Archive for February 27th, 2007

Tips from the author of ‘Around the Bloc’

The author of Around the Bloc, Stephanie Elizondo Griest, made an appearance at UW-Madison today to offer an essential piece of information for people whose feet itch with wanderlust – how to travel on somebody else’s dollar.

I first read Griest’s memoir about traveling to Russia, China and Cuba before embarking on my own journey to South Korea. Her story is enrapturing and personal – Griest offers an honest introspective to the emotions and fears of a traveler, as well as striking observations of people and places she encounters. She blatantly challenges the Cold War-concieved images of communist nations that many Americans still hold, and motivates the reader to go and see for themselves. Needless to say, her story was an inspiration to me as a fledgling traveler three years ago when the book was released.

Today, Griest hit several main points on how to travel the world “on someone else’s budget.” Her central lesson? Never let money stand in the way of your travel aspirations.

She gave the anecdote of when she wanted to attend a journalism conference in Washinton D.C. but didn’t have airfare money – undeterred, she started investigating, asking the question, “Who would want me to go to a journalism conference?” She found her answer in local journalists, a group of lawyers, and a Mexican-American foundation, and off she went to a life-changing experience (You’ll have to read the book).

Griest urged students and young travelers to ask the same question she did, and to pursue scholarships – just to name a few, the Henry Luce Scholarship, Fulbright Scholarship, and the Rhodes Scholarship. She also recommended being what she calls a “grammar gypsy,” traveling to different nations working for English-language newspapers or teaching English. Other options she named were programs like Backpack Nation or WorldTrek. Griest encouraged students never to think, “Oh, I won’t get the grant,” and not apply. Let them do the rejecting, she said, not you.

Griest is bubbly and energetic, and describes herself as the kind of person who wants to get her funky jewelry from its country of origin. Her passion for travel seems to stem as much from a desire to really help people as it does from wanderlust and the need to experience other cultures. Meeting her was a pleasure, and another boost to my already overwhelming urge to hit the road.

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