(Cover of Melissa Magazine, Eleventh Edition: Chloe Norgaard by Meinke Klein)
Traveling Your World
In my hometown of New York City, I see tourists come and go as often as I see my neighbors next door. With their maps in hand and their heavy-duty digital camera around their neck, most tourists seem to have it down: You leave home, you walk around in search of famous landmarks, you learn about them (or lag behind as your friend does), and then you document it. Whether it be through writing in a journal, a public blog, or just straight up photography, documenting your travels can serve as a remembrance for everything you have learned, want to remember, and will be valuable to never forget.
There’s a whole world out there, but some of us are too caught up in our own lives in our own homes that we forget that exploring a world outside of our comfort zone is one of the best things we can do to better ourselves. Understanding how people function outside of their own country is vital, as there is plenty to learn from different cultures, and so much to share.
Here are four people from all over the world who, ready or not, have expanded their horizons by leaving home and traveling the globe. I’d like to introduce you to these travelers, educators, volunteers, writers, and artists that have experienced the immense highs and the repairable lows that leaving your home country has to offer. One thing all of these people have in common is their desire to see more, and their ability to help the world come together, one traveler at a time.
WHERE DO I FIT IN?
“Insatiable curiosity” is the reason travelers like Carolyn Nash step out of their comfort zone to explore different cultures. Carolyn is an educated young woman from Bloomington, Indiana. She is the prime example of a young, curious person hungry for adventure.
“Although I’ve spent most of my time traveling, both short and long term, in other countries, in some ways I think the first significant travel experience for me was my move to New York City.” Carolyn remembers her earliest desire for traveling as being inspired by this trait of insatiable curiosity. Her desire to see new things and the significance that new and challenging experiences have had, helped Carolyn better understand herself.
“My parents were incredibly supportive of my decision, and it was only much later that I found out how terrified my mother was,” Carolyn remembers, “not of the move to New York but of my resistance to pursue something more traditional and structured, such as an internship with Seventeen magazine--something that she'd heard of people doing before, something that already had a defined shape to it.”
(Bungee Jumping off the Victoria Falls Bridge at the border of Zambia and Zambabwe. Photo courtesy of Carolyn Nash.)
Carolyn was only seventeen years old at the time and hadn’t finished high school yet. “I had complete faith -- naive faith, though it worked out -- that I would find something right for me, a place, in the middle of a new world, to feel comfortable in my own skin.” She remembers this time as a huge jumping off point. “With one move, the whole world seemed to open for me.”
Finding work is another major concern among travelers looking to make some extra cash to feed their traveling habit. Carolyn entered the “Big Apple” with only a list of vague contacts, and once she got to the city she was able to secure an internship at the New York Press, where she wrote food columns and wrote articles on such obscure topics as East Village square dancing clubs and the joy of fetish wear. She met various writers and editors and developed a solid camaraderie and mentorship, finding that “right place” in the middle of her new world.
(Caroline aiding with relief supplies to flooded villages in Sumatra with an advocacy and outreach, KKI-Warsi.)
“I think that first experience in New York has defined a good deal of what travel has meant to me since: It's come from a part of me that asks ‘What's out there, where can I fit in?’ and from my conviction that I can slip comfortably into a place that, at first, seems an entirely alien world.”
Carolyn expanded her world exploration on a pretty traveled route while in Asia, where she says she learned a lot about her limits. “I learned what it feels like to be pointed at and photographed and laughed at by sixteen-year-old boys while standing on an overcrowded train across China for fourteen hours. I learned to get over things. I also learned to walk away from things.”
The people you meet on your travels can also be very valuable to your experience. While backpacking across Asia (a trip that took her from Japan to China, to Tibet to Vietnam), Carolyn insists she learned as much about Australian and Israeli culture because that’s where her fellow backpackers were from.
"I met people on that trip who I still keep in touch with, people I love, people who were as revelatory to me as the countries I traveled through. They were perhaps the greatest gift of my first trip to Asia."
Carolyn’s writing continues as she pursues her travels in Nairobi, Kenya, working for a non-governmental organization called Refugees United, a technology start-up that has pioneered a platform to reconnect families who have been separated during their escape from conflict or natural disaster.
“A lot of my work is to write about what we’re doing and what it’s like to go into a refugee camp or a refugee-dominated neighborhood such as Eastleigh. Nairobi.” Carolyn explains, “We reach out on a case-by-case basis to people with extremely limited connectivity; what it’s like to help register people waiting for hours in the offices of UNHCR, hoping for resettlement; and of course what it’s like for families who do successfully locate one another over the platform, how they are able to reach each other, and what the psychological significance of that reconnection is.”
Traveling isn’t always as easy as it sounds. There are plenty of bumps that are sure to come along your journey that will spark loneliness, isolation, cultural disorientation, or other worries a first time traveler is sure to have. “I’d say expect the lows,” Carolyn advises, “though when they hit, you can’t possibly be prepared for them. Embrace them and don’t run from them. If you throw yourself into something with conviction (into anything, not just a new country) you're going to end up looking at yourself in new and sometimes painful ways. Hang in there.”
Carolyn goes on to give some more unique advice to travelers around the world. “Remember that there's a difference between bravery and stupidity, and try your best not to mess that one up. Also, make friends -- they will be your best resource when you do mess that one up. And finally remember that when you look back, you are going to regret the things you didn't do. Say yes whenever you can.”
(Children of Orang Rimba, tribal groups living in the forests of Sumatra. Photos courtesy of Carolyn Nash.)
THE SOUND OF SILENCE
Willow Neilson, an Australian musician, composer, educator and writer based in San Diego, California, also had an urge to travel at a young age. Crediting the Indiana Jones films as his first inspiration to travel, Willow wanted to be an archaeologist as a child, then a photographer for National Geographic, two professions that were sure to take him around the globe. More of a creative mind, Willow actually became a musician after falling in love with Jazz music and the saxophone, sparking a desire to make his way to New York City to “See all the living gods of black American music.” as he puts it.
Travel can be used to expand your knowledge of all of the arts. Whether it be through visiting museums, exploring monuments, or picking up new instruments you never even knew existed, traveling is learning.
(Willow Neilson & his burning saxophone. Photo courtesy of Willow Neilson.)
One of the most fascinating qualities to Willow Neilson is his love of music and his willingness to spread and acquire knowledge of other cultures. Seeing through the lens of a Jazz musician, Willow takes what he can from other cultures and uses it as a tool to inspire fresh ideas.
“As a traveler, I find a little bit of knowledge of another's culture demonstrates that you respect and appreciate what they do.”Willow goes on, “There is so much good music out there, such as Luk Thung from Thailand, who wrote funk
versions of northeast folk songs that were created after the U.S. troops had visited. When I first heard one of these songs on Thai radio it made me sit up. I think all of these experiences have taught me just how rich, diverse and surprising the world is.”
Hungry for more, Willow heard music through the Indian flute for the first time and simply fell in love. He began
listening to Hariprasad Chaurasia, an eminent Indian classical flautist, and found a commonality with Jazz in the music.
Education also plays a role in Willow’s travels. Having taught music in Australia and China, Willow thinks it important to pass on musical traditions, and that music education in particular lays the path for other disciplines.
“Passing on music requires the student to be in love with it as well,” Willow says, “sometimes you can create that in the student but usually it is something innate to them. A big problem in many cultures is preservation of their art. Places like India and Bali have vibrant musical traditions that are lovingly preserved (to a certain degree, many may argue this) but in places like Burma and China for instance many young people are turning away from what just seems a remnant of an irrelevant aspect of their past.“
Willow addresses the common problem amongst most travelers, which is the dreaded topic of acquiring funds. A struggling Jazz musician, it wasn’t for some time that he could pursue his dreams of visiting the places he so desired to travel to. Bali, India, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Morocco, Cuba – all the countries with music that sparked Willow’s interest. His advice for any aspiring world traveler concerned with expenses is to simply save, wait until you make your budget and then have enough money for 25% more.
“Do your research, try to travel as light as possible,” Willow explains as he lists some of his travel tips, “always have mosquito repellent and learn as much of the language as you can. Most of all, be polite, friendly and make a fool out of yourself a little for other people’s amusement.”
(Photo courtesy of Willow Neilson.)
Willow Neilson documents his travels through writing, filming, and taking photos. One of his pursuits is to record random sounds like the bus rides in India, the taxi rides in Thailand, the train stops in Burma, and the walk through the streets in Colombia. His photos, videos, and his writing can be seen on his fascinating website, WillowNeilson.com.
Willow Neilson is a prime example of someone who travels to better his own work. He believes that experiencing other cultures, particularly the people and their arts, is the best reason to travel the world.
“Music has been a huge part of my life and has been my path to spirituality, community, healing and also a living, I really hope I can find my way of opening people's eyes to the wonder that lies beyond the FM radio station playlists.”
NO CAMERAS, PLEASE!
Companionship can also be a key factor in your travels. Even when your purpose of leaving home was to get away, you will likely feel, at least for a moment, a feeling of loneliness or solitude. This can be ideal for some travelers, but for others, sharing the experience can make the trip all the more enjoyable.
Sculptor and Professor of the Fine Arts, Roger Baumann has traveled the greater part of Asia, having specialized in art, culture, and garden tours to Japan and Southeast Asia. Roger credits his wife, Karen, as being the perfect travel companion for him. “She sees all the things I miss,” he says.
Allowing yourself time to wander freely in a foreign country is good to remember when traveling. It’s also important to experience a culture on your own.
(The man himself: Roger Baumann)
“When I bring my students to a foreign country, such as Japan, I try very hard not to get in the way of their experiencing the culture on their own terms.” Roger says of young travelers, “Of course I have a fairly firm curriculum that I follow, but I also allow for a lot of free time. It is during this free, unstructured time I think my students get the most from their experience.”
Photography is obviously a great way to document your travels, but it’s certainly not the only way. Roger Baumann began leaving his camera at home after feeling that he was looking at the world through a lens and not experiencing much of what was around him. “Now I just bring a sketch book,” Roger says. “Someone always has a camera. If I feel that I’m missing a photo-op, I’ll ask someone to send me the images.” (Yet another good reason for having a travel companion.)
Sometimes memory is just as good a tool to use in your travels as anything else. It’s not until they get home, months later, that some travelers realize what it is they learned on their trip abroad. “I'll be doing something completely unrelated to art when I'll get a little mental nudge, a reminder of something that I saw while traveling. Instances like this are real gems,” says Roger, “they are gifts from the past that are just now making themselves known.”
A creative artist, Roger Baumann’s tours to Japan introduces one to many new artists, techniques and the essence of all things Japanese one could never get from staying at home. I know this from personal experience as I have joined Roger on one of his tours through Japan. Whether it be the ancient temples, the elegant presentation of Japanese foods, or the incredible sense of harmony and beauty in the Japanese aesthetic, BaumannTravel.com will be happy to guide you in any way they can.
There are many opportunities to work, study and volunteer in another country. “If you are thinking about doing any of those things, I suggest that you act on your thoughts,” Roger says about traveling. “You will be amazed at the opportunities for travel that await you. I find that I am always inspired when I visit new places. I’ve never once been disappointed or felt that a new place was not worth visiting. I get immense satisfaction knowing that when a class returns from a foreign country, we’ve all changed a bit for the better.”
(Above: Street Artist in Kyoto Below: Japanese ceramic wheel)
THE KIDS, ARE RIGHT!
Dani Bayer, a dynamic 26 year old, has her own outlook on companionship during her travels. For her, the rush, coupled with a sense of freedom and lack of responsibility, becomes addictive, which is something she would rather experience on her own.
(Children at Cross Cultural Solutions in South Africa. Photo Courtesy of Dani Bayer.)
“There is always, always something to be learned, some new food to be tasted, new people to meet. One should remain open to possibilities when traveling. If you keep an open mind and open heart you will always be amazed and grateful for what the world has to offer.” Dani says, “Do not hesitate. If you get anxious because you do not know what is going to happen out of your comfort zone, embrace it and just go. Do not back out - ever. Just go.”
Learning the language of the culture you are in is also a very important thing to remember when traveling.
“Understanding what others are saying and why they are doing what they are doing gives you a much better idea and understanding of the place. I am able to do so much more in just a few days knowing the language than I was in the first month when I didn't know any of the language.” Dani admits, saying that once you pick up on the native language, it's easier to communicate.
Volunteer work is a great way to introduce you to the world of travel, even if you’re still a minor. Groups like People to People International invite young adults and high school students to different places of the world where they “Teach peace through understanding,” as Dani puts it. “They create a sense of acceptance by experiencing each other’s cultures.”
When Dani was still in high school, she went to Australia to help build houses for the dispossessed. As a senior, she went to Russia where she found volunteer work at an orphanage, and even helped build a basketball court for a group of street kids.
“The trip that made the most impact on my life was the South Africa trip,” Dani says. While only seventeen, Dani ventured to South Africa to work in an orphanage where her perspective on the value of life completely changed.
“I was a sheltered kid from an upper class suburb outside of Los Angeles, California. I had never seen with my own eyes how other people could live.” Dani admits, “When I went to South Africa and went into the orphanages and the townships and saw how little these people had but how happy and giving they were, it completely changed my outlook on life. It clicked a switch in me. I have honestly been addicted to Africa ever since.”
Dani Bayer has spent the past five summers in Moshi, Tanzania, where she worked in different schools with a volunteer teaching organization named Cross Cultural Solutions.
(Children at Cross Cultural Solutions in South Africa.
Photo Courtesy of Dani Bayer.)
"They place you in different private schools and help introduce you to the culture. Immediately, I fell in love.” Dani says of the enlightening experience, “I taught in a Special Education classroom. The class consisted of about 30 students, ages four to eighteen. It was a one room facility with dirt floors and cement walls and wired windows. There were no toys - just painted on chalkboards and a few desks for the thirty students to share. None of the children spoke English. The head teacher spoke a little English. He came up to me the first day and said, ‘Okay teacher, teach.’"
Having no teaching experience, Dani quickly learned the cultural differences in education. “None of the students were diagnosed or medicated. All that was known was that these kids had mental and physical issues. With the few education courses I had taken, I assessed the kids to my best ability and created files for the next volunteer who was going to join a few months after.”
“I had forty students in my preschool class. Preschool is very different than it is here in the States. Here we have play-based preschools where children learn through socialization and play inn Tanzania, the students are expected to sit at desks, recite the ABCs, and force a pencil into their hands and write what was dictated.”
(Children at Cross Cultural Solutions in South Africa. Photo Courtesy of Dani Bayer.)
And while these kids in Tanzania are clearly the benefactors of Dani’s generous acts of kindness, the real beauty is what Dani herself gets out of the experience.
“They make me so grateful for everything that I have in life and for everyone that I have around me. It is easy in America to get caught up in materials and in money and day-to-day things. They remind me what is important and keep me level and grounded. They teach me the importance of life and give me a reason to be alive.”
Dani Bayer is also a talented photographer who believes taking pictures is the best way for her to document her travels. “I tried the blog and I tried to journal. I never keep up! Photos bring me back to the moment. When I see a picture of an experience, I can tell an entire story based on the picture of what happened, who was there, why it was happening, how I felt, how it smelled, etc.” Dani says, “It brings me back to that moment immediately.”
“Learning is the best reason to travel. I can go a million years living in the same place and I won't learn even a quarter of what I learned spending ten days in a different country. I have learned so much about the world around me as well as about myself that I never would have learned if I hadn't gone to that place five years ago.
Your volunteer experience doesn’t have to end when your travels do. During the year, Dani works as a teacher back home in California to raise money for school, food and clothing for the orphanage that her nonprofit supports at the Bahath Centre in Tanzania (Bahath Centre means “Lucky Center” in Swahili).
(Dani & child at Cross Cultural Solutions in South Africa.
Photo Courtesy of Dani Bayer.)
No matter where you find yourself, you’ll realize that the world is an interesting place that has a lot to offer.
Like most things you’ll encounter in life, there’s more to traveling than meets the eye. The plane ride, the transportation, room and board, dining or simply having something to do when you leave home: All of the trivial aspects of traveling are dwarfed by the knowledge and appreciation you’ll gain when exploring new cultures.
As American author and humorist, Mark Twain, once said, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”