Traveling the world one country at a time
[Editor's Note: This is the fourth and final in a series chronicling some of the more interesting plans local teachers have planned for their summer break]
Current Lake Middle School and future East Ridge High School science teacher Nancy Berg and her husband Ryan set a goal for themselves nearly 31 years ago to visit 100 countries in their lifetime. They will reach that goal by the end of this summer.
"This is just a crazy goal that we set for ourselves 31 years ago, but we're almost there," Nancy said. "Once you get the travel bug it becomes an addiction -- we're just interested in everywhere."
This year's vacation will see the two traveling to five countries in West Africa -- Togo, Bukino Faso, Ghana, Benin and Mali -- for two-and-a-half weeks in August.
"We knew we were coming up on our 100th country, so we started thinking about where we could go that's safe, that we haven't been and that's interesting," Nancy said. "And West Africa has so much culture, it has some of the poorest countries in the world, but some of the cultures are really intact and rich."
During their trip, Nancy and Ryan will be participating in a Voo Doo ceremony in Bukino Faso, visiting some of the museums and locations where slave trade took place in Togo and experiencing the many tribal cultures.
Nancy and Ryan began planning their trip to West Africa back in February when they learned that they could get frequent flier miles for the trip, and they just went from there -- researching, booking a travel group, finding transportation and places to stay.
"We don't ever look at it as a vacation, we look at it as an adventure," Nancy said. " It's a lot of energy and it takes a lot of work."
A long history of traveling
Nancy and Ryan caught the travel bug when they were college students after hearing about a friend's backpacking trip to Europe.
"We were sitting at a bar and one of our friends had just gotten back from backpacking in Europe," Nancy said. "And we thought 'If he can do it, we can do it.'"
"But now, I would have absolutely no desire to go anywhere in Europe again; I find it a complete bore."
Nancy and Ryan, and their two children who frequently travel with them, have traveled everywhere -- from small tribal villages such as New Guinea, to the jungles of Costa Rica; from the Australian seaside, to the pyramids of Egypt and the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan.
"You read about all these things, but to actually see them is just amazing," Nancy said.
Don't ask the two travelers to name their favorite place though, because they have so many different favorites depending on the category.
"That's a common question, but it's not an easy answer, there's a lot of favorites," Ryan said.
For example, Bhutan or New Guinea are favorites for the cultures, Tanzania is a favorite for safaris and Australia is a favorite for scuba diving.
The dangers of world traveling
Nancy and Ryan said they have never felt a fear or anxiety over visiting foreign places and taking themselves outside of their comfort zones. This has proved a good thing in terms of being able to enjoy their adventures without being paranoid, but it has also proven negative in terms of illnesses and putting themselves in harm's way.
"You always have a traveler's fog, you always feel safer than you should," Ryan said.
Nancy said she never feels a sense of fear going into places because they research so heavily, and they specifically travel to places that are relatively safe.
"I'm more afraid to go into Minneapolis than go to any of these places," she said. "But fear is all relative."
Nancy and Ryan said after weeks, or sometimes months, of traveling it's always nice to come home to their familiar, and sometimes mundane lives, because it's home.
"By the time it's done, you're ready to come home and have a Big Mac, and have ice cubes in your drink," she said.
Since Nancy is a teacher, she frequently uses her experiences and travels in her lessons.
Ryan and Nancy both agree that whenever they return from a place and read about it or see it on television, it takes on an entirely different meaning for them because they have experienced it, they have seen it and they are familiar with it.
"We'll have the Travel Channel on, and it will just flash up all of these different places and in unison we'll go 'Been there, done that,'" Nancy said.
"You have a different sense of things and what they are going through, you can relate to it, and you have more of a personal relationship with it."
Kispert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org