Tiffany Werner, 42, rarely got the opportunity to travel when she was growing up.
Last year, Werner took her kids traveling for a year to give them an opportunity to see the world.
This is the story of how she documented it all on TikTok, as told to Charissa Cheong.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Tiffany Werner, and it has been edited for length and clarity.
Growing up in Mississippi, where I’ve lived all my life, I didn’t have much of an opportunity to travel outside of the US.
Families around me rarely left the country and took most of their vacations in places like Florida or elsewhere on the coast. The first time I went overseas, I was in my 30s and went backpacking with my mom in Europe for two weeks.
Even now, most people I know tend to opt for cruise ship trips that stick relatively close to the US when going on vacation, and for a while, so did my family. In 2012, we took our two kids, Reagan and Carson, on cruises to Mexico and the Caribbean, but then in 2019, I took them to Europe for the first time to visit Paris. I was worried that my children would grow up sheltered and never get a chance to see the world, as many Americans do not get opportunities to leave the country.
At the start of 2022, I made the drastic decision to pull my children out of school, and travel around the world with them for a year, booking the cheapest flights I could find along the way while also navigating lingering travel restrictions caused by the pandemic.
Our first stop ended up being the former Soviet country of Georgia, due to flight availability, and after that, we visited Malaysia, Thailand, Turkey, Greece, and Italy — staying in each place for several months to really become immersed in the culture. We didn’t want to just be vacationers, we wanted to really get to know these places.
I documented our experiences on TikTok, filming the places we went and things we learned about the local people, to show Americans back home how great it can be when you’re able to be flexible with travel and are willing to get outside the box of your own culture.
Our family was exposed to so many new opportunities in each of the countries we visited
We were very fortunate that my husband was able to work remotely while we traveled, so we could support ourselves throughout the year. I feel that in America, so many of us are married to our jobs, but remote working shifted that for us and gave us new opportunities to experience the world.
I started posting about our travels on TikTok because I wanted to show my fellow Americans how amazing life is in other countries — especially the food. It was incredible to have regular access to fresh fruit and vegetables from little markets in places like Malaysia and Thailand, and it makes me sad that I’ve gone back to shopping at Walmart now that we’re back home.
My children miss so many things about living abroad too. They loved skateboarding and surfing on beaches, and while we were in Georgia, my 15-year-old daughter, Reagan, got a job in a coffee shop, which was an extraordinary achievement for her and allowed her to get firsthand experience working in another country.
We learned so many things about other cultures that shocked us. When Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year, we were in Georgia, which was invaded by Russia in 2008. I was 28 years old then, and I had no idea that it even happened.
I think a lot of young adults from the US don’t tend to pay attention to what’s going on in other parts of the world. We watch our local news, and maybe a little bit of world news, but actually being in Georgia, where concerns about the war were very real, gave us a better insight into a situation that we might have been more oblivious to otherwise, and we were even able to attend some anti-war protests and rallies there.
I feel sad that many Americans don’t get as many opportunities to travel as we did
As viewers in America watched my TikToks, I could see from the comments that some people believed a lot of misconceptions about what other countries were like.
For example, when I started filming in Turkey, a lot of commenters said they thought the country was dangerous and that we shouldn’t be traveling there, but I think that’s such an outdated stereotype, as Turkey is a really popular holiday destination and we felt completely safe while we were there.
When we were in Georgia, quite a few people actually said they didn’t know that Georgia was the name of a country and not just a state in the US. It’s shocking to me that they did not know where we were geographically in the world.
I’m really saddened by the realization that in many other parts of the world, the US passport symbolizes freedom, with lots of people wanting to come and experience life here. Yet, so many American people don’t actually get the opportunity to leave the country and travel, due to economic circumstances, plus the fact that many of us don’t actually have passports.
Other people are chasing after the American passport and the American dream, but in the US itself, people are really struggling to make a good life, and aren’t living out that dream themselves.
I’ve done a lot of reflecting since our family arrived back in the US at the beginning of this year. Above all, I’m so grateful that I was able to get my kids out of their bubble, where they could see other cultures that probably very few teens in America will get the opportunity to see. I think we’re much more cultured people now because of it.
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