If Conde Nast Traveler is the filet mignon of travel media, then consider This is My City the sloppy joe. The documentary web series was created by two Brooklynites, Thomas Beug and Tim Kafalas, who only have one rule as they venture from city to city for weekends at a time: no guidebooks allowed.
The duo first met in New York in 2004. They bonded over a shared love for losing themselves in foreign lands, and their seriousness about filmmaking. On a lark, they decided to live out every nine-to-five-er’s fantasy: they quit their jobs, opened a map, and set out on the adventure of a lifetime. Each episode of This is My City features a weekend in one city, in which Tim and Thomas find a local who is willing to show them what life is really like in the metropolis.
The first season includes adventures in Lisbon, Berlin, Belgrade, Beirut, Beijing, Tokyo, Melbourne, and Wellington (all can be viewed on thisismycity.tv). We recently spoke with Beug, and gained an inside look at the journey he and Kafalas took to create their series.
Missy Kurzweil: How did you two meet?
Thomas Beug: We were both taking a screen printing class at the School of Visual Arts. We wanted to make our own t-shirts. So Tim and I became friends, we attended a lot of concerts (we’re both really interested in music), and we took a couple trips together, like to Costa Rica, and realized we share this love of traveling.
MK: How was the idea for This is My City born?
TB: It started while we were still employed. Tim and I went to Reykjavik, Iceland, and realized the best way to see a place is through the locals. That trip became our pilot. When we came home, we thought about it, scraped together the money we needed, and decided this was the time and the opportunity to do this for real. After a lot of thought, we quit our jobs.
MK: How did you choose the destination cities for season one?
TB: When we decided we were gonna do this, we got out a world map and spent an evening throwing out ideas, researching prices, etc. The process was a lot of fun. We wanted a mix of big cities and smaller cities. We did all the travel in one trip, three months straight, city to city.
MK: Which was your favorite city?
TB: I would say Tokyo. I’ve always wanted to go to Japan, and we’d heard a lot about it. We were absolutely blown away when we got there.
MK: How did you find a local host in each place?
TB: We found them through the six degrees of separation concept. We’d know someone who knows someone, friends of friends of friends. Even so, we had a couple of wildcards; a stranger at a bar in Tokyo became our host.
MK: What is something that surprised you on your journey?
TB: That people were so eager to show us around pretty much every place we went. Everyone has a lot of pride in their city.
MK: What was your favorite meal?
TB: In Beijing, there was this little restaurant called Da Gui that served hot pots in a hutong, which is basically an iron pot with various ingredients cooked in this spicy oil. It’s amazing.
MK: Who was the most memorable person you met?
TB: I would have to say our host in Beijing. Her name is Lin Lin. She was a real character, about five foot nothing, a ball of energy, the owner of a design company called Jellymon, a calligrapher, and a socialite. She had a great laugh.
MK: How much research and planning ahead did you do?
TB: We’d email the host before we got there, and ask them to give us an idea of what they were going to do with us. They would send us a rough itinerary, and sometimes we would add ideas here and there, but basically we relied on the local’s knowledge.
MK: Can you tell me about a wild adventure you had?
TB: In Wellington, we met a free-diver who took us out into freezing cold waters. He tried to teach us how to catch crayfish with our bare hands while free diving, which is essentially scuba diving without a tank. It’s kind of terrifying.
MK: You said you guys love music. Did you discover any bands along the way?
TB: Fat Freddy's Drop was a great band we discovered on the road. Their new album, Black Bird, is out now. Our New Zealand host was actually a trumpet player for the band.
MK: What’s a piece of advice you’d give to fellow travelers?
TB: Talk to people! Don’t hide away with your head in a guidebook. I think traveling is all about possibilities and adventures, and also making connections. It’s amazing how many backpackers you meet who are checking off a list of sights in a guidebook, saying, “I did that. I did that.” My advice is to have as many local experiences as you can to really get a feel for the heart and soul of a place.