[dropcap size=small]G[/dropcap]inger Kern is a traveler, an optimist, a coach and a connector. Originally from the Midwest, she was inspired by a trip to Italy at 14 to leave the country and create a life in Europe. She studied German, French, and Italian before moving to Germany on a Fulbright grant. After three years working abroad and traveling to 25 countries, she returned to the U.S. Based in Boulder, Colorado, she is a Global Shaper as part of the World Economic Forum. She created the Traveler’s Mindset as a platform to encourage Americans to use travel as a tool to connect with the humanity in everyone.
What do you love about traveling, and what is the most memorable trip you’ve ever been on?
What I love most about traveling are the moments and feelings of bliss. It’s the pure happiness from a discovery waiting for me around each corner in a new city I’m exploring, and the intense curiosity I feel when I meet a local who I just know has an interesting life story. It’s feeling free, calm, and nostalgic while I’m sitting alone on a black sand beach on the other side of the world.
Each trip is memorable for its own uniqueness, but one journey that stands out was my first trip to a third-world country. I lived in Cambodia for about a month and helped my friend run his movie house in Phnom Penh.
When I learned that nearly a fifth of Cambodians live on less than $1.25 a day, I woke up to my own definitions of “normal” and what’s truly “necessary” to have a good life. The trip left me with a huge sense of gratitude for the opportunities that I’ve had, especially the freedom to travel.
Is there a way we can make traveling more equitable? Not just a thing to be enjoyed by a jet-setting class?
[Laughs]. Travel is not always a luxurious event … at least it doesn’t have to be. Making traveling accessible regardless of your budget can be as simple as registering on Couchsurfing or Servas (global platforms that connect you with locals to stay for free!) or by checking out sites like Spotted by Locals in advance to scope out the best tips on what to see and do from people who actually live in the cities you’ll visit.
I’d also recommend starting small. If you’re nervous to hop on a plane and cross an ocean, then start expanding your comfort zone by hopping on a Megabus or carpooling with friends to a new state.
The best thing to do is to pick one place you’ve always been curious about, but still haven’t gotten around to actually going there. Leverage your resourcefulness with a Google search or two, and always look for destination articles written by travel bloggers who have already taken care of the budget research.
Where did you get the idea for the Traveler’s Mindset?
The Traveler’s Mindset is an idea that hit me as soon as I decided to move back to the U.S. after having lived in Germany for more than 3 years. I had traveled to 25 countries by then and I wanted to keep the open, adventurous mindset that travel had taught me, even after I returned home.
See, the few times I had gone back to the States to visit, I had felt isolated and discombobulated from the reverse culture shock. I knew there must be a solution, so I experimented with ways to stay in touch with the traveler’s spirit I had while I was on the road.
A lot of that had to do with intentionally reaching out to the people around me, wherever I was, and just trying to connect with them – regardless of language barriers or superficial differences. I had amazing connections and relationships grow out of simply spontaneously striking up conversation with people around the world, and I wanted to continue living life that way.
How do you define the “Traveler’s Mindset” and why do you think it’s an important thing to cultivate and keep, even when you’re not traveling?
The Traveler’s Mindset is a movement that gets you out of your comfort zone and into the zone where the magic happens. It’s a mindset that you already have inside of you – all you have to do is activate it. When you do, you unlock the power to shatter any illusion of isolation you feel and start having adventures, no matter where you are.
Anytime you’re feeling alone or like the world is against you, remind yourself of the Traveler’s Mindset and reach out to the person next to you, wherever you are. Most of the time, within five minutes you’ll find yourself in a conversation that turns your mood around for the rest of the day.
What are the lessons you’ve learned living abroad?
I’ve learned that there’s a common denominator in all of human experience, a combination of emotions we all experience. Loss, love, pain, bliss. No matter where you are from, or “how good you have it”, the things that unite us in human experience are exactly what we can rely on to relate to other people around the world.
That also means we’re in luck: even without a common language, I’ve learned we can still connect with anyone, anywhere. That little revelation made travel a lot less scary for me, and a lot more fun!
Can you give us any hints or sneak previews into your TEDx talk?
Sure! I’ll be going back to my home turf, the Midwest, for this TEDx talk in October, and I’m excited to share a few special elements of the Traveler’s Mindset.
From the moment in Italy that sparked my desire to live in Europe at age 14, to the more challenging times I went through while living in Frankfurt, I’m looking forward to sharing real-life experiences to activate the Traveler’s Mindset in anyone who’s ready to live a connected, adventurous life!
How do you hope your online platform to grow and expand? What’s next?
A Passport Challenge! I’m passionate about encouraging U.S. citizens to get their passports, so I’m excited to be teaming up with The Daily Travel Podcast to raise the stat on Americans who travel internationally.
What are four things you have found to be your essential travel items?
Finally, what is your dream trip?
Ooh, great question. I’d be up for a multi-continental, adventure scavenger hunt challenge with occasional stops in luxury locations to recharge.
What would you be doing if you hadn’t started traveling?
I would have been working in communications in an office somewhere in the U.S., sitting at my desk (half-frozen from the air conditioning), and wondering when my life was finally going to start. I probably would have had a tab open in my browser at work to search for a plane ticket or scroll through pictures of gorgeous, natural wonders around the world.
One thing is for sure: if I hadn’t started traveling I’d still be at home, dreaming about all the places I wanted to visit.