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Mare Weston Stewart: Grow Everywhere You Go

The first traveling memory my Aunt Mare recalled was at the age of ten when her eldest sister (my mother) took her to Mexico for a month. She remembers being shocked at how vastly different life was from her South Carolina upbringing. While staying in a rather well-off family’s condo in Guadalajara, she noticed a family of sixteen living in a single shack across the street. Even at a young age, she felt unsettled by the juxtaposition of these lifestyles and had many questions. She wandered over to see if the children wanted to play and get some answers. Somehow even with a language barrier, they were able to communicate. She explained her concluding thoughts, “Experiencing real poverty for the first time made me realize how much I didn’t understand about the world, and my curious need to know more is what got me hooked.”

From then on, she dreamed of a life full of endless traveling and learning. After high school graduation, she did a three-week cross-country road trip with her pet iguana. It wasn’t until her junior year of college that she was given the opportunity to get out of the country again. While she was a student at Warren Wilson in Asheville, she spent a semester abroad in India. As the students journeyed through Sri Lanka and Nepal, there were some very narrow passageways and their bus almost fell off a cliff. A near-death situation still didn’t deter Mare. “I lived to tell the tale” She laughed, “and I feel like that just kind of became the story of my life.” Although there were several hiccups (including the bubonic plague breakout), she had a life-changing experience that reaffirmed her travel bug.

Committed to returning after college, she worked three jobs and sold everything she owned so that she had enough money to survive a year overseas. During her around-the-world excursion to thirteen countries, one of the stops was India to volunteer. She went in with the idea that maybe she’d like to live and work in India. After several months, she felt it wasn’t her place. One of her biggest takeaways was feeling strange about the way we approach foreign locations and cultures. She discovered this idea that if we’re not careful, we can cause harm if we have a misperception of what it means to help their communities. It made her feel like if she really wanted to provide help, maybe she’d be better off helping her own community. This influenced her to join AmeriCorps for a year and then work at a state park as she contemplated if maybe living overseas wasn’t right. “And I tried to live with that decision – but I was not happy.” Mare explained, “I just could not settle into suburbia. The ‘American dream’ was not my dream.”

While spending some time working in the US Coast Guard, she met her husband, Devin. They decided to get out of the military and build a family which is when Mare became a teacher. As she taught students geography, she realized it wasn’t enough to just talk about all the places around the world, she wanted to be there to experience them firsthand. With two young kids, they attempted some classic vacations like Cancun resorts which didn’t satisfy the soul – they craved more adventure. They tried a Costa Rica trip with surfing and ziplining and loved the thrill. Her reignited desire to travel coupled with her family’s vision of a fulfilling future guided them to figure out a way to live overseas permanently.

Fortunately, teaching can be a fantastic profession if you can get in with the right international schools. In 2014, the family was assigned to South Korea for two years until landing in their dream spot in Southeast Asia. “We knew it was important to provide stability for our kids so we wanted to find one of the best educational systems in the world to plant roots.” She continued, “We love the idea of roots and wings. I think you kind of need both in life – a place where you feel rooted in a community and accessible opportunities to spread your wings.” This attracted them to the safe, sunny, tropical island of Singapore and they’ve never looked back.

From boats to caves, they specifically seek out the most unusual places to stay. Their favorite Christmas so far was in Laos where they slept in a treehouse that you had to zipline in and out of. They also floated down rivers surrounded by beautiful scenery, repelled down some of the world’s longest supply of waterfalls, and ziplined through the jungle for days. After soaring along the longest zipline in the world, the tour guides announced, “Great first run!” Realizing they were the first people to complete this ride besides those who installed it was shocking. Mare laughed, “I don’t know if I would’ve done it, so I’m glad they waited to tell us after because it was an unbelievable experience.”

If you thought that story was exciting, you better buckle up for Borneo. After the two-hour voyage up the Sarawak River, they arrived at their homestay hosted by a woman who belonged to a local tropical tribe. The home had no electricity besides a little solar power to generate their fridge of beer and a laptop to accommodate bookings. When it was time to eat a meal, the host wandered off into the jungle to forage and cooked the most amazing food over a fire. They bathed in the river but had to choose wisely because of the crocodiles and before bedtime, it was important to close the wooden windows to keep out the wildlife – snakes, tigers, and leopards, oh my!

Mare has visited forty-four countries and her kids are getting close to that number as well which is impressive for their ages (Sawyer is nineteen and Maia is sixteen). Mare genuinely enjoys planning trips and has found that the best way to cure post-vaca blues is to start planning another one. Next on their bucket list is Spain then Morocco. I cannot wait to see more beautiful memories captured by my uncle, the talented photographer.

Most recently, they went to Turkey which is now one of their top destinations to tell others to visit and now is the time. Many places like this need tourism to build their economy and are offering fair prices to receive financial support. It’s the best of both worlds when you both benefit so if you’ve been lost in wanderlust, this is your sign to go for it.

On top of incredible cuisine, rich history, and sensational sights, the list of travel benefits goes on. Mare believes that traveling can transform you into a well-rounded human. “Learning to understand and respect other cultures also heightens your appreciation for your own.” She clarified, “You also don’t have to travel far to experience a sense of adventure and broaden your perspective.” The best lesson Mare has ascertained is to live in the present moment so that no matter where she goes, she continuously grows.

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