Stepping Stones

When I look back to identify the root of my travel bug, it no doubt stems from my annual summer trips to visit family in Israel. I was exposed to the act of traveling early and consistently—it became ingrained into my identity in the same way that growing up with dogs has made me a steadfast dog person. But there are a few significant stepping stones in my evolution as a traveler that have paved the way for how my travels have changed over the years.

1. Supervised travel: When my family moved back to Israel when I was in 10th grade, I transferred from a class of hundreds in the Texas public school system to a class of dozens in the international school system. My new school consisted of a tight community of friends from all over the world who were not only born abroad, but had also lived in multiple countries due to their parents’ ever-relocating careers. Needless to say, I had a long list of places I wanted to visit by the time I graduated three years later.

The school also provided my first opportunity to travel abroad without my parents. I joined nearly all of the sports teams, which had annual tournaments as part of a European league of international schools. Basketball took me to Vienna where I met my first pickpocket, softball took me to London where I met my first Michelangelo, and volleyball took me to Brussels where I met my dear, lifelong friend the street food stall. These were my first international trips without my family and although they were supervised, it was a new level of freedom to explore that I had never experienced.

2. Unsupervised travel: My junior year of college I jumped on the opportunity to study abroad. I was studying art history and Italian, which was all part of my master plan to justify spending a year in Florence. During my time there I not only gained my Junior 30 (the Freshman 15 I had evaded, plus interest) but also the opportunity to venture out and explore new places without having to ask for permission. My friends and I found ourselves in a variety of situations ranging from breathtaking to awkward to scary, but we had each other to figure things out together as semi-mature adults.

3. Solo travel: After graduating college, I went on what was meant to be a quick trip to Israel before moving back to New York. I ended up staying and living out of my suitcase for a year, wanting to see what life there on my own would be like (my parents had since returned to the States). Fortunately, I landed a part-time job at an art gallery in Tel Aviv run by my high school history teacher’s husband. To supplement that income, I also started waiting tables.

While Americans traditionally graduate high school–> go to college–> get a job, Israelis have a different standard: graduate high school–> enlist in the army–> take an epic backpacking trip–> go to college–> get a job. While I had always known about this, it wasn’t until I was surrounded by my new server friends at work talking about the trips that they had either just come back from or that they were saving up for that I even considered such a trip for myself. So after that year in Israel, I came back to Austin with the goal to save enough money waiting tables for a solo trip through South America. Being surrounded by others who had done it, especially women my age, gave me a sense of confidence and exhilaration I had never felt before. I was excited for a new challenge in my growth as a traveler.

4. Conscious travel: The first time I incorporated service into my travels was when I joined my friend’s fundraising project, Austin2Africa. I had recently started a new job after returning from 4 months of solo travel through South America and I was still struggling with settling into my first office job. So when my colleague gave a presentation about her recent sabbatical in South Africa and the work that she had done there, I signed on to help with her fundraising efforts without a second thought. Not only was I touched by her experiences there, but it was a part of the world I knew very little about.

After a year of fundraising, our small group of volunteers traveled to South Africa to see how our hard work had made an impact; we funded a two-story annex for an orphanage that was in desperate need of more space. To see the direct impact we made gave me a new perspective on the possibilities to do good that are out there if you open your eyes beyond the beaten tourist path. It was this experience that planted the seed for the volunteer opportunities I sought out in Cambodia a year later, and which ultimately led to a fundraising project, and later business, of my own.

Stories from these periods, and the countless opportunities sparked as a result of them, are ones that I will surely delve more deeply into later. For now I just thought it would be neat to take a step back and pinpoint those pivotal life events that have guided me from my training wheels to unicycle on this winding path I have set out on over the past three decades.

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