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Transformative Travel: 11 Helpful Tips for Travelers

Alexandra Williams, MA

How far from home do you have to travel to be changed or transformed to a somewhat (or possibly completely) different person? And can travel really change how you think, observe and respond to the world? I say it can and does.

Kymberly in blue skirt; Alexandra in stripes - Rockin' the Roman Colosseum

Kymberly in blue skirt; Alexandra in stripes
Rockin’ the Roman Colosseum

In 1973, my mom took 4 of her 5 kids (all teens) backpacking through Europe. Before we left California, she explained that we were ambassadors from our culture/ country and that all many people might ever know of California was what they learned from us and television shows. I still remember her rules:

* No badmouthing the U.S., as it was many people’s dream to come here, and it would be disrespectful to their dream
* No gum chewing
* No cursing
* Learn a few words in the language of each country we visited, including “please” and “thank you”
* Smile and be polite
* Try new foods, especially if the chef brings something to you
* No using the words “weird,” “ugly,” or “icky.” Instead say that something is “interesting” or “unique.”
* No littering
* Observe how the locals do things and take our cues from them (i.e., using utensils for pizza)
* Ask questions. People love to share their stories
* Remember that we are guests in someone else’s “house”

Four teens and a mountain goat in the Austrian Alps

Four teens and a mountain goat in the Austrian Alps

This advice came in handy when a chef took a shine to our mom and brought us a full plate of cheeses to try for dessert. Mostly we smiled, then dashed to the bathroom to spit it out, as we were not fans of strong French cheese.

It also was helpful preparation for the many questions we got from Europeans about life in southern California. Because of the influence of U.S. television shows such as Green Acres, Happy Days, and the Mary Tyler Moore Show, lots of people thought we all ate steak for breakfast. They also assumed we were all related to movie stars, or at least had access, especially when they discovered we hailed from a beach town in L.A. County.

Instead of coming across as self-indulgent So. Cal. teens (we weren’t), we were commended on our travel manners and treated especially well, even in Paris, which wasn’t a particularly friendly city back in the 70s! I won’t mention the escapade where my brother somehow turned off the lights in St. Peter’s. Nor will I bring up the rum birthday cake that we were forced to endure in Rome on our 15th birthday, after thinking we had asked for chocolate. We ditched it on the train.

Not only was my mom right, her advice has stuck with me as relevant to many situations. In my profession as a writer, public speaker, and counselor, I’ve been aware of the impact and importance of words since that time. I’ve also travelled to quite a few countries, and learned a few languages besides my own. Then there was that undergrad degree I got in British Medieval Studies. I believe these choices were based mainly on my experiences during that trip.

Travel Wisdom from Mark Twain

Travel Wisdom from Mark Twain

Whenever I feel like I have less than I need, I just remind myself that I’m better off than most people in the world. Travelling is a great way to get “outside myself” and appreciate even more how lucky I am to have been born and raised in the U.S.

Hmmm, maybe I won’t mention the Dutch campground we stayed at that was mostly young people having hallucinogenic drug experiences. Remember, this was the early 70s. We were transfixed by the Woodstock feel to the place, but I imagine our mom couldn’t wait to move on to the next city!

30 cities in 30 days. Camping our way through Europe in 1973

30 cities in 30 days. Camping our way through Europe in 1973



And a special shout-out to our mom – she just took Kymberly and me on a 3 week trip to Thailand!

Tourists in Thailand

Tourists in Thailand








What is the most important thing you’ve learned in your travels, whether abroad or to a dissimilar county?


This post is just one of many Boomer-oriented posts on the topic “Transformative Travel” over at Generation Fabulous. We invite you to visit the other posts in the series.

Photo credit: Fodor’s Pinterest board

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About Fun and Fit

Get practical exercise advice, your fitness questions answered, and cutting edge health edu-tainment that is accessible and doable from long time fitness experts, Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA and Alexandra Williams, MA. We have taught on land, sea, and airwaves for 3 decades on 4 continents. From writing to speaking, emceeing to hosting a radio show, reviewing products to teaching classes, we believe that little steps turn into big paths. Move a little more than the day before. FitFluential Ambassadors and award-winners both online and off.

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53 Responses to Transformative Travel: 11 Helpful Tips for Travelers

  1. Laura P. July 15, 2013 at 8:27 am #

    Wow your mom is a very special woman! No wonder you two are so awesome!

    I wish everyone read this before they left their house!

  2. Ellen H. July 15, 2013 at 8:29 am #

    Love this particular post, you two! Thanks.

  3. MIZ July 15, 2013 at 8:38 am #


    I spent months living in a third world country and returned forever changed.
    MIZ recently posted..Maintainence isnt sexy.My Profile

  4. Linz @ Itz Linz July 15, 2013 at 8:39 am #

    i’ve only ever been to mexico – i would love to travel more!
    Linz @ Itz Linz recently posted..St. Louis Rams Ladies Football Camp GIVEAWAYMy Profile

    • AlexandraFunFit July 15, 2013 at 9:01 am #

      Luckily you are very young and have lots of opportunities. We travelled a lot in our late teens and 20s. The Youth Hostel Card was one of the best inventions ever! We truly did travel on about $6 a day, which made it affordable when we had time but no money!
      AlexandraFunFit recently posted..VitaFusion: Gummy Vitamins for Boomers (and other Adults)My Profile

  5. Karen D. Austin July 15, 2013 at 8:52 am #

    What an adventure. Your mom rocks! I need to take my kids on a couple of trips before they launch. At 15 and 12, they won’t be “kids” for much longer.
    Karen D. Austin recently posted..Travel Made Me Feel My YouthMy Profile

  6. KymberlyFunFit July 15, 2013 at 8:58 am #

    Talk about coincidence — our mom is flying out today to Hawaii with our baby brother and his family. At late, late middle age (as she puts it) she plans to snorkel her way through Maui. Go mom!
    KymberlyFunFit recently posted..Abs Exercise for Older Adults: No Head or Neck Strain with this No-Crunch MoveMy Profile

  7. Sharon Greenthal July 15, 2013 at 9:12 am #

    Your mom is awesome. My mother couldn’t have done that in a million years with her two kids. And frankly I don’t think I could have done it with my two kids, either!
    Sharon Greenthal recently posted..A Journey Across the Country That Changed EverythingMy Profile

    • Fun and Fit July 15, 2013 at 9:19 am #

      I have to say, it took lots of moxie for her to decide to take 4 teens backpacking through Europe. But she wanted to go, and that was the affordable way. And she still loves travel. She left today to Hawaii with my brother and his family. Go Mom!
      Fun and Fit recently posted..Running in Place: Do’s and Don’tsMy Profile

  8. Dr. Lynn K. Jones July 15, 2013 at 9:42 am #

    I LOVE your mom’s rules. She must be quite a lady. Your story reminds me of another fabulous mom of my dear friend Wendy. When Wendy and her 4 siblings were teens, their divorced mom got a nice little inheritance. She took the entire inheritance and with a friend and her children they bought a sail boat, hired a captain and sailed the Adriatic Sea visiting Greek islands for a year. This was truly transformative travel for Wendy’s family and when I knew them 50 years later you could still see the impact that this had on them in that they were all doing something with their lives that could be directly traced back to that experience. I highly recommend that other families with teenagers consider taking your mom’s rules and heading out in to the world… we need global citizens now more than ever!
    Dr. Lynn K. Jones, Certified Personal and Executive Coach
    Dr. Lynn K. Jones recently posted..Career Coaching 3-Part Series (Part 1): Bouncing Back From Major Life ChangesMy Profile

    • AlexandraFunFit July 15, 2013 at 1:52 pm #

      Yes, Dr. Lynn, we definitely need more global citizens. I can only hope that social media is helping to create bridges of understanding and curiosity. I have followed in my mom’s path and taken my boys lots of places. They both love travel and are open to new ideas (foods, not as much).
      AlexandraFunFit recently posted..World’s Coolest MarathonsMy Profile

  9. Karen July 15, 2013 at 9:43 am #

    Great advice, and all of it holds true today! Sounds like an amazing trip. :)
    Karen recently posted..The worst family vacation ever: Welcome to Snap-a-cap Lodge!My Profile

  10. Connie McLeod July 15, 2013 at 10:16 am #

    Your Mom gave you great rules to follow. I wish they could be handed out with passports!
    Connie McLeod recently posted..A Journey to Another CultureMy Profile

  11. Your Mom was amazingly brave to take off across Europe with 4 teenagers!
    Laura Lee Carter aka the Midlife Crisis Queen recently posted..How Travel Transforms: Bangkok at age 19My Profile

  12. Helene Cohen Bludman July 15, 2013 at 12:28 pm #

    Wow. Is your mom looking to adopt? (raising hand) What a gift she has given you and your siblings. Amazing! Love the photo with the goat, too.

  13. b+ July 15, 2013 at 1:13 pm #

    If we say this a thousand times, maybe American tourists will listen. The worst I have ever seen was at the border towns in the southwest. Americans make themselves unwelcome by being rude and obnoxious. It didn’t make me proud…not even a little bit.

    b+ recently posted..Transformative Travel: The World Is Flat (Thomas L. Fiedman) and MeMy Profile

    • AlexandraFunFit July 15, 2013 at 8:29 pm #

      We are lucky that we were taught to figure out what is considered rude in other places. And my twin and I used to get so embarrassed by “loud” Americans sometimes that we’d pretend we were Canadian.
      AlexandraFunFit recently posted..6 Practical Fitness Tips for Older AdultsMy Profile

  14. grownandflown July 15, 2013 at 1:47 pm #

    I’m so impressed with how adventurous your mom was to travel all over Europe with 4 teenagers in tow. Her advice is every bit as solid today as way back when. Love the photo of the three of you, btw. Great story!
    grownandflown recently posted..BTDT* Moms Talk Best Parenting PracticesMy Profile

    • AlexandraFunFit July 15, 2013 at 8:31 pm #

      I agree. Good advice is always good. Thanks for the compliment about the photo and the story. Someday I’ll tell the story about my mom walking so fast to catch the ferry to Calais that she almost lost us!
      AlexandraFunFit recently posted..FitBloggin: Boomer Health Through Social MediaMy Profile

  15. Shannon Bradley-Colleary July 15, 2013 at 2:30 pm #

    What’s interesting is that your 15 tips for travel are suitable also for staying at home. They’re just good manners. Thanks!
    Shannon Bradley-Colleary recently posted..5 Reasons Traveling With Your Kids May Keep Them Off Drugs: Ireland PhotosMy Profile

  16. Lois Alter Mark July 15, 2013 at 2:39 pm #

    Kudos to your mom for being so adventurous — wow! Great tips, and can’t wait to read about your trip to Thailand.
    Lois Alter Mark recently posted..Finding My Oasis in AfricaMy Profile

  17. Beverly Diehl July 15, 2013 at 2:48 pm #

    Those are awesome tips – and it is wonderful your mom took you and your siblings for that experience. You’ve got a whole lifetime of experiences to enjoy. Love the Frech cheese story!
    Beverly Diehl recently posted..On #Racism, Fat-Hating, and the #Zimmerman TrialMy Profile

    • AlexandraFunFit July 15, 2013 at 8:40 pm #

      Yeah, the French cheese. The owner/ chef didn’t speak any English, and our French didn’t have the various words to help translate the menu. So he was clucking and mooing and doing arm gestures to help us figure out what was what. He thought we were so much fun that he came up with the cheese dessert. First of all, we didn’t consider cheese to be dessert back then! Secondly, it stank. But our mom gave us the double eyebrow, so we knew to try some. All four kids pretended to chew and smile, then we took turns going to the bathroom to spit it out. I believe my mom actually liked it.
      AlexandraFunFit recently posted..World’s Coolest MarathonsMy Profile

  18. Jody - Fit at 55 July 15, 2013 at 2:52 pm #

    WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!! So much I just learned about you & Kymberly & your family!!! What an amazing post & such right on advice for all of us here OR away from here! :) You were very lucky to have experienced so much & a very very wise mom!!!! OMG & loved the pics!!!

    I have not really traveled much… Dad took us cross country when I was little & we camped due to finances – one reason I don’t camp now! ;) I wish I had been older BUT I do recall many of the memories. As an adult, just Hawaii but I am fine with that even though there are other places I want to see – thankful for my trips there…. always learning by watching others no matter where I am ,,,

    Thank you for a beautiful post!!!! I respect you even more than I already did! :)
    Jody – Fit at 55 recently posted..Gratitude Monday & Being Present TimeMy Profile

    • AlexandraFunFit July 15, 2013 at 8:43 pm #

      We camped a lot too, as it was the only affordable option for a family of 7. That Europe trip took years of saving in a big jar on the counter. As an adult, I do not camp. I did go when my kids were younger, for their sakes & memories. On my own, forget it.
      AlexandraFunFit recently posted..Back Saver Sit and Reach Flexibility TestMy Profile

      • KymberlyFunFit July 15, 2013 at 10:20 pm #

        However, I (Kymberly ) love camping and did many trips both as a child and as a parent/ adult. I don’t like being cold so camp when it’s warm or if I have a heated camper. Alexandra is not really a nature girl. She did the camping/ nature/ dirt in her hair gig just cuz she loves her boys.
        KymberlyFunFit recently posted..6 Practical Fitness Tips for Older AdultsMy Profile

  19. Amanda Fox July 15, 2013 at 4:53 pm #

    It’s so true. There are so many people in the world that have so much less than a lot of us. You really just need to get out there and see how other people live to know how lucky you are. Love your mom’s rules and I love that you still get to travel together.
    Amanda Fox recently posted..That Old Black MagicMy Profile

  20. Stephanie @ Athlete at Heart July 15, 2013 at 5:06 pm #

    I think travel is SO important to changing your perception of the world. My parents traveled with me and my sisters when we were young and studying and traveling abroad during college was an unbelievable experience.

    The biggest thing I have learned from traveling is that people everywhere really aren’t that different. Most of us have the same general goals, the same fears. Connection doesn’t require the same language or culture. Just openness and respect.
    Stephanie @ Athlete at Heart recently posted..Where Did The Excitement Go?My Profile

  21. Chloe Chase July 15, 2013 at 5:51 pm #

    Travel is truly life changing. Unfortunately 5% of Americans do 90% of the the foreign travel outside of North America. I think every college student, for example, should be required to spend one semester studying abroad.
    Chloe Chase recently posted..Is Your Diet a Possible Natural BV Cure?My Profile

    • KymberlyFunFit July 15, 2013 at 10:23 pm #

      Seriously?? Only 5% of North Americans go abroad? I had never seen this stat. I know travel is a luxury and that I am privileged to have traveled so much. And what is a priority gets action.
      KymberlyFunFit recently posted..Back Saver Sit and Reach Flexibility TestMy Profile

  22. Coco July 15, 2013 at 6:32 pm #

    I love these tips and I love how much your childhood trip influenced you. Travelling to Europe impressed on me how “young” our country is!
    Coco recently posted..Why I Didn’t Run DrenchedMy Profile

  23. Jennifer July 15, 2013 at 8:08 pm #

    Fantastic advice! What a smart mother!
    Jennifer recently posted..What I did last summerMy Profile

  24. virginia sullivan July 15, 2013 at 9:04 pm #

    Wow, your Mom rocks! Not only was she uber cool to take you on this journey- but her rules were wonderful and very clear for young kids. You made her proud I can see that. Thanks for the great post! Virginia- FirstClassWoman

    • KymberlyFunFit July 15, 2013 at 10:27 pm #

      Secretly I think she was trying to ditch us. But it didn’t work. We found our way home. Basically my dad said he wanted to go to Europe when he could go in style. My mom said she could not wait that long. So she created the budget trip and stuck to it. Think “backpacks.”
      KymberlyFunFit recently posted..FitBloggin: Boomer Health Through Social MediaMy Profile

  25. Caryn/The Mid Life Guru July 15, 2013 at 9:23 pm #

    Love your mom’s advice as you embarked on your great adventure. Wonderful words of wisdom to follow any time, any where.
    Caryn/The Mid Life Guru recently posted..Kid’s Snacks With Adult AppealMy Profile

  26. Chloe Jeffreys July 15, 2013 at 10:04 pm #

    Coolest mom ever! Is she looking to adopt?

    We sent our daughter to Europe when she graduated high school to broaden her world. I wish we could have gone as a family. What an amazing experience to have at a young age. Your mother gave you the greatest gift of all; she gave you the world.
    Chloe Jeffreys recently posted..What Is BMI and Why You Shouldn’t Care About ItMy Profile

  27. Lori Lavender Luz July 16, 2013 at 8:39 am #

    Your mom’s words are wise and widely applicable.

    Sounds like you’ve had quite the experiences together!
    Lori Lavender Luz recently posted..Transformative Travel: A falling outMy Profile

  28. Pat July 17, 2013 at 5:30 am #

    Your mom was ahead of her time. What an amazing experience for children growing up in the 70’s. Your open minded travel experience have certainly inspired you. So glad to have found your site via the GenFab group for I am a globe trotting expat that loves to stay fit.
    Pat recently posted..Transformative Travel- Kids’ Greatest Education Family Road Trip 1962My Profile

  29. site July 17, 2013 at 8:46 am #

    I quite like reading an article that can make people think.
    Also, thank you for allowing me to comment!
    site recently posted..siteMy Profile

  30. Pam Houghton July 17, 2013 at 9:49 am #

    Wow, what a great story and how fortunate you were to be exposed to all that culture at such a young age. Your mom had great rules; I can see how they stuck with you forever.
    Pam Houghton recently posted..How I will waste time this summerMy Profile

  31. Phoebe Wulliman Graber July 17, 2013 at 1:30 pm #

    Wow! Your mom was quite progressive and daring! She is right on about being ambassadors when you travel. Too often, I have encountered entitled Americans while traveling. They do little to help how Americans are viewed abroad.
    Phoebe Wulliman Graber recently posted..Our Passport Stamp Acquisitions and MoreMy Profile

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