Wednesday, June 8, 2011

WDS: People Who've Changed My Life

I didn't know what to expect going into the World Domination Summit. I knew I would probably meet some awesome people, but I was also a bit anxious because I really hate small talk.

The conventional first conversation — "Hi. How are you. What do you do?" — makes me uncomfortable to the point that I'd rather avoid meeting new people so I won't have to suffer through it. Sad, huh?

But it quickly became clear that this conference was a No Bullshit Zone. There was no small talk. There was big talk.

Instead of polite, surface-skimming questions, we asked soul-diving questions of each other. "What do you do?" was replaced by, "What are your dreams? What is your greatest fear? What kind of life do you want for yourself?" and more.

My goal for WDS was to learn more about travel. I dream of taking off to see the world, but I'm by nature a stay-at-homer, a curl-up-and-reader, a call-me-when-you're-done-and-tell-me-how-it-was... er. A big reason for that is because I'm afraid of the unknown.

But check out who I met on the train ride from Seattle to Portland:

I could not have met a more knowledgeable, kind, eloquent and funny first friend at WDS than Jodi Ettenberg of Legal Nomads. She sat right across the aisle from me on the train, and we chatted for much of the trip. I was able to pick her brain about all my burning travel questions, particularly those about traveling safely as a woman. What an incredible start to the weekend!

Of course, Jodi quickly became a rockstar of the conference with her captivating keynote speech and friendly, informative breakout sessions. Plus, everyone seems to know and love her! What a pleasure to begin my WDS experience by hanging out with her — and on top of all that, the resource-packed WDS page she's since posted on her Web site is exactly what I needed to calm my lingering fears of the unknown.

Thanks to her, my hunger for adventure is stronger than ever, and I know I'm capable of fulfilling my travel dreams.

What I didn't expect from WDS was to have such fascinating, mind-expanding, in-depth conversations with so many people about all the major areas of interest in my life: travel, personal finance, photography, running and fitness.

I felt like the conference was practically tailored specifically for me, but I think everyone felt like that! It's amazing how so many different people could feel so connected to one weekend of awesomeness.

Here are some of those people.

Since Caleb Wojcik and I met at Jenny Blake's book tour stop in Seattle just prior to WDS, he was my buddy from the start. As the blogger behind Pocket Changed, Caleb's goal is to educate twentysomethings about personal finance and help them become free from debt. And he's my age — just 24 years old.

I spent 2010 paying off all my debt (nearly $9,000) and learning everything I could about personal finance, including how to stay debt-free, save money for travel and adventures, and plan for retirement. Caleb is the first person my age that I've met who feels as strongly as I do about personal finance, and we had some great conversations — plus, we've already made plans to work together a bit.

This very smart man has big things in store for his life.

I met Eugene (second from left) at the Bridgeport Brewery, the first stop of the WDS brewery tour. We connected over photography and later had a lengthy discussion about it at the WDS afterparty. Eugene is incredibly talented (just check out his photoblog), and it was so valuable for me to chat with him as a newbie photographer.

So many people at WDS assumed I was a pro (or at least seasoned) photographer judging by the size of the camera I had hanging around my neck, but I just got it in February and have been slowly learning how to use it since.

Between talking with Eugene and learning tips from the incredible Karen Walrond, whose breakout session I had the pleasure of attending, I was in photography heaven!

Matt Frazier of No Meat Athlete and Steve Kamb of Nerd Fitness were the running and fitness gurus I connected with. Matt told me all about qualifying for and running the Boston Marathon as a vegetarian, while Steve shared his experiences in keeping in shape while hopping from country to country with an around-the-world plane ticket. Matt is kind of Steve's hero, so this photo is for him. : D

And on top of  the people I met who shared my major interests, I found tons of new friends who do incredible things that most people only dream of doing.

Here's Nate Damm, who's in the middle of a journey to walk from Delaware to San Francisco, all the way across America. His friend Joel picked him up in Missouri to travel to WDS, and will drop him off back in Missouri to resume the walk.

Nate gave up a lot to take this trip of a lifetime, but he told me something I'll never forget: "If you feel called to do something and don't do it, it'll haunt you for the rest of your life."

Speaking of Nate's friend, here's Joel Runyon. He writes the Blog of Impossible Things, where he chronicles his adventures doing things like competing in triathlons and traveling the world. He led a group of 40+ people in a skydiving adventure at WDS, then went bungee jumping a few days later. Joel also managed to get pretty sweaty running around Portland for a scavenger hunt, as you can see.

Benny of Fluent in 3 Months travels to other countries to learn the language and become... fluent in three months. He also does a mean rendition of the Juanes hit "Tengo la Camisa Negra."

This is Roger Lawson, who I didn't really talk with, but I had to get a photo of the "mischief" he had written on his forehead during one of the conference exercises. I heard lots of, "Oh, I love Rog!" though, and his Web site, Rog Law Fitness, looks like a blast — the tagline is, "Committed to Sexification on a Global Scale."

Mark Lawrence was my lunch buddy one day, and he also saved my life from the one slightly sketchy person I came across in Portland. He's co-founder of SpotHero, a new company that will rent out Chicago parking spaces. Genius!
Kimberly Edger is a physical therapist, runner and world adventurer who gave me lots of encouragement and laughs. We connected on Twitter prior to WDS and I thought she was a "he," since I misread her handle as "Edgar." Sorry, Edger!!

Josh Schwartzman is a photographer and world traveler who gave me some precious advice on how not to have your camera stolen at a hostel, including this pro tip: Don't leave it sitting out on a table. : D

And then there's Chris Guillebeau. What more is there to say about Chris?

How about this: I've only discovered my passions for travel, personal finance, photography and running in the past few years, but I believe they've always been somewhere inside of me. This incredible path was already laid out ahead of me — Chris Guillebeau just helped light the way.

He holds a very mighty torch.


I have tons more photos and stories from WDS — be sure to check back in the next few days!


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  1. Thanks so much for the lovely shout-out! It was a fabulous conference, wasn't it?

    See you next year?


  2. Can't wait to keep checking in with you about your travel plans! Hoping our paths can cross next time I'm in Seattle or if you come back down to Portland. Also hoping I'll be a little more camera ready by then :)

  3. Loved this post! Glad that WDS was more awesome than you expected! After seeing all your/others' tweets and posts on it, I'm definitely going next year

  4. This is awesome Devon!

    So cool to connect with you and all of these great people...I expect us all to fly private jets to WDS '12 after taking over the world.

    Will email you back shortly!


  5. Great to meet you too Devon! See you in '12!

  6. I can't decide whose picture I like best. Its a toss-up between Joel, Nate, and Benny.

    Thanks for the kind words and I'm so glad we met this past weekend.


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