Week 4: How to Meet the Conference Organizer – Sherry Ott

My name is Davis. In September 2014, I decided to spend a year reaching out and finding ways to help people I’ve never met, but admire. You can find out more about my story hereI update my progress every Tuesday.

This week, my goal was to connect with Sherry Ott and help her accomplish a goal.

Who is Sherry Ott?

Credit: Sherry Ott

Facing burnout, Sherry Ott (@ottsworld) decided to quit her corporate IT job to travel the world on her own. Her original intention was to simply take a career break and come back after a year to her home in New York City and decide her next steps. That was in 2006. Today in 2014, Sherry is still traveling.

I was introduced to Sherry’s journey through my friend Christine Park, who herself is on a two-year career break traveling around the world. When I tell my friends about Sherry and Christine, the usual response I get is, “who is their rich uncle?” My answer is “no one.” Sherry and Christine are self-funding their trips by cutting costs (having one less Starbucks coffee really adds up), choosing experiences over luxury (living in hostels instead of five-star hotels), and being creative with how they produce income (In Vietnam, Sherry taught business english to young adults).

Sherry documents her travels on her blog, Ottsworld, and in 2009, co-founded Meet, Plan, Go, to support other people’s dream of long-term travel.

Why Sherry Ott?

Before being exposed to Sherry and other people who make long-term travel a normal part of life, I thought traveling was a privilege of the rich. I thought I had to be retired before I could spend my days walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain, hiking the Torres del Paine Circuit in Patagonia, or camping on Antarctica. Reading Sherry’s blog and finding that for the price of one of my college textbooks, I could spend a week living Ha Long Bay, Vietnam like a king got me interested in reading more about a field I would later come to know as travel hacking. By meeting a woman who left on her own to countries abroad, I figure I would find my courage to do the same with no excuses. If I want to badly enough, I will figure out the money situation.

My Plan for Meeting Sherry

A few months ago, Christine forwarded me an email from Sherry’s organization, Meet, Plan, Go, about a conference they were having in New York City called Career Breakers in September designed for people who are looking to take a break from their career to do long-term travel. I used some money I saved up from my summer internship to register. I figure at the least, I would be inspired by hearing stories of other travelers and at the most I would be inspired and meet Sherry.

The conference started at 11 am on Saturday and I knew it would take me a little less than 3 hours to get from New Haven to where the conference was in NYC (Hostels International NYC). The latest train I could take would be 8 am before the conference started, but I knew it would be harder to meet and talk to Sherry once the conference started. During my time at Yale organizing conferences, as much as I enjoy getting to know people and talking, once a conference begins, I am running from place to place trying to make sure everyone knows their roles, lunch is ordered, and the fire marshal won’t stop our event. So if I wanted to meet Sherry, it would have to be before the conference started. I woke up at 6 and took the 7 am train instead.

Results:

I arrived at 10:15 am about an hour before the opening and as luck would have it Sherry and her team were setting up the final details. I walked up and introduced myself. She was quite busy (maybe I could have arrived earlier), but we ended up talking for a bit.

At the end of the day, I was able to catch up with her again as the conference was ending. We had a nice talk and I asked for a picture.

I am not sure the next time I will be able to see Sherry (she is off to Cancun as I am writing this), but I am glad we had at least one chance to meet.

How I will help Sherry

One of the things Sherry and I talked about were projects she was working on. As I learned, one of her biggest dreams is to realize the goal she set for the Career Breaker’s conference.

That goal?  To get more people to travel.

I told her I would be able to add one success to her counter when I go to Vietnam this summer. Sherry asked me to keep her updated.

My summer trip will be a win-win for both of us.

Follow-ups:

  • Following-up: Emailing Sherry a thank you note for such an inspiring conference.
  • My Deliverable: Travel to Vietnam next summer (graduation gift to myself and Sherry)

Lesson I’ve learned about connecting at conferences

1. Before going to a conference, do your research

You’ll be in a better position to know who is in attendance and if there is someone you want to meet,  you can read about their latest projects – which make for natural conversation topics.

2. Show up early

You’ll get to meet other early arrivers, some speakers, and maybe the organizer. Plus you avoid long registration lines.

3. Just walk up and introduce yourself

This might be the hardest part, but once you do it you’ll be thankful.

Next Time:

For next week, I will be reaching out to Parker Liautaud, who at 19, became the fastest person to reach the South Pole.

See you next Tuesday.

Want to join me and reach out to your role models? You can get details for the 7-Day CWA Challenge below.

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