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2018 in Review

Welcome to my annual year-in-review post, where I answer the question: “Where exactly have you been, Blake?”

It was another whirlwind year. Are you ready? I’m ready. Here’s the story.

Germany & West Coast USA

In January I found myself in Deutschland for love. This was an intense and magical period, filled with wintery bike rides, inscrutable German words, and lots of dancing.

Dancing with Sarah at Ice Bear Blues in Berlin

In February, Sarah and I traveled to the Pacific Northwest (with a stopover in Iceland, yes it was cold) to visit my friends and family. We spent two weeks at Grace Llewellyn’s house in Eugene where I ran a week-long workshop about talking to strangers to help promote Grace’s new center for teens, The Hive.

Hanging with teens (and tweens) at the Eugene Public Library after they interviewed strangers in downtown Eugene

In San Francisco I bid adieu to Sarah, recertified my Wilderness First Responder, and geared up for my…

Spring Speaking Tour

Over the past decade I’ve given many talks, but they’ve always been one-off events. This year I fulfilled a long-held dream on putting together a bonafide speaking tour, which began on the west coast (the spring segment) and then continued cross-country (the fall segment).

In February and March I gave 9 presentations for alternative schools and self-directed learning centers across the west coast, from Portland to Orange County. My talk was titled “How to Get a Real Education” (slides), and it integrated some fascinating new research I unearthed while writing articles about nature versus nurture and economic signaling in education for the Alliance for Self-Directed Education.

Speaking for QuantumCamp in Palo Alto, California

Along the way I visited long-lost friends in the greater San Francisco and Los Angeles areas. As I’ve written elsewhere, it’s up to nomadic wanderers like me to proactively maintain friendships and connections; I put a lot of effort into said maintenance this year.

Taco time with Reanna, Nathen, and Maya, friends I visited while speaking in the Los Angeles area

Seattle, Colorado, Connecticut

As a little experiment, I decided to create a series of professional-quality videos about self-directed education. I flew to Seattle to spend a week with my videographer friend Addison Pond, and together we produced four videos that were a hit on Facebook, even if they didn’t gain many views on YouTube. I’m still proud of them, and I’m glad I made them. Find them on my homepage.

I joined another fusion dance festival in Seattle then flew back to my car which was stashed in Las Vegas, drove to Colorado to visit friends running a gap year program, left my car there for the summer, flew to visit family in Connecticut, met and trained my Spain trip co-leaders, and then departed for Spain.

That all happened in about two weeks. Yes, my travel schedule is a bit nuts sometimes. But I like it.

Playing Catan with the High Desert Center gap year group in Paonia, Colorado

Unschool Adventures in Spain

In May and June I led my only Unschool Adventures trip of the year, a 6-week adventure across Spain with 12 teen unschoolers. We combined two weeks of Spanish classes and homestays in Southern Spain, two weeks of hiking on the Camino del Norte route in the Basque Country, and two weeks of exploring Barcelona. Another successful adventure! (photos)

My favorite photo from the Spain trip, taken on the Camino del Norte

Germany, Round Two

For the rest of June and all of July I returned to Germany to spend time with Sarah. I learned to speak a bit more German, had some friends and family visit, and went on long, sweaty runs in the Black Forest.

Sarah, Cooper (half-brother), Matt (long-time friend), and Blake at a wine festival in Freiburg

Sierra High Route

When my 90 days in the Schengen Area were up, I flew back to Colorado and snagged one more fusion dance festival, reclaimed my car, and drove back to California for another adventure: the Sierra High Route.

I wrote two blog posts (here and here) about this hike, which you really should read. It. Was. Awesome.

Julie and Fred, my hiking compatriots for two weeks

Fitting in Germany, the Sierra High Route, and my fall speaking tour unfortunately meant skipping Not Back to School Camp this year—which I missed after 12 unbroken years of working there! But I did visit my staff friends in Eugene shortly after the Oregon camp session ended, so I wasn’t too deprived.

Fall Speaking Tour

In September, October, and November I continued my speaking tour, rocking a whole new presentation entitled Yes, You Can Quit Traditional School and Everything Will Be Okay. The slides aren’t that informative but you can watch this bootleg video and read the related article I published.

I gave the talk a few times on the west coast and then drove east across the U.S., delivering it in Minneapolis, Chicago, and Ann Arbor, followed by many stops in New England and the whole east coast as far south as Charlotte: 14 talks in total, with audience sizes ranging from 15 to 60.

Needless to say, this was a road trip of epic proportions. Along the way I Couchsurfed, visited friends new and old, and made new connections and reinforced old ones… an exhausting and highly satisfying journey.

Speaking for a packed house in Chicago
Grabbing a drink with Ben Draper, Kerry McDonald, Maggie Van Camp, and Pat Farenga (great people from the world of unschooling / self-directed learning) in Boston

I took a break from driving to spend a week at North Star (in Western Massachusetts) and another at ALC Mosaic (in Charlotte), each of which is a shining beacon in the world of alternative education. I wanted to better understand each of these places and the models they represent—Liberated Learners and Agile Learning Centers, respectively—and I was warmly welcome by each of their communities.

The fall was also punctuated by a major heartbreak. Alas. Love is hard.

The Winter and Beyond

If you’ve perused any of my previous year-in-reviews (such 20172016, 2015201420132012, or 2011), you may have picked up on a theme: I’m not a fan of winter, and I like to ditch it for more sunny, southern climates whenever possible. And this winter, ditch I shall: all the way to New Zealand!

After spending some holiday time with family, I’m hopping on a one-way flight to New Zealand to spend 4 weeks hiking on the Te Araroa trail across the South Island. After that I’ll stick around New Zealand a bit longer to do some writing, research for a future U.A. trip, and plan my next moves. At age 36, my life is still an open book.


Fun Facts

What I’m most proud of in 2018: My creative output! I published 5 long-form articles, 15 Off-Trail Learning podcast episodes, 4 professional-quality videos. Oh, and those 23 talks, they count too.

How I made money: I paid my bills by running the Unschool Adventures Spain trip, promoting the High Desert Center Writing Retreat, getting paid to speak (although that really just covered my road trip costs), collecting ever-diminishing book royalties from Amazon sales of Better Than College and The Art of Self-Directed Learning, private coaching (just a tiny bit), and receiving support from a handful of generous folks on Patreon.

How I spent money: If you wonder how I sustain myself with the measly income that you see above, here’s the answer: I don’t spend much! My big expenses in 2019 included roughly $4000 for rent, $6000 for food, $3500 for car+health insurance, $1000 for video production, plus another few thousand for books, cell phone, clothing, and flights. Unschool Adventures covered some of my expenses, including all my time in Spain. I even maxed out my annual Roth IRA contribution! 💪

Something I didn’t really achieve: Last year I made a commitment to waste less time on my phone and social media. I succeeded in some regards—I removed all social media apps from my phone, disabled email notifications, and kept my phone outside of my bedroom while sleeping—but I still found ways to sabotage myself and waste time when I would have preferred to be reading a paperback book, being outdoors, or connecting with actual humans. The threat is real—and the challenge continues!

What’s coming in 2019: I always spend a big part of my year preparing for the next; here’s a sneak preview of my upcoming trips, programs, and projects.

  • Making Peace with Gaming (Jan/Feb): a 4-week online workshop for parents whose kids love gaming… perhaps too much! I’m not running this personally—my friends Kelly and Eric are—but I came up with the idea after hearing so many parents express concerns about the gaming habits of their self-directed kids at my speaking tour Q&A sessions.
  • DIY Gap Year South America (Apr/May): I’m attempting to create more programs for college-aged young adults (ages 18-22+) that helps them travel the world independently instead of feeling like they need to sign up for a super-expensive “official” gap year program. This new program is the first attempt to do this: essentially it’s a crash course in the art of independent travel (led by me) followed by truly independent travel supported by an in-country Unschool Adventures staff person (my Argentinian friend Mica) who provides a sense of community and on-call assistance when needed. The whole program really excites me … but who knows if there’s actually a market for it!
  • Individual Adventures (anytime after February): Same mission as the DIY Gap Year, but packaged as one-on-one coaching with Blake. I’ll work with 17- to 23-year-olds to help them design their first big international adventure. I already have my first client!
  • New Zealand 2019 (Nov/Dec): a 6-week Unschool Adventures teen trip led by my friend Ari. This will be the first international trip that I don’t personally lead! Exciting and a bit terrifying.

As always, I don’t know if any of these programs will actually gain minimum enrollment numbers… it’s entirely possible that none of them gain traction, and I’ll be left scrambling to offer something new or falling back on savings. #entrepreneurlife

You can help me avoid this fate by downloading this flyer to share online or print+post wherever self-directed young people congregate. Word-of-mouth recommendations always help, too. Thank you!

That’s it for 2018. Thanks for reading and caring. Wish me luck in New Zealand. Until next year!

—Blake

Published November 29th, 2018.