Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Directions for a South American Girl: Northeastern Seaboard, West Coast Shenanigans!

Hey Ladies (and receptive Gents), a little call and response, if you please: can your life change for the better in five days? (YES, constellations and caverns, YES!)

Why the exclamations? Because I've been basking in the glow and delving in the deep thinking about WITS16. Hotel Irvine is a beautiful citrus oasis of a hotel, amenities abounding in scents, eats, and the sensory delights of an outdoor pool, hot tub and fire pit. This alone made the trip worthwhile, and I very much appreciated my vitamin D boost, compared to the New York weather I left behind.

As I relived the lessons learned that sun-drenched weekend in California, Dr. Seuss' Oh, The Places You'll Go! popped back up in my memory. I realized that my childhood joy for going out yonder (back then, mostly by Greyhound Bus) has not been snuffed out by all the adulting I've been doing for the past 25 years.

In fact, in many ways my most recent journey was a full spiral revolution from travels as my earlier young adult self, going west on my own for the first time, before an even further flight to the other end of this earth. It had been 14 years since I saw California, the Pacific Ocean, the smog, the street art, the seashells of  that sunnier edge. The truth of the matter is that as hesitantly as I've waded into these waters, I am ready to fully accept that I am a writer, a BLOGGER, I met my people at WITS, and I am ready to dive into this supportive and adventurous community!

I was determined to get to WITS16 this year, after having such an eye-opening experience last year in Boston. I also knew that my budget was rather tight and I would have to flex my solo traveler muscles...using public transportation in SoCal! Suffice it to say, after posing several versions of this predicament in my Facebook travel groups, the feedback was unanimous that Los Angeles and Irvine were not known for having a smooth transit system. It was not impossible, but it would take ingenuity, careful time considerations and the kindness of strangers.

Cue the dramatic interlude, a la A Streetcar Named Desire:

So, yes, I pulled up several internet tabs cross-referencing Google Maps, all of the Los Angeles County public transportation information sources, plus Travelmath (which failed to include all of the train and rail options, ahem!) to figure out how I was going to get to the conference every day from L.A. to Irvine (separate systems, separate bus and train fares). My backup plan, however, was more ambitious: make friends on Facebook and Twitter and create authentic connections to people that were already driving to the conference. I will tell you that this strategy was very valuable, as it got folks engaged in my journey "on foot", and provided a support system of advice on how to get around, and what other people were doing outside of the scheduled events. The best of both worlds was finding fellow attendees to commiserate with, swap stories and network for future collaborations!

Wheeling and Dealing...

That Uber ride from LAX to Irvine was everything. I stayed close to and swapped contact information with dynamic women all weekend, starting with that first cab ride.

From day one, I mustered up my nerve and stepped forward at the Networking Without Pants (don't ask me, I didn't come up with it) meet and greet, where all the ladies in the house had a chance walk up to the stage to answer three questions:
1-What do I want to learn?
2- What can I give/offer?
3- Who do I want to meet?

I know that I want to streamline by brand, my public image, and identify and tailor to my audience (you!). I can offer guest posts on several topics that I tend to focus on, including: foodie; gardening and travel-related adventures in nature; sustainable fashion; and, most importantly, spotlight articles on interesting and pioneering women. I know that I offer a unique perspective on life in the U.S. of A, being an immigrant from childhood, and having several passport stamps under my belt by the time I was six years old! I definitely accomplished meeting amazingly energetic and fearless women from all ends of the travel industry, and look forward to learning from (and traveling with) them going forward. My takeaway from this exercise was that networking is not about quantity. I had to get out of my shell a bit and take a deep breath, commit to having a conversation and engage. and don't be afraid to make "the ask" at the end, but also know when to walk away and wrap it up.

I also have a somewhat stubborn streak in me at times, when I do have my vision set, I want to see it come to fruition. Even if it means I embark upon a (crazy) long public bus-ride from Los Angeles to Laguna Beach! I do it for me, but I do it for you, too, so watch out for my next post on the getting there no matter what!

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