At the tender age of six, I remember talking about my first travel goal. I declared to my first grade class, “I want to be a ‘woman of the world’ and travel to every country.” Of course, at this age it was impossible to know how I could achieve such a goal, since my family was dirt poor and the world was just a big place for a six-year-old. Everyone, including my teacher, told me it was a stupid goal. But I believed that all dreams could come true in America.
You see, I am a first-generation American born to refugees from WW2 Germany. My parents are originally from Armenia and Ukraine. Unfortunately, my father died when I was only three years old, and my mother had to raise seven children by herself on welfare. She had no money or family in the United States.
I saw at a young age that education and hard work would be my path to reaching my travel goals. Hence, I embarked on a 35-year career with the United States government and I sought out jobs which required traveling or living overseas.Before I set out to see every country in the world, two goals were paramount:
- As an American, it was important to me to visit all 50 states in the USA.
- I had to visit every continent, which was accomplished with a trip to Antarctica. (Who hasn’t had Antarctica as their 7th continent?)
Working as a civilian with the US Army, and living in both England and Germany, I was able to travel around Europe by rail, bus, and discount airlines. I then joined the US Department of State Foreign Service in 2002 which stationed me in Niger, Japan, Hong Kong and Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I traveled as much as I could while working in demanding positions. Having to get approval for all off-work travel made extensive personal travel difficult. So my strategy for accumulating my country travels focused predominantly in continents where I worked and lived during this time.
My travel style is generally on a budget and often alone as a backpacker. Starting with my first trip to Europe, six weeks of traveling by bicycle to six countries inspired the freedom of independent travel. This was not always the case as visas became a difficult part of travel to certain countries like North Korea, Libya and Yemen. So I would need to join a group tour.
Independent travel as a single woman in many parts of the world can make it more difficult but I was fortunate to be trained by the Federal Bureau of Prisons with the right skill of aikido. This gave me the confidence to travel and I applied this skill to warn off an attack from a taxi driver in India who tried to assault me. Basically, we agreed to a price before the ride began, and upon the conclusion of the ride he thought he could demand 10 times the original cost. (Remember, I backpack so funds are limited.) I was generous and gave him 1.5 times the original amount, but this led to the taxi driver grabbing my arm. With a simple aikido move, he quickly released my arm. He whined saying that I hurt him and he quickly drove off. Don’t mess with me.
But I prefer to not focus on these moments because many times I relied on the kindness of strangers and discovered that my most important language was “being friendly.” People have helped me find my way and were part of so many special travel memories. Watching the sunset with a local handsome young (or not so young) man is definitely part of my travel memories.
Once I retired from the government, I was free to travel extensively and anywhere. Oh, the freedom of traveling and not requesting permission to do so.
In October 2019, I reached the penultimate 193 United Nations countries. With a combined trip to Yemen and Syria, these final countries also propelled me into platinum status, having now visited 301 TCC countries.
My travels are far from over. I plan to return to many countries to see new regions and revisit some of my favorite countries, including Iran, Bhutan, Uzbekistan, Niger, and England. Believe it or not, Niger was so exotic. I saw camels daily on my drive to the embassy. As for the best city in my eyes? London is truly my favorite having been there 30 times.
Retirement has not only enabled me to travel wider and farther, but I have branched off into a volunteer career as an instructor of Learning in Later Life programs with University of Miami, Florida International University and Spring- field, MA College. Classes often focus on travel, as I want others to not be afraid of the world and learn about the wonders I’ve seen. I never anticipated that I would inspire others to travel, but based on my trip report and photos, three eighty-year-old students of mine made their first trip to Africa to experience Victoria Falls. They loved it but did not go into the Devils Pool.
I dreamed it and I did it! I definitely con-sider myself to be a “woman of the world” and now focus on inspiring others to believe they can be the same.