It doesn’t seem right to condense a year-long experience into an hour-long presentation, but that’s what I did. I spoke in a beautiful upstairs room at the Westerly Public Library on a warm May evening. The audience asked great questions and inspired me to tell more stories than I expected to from my travels. My friend and fellow traveler, Vicky Ann (who readers of this blog know well), came with her mom and entertained us all with her memories of our travels together.
I decided to organize my talk around lessons learned from my year abroad. There are dozens, but I narrowed it down as best as I could. Here are some of the photos and lessons I shared.
The lighter your backpack, the happier you will be.
It’s true, and it’s the best travel advice I received.
The world is a lot safer than you think.
During my year abroad, I never felt threatened. The most dangerous places are probably the ones where all the tourists go. Travel off the beaten path and you will meet the kindest, most generous people who live in peaceful places.
Family is sacred.
I was constantly reminded of this in every culture I visited during my year abroad. Families stay together. Everyone works for the good of the family.
What happens here, matters everywhere.
Past and present actions by the US government have ripple effects around the world, often lasting for decades or more.
Americans are admired and welcomed (almost) everywhere.
I have met people who are afraid to leave the country because they feel Americans are hated everywhere. I could not disagree more. In fact, when you are viewing the US from abroad, it looks like a pretty dangerous place itself. I encountered warm, friendly people, strangers who invited me into their homes, in every one of the eight countries I visited.
Talk to strangers (they’re nice).
I learned to overcome many fears during my year abroad, including approaching strangers. Strangers approached me in cafes, joined me while I ate alone in restaurants, talked to me on the streets, invited me into their homes. No one wanted to take advantage of me, they just wanted to get to know me.
There are 65 million refugees around the world, many we’ve never heard of.
I learned so much by spending three weeks with the Karen refugees from Myanmar. It’s easy to forget that there are so many peaceful people just like us who have been waiting months, years, even decades to return to their homeland. In the meantime, they live in camps (out of our view), depend on governments and aid organizations to survive, raise their children, and wait.
We live a life of privilege.
The people I met during my travels work long hours, earn small incomes, do not have passports, and can only dream of coming to the US.
You can do this (if you want to).
I didn’t know if I could really take a year off and travel the world. I had no idea if this trip would be successful, but I had to try. What I learned is that it’s a lot more possible than most people realize.
It was wonderful to share this experience with a live audience. Thanks to my sister, I have two more library presentations in the coming months. I also have more travel plans which I will be writing about soon!