Your Friends Support You, But They Still Won’t Consume Your Content

If you’re my friend and a creative the reality is that I probably don’t listen to your music, haven’t read your book, am not regularly reading your blog and probably haven’t subscribed to your podcast. It’s not because I don’t like you. It’s not because I don’t respect you.  It’s not because I don’t believe in your talent and it’s not because I don’t want to help you succeed. In fact, you’re probably exceptional at what you do and applying your skills to create something amazing.

As a content creator, this is something that will frustrate you, leave you feeling concerned that you’re not good enough or that I don’t respect you. You’ll probably feel a bit betrayed and you’ll feel a bit hurt. I know these are all still emotions I feel regularly as a fellow content creator.  But, the reality is, it doesn’t make me a bad friend and it most definitely doesn’t mean your content isn’t good enough.  As a content creator, this was a hard lesson that has taken me a long time to come to grips with, and even longer to internalize.

It doesn’t matter what type of content you create – perhaps you’re a journalist, a photographer, a musician or book author. One of the most difficult things to come to terms with, and something that leads many creatives to abandon their projects while feeling a deep sense of hurt, is the reality that the audience you expect to be the most passionate and automatic – that of friends, family and colleagues will, more often than not, disappoint you.

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison

This blog includes a lot of advice. It includes a lot guidance, materials and assets which have taken me hours and a considerable financial investment to assemble. I’ve been running VirtualWayfarer since 2007 and post on a daily basis about the topics covered here – travel, photography, study abroad, videography etc. – and yet, not a month goes by that someone I know, usually fairly well, reaches out with a message to the effect of, “Hey Alex, you travel a lot right? Do you have any advice about X-Y-Z?”.   For most of my blogging career this left me exasperated. After all, I’d spent years spoon feeding that very information to them, doing everything in my power to make them aware of it, and expecting that they’d be interested, curious and support me. All of which was, by and large, utterly ineffective outside of triggering a vague association.

It hurt. It pissed me off. It was disheartening.  To make it worse, it also made an already difficult process a hell of a lot more difficult.

Why? Because getting content out there, discovered, and adopted by other people is hard. Like, really, really, freaking hard. The easiest way to leapfrog some of that is through the amplification of your social network. I have roughly 2,370 Facebook friends and an additional 400+ people following me. The vast majority of these people are people I’ve met in real life, know personally, or are travel bloggers themselves. Out of those nearly 3,000 folks how many follow VirtualWayfarer on Facebook? 379. On YouTube? No way to tell, but probably fewer than 50. If even 500 of those nearly 3,000 folks engaged with and shared one piece of my content a week, it would have a radical impact on the exposure and visibility of this blog. Especially because they’re very diverse people, spread around the globe, with very multi-faceted social networks.

But, there in lies the catch 22.  They’re very diverse people, with very diverse interests, with very diverse priorities, tastes, and commitments. They’re already busy in the midst of what they’re doing and they have pre-existing preferences which, at any given point, will only overlap with what I’m creating and doing periodically and in a specific way.

The Incredible Power of Social Networks Illustrated By Studying, Living and Travelling Abroad

Nyhavn Harbor in Copenhagen


Housing in Copenhagen

When I signed the agreement and notified the University of Copenhagen that I was headed to Denmark I assumed I’d face a lot of challenges upon arrival.  Things like visa issues, language barriers, and a drastic change in weather.  What I didn’t expect was the housing nightmare that greeted me.  I arrived in Copenhagen on July 20th.  Four months later, after aggressively scouring available housing outlets, my search was finally rewarded. On November 29th, I moved into an apartment that should last me for the next 12+ months (and hopefully the remainder of my stay here in Denmark).

It was my well-developed, trans-continental social network that saved me.  Utilizing contacts, new and old, I was able to keep an affordable roof over my head while I undertook an arduous search. Without this  ace in my pocket ,  I would have been camped in hostels and hotels for months, spending an exorbitant amount of money with no room for my luggage. My story illustrates the importance of a social network and what a powerful tool it can be.

United States Based Trip Prep

Between 2004 and 2007 I worked for a commercial real estate company in Phoenix, Arizona.   I worked closely with many brokers and their teams.  In 2007 I left the company to travel Europe for 3 months. When I returned to Arizona, I took a job as an analyst with a business sales, mergers and acquisitions company. I stayed in touch with past colleagues and my social network continued to grow. Fast forward three years.  I informed my boss that I planned to return to school to pursue my Masters and would be moving to Denmark.  While sorry to see me go, he eagerly accessed his mental rolodex for ways to help me with the move.  This is where it starts to get complicated and the obscure beauty and power of a network starts to really come to light.  He recalled that one of the real estate team members who had helped with the purchase of our new building had dated a Danish guy. The head of that team and her boss was an old contact that I happened to also know, independently, through our mutual time spent at my previous job in the commercial real estate company.  In an odd twist of overlapping networks, when the time came to purchase a new building my boss reached out to his friend and contact: the real estate broker from my old company.  Over the course of the purchase and move into our new building, I ended up not only re-connecting with my old real estate contact, but also meeting his team, which included the woman who had dated the Danish guy and I mentioned previously. Whew, confusing right?

Back to my meeting with my boss – on the spot he picked up the phone, called, and made the connection for me.  While no longer dating the Danish guy, she spoke highly of him and because she knew me offered to put me in touch with him.  A few minutes later, I fired off an e-mail with general questions about Denmark, housing, phones, and language barriers.  I continued my trip prep while my new Danish contact responded with great suggestions, and things moved forward.

Copenhagen’s Unexpected Rental Market

After arriving in Copenhagen I realized that not only was it going to take much longer than expected to get my visa, but housing was both more expensive and significantly harder to find than I had assumed.  To be fair, the University had warned that finding housing in Copenhagen was expensive and difficult.  On the flip side, they did just short of nothing to help with the process.

As someone coming from Phoenix, I was met by a whole different world.  In Phoenix we have such a glut of available apartments and housing that you can sign up with an agent for free who will then show you around various apartments.  The agent is compensated by the apartment complex(s) who regularly offer signup bonuses. If that fails there’s more than enough housing from private landlords available.  The search for an apartment seldom lasts more than a week.

In Copenhagen the situation is the exact opposite.  It’s not uncommon for people to search for an apartment for 3-6 months.  Renters sign up on a mixture of free and pay sites to gain access to apartment rental listings.  A listing inside the city proper in the 3,000-4,000 DKK per month ($600-800 USD) rental range typically garners between 80 and 250 e-mails in the first day!  There is also a heavy preference among renters for female and Danish tenants which added an extra layer of difficulty as a male international student.

After my fifth day in the hostel I followed up with the Danish contact I had been introduced to.  Luckily, he had a spare room available for a month before his tenants moved in and he graciously offered to let me use it.  With a huge sigh of relief, I figured I’d be all set. After all, a month is a long time…Right?

As August drew to a close, it became apparent that my visa would not be arriving any time soon and that the one offer which had been made by a “local” dorm, was too far out of town (45 minutes) to justify accepting.

Luckily, here again my network made a huge leap forward. My host reached out to a friend of his who also doubled as his house cleaner.  She was willing to host me for a month or two, but was hesitant as the apartment didn’t have doors for about half the rooms.  A long time hosteler, I mentioned it wasn’t an issue for me. It turned out that she and I got along well.  She was a gracious host and between our busy schedules the shortage of doors in the apartment wasn’t an issue.  I can’t stress how wonderful she was to allow me to invade her apartment like that.  Especially when one considers just how obscure my connection to her was.

Eventually, my visa came through as my hunt for an apartment continued.  I was hampered by my class schedule and the need to use public sources of internet to endlessly scan, and then pounce on room postings.  While I looked at several, nothing came through until I finally had an offer for a room on Amager near campus.  It looked great.  It was a guy and his two dogs.  He smoked but that didn’t seem like it would be an issue.  He was extremely friendly, nice, and happy to help with things.

After a week I was able to move in and started to get settled.  Everything seemed to be going well until it became obvious that we had two extremely different lifestyles that were not compatible. I moved out the next day.  Luckily, the female Danish friend I had been staying with came to me rescue and welcomed me back without so much as a grumble.  We had a good laugh about the mis-adventure and my search began once again with renewed vigor.  Contacts and my emerging network in Copenhagen shared several opportunities with me, but none panned out.  Desperate to be able to unpack/get settled and with the semester coming to a close, I took a new approach. I started offering more than asking rent. It turns out that money trumped being male, and an international. Within a week and a half I had a lead on a place.  It took another two weeks to finalize things before I was able to move in.

Now, I finally have what I hope will be a semi-permanent home for the remainder of my time here in Copenhagen.

It has been an adventure, and to be fair, I could have found a place much quicker had I been willing to live 45+ minutes outside of the city.  As an international student, and someone who has experienced the incredible power of networks, I felt it was extremely important for my immersion, social activity, and overall experience here in Copenhagen to be in or near the University. The cost of commuting was also a key factor. Ultimately the need to be somewhat centrally located has made things more difficult and somewhat more expensive.  In the long run though, it has also been well worth it.

It’s important to note that I only had the opportunity to make that choice, however, because of the incredible help offered to me through my network of friends and contacts.  I owe a lot of these individuals a huge debt of gratitude and their open, helpful, and friendly nature has really inspired me to pay-it-forward and to be mindful of how I can help my friends, contacts, and their extended network.

At the end of the day, I hope this helps you all remember to never, ever, ever, underestimate the power, capability and influence your network can bring to bear.

To all those that helped along the way.  Thank you.

Preparing for a Trip? Make Sure You Facebook Your Destination!

Colorado-8927

By now you may be familiar with sites like Couchsurfing, AirBnB, Global Freeloaders, and Hospitality Club.  Those of you who are more aggressive social media users also probably leverage Facebook on a daily basis to help organize and socialize your life. When finding a restaurant our generation often fires off a tweet, pulls up Yelp, or posts a quick Facebook status inquiry.  Most of us have read The Four Hour Work Week and books like Never Eat Alone. We understand and appreciate the value of our social network and regularly interact with our friends and contacts on a local level.

Yet, when it comes time to travel, we often set all of this knowledge aside and revert to making the same basic mistakes. We often have travel questions or needs, and would love opportunities to connect socially with long distance contacts.  As we prepare for our trips we talk and post about them in general terms but, almost never make active inquiries.

If you were looking for a job, you’d leverage your social network.  If you needed a new roommate you’d reach out to your social media contacts.  If you had a nagging question you couldn’t find an answer for, they’d be your logical ‘go to’.  So why not make similar inquiries when preparing for a trip?

A plethora of recent startups revolve around connecting us socially with people nearby.  From Foursquare to Facebook check-ins, it has never been easier to keep in touch once you’re at a destination.  These do little, however, to prepare for the trip to that destination.

So, before you take your next trip, don’t just tell your Facebook and Twitter friends that you’ll be visiting a destination.  Ask them who lives there, who can host you, who is free to show you around, meet for coffee, and perhaps even introduce you to other near-by must see places.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a place you’ve never been to before or a place you’ve visited 100 times.  You have an amazing resource at your finger tips.  Use it!  I guarantee you’ll be surprised by the power of your network. And above all, don’t be afraid to act on the introductions your friends and contacts offer to make.  It’s one of the best ways to enrich and enhance your travel – and who knows, it might even save you a small fortune in travel costs.

Still need a conventional resource? Head on over to Amazon and snag a Lonely Planet Guide for your destination.

It’s Good to Have Friends

Stave Church, Oslo, Norway

As you’ve probably noticed if you’ve been reading my Scandinavia trip posts, it was one heck of an adventure.  One filled with great food, amazing natural scenery, beautiful cities, fantastic cultures, and wonderful people.  I’d like to dedicate this post as a thank you and as a wonderful illustration of the value and power of social media as a way for coordinating meet-ups and maintaining international friendships.

While I met a lot of great people during my trip and will be keeping in touch with many of them, there are four in particular I owe a huge thank you to.  They opened their homes, treated me to meals, introduced me to their culture, shared their friends and set aside large chunks of time to show me around their cities.  The time spent with each was special and something I hope to reciprocate in the future.

Friends in Oslo

Hildur and Sten – I’ve known Hildur for a number of years and met her initially while she was at Arizona State University getting her undergraduate degree. As school wrapped up and we graduated she headed back to Norway and settled in Oslo. Which worked out great, as Oslo was my gateway to Scandinavia and first real taste of Norwegian culture. Upon my arrival Hildur introduced me to her boyfriend Sten – an awesome guy who volunteered to give me the premier local’s walking tour of Oslo.  Make sure to check out my blog posts from Oslo for an idea of what we covered during my visit.  From Viking museums to Palatial parks we hit them all.

The two really made my time in Oslo special.  They introduced me to a number of amazing local foods, taught me several park games, introduced me to a bunch of great people, and really shared a much better understanding of the city with me.  They also hosted me in their guest room for the duration of my stay.  Thank you!

Kevan in Copenhagen

Kevan – I met Kevan just under a year ago during my Central America trip.  At the time he and another friend where in Mexico to celebrate the New Years.  I rolled in to the hostel fresh off the bus from Guatemala, grabbed a beer and got to know everyone as the New Years festivities wound up. When Kevan noticed I was heading to Denmark/Copenhagen on Facebook he volunteered to show me around and set aside a day and a couple of evenings to introduce me to the town via a great walking tour, his group of friends and a fantastic tour of Copenhagen’s local watering holes.

A gracious and generous host, I really enjoyed the insights Kevan had to offer both into the history of the city, the local culture, and the general history of Denmark as a whole.  It’s an amazing place populated by an incredible people and somewhere I’m eager to re-visit and explore in great depth.  Believe it or not, I even learned a bit more about English as a result of our conversations.  Thank you!

Hamburg Friends

Philipp – Another friend from my Central America trip, I originally met Philipp in Playa del Carmen.  We met at the hostel during my first visit when four of us teamed up to rent a car and then set out to snorkel Dos Ojos, visit Tulum and look for turtles in Akumal.  With just over a day to properly explore Hamburg, Philipp stepped up and took me on a fantastic tour of the city.  The walk was a real kick – from underground tunnels to old Nazi fortresses and golden sand beaches we covered a ton of ground and history.  I was also introduced to a regional Germany drink I’d never had before and had the opportunity to dive into local German fare.

A great guide, he really went out of his way to show me around the city and share some of the more obscure elements of the city’s history with me. While I knew some of Hamburg’s history, I had no idea just how interesting a city it was, or how major a commercial player on the national scene. The tour was great, the food good and the company exceptional.  Thank you!

Bergen from Above, Norway

While still possible, most of these connections would have been nearly impossible to maintain without modern technology and infrastructure.  Without tools like facebook, IM and e-mail I probably would have all lost touch shortly after meeting.  Instead, we’ve been able to maintain our friendships and connect when opportunity permits. That’s an incredible thing, and one I really value and relish.

Each of the four I mentioned in this post showed fantastic hospitality and kindness.  They set a wonderful example and serve as a constant reminder for me, of how important it is to strive to pay-it-forward.  To host, and help travelers and friends when the opportunity presents itself. It’s a wonderful reminder that the little things are sometimes some of the most powerful.

So, on a closing note – thank you all once again!  I can’t wait to see when and where our paths cross next.

Your Facebook “Live” Newsfeed is Only Showing 250 Friend’s Updates. Here’s how to fix it.

How to make your Facebook Recent Updates show all of your friends.

If you’re a moderately active Facebook user and have over 250 friends you may have noticed that the “Most Recent” newsfeed seems to omit things.  For my part, it’s a conversation I’ve had a number of different times with friends. Collectively musing on just how Facebook goes about displaying the recent updates. After all, the “Top News” option seems pretty straight forward, but “Recent Updates”?  One would think that covered all of your friends updates in a somewhat real time feed. That was the point after all, right?  Wrong.

The reality is that Facebook made the decision to filter your Recent Updates in a way which really turns it into a less elite “Top News” option.  Now, if you’re like me and genuinely nosy/curious what your friends are up to you’re probably genuinely interested in recent updates from ALL of your friends, not just the top 250 which Facebook chose for you.

The good news is, while anything but intuitive it’s incredibly easy to expand that number to encompass all of your facebook friends, pushing your feed back to a useful real time stream from all of your friends and contacts.

Step one:

Log in and click the Facebook logo.  This should take you to your main feed page. In the middle right hand side of the page you’ll have the two options, “Top News” and “Most Recent”.

Step two:

Click over to “Most Recent”

Step three:

Scroll to the very bottom of the page where the “Older Posts” option appears on the left hand side. Note that on the right hand side there’s an easily overlooked “Edit Options” text.  Click it.

Step four:

Change the “Number of Friends” option from 250 (or whatever it is at) to your current friend count+100.

Step five:

Save it and enjoy! Your feed is once again a real cross section of recent updates from all of your friend. Not just Facebook’s version of a VIP list.

Run into any issues? Feel free to leave a comment and I’ll do my best to help you solve it. Found this useful?  Share it!

Oslo Norway – Vikings, Embassies and Old Friends

Viking Ship Museum - Oslo, Norway

The ride to the airport was uneventful. For 6 Euro, a shuttle service picked me up at my hostel proving the anxiety that I’d had over catching an early morning bus on a quiet Sunday unnecessary.

As the shuttle meandered its way through Dublin I noted how empty the streets were.  After a full weekend the city was finally at rest, recuperating and preparing for a new week.  The airport itself was fairly quiet, which was a relief.

The line to check my bag was short, as was the line through security, which left me ample time to find a bite of food before winding my way towards my gate.

The flight to Oslo was brief.  To be honest, I slept most of it – between jetlag and the late night I’d had the previous evening, I was in desperate need of a nap!

Rygge Airport is located some 40 km south of Oslo.  A small airport, we were the only plane present.  This was convenient given the size of the airport’s one runway, which we had to taxi back up after landing before we were able to get to the gates.

From there a bus shuttled us all to Oslo, where we went our separate ways.   After a quick pause to get my bearings, I set to the task of finding my way to Hildur’s place.  She’d given me an address and general directions, but getting oriented, judging landmarks, and weighing distances is never an easy thing when experiencing a new city/culture for the first time.

In short order I found the subway, figured out what ticket I needed and after a few missteps was headed in the right direction.  Before long I reached the National Theater stop and headed toward the surface.  Candidly, as the escalator dragged me towards the surface, I felt a bit like a groundhog leaving its hole.

Embassy Row - Oslo, Norway

I emerged in the middle of a beautiful greenbelt surrounded by old buildings that borrowed from French and German architecture – creating a unique mixture of the two. Then, with map in hand, I slowly spun about before guessing which direction I needed to go. Unfortunately, it ended up being up hill…toward a large palatial building in the midst of a giant park.  It was, as I would later learn, the royal residence.

The day was beautiful; warm with a few clouds in the sky.  Needless to say it was anything but what I’d expected.  In typical European form a lot of the locals were out enjoying the weather.  Most stripped down to swimming suits, sprawled out in the park, sunbathing, picnicking or barbecuing. It made for a welcome sight.

Feeling fairly confident that I was following my directions correctly, I wound through the park and up a side street before turning onto the street where I hoped to Hildur’s apartment.  To my surprise, I quickly realized I was walking down Ambassadorial Row.  Most of the buildings had unique architecture representing their home country and a diverse mixture of national flags flying from beautifully manicured front lawns.  Thrown into the mix were a few private residences, coffee shops, and B&Bs.

Ambassador's Row - Oslo, Norway

Before long I found the right address and tentatively made my way to the door. There I was stumped.  Unfortunately, while I had her number, I didn’t have a phone or her apartment number.  This was even more challenging because the buzzer had some 8+ last names, none of which I recognized.  Torn between randomly hitting the buzzer’s until I got the right one or backtracking and finding a phone – I made one attempt, then opted for the latter…Which came in the form of a small Korean convenience store where I borrowed the phone and picked up what turned out to be orange-flavored water.

A few rings and a quick conversation later, I was back on my way down Ambassadorial Row.   This time, with the right last name in hand I was quickly buzzed in and made my way up the winding staircase.  Reaching the top I re-connected with Hildur, an old college friend who I’d met a few years earlier while she studied as ASU.  We quickly caught up before striking out for a quick bite to eat and tour of the immediate area.

She explained, to my surprise, that one of the cheaper local foods was Sushi of all things and promised we’d try it at some point during my stay.  For the sake of convenience and price, however, we made a quick pause at McDonalds before heading to the park where I met up with one of her best friends/roommates and another mutual friend who was visiting from the west coast.

We spent an hour or so relaxing in the sun, enjoying the park, catching up, and getting to know each other before heading back to the apartment for a beer and to watch the evening’s world cup match.

After the game it was nap time.  Still fighting jet lag, I crashed out for an hour or two before waking up in time for a delicious home cooked meal.  Shortly after dinner Hildur’s boyfriend Sten got in. He had volunteered to give me a grand tour of Oslo the following morning.  We all spent the rest of the evening catching up, getting acquainted and sharing stories before turning in early – the following day promised to be a full one.

With the sun still up, I crawled into bed, pulled the covers over my head and slipped into delightful dreams of new adventures and far off lands.  It was 1 am.