My practical (air)travel trips

I travel quite a bit for work and pleasure, and have for a few decades. Here are some practical tips I have for you.

Preparation (weeks-days before travel)

  • Invest in the best active noise cancelling earphones you can afford and that fit you best. I love my Bose 20i. I prefer in-ear earplugs, but the over-ear Bose 35i and Sony WH1000XM3 work really well too (they are a bit hot to wear, and the Sony one’s Bluetooth handling is less elegant as it will not easily switch between two users. The reduction of the onslaught on your ears and the resulting stress on your system is worth more than any class upgrade if you are in a bind. I can’t emphasis this enough: invest in a good noise cancelling headphone.
  • Consider buying passive earplugs for sleeping: if you cover the microphones of the active noise cancellers they will typically give you a high screeching tone. Plus I don’t like having wires around my throat when I’m sleeping: I prefer not to garrotte myself. I like 3M’s 1100 Orange rounded earplugs or more recently my custom made earplugs from
  • Go into the travel with enough sleep. Going in with a sleep-debt will make the effects of jetlag much worse, and it will take longer to recover from it. Plus with low sleep you’ll be more tempted to eat crap food.

Preparation (just before the trip)

I have a check-in/carry-on suitcase (currently Samsonite B-Light 3 with 2 wheels) ready for travel nearly all the time. The week before a trip I have it open in my bedroom and fill it with the specific items I need for an upcoming trip as I bump into them (Getting Things Done style inbox filing ;-)).

I also have my daily-carry/designated carry-on backpack (currently North Face Kaban (older model)) which is always ready for day to day meetings and for air travel (fluids only in an external pouch, no sharps, etc).

That carry-on backpack also contains a change of clothes, just in case my check-in goes missing for a few days (rare) or I get caught in rain/manage to dirty my clothes (less rare). I’ve packed, in waterproof ziplock bags, wrinkle-free business casual clothes:

  • 1 Mizzen and Main shirt (doesn’t wrinkle, looks professional, does not sweat, does however love to absorb coloured liquids spectacularly).
  • 1 Nike Golf pants (looks like formal pants, stretches and dries like sport clothes, hard to get dirty and easy to clean)
  • 2 changes of underwear
  • 2 pairs of socks (with my Vibram 5fingers I get wet feet easily)
  • 1 waterproof trenchcoat from Patagonia (if I’m not wearing it)
  • Take a biggish (1 or 3 liter) ziplock bag, and put the items you need available at your seat in there. This allows you to quickly and without fuss settle into your seat. If you practice putting your stuff back in after using, you also won’t lose items as you leave again. As an added bonus, that bag probably is also exactly the electronics that you have to pull out at the security screening anyway, making that process much less stressful (and more efficient for other travellers like me too ;-)).
  • Consider packing:
    • Apple travel Adapter Kit (or equivalent), with the plugs of all your stops on the way. Consider to add the UK one too: I’ve found that the power plugs often don’t hold power supplies with US prongs at all, and poorly with the European ones. This is the one place where I really like the massive UK power prongs: they keep the power supply nice and snug even in turbulence.
    • Short USB charge cables for your phone, tablet and noise cancelling headset.
    • A good eye mask.
    • A small pen, and if you like that, a note pad.
  • Pack any item that is a liquid/gel in a good ziplock back of max 1l. Not only will that allow you to efficiently pull it out if it is in your carry-on luggage, but it will also save you much grief should it accidentally open/leak in your check-in luggage.

During the trip

  • Drink plenty of water: Simply accept every offer of water.
  • Stay away from alcohol: Alcohol dehydrates you, and degrades the sleep quality significantly. You might feel a bit better dulling yourself from the travel stress with the alcohol, but you are paying a heavy price for this after the flight. I advise meditation and binaural beats as an alternative for handling the stress of the travel.

Professional-paranoid tips

  • Consider putting a 3M privacy shield on your laptop. It severely reduces how much your neighbours can see and how much they are disturbed by your laptop’s light. (Disadvantage: it is glossy, especially the gold side, so it makes the screen a bit less clear. A privacy shield also interferes with a blue-filtering screen. Do install F.lux.)
  • Consider the environment and prefer seats with no people behind you. People do look on your screen. I know I can’t help but notice that presentation or business plan…
  • As usual, always lock your computer when you are away from it. Don’t leave it unattended in waiting rooms and such of course.
  • Put some TSA approved locks on the zippers of your backpack, and connect them together.

Flying business class: decadent waste of money or cost-efficient use of time?

I’m writing this half-way between Europe and the US. Decadently in business class.
I used to consider this was an extravagant decadence, a waste of money. Money was scarce, not mine to spend, or both. A typical ticket from Europe to the US costs about €400-600 per leg. The upgrade costs to business class is typically €300-600 per leg extra. That is a lot of money to spend on more personal space for ±8-10 hours.

And now that money isn’t scarce, but my time is, I’ve come to the conclusion that business class is actually cheaper for me financially. This surprised me (pleasantly ;-)). Below is my reasoning.

Yes: Getting work done

Flying in business class gives me room to put my laptop in an ergonomically ok distance (display is still too low, but there is not much to do about that), without fights for my elbow space or visibility on my screen.
As a result, I typically get a solid 4-6 hours of work done (no distractions), which pays for the upgrade costs. So this is money-cost neutral from just the work I can do on the plane.

Yes: less travel stress, more availability

Meanwhile, I travel much more comfortably, resulting in much less stress on my body and mind. I also get a good 2-3 hours of nap/meditation. The result is that I arrive in a much better physical state, with much less recovery time and energy costs. This saves me a good 1-2 days of crappy recovery from jetlag at the destination.
The improvement in my quality of life is totally worth it as a person, and me being immediately fully functional for work alone pays for the business class ticket in the 1-1.5 days of productivity that comes from that. Let alone the much deeper impact I can make from being resourced.

Conclusion: Heck yes!

So, now I decadently enjoy both the time saving and money making travel in business class.

Jet-setting and working hard,

P.S. Regardless of the travel class, I have some tips that make travel much easier.

Measured authentic relating: Lief at the Bulletproof conference 2016

My takeaway

“Lief” has a very interesting kinesthetic approach to HRV training, leading to faster unconsciously-competent management of your own activation level. This technology might go places.

I also see some exciting possibilities with this technology to deepen authentic relating.

There is a lot to experiment with and figure out before I come to a clear conclusion, so I am writing this so you can get a sense of what is happening.

What is “Lief”?

“Lief” is a wearable heart rate variability (HRV) tracker and feedback device. It is smaller than my palm, has a shape that reminds me of a liver (probably because it attaches to your ribs under the breast).
It has two connectors for adhesive sensor pads, similar to EKG pads that stick to your skin. According to the guys of “Lief”, the pads can stay attached for 1-2 days and are standard in the field of heart rate sensing (so you are not locked in to buying them from Lief if you chose “Lief” as a tool).
Besides the electrical sensors for the heart rate, the Lief also has built in acceleration sensors (which it uses for detecting breathing rate and hence faster and more accurate HRV coherence determination), and a vibration motor. It also has a Bluetooth® Low Energy (BLE) link to the accompanying app on iPhone/Android, and a fairly sizable USB-rechargeable battery (1+ day with feedback mode, 4+ days with measuring according to the guys from Lief Therapeutics).

What makes Lief different?

What makes the Lief different from other heart rate sensors, is the mode where it uses tactile feedback (the vibration motor) to provide the wearer with the HRV feedback. The Lief vibrates gently when it estimates that your exhale would maximize the downslope of HRV, i.e. helps you shift your body into a less reactive mode.

In practice, this means that the “Lief” vibrates gently in a pattern that feels much like a breath. This feedback loop feels much more body-based than say, the sounds or visual indicators of the Inner Balance or the Muse headband.

Traditional HRV feedback

The traditional HRV feedback cycle is:

  1. The heart-rate sensor detects that the HRV coherence is low (anxiety).
  2. The app shows or sounds a warning (requiring you to watch a screen or listen)
  3. Based on that information, you have to know how to change your brain state (letting the thoughts go for example, or focussing on your breathing again).
  4. After a while the brain state influences your breathing/heart rate, and the HRV coherence is high (relaxed).
Traditional HRV feedback loop
Traditional HRV feedback loop

As a result, there is an extra brain-heavy step in this process, and a bit more lag between notification and the change in attention/behavior. The advantage is that your brain learns to quiet itself and your body. The disadvantage is that your brain is in the loop.

Lief feedback cycle

With the Lief, the cycle now is:

  1. HRV coherence is low (anxiety).
  2. Lief reminds body to breathe in the way that restores HRV coherence.
  3. HRV coherence is high (relaxed).
Lief HRV feedback loop
Lief HRV feedback loop

With the Lief, obviously your brain is still actually in the loop, but in the background. As the feedback is more kinesthetic, a somatic experience, I imagine it will be easier to learn to automatically moderate your physical state.

(Also, because the Lief also can determine the breathing rhythm, it will calculate the HRV coherence more correctly faster, ending in a shorter-in-time feedback cycle too.)

Lief’s kinesthetic approach worked for me

I seem to generally have a fairly regular and deep breathing pattern (as detected with the Spire), and I think I unconsciously-competently(?) regulate my HRV that way. Even so, after a few minutes of attuning myself to the vibration/feedback of the Lief (which was fairly easy for me), I did feel myself slow down in the hectic tech hall of the Bulletproof Conference.

I like this kinesthetic feedback loop. I think this somatic feedback will indeed make learning to modulate the level of nervous system activation much easier, creating the calming effects of meditation minimizing the involvement of the brain.

Their application area

From the developers perspective, the aim for “Lief” is to become more aware of stress/anxiety in your body, and teach your body to relax (i.e. have better HRV coherence).

One of the developers shared that it helped him overcome social anxiety. I can see how this would be a very useful tool for those of you struggling to notice anxiety and bodily activation early.

My application area: what I’m excited to use it for!

In Authentic Relating, we have developed simple yet powerful practices to drop deep into connection with others. In doing those practices, especially the ‘Circling’ practice that brings this many skills together, I often get a sense of feeling the other person deeply and more rarely, a sense of us merging. I feel as if we are going into a “we-space”.

Yes, I know, this may sound quite woo-woo. This “we-space” might be a pure imagination (I don’t think so), this may be mirror-neurons / the vagal nerve in action (my current best theory), some non-dual energy experience in action, or pure randomness. All I know, is that I have a strong subjective experience of this.

So I’ve been very curious to see if this very subjective feeling may actually be supported by “objective” measurements. Nothing like n=1 experimentation, especially when it touches such a subjective and personal experience.

The guys of “Lief” were very enthusiastic about such an experiment and in no time both Cris (close friend and fellow experienced practitioner of Authentic Relating practices) and I got a pre-production Lief device attached to us.

Authentic Relating experiment with Lief
Authentic Relating experiment with Lief: sensing each other’s Lief vibrating breath indicators

First impressions from this experiment

We experimented with the Lief as a way to connect to ourselves first, then moved to connecting to another. We got interesting preliminary results.

Stronger connection to self

During our trials of the authentic relating practices (Notice Imagine Feel and Numbers), the vibrating of the Lief seemed to help anchor me into my body. I see this as having benefits and a disadvantage:
+ I can see the “Lief” helping me to feel more of my own state, and ground into my own state more. So it is easier to be with my own bodily experience.
+ As a result, I also felt more anchored in my body, so it seems easier not to lose myself in the other.
– It also seems harder to lose myself in the other person. Putting my attention almost completely on the other person seems much harder because I was ‘dragged’ back to myself.

Not clear how it helps make connection to other

After just focussing on our own “Lief”, and getting in the flow of the practices, we tried out consciously synching our HRV downslopes with each other (as shown in the picture). My hypothesis was that by consciously synching our HRV downslopes, we might get more easily in a we-space.

Testing my above hypothesis was not successful (so far). There were some demonstration-effect technical glitches, that may have been in the way also. We did not get both Liefs in the same downslope mode until late in this experiment, and one of our Liefs was not linked to a phone so we could not modify its settings nor read the values easily.
I’m not coming to any definitive conclusions from this experiment about this device, as I know from experience, that these kind of glitches happen with spontaneous experiments.
We were also doing this in a context of a loud, bustling technical hall, and I did have less sleep than I would like to have had.

I’ll experiment with this tool more, but I don’t think this path of consciously physically syncing of breathing/HRV will work. The natural breathing and hence HRV coherence of participants will likely be too different.

A way to sync the HRV coherence level could possibly help, and might supercharge what happens in the authentic relating practices already.

This might make “connection to other” measurable?

After attempting to attune and create coherence via our respective Liefs first, we tried the Numbers authentic relating game. That too did not seem to work because of a practical aspect of the Numbers game: the person repeating the numbers aims to speak the number very close to the original speaker. This means that the repeater has to hold their breath to have enough air to say the number when the original speaker says it.
This holding your breath “unnaturally” of course brings your HRV out of coherence.

So we shifted to Notice Imagine Feel, a practice that also connects to another person, but allows each individual to have their own rhythm in speaking (and hence probably more natural breathing pattern and hence more HRV coherence).
After doing that for a few back-and-forths, we did seem to get into a resonant HRV pattern for a while: the other’s Lief vibrated at the same time, suggesting that the breathing had synchronised with maximised HRV coherence.

Further experiments needed 🙂

My cautious impression, is that using this kind of tool might help with authentic relating:

  • Connection to self seems it might to be faster, and possibly deeper and more easily sustained during the process: The Lief gives subtle somatic assistance to stay in HRV coherence.
  • Connection to the other might be supported, especially in online settings, by helping noticing dissonance between coherence states. I need to experiment a bit more with two Liefs to get a better feel for it.
  • We-space – I hope it might be in a way, measurable with these sensors. Just how the HRV coherence and the heart rates converge or differ might be a really interesting way to quantify this.

We, as well as the guys at Lief, enjoyed the experiment we did in the tech hall, and want to try it with the practitioners in Boulder at the Integral Center. As the production run of the Liefs will be end of this year, the guys at “Lief” enthusiastically offered to loan me two of the pre-production models for that experiment in the meantime! I’m really looking forward to seeing what that will bring.

My intent is to hook up both the facilitator (Circler) and the focus of the Circle (Circlee) with Liefs, and see if we can actually see patterns of resonance or reaction between them both.

I’m arranging other sensors to also measure other aspects (2 Muses for brainwave measurement for example), as well as recording video and audio.

All in all I had a very fun time mixing authentic relating and biohacking technology, and am very much looking forward to trying this more.

With a beating heart,

P.S. “Lief”: what is in a name?

By the way, according to the founders, the name “Lief” is both an abbreviation of “relief” (from anxiety, stress etc) and of the old English word “lief” meaning “beloved” or “willing”.
In Dutch, “lief” means “nice, lovely” as adjective, and “my beloved” as noun. I prefer that interpretation 🙂

99Designs experience: tragedy of the commons

To make this blog ready for wider distribution, I ran a 99Designs campaign to design a new logo for
I didn’t have a good experience with 99Designs, even though it came well recommended by Tim Ferriss. This is what I suspect is happening:

The game’s rules and impacts

I have the impression that game theory is well at work here, and the results I’m seeing are because 99Designs set up the rules of the game in a specific way.

The beginning is a delicate time

As the campaign starts, the client (me) is instructed by 99Designs to give the designers low marks. I suppose the intent is to prevent you giving the highest marks immediately, and then there is no way to exceed them, but this way early submissions get penalized just for being early, even if they are great. I frequently went back to earlier designs to check if I should not actually increase their rating.

Mono-culture is not a good thing

Apparently designers can see each other’s designs and my ratings of those designs. The designers follow a strategy of going for the path of least risk of offending me (and not the path of the greatest difference).

As a result the earlier designers have the cost of finding a style that gets high scores from the client, and other artists then copy or expand only on that. The result is a lot of the same designs, and earlier designers risk being ripped off.

Then again, the earlier designs do get more attention from the client and more chances to adapt the designs.

I’ve had several “designers” that blatantly submitted replicas of earlier submissions. Part of this is of course, natural evolution, part of this does seem… opportunistic to me.

Series 1 of the convergence

OriginalLogo copies - 3Logo copies - 2Logo copies - 4Logo copies - 6Logos 2 - 5

Series 2

Original round logo by redboy_s Copy cat logoCopy cat logoCopy cat logo

I think the only real way to counter this a bit as the client, is to give comments to designs, but no ratings. This might work because the comments are not visible to the others, but the changed designs will be.

Vying for attention

Near the end of the first phase, there was a clear “ballot stuffing” moment, where artists put up a series of very similar designs or even the same logo in various angles, in an apparent attempt to crowd out the others.

Another attempt to garner more attention, was sending standard or effectively empty messages. Apparently “.”  is the smallest message allowed to be sent, as it brings up the design also on the messages.

(The messaging system of 99Designs has a mediocre user interface. It was completely unclear to me what messages were new and unread. It also accepted new designs after the deadline and sent me emails about it, but were not actually shown on the website.)

Voting for your own

This didn’t surprise me to see: designers did of course vote for their own design in the poll (again, apparently the polls are also not hidden to the designers).

Redboy voting for his own design
Redboy voting for his own design

But of course, this is now also “crowd sourced”: clear ballot stuffing by cohorts of the designers was also visible:

Peer "support"
Peer “support”
Peer "support"
Peer “support”

Steering this game?

So, I was wondering just how I could turn this blatantly opportunistic behaviour to my advantage as a client.

It is not the brief

I don’t think you can use the brief (the initial instructions to the designer) effectively: only a few of the artists read the brief (it explicitly told the designers to not mimic handwriting if it was not mine, which a lot did not follow). Only one explicitly referred to the brief’s content, and included an appreciation of this (he is also the original artist using my own writing and the red “.org“, and did not end up updating his design so did not make it to the finals).

Some spectacularly did not read the brief, including misspelling my name:
Logos 2 - 4

There is no feedback mechanism

I could not find a “ban this designer” or “mark this designer as …” mechanism for feedback. I have no idea how feedback works in this domain.

All in all I got a good logo out of this exercise, helped significantly by help by the readers.
However, if you know a good graphics designer, or know someone who knows one, I’d advise going that route. This isn’t particularly cheap and in the end the whole group behaved as a single designer anyway.

With kind regards,

99Designs logo design experience

As you early readers of my blog know, I had a design “contest” using 99Designs for a new logo. I’ll have another post on how the economics of 99Designs lead to some less desirable results.

This post however, is about how selection of the logo happened.

Setting context: The brief I gave

Title: “Create a clearly personal, yet elegant logo and FB header” by

The tone I want to convey is me (Wouter, my first name, masculine) talking to you (the reader), one on one, person to person, not with a lot of attention on me but also not shrinking that it is me you are talking to. I’d love the logo to be very similar to my own handwritten Wouter, or quite different but inspired. The total domain name “” has to be quickly understandable, with .org clearly part of it.
I’ve also attached some pictures of me for possible inspiration on the header files. All are mine in terms of copyright and can be used for this.

Lessons learned

Cross cultural experiences

An important practical detail for me was that the total domain name “” would be immediately clear. This brought up interesting multi-cultural perspectives. As the logo was based on my (arguably not so readable) handwriting, I found out that the t is crossed differently in the US for example. I did not know that cursive writing varied that much!

Voting isn’t that distinctive

I set out a poll with friends to ask for feedback.
It turned out that the actual voting itself wasn’t as useful to me as I expected, as the voting results were pretty close to each other:

Screen Shot 2016-09-07 at 10.49.23Screen Shot 2016-09-07 at 10.49.38Screen Shot 2016-09-07 at 10.49.56Screen Shot 2016-09-07 at 10.50.13Screen Shot 2016-09-07 at 10.50.30Screen Shot 2016-09-07 at 10.50.48

Interestingly there was quite a bit of “love or hate”, i.e. designs having lots of votes in both the “1: hate it” and the “5: love it”. My conclusion: this design does stir things with the viewer. 😉

Text remarks are most actionable

Getting specific comments from people turned out to be the most useful. I could spot common themes in what worked and did not work for people, and those who had experience in graphic design gave detailed feedback.

However, quite often that feedback was completely contradicting the previous feedback in impressively new ways. The first feedback would say some aspect of the logo was very unclear, the other immediately saw me and my name in it, the third said it wasn’t me and the ‘t’ should be different.

In the end I, Wouter, make the decision

So, with conflicting signals, ultimately this was my decision to make and hold. Not much different from my technical work and other leadership positions 😉

So I decided for the one that felt the most authentically me. logo logo

It looks really good on shirts and a business card!

With gratitude (and a new logo),

The new logo: thank you!


With big thanks to you all, the new logo was selected.
With thank to Cris, these became embroidered Mizzen + Main shirts on time for the BP Conference 2016. embroidered on shirts embroidered on shirts

Wearing the shirts with logo felt good: it is my style clothing (nice business casual and practical), my style logo (personal, simple yet slightly out of the box), and people had an easy time spotting and reading the logo. Win!

Oxygen bar BP Conference 2016

Oxygen bar BP Conference 2016

Business card
Business card

I’ve written up how the process with 99designs and with those of you who gave feedback was too.

Again, thank you all for making this happen for me!

With gratitude (and a new logo),

Flying as superman: Airflow by Mindride at the Bulletproof Conference 2016

I always wanted to fly a wing suit, but without the risks of actually crashing into an unforgiving ground. 😉

I got to experience that with Mindride’s “Airflow”: I got suspended in a bungee jump harness with foot straps to hang horizontally, sensors on my arms for arm inclination, an Oculus Rift on my head for virtual reality view, and fans blowing at me for the sensation of wind flight.
And off I went!

The experience is much like flying as superman. Like with a canoe, holding one arm low pivoted me around that arm, arms to the back accelerate (Naruto ninja-running style), arms open to slow down.

I found this quite an immersive experience.

The developer said they also have versions with heat lamps, CO2 puffs for cold, and water misting for even more immersion.

The main application they said they were targeting for was entertainment (hiring it out for parties and such). I imagine there is also great opportunity for working on fear of heights or flying with it.

With different software, I think it is a great opportunity for flow state hacking with this kind of setup.

My expectation is that this kind of application of virtual reality is going to be worth to keep an eye on. There are already “VirZoom” and “WideRun” virtual biking, or “Icaros” flying core workout.

Here is to flying as superman!