How our team stays optimistic while working from home

How our team stays optimistic while working from home

I’m sitting at my kitchen table in the middle of the work day with my monitor in front of me, perched on a stack of GRE study books. If you’re a part of the fortunate group that’s able to continue your job from the quarantine of your own home, you can probably relate to this makeshift office set up.

Two weeks ago, our co-founders told our office that we would now be working from home indefinitely. Fortunately, we were already experts when it comes to telecommuting — thinkPARALLAX has practiced this two days a week for years. Nevertheless, the gravity of this global crisis affects more than just our work rhythms. On top of absorbing minute-by-minute COVID-19 updates, our kids’ schools are closed, beloved neighboring businesses are suffering, and at-risk family and friends need help.  As we grapple with the weight of this situation and settle into a temporary “new normal,” our team members recently shared what they’re doing to stay sane while transitioning from two to five days a week working from home.

Guusje, Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer

I’m grateful for extra time to care for my dog, Tula. It’s a nice break from long hours spent concentrating on more difficult tasks.

Jonathan, Co-founder and Chief Engagement Officer

I’ve spent time getting my hands dirty in the garden with the kids, working out at home, and setting up the drum kit to make some music.

man playing drums

Pam, Project Manager

I take a short break each afternoon to get some fresh air and walk the dogs while maintaining social distance from neighbors I would normally stop and chat with, even hug. I’m also watching the sunrise and sunsets to appreciate all we still have.

Etah, Designer

I recently started a social media project about human connection and mental health. I’ve also  been spending time working on personal art projects, reading, researching volunteer opportunities, and listening to podcasts.

Shannon, Communication Strategist

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the negativity of the news and social media right now. I’ve been limiting my exposure and trying to remain optimistic by savoring the quality time I have with my husband and fur child Nacho, putting together a puzzle, diving into my book, and playing Mario Kart, the ultimate distraction.

Edison, Design Director

I’m spending more quality time with my blind cat!

Janna, Senior Communication Strategist

I have regularly scheduled Google Hangout happy hours with friends multiple evenings this week — and I’m connecting with friends I haven’t seen in ages. With everyone stuck inside, it’s a great time to catch up!

Katie, Social Media Coordinator

Trying to find a sense of normalcy during a very abnormal time, has been essential in preserving my optimism and productivity. As someone who enjoys being on the move and trying new activities, it’s been difficult to be confined indoors. To assuage my restlessness, I’ve found new ways to learn and explore within my household. This week, I’m learning how to play the ukulele!


Mike, Managing Director, Sustainability and Social Impact

Today I went running by the bay. I am not good at running, but running is good for me!

Megan, Communication Strategist

I just signed up for an online subscription for yoga, and will probably be investing in Disney+ for my daughter, Maeve. We’re also trying to get the whole family outside at least once a day.

Pat, Office Manager

I’m finally purging and organizing my closet. Also finding new healthy recipes to cook, taking Xtend Barre online, and calling one old friend a day I haven’t spoken to in some time.

Kyrstin, Art Director

I’m doing a few things: limiting the amount and type of news/information I take in, trying getting fresh air and exercise daily, and staying connected (virtually) with family, friends and coworkers. Some days I’m more successful than others—but I’m trying!

Nathan, Communication Strategist

I try to have something to look forward to at the end of the day, like going for awalk to watch the sunset.

Brianna, Account Manager

I’m enjoying the simplicity of life with my husband and kids — and no two- hour commute!We’re slowing down and involving the kids in everyday housework, like cooking, feeding the chickens and gardening. I’ve gotten creative with my work hours so my husband and I can both balance work and follow the kids’ school schedule. I still wake up at 4:45 AM to work out,enjoy a cup of coffee, and read the news before I dive into work emails.

Izzy, Marketing Coordinator

As someone who usually lives with a constant, dreadful sense of hurry, I’m grateful I can take this time to pause. I live near Sunset Cliffs National Park, so I try to make my way down there once a day to read a book, go on a run, or watch the sunset.

thinkPARALLAX opens new office to amplify impact in San Francisco Bay Area

There is no region better than the San Francisco Bay Area when it comes to advancing corporate sustainability through good, old-fashioned innovation. Whether it’s firms like Impossible Foods transforming how we think about food, Lyft reimagining our urban environments, or Salesforce using technology to improve the world, it’s the proving ground for solutions which propel people and the planet forward.

Alright, as a Bay Area native I might be a bit biased. But the positive social and environmental impact — and the untapped potential for creating more of it — speaks for itself.

Indeed, we will solve the world’s urgent social and environmental challenges only if we can find the courage to think differently about how we both address and talk about these issues. Stories are how humans make sense of the world, and what make impact real in the minds of your customers, investors, employees, and others. Amplifying impact should be a top priority.

That’s why today, I’m excited to announce that I have joined the thinkPARALLAX team as Managing Director, Sustainability & Social Impact, to lead the opening of our new San Francisco office. The very name ‘thinkPARALLAX’ means to approach a problem from different perspectives to arrive at the best solution.

Over the past decade of my corporate sustainability career, I’ve worn many hats and learned a thing or two about thinking differently about the world’s social, economic, and environmental challenges.

As a journalist for GreenBiz, Sustainable Brands, and Triple Pundit, I’ve written thousands of stories covering every topic under the sustainability sun — from the climate crisis to the circular economy.

As a strategist at Edelman, I’ve helped companies like The North Face, HP, and Kashi execute and articulate sustainability and social impact programs.

As a clean energy communications nerd, I’ve worked with Pacific Gas & Electric Company, Environmental Defense Fund, and emerging startups.

As a graduate student, I published research examining the link between extreme weather events, information technology, and climate policy change.

I’ve even tried my hand as a corporate sustainability lobbyist, working with EDF Action to advocate for sensible climate policy on Capitol Hill.

From all of this, I’ve learned that no volume of corporate sustainability innovation can amount to much without the ability to properly communicate it to different audiences. Telling compelling stories about sustainability and social impact is what thinkPARALLAX excels at.

For more than 15 years, thinkPARALLAX has helped more than 100 companies across the United States — including Interface, Southwest Airlines, International Paper, Qualcomm, and Kashi, among others — to give meaning and voice to sustainability and social impact initiatives.

We helped Interface evolve and execute a stakeholder engagement campaign around its innovative Climate Take Back initiative. thinkPARALLAX was the brains and brawn behind Southwest’s industry-leading annual One Report, which highlights its economic, environmental and social performance, communicated through triple bottom line principles. We also worked with International Paper to develop and deliver its innovative “IP Way Forward” framework, which helped the company find its voice and change its trajectory toward one which strives to be among the most successful, sustainable, and responsible companies in the world.

As thinkPARALLAX sets out to grow our presence in the San Francisco Bay Area, we want to partner with companies looking to go outside their comfort zones, challenge their own thinking, and reach their full potential as sustainable brands.

The world needs more businesses to amplify their impact, and customers, investors, and employees are demanding it. If you’re a mission-driven firm already innovating on sustainability and social impact — or even just starting down the path — let’s talk. We’re ready to listen and learn how we can work together to help you achieve your business goals through smart sustainability strategy and storytelling.

Contact me any time at:

PARALLAXploration 2019

Where would you go to step away from daily life and experience something new?

As a team of avid globetrotters, this question frequently crosses our minds at thinkPARALLAX —  but there’s no denying the challenges of traveling when you work full-time.

That’s why our Co-founders Jonathan and Guusje developed PARALLAXploration, a company-funded travel program aimed at getting our team out of the office and into the world. With an $1800 stipend in our pockets and extra paid time off on our calendars, we’re sent to a destination of our choosing with only a few guidelines to follow: 1) Go somewhere you’ve never been 2) Go “alone.”

“The goal of this program is to get [our team] out of their comfort zone and give them new perspectives to bring back to work.” Jonathan Hanwit, Co-CEO + Head Relationships.

From the untouched volcanic landscapes of the Azores to the bustling streets of Vietnam, PARALLAXploration has taken us to 20 countries over the past five years. We’ve hiked along the Cliffs of Moher, learned the art of slowing down from the Hanoians, and ventured off the beaten path to find the best local cuisine. But traveling has given us more than colorful memories – it’s given us a boundless appreciation for the world and a renewed desire to protect it.

This year, we’re amplifying our PARALLAXploration program by asking our team to photograph sustainability in action for our 100 Ways in 100 Days campaign. Sustainability is being embraced across the globe and capturing these efforts will open our eyes to new ideas and give us a deeper understanding of how thinkPARALLAX can drive social and environmental change. For 100 days, our team will capture examples of sustainability and sustainability messaging everywhere they go, with the goal of collecting 100 photos by the end of the summer.

We’re packing our bags for our next adventure in less than a month. Follow along on our Instagram (@thinkparallax) and watch our journey unfold.

Did Gillette Take a Stand or a Step Too Far?

Just barely two weeks into 2019 and another brand takes a stand. This time it is Gillette with its The Best Men Can Be campaign, “celebrating the stories of men making a positive impact, and to inspire others in the process.” True to form, and following in the path of other cause marketing campaigns, Gillette’s ad launching its new campaign has been aimed to evoke an emotional response with the hopes to kickstart impact and long-term value for the brand. While time will tell if they succeed, the ad has undeniably stirred up emotions and controversy.

Gillette’s new campaign is receiving extra attention compared to some of its peers’ largely due to the amount of backlash and negative commentary that news media outlets have reported on. That said, the backlash should, of course, be expected. Change does not occur without resistance, which is good, as it forces a conversation and individuals to critically reason. And just how some customers burned their Nike shoes, and others boycotted Dick’s Sporting Goods, there will be customers who will loudly oppose Gillette’s campaign — unfortunately for them, razors aren’t the most flammable. After complaints fade away, only time will tell if Gillette will benefit from such things as strengthened brand loyalty/reputation, increased sales, improved recruitment/retention, and other long-term effects related to taking a stand.  

Regardless of the stance, I see the campaign as being strongly executed. Gillette acted boldly – they decided to tackle a sensitive and controversial topic, and lead the way in starting a conversation for how to drive change. Gillette also remained aligned with its parent company’s purpose. When talking about their impact, P&G states: “It’s simple. We want to lead the charge in doing the right thing. Our goal is to use every opportunity we have — no matter how small — to set change in motion. To be a force for good and a force for growth. For you, for the world, and for every generation to come.” This belief undoubtedly fueled the Gillette campaign and is the same fuel that stoked P&G’s other notable campaigns including  #LikeAGirl and Panteen Strong Is Beautiful. Lastly, the campaign was authentic. This was far from an attempt at bandwagoning on a hot topic. P&G conducted research on the topic — surveying more than 1,000 US men and women, secured partnerships with nonprofits like The Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and committed to a three-year commitment of supporting other nonprofits that are working “to help men of all ages achieve their personal best.” While Gillette executed the act of ‘taking a stand’ with the launch of the campaign, there is still a lot of work for the company. Gillette will need to continually reinforce, defend, and communicate to its audiences why it took this stance and how it relates back to its values and mission.

It should be called out here that while the implementation and action of Gillette taking a stand was overall executed well, it still does not negate the accompanying risk versus reward dilemma that the brand had to face when deciding on the validity and worthiness of greenlighting the campaign. Regardless of how controversial or groundbreaking a topic a brand wishes to address, deep and thoughtful consideration must be made regarding the long-term outcome and value to stakeholders.

P&G clearly and boldly made their decision.

-Nathan Sanfaçon
Strategist at thinkPARALLAX

Has it Been 15 Years?

Our team had an ideation session recently to think through our yearly holiday mailer. During the process, it dawned on me that our business has been around for 15 years. Fifteen years! That’s hard to believe. As I sat there with some of my team, who 15 years ago would not be found in a meeting but more like a middle or elementary school classroom, I began to wrap my head around the evolution of thinkPARALLAX and the world as it relates to what we do.

We currently define ourselves as a branding and communications agency focused on amplifying impact. And when I do the math, I realize that we have actually rebranded ourselves at least five times since our inception. Parallax Visual Communication started as a humble graphic design firm operating out of our garage in 2003. Three years later as the digital space was starting to boom, we morphed into Parallax Branding & Interactive. Around that time we realized that all of the projects we had been taking on had a common thread: focusing on the greater good. So we rebranded ourselves as a communications agency with exactly that focus. Then after a brief time, we streamlined that focus to sustainability.

Which brings us to now. thinkPARALLAX has grown into a branding and communications agency that gives meaning and voice to brands’ sustainability, social impact, and citizenship initiatives. We are on a mission to better the world by articulating and amplifying our clients’ impact.

As the business has changed, so has the skillsets of the people on our team. If I’d told myself back in 2003 that Parallax Visual Communication would be developing communication strategies and messaging for Fortune 100 companies and at times not even being responsible for design work, I honestly wouldn’t have believed it. How we market ourselves has become more sophisticated as well. Our original postcard mailers and trade show booths are a thing of the past. Now, thought leadership and content marketing drive new business. Marketing is always changing and agencies have to keep pace to stay relevant.

Like any business, we’ve weathered a recession and our share of ups and downs. There’s a level of risk and uncertainty inherent in owning a business and I don’t think that stress (or excitement, if you see it that way) ever disappears. For this reason, it is essential to prepare financially and strategically, both internally and with our clients, for whatever the future holds.

But on a lighter note, as I look back over the past 15 years, a few laughs come to mind when thinking about just how much the world and our business has changed:

  • Our first ever project was an event invitation for one of the Big 4 accounting firms. I was ecstatic to bill $600 for the project!
  • Tucked away in storage are binders full of CDs, DVD’s, and a box of hard drives — all of which house old files and client work. A stark contrast to now, where everything lives on the Cloud, and we get annoyed when it takes more than five seconds to access a file.
  • We used to build shopping carts and intranets from scratch. Today there are about 20 off-the-shelf options, from Workplace to Shopify, that allow anyone to plug-and-play in almost minutes.
  • Working from home wasn’t really an option, but now we telecommute Wednesdays and Fridays, and several of our employees work entirely remotely, all in an effort to help reduce our carbon footprint.
  • Virtual meetings have become the norm, file sharing programs eliminate the need for a call, and when we do meet, it’s often in a coffee shop or co-working space.
  • “Purpose” and “sustainability” barely existed in 2003, but now you can’t go ten minutes without hearing about a product made with recycled materials, a brand taking a stand, or the innovative corporate culture of some company.

Needless to say, we are living in a new, transparent world moving at light speed, with technology connecting and pushing us forward. Global issues such as climate change, poverty, inequality, and hunger have moved to the forefront as our population and awareness increase. And more and more, consumers are demanding transparency. All of this requires a new level of corporate responsibility and communication that focus on the impact on people, communities, and the environment.

As the world and our business evolve, I feel fortunate that we’ve been able to create our niche: helping companies tell their stories of the positive impacts they are making in the world. While our business could have become a digital marketing agency building out sites to sell products and focused on conversions (and I’d probably be living closer to the beach), I’m grateful that we have focused on enabling companies to amplify their impact.

Reflecting over the past 15 years has me thinking about the future, as any business owner should. When future-proofing our business, how will the world change 15 years from now… and how will our business evolve with it?

12 Gives in 12 Days

As 2018 comes to an end, we at thinkPARALLAX look to celebrate another successful year with our team, give thanks to our extended family, and show our support to certain organizations we resonate with by donating to their causes. That said, there are numerous ways to donate, including grants, cash, employee matching, sponsorships, etc. We preach to our clients, that regardless of the vehicle, to make sure that the causes or organizations you choose to support align with your business.

Patagonia’s CEO recently shared that the company plans to donate the $10 million dollars it saved from the recent tax cuts to various nonprofits that are aimed at protecting the planet. This move both aligns with Patagonia’s business strategy and matches the values of the company. Since Patagonia’s inception, founder, Yvon Chouinard and company have been focused on making environmentally-friendly products, while also putting in the time, energy, and cash to not just raise awareness on environmental issues but to create change. About 10 years ago, I was part of a protest that Patagonia and the Surfrider Foundation organized that kept a toll road from being built that would have destroyed a historical beach in Southern California. Be it through donations, making eco-friendly products, or organizing a protest to save a legendary surf break, Patagonia’s actions clearly align with its values and business strategy.

Along those lines, but not quite as grandeur, this year we launched our 12 Gives in 12 Days campaign where we gave 12 organizations $1,000 each over the course of 12 days. Our employees chose organizations that align both with our business and specifically with the skills each person needs to be successful at their job. I invite you to follow along on our social media channels to see which organizations our employees chose to support. The organizations are also listed below.  From myself and the entire thinkPARALLAX team, we hope you have a great holiday and a Happy New Year! 

Best for the World Award

We’re humbled to announce that we recently won an award for our dedication to our most important asset – our employees! B Lab, a nonprofit that serves a global movement of people using business as a force for good, recognized us in their 2018 Best for the World honoree list, which honors the top 10% of certified B Corporations who reflect the greatest commitment to their relationship with their workforce.

We are one of 2,595 companies, including Ben & Jerry’s and Patagonia, that are certified B Corporations. B Corporations (B Corps) are for-profit companies that have met rigorous social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency standards. Just one of the steps to become a certified B Corp is to take the ‘B Corp Impact Assessment,’ which explores a company’s impact on their workers, customers, environment, and community. In 2016, it took us nearly three months of constant work and communication with B Lab in order to become certified in addition to the detailed assessment, and we went through the rigorous process again to be recertified this year.

Every year, B Lab recognizes businesses that go above and beyond in their commitment to do good. B Lab awards the top 10% of B Corporations in six different categories: best overall, best for community, best for customers, best for environment, best for governance, and best for workers. For the award we received, Best for the World Workers, B Lab specifically evaluated how businesses treat their workers by analyzing their benefits, training, and compensation initiatives as well also assess the overall work environment from internal communication to company culture and wellness practices.

We put employee health and wellness first and with the hopes of creating work-life integration (rather than balance). Just some of the perks of working here include:

  • Working from home on Wednesdays and Fridays
  • Beach walks and surf breaks during the week
  • 8 hours of paid volunteer time in our community
  • Pet (including cat!) friendly office
  • Our PARALLAXploration program that encourages employees to travel anywhere in the world so they can be inspired and gain new experiences

When our team brings their whole selves to work, they’re bringing their unique backgrounds and experiences to everything they do, creating work that is holistic, inspired, and creative.

We are incredibly proud to share our B Corp certification status and recent award nomination as it is largely a celebration of our values and a reminder that we are on the right track in reaching work-life integration. While we are very humbled to receive this award, we will continue to strive towards fostering a supportive and healthy work environment.

If you’re interested in learning more about B Corporation or wondering how to get your company certified, we encourage you to visit their website at

Ireland Heritage Trip – Shannon’s PARALLAXploration

As a sun-chaser and crowd-hater, my travels have almost always taken me to far-flung tropical islands or warm, secluded getaways. But in June, I found myself bundled up in a Patagonia fleece and rain boots, gazing over the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, Ireland, surrounded by tourists and shivering from head to toe. Drenched in rain, my mind drifted to the deserted beaches of Barbados, and I asked myself why I had chosen Ireland — a country not exactly known for its sunny weather — for my PARALLAXploration. At that moment, the sun peeked its rays through the grey clouds, illuminating the majestic cliffs, and a feeling of gratitude quickly replaced any lingering thoughts of regret. Ireland is sublimely beautiful, but it’s more than the lush green landscape that left a lasting impression on me.

In case you can’t tell by my first name, I come from an Irish family — my great-grandmother immigrated from Ireland to the States in the 1920s. As such, I have always had a strong desire to visit the Emerald Isle to connect with my Irish roots. My intention for my PARALLAXploration was to gain a deeper understanding of my ancestral identity and make it a bigger part of my story moving forward.

I started in Dublin where I got the chance to meet a handful of distant relatives, volunteered at a seal rescue in County Wexford to fulfill the “social good” element of my trip, then headed west to explore County Clare and Galway. From there, I rented a car and drove to Achill Island, one of Ireland’s most remote places, for the main purpose of my trip: tracking down the home where my great grandmother was raised.

Achill Island is a tiny island off the west coast of Ireland, accessible from the mainland by a small bridge. The island is known as the gem of County Mayo, which is a haven for outdoor adventure seekers. People escape to Achill to surf, bike, hike, dive, or just hang out at the beach. I was told that less than 1,000 people live on the island full-time (there are far more sheep than people), although it’s a popular vacation spot for the Irish in the late summer. The island is so small that they don’t even have a police station — they “share” police with a nearby town so officers are only on the island one or two days a week.

The moment I drove over the bridge, I was awestruck by the indescribable beauty of Achill Island. When most people think of Ireland, they think of the lush green countryside, but the dominant hue of the island was blue — from the intoxicating azure ocean to the shadowy lapis hills towering in the distance. The coast was dotted with endless stretches of beach, where a handful of surfers braved the ice cold Atlantic. I immediately sensed a friendly, laid-back island vibe that was understated and somewhat untamed. A stark contrast to everywhere else I had visited in Ireland, the landscape was distinctively empty — it was rare to see another car on the road or person on the beach and I was actually the only guest in the entire hotel for part of my stay. However, there was definitely no shortage of sheep — I often had to stop for them to cross the road (an Achill traffic jam). As I drove aimlessly around the island, suddenly my affinity for the ocean and distaste for big cities made sense, as it is ingrained in my DNA.

Because all the road signs were in Celtic and cell service was nonexistent, I spent a lot of time being lost on the island, but I did manage to find the mythical Keem Bay, a white sand beach sheltered between two cliffs. The bay is only accessible by a narrow road with a steep cliff edge, but when you get there it’s like finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. With dreamy turquoise water, it could have very well been a beach in the Mediterranean, if it weren’t for all the sheep. There wasn’t a soul on the beach the entire time I was there and I found peace in the solitude.

After getting acquainted with Achill, it was time to find my great-grandmother’s house. The only clue I had to finding it was a photo my mom took in the 70s and this map provided by my great aunt:

I had dedicated an entire day to finding the house, anticipating that it would not be an easy task, so you can imagine my disbelief when I had been on the island for less than three hours and stumbled upon it — completely by chance. Driving alongside the Wild Atlantic Way, I noticed a cottage in the distance that looked similar to the photo my mom gave me. As I turned down the dirt driveway towards the house, I got goosebumps because I knew it was the one. Shooing a herd of sheep away, I stepped out of the car and stood before the exact house from my mom’s photo, except that the undressed stone was a bit more crumbled and the landscaping was a bit more overgrown. It was difficult to imagine an entire family living in the tiny, disheveled cottage. It didn’t even have any windows, because an old Irish window tax mandated that homeowners pay a flat rate for every window in their home (luckily this tax was abolished in the mid 1800s). Although the old house looked as though it was barely standing, its walls undoubtedly held a million memories, and that is what made it beautiful.

This moment was so surreal it almost brought me to tears. I was standing where my great-grandmother had spent her childhood, seeing the same amazing ocean view that had provided the backdrop for her upbringing. I could picture her running home from the local schoolhouse, warming up by the fire during Ireland’s dark winter months, and playing in the Atlantic ocean which was just steps from her front door. I wondered what she would think if she knew that many generations later, her great-granddaughter would make the 5,000-mile trek from California to see where she had lived.

But as magical as this moment was, it was a bit anticlimactic. I had assumed that this ancestral house was the link I needed to connect with my Irish roots, that finding it would provide me the ‘ah ha’ moment I was looking for — but I was so wrong. As I drove away, I thought to myself, now what? Was my life forever changed? Did I suddenly gain this deep connection with Ireland? Not necessarily.

It wasn’t until later that night, while I shared a pint of Guinness with some new Irish friends, that I had a revelation. Getting in touch with your roots isn’t just about finding an ancestral home, or even long-lost family members — it’s so much more than that. It’s about experiencing a country and forming a deep, personal connection with the culture at-large. For me, it was getting lost in the streets of Dublin, jamming out to Irish music at the iconic Temple Bar, dodging sheep as I drove through the countryside, learning Irish slang over a glass of Irish whiskey, watching a game of curling with my mom’s second cousin, hearing stories about basking shark hunting from a salty old fisherman, and being taught the proper way to pour a Guinness at Pattens Pub, my great uncle’s old watering hole. It was all the incredibly kind, welcoming, and hilariously sarcastic Irish people who reminded not to take life too seriously. Above all, it was the palpable sense of belonging I felt the entire time I was there.

I am so grateful that PARALLAXploration gave me the opportunity to fall in love with a culture that has played such a large role in shaping my family history, and ultimately who I am today.

Lovely Hanoi: Where Old & New Collide: Pat’s PARALLAXploration

As a first-timer to Asia, Hanoi seemed the perfect pick for my PARALLAXploration: manageable, not overly-touristy, and with a rich culture and history. For four days I immersed myself in this chaotic yet charming capital, with its tree-lined streets and French colonial architecture. The streets of Hanoi are sensory overload –  colorful shops, flowers, and lanterns everywhere, the ubiquitous low plastic bright blue stools that clutter the sidewalks outside storefronts and pubs, non-stop beep-beeps from countless scooters clogging the streets from every direction, and delicious smells wafting from street vendors’ tiny makeshift grills. Old and new collide everywhere. It’s common to see a rural woman in traditional clothing and the classic conical hat selling fruit or vegetables from her bike, right smack in front of a hipster coffee bar or swanky spa. High-rise office buildings inone neighborhood compete with temples dating back almost a 1,000 years in another — tradition and history still have a grip thankfully.

My first morning I woke up quite early expecting to find deserted streets as I went on a search for coffee at 6am. As I approached the renowned Hoan Kiem Lake, I noticed the street had been blocked off. I turned the corner to see literally hundreds of Hanoians of all ages taking part in various dance, tai chi, or exercise groups. This went on for blocks – group after group, some in matching uniforms, doing everything from line dances (yes, the Macarena is alive and well in Hanoi), to hip-hop aerobics, ballroom dancing, or Vietnamese Zumba right there in the street, at the crack of dawn. I later learned this is a daily occurrence from 6:00 to 7:00am sharp, as Hanoians are a very disciplined bunch. Once the clock strikes seven, roadblocks are removed, and the nonstop scooter insanity ensues for the day.

My days in Hanoi were spent visiting the Ethnology Museum and the Women’s Museum, eating amazingly fresh (and cheap) food, and spending countless hours walking the Old Quarter, where each of the 36 streets is dedicated to a specific trade or product. I spent a day with 20-year-old An from Hanoi Kids, a student-run organization that offers tours to English-speaking visitors in exchange for practicing their English. An gave me a fascinating glimpse of the city from a young woman’s eyes and a real window into Vietnamese life and culture, still very patriarchal, old-fashioned and full of traditions and beliefs.

I spent two nights on an eight-cabin junk boat cruise of Ha Long Bay, a stunning UNESCO World Heritage site about three hours from Hanoi with dramatic limestone karsts jutting out of emerald green water. This was a nice departure from the bustle of the city. I toured caves and a pearl farm, hiked, kayaked, and visited one of the remaining working floating fishing villages which completely blew me away.

My six-day PARALLAXploration flew by, but this part of the world left an indelible mark on my heart – not simply because of its stunning natural beauty, mouthwatering cuisine, or rich history and traditions  – but because of its people. No matter what social strata, Hanoians seem to have a good outlook on life. Life is simpler and slower-paced, and the focus is on family and friends.

As a solo female traveler, I thought I’d be on edge in Southeast Asia. Reality: I felt safer there than I do in my urban San Diego neighborhood. The Hanoians I came across were a respectful and incredibly kind bunch. On my last day, a front desk person at my hotel noticed I was limping from a slight ankle sprain the night before. She insisted on walking with me (slowly) several blocks to the nearest pharmacy so she could translate and make sure I got proper medication. That was a typical gesture.

Overall, my PARALLAXploration was a bit of a reset for me personally – a reminder to slow down, really see things, and appreciate, even consider, a different outlook or way of doing things. That’s the cool thing about travel – nothing breaks down intellectual barriers and preconceived notions faster than being in a new place or culture. But perhaps most important of all, my time in Hanoi was a reminder that now more than ever, a little civility and gratitude go a long way.

Brianna PARALLAXploration – Azores

My travel bucket list is quite extensive and typically grows every month.  

My passion for traveling was ignited after a semester studying abroad in Beijing, China.   While all my friends chose to explore Europe, I enrolled at the University of International Business and Economics, in the heart of Beijing not knowing another student.  Asia completely fascinated me, and for this reason when my husband, a US Marine, got orders to Guam, a US territory in the Pacific, I was thrilled! Our two years overseas allowed me the opportunity to explore several other countries in the Pacific beyond China.

It’s funny looking at our family travel map.  The red indicates places I’ve traveled, the blue my husband and the stripped flags, where we’ve traveled together.  Red flags cover various Asian countries, while blue is spread throughout Europe.

So when I was tasked with the difficult decision to choose a location for my PARALLAXploration, I knew I wanted to venture beyond Asia, but wasn’t entirely certain for where I’d go alone.    

While catching up on my weekly Travel+Leisure newsletter (guilty pleasure of mine to daydream about my next trip) I came across an article titled “The Azores Aren’t the ‘Next Iceland’ – And That’s Exactly Why You Should Go”.  After reading the article, I added yet another spot to my growing list and penned it in, right at the top. The Azores sounded like the perfect spot for my next adventure. Rated the top destination for eco-tourism, with a rich culture, great food, warm weather and filled with outdoor activities, it sounded like my perfect paradise.   After wrapping up a big project a work, I knew I wanted some relaxation, but it’s not my nature to sit poolside, drink mai tai’s and nap all day. The Azores provides that perfect balance! You can hike a challenging trail to then relax in warm hot springs in the middle of a jungle, with few tourists around.

Rather than setting out a detailed itinerary (like I often do listed out by the hour), I challenged my type A self to just wing my trip.  I planned for 5 full days in Sao Miguel, the largest island in the Azores, chose a few hotels throughout the island, rented a car (a must while visiting the Azores), bought a plane ticket and just went with no real plans in mind.

If you have the opportunity to visit the Azores, I highly recommend going, and going soon!  One month before my trip, Delta opened up the first domestic non-stop route from New York. The four and a half hour flight only flies to Sao Miguel three times a week.  During my trip, I rarely came across another American and felt the authenticity and true beauty that remains intact, due to the limited tourism (that will most likely change in the coming years as the awareness of the Azores grows).  

I could go on about the countless reasons for why I love the Azores, but I’ll let my photos do the talking.

I decided in order to see as much of the Island as I could, to divide the island into sections.  Even though Sao Miguel is fairly small (it takes about 2 hours to drive the entire island that is 293 square miles), there’s so much to do and see in each unique town.  

Situated on three tectonic plates, there are 3 active volcanoes on Sao Miguel.  Each is distinctly beautiful. The volcanoes have erupted five times in the last 500 years.   

Having visited several other archipelago islands, I was surprised by how clean the island was!  I rarely came across any trash and all the buildings and roads are well maintained.

Farming and agriculture are one of the main industries in the Azores.  Cows are everywhere. I even heard the ratio of cows to people is 2:1 (with a population of 140,000)

If you’re a lover of the water, the Azores are for you.  There are countless activities from diving, surfing, cliff jumping, sailing and even canyoning, something I had never heard of before, and wish I could have experience in the Azores… next time!

There are hot springs everywhere!  

The Azores are home to a 1/3 of the oceans cestaceans (whales and dolphins).  For my volunteer part of my trip, I met with the owner of the islands largest tour company to talk about how they’re educating visitors on sustainable animal watching and their impact on the island.

A famous cuisine of the Azores, Cozido das Furnas is made by combining meats and vegetables in a metal container and submerging it underground for 7 hours.  The result, a delicious dinner feast!

Traveling to another country without a detailed itinerary and companion would typically make me anxious.  Instead, I discovered a new way to travel. I loved how each day brought unexpected plans and allowed me to spontaneous pull off to the side of the road, and just be present in nature.  I wasn’t rushing to my next spot on my list and felt that I was able to experience the true beauty of the small island in a new way.