Secret #1: Istanbul Street Food

by Heather R Morgan on February 7, 2014

Istanbul Street Food

street food

The smell of lemon and grilled fish hangs in the air around the piers of the Bosphorous on most evenings in Istanbul. I walk up to the man making his fish sandwiches from the fresh fish his friend just caught. “Ne kadar?” I ask in Turkish. 3 Lira. You can’t beat a price like that for a meal this good. My mouth begins to water as lemon is squeezed onto the sandwich and garnished with onions and other veggies. “Afiet olsun,” he says to me smiling, the Turkish equivalent of “bon appetit.”

The Istanbul Tourist Experience:

Just down the street the fancy restaurants all chase after tourists to sell them the same fish starting at 25 lira. We bite into our sandwich laughing as we watch the yabancis (foreigners) get accosted by Turks with broken English addressing them as “friends.” Most foreigners who are new to Turkey are too polite to respond appropriately. Rather than ignoring them and moving on, they engage in conversation, walking straight into these hustlers traps. Everyone has to make a living and feed their family, but the price discrimination for foreigners in touristic areas is steep in Istanbul and other hotspots like Efes. As I do when traveling or living abroad anywhere in the world, I avoid this altogether as much as possible.


Finding the best Istanbul street food:

Look where the Turks are going and what they are doing; especially the women. If you are worried about food poisoning or safety, you are generally safe if you follow the lead of women (not young boys or old men!). If possible get out of the European quarter and go to the “Asian” (Anadolu) side of Istanbul.


My Favorite Istanbul Street Foods:

  • Fresh squeezed juice. Pomegranate juice (nar suyu) is my favorite, but it gets very expensive when it’s out of season.

  • Fish sandwiches (of course). They aren’t always out in the day, but they are generally selling fish in the evening.

  • Sahlep (the vanilla Turkish version of hot chocolate) in winter.

  • Fresh fruit (watermelon, melon, and other fruits) on summer nights

  • Breads (just look for the bread man yelling “etmek!”)

  • Miyde Dolmasi (Mussels stuffed with rice). Technically illegal, but AMAZING.

watermelonnewspaper hat - turkey

Street food doesn’t stop in Istanbul. The more rural/local you get in Turkey, the better it gets. Especially the further you go East. It’s an affordable and delicious way to taste Turkey.


Around the World For the Cheap Entrepreneur

by Heather R Morgan on January 7, 2014

travel around the world -visit Sinai

Want to travel around the world, but you aren’t loaded? You might assume traveling has to cost a lot, but it doesn’t have to if you know a few tricks. Doing things a little differently you can save a lot and can actually create a better experience.

This is the first of a five part series on the secrets of traveling around the world on small budget, and is ideal for the cheap entrepreneur, but can in theory be done by anyone.

Go Around the World Cheap

One of the biggest costs for travel is just getting there. Flights can cost an arm and a leg if you book tourist destinations during peak travel times. Avoiding tourist traps to begin with will save you a lot and give you are richer and more memorable experience.

Think about how supply and demand work with prices: when more people want something at a given time, prices go up. Planning your travel in off seasons will give you cheaper tickets.

There are a number of flight booking secrets and tricks that I can also teach you. They include finding hidden budget airfare, using airline miles to your best advantage, and using loopholes in the airline booking system. I will share them in more detail in coming blog posts.

Because flights are often the biggest travel expensive, try to stay longer if possible. Consider spending a few weeks or even months in one place if you have the ability to do so. This is an easier option for entrepreneurs, but anyone can be a digital nomad these days if they really want to.

Staying Cheaply Around the World

Stop staying in expensive hotels and resorts. That isn’t really traveling. The whole point of going around the world is to live differently. If you are trying to experience new things, you need to get out and about. So why pay for expensive hotels if you aren’t going to be there?

There are other better cheaper options for places to stay. Couchsurfing and hostels are favorites of mine, especially for traveling in Turkey and Asia, but there are other options. Airbnb, guest houses, homestay programs, and other less common accommodation will not only save you money, but provide you with a more authentic local experience. And you might just make some new friends for life while doing it too.

Embrace Change & Have an Open Mind

A big part of making a journey around the world is about changing your perspective. Seeing the world is about experiencing other cultures, and you can’t really do that unless you interact with people.

Real people don’t live in five star hotels and eat at the finest restaurants in the most touristic locations. If you really want to understand a place and its people, you have to dive in deep. And sometimes it can be scary, but it’s totally worth it.

Use common sense, and go at your own pace, but the more you push your own limits, the more you grow. Your adventure around the world is about breaking out of your comfort zone. Sometimes that will be forced upon you along the way, but other times it is up to you to do that.

So when you’re traveling around the world, eat street food, talk to strangers, and embrace new experiences you never thought you would try. Not only will it save you money, you’ll probably have the time of your life. You never know what you will discover about yourself and the world until you try.

How to Meet Your 2014 Goals with Scheduling

by Heather R Morgan on December 31, 2013

meet your goals

Every year people pour their hopes and dreams into New Years resolutions, but over 80% of them fail.  How many of your 2013 New Years Resolutions did you actually achieve? We all talk about changing our lives and make plans to stop bad habits, but how often do we actually succeed?

2014 is our year to do epic shit. This is the chance of a lifetime. Don’t let your hopes and dreams slip past you and go down the drain with the 80% of those who will fail. 

In my last post I discussed how crucial focus is with time management and getting things done.  I suggested that you pick three categories of areas you want to improve in your life. Now I will provide further advice on how to organize your New Years resolutions so you will be successful in 2014.

The Tools for Meeting Goals

If you followed my advice about crossing off everything on your list of goals for 2014 that didn’t fit into your  “3 things,” your list should already be much smaller. If you haven’t done so already, please go back to the last past for advice on how to focus your goals. Also consider reading Peter Bregman’s 18 Minutes or The Pumpkin Plan if you want more ideas on mastering focus.

Once you’ve done that, let’s get started.

change your life in 2014 - goals

  1. Look again at your goals. Divide them into four categories on a grid like this. (See my example above)
  2. Make two columns labeled “one time” and “ongoing.”
  3. Make two rows labeled “positive” and “negative.”
  4. Divide all goals into one-time things or ongoing projects and place them on grid.
  5. Divide all goals into positive or negative and place them on grid. (“Negative” goals are about doing less, or stopping something entirely. Examples of this would be taking “only 1 backpack” with me the next time I go to Turkey because I tend to take too much. Or spending less than $1000 on food if I tend to spend too much on food, etc)


  • The more specific your goal is (3x a week, 2x a month, etc), the easier it will be to create clear action steps. Try to make your goals specific rather than vague.
  • Some categories might be in between “one timers” and “ongoing.” I put “quit drinking” in the middle, but it is more of an ongoing process than one time event.
  • Try to pick goals that don’t rely on outside factors or people for success. Setting a goal like “make $10,000 a month” is great for affirmation, but a better goal would be “make 100 sales calls a day” or “go to 2 conferences a month and meet 50 potential new clients at each” is a lot more realistic goal.
  • If you have really big goals that aren’t so easy to accomplish, break them down into smaller goals. Keep the overlapping goal, but make small action steps so it is less daunting.

The Importance of Categorizing Goals

It’s important to separate “one time” goals and “ongoing” because they require very different preparation.

“One Timers”:

  1. Count them.
  2. Consider how much time each of them would realistically take, and write that down next to each of them. Going to Bali will take me a week or two, but speaking at a Ted talk or running a marathon will only take one day. (Of course booking a trip to Bali is much simpler than preparing for a Marathon and getting a TED talk.)
  3. Look at your calendar. Pick dates when you could schedule them and mark your calendar.
  4. If your goal requires lots of prep or relies on other people, do a little research so you can pick a realistic date. When are marathons in your area run? How long would it take you to train? Figure these things out for each goal.
  5. Set the dates. They don’t have to be in stone, but you do need to have them. Without a deadline you don’t have pressure.
  6. Work backwards. Write down everything that you need to do to make these things happen from start to finish. EVERYTHING.
  7. Create clear action steps. (1. Research best weather for Bali. 2. Book flight to Bali 3. Book accommodation in Bali 4. Look for cooking classes in Bali 5. Get scuba certified before trip etc.)
  8. Schedule your action steps! Put them on the calendar with reminders.


  1. Set specific goals for success. What are you trying to accomplish here? Lose weight? Make more money?
  2. Make bite sized pieces. What is the smallest unit that you know you will regularly and consistently be able to do? Start there. (run 2x a week, read 15 minutes a day, etc)
  3. Assess your environment. Will it support your habits? What might you change to help yourself succeed? If you want to wake up earlier maybe you can get a louder alarm clock and put it further from your bed?
  4. Schedule events into your calendar. Things might change over time, but actually having a routine will make it so much easier to follow through. Want to run 3x a week? Put running on your calendar for Monday, Thursday, Saturday and set a reminder alarm.
  5. Give yourself appropriate rewards and consequences.
  6. Get an accountability buddy—There’s nothing more influential for me than a critical gay friend. My gay friends are brutally honest and always call out my flaws. Explain your goals to someone who won’t hesitate to keep you in check when you begin to slide. This is the best way to be accountable. I would have never lost 15 pounds without sassy gay men making fun of me every time I ate ice cream.
  7. Keep Track of Progress—Use a journal, excel, or project management software (I love trello! More on that later…) to easily keep track of what you have and haven’t been doing. It’s easy to fool yourself if you don’t.

If you follow this process for each of your 2014 goals, you will be at least 60% more effective in executing them than you were in past years.

Please feel free to ask questions if something is not clear or is confusing about this. I’m here to help. Likewise, I always enjoy learning advice or ideas from other people, so please share them here if you have them.

Stay tuned for more information on how I am using trello and excel to finish my book.  I will also share a step-by-step guide for finishing any goal, which I used to get an almost perfect GRE score, even though I took my exam amidst violent protests in Egypt.

What Almost Dying in the Cairo ER Taught Me About Time

by Heather R Morgan on December 30, 2013

time is limited - egypt

You probably have fewer than 20,000 days left on this planet, so you need to use your time wisely. Stop lying to yourself that you can do everything; as much as we try, we aren’t superman/superwoman. The key to success and living an amazing life is learning to spend your time wisely. Stop saying yes to everything that comes your way; your time is worth more. Respect yourself enough to say no to the things that pull you away from time that should be devoted on your true passions. Start 2014 out right by learning to finally master the fundamentals of focus and time management.

time is precious - Dubai

My Near-Death Experience

2013 began with a bang, visiting 3 countries within 24 hours time.  I parted my Hong Kong friends in Tunisia, left my bags in Cairo, hit up a few New Years parties in Egypt, and then ran to catch my flight to Dubai. As I sipped champagne with beautiful people at the top of Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, I felt great about life. Still in my early twenties, time was on my side. I had already lived in six countries and visited dozens more, and had a million cool things going on. I was content, and I felt on top of the world (literally).

Fast forward four days in time, and I was laying in the Cairo ER, feverishly coughing up blood and lung, a detour not scheduled into my many plans at that time.  My body ached and I felt like I was drowning as I choked back my own blood. Though I was hallucinating, I remember that night well.

I will never forget the moment when I truly believed I would soon die. Cairo medical care isn’t the best. I have heard of horror stories where people caught HIV and hepatitis from visiting the dentist in Egypt. Before diagnosing me or getting my name or medical history (I’m allergic to many antibiotics), the doctors and nurses were eager to inject me with an unknown substance. I could barely stand or move, but I fought this tooth and nail, trying my best to pay attention to what they said in Arabic.

Time slowed down. I recognized the possibility of my death and I accepted it. I told myself life had been good, and I had done much more than many in their lifetimes. I still wanted more, but it was too late. My time was up. I was going to die in Egypt.

The Economics of Life: Time is Scarce

My terrifying trip to the ER was a wakeup call. That was the closest time I have ever come to my own mortality. I began to reevaluate my life and think about what was really important to me.

When I was younger, I grabbed every option in front of me.

My motto was “never shut the door on opportunity when it knocks.” Though I did not come from wealthy or diplomatic parents, I have always wanted a lot from life. I knew no one would hand me what I wanted, so I made sure to seize every low hanging fruit I saw.

This principle took me far in life, but I eventually took it too far. I thought I was superwoman. I believed I could do anything and everything, but I never thought about how much time I spent chasing down paths that led nowhere. And there were a lot, especially in Egypt and the Middle East.

I also lacked clear direction, but I wouldn’t admit this. I wanted to do many things, but few of them were related, so I spent extra time trying to make them all fit and work. This was an interesting time for exploration, but quickly became an unmanageable nightmare. (Cooking, economics, writing, startups, business consulting, event planning, etc)

I kept stretching myself too thin by trying to do too many things at once. Because I was more productive than most (especially in the Middle East), I managed to get away with juggling everything for some time. I was cutting corners and selling myself short, but my quality was still higher than everyone else, so I thought it was fine. I kept accepting every project that came my way, even though I was making way less than in Hong Kong.

It caught up with me though, and I paid with my health.

When I flew back from Tunisia to Egypt, I was still getting over being sick. That didn’t stop me from partying on New Year’s though. I could have canceled my business trip to Dubai, but I didn’t. I could have taken it easy and rested, but I didn’t want to miss out on Dubai meetings and nightlife. All that cost me the scariest day of my life, and could have cost me my life itself.

It was time I learned to slow way down for once.

Focus Is Key

I’m neurotic and obsessed with optimizing my time. I’ve read dozens of the best books on productivity and time management. I’ll save you the trouble. They all focus on the importance of, well, focus.

The reality is time is scarce and your mind can only handle so much. Your brain is like a computer. You only have so much RAM. Once you fill it up to the max, it starts having problems and running slowly.  Have too many tasks running and too much junk and it can crash. Your life is the same.  Minimalism is so underrated.

For your New Years resolutions and goals (in general), you should be focusing on 3-6 things tops. The less you pick, the better. The more narrowly you focus, the higher your chances of success will be.

If you want to read a good book on focus, I do recommend The Pumpkin Plan. It’s a favorite of mine.

Know Your Target & Plan Accordingly

  1. What is it that you really want? Look carefully at all the New Year’s Resolutions of this year and the past. What kinds of things are you writing? Look back at them again and think deeply. Think about yourself, and what you want from life at the core.
  2. Write down your hopes and wants, and then look at them closely.
  3. Think about what categories they fit into. What are those things? (Money, recognition, friends, family, relationships, love, stability, freedom, etc. Maybe specific goals the core of your desires? They can be also.) Write them down.
  4. Once you have those in mind, rank them of importance.
  5. Now pick the top 3. These are the things that will make you the most happy if you focus your efforts on them. Look again at your New Years resolutions for 2013 and 2014.
  6. Cross off everything that isn’t directly related to those 3 categories. I mean it. Cross them off! I know you think it would be really cool if you learned to play the piano, or ran a triathlon, but if it’s not part of the 3, get rid of them.  You can’t do everything, and every minute you spend on something NOT on the list is a minute you are taking away from something that will help you achieve happiness.

Purging the list from everything that doesn’t fit into your 3 things is scary. It feels weird at first, but you have to do it. It’s the only way you are going to be effective and get everything you want and need to get done for 2014.

I promise if you trust me on this, and really follow through with it, 2014 will be your most effective year ever.

Stay tuned for my next post in the following days about my secret tools and strategies for success and time management, titled, “Change Your Life and Get More Done in 2014.

Gift Ideas from a Cheap Economist

by Heather R Morgan on December 27, 2013

Surprise Gift - Christmas Santas SF Chinatown

How much did you spend this year buying holiday gifts, and how much do you think people actually like your presents and use them? The average American spends almost $800 annually on Christmas presents alone. Each winter we manage to accumulate countless possessions that we will never use.  What the heck do you do with all of those gifts you don’t want? Do you stuff them in the closet and under the bed with all the other stuff you never use, or do you shamelessly re-gift? (I do!)

Santa's riding on an RV with a surprise gift for you!

Stop Wasting Your Money Giving People Crap They Don’t Like

Why do holidays and presents immediately equate to consumerism for Americans? Is the point of all festivities simply to accumulate material goods?

Who says you have to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars buying Christmas/holiday presents for everyone? Is somebody sticking a gun to your head while you tremble with wrapping paper and tape in hand, or are you just embarrassed you will be considered a holiday scrooge? If you do insist on giving gifts, try to pick items that your recipients will actually appreciate and enjoy. That way you aren’t throwing your money down the toilet and cramming their house with more junk.   There’s already more than enough waste in this world, so you don’t need to add to it!

The Two Strategies for Gift Giving

  1. Go Generic—Pick gifts that almost anyone would like. Delicious food and presents with high liquidity (like money—thanks grandma!) seem to be the most effective. (Be aware of food allergies and preferences though!) This works best when you don’t know the person that well, or you just don’t care enough to make the effort to get something that shows you are aware of their interests
  2. Get Specific—Pick gifts that are actually thoughtful. Obviously you have to know the person well enough to pull this off; otherwise it will backfire horribly. (I don’t think Sarah the animal loving vegetarian wants your homemade elk jerky you shot last winter dad, sorry!) The best part about this is that not only will people be more likely to actually use, appreciate and even LOVE your present—you can probably even save money in doing so.

My Approach to Gift Giving

If you are one of my friends, you already know by now that I tend to do things pretty unconventionally. I never buy Hallmark cards and I try to make it a habit of creating all gifts myself or giving people things I brought back from adventures in foreign lands.

You might think that sounds really cool (if you do, we could probably be friends!), but you may be thinking, “Wow, she’s really cheap!” You would be correct with both assumptions.

Yes, I am cheap, and I embrace it. I am an economist, and I refuse to buy into conventional gift giving because I think it is a rip off and a scam; also most of those presents are crappy and lazy. If I am going to make the effort of giving you something, I will not be lazy and thoughtless about it.

I will either give you something that matches your interests that you already want, or something I believe will either greatly amuse you or improve your life. I also like to provide presents that will personally entertain me—I really enjoy that startled look on your face when you open my present and you can’t immediately figure out what the heck it is. That tends to happen the first time someone gets a gift from me.

Some Gift Ideas that Will Dazzle (or Scare) Your Friends

1. Cards & Collages:

My favorite gifts come in the form of some kind of writing. People don’t write enough letters by hand these days. Write someone a heartfelt or hilarious note and they will keep it for years (I hope!).

So just go to Hallmark and pick out a cute card, right?


I hate store bought greeting cards (but if you get them for me, don’t feel embarrassed! I still appreciate your thought!). I think they are overpriced and too generic. That’s why I make my friends collages, and make my own cards out of postcards and other scraps of paper I save.

You might think that this is too much trouble, but if you make it a habit, it’s actually easy. Save unusual or pretty fliers and scraps of paper as you find them. I keep mine in a series of Ziploc bags in a box in my closet.  Whenever it comes time for a birthday or holiday, I’m set to create an amazing (and probably disturbing if you’re a close friend) collage.

You can also use these papers to decorate notebooks, my favorite gift to give. I collect fortune cookies and glue/tape them to notebooks and other items I decorate for gifts.

See one notebook that I recently made for a gift:

notebook collage gift with fortune cookies taped on

Here is a collage I made in the past:

Texas Christmas collage gift

2. Food

Food is great because it has a high chance of being used and enjoyed, so it won’t just sit in someone’s closet.  (Even if they don’t like it, it will go bad!) I really like making my own jams, dried fruit, and baked goods for friends and family, but if you have no cooking skills, feel free to get delicious things from the store.  Sometimes I cook my friends a gourmet dinner as a birthday present though. This won’t work if you can’t cook or if no one likes your cooking.

3. How To Package Your Gift Sustainably:

I don’t even want to think how much waste is created by American holidays. The wrapping paper and gift bags that so many people throw away must be filling several landfills.

I reuse gift bags by re-gifting ones given to me, but I try to give reusable packages whenever I can. My dad gives everyone their presents in Camo hunting bags, and my mom likes to use “Chico Bags” (reusable fabric grocery bags). Any kind of reusable bag or container is great.

One Christmas in Egypt I did wrap my gifts in tin foil. In retrospect newspaper would have been a better solution, but my friend’s gift was very shiny.

Other Solutions for Our First World Problems

My goal with the holidays and everything else is to limit the amount of waste I create. Instead of giving material items, why not give experiences? For more the concept of minimalism and giving experiences over stuff, check out my friend Nadia’s blog.

If your family does insist on giving some kind of gifts, try discussing the idea of doing a “white elephant gift exchange” within your family. My cousins do this, and have a marvelous time doing it. It’s nice because it reduces the amount of money you spend and makes buying gives for everyone less of an endeavor. No one really needs that much stuff anyways.

Maybe it’s too late for this year’s gift giving (or maybe not if you give presents on New Years), but it won’t be long before the next one, so keep these ideas in mind before you spend a thousand dollars on crap no one wants!

Your Bubble Makes You Blind

by Heather R Morgan on December 26, 2013

Leaving the Bubble of HK-Riding a camel in EgyptFar outside the textbook bubble - market in Alexandria Egypt

I learned the harsh truth that theory doesn’t usually match reality in Egypt after Arab Spring.  If I had stayed inside my own economics bubble, refusing to accept this truth, it would have run me over like a Cairo black cab.

When Theory Doesn’t Match Reality

I moved to Egypt in 2012 in the pursuit of economic development research. I was supposed to examine the ties between food insecurity and the decline of the region’s sociopolitical situation for a book. Without hesitation, I left my convenient and sheltered life in Hong Kong to fight my way through the streets of Cairo, almost getting killed a dozen times. My understanding of Arab Spring had been from textbooks, and I was living in a bubble, with no idea was getting myself into.

Earlier that year I attended a United Nations conference in Beirut on Arab food security. I left Beirut feeling inspired; excited with all the incredible new connections I had made with regional experts. However, the UN event itself, like much of research, academia, and NGOs in general, were also a bubble.

While the talks and discussions at the were fascinating, they did not accurately reflect life in the Middle East. Even most of the Arabs at the conference also lived in their own bubble at home, sheltered from the full extent of their countries’ problems as they lived in rich gated compounds. It’s easy to talk about these economic issues at large, but until you experience the poverty and black market economics firsthand, it’s just not real. The chaos of Cairo can never be accurately portrayed by any book or lecture–you have to almost die in a car accident or be caught in a protest in Downtown to really get it.

The Real Egypt isn't in a bubble - Alexandria, Egypt

Living in the Startup Bubble

Living in the San Francisco or Silicon Valley, it’s hard to remember startups aren’t the norm. Techies and startup junkies typically forget that 99% of the world that lives outside their bubble is clueless about what they do, and does not care unless they IPO. It’s easy to get caught up in the buzz of startup hype–it sinks inside your brain. Before you realize it, it’s your entire life.

I’m just as guilty as anyone else. Work (at a startup) is a central part of my life. Even when I’m not working, I’m spending my free time learning some new growth hacking tactics or industry best practices. When I’m at dinner or having a drink I’m with other startup nerds. We talk about trends and brainstorm ideas for making more money faster. Sometimes it slips past me that the entire world doesn’t know what “KPIs” and “ROI” are, and that B2B inbound marketing strategies aren’t common knowledge.

I’m quickly smacked in the face as soon as I make this mistake. All I have to do is pick up the phone and talk to non-tech friends in Cairo, Hong Kong, or anywhere else in the world besides SV. Once you step outside of the tech/startup bubble and try to explain to your relatives “what you do for a living” on a ranch in the middle of nowhere, everything quickly crumbles. After puzzled looks and blank stares, they eventually say, “Okay, so you do marketing. That’s what I thought.” Not exactly, but close enough.

 My own bubble - dubai

It’s Your Fault, Not Theirs

It’s easy to think everyone who doesn’t understand your world is stupid or clueless. That’s the simple solution. But guess what, it’s your problem, not theirs. Unless they are highly curious, they aren’t going to research your entire industry after talking to you once. It’s your job to educate them on what you and your industry does, using as simple language as possible.

Everything can be broken down simply, even computer-human symbiosis Quality Assurance testing (It’s like “using spell check for editing your code.” See, I did it.) Make sure you know how to leave your industry’s bubble, and know your elevator pitch in basic English (or whatever language you speak). Part of being successful in business and life is the ability to explain anything clearly and tersely enough so even you grandma or little brother can understand.

Consequences of the Bubble: What You’re Losing

It’s natural to band together with people who are like you, and focus deeply into your work. That’s how people become successful, right? So what’s wrong with that, even if it’s a bubble?

Lots of things.

Mostly, you are risking getting smacked in the face by reality and the rest of the world. This could come in many forms. By not stepping outside of your narrow mindset, you may be misunderstanding your customers, and that could cost you dearly. Very rarely are you anything like your average client. Many businesses fail because of this mistake, building something no one wants.

Keeping your blinders on makes you miss the big picture. You could be exposing yourself to big risks lurking around the corner.

Living inside your tiny bubble also limits the types of experiences you will encounter in life. You might be missing out on a lot of amazing things. Like my mom reminds me regularly, “It’s hard to know what you don’t know.”

The Answer to Living a More Balanced Life

My personal solution for popping my own bubble world is trying to regularly leave my comfort zone as much as possible. I actually set goals for myself to do at least one thing that I would normally never do once a month. I usually try out two or three new things, but one is the minimum.

This could be anything from going to a new meetup group, attending an event you usually wouldn’t, or visiting a new place outside of your normal routine. I try to make these things as socially focused as possible, with the goal of meeting new people I would otherwise never encounter inside my startup bubble.

The world is full of beautiful and unexpected surprises. You won’t find many of them though if you do the same things with the same people every day. Life is short, and who knows what you might be missing. You don’t have to quit your job and move to Cairo to exit your bubble, but you can fight tunnel vision by making a conscious effort to get off-the-beaten-path of your normal routine. Who knows what benefits you might reap from that adventure.

Your Guide for Untraveling Adventures

by Heather R Morgan on December 18, 2013

Untraveling Adventures with Gaudi Architecture in Barcelona

Untraveling is not about travel or vacation, but the journey of life. It’s about living to the fullest, making the most of this short adventure on our planet.

It’s a lifestyle and a state of mind.

Where Untraveling takes you

Are you ready for this? 

Untraveling with hot air in Kapadokya - Turkey

It’s going to change your life.                       Another untraveler enjoying shisha

Follow These Tips for Your Own Untraveling Adventures:

  1. Seek your own path and follow it, even if it’s scary sometimes.
  2. Make a conscious effort to leave your comfort zone regularly and try new things you otherwise would not.
  3. Don’t be a sheep. Exercise critical thinking regularly–ask yourself why you are doing something. Is it just because it’s easy or everyone else is doing so that you are too?
  4. Think like an economist. Realize that the most expensive option isn’t always the best. Don’t be fooled by marketing tricks.
  5. Eat street-food. Dining at hole-in-the-wall restaurants when street food isn’t an option also counts.
  6. Optimize your time, using the 80/20 rule and project management best practices.
  7. Always make the most of your situation. You can gain something positive from almost any scenario.
  8. Unschedule–set aside time to let adventures occur naturally.
  9. Talk to Strangers. The world is too small to not make friends.
  10. Live as simple as a nomad. Don’t be a slave to your possessions.
  11. Stay agile–Life can change so fast, so it’s important you are prepared to deal with whatever comes your way. Keeping your mind sharp and your life light goes a long way when you encounter disasters.
  12. Carry a notebook. It’s great for technical difficulties, and writing regularly will help you improve your thinking and help you get to know yourself better. It’s a life changer.

Untraveling Retreat in the Red Sea - Sinai

Join Our Untraveling Adventures:

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Untraveling in Vietnam - off the beaten path adventures with Allison from Aafar

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Untraveling Eats - Delicious dimsum in remote islands of Hong Kong

The Truth About Arabs & Silicon Valley Bullshit

by Heather R Morgan on November 18, 2013


“Racing through the desert sandstorm on horseback, I galloped past camels, squinting my eyes to see silhouettes of those spectacular pyramids. My bright orange galabeya and head scarf blew in the wind as majestically as the Egyptian flag.”

To Egyptians, this anecdote is a ridiculous and embarrassing Orientalist’s misrepresentation of Egypt, yet it remains the Arabesque wet-dream of many foreigners fantasizing about Cairo and the Middle East.

I actually did race horses in the pitch black night at 3AM through a questionable trail with the “horse thugs of Giza” to see the pyramids at night. I also confess to buying and wearing an orange galabeya from time-to-time, but that’s just because I love orange and it looks fabulous. However, this is nowhere close to an accurate or mainstream glimpse of what life in Cairo is actually like.

For those outside Egypt, words like: “pyramids, Pharaoh, sphinx, camels, sand, and belly-dancer” all immediately jump to mind. Perhaps even “terrorist,” for some Americans. Yet, for myself and other friends in Cairo, reality looked a lot more like: “traffic, unemployment, revolution, check-points, sexual-harassment, entrepreneurs, mobile, social media, and not sleeping.”

While living in Egypt and visiting other parts of Middle East North Africa, I met a number of relentlessly resourceful young entrepreneurs, whom regularly impressed and amazed me. These youth came from a range of classes; from the privileged and well-educated abroad elite to some badass hustlers from humble means, but their dreams were all similar. Their raw passion for business and entrepreneurship was admirable to say the least.

Life in Cairo isn’t easy, for Egyptians or foreigners.

Traffic is insane; the commute from Nasr City to Maadi that took you 20 minutes one Tuesday takes more than two hours the following week. With little regulation or guidance on traffic laws, the thought of dying in a car accident realistically looms in one’s head. With the EGP weakening, things are becoming more expensive, but jobs and opportunities to make money are fewer.  The lucky few that do get jobs find themselves unable to afford to live independently from their families until marriage, which is also happening later because of socioeconomic reasons.

Arab youth don’t have it easy, but those who choose to be entrepreneurs in MENA have it even harder.

With the region facing all time lows for youth unemployment, seeking the startup path is becoming a more common option for smart young youth who are sick of a fruitless system riddled with “wasta,” the culture of bribes and “knowing someone.” However, to many friends and family members of these young entrepreneurs, the path they are choosing is risky and unfamiliar, and many have a difficult time finding support amongst the pressures to “find a good job and get married.”

Times are changing, and with success stories of Arab Startups like Maktoob and others featured in Chris Shroeder’s book, Startup Rising, the image of the “entrepreneur” is beginning to change in the region, but it still has a long ways to go.

Things are gradually improving for the Arab entrepreneur, but they still face a number of hurdles, which I discuss below with advice.

  1. Funding– This is probably the hardest part for MENA entrepreneurs. Yes there are more VCs and accelerators in the region than before, but equity is still low and terms aren’t optimal. If your product is really great, you can consider coming to the Valley to raise funding (Dave McClure has invested in multiple Arab startups with 500 startups!), but I also really recommend bootstrapping as much as possible. Create a business model that has a solid plan for monetization from day 1. This will make your life SO MUCH EASIER. It’s cool to build great products we love, but without thinking about where your money comes from, it’s easy to wind up feeling helpless and have your business FAIL.
  2. Corruption & Red Tape Bureaucracy — This isn’t easy to deal with, but if you are a successful entrepreneur in MENA, you are a fantastic hustler, so you find ways around this. This is an extra hurdle few entrepreneurs in the Valley have to face, but being able to deal with this and roll with the punches is part of what make great MENA entrepreneurs so damn resourceful. This definitely makes you competitive in the global market. 
  3. Handle the Critically Negative: “Everyone watches me win, but they’re really waiting for me to fail” is a common feeling for even some of the most successful Arab entrepreneurs I know. They aren’t alone; I think this is a common sentiment for most entrepreneurs. It’s tough, but it’s something you have to bear, but at least you aren’t alone. It will take more time and success stories before people change their attitudes, and the skeptics and haters will always be there, so don’t let them crawl into your head. I think it helps a lot to develop a community (online and offline) of entrepreneurs and like-minded people to support each other.
  4. Check your Arrogance — Many great entrepreneurs and smart people have ego issues, but I find this especially true in the Middle East (my Turkish self included). Confidence is one thing, but having an ego too big to hear warning bells and see red flags is another. Your ego will screw you over. Try to open your mind more. Seek people who actually challenge your opinion to get a fresh perspective. The last thing you want to do as an entrepreneur struggling to understand your customers/market is live in your own bubble.
  5. Stay Organized — This is one of the biggest issues I have seen in the Middle East in general, so I’m going to bring it up, even though not everyone has the same problem. It is extremely important for a successful entrepreneur to have organized systems for business and life. If you don’t you will drive yourself crazy, piss off your friends and family, miss opportunities, and possibly even wreck your business. (Speaking from direct experience with loved ones) It’s important to do this to optimize your time and to track progress and results. Without setting clear goals with a timeline of actionable steps, you will never get anything done.  (I will explain a bit more below.)
  6. Always Use the Best Tools — We are living in an age with amazing technology, so USE IT! It will make your life 1000x easier. I personally use Trello for project management alongside excel. I track everything from my finances to workout routines and writing progress using a combination of the two. I really urge every entrepreneur to incorporate Excel into their life more. When you develop solid habits for tracking and monitoring your time and expenses, it will spillover into your business with better management practices, cutting inefficiencies. Evernote is also great for taking notes, organizing your thoughts, and keeping track of things.
  7. Always Do the Due Diligence (take nothing for granted to avoid scams!)–This was a problem I regularly saw in all emerging markets. I think the problem here is that oftentimes data is taken correctly or actually altered to attain desired results. Whenever possible and however possible, do the diligence. Basically, try not to take anything for granted. For example: If you are gathering information for market research, don’t only rely on quoted data and figures. Whenever possible, try to test the process yourself. Contact customers directly, or pose as a customer yourself to understand how operations/processes really work. If something doesn’t seem right, dig deeper. It might result in a pivot or even reconsidering your business, but it’s better to know sooner rather than later. Always validate the MVP as early as possible!
  8. Margins! No matter what people tell you, the entrepreneur’s lifestyle isn’t all that glamorous. The freedom of entrepreneurship comes with the burden of making your own money. I know countless entrepreneurs who are/were making a lot of money, but were still broke. This is because their margins were too thin. There are many kinds of business models out there, and only you know what’s right for you, but I urge you to sit down and really figure out your margins from the start. A helpful exercise that the former founder of Guitar Hero, Kai Huang, told me is to “pick your number.” Figure out how much you need to be comfortable and happy, and adjust your business plan from there. You might not always be successful, but having a clear concrete number in your head will make it easier to work backwards and see if you are on track to your target.

2013-07-16 22.27.07

Dave McClure & 500 Startups’ Batch 6

DISCLAIMER: Silicon Valley Isn’t Made of Gold

Many people from other countries place Silicon Valley on a pedestal, especially some entrepreneurs I know from the Middle East. They believe it is the epicenter for innovation, entrepreneurship and wealth, and that going there will “make them rich.” They have dreams of becoming the next Google and living next door to Zuckerberg, but the chances of this happening are smaller than me becoming the Queen of Egypt.

Yes, there are definitely opportunities and advantages that California has that are missed back home, but the same is also true for MENA and other emerging markets, and those should not be overlooked. Especially for those who possess deep knowledge of multiple markets, who are in a unique opportunity to successfully arbitrage business models from California, gaining from the benefit of the “time machine effect” back home.

It is true that the advantages of the bay does attract amazing talent, and so it is filled with some incredible people. However, that’s not to say that the place is right for every entrepreneur and their business. Because the talent is great, the competition is also higher.

Where you might have stood out back home as a famous entrepreneur, you might not even get noticed in the saturated ecosystem of California tech companies.

While I’m always for taking risks, especially those that open more doors, I do not believe that all startups/entrepreneurs should strive for the Silicon Valley dream.

Just as there is a danger in trying to copy and recreate a Western model of democracy in the Middle East, I believe that Arab entrepreneurs should not strive to duplicate Western models of business success. The process of entrepreneurship is very organic, and depends a lot on the entrepreneur themselves and the market they are looking at. How can you compare the model of a company like Ebay and its use of PayPal, to another area of the world where payments are done very differently?

It is helpful for entrepreneurs to learn and be inspired by other success stories, but I think lessons should be learned from around the world. In many cases I think entrepreneurs from emerging markets (like Turkey, Vietnam, Brazil, etc) can benefit each other more than trying to learn from the West.



There are no cookie cutter solutions for business, startups and entrepreneurship, so if you find something that works, just keep doing it. Try to reverse engineer things to better understand your success, but feel free to ignore the advice and criticism of others, even if they are wise and experienced. At the end of the day, only you know what’s best for yourself and your business. 

Silicon Valley definitely has some incredible people, but there are amazing people in every corner of this world as well. I’ve learned a lot from working with some brilliant people in California, and I have been impressed by these people and the products and companies they are building. However, for every great entrepreneur I’ve met, I’ve seen 100 clueless ones who don’t begin to stand up to the aspiring young entrepreneurs in the Middle East.  So keep on the hustle!

 ”Doing as others told me, I was blind.

Coming when others called me, I was lost.

Then I left everyone, myself as well.

Then I found myself, everyone as well.”  - Rumi

Negotiation Secrets from Turkish Rug Sellers

by Heather R Morgan on November 14, 2013


rugs 2


Turks are some of the best natural hustlers in the world. My people could sell ice to eskimos or tents to the bedouin.

Having a Turk sell to you is very different from a sales experience with someone from the West. The entire process and interaction feels undoubtably warmer and more intimate, as if they are a familiar friend or family member.

On my travels I have encountered Turkish rug sellers wheeling and dealing in some of the most remote and unexpected places, including small towns in rural Japan and Korea. Their ability to set up shop and successfully sell anything from kebabs and dondurma (Turkish ice cream) to rugs in any corner of the globe is impressive. It demonstrates how  adaptable and and resourceful they are as entrepreneurs.

turkish hustlers 2

So what is that makes them so great at selling? Can this be learned by anyone?

turkish hustlers

The Art of Negotiation:

While trying to reverse engineer the art of selling rugs like a Turk, I began looking at different styles of negotiation.  Investigating best practices, I reread one of my favorite books, Getting Past No: Negotiating with Difficult People, by William Ury. This book is an excellent tool for both business and life, and definitely high on my suggested reading list. In the book, Ury discusses important points including to AVOID:

  • reacting by “going to the balcony” and giving yourself time to think
  • argument —step to your opponent’s side with optimism and a positive attitude
  • rejecting claims and arguments — instead reframe them
  • pushing– build a “golden bridge” by creating alternative options
  • escalation — explain the consequences of actions calmly and carefully (warn don’t threaten)

These tactics are all very useful and essential for negotiation, but the book fails to address some of the subtle yet powerful tactics used by Turkish (and other Middle Eastern) salespersons.


Secrets of Selling Like a Turk:

Hospitality can have a major effect in business. It makes you more human, and helps establish a relationship with the other party. Giving small gifts makes people feel indebted even at a subconscious level, building the grounds for reciprocity. It’s the start of finding a common ground and creating a bond.

Sellers in Turkey and the Middle East commonly offer complimentary tea to passersby and window shoppers. This isn’t just a nice gesture of good faith; they are laying out the beginning of the sale, and starting the process of making you feel like you know and can trust them. By drinking the tea you are more likely to feel guilty to leave their shop without buying. Case studies show this is extremely effective, and greatly increases the odds of making a sale.

The next steps are friendly conversation and repeatedly using words like “my friend.” They ask questions about you and where you come from, both as a way to learn more about you and your preferences and price points, and to further develop the bond.

In Turkey bargaining is standard, and prices are rarely fixed. Price discrimination is common with foreigners, with a hierarchy of how high they can charge, with Japanese tourists commonly being the most taken advantage of. This is because the Japanese rarely negotiate and readily accept the price that is given to them. The next highest tier of prices usually goes to Europeans from Scandinavia, who they believe have the next highest willingness to pay, and will also not usually question prices for cultural reasons and because goods are generally expensive in their home countries. This is why it’s important to bargain ruthlessly hard when you are not a Turk.

Welcoming body language and words are also key in selling. Turkey and the Middle East do have a strong culture of hospitality, and are naturally more warm and friendly than other cultures. Sellers use this to their advantage, and this allows them to quickly gain the trust of their customers, especially those from emotionally “colder” places.

Educating your customer is also key to making the consumer understand your value proposition, which justifies your price and entices them to buy your product. The rug sellers do an amazing job of this, explaining the rich and exotic history of the region’s rugs and the complicated delicate processes that go into making them. By the end of their spiel you feel like you would be an idiot to walk away without buying, losing an incredible opportunity to own a timeless cultural treasure.

little prince

Combatting Even the Best Hustlers:

After years of living in the Middle East, my former roommates and I developed solid strategies to avoid being bested by salespeople in Egypt and Turkey. These are some of our proven strategies that helped us regularly get the best deals and prices whenever we bought things.

  1. Refuse complimentary goods offered to you until after the deal. Nothing is free.
  2. Stay mysterious—the less they know about you the better off you are in the deal. Leave them guessing about you.
  3. Go to the balcony” —stall — Use whatever excuse you have to, and walk away, allowing yourself time to think without feeling pressured or under their influence. If actually in Turkey, use excuses like “We need to go back to our hotel,” or “We don’t want to carry this now,” etc
  4. Don’t be afraid to walk away. Call their bluff. They will often tell you that the price they ask is limited time discount. Leaving and doing due diligence is always wise. Likewise, walking away demonstrates that you are in control and signals that you are not as interested as they may have expected. This gives you more power for negotiation.


Liked my article or hated it? Let me know what you think? I always appreciate feedback and respond.

-Economist & Writer — Heather R Morgan — @HeatherReyhan on Twitter


10 Ways to Live & Travel Light

by Heather R Morgan on October 25, 2013



For the last five years I’ve been living out of a suitcase. After college graduation, I spent years working outside of America without returning. I moved across continents, living in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Despite my current reputation as a jet-setter and nomad, I used to always hate living out of a suitcase. I dreaded packing and unpacking. I always felt like I was forgetting something, or found myself missing items I left back in my parents’ basement. My first real experience with the suitcase lifestyle was attending high school in rural Japan at age 16.

Confessions of a Stubborn Pack-Rat:

I am an only child, and I had an obsession with interior design to the point of neurosis. I used to enrage my mom clipping apart her magazines for pictures of patterns and interiors that pleased my eyes. In my head, I was “the Turkish version of Martha Stewart,” with a room decked in many shades of orange, filled with eclectic items from Asia and the Middle East. All through college I took great pride and satisfaction in the appearance of my home, always having the most chic apartment amongst my friends.

I also had a treasure trove of clothes. I had stayed mostly the same size since age 14, so the clothes had been piling up since I hate wasting things. I tried my best to limit the excess, giving clothes to cousins and friends, but like most of my family, my idea of “limited,” was far from minimalism. My dad is x-military and is always prepared for everything from natural disasters to nuclear war. My mom’s a collector, and loves “stuff.” Like many Americans, their basements and garage were packed to the ceiling until recently.

Living in  Japan was a great experience, but with the help of my parents, I massively over-packed.  Because I also bought many things in Japan too, I even purchased another luggage to bring everything home. After Japan, I had caught the travel bug, and I started to take frequent trips around Asia and the Middle East by myself.

Hot Air Ballooning in Luxor, Egypt

Transition from Fanciful Pack-Rat to Nomadic:

The lifestyle change wasn’t easy, but it became increasingly obvious that I must live with less if I wanted to see the world. I didn’t accept this reality easily though; I stubbornly fought it tooth and nail. I developed every trick in the world to pack as much crap as possible on every trip and international move. With the “Middle Eastern” mentality of a natural hustler, I found every loophole in the book to try to get free extra luggage or somehow carry more than was allowed. I kept a small backpacking backpack stuffed full with over 40 pounds of luggage, passing it off as my carry-on. I also brought my student ID card with me, performing teary stories about studying abroad on a scholarship to airline managers in hopes of obtaining extra free-checked luggage, and it usually even worked (ironically it only failed in Turkey). For years, I was convinced I could get away with a life of excess, and so I insisted to continue to pack-rat around globe. I would even make my parents dig around the basement on “scavenger hunts,” bringing me countless items when they and friends visited me abroad (sorry mom & dad!). However, the sensation of “carrying the world” on my shoulders with all my unwieldy luggage was becoming too great of a burden for this 120 pound woman to lug around.

Why I changed?

  1. A big part of it was money. (I guess I’m cheap, but I’m still an economist, so it’s my job to know how to economize.) The airlines were getting stricter and cutting costs, allowing less free checked luggage. I was already spending a big chunk of my budget on travel, and in order to make the most of it, I needed to cut down buying new crap, and I didn’t need the extra luggage fees either.
  2. I was sore and tired from lugging around so much crap around the world. It was getting ridiculous. I actually budgeted for massages after each flight because of this.
  3. It was a huge hassle. I always struggled with packing so much, and it made every flight stressful. I also had to get to the airport early to have enough time to fight with the airlines and then I had to spend the rest of the time waiting with a massive backpack in the lounge. This could all have been avoided.
  4. I was terrified of becoming stuck. I made a resolution to myself to live life as much as I can, and it’s important to me to be able to be mobile and flexible. Having many things does not bring you freedom. It traps you. I see this with many friends and family who are eager to move and/or travel the world, but do not because they don’t know what they would do with all the stuff they keep in their homes or apartments. I refuse to become like this. I don’t want possessions or a luxurious lifestyle to make me become sedentary or overly complacent in life. The opportunity cost of luxury just isn’t worth it.
  5. I had a serious health scare and I realized how little all the things you own matter compared to the preciousness of life, memories, and the relationships you build.


Strive for Balance:

I recently read a book called the Life Nomadic, where the author sold almost everything he owned, traveling and living out of a small bag with only 2 pairs of underwear, socks, 3 shirts, 1 pair of pants and a few other things. The book was a good quick read and certainly inspirational, but a bit too much for me. I strive toward greater simplicity, but I know that this lifestyle is too much even for me. We all have our own comfort levels and necessities (some people have health problems and other special needs, etc), so you should strive for balance, rather than a crazed sense of minimalism. If you are obsessive with minimalism it kind of defeats the purpose of simplicity, which is to clear your mind and make life easier.  Here are some of my more balanced tips for life and travel though:

Travel Light, Travel Well:

1. Limit your baggage, reduce your emotional load. — I now try my best to do all trips and international moves with a maximum of one checked luggage and a small carry-on with essentials. When I travel for less than a month I try to keep it limited to the carry-on. The exception to both of these rules is when I’m bringing a large number of presents for other people, but even then I try to keep to my limit.

2. Buy the right luggage. —I really recommend luggage with 360 wheels and light framed cloth luggage with extendable zippers. These wheels will make your life a world easier when traveling. Unless you’re traveling to Brazil regularly, don’t go for the biggest bag being sold. You will only be tempted to buy/bring too much junk, and you will easily make your luggage overweight (unless flying to Brazil where you can bring 32 Kilos).  I’m a big fan of Samsonite. You can buy the suitcases for a discounted price at Ross, TJ Maxx, or the outlet stores if you’re in America. The bags are great and have a 10 year warranty. If you’re going to a developing country or a natural place that might not have the best roads, go for a quality backpacking backpack (mine is a discontinued bag from Cabela’s from more than 10 years ago, so you can’t really buy that). Get one with a cross strap and good lumbar support so you carry the weight on your hips, not your shoulders. A backpack is ideal if you are planning to cover a lot of distance in your trip, and will be staying in different places and using multiple types of public transportation. (After years of lugging duffle bags and backpacks to save extra weight for my junk, I’m opting for a suitcase now, but in the future if I do more extensive trips, I might opt for the backpack instead of the suitcase.)

3. Consolidate everything, wherever possible. This means not having a thousand electronic devices, cables, shoes, clothes, etc. I’m a big fan of multi-functional things, but also remember when you consolidate, and things break, you can be even more screwed. Use USB chargers with multifunction adapters. Consider wearing comfortable shoes that are still a little stylish so you can walk long distances in them (I don’t wear anything I can’t walk less than 3 miles in. I also don’t buy/keep anything that can’t take somewhat of a beating. You never know where your day will take you, so it’s good to be prepared. I save a lot of money by walking everywhere and only taking public transit, and I also exercise enough between running, walking, and a bit of pilates at home to not need a gym membership.)

4. The magic of rubber bands & ziploc bags & other handy tools — I never travel without these two items. I have become a big fan of “rolling” for packing. I always thought it was annoying and messed up your clothes, but it’s the best way to save space in your bag, and it actually is a lot easier to get to things quickly. For larger items like towels or jackets, I have resorted to using cloth hair ties to keep them in a smaller space. I also rolls like shirts and pants together, and tie them with the bands. Ziploc bags are also a life saver for organizing your things and keeping any liquids from ruining your things. I always use one ziploc bag to collect small papers to save from my trip, and another for important documents and receipts. This keeps your papers from getting destroyed by water damage as well. (My dad also brings duck tape and a tape measurer; both can be useful)

5. Find your signature item & own it — I’m not ready to wear gray shirts and jeans every day, but some people might be. I wish I had this kind of control, but I’m not there yet, and I probably won’t ever be, and that’s okay.  I’m still a bit vein when it comes to appearance and style because I strongly believe in the power of branding. My all time favorite signature item is a pearl necklace my grandma gave me. Pearls are simple, timeless, and elegant, and add class to simple outfits. (I realize this doesn’t work for guys.) When I’m in developing countries I tend to lose the pearls and use my favorite green earrings and necklace that I bought from Bedouin women in Sinai/the Sahara. If accessories aren’t your thing, that’s fine—pick a color or favorite shirt, etc. It doesn’t have to seem expensive or fancy, but make sure whatever the item is, it’s very “you.


(My signature earrings/shirt)

500 strong

(“Red Dress” with 500 Startups friends — #500strong)

My other signature items are a red dress and a shirt I bought in Central Anatolia. Whatever your item(s) are, make sure they are durable, and have versatile use. The idea is not to become “more materialistic” (remember you can lose your signature item, and you’re still YOU!), but rather to focus on a few things that you love. This makes it easier to NOT buy more things, because you know you wouldn’t want to use anything else.


The Journey of Your Life: Becoming a Better Minimalist

6. The 80-20 Rule—The Pareto principle, or also known as “the law of vital few.” This basically means that only 20% is crucial to the whole. Like 20% of your customers might generate 80% of your revenue, you wear only 20% of your clothes 80% of the time. Basically 80% of the things you use come only from 20% of the things you own. This ratio is the norm, but let’s try to be lean, and pair down.

I highly suggest the exercise of trying to live out of a suitcase. It doesn’t matter if you are traveling or not; pack your bag and try to live only off of those things for a few weeks. Take inventory of what you pack and don’t, and you will realize how few of your possessions are actually essential of your life. You will be surprised with how few of your things you actually use. We all do this: we have favorite shirts/shoes/pants/dresses/bags, and we use them until we wear them out, leaving the rest of our closets full of things we never touch. What’s the point of this? Don’t keep lying to yourself. See what it’s like to be a nomad without leaving home by trying living out of a suitcase. It will amaze you. (It wasn’t until moving back to California and living on friends couches for a few months before finding work that I finally completed the transformation to minimalism. Living out of a messenger bag with only a handful of adaptable outfits and electronics was eye opening. I didn’t get rid of EVERYTHING after that, but it helped me to pair down a lot more.)

7. Stay Small & Functional — If you must collect some things, try to keep them small and limited. When I actually buy things (which is not that often), these days I am limiting myself to only purchasing small and functional items.  I mainly just purchase notebooks (I still like to brainstorm on paper), earrings (I recently pierced my ears, so I only have a few pairs), and shoes (I destroy shoes incredibly fast from walking so much).  If this gets excessive though, it loses its purpose. Figure out what you actually NEED/USE regularly, and then make that something you collect. Limiting yourself to the types of items you buy can help keep you from making impulse buys of random crap. Don’t make buying/collecting an obsession though. If you get enough of these things, then don’t keep buying them until you have mountains of them.

8. Go Digital.—I’m still sentimental and love collecting odd items from around the world, but instead of buying them, I mostly just take photos of them and the places they are from instead. I may have albums full of things I may never look at again, but at least it’s on my cloud drive and not in my closet.  If you love books, try getting a kindle and also doing audible instead. Even my librarian mom is starting to prefer the idea of a digital library at her fingertips instead of a house full of books. This is also a great way to access things anywhere anytime.

9. Just the Paper –Okay, so I said go digital, but I still love old fashioned notebooks and journals. Paper is a great way to get your ideas out without distraction. (Evernote is a great alternative for going digital, but it’s nice to have a notebook when you’re taking off in a plane or your battery is dead.) I also collect odd scraps of paper and propoganda posters, because they are small and can fit in a folder, amuse me, and make great collages for my friends (I always make my own cards from postcards and collages for my friends. I’m all about recycling.) Moderation is still key (I limit myself to one ziploc bag per major international trip).


(A present for a friend—collage card wrapped in tin foil with magazine cutout. )

10. Buy less. Before buying new things, whether you are traveling or at home, ask yourself, do I really need this? Will this really make me happier? Think about the opportunity cost: If you don’t buy this, what experiences could you instead save for to make your life richer?

Even when it comes to buying presents for others, it really is the thought that counts. Opt for more sustainable gifts that won’t clutter your friends’ and family’s life like experiences, or recyclable/functional items. I’m a big fan of taking friends to lunch, making them collages (from the odd images I collect in my plastic folder), and only buying them things I know they will use and need when I do buy things. Books and ebooks are also great gifts. Years later my friends still tell me that they have the letters and collages that I made for them when I lived in other countries.


live light