Who says inspiration can’t be found in your own backyard?
For some reason, anytime I’ve found myself with an opportunity to travel, I’ve always ruled out the continental U.S. in favor of finding out what the other 195 countries in the world have to offer, leaving the many wonders of my own country unexplored. I’ve lived in California my entire life, and have only visited a few other states at length, making layovers in or driving through a handful more. So when Jonathan and Guusje told us we’d be getting the opportunity to take another PARALLAXploration trip this year, I decided I’d challenge myself to really stick to the $1500 budget, only take one extra day off work, and become more acquainted with an American city that had always captured my interest: Seattle.
Before embarking on my journey, I set some goals for myself as far as what I wanted to accomplish on this trip. Firstly, I wanted to meet and have meaningful conversations with as many new people as possible. This year’s parameter of traveling alone was an unsettling one for me, as I’ve never visited a new – or even a familiar – place on my own before, and I tend toward the more timid side of the spectrum when it comes to striking up conversations with strangers. Add that to my paralyzing fear of saying “Table for one?”, and I was feeling pretty uncomfortable about the prospect of flying solo.
Additionally, I wanted to create photos I was proud of. I’ve always had an interest in photography, but it’s recently become something that I’ve developed a great love for. In the past year or so, I’ve been given some opportunities that have really allowed me to explore my voice and hone my skills as a photographer, but with the convenience and quality of iPhone photos these days, I rarely find myself putting my Canon to use for my own purposes.
With these goals in mind, along with the overarching goal of immersing myself in a new city and culture, I booked three separate Airbnbs in unique Seattle neighborhoods, loaded my bag with extra CF cards, batteries, and cables, and set off to explore the great Pacific Northwest.
The people I met in Seattle were undoubtedly the best part of my experience. The first night of my adventure, I stayed with a couple named Hannah and Peter, who, like me, had roots in both Northern California and San Diego. The pair had just returned from a trip of their own as a newly-engaged couple mere hours before I descended upon them, but they never made me feel like an interloper. Instead, they took the time to show me around the city, noting points of interest and making recommendations, and even took me out to dinner at their favorite neighborhood bar. Staying with Hannah and Peter that first night wholly eased any inhibitions I may have previously felt about traveling alone, and set me off into my trip feeling excited instead of nervous.
I also had the pleasure of meeting Fletcher and Khristy, the owners of my second Airbnb, who had recently moved off the premises and onto a tugboat docked in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle. I met Khristy when checking into my room, and after quickly discovering a compatibility between the two of us, was invited to her boat the following day. Over the next 48 hours, I spent much of my time with Khristy and Fletcher aboard their tugboat, the Sheryl Ann. It only took a few minutes with Khristy to feel like we’d been close for years (a sentiment that was confirmed by one of her friends, who was shocked to find out we’d only met the day before). During our few days together, Khristy and Fletcher showed me a view of Seattle from the water aboard their dinghy, led me on a beautiful bike ride from Fremont to Ballard, filled me in on all the best local shops and restaurants, bought me local brews, and invited me to two on-board BBQs. Their effortless inclusion of me into their vibrant lives gave me a view from a local’s perspective, and really made me feel at home in this new city.
Outside of these two couples, I also struck up conversations with many Uber drivers, bartenders, waitresses, baristas, and shopkeepers, and was pleasantly surprised at how enthusiastic everyone was to talk to me, and share their own thoughts and stories. I realized I had an opportunity to mesh my photography and human interaction goals, and set out to make portraits of everyone I had a chance to talk to, and ask them what their favorite thing about Seattle was. One response that particularly resonated with me – and that I seemed to get many times over – was that Seattle is a very open-minded city full of people who are willing and eager to accept you any way you are, but I can’t say I disagreed with anyone’s reason to love Seattle. See all the responses.
My interactions with the warm and friendly locals left me wondering why I’d ever found conversing with strangers to be such an intimidating task, and I left Seattle with many interesting stories, a few good friends, and inspiration to connect with new people back home.
While the people of Seattle were the highlight of my adventure, I would be remiss to not give credit to the city’s exceptional sights. Everywhere I looked, there was something to see: lush green trees lining the roadways; a view of the water atop every hill; intricate and innovative architecture; and bustling Pike Place Market.
While many high-traffic “tourist traps” get a bad rap, Pike Place is one that’s worth fighting your way through a crowd for. From the lively fish-flingers to the more subdued petal-pushers, each shop within the market hosted local goods that were actually quite good. Neon signs and near-deafening chatter added to an atmosphere that could almost be classified as sensory overload, but instead swept me up into the excitement of it all.
Perhaps the most stunning sight in Seattle was found where one would least expect it: the library. The central branch of the Seattle Public Library, designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, absolutely blew me away. Koolhaas’ use of texture, color, and light melded perfectly to create a structure that was striking from any angle, inside and out.
One of the most enriching experiences I had during my time in Seattle was my visit to Youth in Focus. The aptly-named non-profit works to empower urban youth to make positive choices for their lives through photography. I found Youth in Focus by searching for public outreach opportunities in the creative field in Seattle, and was connected to Trina Gadsden, the Executive Director, shortly after reaching out to the organization. Trina informed me that there weren’t going to be any students around while I was in town, but that she’d be happy to meet up with me, so we scheduled some time together and a few weeks later I had the privilege of spending an afternoon in the Youth in Focus office.
I was given a tour of the fantastic facilities, complete with a dark room for developing analog film and a computer lab equipped with Macs for processing digital film, and got a crash course in everything Youth in Focus does and the array of programs they offer to students aged 13 – 19. The story of Youth in Focus is quite an interesting one, and best told by Trina herself; she was kind enough to let me record a brief interview with her detailing the program’s inception, goals, and the great effects it’s had on Seattle’s youth.
I was also lucky enough to talk to Arianna and Yasmine, Youth in Focus students who have returned to the program multiple times and have really developed (pardon the pun) into remarkable photographers. Hearing them talk about Youth in Focus and the impact it’s had on their lives was extremely powerful and their enthusiasm for the programs was infectious.
Though there weren’t any programs in session during my time at Youth in Focus, I was able to offer my input on a strategy for the organization to improve their social media presence and expand their reach to target their prime demographic. Though they’re a photography-driven organization, Youth in Focus doesn’t have an Instagram account, so they turned to me to help them navigate this new social media frontier and develop a long-term strategy for their presence on the platform. Luckily, they already had archives of amazing photographs taken by their truly talented students, and I assured them that with this library of images, creating engaging posts to draw in potential students or supporters would create little work for them, and produce a substantial return.
Spending the day with Trina and the rest of her team at Youth in Focus was fun, enlightening, and hugely inspiring. Trina was such a passionate leader who was so genuinely invested in all of her students, and by the end of our time together, I sensed she was invested in me, too. It was evident that her whole heart is in what she does, and she summed up this sentiment best by saying “Life is too short to not be doing what you love. Imagine what an amazing place the world would be if everyone was doing what they were truly supposed to be doing.” Thankfully, she seems to be, and Seattle is a better place for it. To learn more about Youth in Focus or to get involved, visit them at www.youthinfocus.org.
My time spent in Seattle was exciting, enlightening, and pushed me well outside of my comfort zone. I may have gone into my trip feeling a bit trepidatious, but I came back to San Diego with some amazing stories, and a wealth of new-found confidence and inspiration. I am so thankful to Guusje and Jonathan for providing me with this opportunity and giving me the necessary nudge to expand my horizons, and to everyone in Seattle who welcomed me like a friend and made me fall in love with their city.
I’m happy to report that you don’t need a passport to access a world of new experiences.