How do you inspire young leaders? Take them on a cross-country train trip. (Millennial Trains Project)
As the youngest-ever Editor-at-Large for National Geographic Traveler magazine, Patrick Dowd is no stranger to traveling. But it was a 2010 Jagriti Yatra train trip across India that inspired his latest adventure: encouraging young innovators to explore America by rail.
Starting in 2012, the Millennial Trains Project has followed a similar process as the Jagriti Yatra journey by taking highly motivated youth on an adventure across a country to meet local social and business entrepreneurs. While the Indian trip takes 450 people each year on a 15-day, 5,000-mile journey, Patrick’s venture takes 20 participants on a 10-day trip across the United States to interact with local leaders. The hope is that the journey inspires these young leaders to further their own personal projects.
The Millennial Trains Project’s trek takes place on converted 1950s railroad cars. (Photo: Millennial Trains Project)
“Over the course of the last three years, we’ve brought together this really diverse community of people all over the country and world to go across our country by rail to build up their innovation,” says Patrick. “It’s really a series of journeys in search of the new American dream.”
The inaugural trip in August of 2013 took participants from San Francisco, California to Washington, D.C. — with stops in Salt Lake City, Denver, Omaha, Chicago, and Pittsburgh. Now preparing for MTP’s third trip (this one will run across the southern U.S.), Patrick is finding that the interest is overwhelming.
“This initial trilogy of journeys will serve as a foundation for what can become a civic entrepreneurial right of passage for future generations,” he says. “I can confidently say there is no better way to experience our country than by train in the company of other young people who want to build it up with their diverse talents.”
The first MTP journey in 2013 started in San Francisco. (Photo: Millennial Trains Project)
Participants from all backgrounds have used this travel to gain insight from local communities while promoting larger-picture initiatives. Matthew Stepp, for example, is an energy policy analyst who used the journey to meet with local energy innovators and tour national energy laboratories. He has since started a non-profit called Center for Clean Energy Innovation and authored congressional legislation based on insights he gained from his journey.
And the program isn’t just for business entrepreneurs. Creative minds like Cameron Hardesty used the Millennial Trains Project to explore her passion for poetry by building and photographing public poetry installations in each city.
For poet Cameron Hardesty, the MTP journey was a valuable inspiration for her art. (Photo: Millennial Trains Project)
While the overall benefit of these journeys is apparent, the day-to-day is just as fascinating. The whole trip takes place in vintage 1950s cars, immediately making the adventure feel unique and out of the ordinary. But don’t expect a vacation. A typical day starts at 6 a.m., followed by a morning briefing, workshops led by local leaders and then 5-6 hours for each participant to advance his or her project in that particular city.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett spoke with MTP participants during their stop in his city. (Photo: Millennial Trains Project)
The day concludes with an hour-long reflection exercise, dinner prepared with local ingredients and lectures given by the on-train mentors. After bedtime at 11 p.m., everyone wakes up in a new city and does it all over again.
“When you’re moving on the train, you’re not in any one place or even in any one time zone,” says Patrick. “You’re in a place and a time that’s apart from the frenetic pace of everyday life and the digital age — where you can really reflect and engage in dialogue with other people and have time to think and dream.”
It’s not all about changing the world. MTP participants formed their own on-train band. (Photo: Millennial Trains Project)
To get involved, each individual must be between the ages of 18-34 and raise $5,000 for his or her project. The first 20 applicants to reach that goal earn a spot on board. This year’s trip will take place May 21-31; it starts in Los Angeles and stops in Austin, San Antonio, New Orleans, and Atlanta and concludes in Washington, D.C.
“We’ve made it very accessible; anyone who wants to do it can step up and give it a shot,” says Patrick. “It’s fun and exciting to connect with the geography of opportunity that exists across our country. And I hope that more people can do it.”
For more information on the Millennial Trains Project head to millennialtrain.co.
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