On March 15, 2020 my globe-trotting days ended abruptly. After traveling for eight months, I had a scheduled flight from Moscow to South Sudan the next day — a two-week expedition booked to visit seven tribes. This would be followed by trips to visit my four remaining countries on the UN Member list (Cape Verde, Mozambique, Namibia and Nigeria) and a few other fun trips planned. Instead, I canceled my flight to Juba, packed my travel clothes and watched the snow dust Red Square while begrudgingly booking myself on a flight home to Dallas, Texas.
In June of 2019, I walked away from my career as an aviation consultant. Having never been without a job in my adult life, it was a bit unnerving just to leave it behind. My plan was to take a year off from work, finish the last 20 or so countries remaining on my UN 193 list and create some personal development goals to work on during my “sabbatical,” such as learning Spanish and Russian, honing my free-diving skills, and volunteering at a shark research institute.
Prior to my sabbatical last year, I had a fantastic job traveling around the world with Sabre, a travel technology company — working with airline customers on the topics of airline pricing, revenue management, and ancillary revenue. The job dispatched me to about 25 countries to work with airline customers in some interesting places like Papua New Guinea, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, South Africa, Seychelles, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Philippines, and Thailand.
Over the course of my time with Sabre, long-term consulting assignments in Abu Dhabi, Karachi, Rome and Anchorage enabled me to effectively live and work as an expat at the local airline headquarters. Due to the length of the assignment, I was able to assimilate into the local culture and spend additional time exploring new places in the region.
On most assignments, I was able to make a personal connection with my clients, having the opportunity to experience their home life. Beyond the office-work- hotel hamster wheel, some of my most memorable moments at Sabre included:
Cooking traditional dishes in a local’s home, hosting a coffee ceremony and studying Amharic with a local language teacher in Addis Ababa.
Narrowly escaping angry protestors in the DRC, who were upset at the privatization of the state airline. Protesters lit fires and, sadly, one poor soul was shot and killed, which led to the resignation of the CEO.
Being graciously hosted all over Pakistan by the CIO, including the Skardu region, Kashmir, Wagah border ceremony and Lahore (some of my favorite places).
Welcomed with open arms on East New Britain, PNG, with my client’s “sisters” who were smiling ear to ear with chewed betelnut stuck to their teeth. I had to try it myself so as not to offend my hosts.
And sadly, attended the funeral of my client who became a dear friend, grieving
alongside his family in Fairbanks, Alaska.
The irony of quitting a job traveling around the world to travel around the world is not lost on me. I was burned out from work and work travel. And, more importantly, I was on a mission to finish the UN Countries and have some new, interesting travel experiences. When I was done traveling, if anyone can ever be done traveling, my plan was to work as an independent aviation consultant.
Travel did not start until I finished graduate school, finally having a small amount of disposable income and free time. In the beginning, most of my travels were scuba trips with the occasional trip to Europe. When I landed a job at American Airlines more than 20 years ago, my travels really took off. The widely known industry perk of being able to fly for free was the privilege which fueled my addiction to travel.
There was never a shortage of young single people wanting to travel to international locations. We planned group trips on every holiday weekend, including Belize and driving to Guatemala, summer skiing in Chile, eating and drinking our way around Tokyo, whitewater rafting in Costa Rica, and scuba diving all over the Caribbean. And of course, we would take trips closer to home nearly every other weekend.
Early on in my days at American Airlines, when I could not find anyone to travel with, I decided to travel by myself. In fact, my first solo trip was out of necessity. It was a holiday week and I wanted to go scuba diving in Los Roques, Venezuela. I checked the flights from Dallas to Caracas, which were readily available to employee travelers. Although not as dangerous as today, Venezuela, especially Caracas, was no safe place even back when Chavez was in charge. The experience gave me the confidence to travel on my own to a country where I didn’t speak the language. Twenty years later, I continue to travel solo out of necessity or desire, and estimate about a third of my travels are evenly split between solo, one other person or group travel; and each type of travel has its pros and cons.
Even once the UN list of countries is finished, I will never be finished traveling; there is always something new to see or experience. As soon as I travel, read a book or a blog, new things are learned and add these to my ever-growing list of places and experiences. In the near term, the aim is to focus on new experiences and cultures.
What I have learned from all my travels is that travel changes you. From the chaos and energy of an African city to the beauty of nature in the mountains, the soul can- not help but be altered by travel. Every new adventure feels like a new beginning and that is because it is. There is no guarantee you will go back to the life you once knew without a renewed perspective or appreciation for the world. You know you’ll never be the same again post travel.
During my time in lockdown, a travel and food blog was born where I embarked on a cooking project, cooking recipes from every country. Russian was even studied, and Pilates re-entered my daily routine. But in all honesty, the excitement of an upcoming trip is what I miss most, and the way it makes me feel. Traveling companions, both new and old, are dearly missed. I am just waiting for the right time to get back on the road, reschedule those trips to my four remaining countries — Cape Verde, Mozambique, Namibia and Nigeria — and begin my adventures again.
(At the time of publishing, Gina made it to Namibia. Congratulations, Gina!)