Originally published via LinkedIn Dec 22, 2016
If you travel for business, you know the gift of experiences it gives you. Seeing new places, meeting new people, bonding with coworkers over shots of vodka and a bowl of pickles. Traveling internationally, especially, reminds you that the world is at once both very big and very small. By this I mean you may be half a world away in Bucharest, Romania when a local cracks the most perfect “That’s what she said” joke and every barrier you ever thought may have separated you instantly melts away in the laughter.
In 2016, I visited several cities both in North American and across the ocean, each one offering me a new experience, a new perspective, and an appreciation of the parallel lives we are all living out across the globe. Below are just a few.
Atlanta: I traveled to Hotlanta approximately 8,000 times this year. For my most recent visit, I stayed in the heart of downtown. Three days into a grueling conference, the weight of the trip was heavy on my heart: guilt from being away from home, exhaustion from lack of sleep and a mild hangover, the uncomfortable bloat of constipation (we’ve all been there people!) I sat there, starring at my reconstituted scrambled eggs and instant oatmeal, slowly letting the misery begin to swallow me whole. And then suddenly, there was Miss Shirley. She had greeted me like ray of sunshine every morning. She put her hand on my shoulder and said, “Baby, let me make you a waffle.” I could have cried at that moment. Her simple act of kindness renewed my soul. Thank you, Atlanta, for showing me kindness when I needed it most, and God bless you, Miss Shirley.
Boston: I spent a few days in Boston at a B2B marketing summit in October. I had looked forward to that trip for several weeks and it did not disappoint. I feel like this city doesn’t get enough credit for how cool it is. Maybe they want it that way, honestly. All the cool cities inevitably fall victim to overexposure and an influx of riffraff. I’m surprised Portland, for example, hasn’t built a wall around itself. The history in Boston is enough to keep you busy for a week. History is everywhere there. Literally. You cannot get a beer without a colonial-dressed dude spontaneously pointing out exactly where some super historic famous person also had a beer before dumping a bunch of tea in the ocean. I stood on the steps of the Harvard library and immediately felt smarter. Then I tried to hork down a giant cannoli from one of those North End bakeries with a line out the door and felt like a dumbass. But whatever, that thing was amazing. (That’s what she said.)
Bucharest: There is a massive shopping mall in Bucharest and in the center of this mall is one of those rope course adventure gimmicks. When a teammate suggested we try it out, like an idiot, I immediately said, “Sure, I’ll do it!”. Why the hell did I agree to this? Partially because I was looking to do something active, dreading the 14+ hours on the plane ahead of me. Partially because I wanted to see if I could actually do it. I mean who doesn’t like a good challenge now and then? It’s also possible a part of me just wanted to prove I was indeed a badass chick and I’m gonna tell you, I think I did. Now, none of these are really good reasons to strap on a questionable safety harness and climb 100 feet in the air on rope that in some places appeared to be held together with electrical tape. But I didn’t die and when I got to the end I felt like a freaking champion. In the short time I was in this city, I experienced some pretty amazing moments (besides conquering the rope thing). In the middle of a hallway in our brand new Veeam offices, I witnessed the genuine surprise and pure gratitude of a young tech writer accepting our ‘thank you’ gift for the many hours of his day he had devoted to being our tour guide. You know those videos where a deaf child hears for the first time and their face lights up with immense joy? Well, it wasn’t exactly like that, it was a gift card for goodness sake, but still: there was joy. His reaction was priceless and real. It made our small gesture feel like something so much bigger than I could have anticipated. Near the end of my trip here, I participated in a meeting with the sales leader of the office. That 30-minute meeting inspired me perhaps most of all. He spoke about the task of unifying his 200+ employees, 40 of which were expats from St. Petersburg and whose cultural differences were stark compared to the Romanians. His approach was simple: learn from each other and understand that for every one problem, there are 10 different ways to solve it. I can only imagine how the world would work if we all thought this way. Or if we all made “That’s what she said” jokes. Either one.
Columbus, OH: One of our VPs who works out of our Columbus office happens to be one of the nicest guys I have ever met in my life. Like ridiculously nice. This guy is so nice I’m fairly certain that if you punched him in the face, he’d pop right up and say, “Wow, you really got some knuckle on that one! Nice work!” Every time I travel to the Midwest, I fantasize about moving there. Unless I’m there in the winter and then I’m like, screw that! But there is an enormous appeal of the Midwest that’s tough to put into words. It’s a calmness, a friendliness, a sense of community, a politeness. Somehow the Midwest is both trendy and traditional, homey and modern. I can show up in Columbus grouchy as shit and someone would say, “What a firecracker you are!” and then take me to lunch for an organic, gluten free, quinoa avocado bowl. I’d feel better and appreciate the way they told me to get over myself without actually telling me to get over myself.
New York City: In late November, I attended the Women of the Channel event held at the Sheraton Times Square. New York City is like a beacon in the night, burning bright with a fierce, unparalleled energy found no other place on earth. Just walking down the street makes you feel like a badass. It’s a tough city, but a united one. Even though I dread the entry into LaGuardia (keep your barf bag handy) and the insane taxi lines, I visit NYC every chance I get. It’s loud and boisterous and exciting and as long as you can keep pace with the rush, you’ll leave there wanting more. Kind of like a drug or like the food at Felida’s. OMG I dig that place.
St. Petersburg, Russia: Seeing the Palace Square at midnight on a snowy night was something I didn’t know I should have had on my bucket list. Holy. Bananas. It was almost surreal, in the quiet stillness of the night, walking through a city that in the 1940s Hitler’s army systematically starved nearly 1M people to death. At one point in our shared history, Russian was considered a mortal threat to the US and yet there I was posing for pictures in front of the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood and posting them on Facebook like, “I’m in Russia, yo!” In St. Petersburg, I learned that a pickle is the traditional chaser for a shot of vodka and a lot about cultural awareness. I was advised not to smile, not to make eye contact, not to expect a man to shake my hand, don’t speak in the cab, don’t draw attention. If you know me, you already know I failed miserably here. I talked too loud. I smiled. I waved. I oooh-ed and aww-ed out the cab window when we passed The Hermitage. I was wearing a freaking bright red sweater for crying out loud. While my more seasoned US coworkers probably wanted to slap the smile off my rosy f-ing cheeks, to my deepest, appreciative surprise some of my Russian counterparts did shake my hand, some even hugged me, and nearly everyone smiled, breaking their own cultural rules for the comfort of their jet lagged American teammates.
Toronto: I visited Toronto for Microsoft’s WPC event in July. My Canadian friends will likely want to punch me in the throat for what I am about to say (although they would do it politely), but I when I visit Canada, I essentially feel like I’m in another version of the United States. A classier, more tender, more liberal, trendy, hipster, kinder, and wiser version of course. I find Toronto to be one of the most international cities I have ever been to. From the food, to the people, to the culture mix, to the dozens of languages bouncing around every street corner like a chorus of a familiar song, the hum of the city makes you feel like you are standing on the pulse of the world. When I was there, we caught a Second City show. Canadian humor is brutal, painfully dry, wiseass, cutthroat, and freaking hysterical. Also: The Eaton Centre. Four floors of H&M. Yes, please! I had more fun in this city than is probably appropriate for a soccer mom/cub scout leader like me, but good gravy and French fries, life is short.