David Mashburn Wants You to Take the Unsafer Option

Inspirational stories, struggles, and zags from David Mashburn, a nomadic in-house attorney with a sense of humor who wears socks to bed.


Welcome back to another issue of The Unfollowables Interview Series.

My goal with these interviews is to introduce you to fellow irregular Joes and Janes and inspire you with their unconventional lives’ stories, struggles, and zags.

This is a fun and funny one. Enjoy!

Meet David Mashburn

My three favorite takeaways from David:

  1. Taking the unsafer route can lead to many unanticipated upsides. (See Question 5)
  2. Maybe there’s something to finding you partner by inviting yourself to tag along on their next exotic trip? His love story’s eerily similar to mine. (See Question 1)
  3. The best accomplishments are ones that pay perpetual dividends. (See Question 12)
  4. [Bonus] Maybe I should wear socks to bed? (See Question 6)

1. Life Story

📜 Q: Briefly, what’s your life story so far?

From growing up in rural Tennessee I developed a strong aversion to all things “Southern”—evangelical churches, NASCAR, far right-wing politics and country music (the last of which I’ve softened my position).

So, upon high school graduation, I fled my hometown to the least Southern place I could think of: Boston. I pursued a degree in Writing, Literature & Publishing that left me in six figures of student debt and with an “Editorial Assistant” job at a glossy magazine that paid me exactly $0.

I then pivoted to the fallback of many a liberal arts major and—after spending a year teaching English in Thailand—went to law school. Following five years of working at a big law firm, which primarily consisted of nightly dinners at my desk and amassing stacks of merger agreements for private equity firms and pharmaceutical company clients, I flamed out and retreated to the refuge of in-house corporate work where time isn’t counted in six-minute increments. 

A silver lining of COVID was that remote work became feasible even for in-house attorneys. As soon as travel was permitted again in 2021, I headed to Belize in Central America and worked my way south country by country.

In December 2021, I met my partner in Brazil using the favorite travel hack of single gringos—Tinder. After six months of courting, I invited myself along on her trip to Bolivia. We’ve traveled together for nearly 2 years and 26 countries since then, living an unconventionally conventional life on 4 different continents and counting.

David Mashburn hanggliding
David’s an adrenaline junkie who reads liability waivers’ fine print before jumping.

2. Quirks

❄️ Q: What fun facts or quirky things make you you?

I’ve embraced (or been forced to embrace) minimalism to the extreme. I own nothing except what fits inside my carry-on duffel bag and backpack.

I’m also a bit of an adrenaline junkie. In addition to being an advanced open water scuba diver, I love bungee jumping and have thrown myself from the highest bungee jumps in Central America and in South America and from the second and third highest jumps in Africa.

David's tiki bar.
David wants to find a way contribute more than just his tiki bar to the world.

3. Mission

✊ Q: How are you trying to make the world a slightly better place?

I’ll be honest, I struggle with this question.

One of my recent jobs was for GoFundMe which I thought would provide that inner sense of doing something good for the world. I even took a significant pay cut to land the role. But, while I still respect the company and the people who use it to help others, I didn’t achieve the inner Zen I was searching for.

Last year I finally donated all my possessions to charity, but I’m not sure how much credit I get on the Karmic scale for donating a sofa and a well-used tiki bar.

4. Role Model

🦸‍♂️ Q: Whose life do you look up to?

Ever since reading The 4-Hour Workweek in my twenties after graduating from law school, I aspired to a nomadic life full of adventure and romance á la Tim Ferris in 2005.

While some of his output is admittedly self-indulgent, I’ve been impressed by his ability to continually be at the forefront of cultural trends from nomadism to podcasts. I also admire his unfailing belief that he can master any skill with sufficient determination and the right approach. And, of course, his inspiration and advice for launching a nomad life turned out to be immensely valuable.

5. Huge Zag

⚡️ Q: Can you tell the story of a decision you’ve made that has had an enormously positive effect on your life’s trajectory?

In the spring of 2021, shortly after receiving my COVID vaccine, I was—much like the rest of the world—in need of a major reset. I whittled down my options to:

  1. Moving about 20 miles south from where I lived in Encinitas, CA (a little surfer/yogi/divorcee dad enclave) to the hip, young, overpriced neighborhood of Little Italy in San Diego, or,
  2. Spending a month in Medellin, Colombia with a nomad travel group.

After a lifetime of taking the safer option (law school over a writing career, a big law firm gig over a job that might make a difference), I instead opted for the unconventional route.

The one-month in Medellin was canceled (thanks, resurgent Covid), but I pivoted to Belize for a month and quickly adapted to a nomad lifestyle. The Medellin trip, for which I had already paid, was swapped six months later to Florianopolis, Brazil, which, fortuitously, ended up being where I met my partner.

After two and a half more years on the road, we returned to Florianopolis where I’m now writing this from a 3-bedroom lake-view home that costs significantly less than the 1-bedroom courtyard view studio loft I was prepared to rent in San Diego.

6. Unusual Practice

🙃 Q: Do you have any unusual practices that you think more people would benefit from trying?

I’m not sure the statistics on it but based on the incredulous comments received from people when it comes up in discussion, I’ll guess that wearing socks to sleep is still an unusual practice.

(Also, for what it’s worth Google appears to be on the side of not wearing socks to sleep as the suggested phrase completion for “Wearing socks to sleep” is “disadvantages” and “bad.”)

Despite the prejudices of Google’s algorithms, science is finally catching up to my long-held theory that it helps you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer, at least according to some studies. More controversially, I just learned that one study also claims it increases the chances of a woman reaching orgasm, but I’ll leave that one alone.

David's idea of a complete meal.
Starch your meals, not your collars.

7. Change of Mind

👀 Q: What have you recently changed your mind about? What caused this change of mind? How has your behavior changed as a result?

Growing up, my mother imposed a strict one-starch-per-meal rule. After five months of living in Brazil, it seems to be closer to a two-starch minimum per meal rule here.

While I’m very skeptical of any health benefits, if I’m now served a plate with rice and no potatoes, I miss the other starch.

8. Disagreement

🥊 Q: What might you and the people reading this disagree about?

Perhaps this audience wouldn’t disagree, but contrary to the average North American opinion, I would say checking a suitcase when flying is almost never necessary.

Exceptions can be made for medical equipment or plans to return with a case of wine only.

Although we stumbled up the learning curve a bit, we now carry clothes and shoes for 4 seasons, plus our own cooking spices and a Moka pot for brewing coffee, without ever checking a bag.

9. Life-Changing Learning

💡 Q: Can you tell us about a source of information (book, podcast, video, etc.) that pushed you to take action that improved your life?

Although it’s a classic of the personal growth genre, I only recently read Mindset by Dr. Carol Dweck.

It brought into sharp focus that I’ve approached several subjects in life—learning languages, music, advanced math—through the lens of a fixed mindset, i.e. these subjects are difficult for me so it’s better for the sake of my ego not to pursue them.

While I’m still struggling to learn Portuguese, focusing on a growth mindset that embraces “failure” as a crucial component of learning pushes me to keep going.

10. Curiosity

🔬 Q: What are you currently excited to learn more about?

Lately, I’ve been focused on learning Portuguese and kite surfing. It helps that Brazil is an ideal place for both.

11. Struggle

😰 Q: What are you currently struggling with? How might the person reading this help you?

Lately, I’ve been toying with the idea of trying to write something. Or at least write something other than my day job of drafting legal contracts that would make reading a dictionary written in Romanian seem thrilling by comparison.

After three years of hopscotching from country to country, I have some true stories—being bit by a monkey in Zimbabwe or my watching my partner trip out on ayahuasca deep in the Amazon jungle—that might be entertaining.

The ideal scenario would be to somehow combine writing these stories with also making a positive difference in the world, which is the other area of my life that I’d like to improve. Life lesson #1: be careful how much ayahuasca you consume in the Amazon. Is there a good way to combine these threads?

David and his partner scuba diving.
Beats graduating atop your law school class.

12. Accomplishment

🏅 Q: What has been one of your proudest accomplishments in life so far?

A few years ago, I would have said graduating #1 in my law school class. This was the type of capital A “Accomplishment” that is easy to measure—look at your GPA compared to everyone else. It gratified my “fixed” mindset that I’m intelligent and therefore didn’t need to work hard at anything else to prove myself. But it isn’t the kind of accomplishment that brings any lasting happiness.

Now I think it’s the effort it took to convince my partner to adopt (and maintain) our lifestyle together. After daily WhatsApp messages long enough to create a book and three trips back to Brazil over the first six months, we developed the foundation for what would allow us to live and travel together 24/7 on this unconventional path. It’s an accomplishment that brings me happiness every day.

13. Challenge to Readers

👊 Q: What one thing do you challenge the person reading this to try this week?

I’ve now lived for three years without owning a car.

While it restricts where we can stay to a walkable area, I think the benefits of more time outside, a bit of exercise, reduced stress, and a slightly smaller environmental footstep make it worthwhile. If possible, try to walk to your next errand or come up with another method to squeeze more walking into your weekly routine.

14. Question for Readers

🎤 Q: What would you most like to get an honest, unbiased answer to from the person reading this?

Was this entertaining/informative or did I just repackage conventional wisdom?

Would you want to read more writing in this style?

Since this is my first writing sample in 10+ years, I’m open to honest, unbiased feedback.

Please comment below or reply to this email to let me know.

Stay in Touch with David’s Unfollowable Journey

Until next time.

Keep doing exciting things,


PS: Want to share your unfollowable stories? Email me saying, “I’m interested in being featured in The Unfollowables” and we’ll take it from there.

"Feedback givers are architects of ideas and catalysts for change."

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