Growing up my family didn't travel internationally. Aside from a few trips to Canada, we spent our vacations and long weekends exploring the United States. We did, however, move around frequently due to my Dad's corporate career. By the time I graduated college, I had lived in 12 different places in six states. I believe that moving so much throughout my childhood significantly shaped my personality and my perspective of the world.
Quickly able to make friends and not afraid to step into uncharted territory with a smile, I have an inner curiosity and enjoy continually learning. My first notable trip outside of the U.S. was after college to visit a friend in Japan. Those ten days were life-changing. Not only did I gain an appreciation for the Japanese culture, but I fell in love with traveling.
Mission Defined: After my first adventure, I was hooked. Traveling was thrilling to me: exploring a new land, meeting different people and immersing myself in a foreign culture. Before long, my travels became a conversation topic at work. Many people asked why I was so interested in travel and to what end. Rooted in corporate America, I knew I had to come up with a logical and easily-digestible answer: a goal. At that time having been to 30-some countries, I arbitrarily put forth that my ultimate goal was to travel to 100 countries, and just like that, my mission came into focus.
Execution: Having my mission defined the next step was to outline my strategy. With a full-time job my vacation time was limited: two weeks and holidays and then eventually grabbing a third week five years in. With my vacation days as the primary bottleneck, I aimed to travel internationally at least two times each year and got creative with my trip planning:
- Scheduling. In order to maximize my time away, I scheduled trips around holidays. In the U.S., Thanksgiving is an ideal time to travel because using only three vacation days will afford you nine days of travel.
- Destination Selection. Whenever possible, I traveled to regions where I could visit as many places and countries as possible flying in and out of a central point.
- Budget. While I had a decent-paying job, I didn't want to spend all of my money on travel. Because I was budget-conscious, I shopped around for airfare deals, frequently stayed in hostels, took advantage of public transportation and often targeted locales in their off-season.
- Flexibility. I traveled any way I could with anyone who was free to go. Trips with family and friends were fun, but when they weren't available, I had no problem exploring and taking trips on my own. When making plans to travel to a country where the safety was questionable or the language or transportation may be a barrier, I traveled on tours or with groups.
To these remarks I would respond with a smile thinking that not until you experience how travel can change your life, will you ever really understand. Sometimes I would explain how I say at hostels and that I've actually traveled to 49 of the 50 states, but most times I would shrug off the naysayers and remind myself that I was doing this for me, not them.
Milestones: Throughout my ten-year journey there have been many milestones with the most memorable being:
- Attending graduate school in Australia.
- Backpacking for seven months from Sydney westwards to New York.
- Visiting friends in their home countries of the Philippines, Thailand, China, India, Denmark, Colombia and Brazil.
- Mustering the courage to camp for two weeks in southern Africa.
- Surviving multiple trips to India as a solo-woman traveler.
- Moving to Finland for three years with my fiancé.
- Sneaking into Cuba before it was 'allowed' with a press badge.
- Celebrating my wedding in my 100th country of Jamaica.
Mission Accomplished: In June 2015 I accomplished my mission of traveling to 100 countries. Having officially checked the boxes visiting 109 unique countries and territories, I was accepted into the Travelers Century Club and received a certificate, membership card and pin. I was also given a globe memento in Jamaica by my family to commemorate the achievement. Upon reaching my goal, I created a 45-page book capturing my favorite travel photographs from around the world entitled "100 Countries."
Path Forward: Although my next goal isn't yet clearly defined, I can confidently say that my traveling days will continue. I have been to six of the seven continents and am committed to seeing the icy shores of Antarctica. I'd also like to swim with the jellyfish in Palau, get lost in the history of the Middle East, and dance at carnival in Trinidad and Tobago. While my Mom would like to see me travel to every country in the world, we'll just have to see where the road takes me.