Traveling Meaningfully

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I visited Mexico City for two weeks this August. I spent the first half of my trip running workshops for 23 Design, a Mexico City design studio. I was brought to 23 to teach the design team frameworks and tools for working with software engineers. We talked about the different aspects of an interface that can introduce engineering complexity, the importance of approaching internal processes with the empathy, curiosity, and attention to detail of a designer, and even built a tiny app together.

,I spent the second half of my trip exploring the city, visiting museums, going to wild performances, and drinking an invigorating amount of mezcal.

When I was little, and I traveled with my parents, I thought travel was the magic of encountering a world of spontaneously beautiful and fascinating things. As I got a little bit older, I noticed how much time my parents would spend researching before we went somewhere. I think that’s a beautiful metaphor for childhood: your parents work furiously to give you wondrous experiences that seem natural. As much as they are able, they give you the freedom to see the unknown as an optimist.

Now, as an adult, I do the research myself. And I’ve come up with a few good pieces of advice for people who want to plan meaningful trips to places they’ve never been before.

Start with an opportunity to meet people

One of the most important things for me when I travel is meeting people. I love learning about a place through people.

The day the U.K. voted to leave the E.U. was horrible. I saw it partly through the lens of my experience living in Berlin for almost a month in June 2016. I started my trip at UIKonf. Apart from the talks, which were great, my favorite part of the conference was spending time with iOS developers from all over the world. I remember feeling so inspired and happy sitting at a picnic table with developers from Egypt, Italy, Germany, and Poland. The bar was decorated like a vintage theme park, which is very Berlin. The group at the table was from over five different countries, which is also very Berlin. It’s part of what makes Berlin one of the world’s best cities. After the conference ended, I spent about two weeks working remotely there, for Tumblr, and then spent a week of vacationing before I went home.

Here’s what I learned from UIKonf: When you travel, start with an event or a place where you can meet as many kind, fun local people as possible. Go there at the beginning of your trip. That way, as you continue exploring you’ll have a few friends to go out with. I started my 2016 trip to Berlin at UIKonf, and my 2017 trip to Australia at the Playgrounds conference, where I spoke about teaching unit testing and software architecture concepts to designers. Local friends also introduce you to the best events. Which brings me to my second tip: Use Facebook Events. Aggressively.

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Use Facebook events

If you’re my Facebook friend, you know that I RSVP to a million events. I use Facebook events all the time in New York City. Any time I don’t have fun plans, I’ll either use theskint.com or Facebook events to discover small, awesome events that I would never hear about otherwise. That’s how, in Mexico City, I ended up at Biblioteca Vasconcelos, watching a breathtaking dance that told the story of a war between librarians and punks (I think…). As the dancers moved throughout the library, periodically changing the center of the performance, the audience rushed after them. It was beautiful.

In order to find interesting events in new cities, I start by searching for a event spaces that I think I’ll love. I find these by:

Once I find a venue that looks interesting, I go to its Facebook page and look for upcoming events. If the space has cool events going on while I’m around, I’ll RSVP to them. If not, I’ll look for related pages and related events to find other events I’ll probably like. This is the single best way I’ve found of discovering great events when I travel.

Mexico City struck me as a place where experimental art events are welcoming and inclusive. Another event I went to was an open mic night at Museo Universitario del Chopo. It was in the museum cafe, overlooking 3 Casas Extraordinarias by Kiyoto Ota. Before the show started I snagged a beautiful bowl of soup, full of squash and slow-cooked meat, which was served with a cloth full of tortillas. The soup wasn’t even on the menu – I just saw it cooking behind the cashier. But my favorite part of the open mic was when the security officer who was working the door came upstairs to read a love poem.

Travel with a question

My last piece of advice is similar to the advice I shared with the team at 23 design. As a designer, it helps to be familiar with certain engineering concepts, but you don’t need to be extremely experienced. What you really need is to have enough knowledge to ask the right questions. I think, similarly, before you travel it’s helpful to know enough about the place to go there with a question. What are you trying to learn? What would it take to answer your questions? Do research about the history of your destination from any lens that interests you, whether that’s politics or the arts or pop culture, and bring questions with you as you travel. Try to leave with a deeper knowledge of the place you’ve been staying. Even if that also comes with a new awareness of how much you have to learn.

Tamar

Design x Engineering Workshops
If you’d like to bring me to your company to teach engineering concepts in a design framework, or are interested in learning more, email me at tamarnachmany @ gmail.com.

 
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