Six months before her 30th birthday, Angie Banicki stopped. Years of hustling as a PR agent -- a genuine superconnector who made it her business to make yours hers -- had placed her on a trajectory. She was beholden to her clients. Soon, she'd be running her own PR firm.
Until the dream.
Banicki remembered it word for word when she woke up. The letter would explain who she was -- the wunderkind publicist hungering for more than gift bags and complimentary Dom -- then ask her favorite luminaries for their best travel stories in the five cities she was dying to visit: Amsterdam, London, Barcelona, Paris and Rome. A self-described travel virgin, she would take a month alone through Europe, using the responses she received as her own personal travel guide. Banicki has now released the stories from her adventure as 30 Before 30: Traveling Under the Influence. And it's one of the most joyful books I've read in a while.
The collection, a series of vignettes detailing Banicki's unusual meetups, serendipitous run-ins and delightful missteps, comes to 235 pages of awesome. Reading her words, I was reminded why I travel: for the thrill of peripatetic accidents, for the insta-friends who conspire to make memories, and for the obligatory break from reality that brings us back to our truer, richer selves. "30 Before 30 reignited something in me," says Banicki. "My trip was about something I was doing for me, and not just for a client. I was euphoric."
And because she was, we are. This could easily have been a book about a girl trying to recreate someone else's precious moments as a substitute for her own. Instead, Banicki uses her interlocutors' stories as a jumping-off point, starting where someone else made a memory in order to have an experience all her own.
Those experiences range from the divinely singular to the charmingly prosaic. In one chapter, Banicki surrenders to a heady dinner with the salacious Sebastian Horsley, tenderly capturing the elusive artist in his final years. In another, she fights for a life-saving shower courtesy of a London landlord. In a book of celebrity-inspired exploits, the quotidian moments in between were some of my favorites. On the road with Banicki, the mundane becomes providential.
The effect rides on her sweet, unadorned, almost innocent prose, as she pauses for brief moments to capture her surroundings. "I smiled in the mirror at the man behind the bar as he caught my eye," she writes in a chapter on London, "as if to let me know it was okay to be alone observing life through that mirror. Then he went back to the kitchen, and I listened to the muted sounds of their Italian." Nothing more, nothing less -- just that mirror, those sounds. Later, she invites us into her past, if only for a moment, when she responds to Horsley's "sad eyes" by opening up about a family tragedy. "I was probably 11, but it was the first time I saw real raw emotion in my father, and that was when he really turned to the church." Banicki, for her part, has turned to travel. Then to her subjects, then to herself.
And then to us, with fragments of wisdom to close each chapter. "Authenticity and orange juice make good companions," she concludes after an adventure inspired by fitness guru Harley Pasternak. A deceptively simple commandment, and well worth the sweet reminder. I've had a few too many inauthentic juices in my day. No more.
So it's a gift, this book. And it almost never was. It took Banicki five years to write it during evenings and weekends as she built up AB Presents, a company that brings her special touch to the art of relating publicly. (On a side note, she now has the street cred to pen a guide to productivity.) Along the way, she met with literary agents who urged Banicki to change the book. Include Gwyneth Paltrow and Brad Pitt, they said; visit Africa instead, and cut the chapter about the London superintendent. But Banicki knew that wasn't the book she wanted to write. She didn't know Brad and Gwyneth personally, and that was the whole point of the letters. Anyway, this was a book about her.
So she decided to self-publish. Or, as she puts it: "Gotta be the entrepreneur." She designed a super creative marketing campaign -- another solo effort -- that would reflect the personal, organic spirit of the project. First, she published 12 chapters on WattPad, an online platform for discovering and sharing stories, which allowed her to generate crucial feedback as she finalized the book. She then complemented WattPad with select posts on Medium, building audience awareness before she released her stories on Amazon.
Finally, in what might be the funniest word-of-mouth campaign ever, Banicki jumped on Tinder, the dating app of random hookup fame. "I thought I was totally going to get kicked off of it, but whatever -- I'll just tell these guys about my book and see if they click on it." Suddenly she began receiving messages from hundreds of dudes in different cities quoting 30 Before 30. She still wakes up every day to 100 new matches, and a large percentage of them are now reading her book. "Hey -- it fits the travel theme!" (And it worked.)
That kind of guerrilla marketing has gotten the attention of other authors and entrepreneurs intrigued by her social instinct.
"Angie's use of Tinder as a marketing tool clearly isn't what Tinder is made for," says Amanda Slavin, CEO and Founder of CatalystCreativ. "But people on Tinder do want to meet like-minded individuals they are attracted to. The initial engagement between Angie and her audience is high because of the source of engagement -- which is compelling conversation and awesome literature.
"She deserves major kudos for discovering this little gem of a marketing tool."
And for writing a delightful book that reminds us why we should all travel under the influence.
30 Before 30: Traveling Under the Influence is now available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback.
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