Standing in front of the Austin State Capitol in Texas with some friends. (Photo: Katlyn Grasso)
I’ve just completed my 40th trip since my college graduation.
In May 2015, I graduated from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania with a life-changing gift from President Gutmann: $150,000 to fund the national expansion of my company GenHERation.
The President’s Engagement Prizes are designed to enable students to develop innovative projects that promote the betterment of humankind the year after they graduate. Four of my peers and I will spend the next year, cultivating a female empowerment network for high school girls, building a model school and clinic for girls in Ghana, engineering a water purification system in Kenya, and designing a comprehensive cardiac rehabilitation program for home care.
While I had a post-collegiate plan, like many I struggled with where to live. For most students, locale is often dictated by the job market — students have to evaluate their options carefully to determine which cities demonstrate the greatest potential for growth.
By receiving the President’s Engagement Prize, my situation was a bit more flexible, so I decided to participate in my own residential experiment. Instead of picking one city to call home for the next year, I would travel the country building my company and sampling different entrepreneurial ecosystems.
I rode on this train across the country with some amazing young thinkers. (Photo: Zach Fackrell)
While this lifestyle may seem chaotic to some, the exhilaration of travel has provided me with a platform for discovery. Being in a new place almost every week nourishes my insatiable curiosity. It also forces me to be more efficient with my time because when I only have a few days in a given city, I schedule meetings and events to maximize productivity. My travels have taken me on a cross country train trip with millennial thought leaders, a 10-city North American tour to hold leadership conferences with my company, and a bicoastal summit circuit to learn from the most powerful women in America.
But my favorite part of traveling is meeting new people from around the world. I have met a presidential candidate, a technology pioneer, and an iconic inventor. Every conversation with a fellow passenger on a plane or a seasoned taxi driver is a chance to learn something new from someone who has a different perspective on life.
With Presidential candidate Hilary Clinton in Philadelphia. (Photo: GenHERation)
Although I am still navigating this experiment, I have found that the best way to adapt to a new place is by aligning myself with existing networks within the community. Anytime I plan to be in an unfamiliar city, I email a member of the local Penn alumni club for recommendations about people to meet and places to visit. I build on this referral system with every trip, creating a support structure of friends and colleagues wherever I go. This method can work for travelers associated with any national organization whether it be a professional organization or service group. Attending conferences is also another way to surround yourself with locals who can help you uncover the most valuable resources in a city.
For me, living out of a suitcase, eating airport food for dinner, and making new friends every day has been a memorable experience. During my 40 trips, I’ve not only explored new cities, I’ve gotten to know myself on a whole other level.
And in many ways, that has been the best education.