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A California Science Teacher Shows Travel Is Not Scary

Lisa was proposed to underwater in Thailand!
George proposed to Lisa underwater in Thailand!

Teaching Traveling: Hello, world traveling teacher Lisa Niver Rajna!

Lisa, tell us about your background.

Lisa: Traveling and teaching have always been parts of my life!

I have taught preschool to middle school usually with a focus on science. This is my thirteenth year teaching and currently I teach K-6 science in Los Angeles, California where I grew up.

I also spent seven years on the Seven Seas as a youth counselor and assistant Cruise Director, just like Julie McCoy of the Love Boat!

TT: Awesome! Tell us more about your travels once you fell in love.

Lisa and George by exotic sand dunes during their travels.
Lisa and George by exotic sand dunes during their travels.

L: After September 11th, my company, Renaissance Cruises, went bankrupt (on Sept 26th!) and I returned to Los Angeles and to teaching after living on a ship. I really felt I would never travel again. But as it turned out, the best was yet to come!

After meeting George online, we started traveling together internationally almost immediately. Under the moonlight in Fiji, he asked me to join him on his life dream—to travel for a year in South East Asia. We meandered from Indonesia to Mongolia for eleven months in twelve countries while I lost sixty pounds and we got engaged in Thailand underwater. There are photos and stories of our trip on our website, We Said Go Travel.

TT: So romantic!!! How did you fund your epic travels around the world?

Lisa playing with happy kids in Mongolia.
Lisa playing with happy kids in Mongolia.

L: During the summers, I had my own science camp called Simply Science. Fortunately, we had a great year in 2008 and I was able to use that money to fund my part of our year in Asia. I loved running my own program and would do it again.

It also encouraged me to start my own blog, Science Isn’t Scary. It surprised me how much I enjoyed being in charge of everything from the flyers, to the curriculum and hiring staff. I really recommend that you share what you are doing by blogging or writing or running your own program.

TT: Absolutely. Tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly powerful.

L: Honestly, after years of traveling at sea, I thought it would be easy for me to travel with George. But he was in the Peace Corps in Paraguay and we really had to work hard on understanding each other’s travel styles. George just wanted a place that was cheap and I wanted a place that was nice.

At the beginning of the trip, I felt that we should have a pretty and clean room with towels, sheets, curtains and toilet paper. Early on there were lots of tears including crying while snorkeling, I am not proud of that but it is true.

By the end of the trip, we were staying in Gers (a tent-like yurt in Mongolia), eating by candlelight and using the outdoors as our bathroom. We did not have running water during our eleven-day adventure and it was my favorite part of the trip. We are currently putting the final touches on our travel memoir, He Said She Said, which describes in detail my experience of learning to be a travel partner, losing 60 lbs., getting engaged all while on this extended trip overseas.

The amazing floating market at Kalimantan in Borneo.
The amazing floating market at Kalimantan in Borneo.

TT: Love it! How have your travels impacted you as a teacher, and in your current career?

L: When I first began as a K-6 Science Teacher, teaching 270 children, I shared my trip maps, photos and stories with trepidation. I wasn’t sure how the students or their parents would react. However, they love hearing about my experiences; they remember the places and connections and are always asking for more!

Students love to use the globe to find the countries we are discussing and they really remember the stories. I use maps from Traveler’s Century Club and we discuss how I have been to over 100 countries.

My best lesson is on measurement when I share about how people still use balance scales and show photos of the scales in the markets of Marrakesh and the floating markets of Kalimantan. The kids love when I talk about LA traffic and boat traffic in the rivers of Indonesia! We discuss how science is happening and how measurement is important. We measure oranges, make predictions and eat oranges with cinnamon just like in Morocco.

Lisa and George at the Great Wall of China.
Lisa and George at the Great Wall of China.

From a Bootsnall Article:

“Lisa Niver Rajna, who runs We Said Go Travel, went back to her job as a teacher after her career break. She loves how her experiences translate to the classroom. “The children are transfixed when I share stories and photos of our travels. For a lesson on measurement and balance scales, I showed photos of the market where people use scales from the floating market of Banjarmasin Kalimantan. … The lessons of travel have been marvelous for my students.”

A recent talk about Morocco for adults, one of five travel related events we ran in 2011, is on youtube at this link.

Lisa with a very cute Derewan Turtle!

TT: Fantastic! How have your travels impacted you as a person?

L: I have been lucky to be traveling since I was young. My parents took us on a cruise when I was eleven and I have been hooked ever since. I think a teen travel tour to Israel for six weeks made my wanderlust permanent.

I loved my time in Israel and made several friends I still see today. I also promised to spend longer in Israel, returning for my junior year abroad in Jerusalem. After college, I chose to travel working first for Club Med and then for seven years onboard for Princess Cruises and several other lines. Deciding to work in travel full time was largely due to my early travel experiences. Travel has made me more aware, involved and inspired.

TT: What advice do you have for other teachers who are dreaming of travel, or travelers dreaming of teaching?

L: If you are considering a trip, think like Nike and “Just Do It!” I took a trip as a teacher with Earthwatch, and I highly recommend it! They have grants for teachers and their research projects get you involved in the science and they have so many projects to choose from! For a longer trip, I highly recommend getting involved with the Meet Plan Go Career-Break Travel Network.

George and I were the 2011 Los Angeles hosts for Meet Plan Go, which happened in 17 cities across the USA and Canada. I wish they had existed when I was preparing for our year away. The resources are fantastic.

Lisa with kids in Indonesia. So wonderful!
Lisa with kids in Indonesia. So wonderful!

Find people who also love to travel: look on Meet-up, Couch Surfing free international housing, or Meet Plan Go. Read books and blogs about people who took the risk and made the journey. I promise it will be worth it!

I always think that while I am traveling I will learn about the place I am going to but I learn the most about myself and “taking the road less traveled” has been personally and professionally fulfilling. Feel free to contact me, I would be happy to help you get inspired to go on your own adventure.

TT: Great advice, Lisa! Readers, what questions and comments do you have for this bold teacher-traveler?


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Anil Sahu

Saturday 31st of May 2014

Hi Lisa, it is also a great article published by you. You presented it beautifully by pictures. Really your article is inspirational for many teachers like me. It will be a great pleasure if you reply me. Thanks for this nice job.

Joni Price

Wednesday 7th of November 2012

Hi Lisa, I am a veteran science teacher and I am looking for travel, research opportunities for next summer. I am a bit overwhelmed. I just went to the meet plan go web site and i missed a big event in SF that recently happened. What advice can you give me. I don't mind volunteering . I have applied for the Earth Watch scholarship but what else do you suggest. Thanks Joni Placerville, Calif

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