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A few weeks ago, I told you about how I came to this place, this particular spot in my life. You also read here about my relationship with my friend and mentor Rene Syler and those of you who know her personally, know how persuasive she can be. So when she asked me write this piece, how could I say no? What follows are the 5 things I learned while traveling the world, what kids can learn and why parents should let them go, all written, by the way, on a flight from Spain to Morocco.
There is no end to the incredible things you can experience, dazzling things you can see, and amazing people you can meet, if you’re just willing to take a step outside your comfort zone. The “rest of the world” makes you take a step back from your own life and all that consumes you at home, forcing you take in the beauty, simplicity, and complexity of other places. It makes you reassess what you value and why. It makes you appreciate. It makes you humble. It makes you ambitious. It makes you think.
The “rest of the world” is fascinating because people are so different and yet so very much the same. When I recently walked into a community celebration in rural, northern Ghana, where both young and old people participated in wild and exciting dancing, with whistles blowing and drums pounding and hands clapping and no shortage of total enjoyment from the participants, it gave me such an overwhelming sense of complete joy. It was also so amazing to know I was allowed to be witness to such a fantastic celebration. It was totally different than anything I had ever seen or heard before and I was in awe. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face for days. And that memory will stay with me forever. Everyone should have experiences like that.
It’s easier to know this up front and just expect delays, changes, general chaos, etc. Being laid back when you head into international travel will be one of your best assets!
There was the time when a typhoon and an airline strike combined to get me stuck in the Hong Kong airport for half a day (the flight finally left at 4am), or the time a small car accident on a winding mountain road in Costa Rica delayed my bus for a few hours (but hey, the view was beautiful and the company – sister – was great!), or the time in London when I wasn’t quite sure which Underground line to take, making me late to my bus and causing an extra hurried trip to the train station and an extra 20 bucks to buy a new ticket to the airport.
I have no shortage of stories about planes being re-directed, shifted, or changed altogether. “The best laid plans of mice and men…” Right? These things have taught me both patience and flexibility, and have certainly helped develop my resourcefulness. And I think I am a better person for it, both abroad and at home in Texas. If you can take it all in stride and remember it’s all part of the adventure, life’s adventure becomes a whole lot easier and a whole lot more fun.
I have met some of the most amazing and wonderful people throughout my travels, and the advent of Facebook has made it fabulously easy to stay connected. It always blows my mind a little to meet and get to know such lovely, interesting people and then think, “I never would have known this person existed in the world had I not come to this place.” That’s crazy! Much of this has to do with the fact that getting to know people internationally can open your world up to so much more – they can teach you new things, offer new perspectives, show you their traditions, explain their cultures.
I still keep in close contact with friends I made in South Africa three years ago, I’ve emailed with the kind flight attendants I met on a plane from Portugal to Ghana, and I’m still following the progress of non-profit volunteers I worked with in Namibia and Mexico. I just love getting updates from all over the world. I look back fondly on the times I’ve spent with numerous new friends in numerous new places, from the Lebanese guys and Austrian girl I met in Accra to the Americans I happened to meet in Namibia and Spain, to the Indian college students I met in Kolkata, to the project participants in Sandema, Ghana who were ever-welcoming and so incredibly kind and funny and great to work with.
I can’t even capture how wonderful it is to connect with those who have had a completely different life experience than you. It makes me feel special to be allowed into their lives and to take part in their culture and to be called a friend. It has been so fulfilling to meet every character along the way and to remember them as part of the journey. I always say that as great as my international adventures are, it is the people who really make the experience. That is absolutely true.
I am lucky to have parents that saw the potential and benefit of travel and never wanted to hold me back from seeing the world, even at an early age.
My sister is the one who caught the travel bug first, and ultimately, she is the one who broke them in a bit (thanks, Marianne!). But my parents were always open to this idea of exploring the globe and reaching outside of your immediate experience, and I feel fortunate for that. I have friends who were not so lucky, whose parents were too worried about the potential dangers to let their children see the rest of the world. Sure, there are always risks and you certainly have to be conscious of those – being conscious and careful is what keeps you safe.
But I have a message for parents: Parents, let your kids travel! It is one of the best gifts you can give them. By being overly protective, you are denying your children the possibility to completely open up their world, to have a life-altering adventure, to see and experience, to think and laugh and cry and enjoy life in a completely different way in a completely different context. If you keep them corralled in one place their entire lives, if you don’t allow them to broaden their horizons, you are absolutely limiting their potential for growth. What is to be gained from experiencing only one place, one country, one perspective? So, let them have an adventure or two, and they’ll absolutely thank you for it. And yes, you’re still allowed to worry all you want.
My parents still worry about me, even though I am an adult, have my own business and have been traveling for years now. But I am thankful that they were thoughtful, open and encouraging enough to let me have these experiences. Parental support was crucial for me. It made following my dreams much easier and more possible. So thank you, Mom and Dad, for letting me go on that first mission trip to Honduras when I was 17. It changed my life, and because of it, I will always view the world with a sense of excitement, wonder, and curiosity. Thank you.
This is the absolute truth and honestly, it’s the best and most important thing I’ve learned.
Back in 2009, I visited Kolkata, India. I was working for Carson-Newman College, shooting a video for their International Missions program. I worked alongside about 15 students, some of whom had never left Tennessee before. And all of the sudden, here they were in this crazy, chaotic, crowded, dirty, colorful, poor, exciting, friendly, vibrant city; yes, it is all of those things, all at once. It was an overwhelming experience for all of us. One of the students, in her interview at the end of the trip, said something that will always stick with me. I asked what it meant to her to spend 10 days in the “City of Joy.” She replied, “It changed my life… and I’ll never be the same.” That… that is what traveling is all about. It is about changing the way that you see the world, the way that you see others, the way that you see yourself.
A high school friend of mine, who I just happened to meet up with in Marrakech, Morocco, said “I’ve never met anyone who travels just once.” It’s quite true. Once you start, it’s hard to shut off that inquisitive part of your brain, the part that just wants to see more, do more, adventure more. So, fair warning: once you start traveling, it’s going to be hard to stop. And I love that. I encourage you to get hooked. Or at least to go just once… because even if you can only go once, the experience you have will be worth every penny you’ve saved and every travel plan that’s gone awry. Go soak in the culture, meet the people, try the food, experience the life in whatever part of the world you choose. I promise you it will be worth it.
One last thing: I am truly grateful for all I have seen and done and heard and felt and experienced around the world. I am grateful for the people I have met and the things I have learned and what I will continue to see. I am absolutely overwhelmed by all I have been able to do. I feel blessed, humbled, awed, happy. So very happy.
I saw a sign recently in Borough Market in London that said, “The globe is open as usual.” It made me smile. The globe is always open. It is ready and waiting for you to taste, feel, meet, experience. The world is a very big place. Go see it.
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Amy Montalvo is an entrepreneur, a journalist, and an avid sports fan. She’s based in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, but tries to set up her ‘office’ in as many international locations as possible. She’s reporter, photographer, editor, writer, and producer at her company, ONEPASS Productions and loving every minute of it. She loves traveling, dancing, meeting new people, and catching up with old friends. She always wants more stamps in her passport but will forever remain Texas loud and proud. Follow her on Twitter @1Pass