Have you always loved to travel and explore, or was it something you discovered as you got older?
I had always wanted to explore—the thought of seeing the far corners of the world always appealed to me. But we didn’t travel much as a family when I was a kid; most of our family vacations, if we had any, were local.
I left the country for the first time when I was 15, on a trip with my church to Russia and Latvia, and that whetted my appetite for global travel. But other than trips to Mexico every year with my youth group (I’m from Texas, so it’s a short drive away), I didn’t travel internationally again until I went to Europe with a girlfriend to celebrate our college graduation. I was hooked ever since.
If you could pick just one, what has been your most eye-opening, life-changing discovery while traveling?
That even though we travel to experience the differences of the world—different food, different sights, different topography, different cultural practices—the world is more alike than it is different. It brought me a lot of joy to ultimately realize the vast majority of the world enjoys the same sorts of things (such as food and celebrations), we have the same sorts of family concerns (parenting, finances, aging parents, education), we have similar rites of passages for life’s milestones (graduations, marriages), and kids love to play the same things (sports, pretend, good guys vs. bad guys, house). In other words, we’re all more alike than we are different. The world really is smaller than we think.
Your recent world trip included your three kids. What changes did you see in them as you traveled? What impact do you hope that exploring the world will have on them long term?
Our kids were 9, 6, and 4 when we left for our trip, and were 10, 7, and almost 5 when we returned. They have always been good travelers, so I’ve known for awhile about their adaptability and flexibility. But that doesn’t mean they’ve always enjoyed trying new things, so it was really great to see them go from a place of hesitation to enjoyment to normalcy in that department (meaning, trying new things is just part of life). At the same time, seeing as our family tends to have a bit of the adventure streak in us, it was heart-warming to see how much they honestly enjoyed family downtime more than fantastically adventurous exploration. Their favorite parts of our trip were meeting new kids and playing with them. They celebrated whenever we told them the day’s agenda was school, work, and playing at the guest house. And they gradually became each other’s best playmates. It was a good life lesson for us about what really matters; what’s really impactful in childhood.
How has exploring together changed your relationship with your husband?
You know, about halfway through the trip, someone asked us if the trip had taken a negative toll on our marriage, almost expecting our answer to be let me count the ways. But you know? It only strengthened it. I’m sure it helped that we’ve already explored so much of the world together before this trip, and knew going in that we travel well together. I think you need more than a shared interest in travel to be good travel companions—there are many different traveling styles, and I’d even say our personalities change a bit when we travel (especially internationally). Kyle becomes much more of an extrovert out on the open road, for example. So it helped enormously that he and I travel very similarly.
In fact, I’d say that was probably key to us having an overall great experience—we both have similar priorities and goals in visiting a place, we both have laid-back, go-with-the-flow temperaments overseas, and yet our differences also complement each other (he’s good at reminding me to relax and enjoy the present; I’m good at remembering to book a guesthouse at our next location!).
So no, it didn’t really change our marriage. But it continued to strengthen it, as traveling always has. Kyle remains my favorite traveling companion.
While I think we have to be careful to get out and explore the world with our own five senses, what are some of your favorite books and movies for discovering new things, places and perspectives?
My favorite movie for whetting wanderlust is The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (the one with Ben Stiller). Totally underrated film. I also love the original Endless Summer movie (from 1966), the Indiana Jones trilogy (the good ones), Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Seven Years in Tibet, and Amelie. Great TV series are Globe Trekker (you can sometimes find episodes on PBS channels) and Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown.
For books, I like Under the Tuscan Sun (a million times better than the movie), A Year in Provence, and anything by Bill Bryson and Paul Theroux.
And finally, while an around-the-world trip complete with the Great Wall of China and an African safari are certainly bucket list worthy, what places or experiences are on your bucket list for the future?
I don’t think our travel wish list will ever end! Right now, I’m eager to head to Costa Rica and Panama, Peru, Chile, and Argentina, as well as Scandinavian countries like Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. I’d also like to explore more of eastern Europe, oh and the Pacific islands, like Guam, Fiji, and Hawaii. Basically—we’ve still barely scratched the surface. But we’ll get there.