Talking Travel with Tim Ferriss (again) about his new TV show: Trial By Fire

Tim Ferriss has come a long way since we first interviewed him a year and a half ago. His book, The Four Hour Work Week, was released in the wild where it quickly rocketed to the top of all the Best Seller lists. So we weren’t too surprised when we learned of his new TV show, Trial by Fire, debuting tonight on the History Channel. I sat down with Tim for a quick chat about the show:

JUSTIN: Give me the quick run down on your new show: Trial by Fire.

TIM: The concept is simple: each week I attempt to master a complex skill — something that would usually take 10+ years — in one week. It debuts today, Thursday, December 4, at 11pm PT/ET on History Channel (check to double-check local times).

I have access to the world’s best teachers to “hack” the learning curve with both traditional and experimental approaches. I then have a final “trial by fire”, when I risk life and limb to see the results of all the training in a real-world test. It’s a fun 60-minute show filmed in HD with some of the best TV folks out there; lots of humor and also hardcore training and accelerated learning techniques. People will be able to apply a lot of each show to mastering any skill in their own lives.

J: Did you personally select the skill to challenge in the pilot episode? If so, what made you want to try yabusame?

TIM: Among other things, I pitched the show concept, developed the name, and picked the first challenge: yabusame, or Japanese horseback archery. I lived in Japan for a year in high school, and once you see yabusame, you’re hooked. I’d always wanted to experience it, and this particular samurai sport is a winner-takes-all endeavor. Full gallop, no hands, no safety gear, and you land on poles and get trampled if you fall. If you’re going to film a pilot, you have to make it worth watching, right? There is no simulated danger — it’s the real deal and it’s obvious when you watch. Few non-Japanese have even seen it, and it’s a national event twice a year when riders run the gauntlet. Definitely worth checking out.

J: What are some other challenges you’d want to try if the show is picked up?

TIM: There are a ton, as this is basically what I spend my time doing anyway. Setting new landspeed world records, pulling off museum heists, free diving with Great White sharks, etc.. The list is huge, all of them will be ridiculously difficult, and I will definitely crash and burn more than once. That’s part of the thrill and challenge, I think. If I don’t fail on occasion, I’m obviously not pushing the envelope enough.

Trailer for Tim’s new show, Trial By Fire

J: How does giving yourself a challenge like this help you learn more about a place and its people?

TIM: It forces you to be aware in the present tense. In other words, it’s impossible to do what we most often do: travel in body while our mind remains preoccupied with something back home. Training for an all-or-nothing test is beautifully simple: No e-mail, no internet cafes, no traveling around the world just to IM with friends back home — 100% training with natives 24/7 or you get hurt. I like that. It’s a return to basics. A week of full-time training is like a two-month vacation; you come back refreshed and will a better radar for minutiae. As in Fight Club: the volume on everything else gets turned down. This is true whether it’s a physical task like rock climbing or a mental task like learning to calculate like a human computer. The singular focus allows you to connect with people and culture without distraction.

J: Do you think the concept of your show can be practiced among regular travelers as a way to learn more about a place and its people?

TIM: Absolutely. Use pursuit of one skill as a vehicle for connecting with the people — or a sub-culture — of a foreign culture. Argentina? Try tango. Austria? Try chocolate making or music. It could be anything. There are world-class performers everywhere. Get curious again. Rediscover that childhood desire to explore and learn new things. People will help you, and it’s easily the fastest method for learning foreign languages. 3-4 months is all you need for conversational fluency non-tonal languages.

It’s possible to become world-class in many things in relatively short periods of time. It just requires a high density of practice over those short periods. Even 1-2 weeks can be enough to become better than 90% of the world’s population at a cool skill, a skill you can retain for the rest of your life. All it takes is mindful deconstruction and a brief but intense singular focus.

J: Thanks for your time, Tim!


Trial by Fire will air 11pm ET/PT this Thursday (tonight) on History Channel. For more show information, and a live video Q&A post-broadcast, visit

What’s in Your Pack, Timothy Ferriss?

We asked Timothy Ferriss, author of the New York Times #1 best-seller, The Four-Hour Work Week (be sure and read our interview with him), what he packs on a typical trip. “In 20 minutes, I leave from JFK for Iceland,” he wrote in his blog on September 20th. “then Scotland, and then a circle in Europe that will include Oktoberfest in Munich.” So, Tim, what’s in your pack?


Inside of red, mini-gym bag:

Pile 1:

  • Kiva expandable dufflebag
  • Reef flipflops, tops facing outward

Pile 2:

  • SR quick-dry microfiber towel
  • Quicksilver board shorts

Pile 3:

  • Nylon/Polyester tanktop
  • Designer Step 35 Italian t-shirt (for casual or clubs)
  • Black Banana Republic long-sleeve shirt (no collar)
  • Nylon Blair lightweight pants

Bottom line:

  • Mesh cap
  • Belt
  • Kitchen timer for alarm (I travel with no cellphone)
  • Echinacea and diphenhydramine sleep aid
  • Athletic tape (for bag/clothing repairs or injuries)
  • Waterproof matches

Inside backpack:

  • Notepads
  • Sony Vaio VGN-TXN27N (1.8 lbs.)
  • German phrasebook, moleskine notepads, Tuxedo Park
  • FireLite 80GB USB-powered external harddrive
  • Casio electronic dictionaries (Spanish, German)
  • Kensington laptop lock
  • Olympus digital voice recorder with external mic
  • 4GB iPod Nano (doubles as external drive) with Philips noise-canceling headphones

Inside backpack inside pocket:

  • Sleeping mask + earplugs
  • Amerigel wound dressing (like Neosporin but more viscous)
  • Zicam cold remedy/prevention oral mist
  • Duane Reade decongestant inhaler
  • Aleve anti-inflammatory (naproxen sodium)

Japanese schoolgirl pose in Edinburgh, Scotland.


  • Knit cap from Plaza Francia, Buenos Aires
  • Mormaii Brazilian surf sunglasses
  • Longsleeve cotton shirt
  • Windbreaker
  • Brazilian “Taco” denim jeans
  • Puma Vans look-a-like sneakers

Thanks, Tim!

Want to show Gadling readers how you pack for the road? Send me an email (justinglow at gmail dot com) with a full description and pictures — similar to what Tim has done here — and we’ll feature it on the site!

The Best 8 Beverages in the World

Timothy Ferriss, author of the best-selling book, The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich (read our interview with him here), shares his eight favorite beverages from around the world.

I am a consummate consumer in the literal sense. Beverages, perhaps more than any other indulgence, have fascinated me from my first sip of Pocari Sweat in Japan. From Brazil to Zimbabwe, each locale has its superstar drink, and some are as defining of the culture as the people themselves. Here are my top 8 beverages in the world:

#8. Paulaner Kellerbier (Munich, Germany)

Paulaner is one of the six main breweries in Bavaria, and their incredible kellerbier is the only beer in the world that I love. I generally hate beer, but this is as pure as snow and as smooth as silk. It’s a good thing, too, as bottled water is more expensive than brewskies in Munich.

#7. Tanzanian Peaberry Coffee (Tanzania)

Tanzanian peaberry coffee beans, freshly brewed with a simple Krup machine, are near perfect for curing AM grogginess. The only close competitor for early-morning favorites would be Kenya AA coffee, which ups the caffeine but sacrifices some flavor. The former is more elegant, the latter more brute force.

#6. Portuguese Green Wine (Portugal)

Vinho verde, so named for the ripeness and not the color, is sweet and refreshing, perfect for a hot and humid early evening in Lisbon. If you don’t like fruity wines — think Zinfandel — you might be better off trading green wine for a drier Napa Valley Pinot Noir.

#5. Pocari Sweat (Tokyo, Japan)

Not to be confused with the always amusing Calpis Water, Pocari Sweat is the post-exercise darling of Japan. Clear and less sugar-laden than Gatorade, it rehydrates without causing stomach upset and helps you recover from the oppressive heat in a heartbeat.

#4. Acai (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

Acai, an Amazonian berry, can be found on any beach in Rio. Generally served with a dash of guarana syrup for caffeine and a guaranteed sugar rush, it looks like purple frozen yogurt and is delicious with a bit of granola or banana on top. Just keep an ear open for “acai, acai, acaiiiiiiii!” and look for tan men carrying coolers on their hips or heads.

#3. Long Jin Cha Green Tea (Hangzhou, China)

The famous “dragon well” tea of the western lake district is well known for good reason. It is one of the top 10 best-regarded teas in China and delivers a beautiful combination of lightness, mild taste, and immediate alertness.

#2. Cold Mugicha Barley Tea (Tokyo, Japan)

Mugicha is the anti-heat weapon of choice for millions of Japanese and Koreans. It has a strong flavor, but the few sessions it takes to acclimate and appreciate this unique drink is well worth it. It improves circulation and, in so doing, helps decrease body temperature more than simple ice water. A delicious but acquired taste.

#1. Yerba Mate (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

Consumed from a gourd, and replete with a straw that strains the leaves for you, yerba mate is the food of the gods. It contains three stimulants (caffeine like coffee, theophylline like green tea, and theobromine like cocoa) and provides an extended increase in mental performance without a subsequent crash. I love “Cruz de Malta” brand, and I credit this beverage with producing my first book. Pura vida!


German Riesling or real Thai Red Bull? Mexican horchata or Panamanian passionfruit? What is your favorite liquid Epicurean delight?

Timothy Ferriss is author of the #1 Wall Street Journal and NY Times bestseller, The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich