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SHAME Made Me a World Traveler

Don’t laugh; but back in the early 2000s when I was an ESL Instructor at Berlitz USA, one of my students had just returned from Kenya, where he had gone on safari to see "The Big Five", he'd said. I had some idea which five that might be. I knew lions were on the list, but, what else? I said, "So, lions? rhinos? tigers? what else?" He looked at me like I was nuts and said, "Tigers are in India, not Africa." Ouch.


Speaking of India, on another occasion at that same language school, Berlitz, I was chatting with the woman who worked across the hall. I could tell from her accent that she was from India. I asked, "Where in India are you from? Bengali?" I had an Indian friend who'd often say she was Bengali, and I wanted to show off that I knew something about the country. Well, the woman looked at me like I was insane. "Bengali isn't a place. It's Bengal." Ouch again.


Another one of my students from China had recently gotten married, and was chatting with me about wanting to have a child. I said, "How many kids do you want?" She said, "We are only allowed to have one." Oh.


How is it that a 20-something college-educated woman doesn't know that tigers don't live in Africa? Well, I could blame school -- most of the geography lessons I remember were about how much rain falls in Wherever. I don't remember learning mountain ranges, political systems or figures, or even my teachers referencing maps very much. Perhaps because geography wasn't on any standardized tests, the school offered to largely ignore it. But I don't see this as a viable excuse because there were many things I didn't learn in school that I took the initiative to learn anyway -- like credit and personal finance. I'd attended one of the most diverse universities in the United States -- why hadn't I taken it upon myself to find Israel on a map when I made Jewish friends? When I watched the World News and saw, say, The Ivory Coast mentioned, why hadn’t I pulled out my laptop and researched it? These were the days of the internet, after all.


The shame of how little I knew about the world wasn't just limited to when I was working as an ESL teacher. It was happening in my personal life as well: One weekend my then-boyfriend, now husband, and I were having dinner with two of his friends, another couple. Somehow, they got on the subject of backpacking Europe after college. I was the only one of us four who hadn't done it, the only one of us four who hadn't even thought about doing it. I sat there listening to their stories about how Vatican City is actually a country, about the highs and lows of living in hostels, (which, at the time, I thought were hostiles. I kept wondering why they'd want to live in hostile environments, but I was too embarrassed to ask.) My boyfriend used his hand as a makeshift map of Europe to show how he'd started in Greece and then moved on to other countries via bus and via rail. I was not a map girl. Hell, I couldn't get to my flat from the restaurant we were in without the help of MapQuest. But dammit, I would learn.


When the bill arrived, the other woman in our foursome pulled out her credit card to pay. She said something about wanting to get the miles. Aha. So, this was what I needed to get started learning the world -- strong desire, a passport, a credit card where I could earn miles for traveling, and a few people I could ask about what was what. OK, got it. (The photo here is me in Europe for the first time, not long after that conversation.)


So, here's my advice on getting started learning the world:


1. Have a strong motivator. For me, it was shame at how little I knew. Ask yourself, "Why do I want to do this?"

2. Make a budget for your travel life. The question I get asked most often about my travel life is "How can you afford it?" I'm always shocked by this question because how can anyone afford anything? How can parents afford kids? How can purse lovers afford Louis Vuitton? The answer is easy -- you value it. And when you value something, you find a way to make it happen. I always suggest using one's tax return. The average US return is $3500. That's enough for two international trips if you go during off-peak season and stay in hostiles. ;)

3. Be prepared to go by yourself. Trying to plan a trip for a bunch of people is like herding cats -- ugh! This one can't find a babysitter; that one doesn't have the money. Save yourself the stress and just go by yourself. You'll meet people when you get there.

4. Develop a travel shtick. This one is my favorites. What is going to be your travel identity? My friend Stephen is big into roller coasters -- so he travels the world braving the biggest baddest ones. Another friend, Carl, is a metal head. He travels the United States going to heavy metal concerts. Me -- I'm what I call an "All Chick." I've been to all 50 US states, all seven continents, and it's my plan to go to all 196 countries. I also want to camp all the National Parks. If you love movies, maybe you want to travel the world checking out all the film festivals. If you love drinking, maybe you want to check out some of the oldest, or coolest, pubs in the world. Having a travel shtick gives your travel purpose and direction, not to mention a cool factor.

5. Log your travels in an interesting way (and don't forget to PRINT your pictures!). I met a guy in Prague who gets a tattoo of the flag of every country he visits. My friend Sarah sticks a pin in her globe for her travels -- white pins for the trips she takes by herself, yellow ones for the ones she takes with her husband. Me, I use a scratch off map from Check them out -- they're awesome.


Welp, that's all for now, friends. Thanks for reading. And, thanks for not laughing too loud about me knowing there are no tigers in Africa.



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