All The Places is a new travel series from the mind of Zack Helminiak, co-founder of Nomadix and a practitioner of the nomadic lifestyle. The first episode, CocoraVelo, documents his trip to Colombia to explore local culture through the lens of something we enjoy worldwide – coffee. The group’s bikepacking adventures lead them to beautiful parts of the country where they have beautiful interactions with its people. I spoke to Helminiak about his development of the concept, his goals to bring a grounded, realistic approach to storytelling in a market that sometimes falsely glamorizes adventure travel, and about what the future holds for the series, which he hopes to expand with more trips documenting life in diverse regions around the globe. Internet-eavesdrop on our full conversation below, and if you’re in NYC tonight, you can try to squeeze in for a free screening of the first episode at REI’s Soho flagship (303 Lafayette Street) at 6:30pm. The tour will continue on to Denver, Fort Collins and Seattle, so take advantage if you’re in any of those cities, and like the FB page to stay in the loop about future screenings and eventual online streaming availability.
So how did you initially conceive the idea for this project, and then what was it like to take that idea and turn it into a reality?
It happened very organically, and almost by accident. I’m a nomadic person, and I live in countries for three to six months at a time. I’ve been doing that for two years, mainly in South America, and on my most recent trip to Colombia, I got in touch with some people who wanted to go on a biking trip. I floated the idea out to some people, some of the brands that Nomadix works with, and people wanted to get involved, so I reached out to a videographer (Warren Kommers), and it started to come together that way. I contacted Warren for the first time in January, we were on bikes in Colombia in February, and we had a pilot episode shot and edited by May. So it was very fast prototyping.
That’s crazy! What didn’t go according to plan? Any unexpected setbacks?
I’d say the biggest thing was the heat. When you do this bike route, you want to leave really early in the morning and be done around noon, because from noon until about 3 or 4pm it gets really hot. We were waking up late, grabbing coffee, things like that, and so two of the five days we got caught out in the heat and got mild heat stroke. Very uncomfortable. That was probably the biggest lesson we learned.
Well, as a nomadic person, I’m sure you’re learning things like that all the time! How’d you get into the lifestyle in the first place?
I studied abroad in college in Spain, and that was my first exposure to it. After college I taught English in Thailand for a year, and after that I was a contractor for the State Department, so I’d travel to embassies abroad to consult them on their consular systems. So I’ve spent most of my adult life traveling, and I started dating a German girl a few years ago whose visa was up in the US, which is what prompted this last two years of travel.
Do you find that you’ve become better at the logistical parts of traveling, like the packing and all of that, now that it’s become kind of second nature?
Well, this particular trip was ultra-light, but if you have to travel with bikes, there’s nothing light about it. [Laughs] But I feel like the travel content online is sensationalized, and the focus is very superficial and glamorized. With this film, I wanted to show us interacting with the locals, speaking Spanish with them and learning how they lived. Those sorts of things are much more real, at least for me.
Absolutely. What was the most surprising interaction you had?
There are a few in the film that you’ll see; we stopped at a lot of people’s houses to see how they lived, but everyplace we went we’d go to the town square and ask if there was anyplace we could camp. In one of the towns, we found four or five people that came up and talked to us, and I got in one of their cars to drive out to their farm, which was the most beautiful, very rustic looking place out in the countryside. They were the nicest people; their daughter was a graphic designer in a bigger city, and it was just funny, because it was a very rustic and seemingly sketchy situation at first, and then when we got there it was the nicest place ever.
That’s amazing! So after all of these experiences from this particular trip, is there anything you’d specifically do differently if you were to do it over again? (Apart from the midday biking breaks?)
I think I’d probably take longer to do the route if I could so we could relax and stay in some of the towns for longer. I’d maybe even do a longer route, spend more time on the coffee farms and hiking. You probably saw in the teaser and footage that it’s such a beautiful region, and you could spend a lot of time there.
Has the trip changed the way you think about or drink coffee?
In the US, there’s a slight pretentiousness about ordering a pour over coffee, ordering fancy coffee, but in Colombia, that’s the normal way to prepare it, and also pour overs and French press and all that only costs a dollar. So now I drink way less Starbucks and coffee that’s of questionable quality, and I’ll go to the nicest coffee shop and try to find their pour over, because I learned what’s in the other stuff.
Totally. Now, if people can’t make it out to Thursday’s screening, where can they watch the film? Will it be available to stream online?
It will be online eventually; I’m looking for a distribution partner right now, so that will determine where it ends up. But if people go to GoAllThePlaces.com and/or visit our Facebook page, those are two places that I do plan to release it regardless of where else it goes.
What else is in the works for you now that this is wrapped?
I intend to make this a series; in each episode we’re going to bikepack through a different region of the world, and on each route we’re going to look at an important commodity or culture or food that affects the whole world. So this one was Colombian coffee, but in the future I’d like to look at Vietnamese soup, Chinese tea, Scottish whiskey, Japanese sumo culture. I’d like to do a bunch more episodes like this one.