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Untravel Essential #4: Connection

This is the fourth blog in which I am laying out the essentials of "untravel" to help frame my approach for Streetview Vagabond. I have already written about the essentials of Google's Street View, food and internet radio and each of these can be explored by using the internet by myself. But I am finding that the most rewarding, and most difficult, part of this project is to actually make connections with people.

Travel is always better when you can strike up a conversation with people living there, or better yet, actually live with a family in order to learn the rhythms of life. I've been fortunate to have lived with families in France, Germany, Mexico and Cameroon and they have all allowed me to see a slice of life unlike the average traveler would experience. This is why I have made it a point to pursue having conversations with people in the places I am exploring with Streetview Vagabond.

My first attempt to connect with folks was not planned and it was also a failure. I explored Paso de los Toros in Uruguay as part of my first blog entry. I thought this project would just be about finding some cool places around the world and taking some screenshots of what I found there. But then I discovered a house that had some unique concrete folk art out front, I had the thought: "wouldn't be cool if I could ask the person living there about their art?" I figured that I could do some digging and be able to connect with them. I found a bakery across the street and managed to find their page on Facebook. The latest post was pretty recent so I knew the account was being monitored. I posted a question in Spanish but I never got a reply. To be honest, I didn't really try hard to get the interview and that might be why I didn't get it. Or maybe people don't like responding to random strangers from across the globe.

My next attempt was more in-person. I decided to explore domestically and ended up in Menlo, Iowa. It is a small town of 365 residents so the options for connecting were pretty slim. But the Menlo Café had an active Facebook page and a listed phone number. I gave them a call which made it easier to describe Streetview Vagabond and not seem like Spam or an email scam. I had a great conversation with owner Amy Hale and learned how she ended up in Menlo making and serving ham balls. It was a lot of fun and I wrote up the synopsis in my third blog entry.

This is when I knew that making connections to people would be essential. After all, it would be a shame to take a trip somewhere and never interact with anyone!

During my exploration of Ushuaia, Argentina, I got lucky. many of the photospheres for Ushuaia were posted by Farid Monti. I later learned that he was a certified Google Local Guide visiting Ushuaia from his hometown of Rio Grande about 200 km away. I reached out to him and he was enthusiastic about making the connection and having an interview. Our conversation would be the first recorded interview of this project. I consider this lucky because I reached out to one person, got an immediate answer and had a great interview. It's not always that easy.

I'm currently researching my next destination of Whitehorse, Canada in the Yukon Territory and I have been trying to get a good interview for over a month. I figure many of my attempts at connection through email and social media get lost in the digital fog that surrounds us all. I am sure I look like a scammer, a spammer or a time suck for some. Others are just not sure what to make of what I am doing and pass on it. But the pursuit of connection is worth it because I am excited by a few things that are coming together for Whitehorse.

A challenge that I did not anticipate with regards to Whitehorse is that talking to one person will not do justice to learning about a place comprehensively. I have reached out to many people that represent a diverse set of backgrounds and experiences. I get excited about what each interview could bring...and then I get disappointed when there is no reply. I know now that there are so many different ways to tell the Whitehorse story but I have to remind myself that my goal is not to tell "the" story of a place, but to learn "a" story of a place.

Part of the reason I have taken the past four weeks to expound on the essentials of "untravel" is because I have been trying to get a good interview in Whitehorse. I now know that I need to be reaching out to many places simultaneously in order to get interviews lined up on a regular basis. I'm happy to say that I have made some great connections and will be sharing with you soon. These connections are proving to be the most interesting part of Streetview Vagabond.

So next week, I'll get back to exploring the world through Street View!

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