Christian Murillo’s fellow college graduates are turning their tassels and settling for the 9-to-5 routine — but not the Palmetto Bay resident and University of Central Florida industrial engineering major.
Before moving to Atlanta for a job with Manhattan Associates, Murillo, 23, will spend more than 120 days traveling to 10 countries to foster friendships among strangers. He’ll be lugging around his Nikon D750 digital SLR camera and three lenses to photograph people he interviews. Each of his subjects will, in turn, receive a portrait of someone else he has met.
“After that it’s up to them to stay in touch with each other and become pen pals of some kind,” Murillo says. “By the end I hope to have this spiderweb of connections all over the world, like a global network of friendships.”
These portraits and stories will be collected in a book titled Face: The World. Murillo raised almost $6,000 for this project through Kickstarter this year. A friend, Deerfield Beach resident Andres Perotti, is serving as his wingman.
Murillo and Perotti leave Jan. 5 for Chile, where they plan to travel through Patagonia. Among the countries they will visit: India, Iceland, Ireland, Australia, Bali, Ghana, England and Scotland, staying at youth hostels and campgrounds.
Murillo’s goal? Meet strangers and learn about their lives.
“I’ve done quite a lot of traveling with my parents,” he adds, “so I wanted to go to places that I had never been before but that were also not overly touristy. And I wanted places with unique cultures and natural beauty.”
Another consideration played an important role in the countries he chose: “I couldn’t spend four or five days just getting to a place. It had to be relatively easy to get to.”
Murillo spent at least 300 hours over the past year plotting his journey. Originally he planned to stop in 16 countries but realized that he wouldn’t have time to do each of them justice. And there was the matter of financing, too. Murillo saved most of his wages — about $13,000 — from two summer internships and a job on campus, but he will still have to rough it.
His 85-liter backpack includes a tent, sleeping bag, three pairs of pants and T-shirts, a down vest, a jacket, a sweater and a pair of hiking boots. And of course his camera gear.
“The most challenging part of packing has been making sure to include clothes for both the cold places and the warm places,” he says. “I had to think of things that were easy to wash and quick to dry.”
To motivate himself, Murillo spoke about his world trek constantly. He posted his plans on Facebook.
“I figured this was the best way to make me do what I said I would do,” he explains. “I couldn’t back out after making it so public.”
Perotti, who played with Murillo on UCF’s club soccer team, asked if he could come along after hearing his friend expound on the subject. Murillo’s parents (and his girlfriend) were relieved that he would have a companion on the trip.
“Every place he talked about sounded like somewhere I wanted to go,” Perotti says. Like Murillo, he saved most of his earnings from a job to finance the trip.
Neither Murillo or Perotti is a stranger to foreign travel. Murillo has been to Canada, Dominican Republic and Italy and visited South America three times. One of his summer internships was in Germany.
Both young men speak fluent Spanish and English, and they plan to use Google Translate to communicate with people in places such as Iceland and Bali. Murillo also is printing cards in different languages to explain what he is trying to do with his portrait book.
“Safety is a concern, but my real worry is getting my camera stolen,” he says.
Murillo became interested in photography as a teenager at Coral Reef High School in Miami, when he “fell in love with being able to document what I was seeing.”
The portraits he plans to take on this trip, however, will not be the landscapes he has traditionally favored. “I know I want to document what I feel and what my subjects feel, and that’s a lot harder,” he adds.
Though he understands why his parents may be anxious about his latest adventure, he’s convinced they also understand why it’s an opportunity he can’t pass up.
“Once I start work, it’ll be a lot harder to do something like this,” he says. “I can’t just go up to my boss and ask for four or five months off. Work becomes the priority.”