Really Expensive Shampoo & Other Future Shocks

January 5, 2022

Like most people, I prefer not to think about bad things happening.

If a war broke out, I would refuse to believe it until troops had boots on the ground.

But over the last few weeks of traveling, I’ve been forced to consider some worst case scenarios.

So, presenting a non-exhaustive list of shocks to consider for the next 10-20 years…

Pandemics

As I write this, several conversations float into my ears from nearby travellers. Do you think you got it in New York, or Mexico?” O is everywhere, in hotels, your local bodega and instagram stories. I’ll leave it at that. The virus spreads differently depending on climate, town, country, so when you visit a new place you are spinning the virus dial.

Where is all the stuff?

For about a week, every shop in the small beach town I lived in was clean out of the following: milk, cheese, most vegetables. No one seemed to mind, and I assumed this was normal. We’ve all waited for furniture, toilet paper and eggs on occasion, but have you stared at (1) (50ml) bottle of shampoo for ($4 USD)? It’s suddenly easy to imagine what a real, sustained supply shock looks like. Excuse me, do you know when the next shipment of Panadol is… ah forget it.”

Money Is Not Scarce

Here is what is not scarce these days: Money in the bank or held in government securities, which you can think of as simple capital, not attached to special ownership rights.- Tyler Cowen, Average is Over (2013)

I spent a week without a debit card and it was painfully hard to do anything without cash. The US dollar is famously strong and is not going away anytime soon, but with rising inflation, insane debt levels, crypto volatility, where is your money truly safe AND liquid?

Owning nothing

In today’s global economy here is what is scarce: Quality land and natural resources.” - Tyler Cowen, Average is Over (2013)

Travellers by definition don’t have a home. Usually, you only stay somewhere for a few days. You borrow a room, a hammock, maybe a bike or surfboard. Then, you return it all. And when the money runs out, so does the space where you can live. So, as a traveller, you find yourself walking a weird line, between huge freedom of movement and almost no freedom at all. If everything you use and experience is borrowed, you are never fully in control.

Vaccine refugees

Like most Australians, I got vaccinated. But out here I’ve met several travelers who either didn’t want it, or got up and left their country entirely. German yoga teachers who have dropped too much acid are certainly outliers but if there is stricter policies in the future will more people flee? And importantly, what countries will remain relatively open, friendly and discreet?

Over-enthusiastic Government

While I lived in Canberra, Australia, a WHOLE YEAR passed without a single case of COVID. I don’t know if that’s impressive or embarrassing. Maybe a bit of both. Despite the overwhelming safety, the ACT (the surrounding state) was not immune to travel restrictions.

Here’s a small selection:

July 3, 2020: Those who have been in a Melbourne hotspot are required to quarantine for 14 days after entering the ACT.

July 8, 2020: At 12:01 am, Victorians will be denied entry to the ACT.

Feb 12, 2021: From 12:00 pm, the ACT border with Vic is closed.

May 11, 2021: Anyone in the ACT who has been in Greater Melbourne on or after 5 May 2021 and has attended a close contact exposure location must quarantine for 14 days from the time they were there.


If you live a sheltered life, it’s easy to take things like freedom of movement, safety, prices, access to fresh food for granted. But these things can break. And when they break, they break badly.

After all, I don’t want shitty stuff to happen, but the worse thing you can do is not at least prepare for them.