It’s Not My Mother’s World Anymore: How apps and services have emerged to make international travel more simple, cost effective, and safe

When I initially had the idea to travel the world and ask people the same three questions everywhere I go, everyone I told had a positive reaction. I was expecting more than a few people to think I was crazy, but literally not one person did, or at least they didn’t tell me. Instead, people opened their international rolodexes, challenged the overall purpose in order to make sure the questions reflected it, and mainly people wished they could quit their job, adopt a mom who worked for the airlines, and come with me.

While nobody questioned the logistics of the travel or my ability to actually do it, there were many who cautioned me to be safe. Or several who asked outright, “Aren’t you scared to travel to all those places? Alone? In the world we live in?”

When my mom questioned me the other day on whether I really wanted to continue with Big Shared World, my immediate response was to be frustrated with her. I wished instead that she would ask me about my specific plans for Mexico City the next day. I’d have preferred to tell her about the friend I was grabbing dinner with, or the place I was staying, rather than defend my desire to continue the adventure. I grew up with the mentality that Diane (my mother) was always right, whether you liked it or not. In that moment when she questioned my desire to keep going, I transferred it as doubt in myself.

Immediately I elicited support from my friends to calm my nerves for what was ahead. I left a voicemail for my best friend and go to voice of reason, “Hey. Can you call me back and tell me that what I’m doing has value? And that I shouldn’t just give up? My mom just told me nobody would think less of me if I just stopped. I mean, I think I’m on to something really cool with this whole trip. I love what I’ve set out to do. But can you just tell me that it’s important I keep going, and that it really is a worthwhile journey and endeavor to undertake? Ok thanks, talk to you later.”

He called back and said, “I got your message. What year was your mom born?” I knew where this was going and was grateful for the reasonable response. “…Your mom couldn’t even dream of doing something like this when she grew up. Nobody in her time could. She’s just concerned about your safety because she’s your mom. But she supports you and this journey in a lot of other ways.”

He was right. And to be honest, I couldn’t even have fathomed this only a couple years ago.

The summer after my freshman year of college, a friend and I backpacked through Europe. While I had traveled to several international destinations before through choir trips and educational opportunities, this was my first unchaperoned, unguided trip abroad. My friend and I planned extensively. I had a mini purple binder with every detail of these plans, reservation codes, and the guidebook pages cut out from Lonely Planet so I didn’t have to lug around unnecessary weight of the pages of places we were not going to pass through. Even when my friend’s passport was stolen one unfortunate night, the passport copy I had printed in the binder, along with the addresses for U.S. Embassies everywhere we went, all made it rather easy to handle the situation and continue on our way with relative ease.

Our trip went amazingly until Barcelona when an airport worker strike had us miss our flight to London, and subsequently miss our flight back home. Long story short, I refer to the 36 hours we had to figure out an alternate plan as “The Amazing Race – and our team lost.” Defeated, we found ourselves at a London train station the night after we missed our flight back to Minneapolis. In attempts to figure out how we’d get home, we spent a lot of time on payphones calling home, calling the airlines, all trying to figure out our best options. We were out of cash and thanks to the fraud department putting a hold on our credit cards every five transactions due to all the random destinations and payphone charges in a short period of time, we were pretty much broke. My father who is about the most easy going man I know was so frustrated with the situation he actually swore over the phone. But in a way that only a man who doesn’t swear would say, “Well, then get your F-ing own self home if you think you know how to.” I waited a few minutes before I called him back to admit I needed his help.

Eventually, we decided the best case scenario for this situation was to have my mom fly and meet us in Amsterdam to fly me and my friend back as her companions (airline employee standby style). That’s right, after three weeks of newfound independence through our European adventure, my mother came to pick me up in Amsterdam. The irony was not lost. We asked special permission from the police to sleep under the escalator at the train station that night to take the first train to Amsterdam in the morning. With our passports tucked in our shirts, we snuggled our backpacks, and had what I’d say was one of the most awkward nights of sleep in my life. When I was in London again this past November, I swear I recognized the spot. It was like a magnet drew me to it as I thought, that spot of floor looks oddly familiar. I looked around and noticed the ticket booth, international departures, put it together, and smiled at the memory of our utter patheticness that night several years ago.


(Above: That time my mom picked me up in Amsterdam, summer 2006)

With this history, it’s a wonder my parents even let me leave the house again after that debacle. And it should be noted, the credit card bills from the payphone calls that day added to almost the same amount we had spent on our entire backpacking adventure. And when my parents once asked me to explain how exactly we missed our flight, even with my true and thorough story, they still believe it was because we were having fun with all the new friends we made. We have just agreed to not discuss it again.

But today, not even ten years later, the amount of tools and conveniences for travelers has increased exponentially, and I could never imagine a night full of payphone calls and stairwell sleeping arrangements. I believe this puts my parents at ease. It certainly makes me feel more comfortable traveling around the world.

Take for example my great experience with Mexico City, the past BSW destination. I have benefit completely from new apps and services that make global connections easier and traveling internationally a whole new experience. My Mexico City comfort started the day I messaged Ramses, a friend I had met at a conference just last year. While our interaction was brief, thanks to Facebook (founded 2004), we were able to keep in contact and after a quick message exchange about my upcoming time in his city, we arranged a time to Skype (founded 2003), a free video calling platform. After that conversation, I knew I was in good hands as we had arranged for dinner when I arrive. To be in touch, we exchanged phone numbers to become WhatsApp (founded 2009) contacts, a free app-based text messaging service.

As I was flying from Atlanta to Mexico City, I was able to access Gogo wireless internet while in flight (founded 2008). During this time I googled “must see attractions Mexico City” and came up with a short list of the places I thought would be good tourist activities. Instead of wasting time putzing around the city on my own, I found a website ToursByLocals.com (founded 2008) and was able to email tour guides for last minute availability. Thankfully Heiki, a lovely woman with global roots and perspective was able to accommodate and arrange for a great day while I was in town.

Upon arrival in Mexico City, I turned on my phone and texted my family that I had landed. Thanks to T-Mobile’s new international data coverage (founded 2013), this cost no additional charge than the monthly service fee.

I took a taxi to the apartment I was renting a room in thanks to Airbnb (founded 2008), which has the mission to have customers “belong anywhere” and does so by serving travelers around the world who prefer to get a more realistic feel for life in a certain destination. And for hosts, it offers a great additional income for an apartment that likely sat semi-empty prior to their listing. (Note: For any solo female travelers to Mexico City, I highly recommend staying with Judith at her fantastic apartment in an awesome, trendy neighborhood.)

While getting around the city, I was constantly informed that even locals prefer to fetch a ride through the car sharing app Uber (founded 2009) for both ease and safety. Thankfully, Mexico City has a robust Uber contingency of drivers, and I barely waited more than three minutes for a car to pick me up at my exact location for a fair price.

And I cannot fail to mention the amazingness that is Google Translate (founded 2007), but just recently updated to include image capture. Or Currency Exchange mobile app (founded 2010) which instantly allows for understanding the price of an item. Or Weather Channel apps (founded 2000s) that help to prepare for the day. Or TripAdvisor (founded 2000), and a host of other travel sites that help a newcomer orient themselves with a foreign place, with trustworthy, user-generated content to ensure up to date reviews on all things travel.

This all reminds me of a moment during BSW Europe in Amsterdam where I was sitting on a city train from my hotel into the downtown area. I had struck a conversation with the guy sitting across me and we were going through the BSW questions. On his thoughts for the world in 50 years, he imagined a borderless one. I challenged if this was actually possible. He quipped back, “Aren’t we kind of there already? I mean, I was born in Iran, raised in Canada, here for pilot training in Amsterdam. You were raised in the United States and are traveling the world to talk to strangers…”

He was right. While it’s easy to focus on the societal divisions and the walls people build around the world, at the same time, there is connectivity and ease of movement for both information and people more than ever before. We as individuals can choose to resist the connectedness, or even fight it off for as long as possible. Or, we can choose to immerse ourselves in it by exploring and appreciating the connectivity of everything around us. I choose the latter, it certainly is more fun! 🙂

And off she goes again.

Every day since I got home from Europe on Thanksgiving, I have thought about writing the blog and uploading the photos from my time traveling through the region. I had semi written paragraphs, photos organized to be uploaded to an album, a spreadsheet for people’s responses ready to be filled in. And every day since I got home from Europe on Thanksgiving, I have thought of a perfectly good way to spend my time that did not allow the above items to get done. Half started, never completed.

Today, over a month since Thanksgiving, with clothes in piles on my bed and an open suitcase just waiting to be filled and taken on an adventure, the pressure of what isn’t done weighs.

My favorite excuse for not tackling the to-do list is my 16-month old niece, Gianna. My sister has been going through a divorce since Gianna was just 6 months old and now we’re all under the same roof at our childhood home with my parents in Minnesota. While it makes for some fun days, it’s quite easy to feel like a college break rather than a professional one. And the best part about college break outside of mom doing laundry and making dinner every night? No homework.

But even Gianna has been more cooperative these past few days, allowing our together time to be her watching YouTube cartoons while I type in BSW data, instead of the usual playing with trolls or something else hardly conducive to productivity…


This morning, as I was taking stock of the piles to pack and the things I still needed to get together, my mother asked, “Are you sure you want to keep doing this? I mean nobody would think less of you if you just stop.” This, from a woman who used to scold me if I wanted to bail on a play date growing up. “You committed to hanging out with her, I’m not going to call and cancel for you an hour before.”

But that’s the irony of it, my mother made me who I am. Despite her struggle to understand my intense desire to live an international life, it was her support that allowed me to grow into the person I am today. And my family continues to inspire and inform my life decisions, including the idea to go on this Big Shared World journey. This entire idea wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for being pulled out of the new life I was establishing in Washington DC the moment my sister called me to tell me of her husband’s indiscretions. That morning changed everything. Not only did it start the unraveling of the perfect life and family she had planned to have, but my own life as I flew back and forth to support her, and of course, Gianna. And in those days that life turned upside down, the idea to travel the world and talk to people about the meaning behind it all was born.

Over the past few months, Big Shared World has been the introduction to conversations about big issues in life. Sometimes these are global, sometimes they are personal. But one thing is for certain – every person, family, neighborhood, company, country… we all have issues. I’ve had incredible conversations with people about everything from worldly events to their own life-altering events. I’ve laughed and cried with strangers as they’ve shared their passions, their goals, and their fears. And with over 200 BSW interactions to date, I’ve learned that while sometimes life doesn’t make sense, it does go on, and that the ability to power through is a great one.

From now on, Big Shared World is going to be about just that, sharing. Here, for those who follow, it’ll be about the journey of a young woman trying to make sense of this imperfect world we live in. Asking questions, sharing perspectives, and learning about life through stories from people who live it around the world. With an open passport and mind, I can assure you, it’ll be an interesting and incredible journey ahead. Through the good days and the bad, I hope you’ll join me. It may not be perfect, but I promise it will be real.

The journey begins!!

A couple months back while attending a summit in New York on global philanthropy, I sat in the audience listening to the stories of individuals who had recently done something different with their lives. Something off the mainstream, beaten path. Something that was worth sharing with a room full of people who cared about using their lives for social purpose. I’ve listened to a lot of lectures and speeches, but something about that day was different. My wheels began turning as I wondered – what could I do that would be meaningful enough to share with people?

For the past several years, especially past six months or so, I’ve been wanting to write a book. I thought it would be a fictional novel based around my life, a millennial young woman from Minnesota with global interests and ambitions trying to find herself, and find the perfect job, friends, significant other along the way. I started to write it, put together an extensive outline, aggregate past journal entries. I found that most of my journal entries were written when I was frustrated by the most recent guy situation, so I started to edit the stories to color a more positive spin for the readers, with lessons learned from the perceived relationship failures. The main theme was a coming of age, finding the humor while growing into oneself. I wrote alongside my other work, but something wasn’t clicking. That book, while entertaining, didn’t feel like the right fit with the life I was working toward. It would touch on social phenomena, cultural norms, global connectivity, the ways of today that are defining my generation’s relationship with each other and the world. But for some reason, the book took a backseat, while my desire to share the story line remained strong.

That day in New York after the morning sessions, I was talking with my friend who had also attended. We had spent the past few days together and I was about to head to the airport to fly back to DC. While I still don’t remember the exact way the conversation started, he suggested the idea I write a book about all the people I meet on airplanes. My mom’s airline employee benefits have me flying more often than most people, mainly roundtrips from wherever I live back home to Minnesota for family time. Due to the frequency I find myself in the air combined with a love of good conversation, I have met some pretty awesome people and had amazing conversations while sitting next to strangers on airplanes. To the point that my current job marketing a film on social entrepreneurship is thanks to a man I met years ago on an airplane from Chicago to New York. Little did I know at the time that showing him every photo from my recent trip to a rice farm in Kenya would result in him remembering my passion for global development and connect me with the Brazilian based film director when she needed someone in the US that could help manage the international demand. I’ve remained friends, at least through Facebook, with several other people I’ve met in the sky and always find myself happy getting off an airplane after a pleasant conversation between destinations.

My friend’s idea was clever and immediately I liked it, but thought there needed to be more to it. I suggested, maybe I ask everyone I sit next to the same three questions and see what people around the world think. And with that alteration, I was hooked. The social psychologist in me was so excited to travel around the world with a purpose. Within 24 hours of having this conversation, I had told my best friends back in DC later that night, then my parents in Minnesota the next day. I was expecting some critical response, skepticism of the idea or plan, reality checks that flying around the world talking to people was not a solid reason to leave my apartment, friends, professional life behind for several months. Instead, to my pleasant and grateful surprise, I received nothing but support and feedback to help make the idea even better. My friends helped me expand the idea beyond airplane travel, with maybe some conversations happening on planes, but the majority on the ground, in the heart of the action where people from all walks of life meet in cities around the world. My parents and siblings, knowing me better than any others on earth, helped me own the idea as a perfect experience to embark on at this time and place in my life. My professional colleagues, and a bunch of people that I hardly even knew, helped me to hone in on the purpose of my adventure, the depth that it could take, the impact it could have for me and others that I share it with along the way and after. The plans evolved, the questions evolved, and the Big Shared World journey was born.

The worst case scenario is that I travel a bunch in the coming months, meet cool people, see cool places, eat cool foods, and have a great personal experience. The best case scenario is that this experience is a lot bigger than that. My hope is that my friends and family come along with me. I’d love for some to actually join me along the way, but even as I travel solo, I want to share this adventure. And as I go, I hope I meet more friends and people who want to follow the journey. People who are curious about what other people around the world think and care about. Because ultimately, my goal for this experience is to explore this big world we share, and how we as members of the global community, can work together to make it a more wonderful place for all who call it home.

This blog will host the stories from my experience and serve as the way for me to stay connected. I plan to share updates from the road, stories from meeting people around the world, insights from ideas I interact with along the way. In the end, I will culminate the insight from the entire experience. For now, I will focus on setting out on this exploration with an open mind, heartfelt enthusiasm, and genuine curiosity to learn how each of us as individuals can make our time on this shared world as good as possible for ourselves and each other.

So from me to you, wherever you are, thank you for coming along with me – let the adventure begin!!

(Written in flight from MSP-SFO)

What If… a Coneference Collaboration Lead to Real Sustainable Result?

My CollaborateUp colleague, Richard Crespin, and I attended an incredible conference on corporate sustainability. Sustainable Brands is not just a conference, it’s a community of collective impact, made up of individuals who represent some of the world’s largest, most influential brands. The conference is a platform for sharing insights and creating relationships that serve as a key platform for effective partnerships across companies, sectors, industries, and the world.

CollaborateUp is a boutique consulting firm that specializes in facilitation of effective multi-stakeholder engagement and was asked to lead sessions with key sponsors at the Sustainable Brands Activation Hub. Working with Coca-Cola’s Ekocycle, SAP, and BASF, we brought people together around their WHAT IF statements, visionary goals for a more sustainable world through business.

These sessions revealed a set of innovation pillars that anyone looking to multi-stakeholder collaboration to solve a tough problem should consider.

INNOVATION PILLAR #1: Clearly Define the Issue to Solve
INNOVATION PILLAR #2: Co-Create a Unique Value Proposition That Working Together Will Achieve
INNOVATION PILLAR #3: Identify the Target Population That the Effort Is Meant to Serve
INNOVATION PILLAR #4: Bring the Key Players to the Table

To read the entire article, click here.

A Redbox Success.

Last night I stopped at a Redbox to grab a movie for girl’s night with my sister and our friend Kathy who was in town. Not the most savvy hollywood movie buff, I flipped the pages of selections and stopped when I came across Lee Daniels’ The Butler. I had heard good things when it was released months back and thought it would be a decent pick.

My sister is the mother of an 11 month old baby who doesn’t sleep well. This means my sister is a constantly exhausted woman who hasn’t slept much in 11 months. We took over-under bets on how soon she’d crash. Not only did she make it through the entire movie, but she asked to pause during every baby check. The Butler is that good.

It’s good because it’s captivating and brilliant in a way only a film based on a true story can be. The film follows the emotional experience of a black man working as a butler alongside United States Presidents for 34 years all while the civil rights movement takes place outside the walls of the White House. The interactions Cecil Gaines (played by Forest Whitaker) has with the presidents shows the human side of a massive global issue. As an American watching the film, it compels you to follow the historic journey of a sad and difficult time in our country’s history. To think the brutal acts of extreme violence toward black people were done in our nation’s neighborhoods just a handful of decades ago, it’s hard to believe it’s true.

Gaines states, on the way back to visit the cotton farm he grew up as a field worker on, “Americans always turn a blind eye to our own. We look out to the world and judge. We hear about the concentration camps, but these camps went on for 200 years in America.” With the societal advancements that have come over the years, it is so critical for films like this to force us to take pause and reflect on the times of past that have made up the realities of today. As we point fingers to those others currently fostering unjust communities, we must first reflect on the inequality of our own past, and challenge ourselves to question how far we’ve really come.

The film ends in 2008 with the momentous election of President Barack Obama. The speech started with, “If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer… It’s the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled – Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America.”

In 2008, I lived in Chicago and stood with the crowds in Grant Park as the first African American man was voted in by the American people as President of the United States of America. It didn’t matter what political party any of us identified with, we all were there to be a part of history. I linked arms with black women who were crying next to me as the future president said the words above. I understood it was a big day, but as a young white woman, it wasn’t possible for me to fully comprehend the emotions of the women as we experienced the same moment. The Butler brought me back to that night and made me feel proud of the women next to me, and every other person who had felt racial discrimination who felt a new sense of hope in our nation’s future on that significant day.

While watching the film, I couldn’t help but think of the Big Shared World journey and the importance of humanizing hard to comprehend situations through effective storytelling. By personifying the bigger picture, the film was able to connect audiences with a thought provoking and emotional experience about a time when segregation and deeply ingrained discrimination was the norm. I do not have the power of Oprah, but now that I have been empowered by Oprah’s film, I hope that the people I have conversations with in the coming months can help provide a narrative that is human and insightful.

There is a poem by a German pastor Martin Niemöller, originally written in the late 1940s, that is often cited as a poignant statement on the dangers of political and societal apathy. I read it as a personal challenge to build empathy and speak up for my fellow human.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

I plan to embark on this journey to address just that challenge – my role in the world and how I can speak out to be a voice for the vulnerable, quieted voices. What if there were no labels, no borders, no black and white. What if there was a day when a poem would read:

Humans came for other humans, and I spoke out — Because I was also human.

In joined voice. -C

Life is a moving adventure.

A couple years ago, my dear cousin and friend Annie gave me a magnet with the quote:
“She wasn’t where she had been, she wasn’t where she was going, but she was on her way.”

I was touched by how pertinent the statement felt at the time. While the magnet has moved from fridge to fridge, the sentiment still rings true. I have a feeling it always will. While some days and situations may feel more stable than others, as long as there are more ahead, we will always be in transit in the journey of life.

Over the past year, when people ask me where I live I tell them, “I’m from Minnesota and based in Washington DC.” Without intention, I have become somewhat of a professional nomad. Since graduating from college in 2009, I moved from Chicago to Oklahoma for a job. When my lease was running up, I questioned if Oklahoma was really the place for me, so I packed up my apartment and moved home to Minnesota. After some months in my parent’s suburban basement, I applied and got into graduate school at University of Minnesota which prompted a move downtown Minneapolis. Two great years in the most perfect apartment, my lease was running up, my fellow graduates were planning moves to Washington DC and I was wondering if Minnesota really was where I wanted to be to start my post-grad career. I put in my notice, packed up my apartment, and moved to a tiny studio in the heart of Washington DC. As my lease was running up at the end of August, I started to think about whether I really wanted to stay or if it was time to pack up my apartment again…

Thus began the fourth cross country move in just under five years.

While I think I’m pretty consistently downsized, every time I move I get rid of clothes that haven’t been worn since the last move, paperwork no longer needed, and other items not worth taking across state borders. A few years back I was introduced to the genius of the late George Carlin. Every time I’ve moved since, I have his classic bit on “Stuff” running through my head. Linked below for viewing enjoyment.

I used to think this pattern of moving meant I had commitment issues, but I think it’s actually re-commitment issues that spawn the location changes. I don’t mind committing to a new adventure, and I usually do so whole heartedly. But when the time comes to decide if I want to keep doing what I’m doing, I get the itch for the next adventure, and the next location to call home as I explore. Your location determines a lot. Mainly, how you interact with the world every day. And so, before I decide where I move next, I moved my stuff to Minnesota and plan to take in the adventure of the Big Shared World journey!

3 Questions. 3 Months. 30 Countries. 300 People.

Thanks for coming along for the journey, let’s make it a good one! -C

A couple years ago, my dear cousin and friend Annie gave me a magnet with the quote:
“She wasn’t where she had been, she wasn’t where she was going, but she was on her way.”

I was touched by how pertinent the statement felt at the time. While the magnet has moved from fridge to fridge, the sentiment still rings true. I have a feeling it always will. While some days and situations may feel more stable than others, as long as there are more ahead, we will always be in transit in the journey of life.

Over the past year, when people ask me where I live I tell them, “I’m from Minnesota and based in Washington DC.” Without intention, I have become somewhat of a professional nomad. Since graduating from college in 2009, I moved from Chicago to Oklahoma for a job. When my lease was running up, I questioned if Oklahoma was really the place for me, so I packed up my apartment and moved home to Minnesota. After some months in my parent’s suburban basement, I applied and got into graduate school at University of Minnesota which prompted a move downtown Minneapolis. Two great years in the most perfect apartment, my lease was running up, my fellow graduates were planning moves to Washington DC and I was wondering if Minnesota really was where I wanted to be to start my post-grad career. I put in my notice, packed up my apartment, and moved to a tiny studio in the heart of Washington DC. As my lease was running up at the end of August, I started to think about whether I really wanted to stay or if it was time to pack up my apartment again…

Thus began the fourth cross country move in just under five years.

While I think I’m pretty consistently downsized, every time I move I get rid of clothes that haven’t been worn since the last move, paperwork no longer needed, and other items not worth taking across state borders. A few years back I was introduced to the genius of the late George Carlin. Every time I’ve moved since, I have his classic bit on “Stuff” running through my head. Linked below for viewing enjoyment.

I used to think this pattern of moving meant I had commitment issues, but I think it’s actually re-commitment issues that spawn the location changes. I don’t mind committing to a new adventure, and I usually do so whole heartedly. But when the time comes to decide if I want to keep doing what I’m doing, I get the itch for the next adventure, and the next location to call home as I explore. Your location determines a lot. Mainly, how you interact with the world every day. And so, before I decide where I move next, I moved my stuff to Minnesota and plan to take in the adventure of the Big Shared World journey!

3 Questions. 3 Months. 30 Countries. 300 People.

Thanks for coming along for the journey, let’s make it a good one!

United States: Talking with My Fellow Americans

The original plan for Big Shared World was to travel to 30 countries in 3 months. The idea was that the travel was less about the places and all about the people. Over the course of planning, I shared the trip concept and itinerary with many trusted friends and advisors. It was sitting in a cafe in New York City that my friend Anjali looked at the lineup and said, “I don’t like this. It’s too much. You’re not giving yourself enough time to understand the context of the places you are going.” In that moment, we nixed the time boundary and committed to 30 countries around the world, however long it takes. (I estimate 8 months.)

It was Anjali as well who advised spending more time in the United States to gain perspective from the country I identify with as my home. So, over the month of October I traveled from coast to coast, stopping in over 20 cities, asking the BSW questions of over 100 people, and I feel I could have traveled another year and still maintained interest in the interactions with my fellow Americans.

The United States is a unique country. On one end you’ve got Silicon Valley, intensely driven by the idea of innovation and technology’s ability to transform the human experience. On the other, you’ve got Washington DC, a city I know well after residing there this past year and came to know it as a home to passionate individuals, fiercely committed to their cause, many desiring for their personal achievements to extend far beyond themselves. And in the middle of these two places – the nearly 3,000 miles between them, or overall 3.8 million square miles in total, you have America.

I was shocked that of all the people I approached to ask the questions, nobody turned me down. Some people were introduced to me, such as my friend’s software engineer colleagues at Amazon in Seattle. Some represented an opinion I sought out in a specific place, like the street performers in New Orleans, Mormon missionaries in Salt Lake City, or art gallery directors in Santa Fe. And the rest were people who I crossed paths with, made eye contact with, had a pleasant introductory exchange that opened the conversation, or simply seemed approachable. Someone pointed out to me that while it all felt random to me, the people I interacted with for the BSW questions represent a self selected group of individuals who want to connect and build community, even with complete strangers! I wonder what my rejection rate will be as I travel outside the country.. It’ll certainly be interesting to see!

With the intent of writing a book on the full experience of this journey, I won’t use this blog to analyze or synthesize what I hear on the road, but I will say that overall, most all the people I spoke with felt a sincere need to communicate better, from how we connect with our neighbors to how we connect with countries around the globe. And not just to talk and share information, there are plenty opportunities for that. It felt that people were craving real engagement with others, friends or further.

With my standby flight benefits, I started the trip flying from one city to the other. I started in San Francisco, went to Seattle, Salt Lake City, Albuquerque and Santa Fe. On a pitstop in Minnesota I decided I’d do the rest of the US by road trip. 6,000 miles later, I’d seen a lot of the United States and was very relieved when I pulled up the driveway back to Minnesota. (Below is a map of the BSW United States stops from October 2014.)

Because of my daily routine of drive, explore, engage with people, sleep.. I spent less time writing along the way than planned. In the future, I want to share this experience more frequently, telling stories from the places and people I interact with along the way. To prevent the longest blog post ever, please see the photo album and comments for a deeper glimpse of BSW United States.

Throughout the road trip portion, I couldn’t help but think of politicians on the campaign trail. It was likely due to the many political advertisements I saw on the streets and heard on the radio given the big mid-term election (which took place today). But I thought mostly of presidential candidates driving or flying in and out of cities for quick events to meet locals and hear their stories. I couldn’t help but imagine those politicians on their buses with their heads down, likely reviewing the speech for their next stop. I felt this because if a politician looked up, I think they would speak more to the way the country looks.

In many ways, I think the United States is beautiful. The diverse topography alone allows for gorgeous scenery from forests and mountains to the beaches and plains. And when used to their fullest, the life around these places is captivating. But also as I drove deeper, or to less notable cities or current tourist hotspots, I felt a sense of emptiness like the life from many places had moved on, only leaving behind the building that housed it decades ago. And I developed a sense of sadness toward those empty buildings.

I have always been proud to call the United States home, while also aware that we are a great nation with many shortcomings. Some of the greatest lessons I have learned about my own country have come from outsiders to it. With that, as my reflection continues, it is fitting that I write this post from London, on my first night of the BSW European tour as the adventure continues…. looking forward to filling the map with exciting experiences ahead!

First stop, San Francisco!

The Big Shared World journey began this week in San Francisco. The film I have been working with had three screenings scheduled in the area and it seemed the perfect way to start the journey.
My first interview came while waiting for the shared shuttle bus at the airport. I talked with a nice woman named Dodie, an artist from Minnesota heading to meet her friend and explore the coast for a couple weeks. The questions turned into a lovely conversation about the Big Shared World adventure I was embarking on. This became the trend throughout my interactions in SF. No matter where I encountered people, they all were more than happy to take the time to answer the questions, and usually all wanted to take additional time to expand on their views of life, where our world is headed, and what they hope will come. Several people actually thanked me for making them think about something other than work, or taking the time to make them reflect on what a good life means, often eliciting an introspective moment where they evaluated where they are in terms of actually having a good life, according to their definition.
From fellow uber passengers in the San Francisco carpool option, to my friend’s colleagues at Levi’s, to people at a public park, to a man on the steps of a church.. the interactions were all unplanned and spontaneous. As I go, I’d like to have more lined up now that I won’t have screenings to provide some structure to the days. While I didn’t feel like I was wandering, it did feel like a few people expecting me will be a nice addition to the randomness of candid conversation.
I’m sure the journey will be full of ups and downs, but the people who were a part of the first leg in San Francisco made it a perfect start and an encouraging beginning to the many destinations ahead!!

Above: A sampling of the wonderful people who made up the San Francisco BSW journey!
(Written from my friend’s house in Danville, CA)