The Joys and Challenges of Traveling with a Project
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.
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.
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.
Part Two: Geneva and Meetups
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!
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.
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!