I am excited to share the inspiring story of my friend, Lisa McElhenny, who proves that you can travel to 25 countries by the age of 25! Lisa works as a fundraising consultant in Cleveland. I met her out-of-the-blue last year at a mutual friend’s house, and we were excited to find out that we were sorority sisters and both new to Cleveland. We instantly bonded, especially about our love for travel, and now Lisa has become one of my best friends. When not working or serving on our sorority alumnae executive board, we both love to see the world. One day I decided to ask her about her amazing travel ambitions. Check out her responses below!
How did you decide to travel to 25 countries before you were 25?
When I was a kid visiting my grandparents in upstate New York, one of their friend’s mentioned that their grandson had just completed his goal of visiting 25 countries before turning 25. I might have been 8 or 9 at the time and it sounded like an incredible adventure. I thought, if this kid can do it, so could I! It was a pipe dream for a long time. In fact, it was not until I was in college that I really committed to the pursuit. When I studied abroad in France my junior year, I was able to visit six countries by bus, train, or cheap plane tickets. All of a sudden I realized I had visited more than 20 countries and this fantasy felt possible. I was so close to 25, I just had to do it!
Where have you traveled and where do you plan to travel before you turn 25?
Most of my travels have been to Europe, North America, and the Caribbean. My family spent a couple of years living in Canada when I was a child. I also had the chance to visit several relatives with my grandparents in Sweden in 1998. From there the trips were over holidays with family. We went to Costa Rica, Mexico, the Bahamas, and Jamaica. Then when I was 17 I went to Nice, France for a semester-abroad program. While I was there I traveled to Monaco, the Vatican, and Italy. I think it was at that point when I started to count the number of countries I had visited. When I was 21, I was living in France and found a classmate who was as eager to explore Europe as I was. We took trips to Switzerland, Belgium, Ireland, Spain, and Morocco. Most recently, I went to Iceland with that same friend.
My family and I in Rome
On Friday, my family and I are heading to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands – that will be number 24. We will be flying into Quito and then taking a cruise through the islands. This is a lifelong dream for the four of us to see the islands and the unique wildlife, especially the sea turtles and blue-footed boobies.
Finally, my boyfriend and I are planning a trip to Prague in the Czech Republic in May. That will be the 25th country before I turn 25 in September. I am looking forward to learning about the history, exploring the small markets, and seeing the architecture.
What were your favorite places or memories while traveling?
I have countless memories of these trips that I will always treasure. Good and bad! With my family there are crazy boat stories where we thought we would never make it back to land in the Caribbean and I have some war stories of battling jellyfish in Costa Rica. With friends, I think back to live music and lots of dancing in Ireland and getting lost and accosted with marriage proposals in Morocco.
On my recent trip to Iceland, my friend Emma and I had an incredible time pairing outdoor adventures of hiking and glacier trekking with city explorations in Reykjavik. I have never seen anything like the landscapes of Iceland. Driving along the highway you will see steam oozing out of the earth. There are no forests and the way the grass grows makes it look like it is in constant motion melting down the volcanic hills. What made this trip even more special was seeing the Northern Lights. We were in awe of their beauty and true majesty. I will never forget how giddy we were watching the pale blue dance across the otherwise black sky. Iceland is definitely one of my favorite places I have visited.
Emma and I in Iceland
What have you learned from traveling?
I am just a drop of water compared to the ocean. I mean that in the most positive way. We are all just a small part of this world and it is humbling to realize that again and again. We lead lives that are so self-centered. But when you travel, when you see the massiveness of the world, you realize that it is not about you at all.
Look at this map. With my 25 countries, I have barely made a dent! We live in a world that is so big, so diverse, and so inspiring. I am so grateful for the experiences I have had to explore different cultures and the opportunities that have led me to these countries. I am even more eager to see where the world leads me next!
What advice do you have for aspiring travelers?
- Stay in a hostel. Hostels are not only a great way to travel on a budget but also an opportunity to meet new people. Some of the best adventures my friends I had in Europe all started by meeting another young traveler in a hostel.
- Don’t hesitate to find a park, or coffee shop, or bench to just sit and take it all in. This was a hard lesson for me to learn, because I am a big fan of planning activities. But, if you are willing to just sit, relax, and observe, you will be able to pick up on the nuances of a culture.
- Go! Now!
Thank you, Lisa, for sharing your inspiring story and insights on inspirNational!