The travels that were about to transform me began in my dreams as a kid – imagining all those far off places … beautiful, different people; unusual sights and structures; spectacular white sand beaches against turquoise waters; dense tropical rainforests, teeming with crazy animals and insects; the tallest mountains longing to be climbed; interesting (maybe even challenging) foods; unique cultures, unlike anything I had ever experienced … I loved dreaming about the world and what it might be like, somewhere else.
But as a child, while still living at home, the places we went were where family lived – Georgia, Illinois or Iowa and the once in a blue moon adventures in Florida or Alabama. It was wonderful to spend our vacations with family, don’t get me wrong, but somewhere in my soul, I knew I was an adventurer. I knew I needed adventure to calm my restlessness. So even in those early days, I knew travel would have the potential to transform me.
After college I landed a job in Dallas, Texas and met my match, my ex-husband and still one of my best friends, Brad. We worked at the same law firm and connected pretty early on. I remember picnicking on the lawn at a Spiro Gyra concert in 1986, talking about exploring the world. It was that night we dreamt up our plan to go. As Nike says, we decided to “just do it”.
In 1988, after saving all our pennies for 2.5 years, we sold everything we owned, packed our backpacks and took off for the biggest adventure of our lives. First stop was Fiji where I ate the hottest chili I’d ever imagined. It left me numb, fingers burning for two days until a local taught me how to stop the agony! I loved Fiji and I got to see those beautiful white sand beaches against spectacular turquoise water! I had my first food challenge and I met some of the most warm and welcoming people on the planet – Bula!
We then headed to New Zealand where we hitch hiked for a month from top to bottom. After a wonderful five day hike along the Abel Tasman Trail, sharing our camp fire most nights with a couple of guys from Holland who had never seen fireflies (they were enthralled and it was breathtaking to watch!), a family gave us a lift and shelter with one requirement, that we send their children post cards and letters from our travels.
What a fabulous notion — that their children would receive letters from travelers they had met and be able to experience our adventures with us. In exchange we received a beautiful relationship with this wonderful family, a several hour lift, some space in their living room and a couple of delicious meals! We ended up writing for many, many years, long after our travels were over, but eventually we lost contact. I hope those kids have become adventurers now too!
In November we headed to Australia and bought an ancient and pretty beat up Toyota Hiace (a panel van) in Sydney. We tooled around Oz for the next three months, sleeping on a futon in the back of the van and, as crazy as it sounds, we sold our tiny house/vehicle for a profit in Darwin before we left. We often took other travelers with us, some of whom we still communicate with to this day. Despite not having cell phones or Internet, we learned while traveling that there was an extensive network of communicating by bulletin boards at hostels as well as through American Express offices. Who would’ve known?
We surfed, we hung out in beach towns, we drank too much with some locals in Melbourne who plied us with the most amazing food and port wine, after stopping to give us directions when they saw us struggling with the map. They invited us to lunch but we couldn’t afford to eat lunch at the expensive restaurant they had directed us to – so they treated, all afternoon. We picked tomatoes for a few weeks to make money in order to continue our travels. We swam in lakes where we later learned there were alligators (yikes!). We saw big cities and small towns and we learned about the Aboriginal culture. We drove through the Outback and we even climbed Ayers Rock. But most memorable were the families that took us in on several occasions and offered us space, showers, community, love and food.
What we began to see was that the world was not filled with strangers and horrible people out to hurt us. It was filled with everyday folks just like us, people who wanted to know us, to learn from us and we were learning from them – people who cared. Every step of the way we were welcomed and greeted, beers bought for us and directions offered. A flat tire turned into a party. A BBQ turned into a neighborhood gathering, for us. Taking other travelers in our van turned into life long friendships. Wow – the memories make me feel warm all over to this day and best of all, we were beginning to transform.
When we said our good byes to Australia we headed north into exotic and non-English-speaking SE Asia – Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, then up into Nepal, India, and even over to Pakistan. Along the way we had the most amazing adventures you can imagine. We lost all our possessions in Thailand when we got off a bus on a ferry and the bus left us. But do you know what? Our luggage was waiting for us at the bus stop! Literally everything we owned was just sitting there, intact, no one had touched it, other than to take it off the bus for us. Mankind is really beautiful when that’s what you are looking for.
Again we hung out in bungalows on the beach for $5/night. We fed monkeys. We met other travelers and stayed up all night playing cards and drinking Mekong Whiskey. We explored the highlands and cities of Malaysia, checked out every food stall in Singapore and even visited Raffles for a splurge on a real Singapore Sling. We walked for 30 days in Nepal reaching Mt. Everest Base Camp and then taking the most harrowing flight of our lives out of Lukla. We spent a month in India experiencing the most exotic places – the Taj Mahal, The Red Fort, The Golden Temple, Srinagar and her amazing houseboats. We were welcomed into homes, fed amazing meals, and fell in love with tea in one of the most beautiful countries in the world.
We walked from Amritsar into Pakistan and were greeted by a busload of soldiers who offered to drive us to Lahore. The taxies had left for the day and it seemed our only option, unless we wanted to walk those many miles to Lahore, at night. It was terrifying at first, a white woman on a bus with fifty Muslim men and my boyfriend. But as we had experienced in every other place we had been, they were warm, respectful and welcoming. They asked a million questions through a single English-speaking soldier onboard. They were polite, they served us tea and they escorted us to an affordable hotel and made sure we got a room. They were some of the loveliest men I have ever encountered. After the initial shock of being on a bus with fifty big, burly soldiers of a different religious back ground and culture, I realized these men were beautiful human beings longing to know more about us and our lives. I was no longer afraid. I was fascinated. They took care of us and treated us as honored guests in their beautiful country. That was such an enlightening and heart warming experience. It convinced me that travel had meaning and purpose well beyond what I had imagined.
From Pakistan we headed to Europe and traveled by bus, train and airplane to most every country. We stayed in some hostels but often simply slept on the train and took birdbaths in the sink. We camped, we walked, we hiked and we shared sleeping spaces with 6 – 8 strangers most nights. Never did we feel threatened or hated. We were once again welcomed into people’s homes, fed meals, given shelter, given books, shared experiences and made hundreds of friends in nearly twenty different countries. It was magnificent!
At the end of our journey we flew to Venezuela to explore her beauty for several more days before making our way up through all of the enchanting countries of Central America. Finally, almost one year to the day later, we walked back into the USA from Juarez, Mexico. We decided to hitch hike to Las Cruces, New Mexico, where Brad’s mother lived, and were almost instantly picked up by a fire truck and taken to the edge of town. As we walked down Brad’s mom’s street, carrying our 40lb packs, our yellow lab, Bailey, spotted us from more than a block away and bolted toward us with the energy of a thousand puppies. Squealing, whining, jumping and licking us, we knew we were loved and welcomed once again. We were tired, dirty, unkempt — with a years’ worth of beautiful memories emanating from our hearts.
I cannot possibly recount the magnitude of transformation that became me that year, especially not in one newsletter, but what I know is that the world is what you make of it. It’s not a scary place for me. It truly is the place of my dreams … of beautiful, different people; unusual sights and structures; spectacular white sand beaches against turquoise waters; dense tropical rainforests, teeming with crazy animals and insects; the tallest mountains longing to be climbed; interesting (maybe even challenging) foods; unique cultures, unlike anything I had ever experienced – and all of it filled with people, just like you and me.
I have continued to travel – 80+ countries and counting. My children, Jo Jo and Jac, have been to 27 and 19 countries respectively. And today I want to challenge you to be an adventurer, to step outside your comfort zone and have an adventure this year. Explore. Dream. Discover – and let travel be the catalyst for change. Let travel be what heals you this year. Let travel be what heals the world and makes us kinder, gentler, more compassionate human beings.
If you need advice or travel tips, call me. I’d love to help you and your family design an adventure that will transform your lives or just be a sounding board. And if you are an adoptive family remember, travel doesn’t have to only be to your child’s birth country! I can help you plan a trip most anywhere in the world but as you probably already know, I specialize in Central America, Colombia, China and SE Asia. I can’t wait to help you create a trip that will be the catalyst for transformation in your life, the life of everyone in your family and the world around you.
When you are ready to explore the world with your family, please schedule a 30-minute Discovery Session with me at www.calendly.com/bambi.
Bambi Wineland is the mother of two internationally adopted children, a traveler, a Certified Professional Coach, and the Founder and CEO of Motherland Travel. Motherland Travel began by designing Heritage Journeys for families with internationally adopted children. The emphasis of those Heritage Journeys has always been on deepening family connections, building self-esteem and cultivating pride in a family’s multi-cultural heritage. Motherland Travel also uses the philosophies of Transformative Travel for designing family trips with purpose – building rich connections, with each other and the world! Read more about her here >> http://motherlandtravel.com/