TeachingTraveling.com: Splendid to converse, Adam! Please tell us about your background.
Adam: I am a 32-year-old former teacher (for now), and I taught high school English at all boys school in St. Louis for a couple of years. I left because my wife and I took off on a year-long RTW (‘Round the World) trip.
TT: Fascinating! How did you find the money to fund this travel?
A: We saved, saved, saved. Then we saved some more. When we made the decision to go on the trip, we just made a budget and stuck to it. We cut back on pretty much everything.
Going out to dinner, getting carry out, going out for drinks, buying pretty much anything that wasn’t necessary, we cut back on all of it. And we did for 18 months before we had enough to take off for a year and go. Best decision we ever made.
TT: Explain one highlight of your many travels.
A: We traveled throughout South America, New Zealand, Southeast Asia, and India for a year in 2008-2009, so we had tons of amazing experiences.
Obviously when traveling for a year, we had tons and tons of highlights. One in particular, as related to education, really stuck out.
During our trip, we volunteered for a bit with an organization in Laos called Big Brother Mouse. This place is amazing and does some wonderful things for literacy in a very, very poor country.
We were crushed to learn that the majority of children in Laos have never even seen a book. It’s amazing to even fathom. They have offices in Luang Prabang and Vientiene, and when in Luang Prabang, we found out tourists and travelers are encouraged to show up and help high school and college-aged students learn conversational English.
It was an amazing experience, and we met so many inspiring young men and women, most who came from small villages and were living away from their families so they could try to make better lives for themselves.
TT: How did you find this travel opportunity?
A: We read about Big Brother Mouse in our guidebook and decided to stop by when we were in Luang Prabang to check it out. They were doing so many wonderful things, so we thought the least we could do was devote a few hours a day to helping them out.
TT: Tell us one powerful moment from your volunteer teaching in Laos.
A: At Big Brother Mouse, there was one moment that I keep coming back to. While chatting with one of the college boys, he told me that he was studying architecture. He was really excited about what he was studying, but he said he may have to give it up and study something else.
“Why?” I inquired.
What he proceeded to tell me broke my heart. He said that pencils are very expensive, and his family cannot afford them, and as an architecture student, pencils are necessary.
PENCILS!!!! I was dumbfounded, as we obviously come from a country where we simply go to the supply closet and grab a BOX of pencils. And here was this young man, eager and excited to pursue an education, who may have to give it up because he cannot afford pencils.
When we returned the next day, we pulled him aside and gave him a handful of pencils that we had in one of our packs. He looked at us funny and said, “Those aren’t mine.”
I informed him that they were ours, and we wanted to give them to him as a gift. He was so excited and thankful that it nearly had me in tears. His facial expression is one that I will remember for the rest of my life, and it really, really puts things into perspective.
TT: Such a powerful story! How have your travels impacted you as a teacher and in your career in general?
A: Well, I haven’t been able to find a teaching job since our return, as it’s tough out there, but I have been trying to break into a new career: travel writing. It’s very difficult to get into, and it requires a tremendous amount of patience, but obviously if it wasn’t for my travels, I would have nothing to write about.
I started a new website a few months ago, and I am currently going back through our trip and writing guides and giving tips and advice for all the places we visited. It’s an awesome thing to do to be able to re-live such an amazing experience on a daily basis.
TT: How have your travels impacted you as a person?
A: The whole process of the trip, the planning, the saving, the going, the return home, all have impacted me in so many ways it’s impossible to count. The main thing that has changed is my view on life.
No longer do I long for possessions and stuff. Now don’t get me wrong, I love possessions and stuff like anyone, and if I could have it both ways, I would, but my priorities are on experiences. When I look back on my life, I want to be able to say that I had no regrets, that I did everything possible to live a happy and fulfilling life.
Piggybacking on that, I have also realized that there are so many different ways to live life, and my way is no better than your way. I think this whole experience, and travel in general, has taught me to do what makes you happy. You only have one chance in life, so why waste it doing something you don’t want to do?
TT: Yes! So what advice do you have for other teachers who are dreaming of travel?
A: DO IT! Just go. If travel is your passion, if travel is something you really, really want to do, and if it’s what you dream of, then do it. There’s still a stigma in the US about extended travel (though it’s finally starting to change), but taking off for a year and living your dream will NOT wreck your life.
If you have dreamed of traveling the world, then just go. It will take time, it will take sacrifice, it will be difficult, and you will meet resistance. But if you want it– if you really, really want it, then you CAN do it. It’s all about priority and making the decision to put travel first in your life.
TT: Whoopie! Thanks, Adam.