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By Beth Johnston

“I haven’t been everywhere but it’s on my list.” – Susan Sontag

I am a firm believer in learning and education. Both of my parents were educators, and I followed in their footsteps. I always wanted to be a teacher, and I loved children; I was the kid who played school growing up. 

It was only natural that I began my college education at Michigan State in elementary education. Some of my college professors at the time (in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s) told me there were no teaching jobs available. The industry was saturated. I began to rethink my career path; I mean, who wants to go to school only to get out and not be able to find a job?

Another passion of mine was travel. So, I switched to the College of Business in the Hospitality School and ended up with an undergrad degree in Travel & Tourism. Alas, the thing I was trying to avoid when I switched majors ended up happening anyway. There was a recession when I graduated from college, and people were not traveling. After a short stint in a travel agency as the owner’s gopher, not making enough money to live on, I began bartending. Talk about getting an education!

Long story short, I became a bartending trainer for Bennigan’s restaurant chain. I was quite good at it, and one day someone said, “Have you ever thought about being a teacher? You’d be great at it.” It’s funny how what goes around, comes around. I ended up enrolling at the University of Michigan, completing my elementary teaching certificate and then going on to get my master’s degree in Educational Leadership at EMU. I ended up with a 30-year career in the public schools in Ann Arbor and Pinckney.

Classrooms with teachers, friends, and books are our society’s definition of education. But I know that some of the best learning happens in the real world, especially while traveling. The lessons you learn while traveling are timeless. Here are a few reasons why travel is the best education.

Explore History

It’s one thing to read about the Great Wall of China or the pyramids of Egypt, but seeing them in person takes it to a whole new level. American schools teach history that is often skewed with a Western perspective. 

Traveling to see actual historical landmarks makes the real story come to life. Talk to some locals, and you begin to understand history from more than one perspective. Those I know who have traveled to Normandy or Auschwitz came away with a deeper appreciation and understanding of their historical significance.

I remember when I visited the Berlin Wall in 1980, and we made the trip to East Berlin. The differences between West Berlin and East Berlin were startling. That visit taught me so much more than any textbook ever could. When we understand another culture’s history and perspective, it helps us also understand their politics, motivations, and social habits. These types of life lessons are invaluable.

Embrace Cultural Differences and Similarities

When you travel to other countries, or even different parts of your own country, you encounter people and communities that live differently than you do. You naturally learn to embrace the similarities as you notice them.

Differences in language, religion, social expectations, cuisine, manners, living quarters, and lifestyles are visible when we visit other countries. We learn that the world is a big place and our way of life is not the only way. As we discover other ways of living, we value our similarities as humans.

This healthy cultural exchange breaks down barriers and creates a common ground for communication and mutual empathy. We become better global citizens.

Discover Nature

Getting outside and discovering the natural wonders of the world teaches us how beautiful and majestic our world is. Pictures often don’t do it justice. How could you adequately explain the wonder of the Grand Canyon, or the thrill of discovering one of the big five on safari? 

Children are naturally drawn to nature, and the best way to learn about the delicate balance of life is to visit different ecosystems. Only then do issues like climate change, global warming, and pollution become real. Knowing exactly what we could lose might motivate us to make significant changes. Seeing is believing!

Gain Independence and Improve Social Skills

Academics are just a small part of a complete education. Becoming more independent, learning to improvise, and conquering fears are just as valuable — if not more.

Communication is essential to becoming a contributing member of society. Many people are afraid to talk to other people; some people are extremely shy. Traveling, especially on your own, helps you become more confident. Asking for directions or approaching strangers to request a favor is often a necessity. 

Independence is one of the goals of education. The very act of traveling is often a test of one’s patience, will, and determination. You are often put in situations that test you, and when you get through that experience you are stronger, braver, and more determined than you were before. Traveling has the power to teach you financial, intellectual, and emotional independence.

I believe that travel requires an open mind and heart. Getting away from your day-to-day routine gives you a new perspective of yourself and forces you outside of your familiar bubble, so that you can transform who you are and where your life will lead you.

Beth Johnston


Orenda Travel was founded by Beth Johnston, a luxury travel specialist who believes travel holds the unique ability to change lives. Our custom-crafted itineraries speak exclusively to families’ unique needs, passions and sense of adventure. 

Beth was born and raised in Ann Arbor, MI and currently resides in Pinckney, MI. She is a retired elementary educator from Ann Arbor Public School (13 years) and Pinckney Community Schools 17 years). She is married to her husband, Dan and has three sons from her first marriage (ages 30, 28 & 25), a daughter-in-law, with a grandbaby on the way, and 3 step-children.

Beth Johnston | Luxury Transformational Travel Concierge


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