Travel Helped Me Heal After Surviving 9/11. Now the Wanderful Sisterhood Is My Tribe.
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day was #BeBoldForChange.
I think it’s an amazing thing to instigate change, but let’s be honest: most people can’t be bothered. It’s much easier to keep your head down and go to work, hang out with your friends and family, and not get involved.
When I reflect on why I think it is important to change the world, I realize that much of it has come from my travels. Seeing and interacting with people from different cultures has made me approach the world with much more compassion.
I’m a survivor of the 2001 attacks on New York City’s World Trade Center.
And as much as it pains me to admit it, for a couple years after what happened on that day, I was fearful of refugees from certain parts of the world. In my PTSD-wreathed brain, I associated them with the attacks that robbed me of many colleagues and irrevocably changed my life.
But then I went to Jordan, the country with the most refugees in the world.
While there, I visited a refugee camp and saw the truth. These were people who had beautiful homes and secure families, victims to a changed world over which they had no control. Almost everyone I spoke with — drivers, shop owners, cleaners — had lost something very dear to them, or intimately knew someone who had.
It was a sobering, humanizing experience that — given my experience on September 11, 2001 — I could easily relate to.
These were not people who wanted to harm me. These were people who had suffered much more trauma than I had, and deserved — at the very least — my irrevocable compassion.
This is why, when you travel, it’s so important to have an opportunity to interact with local communities.
Yes, staying in a Four Seasons or comparable international chain can be a lovely experience, but traveling like that leaves you in a bubble.
The Wanderful network gives me a completely different experience. As a Global Member, I have access to a global sisterhood of women to show me around, host me in their homes, or just have a coffee with.
When I first joined Wanderful and the community was smaller, I’d look at a city and see if there was a Local Chapter there. If so, I would try to plan a trip to coincide with a day when they were having a Meetup.
When I became the Chapter Organizer in Madrid and began organizing meetups around my own home city, I was thrilled to have women from all over Europe — and even the US — attend my events. Now, the options have expanded greatly.
Wanderful is my global local community, and it can be yours too.
As an extension of the local chapter concept, Wanderful has now added a global homesharing network and local hostesses.
Wanderful members have a special passport to their world: access to a whole sisterhood of women who can help you before, during, and after your next trip. Not only are we a group of women who love to travel, but we actually help each other do it. Our members regularly meet up abroad, open their homes to each other, and provide valuable information that only locals can know.
No matter where in the world I am, so is Wanderful. I can take a stroll with Katie on the James River near my home away from home in Newport News, Virginia. Get my deep dish fix when I crash at Casa de Robin in Chicago, Illinois. Take in the gorgeous beach views from Colleen’s seaside apartment in Juffair, Bahrain. Sit with a cuppa tea in Eileen’s cozy and sunny South London Flat. And so much more.
But also via the new Wanderful website, I can go to a city and arrange to meet a local even if all I want is someone to show me around. It’s a safer experience, but I can also get local intelligence and advice on everything from whether I need to wear a headscarf the the etiquette of an onsen.
And most valuable of all: I can get a glimpse an unfiltered world, raw and beautiful and sometimes heartbreaking.
In the words of Barack Obama, “I’m inspired by the people I meet in my travels — hearing their stories, seeing the hardships they overcome, their fundamental optimism and decency. They make me want to work to make the world a little bit better. And they make me want to be a better man.”