Avery Blank and I connected the way many people do these days, the glorious likes of the Internet. Her expansive reach across the world as well as monumental career made for compelling reasons to hear her story, understand what she seeks for in travel, and to share her ups and downs around the world. Thanks, Avery!

Tell me about yourself and where are you from. I know you’ve been to over 30 countries. When did you begin traveling internationally?
I was born in D.C. and grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs. My first international trip was at age 3 ½ to Jamaica and then to Spain and Portugal at age 6 or 7. I am blessed to have parents who love to travel. When I was growing up, I remember my friends going every year to Disney World or their summer beach house. I didn’t go on vacations. I went on trips. My parents wanted to give me experiences and opportunities to learn outside the classroom. My travels have shaped me into the person I am today.

I am a lawyer and have worked at all levels of government (federal, state, and local) on public policy issues, including cybersecurity, international affairs, public health, environment, and labor issues. Now, I leverage my advocacy and strategy skills to help my clients position themselves for opportunities, whether it be working with companies on strategic engagement of women and millennials or positioning women for leadership opportunities. I’m a Contributor with Forbes and World Economic Forum, board member with the American Bar Association, and an advisor to The Wilson Center’s Women in Public Service Project, founded by Hillary Clinton, which combines my passion for women’s leadership and policy.

Was there a specific country or location that you saw as a “turning point” in the way you chose to travel going forward? Some sort of “aha” moment about what you wanted to seek out on trips?

Some of my earliest trips were amazing and hooked me into being a world traveler. I remember walking in the lush green valleys of Switzerland, listening to the ringing of the cow bells and the glacier water trickle down stream. In Rome, my dad and I got our wallets stolen on a notorious pick-pocketing bus (learning later that we took the “Heaven to Hell Express”). A woman caused a ruckus with her baby to distract me while she took my wallet out of my fanny pack. That was a stressful time, but a learning moment. We met Mariah Carey that night in a restaurant, so things brightened up. And then, there was Santorini, one of the most beautiful places on earth, where we watched the sun set over the Aegean Sea as we ate fish caught and prepared right in front of us.

You would not have these experiences if you stuck to a routine. Traveling forces you to see new things, communicate in other ways, and problem-solve without the conveniences.

Korcula, Croatia.

Do you prefer going someplace new or returning to a favorite?
New; life is short and there are too many places to explore.

You enjoy meeting the locals. Are there instances that come to mind about folks you’ve met?

I have found, for the most part, that people genuinely enjoy getting to know others. In Mendoza, Argentina, we were the only people from the U.S. on a tour through the Andes mountains and wine country. In speaking the language and spending 10+ hours on the tour, I got to know the Argentinians. In Buenos Aires, a local couple took us in their car and gave us a tour of the city, going where the locals go and drinking matte. When we were in Turkey and went into a store in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, we were welcomed with apple tea. In the Loire Valley of France, we dined with a local family.

I love coming across local festivals and outdoor markets. I love to travel like a local and immerse myself in the every day - that’s when you experience the real culture. Also, I often visit the government seat, and I ask about female representation. It’s telling that they either don’t know how many women hold government positions or they share a statistic that reveals the gender gap in female representation.

Military parade in Helsinki, Finland.

How does your background in policy, strategy, and leadership influence the way you travel, the way you perceive the cultures you’re immersing yourself in, and the places you choose to see?

I know that a government and a country’s people are different. In Croatia, I was tested by a man on U.S. policy and tried to explain that I am not the U.S. government. In visiting Russia, I knew that the people I met are not the Russian government. I have found the majority of people to be welcoming to people of different cultures. In choosing places to travel, I do consider the rights (or the lack of rights) afforded to women.

Traveling has helped me to see the interconnectedness of the world and how things depend on each other. Understanding how things work with each other is critical for shaping and advising on policy, strategy, and leadership frameworks for clients.

You mentioned you tend to stay in non-American hotels. Why? How do you find these places?

I google B&Bs and use Booking.com and Airbnb. The hotel stay is part of the travel experience. Staying in smaller places allows you the opportunity to connect with the owner and local who can suggest things to do that you wouldn’t find otherwise. I’m not interested in paying for the comfort of familiarity.

The stories I could tell about some of the places I have stayed. I have stayed in places where my bed looked like a children’s cot or the bathroom was so small that I had to straddle the toilet to take a show. I’ve also stayed in a beautiful agriturismo in the Tuscan countryside where the owner took us on a tour of his olive grove and an apartment made out of volcanic rock overlooking the magnificent Caldera in Greece. You can’t get that in a chain hotel.

Where to next?

Wherever I haven’t gone before, perhaps India or Singapore… Stay tuned.

Feel free to connect with Avery on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and see her consulting work.

Borough Market, London.