Let’s talk about traveling for a moment.
All throughout college people would say over and over “You need to study abroad. It opens your horizons and makes you aware of other cultures!” Lots of the study abroad representatives would always say the slogan “You won’t know until you go.” They would give me pamphlets detailing trips visiting the Eiffel Tower, backpacking through Europe, touring the Irish countryside, visiting some castle in England, helping build things for kids in Colombia. You get the picture.
When people in class talked about the things they wanted to do, a recurring theme would always be to travel because they loved traveling. Where to? They would respond with far off places like the Greek Islands, backpacking through Europe or teaching English in an Asian country. When I’m older I’ll regret not having travelled when I was younger. Traveling can be expensive but the money is worth it to have the experience!
I always had a problem with these things. I wondered about some things. Why do people think that they need to go off to far away places to experience more of the world? Can’t you just do that by going to Canada, another state in the US, or maybe a place in Central America? To me, “experiencing new cultures” and “broadening your horizons” could be done by simply going out of your comfort zone and seeing how other people approach things.
Back in 2013, I felt discouraged. I had only ever been outside of Texas (where I live) three times. As part of a 2014 New Year’s resolution, I committed to getting out more and meeting new people. And I did. From March 2014 to March 2015 I went to South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas for the first time, New Orleans, then on a cross-country trip to Chicago and New York City with stops in Memphis, Tennessee and Cleveland, Ohio. Other visits for the year included Chicago for a second time, Twin Peaks, Colorado, and New York City two more times.
My full list included:
March 2014: South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas: I met celebrities like Melissa Fumero and Stephanie Beatriz and I sat/got sandwiched between Seth Meyers and Olivia Munn after a panel.
At the festival I got to meet a role model of mine, Mindy Kaling. She signed some photos for me and jokingly agreed to be in a movie of mine that I said would be like “a new age Sex and the City…but better and with less ego”.
While sitting in the hallways of the convention center waiting for a panel, a lady came up to me and asked if she could use the plug next to me. I said yes. In a weird twist of fate, she turned out to be a childhood friend of a famous film director I admire, Joe Swanberg.
April 2014: New Orleans, LA. Encountered copious amounts of horse poop and drunk people on Bourbon Street, saw the plantation from the movie Django Unchained and went to a WWE wrestling match.
August 2014: Cross country trip to Chicago and New York City: Tight on money, I decided to ditch taking a flight and instead took a MegaBus to Chicago and New York City. I scheduled meetings with seasoned improv professionals and visited with a communications agency I admired. The route let me make prolonged pitstops in Memphis, TN and Cleveland, OH.
On the 18 hour bus ride to New York City, I talked with a 63-year-old woman who was going to her 45 year high school reunion in Ohio.
“I want to look hot when I walk through those doors! Do you think I will look good in this dress?” (she hands me her phone with a picture of the dress. Amused and happy by her confidence, I nod in agreement).
While in NYC, I stayed at a hostel-type place and met a 19-year-old girl from Hungary. She talked about studying at university and how much she loved to study languages and cultures. She said she had always wanted to visit America but was unable to because of the cost. After several months of saving up money, she finally made the trip and was visiting NYC for a few days and then Chicago. She had such delight in her eyes as she talked about all the places she was visiting and food she was trying.
September 2014: Traveled to Chicago again to make a talk show appearance on Steve Harvey for an article I had written that went viral. The shows producers sat down with me and talked about their career experiences since college. I got to meet the other guest of the show, a 64-year-old cancer survivor who had beaten up a guy with, get this…a neck scratcher, when he tried to rob her house. Her adult daughter talked with me about the frustrations she had with the college system, how expensive it was, and how good-paying jobs were hard to come by.
On the flight back home to Austin. A woman came up and sat down in her seat beside me. We started talking and she mentioned how she had just visited her boyfriend in Chicago where he was working as a sound engineer for a great company. She had lived in Chicago while going to college but moved to Austin. For seven years she worked at an environmental agency as an editor. There was no upwards mobility in terms of promotion for her so she quit and started her own company.
The company, Austin Editing, had been something she was working on as a freelance side project for over a year before quitting her day job. I was surprised when she told me she didn’t have a lot of clients lined up when she quit her day job, just enough money to cover rent and a few things each month. Slowly but surely, with a lot of hustle, she built up a client list and today she had several team members that she manages as part of her company. She said something that stuck with me afterwards.
“Sometimes you aren’t fully ready and you just have to have this fuck it attitude and do it.”
November 2014: Twin Peaks, Colorado. I visited relatives and stayed in a freaking awesome cabin (I really love architecture so staying in the cabin was super fun). While in Colorado for a few days, I climbed mountains, sled down the hills, and had snowball fights. One of my cousins wives was studying to become a forensic photographer. She talked about how she had arrived at her desired career path and the way she loved photographing things to unravel a case.
January 2014: Visited New York City again for an interview. I got to see the inside and workings of a company whose site I read on the daily. By a stroke of luck, I got to meet with a seasoned PR professional near her workplace’s Williamsburg office.
March 2014: New York City for the third time. On my flight I met with a women named Denny who talked about how excited she was having just visited her son in North Carolina where he was graduating from Air Force training school. She said she loved Austin for all that it was and didn’t like the crowded, non-stop nature of New York City. She had a knack for solving crossword puzzles and sudoku.
Next month I’ll be going on a cruise with stops in Yucatan (Progreso) and Cozumel, Mexico. For the summer I will be going to Italy.
I traveled a lot in the timespan from this time last year to now. Did I go to some far off place, backpack through Europe, or help kids built houses in Colombia? No. Instead I just went out of my comfort zone, the safe nest of my apartment in Austin, Texas and visited places all across the US. I met a lot of people, learned their stories, their struggles, and how they approached life.
Many of the people I talked to who have gone on study abroad trips say it was great but they never seem to pull out anything other than talking about the different monuments and tourist spots they visited.
A girl once told me “Yeah, I just studied abroad for useless crap. I got to see some tourist spots and stuff but that was about it.”
You see? When people say they want to travel to “broaden their horizons” they usually think of visiting tourist spots rather than meeting people and seeing their walks of life.
My point with all of this is that you don’t need to go to Europe or study in England to broaden your horizons, sometimes the easiest way to do it is by going out your backdoor and talking with new people. I’m not discouraging international travel, if you have the money and resources, then by all means, go do it. I’m speaking to the people who say they can’t afford to travel, the ones who think it’s out of their reach.
Traveling can be as expensive or as cheap as you make it.
I used to think it was out of reach until I discovered that traveling can be as simple as going to another state. See the Grand Canyon, go to the Golden Gate bridge, see the nature of Washington state. You don’t have to break the bank just to broaden your horizons.
There’s something more I have to reveal. Some people know about it but many don’t. Right now (and for the past several months) I’ve been writing a novel. I don’t talk about it much but it involves a women graduating from college and joining a support group. The novel features people from all age ranges and walks of life. Throughout all of the flights, bus rides, and car rides while traveling, I was writing and working on the novel. The people I met along the way and interacted with have influenced my book in a great way. I can’t wait to share more about the book soon. For now I will leave you with the title’s initials (#LOTR). Can you guess what it is?
Also, if have an urge to travel, don’t let it go vacant. Go out to somewhere in the US you’ve never been, meet up with people you might know there, strike up conversations while in the coffee shops. Just get out there.