5 Things You Need in Order to Thrive in an Unfamiliar Environment

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For the next 12 months, Zoe Weiner will be living and working remotely in 12 different cities around the world through an organization called Remote Year. As she moves to each new location and tackles new obstacles, she'll share what she learns with us here at Mental Floss. Miss her first installment? Read it here.

On my fifth day in Malaysia, I broke down crying in front of a street meat stand.

I hadn’t slept in a week, couldn’t figure out what any of the “meat ball” skewers were actually made from (and how long they’d been sweating unrefrigerated in the Malaysian heat), and was really, really homesick. Everything from eating to working to finding a moisturizer that wouldn’t bleach my skin just felt so hard. I was exhausted, overwhelmed, and ready to book the next ticket back to New York.

It wasn’t Kuala Lumpur’s fault (although the stifling temperatures, impending rain, and crowded streets weren't helping). The city itself is known to be fairly easy for expats and tourists to navigate, and my fellow remotes and I jokingly called it “Asia Lite” because we knew it was by far the most Westernized city we were going to be living in during our time in Asia. But despite all of the amazing hamburgers and English-speaking taxi drivers, the adjustment still came as a complete shock.

My work hours became completely scattered, and finding any sort of balance (work/life, personal/professional, asleep hours/awake hours) felt insurmountably difficult. It threatened my productivity, and with that, my happiness—hence the sobbing to a stranger trying to sell me satays.

That was my sign I needed to take a serious step back.

In the days and weeks that followed, I reevaluated my work, life, and emotional balance, and came up with a plan to strengthen my productivity without completely burning out. I took to my journal and made a list of exactly why I was here, what I wanted to accomplish, and who I wanted to be a year from now when I was back in the U.S. Then, I asked myself what I needed to succeed and came up with a plan. So far, it’s working. Here are five things you need in order to adjust to working and living in new surroundings, from someone who learned it the hard way.

1. CLEAR GOALS

It’s terrifyingly easy to get distracted when you’re working remotely (thanks, internet), and when you’re traveling it’s 1000 times worse. It’s hard enough to get work done when there’s a new series on Netflix calling your name, let alone when there’s an entire new city outside your door, begging to be explored. Because of this, prioritizing and setting goals is the only way to ensure that anything will ever actually get done. Set yearly, monthly, weekly, and daily goals, and re-visit them regularly to check up on your progress. Here are a few of the ones I’m working toward this year, so the internet can hold me just as accountable as I plan to hold myself:

- Train for the Buenos Aires Marathon in October
- Write one long-form journalistic piece that is published in a print magazine
- Learn to code
- Learn conversational Spanish before I get to South America

2. A STRONG SUPPORT SYSTEM

As lonely as remote work may sometimes feel, there’s no reason you have to go it alone. In order to thrive in an unfamiliar place, you need someone you can call when you feel like you're reaching your breaking point. Even better if you have two people on speed-dial: one who will sympathize with what a hard time you’re having, and another who will tell you to “snap out of it” and take stock of the adventure you're living. Just do yourself a favor and call the sympathizer first.

3. FLEXIBILITY

As incredible as full-time travel may look on Instagram, there’s a less cheery behind-the-scenes reality: Things often go wrong. Food will make you sick, your WiFi will go down, and your phone/wallet/passport is going to get stolen at least once. Not every day is going to be the best, most photogenic day ever, and there are going to be times when you want to just give up and go home. Don’t do it. Learn to embrace the unknown, and learn from the hardest of hard days.

This applies to work, too. When things aren’t going your way, take a deep breath, a step back, and see if there’s another way to attack the problem at hand.

4. ASPECTS OF A ROUTINE

The idea of “wake up, go to the gym, go to work, come home, eat dinner, go to bed” just isn’t realistic when you're in an exciting new setting. Because of this, it’s important to pick out the most important parts of your routine and make them work in your new life. For me, this has meant starting every day with a to-do list, writing in my journal every night, and trying to get to the gym as frequently as possible. Your perception of what it means to have a routine will change, but finding some normalcy will allow you to focus and be productive.

5. A CONTINGENCY PLAN

The reality of working while traveling is a lot harder and less glamorous than most of the “Get Paid to Travel the World” articles make it sound. Jobs fall through, roles change, and the balance of trying to do it all may simply become too difficult to maintain. And this is all okay. Just because things don’t work out exactly the way you expected them to doesn’t mean you’ve failed. But to avoid feeling like everything is crashing down around you each time one little thing goes wrong, come up with some sort of “just in case” plan ahead of time. No matter what—whether you have to quit a job, re-prioritize your goals, or live paycheck to paycheck to make ends meet—it will be ok. I promise.

11 Tips for Avoiding Germs at the Grocery Store

The early bird doesn't catch the germ.
The early bird doesn't catch the germ.
Minerva Studio/iStock via Getty Images

While going to concerts, movie theaters, bars, beaches, and other recreational destinations is temporarily on hold, there’s one outing that remains a necessity during self-isolation: grocery shopping. If any supermarkets in your area offer home delivery or even store pickup, this is a good time to take advantage of those services.

But if you, like many of us, still need to stock up on food the old-fashioned way, here are some helpful tips for avoiding germs when you venture to the store.

1. Go early in the morning.

Not only will stores be less crowded in the early morning, but they’ll probably be cleanest then, too, since the staff often sanitizes the premises at night. Because many stores are devoting their early hours of operation to senior citizens only, Reader’s Digest suggests calling ahead to find out when your store opens to the general public.

2. Bring hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, or disposable gloves (and wipe down your cart).

Though many stores are now putting disinfectant wipes near the carts so you can wipe them down, you should bring your own just in case. This is especially important, since studies have found that COVID-19 can live for two or three days on plastic surfaces.

Your cart won’t be the only potentially germy place you put your hands during your trip—door handles in the frozen food section, self-checkout screens, and credit card keypads are all risky zones. Be sure to either wipe them down before touching, use hand sanitizer after touching, or just wear gloves that you can toss out at the end of your trip.

3. Don’t touch your face.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but you might be especially prone to absentmindedly touching your face while you contemplate which non-dairy milk to choose when your first choice is out of stock.

4. Don't touch your phone either.

Phone screens are a great example of high-touch surfaces where germs can live, so instead of keeping a grocery list on your smartphone, write it on a piece of scrap paper that you can throw away after you’re finished.

5. Give yourself more time to shop than you usually need.

Maintaining at least 6 feet between you and every other shopper means occasionally waiting for occupied aisles to clear and moving more slowly so you don’t run into people—not to mention the time it takes to use hand sanitizer or disinfectant wipes intermittently. If you’re trying to fit in a quick shopping trip before an important Zoom call with your boss, you may be less conscientious about shopping safely.

6. Inspect items for holes in the packaging (or the food itself).

Make sure there aren’t any rips or tears in cereal boxes, potato chip bags, or any other packaging—and that goes for produce, too. Give those apples a nice long look to be certain there aren’t any holes or breaks in the skin that germs could easily get into.

7. Bypass the free samples.

Surprise snacks at supermarkets are one of the perks of grocery shopping, but Livestrong points out that exposed food is an easy target for germs. So skip the free samples and don't graze on those bunches of grapes; instead, reward yourself with an extra snack at home. Some stores, like Costco, are even suspending their samples during this time, so you won't be so tempted.

8. Don’t pay with cash.

While there’s a certain satisfaction in counting out exact change, cash has a reputation for being a hotbed for germs. If possible, stick to cards or other automatic methods of payment. Even then, it's not the worst idea in the world to wipe down debit and credit cards after using them.

9. Leave the grocery bags on your doorstep.

Store employees are being extra cautious about cleanliness, but it’s still possible that your bags could pick up germs during the checkout process. To avoid the risk, leave them outside and only bring your items into the house.

10. Wash reusable bags between trips.

If you’ve made the switch to reusable shopping bags, Food Network recommends tossing them in the washing machine or wiping them down with soap and water between shopping trips.

11. Wash produce and wipe down other items.

Per usual, you should thoroughly rinse produce before eating it. Dr. Lisa Larkin, a Cincinnati-based internal medicine physician and founder of Ms.Medicine, told Reader’s Digest that you can also wipe down jars, cans, and bottles with a disinfectant wipe before putting them in your pantry for good measure.

[h/t Reader’s Digest]

This Nifty Potato Chip Bag Hack Is Amazing the Internet

Keep that crispy, crunchy freshness inside the bag—no tools needed.
Keep that crispy, crunchy freshness inside the bag—no tools needed.
etiennevoss/iStock via Getty Images

If you don’t have enough chip clips to keep your snack bags shut—or if you have a habit of misplacing them—there’s no shortage of household items you can use instead. Clothespins, binder clips, rubber bands, and ponytail holders all get the job done, and you could even use an especially durable paper clip or bobby pin in a pinch.

But, as many people on the internet just discovered, all you actually need to seal your half-eaten bag of potato chips is the bag itself. Last week, actor and host of Bravo’s Top Chef Padma Lakshmi posted a video on Twitter of her tightly closing a bag of Fritos without any makeshift chip clips.

First you fold the two sides of the bag down as far as they’ll go, so the top of the bag is shaped like a triangle—similar to how you’d wrap a present. Then, roll up the bottom of that triangle a few times until you’ve created a pocket, under which you can tuck the triangle’s point. After that, simply roll the top of the bag down a few times, and you’ve successfully sealed the bag.

At the end of the video, Lakshmi turns the bag upside down and gives it a few shakes to show everyone just how secure it is. She tweeted the hack with the caption “How am I just finding out about this now?” and, considering that the video has been viewed more than 10 million times, it’s safe to say that she’s not the only one who didn’t know about the hack.

Wondering what other life hacks you might be missing out on? Find out how to chill a soda in three minutes, remove scratches on CDs, and more here.

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