosing to do the work that interests you
Where - choosing to work from your desired location
When - working at the time you choose

The more W's you control the more free you are. In most cases having more money could give you control of more W's. However, depending on your work, more money may not help. Regardless, it's important to recognize that these factors influence your freedom and that you may be able to come up with creative ways to control more W's in your life (e.g. be a freelance copywriter).

3) DEAL: define, eliminate, automate, liberate
This is an acronym used to help you remember four important tools that could help you reach your freedom goals:

Define - be absolutely clear about what you want
Eliminate - stop wasting time on unimportant things (e.g. block Facebook)
Automate - remove yourself from the workflow (e.g. outsource tasks)
Liberate - free your working location (e.g. telecommute)

4) Having all the time is not the goal
All this discussion about freedom could be miscontrued as a message to stop working. Life without work can become boring, meaningless, and empty. Therefore, it is important to have meaningful work because it provides a venue for both giving to society, as well as personal growth.

The goal is to have an adequate balance of work, rest, and play. Work can be an enjoyable part of life if you're doing the right kinds.

5) 80/20 Principle and Parkinson's Law
Also known as the Pareto Principle, the 80/20 principle states that roughly 80% of the results come from 20% of the causes. This principle is commonly cited in business where it is commonly observed that 80% of sales come from 20% of the customers. The priority would be to keep those customers happy.

A 'vital few' of our actions leads to the majority of our results. We must first identify what those few things are, then focus our efforts there.

Parkinson's law states that "work expands to fill the time available for its completion". To harness this law you could shorten deadlines.

Here is Clark's video book summary:

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Think and Grow Rich - Napolean Hill

Think and Grow Rich by Napolean Hill is a must read personal finance book. This book is not a practical guide with current tips on how to start an "e-business", but rather a study on the philosophy of the most successful people in recent history.

Hill first published this book in 1937, at the height of the great depression. Hill ventured to write a book chronicling the mindsets of the wealthiest people of his era (e.g. Andrew Carnegie).

I found an excellent book review on this Youtube channel (Clark Kegley) and have written out the top 8 take-home messages:
  1. Mindset - It's more about the person you become and skills that you acquire than the dollars in your bank account. 
  2. Think - It's important to take time to think deeply (e.g. meditate or go for a long walk). It takes time to have good ideas. Keeping a journal is a great way to achieve clarity.
  3. Desire - Successful people are always driven by an obsession for their craft.
  4. Organized Planning - Breakdown large goals into smaller ones. Achieving smaller goals will keep you motivated. Never set a goal without doing something towards its attainment. 
  5. Persistence - Success is often just one step beyond failure, don't give up! The media loves to publicize "overnight successes" without mentioning the 10 years of hard-work.
  6. Seek Feedback - Constantly seek feedback for improving. Always get a 2nd opinion and listen to the wisdom/advice of people who you wish to emulate. You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.
  7. Specialized Knowledge/Skill - Expert knowledge is impossible to outsource. Knowing a lot about a specific topic/having a specialized skill will increase your value.
  8. Faith - Believe in yourself. A quote that summarizes this point is to "fake it 'till you make it." 
Finally, here is Clark Kegley with a book summary:

Saturday, February 25, 2017

TransferWise - Lowest Cost Currency Exchange!

(Click for full-view)
Since I've moved to Germany, there have been countless times when I need to exchange Canadian Dollars for Euros (or vice versa). Exchanging currencies through the banks or currency exchange shops can be excruciatingly expensive.

A friend recently introduced me to TransferWise. After trying TransferWise a few times, I've become a full supporter. It is by far the easiest low-cost way of exchanging currencies. You can use TransferWise to transfer money between yourself, family, friends, or anyone else with a bank account. Essentially you get the same exchange rate shown in Google's currency convertor plus a small fee.

The only caveat is money must be transferred between two bank accounts in countries that TransferWise operates in (over 40 countries). So TransferWise works best if you are transferring money from one bank account to another. This may not work for you if you are traveling for a short time to a foreign country, need a small amount of local currency, and do not have a bank account there. Alternatively, if you have a trusted friend in the foreign country you're traveling to, you could transfer money to them and have them give you that money once you arrive (to avoid high currency exchange fees).

Here's a short video on how TransferWise works:

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Living in a Vancouver Storage Locker

I recently read this article by the CBC about a man who converted a Vancouver storage unit into a livable apartment. Although this is illegal and crazy, I have to admit that this is one of the most ingenious set-ups I've ever seen. You probably shouldn't do this: