Meet an amazingly diverse group of adventure- and culture-hungry individuals who've been selected by National Geographic Traveler magazine as 2012's Travelers of the Year.
How did a Maasai warrior with a magnetic personality, a command of five languages, and aspirations to become an ecotourism leader in his native Tanzania wind up teaching teens in the Rockies? Ask Paula Busey.
In 2009, when the 55-year-old librarian and her family headed out on safari in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, they found a friend in their guide, Samwel Melami Langidare Mollel, a 30-year-old university-educated wildlife expert. "It was magical to learn about his life-about growing up in a village of 65 people, about Maasai tradition," she recalls. "As an educator, I wanted my students to have a first-person experience like this."
Back home in Littleton, a Denver suburb haunted by a high school shooting and rattled by last summer's gun violence in nearby Aurora, Busey saw an opportunity to give her students an eye-opening encounter. Through craft sales and fund drives, Busey raised enough money to bring Melami to the States.
Over five days, Melami taught some 1,500 ThunderRidge High students lessons in wildlife conservation, ethnobotany, tribal traditions, and African development. Those students returned the favor by raising funds to build a kitchen for a school near Arusha, where Melami lives.
The cultural exchange has been going on for three years now, and, happily, there's no end in sight.
Heather Greenwood Davis
"More than a year ago, my husband and I yanked our two sons away from everything they knew and headed out to discover the planet," says 40-year-old travel writer Heather Greenwood Davis. "The goal was to show our kids that their neighborhood wasn't limited to their block, that the world has more to offer than PlayStation 3, and that people are way more interesting than they could imagine."
From their home in Ontario, the Davis gang (father Ish, age 45, and boys Ethan, 10, and Cameron, 8) embarked on an epic adventure. They came face to face with blue-footed boobies in the Galápagos, watched World Cup rugby in New Zealand, went tuk-tuk riding in Cambodia, and encountered revolutionary times in Egypt. All told, the Davis family spent 12 months on the road, visited 29 countries, and blogged about their round-the-world journey at globetrottingmama.com.
"Our kids came away with a sense that the planet is a kind place, that the world is accessible to them, and that they can befriend people everywhere they go," says Davis. "It was an amazing year."
The numbers alone are astonishing-365 days and some 66,000 miles logged on the road, 90,000 photos snapped, 50 states visited. And the cause is inspiring. Theron Humphrey took a year to see America and record the story of one person in film and audio each day. This storyteller's monumental road trip echoes the Depression-era Federal Writers Project, but Humphrey's oral history enterprise is rooted in a more personal motive.
"I got stirred up and wanted to live a different life. I wanted to discover new things and meet new people," says 29-year-old Humphrey, who quit his job as a fashion studio photographer and hit the highway in August 2011 with a mission of befriending one person each day, every day, for a year and documenting that person's life story.
The result is a personal journey published online at thiswildidea.com, a site supported by donations from angel investors on the fund-raising platform Kickstarter.com. Humphrey maps out his route and shares the tales of the people he's met along the way.
There's Liz Roma, a farmer in Vermont. Uncle Bobby, a Hawaiian canoe craftsman. And Patrick Millard, a Pittsburgh artist, who unexpectedly died a few days after the interview.
Humphrey's histories document the tenor of our times, spoken by the people who populate a traveler's landscape and framed by a photographer with an eye for detail. "It's in the American DNA to seek new ideas," says Humphrey. "That's what drove me."
Every traveler knows that learning the local lingo is part of the pleasure of getting to know a new place. But frontside lipslide ... backside crooked-grind ... kickflip? What language is this?
It's the lingua franca of the skateboarding world, an international language that has permitted 15-year-old Booker Mitchell to take his homemade travel show to Spain, Nicaragua, and the Brazilian Amazon. With the help of his filmmaker mom and the support of his dad, Mitchell scripts and stars in an unconventional Web video series that tracks its gregarious star as he navigates foreign lands by skateboarding and surfing with local kids.
Although she's a documentarian, Brazil-born Tania Cypriano is far from a stage mom. "Ever since he was little, Booker kept journals. Wherever we traveled, I took videos. One day we realized we were documenting the world as a kid experiences it."
"Travel shows for grown-ups have these really excited hosts who talk about museums," says Booker. "Our motto is 'Live Life Outside.'"