SEVENSEAS Marine Conservation & Travel Issue 15, August 2016 - Page 117

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I'm Not as Brave as People Think. As a U.S. citizen it is considered a big deal for me to quit life as I knew it and do what many people fantasize about but are afraid to do. No, it’s not easy to leave your child(ren) behind but it is easier to do while they’re teenagers and still know everything. In fact, it turned out to be the best thing for both of us. But the bravest thing I did was face my fear of going to South America. I didn’t want to go but I reminded myself of the saying, "Life begins at the end of your comfort zone." So I went. It wasn’t long before I realized my anxiety had been completely unreasonable. Most of that part of the world is amazing! The rest of my travels since, including North Africa and the Middle East, have been easy. No, it hasn’t all been rainbows and unicorns. In fact, I’ve had some very unsettling experiences and setbacks. But most people are good and helpful and the awesome experiences way outnumber the negative ones so I keep going. The trick to being brave is taking the first step. After that, the rest falls into place.

I'm Not Unique​. A lot of people do what I do, just not a lot of Americans. On the very first day of arriving in South America, I met an Englishman that had already been traveling for 22 months. Subsequently I've met several people, men and women over 30, that have been traveling for at least a year. The Internet is full of articles about people in their mid­life taking a gap year. At the younger end of the spectrum, it is very common for Australians to take a year or two to travel around the world. Israelis also travel for a year or so after they finish their military service.

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Travel Opens Your Mind. ​Yes, it's cliché but it is true. I've had enlightening conversations with young Muslim men and learned a bit about what a beautiful religion Islam is, at its core. It is most unfortunate that a few extremists give it such a bad reputation. But the same can also be said for Christianity. To my surprise, I felt safer in some Muslim countries than anywhere else in my travels. South America was a place where I didn't want to go because I was too afraid. I forced myself out of my comfort zone, went anyway and fell in love! Not with a man but with the beauty and culture. My entire life's prejudices against Latinos were washed away in less than four months. In Chile the youth gave me hope for the future. The Chilean people are incredibly warm and the young people so respectful and kind. Reflecting, I am angry at myself for having had this fear/prejudice about Latinos. I think about, and regret, all the wonderful people I avoided getting to know because they were from "South of the border."

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