Wednesday, June 28th, 2017

The Joys and Challenges of Traveling with a Project


SOTM Photo in Paris

Traveling on the SOTM tour has been an incredible experience so far.  I’ve never done a trip like this before — doing a project and taking it around the world.

Sure, you could consider this site a project, but doing Someone Once Told Me has been so different.  Everywhere Mario and I go, we ask people to share something that someone once told them, then we photograph them with the quote and get them to tell their story.

Mario has had a new photo on his site each day for more than five years with more than 2,100 people telling their stories so far.  It has taken an enormous, exhausting effort for him to keep finding people so that there continues to be a new story featured every day.

But the reward is outstanding.  Doing Someone Once Told Me means that you are constantly meeting people and hearing endless fascinating stories.  And I understand why he keeps going.

The goal is to get 1000 photos before Mario returns to London in mid-May 2014.  That works out to roughly 21 per week.  You can’t get that many without a lot of planning, so we’ve been careful with how we’ve done it so far.

SOTM Photo in Paris

Part One: Paris, Friends, and Expats

Paris was a perfect first destination because we love the city, we’ve each been there several times, and we have so many friends there.  On this trip, our friends introduced us to their friends.

Edna was amazing in Paris — she introduced us to lots of her expat friends living in Paris, planned a picnic, and took us to events.

Our friend Marie-Claire not only put us up in her apartment for five nights, but also took us to her book group, where Mario got SOTM photos from her friends, who came from all over the world.

Mario also searched for the top expat bloggers in Paris and set up individual photo sessions with them while I went to Chartres and explored on my own.

We got 21 photos during our five days in Paris — a brilliant start to the trip.  The only downside was that they were almost entirely from Paris expats or visitors, not Parisians.

Mario and Kate Looking Innocuous in Geneva

Part Two: Geneva and Meetups

Geneva, as you may recall, was a challenge from the start.  I knew one person in town — Leyla from Women on the Road — and I didn’t have high hopes for getting more pictures than just hers.

This is where we tried out two methods: meetups and impromptu pictures.

We planned two meetups: one during the day in front of Geneva’s famous Flower Clock, and one in the evening at a wine bar.  We publicized them as events on Couchsurfing’s Geneva page, as well as mentioning them in Mario’s interview on World Radio Switzerland.

When we went to the clock, Mario wrote “Can I take your photo please? :-)” on a sign.  I think it helped that I was standing next to him, holding tiny Berlin Bear.

And while it worked — we got five photos from curious onlookers that way — none of them were actually from Geneva.  We were standing at a landmark that people go to photograph and then leave.  Genevans have no reason to go there.  (We also learned the hard way that future meetup locations need to offer shade and seating.)

We got 10 photos total in our day in Geneva.  Of those, four people lived in the Geneva area, but only one of them was Swiss.

But one of the photos was a real find — is was a quote from our Italian subject’s grandmother in a rare dialect of German that is only spoken in a few villages in northern Italy and has no official spelling.  Wow!

Mario and Aldo

Part Three: Bologna, Emilia-Romagna, and Finding Characters

Before our arrival, Nick from Blogville Emilia-Romagna planned out some fascinating people to photograph: Aldo Simoncini, the goalkeeper of San Marino’s national football team, and Fabio Lamborghini, nephew of Feruccio Lamborghini, creator of the cars.

Along the way, we met crazy and interesting personalities, as you always do in Italy.  Whenever we met someone who looked like they had a story — a passionate owner of a winery, a chef covered in tattoos — Mario would ask him or her for a picture, most of the time with Nick translating.

This was different.  While we were gunning for as many photos as possible in Paris and Geneva, Emilia-Romagna was more relaxed.  This was about quality rather than quantity.  And as a result, these photos were fantastic — some of the best ones we’ve had so far.

We leave Bologna tomorrow after a week in the Red City, and we’ve taken 10 photos here so far.

SOTM Photo in Geneva

The Challenge

The biggest challenge so far has been to get area natives.  English-speaking expats are easy; local locals are hard.  The ones that we got in Italy were outstanding, but a big part of that was having Nick’s connections and translation skills.

And this is Italy.  How do you think it’s going to go in China?!

In the future we plan to find more locals by visiting universities (Chiang Mai is one university city we’ll definitely be hitting up), and possibly visiting our friends who are ESL teachers (like Heather in Yeosu, Korea; Chris in Nanjing, China; and Oneika in Hong Kong).

If it gets tough to get enough pictures, the US, our final country, will even things out.  Americans have always been the core of Mario’s audience, and with our road trip across the country, I have the feeling we’ll get more photos in the US than every other country put together.

This has been new, exciting, different and challenging.  But it has been interesting and I feel like I’ve connected with more people than I ever had on my travels so far.  Mario has built a brilliant project, and I’m happy that we have been able to join forces and do this all over the world!

Many thanks to Blogville Emilia-Romagna and for their support of the European leg of the SOTM Tour.  All opinions, as always, are my own.

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33 Responses to “The Joys and Challenges of Traveling with a Project”
  1. Beth says:

    If you need help in Hong Kong, I have a bunch of both expat and local friends who I’m sure would love to help out!

  2. Shaun says:

    Excellent project and good luck meeting your goal and creating such an eclectic website!

    I think you will find a common themes of humanity in these stories. health, happiness, friendship etc…

  3. Shannon J says:

    Cool idea for a website. What a fun project!

  4. Amanda says:

    It’s such a cool and inspiring project, and I’m glad to hear it’s going pretty well for you, despite the challenges along the way. I’m sure as time goes on you guys will figure out what works and what doesn’t.

    Also hoping that I’ll get to catch up with you in SEA later this year!

  5. Kelli Anne says:

    I’ve been following your travels for so long, if you end up in New York I would love to participate!! : ) Good luck on your round-the-world adventures!

  6. Julika says:

    I’m so glad I could be a part of this amazing project in Paris!
    I don’t know if you plan to photograph while you’re in Augsburg, but my best friend lives there and she would be interested in having her SOTM picture taken (she’s a local and might even bring friends!) 🙂

  7. Megan says:

    I love projects like this – and can’t wait to see the culmination of everything! Unfortunately I don’t have any local contacts in your planned destinations, but if you end up in Colorado there’s no lack of potential participants here!

  8. A great way for you to meet locals is to look into the organization called AIESEC. I used to work for them. They are the largest student run organization in the world and promote international leadership. They would be MORE than willing to meet up with you and AIESEC’ers are ALWAYS excited for incredible projects such as Someone Once Told Me! I have local friends in over 100 countries of the world thanks to AIESEC.

  9. Jennifer says:

    21 photos a week certainly sounds like a challenge!

  10. Gabriel says:

    That sounds like an awesome idea. I worked at a surf school in the Dominican Republic for over a year and one of the things that I loved most about it was that I was constantly meeting new people and hearing new stories. Also, some people would return throughout the year and come back with more stories and we would build a stronger connection over time.

    Meeting new people is always fun. Looking forward to hearing how this project goes in China =)

  11. nicole says:

    that’s a pretty awesome project. Every time I see super cool projects like this, I always think: “man, why didn’t I think of that?” I’ve seen the website before, and some of these things people were told are really inspirational. Maybe one day, it’ll be in a museum! =)

  12. I’ve definitely got you covered for Hong Kong, lady! There will be tons of native Cantonese and Mandarin speakers at my new job. I might even be able to set up an opportunity for you and Mario to give a presentation at the school if you would be keen? That would be amazing!!

    • We would LOVE that!! 🙂 Only thing is, we need parental permission for people under 18 in order to post them on the site. I guess that’s a bridge we’ll cross when we get to Asia.

  13. Julie says:

    Everyday for over five years! Wow! That is dedication. I’m doing a 365 photo project and it is tough to do something everyday for just one year! If your travels take you through Chicago I would love to participate. Sounds like you’ve had a great start to your around the world trip so far. Very inspiring. Can’t wait to read more!

  14. What a great opportunity to really immerse yourself in the location you’re visiting. I’m sure you’ll make all sorts of great connections with the inhabitants and the place itself. All the best, I hope each day brings you new an exciting faces.

  15. If you make it to Cambodia I can introduce you to some locals if you like. Been living in Phnom Penh for almost 2 years now.

  16. Maibrit says:

    I had to laugh out loud when I read the part of the italian guy with the “grandmother in a rare dialect of German that is only spoken in a few villages in northern Italy and has no official spelling” because I actually am from one of those villages. We speak a german dialect, because we were once a part of Austria and have been past to Italy after Germany/Austria lost WWI (apologies for the little history lesson).
    Anyways, just wanted to say that really like your blog Kate!

  17. This is such a cool project, and it shows such passion and creativity. I wish you both the best of luck in the future – I don’t think I’ll be in the same part of the world as you anytime soon, but I am moving to London so perhaps I’d be able to help out/get involved when you return! All the best.

  18. Paul says:

    I’ve got friends who are living in Japan at the moment so I can ask them to help when you get there 🙂

  19. Tripeese says:

    It has to be amazing to go around the world and hear so many stories from so many people. It’s a fantastic project and we are loving it. I bet impromptu interviews can be quite hard, especially in the cities, because this type of project requites a lot of trust. But it seems like you guys are handling it the right way, because in the photos people look like they’re comfortable and have opened up. I would definitely think the language barrier in some areas is going to be your biggest problem. Look forward to seeing who else you meet on this trip!

  20. Jade says:

    It sounds like you are on such an incredible journey! It must be so great to wake up each day knowing that you are going to meet many new and interesting people.
    And don’t worry about China, in my experience you are bound to meet many locals itching to make friends- just make sure you take a local train!

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