Sherry, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became a long-term traveler.
I didn’t get my passport until I was 30, so I got a late start in travel and think I’m kind of making up for lost time. Also, I feel like once I started traveling, I had the bug. And I started meeting people in other countries that were doing this long-term travel thing.
At first long term travelers seemed complete and utter aliens to me, and I remember thinking: what will they do for retirement? Fast forward to a career break in 2006. It was during that career break I realized there are many, many ways to make a career and that I was willing to give up my lifestyle in order to really follow what I loved.
You travel for life experiences. What has been the most inspiring life experience so far on your travels?
Volunteering in India. It changed the whole trajectory of my life. It was not part of my original plan, but after traveling a while it became important to me to give back. They assigned me to teach English and computer and business skills to young adults. Those young adults affected me so much. I absolutely loved to teach! I never would have guessed that.
It was through that experience that I met someone else who told me there was a thing called ESL (English as Second Language) and explained that with an ESL certificate people could teach all over the world and get paid! I came back and that’s when I got my ESL certification and decided to go live abroad. For me that was just kind of the Wow I don’t have to go back to corporate. I could actually have a life of travel and work.
The second big inspirational experience was completing the Annapurna Circuit with my father. At the time he was 73 years old, and he had never traveled to a developing country. We flew into Kathmandu and were in Nepal hiking for a month. It was inspirational because we accomplished it, and it was a big feat for him. Also I was able to see and experience a part of him I knew no one else in my family had ever seen. I was afraid it was going to be a disaster. But I’m dying to go again with him. He’s 75 now, and I want to take him to Antarctica.
What is the most unexpected interaction you’ve had with locals?
It was in Jordan. I went into Jordan with so many expectations and stereotypes about the Middle East but the generosity and guest culture there was like nothing I’d ever experienced in any other country.
I was living with a local family for a month in Amman and I had to use the bus. The bus culture in Jordan was amazing to me; I would ask people a question like which bus to take and they would ask me where I wanted to go – then proceed to wait with me until they put me on the right bus! I remember one rainy night a man passed up his own bus 6 times to make sure I got on the right bus.
I had people ride with me when they weren’t even going on the bus just to make sure I transferred at the right place. I would get on the bus and people would say, “Where are you from?” I would answer “America.” They would respond, “Welcome” and proceed to pay my bus fare for me – complete strangers.
I was invited into everyone’s home or shop for tea, and because I felt so comfortable there, I would go. We’d sit and talk about the country and travel for about an hour and then I’d leave. They were amazing, amazing people.
What is your most embarrassing travel secret?
The fact that I have a baby pillow I travel with and the baby pillow is really my baby pillow which is 40 years old. It even has a name, but I don’t tell people the name typically. It is so old and flat that it’s like a sheet of paper practically; but I use it every night, and it comes with me everywhere. It has a little tiny pillow case that my mom sewed. It came with me all the way to Mongolia. When you sleep in a different bed every night it’s nice to have one constant thing.
In addition to traveling, you love to inspire others to take career breaks and travel. What makes you so passionate about both?
I’m passionate about it in part because I had such a late start and I think I don’t want that to happen to other people. Also, I’m a big believer in the idea of being different and not doing what everyone else is doing. You don’t have to go to school then get the job then get married then start a family. Career breaks and long term travel often provide that perspective.
One of the things travel has taught me, in interacting with all these cultures and people, is that there’s not one right way to do something. There’s not one road to happiness. There are many, many roads to happiness. You have to figure out what your personal desires are and listen to them. What better way to do that then traveling!
A big thank you to Sherry for chatting with us! We feel very fortunate to be some of the locals you connected with in San Francisco. Happy travels!
Trippers, you can follow Sherry’s adventures on her blog, get tips and inspiration for career breaks via Meet, Plan, Go! and connect with other Trippers around the world via the Meet, Plan, Go Network on Tripping.