What’s In My Bag, 2020

Instead of sharing what’s in my backpack this year, I want to share the apps and pandemic purchases that were meaningful to me, along with a few words on each. Something I haven’t shared with you yet on this blog is… I went down a #vanlife rabbit hole and ended up camping and working remotely a decent chunk of the year. I learned a ton and feel much more resilient. So this is a phoneful and truckful update of my year.

First I’ll start with apps, these all link to Apple’s app store but almost all have Android equivalents that I also use:

  • Calm and Waking Up — Very different but both incredibly valuable meditation apps. I had an 82-day streak with Calm this year! I wouldn’t have survived without these.
  • Fitbod — You tell the app what equipment you have, how much time you have, and it gives you a workout like a trainer would, rotating muscle groups.
  • Streaks — An app for starting and tracking habits. This is a funny one because I actually stopped using it because it worked. The things I was tracking on Streaks became daily habits and I stopped using the app every day. The same thing happened for me with Zero, my daily fast became part of my routine so I’d only use Zero if I was doing a longer one.
  • Tumblr — It was so nice to have a social network centered around creativity and humor.
  • Asana — Getting organized helped lessen anxiety.
  • Pocket Casts — I switched to this because it syncs between devices, and I used my Android device a lot especially while driving.
  • AllTrails — I spent more time in nature this year than almost any previous, and AllTrails was an amazing way to find great hikes.
  • The Economist — The most insightful news, and the weekly cadence helped me avoid the wild variance of the daily news cycle. My favorite news app.
  • YouTube — Wow, there’s a lot of stuff on here. This was the year I started to “get” why people spend so much time on YouTube. Some favorite finds were Jacob Collier and Mark Rober.
  • Walmart — Surprisingly good on road trips for curbside pickup orders scheduled a few hours ahead. Yes, I have now joined 95% of the US population.
  • Blueground and Avantstay — Good for longer stays in places. I found both through Airbnb, which is still the king.
  • Food apps in order of usage: DoorDash, Uber Eats, Tock, Toast TakeOut.
  • Camping apps in order of usage: AllTrails, Chimani, Recreation.gov, iOverlander, Boondocking, FreeRoam, Harvest Hosts.
  • App I deleted and re-added the most: Twitter. I love the things I learn from using it, but hate feeling like I’m wasting time.

When on road trips I found Android Auto running off the Pixel 5 much more reliable than CarPlay, which would frequently freeze up on me. Things have improved with iOS 14, but I still always use the Pixel when I’m on a longer drive.

I also have been living with my Mom since July, including her two cats and new Coton du Tulear puppy. Pets are humbling! It’s been great to learn how to support them best, as I last lived with animals when I was in high school and wasn’t that conscious of the responsibility then.

Amazon says I made over 850 orders this year, more than double from any previous year. Here are the non-tech purchases that ended up having a big impact on me:

Clothing and wearables, like much of the world I trended toward comfort and away from normal shoes and socks:


There you have it. As always, if you’ve tried something here and found an alternative that’s better, let me know in the comments!

17 thoughts on “What’s In My Bag, 2020

      1. Thanks you guys, I was looking for something just like this

        And wishing you all a very happy year ahead, love reading your posts Matt

  1. All in on Calm getting me through 2020! Need to develop a streak like you had. Why did you go between Calm and Waking Up? I’ve never used Waking Up, but it looks good.

    Another meditation app I really like is Ten Percent Happier.

    Also, all in on the #vanlife videos – just never got a van or think I actually would enjoy it, but I’ll watch the van tours all night!

    Cheers for a return to (hopefully some) normal in 2021! Always appreciate your What’s In My Bag posts.

  2. Curious why you think you read less in 2020. I found that I read way more last year than even in 2019 (when I was on sabbatical), although one thing I did in 2020 as to be completely indiscriminate in my reading choices. If I wanted to read a Colson Whitehead novel and then follow that up with Danielle Steel, I totally did.

    Also, 1000+ on the Calm app! It’s been a lifesaver.

    1. A lot of my reading habits were centered around travel, especially air travel which I used to do a lot of. Without airplane travel I haven’t recreated the trigger / action / reward loop and found a lot of that time going to other activities — work, movies, Youtube, reading news, dog, driving, hiking.

  3. Good stuff here! I can’t think of a better endorsement for a habit tracking app than “I don’t have to use it anymore”, so I’m definitely going to give Streaks a try.

    I’m curious about your acquisition of the hyppr 100w charger given your affinity for Anker gear (e.g. https://ma.tt/2016/05/cool-usb-c-charger/) and the really slick 8ft Native Union extension cord from your 2018 post (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B075LPVWBS/ – well, I expect this one is far less practical for vanlife and less valuable in the modern era of USB-C everything).

    Nevertheless, why the hyppr charger and not an Anker equivalent (e.g. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07DFGV27X)? Tell me more!

    Also, I vaguely recall someone sharing what I thought was a double-duty wall charger + portable battery with multiple output ports – was that you?

    1. It’s all about the power: the Anker you link is only 60w, this one is 100w. I still use the Native Union extension cord, but would be open to a different extension cord that was tidier.

  4. On the podcasting front, my biggest discovery of the year is Airr:

    It lets you bookmark a moment, and later you can export a transcript of that moment, even if podcast itself does not provide transcript.
    It autosyncs to Readwise ( readwise.io) which in my case autosyncs to Roam, but can do Notion and Evernote as well.

    Having some way of ‘highlighting’ in podcasts lets me cross from pure entertainment to at least some semblance of learning.

  5. I picked up a new Kindle this year as well, after chatting to Andrew S about reading a lot. Despite my old PaperWhite running great still, the ability to change the colour temperature of the screen (and invert it!) has been brilliant for reading at night.

    I also got an Ambilight TV for the first time. Trying not to fill the house with Hue lights to go along with it!

  6. I have been a big fan of cloth napkins for about 20 years now. If you like to use them several times before washing, and have a family, I would also recommend monogrammed napkin rings, so you can keep track of whose napkin is whose.

  7. This article seems curious to me, I read between the lines and it makes me reflect on the presence of technology in our lives, even under the roof of a #vanlife.

    Anxiety is good or bad, it depends on the moment, your conscience and how you think about it, but you have to pay attention to it because it is trying to tell you something.