Leo's Letter #41 // Ride Solo
I'm talking about trips, not that other stuff
Hey, it’s great to have you.
Substack sent me an email that I hadn’t posted in three months so I just HAD to post something.
No, I’m just kidding.
I spent the end of summer in Mexico City and the trip was such an experience that I had to put it in writing.
P.S. - if you’re free on Tues, 9/27 in the evening, I’m hosting a small friends gathering in FiDi. Respond to this email and I’ll send you details!
What I got myself into
I couldn’t believe it was actually happening.
On a Friday afternoon in late August, I flew to Mexico and started my solo trip.
One bite into my torta, I realized that I had made it. After cancelling my original trip due to starting a new job and surviving my current role as a chief of stuffs, I was in Mexico City.
I couldn’t tell if it was from my excitement or the loud music blasting a floor below my room on the second floor of a coliving space, but I struggled to fall asleep - something much needed for an early start the next morning.
Fast forward six hours. I woke up to a mix of my alarm and the morning traffic. Who knew 8am on a Saturday in Mexico City would be so busy! At least the noise helped me get out of bed… I rushed to the meeting point of my 9am walking tour, which I learned would be conducted entirely in Spanish.
That day became the day I caught up on all of high school Spanish in a few hours.
It was also a great way to kick off an amazing two week trip where I:
Interacted with locals during random everyday encounters, sharing cultures (and hand gestures when my Spanish wasn’t up to snuff)
Met like-minded people through the power of online communities
Lived in three different neighborhoods to get a fuller sense of the city
I’m no stranger to solo travel. Yet, this was THE most rewarding solo trip I’ve yet taken.
This time it’s different
I lived in Shanghai for several months between graduating college and working full-time. I also rode the Amtrak from California to Chicago. I’ve let my mind wander while strolling through Tokyo and Chengdu.
I mostly kept to myself during those trips. I spent most of my time in the past perceiving, taking in my new surroundings and reflecting on them in my mind.
This time, I was ready to engage. I did so through the following:
Context - being in an environment where I stood out (Latin America) vs. blended in (Asia)
Community - forming connections before I arrived
Confidence - pushing boundaries of what I thought was possible
Context: finding space while looking out of place
I’ve generally stuck to places where I looked like I belonged.
Along the coasts of the USA, I’d be one of many Asians in NYC or SF. In Asia, I’d look like the majority of the population until I opened my mouth and spoke English (or Mandarin while in China).
This sure changed in Mexico City.
While there were bound to be some Asians in a city of 9 million people, most of them lived in pockets and traveled in groups.
On the other hand, I went everywhere. Everywhere I went, I was (mostly) by myself.
One night, I was eating at a taco stand when a fellow customer struck up a conversation. When he heard my family was from China, he began talking about his respect for China’s ancient history. Not the first thing that would come to mind to the average American. He also showed me a video of a Mexican YouTuber with millions of subscribers documenting his travels in China.
See, we all learn something new from cultural exchange.
To close this section, I found pockets of familiarity in a foreign place:
Getting to know the other travelers in my coliving space
Speaking Mandarin with Chinese people I met through the city’s nightlife
Bumping into other Asian Americans and comparing our experiences
Community: making friends through the internet
Wherever I go, crypto follows…
Ok, enough with the puns. But I did find a crypto meetup thanks to Twitter. Luckily, the event was held in both English and Spanish - while my Spanish has proven itself on dates, it would not pass muster at a networking event.
In addition, I organized a tech and founder meetup through the LatAm channel of the On Deck community. It was great getting to know fellow Americans in the city.
Lastly, I made some new friends through a Telegram group focused on personal development. We talked about our hobbies, went to bars and clubs together, and one friend even hosted a wild house party.
Talk about meeting people “online”. And not in the dating sense (which I did too).
I came to the city not knowing anyone, and left having met many people. To break down how I formed these connections, I found them through similarities in:
Background - Americans living in CDMX
Interest - crypto / tech / personal development
These dimensions are location-agnostic. You can find connection wherever you go.
However, things take time. I see this as a process of 1) finding out what you enjoy, 2) joining relevant communities, and 3) engaging with your new groups.
You’ll then find a tribe wherever you go.
Side note: while it may sound cliche, it’s also fun to engage with those who are different. I learned different perspectives on work and play in my adventures “meeting people online”.
Confidence: pushing to my limits
I was on my own. Therefore, I had nobody to hold me back besides myself.
I learned that being in a new environment was only part of the equation (you can lead a horse to water but can’t make it drink).
The other part involved seizing every opportunity. I made efforts in:
Going out by myself for a night. Ended up receiving an offer to stay in someone’s vacation home in Honolulu for free
Inviting people in my coliving space to join me in activities. Made a new friend who introduced me to his friends at another coliving space
Mingling at the club. Was invited to join someone’s birthday party and received an impromptu salsa lesson along with drinks
None of this happened in a vacuum - I didn’t suddenly go to Mexico City and level up my social skills.
Especially since my routine in Fort Lee, NJ consisted working, going to the gym, and taking walks by myself…
To break this down, a series of events helped me push further:
Getting rejections back and forth professionally helped me build confidence
Cancelling my original trip made me want to make the most out of this one
Going by myself gave me full control of my schedule
Now that I’ve seen what’s possible, I can honestly say that I’ve expanded my comfort zone because of this trip.
Memories of Mexico
My trip was my first time leaving the USA since 2019.
It was my first week-long vacation on this job.
More than that, this trip helped me see a whole new world. The memories remain.
Now I’ll get back to my routine of working, going to the gym, taking walks by myself, AND keeping up with those I met from my trip.