Texas travel letter and thoughts on solitude: Austin brands itself as Weird, though its original inhabitants claim the weirdness is lost through SXSWs hipster status and over-commercialization. Nevertheless – first place in the U.S. that I ever visited where topless is yay and weapons are ney! Austin is probably what you’d get if you put San Diego & Provincetown in a Texas blender. Anyway, with rising prices and loaded L.A. people invading the real-estate market, you should probably go before it becomes completely unweird.
I was a lonesome traveller arriving, but never felt lonely. Probably due to my Hoiden personality? 😋 (scroll through the photos below to find out what Hoiden means..). As a mother of 2 small boys, I treasure family time, but always appreciate the small stretches of being completely on my own – whether on a plane or walking between meetings – and the feeling of being unconnected, completely independent and free. A sense of being an outsider, observing the world around from a distance. Where you’re not required to interact or participate, and somewhat invisible. In my opinion, travelling alone is something everyone should do once in a while. It reminds you of which state your relationship with yourself is in. How comfortable you are in your own company. After all, drilling down to the core of our inner person, we are all here in this world by ourselves. In an over-crowded and hectic world, solitude to me feels like taking a medicine, or a vitamine shot.
If you feel uncomfortable eating out or sitting at a café all by yourself (or, like me, just love to read), you can bring a book. Being alone also makes you more open to spontanious, unexpected surprises. And you get much, much better service. Just to mention some perks.
I’ve travelled alone frequently since 2006, but rarely get the opportunity nowadays – vacationwise anyway.. If not for the security/safety situation and for the fact that I can’t switch gender for just a few months’ time, my ultimate dream is to hitch-hike and backpack from Europe across Middle East to China. Bucket list!
I often travel alone to various places for work, but due to the nature of our industry and the closely tied global network, I always meet people I know. And I usually spend both my mornings, daytime and late nights with a combination of familiar & new industry people. As you try and keep the trips short and utilizing them as efficient as possible, evenings also consist of business networking, and I very rarely have time for much other than sleep and get up-to-date on the most urgent items in my mailbox in between.
This trip was different, as I arrived without knowing any other industry colleagues travelling in for the SXSW Interactive, and entered in as an outsider and visitor. I had communicated with Morgan who’s in charge of SXSW Eco and SXgood with UN Foundation and a few other people, but knew that she was up to her neck in work all week. Also, Oslo Business Council organised their own lounge, but I didn’t exactly travel to Austin to network with other Norwegians (even though they’re great people) 😋
Instead, I have had every opportunity for being open to meet new people. And so I did!
Arriving at Houston airport, I met some really sweet girls from England & Scotland, and carpooled to Austin in a shiny white road monster – gate crashing the first leg of their Texas road trip(!). Good conversations and chemistry – it turned out they were all managers at the Lidl head office in London. With a passion for country music & rodeos, there was a whole lot of loud singing going on. All the country classics; unexpected and really fun!!
Arriving in Austin, I had booked a room through AirBnb in a private flat, as the hotel prices were really high. My host Chilee had recently moved in from Las Vegas, and shared it with a friend from the South. While the other guest was a woman from San Fransisco, a director of a big IT company.
Filling my days with conferences and seminars, my evenings were unplanned. I had some invitations to various networking events and parties, but didn’t really know anyone well. So I pinned the venues in my SXSW app, and went out exploring. And I had some amazing meetings with inspiring and engaged people from all over the States – and other regions of the world;
- Saturday breakfast with Jim from Seattle and a girl from Dublin
- Coffee and mutual sharing of all-time low life challenges with a heavily tattooed and rocker-style writer and former PR Director from London (yupp, the classic 40-something self-realization stage, but amazing conversation)
- Lunch with an environmentalist couple from Argentina/Chile, where he was a client of a Sweedish shipping company
- Dinner with a group of friends from Washington
- Nylon party and concerts with George from San Diego, two girls from South Africa and a couple from Israel. Arriving at the party, I bumped right into Swedish artist Sara Larsson, and it turned out she was among those entertaining us(!)
- Sunday breakfast with two Indian guys, a Mexican girl and a Chinese girl
- Sunday lunch drink at Coyote Ugly (just to have been there..) spent discussing war & peace with a U.S. Army veteran (Afghanistan, Iraq, Ukraine etc) from Alabama with Norwegian ancestors, who’s jaw dropped when I told him his last name was the same as that of the new big Norwegian oilfield (Kastberg)
- And Sunday dinner with a really nice guy from Austin, as I discovered a small Indian place off the beaten festival tracks. Learnt a lot about Austin!
Not to mention all the mind-blowing innovators, entrepreneurs, speakers and panelists I was able to discover during these days!
By the way; I got some great tips alltogether ref to the best of Austinn, that I’ll have to save for my next trip due to the purpose of this one, but meanwhile I’ll share them with you;
- The locals’ own intimate festival “Eeyore’s birthday” in the woods – hippie style every April (apparently lots of nudity too)
- Pop-up flea markets in South Congress
- Restaurant Odd Duck and small charming shops along South Lamar
- All-year swimming in Barton Springs Pool, which used to be the big gathering area for hippies & locals cooling down before A/C was common