Q&A: Travelers share lessons learned overseas

By Jasmine Barta

Public Insight Network sources have written in to share their travel stories and insights. Here are some of our favorite responses:

Eileen Flanagan, a PIN source from Pennsylvania, wrote her most life-changing travel experience was in Botswana, where she served as a Peace Corps volunteer. Flanagan said she lived in a village in a mud hut with a grass roof and taught English to school children. She’s also spent time in Zimbabwe, Lesotho, and Kenya.

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Eileen Flanagan and friend Mmadithapelo Ditirwa were neighbors in their Bobonong, Botswana village in 1985. (Photo courtesy of Eileen Flanagan)


What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned while traveling abroad?

“The phrase, ‘Motho ke motho ka botho’ (‘A person is a person because of other people’), captured the sense of interconnection and reciprocity that was at the core of Tswana culture. If a woman was cooking dinner and realized she was out of onions, she asked her neighbor for an onion, instead of walking a mile in the scorching heat to the village store.

Coming home I missed the simplicity of village life and sought out communities that replicated it.”

Katie Clark from Maine has traveled Europe extensively. Some of her adventures include attending Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland for a year, visiting Italy as a schoolteacher and chaperone, and going to Germany and Austria for the Smith College Chamber Singers tour. She said her parents first took her to the United Kingdom when she was 9, where the “travel bug” bit her.

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Katie Clark and Alex Bollag at the Trinity College Dublin Garden Party in the late 1990s. (Photo courtesy of Katie Clark)

What advice would you give to those about to leave the country, or go to a new country, for the first time?

“Remove your expectations as much as possible. Your own worldview is colored by current experiences… Just open yourself up and ‘be a sponge’ to the food, culture and language.

And, for the love of god, PACK LIGHT. You need far less than you think and excess luggage just (literally) weighs you down.”

Jason Holloway, who resides in California, says he has been to around 70 countries, mainly in Europe. He has also traveled to the Caribbean and says he was working in Ukraine last year when Putin invaded Ukraine during the revolution.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned while traveling abroad?

“Wherever you go, visit with the expectation that you will be back. This allows you to take time and smell the roses, enjoy a slow cup of coffee or even sleep in. When people travel and think it’s the only time they will see a place, they pack in way too much and totally fail to experience.“

What advice would you give to those about to leave the country, or go to a new country, for the first time?

“Don’t fear being independent. The world is safe….MUCH safer than the media would have you believe.”

Marian Shatto, a PIN source from Pennsylvania, is an experienced traveler, who has spent time in El Salvador, the Czech Republic, Germany, Egypt, Jordan, Israel and the West Bank, among other places.

“My Christian beliefs have impelled my travel, and my travels have informed my beliefs,” she wrote in to our survey.

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Protective netting above Hebron marketplace, showing trash, bricks, and other debris thrown by settlers from the buildings above. (Photo by Marian L Shatto)

What advice would you give to those about to leave the country, or go to a new country, for the first time?

“Avoid international food chains and tourist hotel restaurants. Make sure you get all the recommended immunizations. Research the electricity and take along needed converter plugs… Find out if it is safe for you to drink the local tap water… Take a basic first aid kit. Tempting as it might be, don’t consume any alcoholic beverages on the plane. …You’ll recover from jet lag faster.”

Eileen Gunn, who lives in New York, mainly travels for fun. She’s traveled to various parts of Europe, as well as the Caribbean, Asia, Ecuador, Mexico and Canada.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned while traveling abroad?

“People are so afraid to travel with kids, but kids can be pretty resilient and adaptable if you give them the opportunity…  In Paris my daughter would play in the playground with other tourists who she had no common language with, but they figured it out.”

If you’d like to share your travel tales, click here!

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