“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” ~ Augustine of Hippo.
If the world is a book, then Brenda Reed is trying to read the entire way through. “The more I read and learn about history and various cultures keeps my interest alive—I want to physically see what I’m reading about.”
Travel is something most of us dream of doing, something on our bucket list—to see the world. Now in her early fifties, Brenda has seen a portion of the world that most people in the United States have never come close to seeing.
Appropriately, Brenda was born overseas in Paris. When she was one year old, she took her first flight back to the States. But Brenda didn’t grow up with a particular passion for travel— being raised by a single mother, travel was not an option. Even vacations were out of the question.
Besides flying back to the States when she was an infant, she took her first flight when she was 18 and went to Boston for a job. Then to Seattle. Then Houston. “And, well, by then I think I was hooked,” Brenda admits. “I had learned that the world was so much bigger than I ever dreamed of.” As often happens, her dreams revealed themselves to her the more she did—the more she lived.
After she married her husband, Tom, the traveling continued when his job took them to Hawaii, where her first two daughters, Erica and Jenn, were born. Then they moved back to Maryland, where her son, Jacob, was born. Back to Hawaii they went for two years and then to England where Brenda stayed busy homeschooling her three children.
Dissatisfied with her homeschool curriculum options, Brenda wrote the curriculum for some of their courses. “I wrote based on a chronological study of history and incorporating art, music, science, geography, and literature that worked with the time being studied. For example, when we studied the Middle Ages, we read books (both fiction and nonfiction) about life in castles, studied the geography of Europe and England, listened to Gregorian chants, and created artworks similar to what the monks created in their scriptoriums.” Living in England provided them the chance to take lots of
field trips to castles, abbeys, and cathedrals, further spurring her love of foreign places.
Over the years, they had also visited Thailand and New Zealand as well as parts of Mexico and Canada on vacation. But after getting her last child out of the house, in 2011, Brenda’s dream to travel the world came true when Tom’s job offered him a position in Germany.
“Being empty nesters, we saw the chance to see the world in a way you can’t during a vacation,” she said. “It was like getting a second life. Although it took me a little bit to discover that life.” She had spent over twenty years achieving her goal of raising three independent, successful adults. “Moving to Europe . . . was exactly what I needed to move me into the next step and establish some new goals.”
Exciting though it was to move to a country in the hub of Europe where most European countries were less than a day’s travel away, she also faced sacrifices of being so far from her children and grandson and the familiarity of the States. The language barrier became the biggest obstacle for Brenda who hesitated to go into shops or initiate conversations. “The local grocery store was a challenge and getting repairs done on our house would set me in a panic. Over time, I’ve come to learn that people are people and we can usually communicate just fine.” Once, Brenda had an entire conversation with a repairman via Google Translate on her laptop. She quickly realized that “if you smile and make the effort, it goes a long way.”
During nearly five years in Europe, Brenda and Tom visited almost every European country (except for some of the eastern countries). Brenda has kept a list: Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, Vatican City. They also visited Senegal, West Africa, to visit their daughter-in-law for a week. From seeing the northern lights in Tromsø, Norway, to her week-long Italian Renaissance art history field study in Florence, Italy, Brenda has memories and lessons as souvenirs.
But in 2015, Brenda and Tom packed up and moved back to Maryland. “After seeing so much of Europe, we felt we needed to visit our own country with that same enthusiasm,” she said. In years past, they had already traveled across the United States but usually on their way to a destination. After returning to the States, they visited the last of the 50 states, on their first road trip. “I only had three more to go (Wisconsin, North Dakota, and Oklahoma) before that trip, so we purposely chose our itinerary to make it happen.” Now, since Tom has the National Park Service Passport, they are trying to hit every national park so that he can get a stamp at each one. “I’m just along for the ride,” Brenda says modestly, “but am enjoying each one we visit. It makes me want to read more American history so I can appreciate what I’m seeing.”
Appreciation is something that Brenda has learned through her travels. “[I’m] thankful for all the people in my life and things I have (home, heat in the winter, clothing, food, the ability to go and do). . . . I don’t want to ever feel entitled because there are so many who have nothing. The thing that struck me the most in our travels is the resiliency of people,” she said. “We went to some places where there was great poverty, and we’ve been in places where the signs of recent wars stood all around.” Brenda has stood in a cemetery, a mass grave, in a town where 5,000 people died in 30 minutes. She toured Auschwitz and saw its powerful message of how evil people can be. “And yet that is just recent history. People throughout history in all parts of the world have experienced things I can only imagine. These same people are the ones who pick up and carry on with their lives, clearing the rubble from the streets after the bombings, burying their dead, and learning to live again. I am so blessed with the life I’ve been given.”
In one of Brenda’s favorite quotations, Terry Pratchett says,
“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”
Once you leave home, you’ll never be the same. This has been true for Brenda who has come to embrace the growth she’s experienced in her travels. When she returned to the States, she started her own consultancy business from home instead of being trapped in a five-day, 40-hour work schedule that may, as Brenda says, “conflict with a potential trip.”
What’s next for Brenda? “Years ago, my bucket list was quite long and mostly related to places to see.” But even after checking so many places off her list, travel goals are always on Brenda’s mind. “We’ve never been to South America and would love to plan a trip to explore some of those countries.”
In early February, Brenda announced on Facebook, “Making arrangements for our 10-day hiking trip in Iceland! Super excited to see . . . this gorgeous country!” And mid-March found her and Tom on the warm beaches of Puerto Rico where they hiked a rainforest to the top of a mountain peak, went below ground in a cave, kayaked at night in a bioluminescent bay, and, of course, toured historical sites.
It’s clear that she won’t be staying still for long—not with the rest of the world to explore.