MEET CASEY MYERS OF ONE DIGITAL WORLD - EDUCATING THE WORLD, ONE CLASS AT A TIME
Travel is a great equalizer - illustrating in real-time the good, bad, and ugly of the human condition. People travel for many different reasons. Some to de-stress from a job they hate, some to seal a huge business deal, while others are on a journey of self-discovery. Whatever your reason, you must agree that the act of travel has transformative power – the power to change hearts, minds, and lives.
I recently graduated from a Conscious Entrepreneur Bootcamp in San Diego, hosted by the Torrey Project. There, I met a like-minded traveler whose passport has been stamped more times than I can count! Casey Myers, of One Digital World, is currently on a mission to connect refugees with the educational resources and opportunities that most of us take for granted.
In this inspirational interview, I asked her to offer some insights into the “why” behind her business and travels – sharing stories and tips on staying mentally well while on the road.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how travel has impacted your life in a positive way?
I will always remember the first big trip I took myself on, Costa Rica. I planned the whole vacation, earned my PTO, invited some friends, and put together an entire itinerary that allowed for a total of about 5 minutes of sleep in our week stay. I was excited, to say the least. When we went on the trip it was everything I dreamed and more. I was hooked. I started taking two international trips per year with friends or family and eventually, my friends also became my “travel buddies.” They were always up for an adventure and we knew each other in ways no one else did. We had jumped off waterfalls together, climbed mountains, gotten food poisoning and altitude sickness, and tried to figure out bus routes in lands where none of us spoke the language. We made each other braver, stronger, and more empathetic at the same time. It was with these friends that I decided to leave my corporate career and backpack around the world together for a year.
We sold everything we couldn’t fit in a backpack and bought a one-way ticket to Belize. The next thing I know, we are finishing up countries 47, 48, and 49 and looking for tickets back home to the US from the back of a camper van in New Zealand. That year changed the way I saw everything: food, shelter, hospitality, taxes, rain, what type of animals were pets… the biggest change was that I learned more about the human experience. That even with different cultures, languages, and geography I made friends everywhere because we laugh at the same things, cry at the same things, and we all get hungry. I learned how much privilege I had in my life and how much I could leverage that to assist others without it. That’s why after my year of travel I bought a one-way ticket to a refugee camp at the heart of the European refugee crisis.
What is One Digital World and how was its mission born?
One Digital World is a humanitarian nonprofit that educates refugees to empower self-reliance. We are teaching skills that help refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants to find jobs and integrate into new locations by focusing on English, computer, and Internet literacy. When I started volunteering in my first refugee camp, I became friends with many of the refugees living there and asked them what they wanted and needed. Overwhelmingly, they just said all they want is to get a job as quickly as possible to take care of themselves and their families. The job skills they had were different than ones that were needed in a westernized labor market.
Most of them had little to no experience with computers. We gathered a few laptops from donations, borrowed yoga mats from a friend, used the hot spot on my phone, and sat under an olive tree in the middle of the camp. I started teaching them how to use Microsoft to make a resume and how to use the internet to learn English. The classes and lesson plans grew and grew.
What is one of your favorite travel destinations? What makes this destination so memorable for you?
Cambodia - there is something magical there. The country has a very dark history from a terrible genocide where almost a third of the population lost their lives in the late 1970s. The country’s economy is developing now but there is still lots of mystery and natural beauty, as there are only two cities in the entire country! The beaches and islands are just as beautiful as their neighbor Thailand but at a fraction of the cost. Cambodia’s greatest claim to fame that many people may recognize is the famous Angkor Wat temple from Tomb Raider - entwined with vines and trees and surrounded by elephants. You can go down before sunrise and then ride a bike between all the temples. It’s very open for guests to explore on their own at their leisure.
Any upcoming travel plans for the rest of 2020? If no travel booked, where would you want to travel if you could? Why?
I am currently living in San Diego, California but work across the border in Tijuana, Mexico. We are setting up a One Digital World computer lab for asylum seekers at the US border, so I get to bring home awesome tacos and churros all the time! This month, I’ll visit Valle de Guadalupe which is wine country in Mexico for the first time, then Denver in April, and I’m hoping to go back to Spain in September/October 2020.
Over your many years of travel, do you have any tips or tricks to share that help you stay mentally healthy and strong while on the road?
Yes! Whenever I’m feeling a bit isolated or homesick, I always go “back to basics” which is my method of 3 for self-care. Every day I must…
- #1 Read (this can be an article online, a book, even an audible)
- #2 Exercise (this can be yoga or run or boxing or even just some crunches or planks)
- #3 Talk to a Friend (call ANYONE I know whether it is a friend or family or acquaintance, they don’t even have to answer but I must at least call and leave a message if that’s an option)
The goal is to make it as easy as possible for myself, so I’ll do it. If every day I exercised, read something besides social media and called someone I like then it was a successful day and I am doing positive things. Plus, we get out of practice with calling people but the more we do it, the more they answer and the more they call you back. You don’t have to be alone no matter where you are if you don’t want to be and I have found the people I call appreciate it and often needed someone to call just to say hi as much as I do.
Is there an awareness of the importance of mental health in countries outside the United States? Is the subject even discussed in different cultures? Why or why not? Do you have any examples?
I found that many countries, especially smaller economies, are more family-oriented than the US. They often focus on the value of the family unit where the US focuses more on the value of being “self-made.” Relying on your parents or other people isn’t viewed as a bad thing in most parts of the world, in fact, it’s a good thing because children rely on their parents and siblings all the way until parents rely on their children. There is never a point of separation. The first time I really noticed that was when I was in Brazil. People kept asking us if we hate our parents or if we couldn’t get jobs yet. They were shocked that we loved our parents but that we didn’t need their permission to travel so far away and that we each had successful careers but chose to leave them to follow our dreams and wanderlust.
I love Spain for their way of life. It was a change for me, as I can be a self-proclaimed workaholic, but I admire how they have a different viewpoint. They believe you should only work just enough to be able to enjoy as much time off relaxing as possible. Idealistically, I agree with enjoying life, but while I stayed with Spaniards in Madrid, I learned that I had never REALLY understood and practiced working to live.
Any inspiration, advice, or lessons learned that you could share with less traveled folks who might have some anxiety or fear surrounding travel, and don’t know how to get started?
Find a friend that gets things done - a ride or die, and BOOK IT! Just book something, anything. After you book it you can figure everything else out and you’ll finally have the motivation to do so. I highly recommend joining FB travel groups (I use "Girls LOVE Travel"), follow blogs like this or Nomadic Matt, stay in hostels with good reviews on hostelworld.com (expensive doesn’t always mean nice) because in hostels you will always be able to meet other travelers and no one loves to tell stories or give advice like travelers. Make sure to look at hostels that offer their own tours and have game areas because there are always solo travelers hanging out there trying to meet people – also large groups that have some really hilarious people trying to live their best life in a one week vacation.
Another favorite of mine is booking free walking tours for the first day of a new city. It is a great way to meet other people and ask the tour guides for the best “locals” places that are off the beaten path. Lastly, get a travel credit card and put EVERYTHING on it so you can earn miles asap. Just be sure to pay it off every single week so you don’t keep a balance and pay interest. I recommend the Chase Sapphire Preferred. I used that puppy while traveling the world and got enough free miles to pay for all my long-distance flights between continents!