Each different industry has their own set of celebrities, and travel is no different. There are a number of people who have risen to the top of the travel industry, and with stories so interesting, and adventures so exciting, who can really blame the public fascination which surrounds their lives! One of those people is Savannah Grace.
At 14, Savannah Grace was pulled out of school to travel the world. Originally planned as a one year family back-packing trip, it was 4 years before she returned home to Canada to graduate from high school. At 22 years of age she has now traveled to 99 countries, and is an accomplished author. Her her first book in a series “Sihpromatum – I Grew My Boobs in China” was an incredible success, and excitement is mounting for the release of her next book.
I had a chat with Savannah this week about her amazing life story; which only made me want to meet her more!
What is Siphromatum?
“Sihpromatum” pronounced “Sip-Row-May-Tum”, is the first in a travel memoir series about my life growing up on the road abroad with family. The tale is a blend of memoir and travel adventure that seems more like a novel.
It’s written from my perspective as the youngest family member who just does not want to leave. This makes it unlike most travel stories which describe the enthusiasm and excitement of leaving behind the worries of the everyday rut and beginning a lifelong dream. I describe the emotions I go through as a teenage girl reacting to this new world as it unfolds before me. It’s a tale of personal struggle and growth, family hardship and bonding, love, laughter and tears. Ultimately “Sihpromatum” expresses the power travel can have in helping us understand and come closer to the humanity within us all.
So your whole family took off to explore the world when you were 14? What was your initial reaction – was the concept scary?
Absolutely! The news that we were going traveling came to me so unexpected. The idea had never been discussed or considered prior so it came as a total shock. My parents had just separated (which inspired my mom’s decision) so just when I’d thought my whole world had fallen apart, it got worse. Not to mention having to give up all my possessions and friends. So ya, I was terrified by the concept of backpacking. I’d never been out of North America or had much of an interest in doing so. I was the most terrified about the food, missing home and having to use a squatty toilet!
What were the highlights from your four year trip around the world?
Oh my goodness, there are way too many to choose from! A few would be trekking the Himalayan mountain range in Nepal and seeing the sun rise over Mt. Everest, snorkeling with the colorful fish in the Maldives and sun tanning on the soft white sands, riding atop camels through endless mountains of sugary sand dunes across the Sahara desert in Mauritania, experiencing the historical genius of pyramids in Sudan and Egypt or the beautiful architecture of any European village, town or city.
There are so many places I could mention that I feel guilty not listing them all!
Couchsurfing is a must if you’re interested in having the opportunity to stay with locals and really get a feel for their culture.
Was it hard growing up on the road?
Personally, I think it’s hard to grow up anywhere in the world. Trying to figure out who you are and how you fit in in this world is not an easy thing. Growing up on the road just adds another element and dynamic to that. It’s difficult to be glued to your family, literally, 24/7! I think anyone would agree. I grew up without any privacy, struggling with language barriers, pushing myself to the limits physically, mentally and emotionally as we traveled from place to place on long buses and trains to unfamiliar places.
How did you attend school and maintain interaction with kids your own age?
Before I left I’d been doing my schooling by correspondence which is a form of home schooling but self- taught rather than parent-taught. When I left it was easy enough to simply put the schooling on hold and come back to it later. The only thing was, we expected to be gone for only one year which turned into four so I was constantly stressed about my school situation. To my great relief, when I came home I was pleasantly surprised when they informed me I could simply skip ahead and finish grade 12 courses (the final year). A year later, at the age of 19 I graduated with the same certificate as everyone else. Looking back on it, I regret all the stress I put myself through by fretting over the schooling. Everything always works out in the end.
It was difficult to keep in touch with my old friends while traveling because in some countries there was limited internet access, or major censorship. We didn’t carry any electronics except for two cameras and the internet cafes often didn’t have MSN to chat (facebook and twitter didn’t even exist yet). Telephone was out of the question and Skype was unknown to me at the time.
I was always the youngest one around, rarely if ever coming across people my own age.
I’m assuming such an extended journey would have formed you into the person you are today. How do you think travelling changed you?
I am an entirely different person as a result of this trip. I sometimes shudder to think what my life would have been without it. I learned so much about the world, people, cultures, history and most importantly myself and my family. I discovered my strengths, pushed myself to achieve goals I considered impossible and learned that dreams are worth following! This is a world full of possibilities.
I learned to appreciate and be grateful for the things I have, which is something I try not to lose. I realized that I don’t NEED all those things I thought I needed when I was living in Vancouver, Canada.
Are you still travelling?
Yes and no. I would not say that I have been travelling… I have been either vacationing or taking road trips. No backpacking since the big family journey! But I am always having an adventure. Last year I ate, fished and swam with piranhas in the chocolaty rivers of Suriname, skied in the mountains of Leukerbad, Switzerland, explored the rivers, mountains, beaches and city of my hometown with my boyfriend’s mother, an 80-year-old WW2 survivor, zip-lined through the rain forests of Dominican Republic and relaxed in the Caribbean sun.
This year I’ve gone back to Guinea, we bought a piece of land there on an island and I just got back from an incredible trip to Mauritius for my boyfriend and my birthdays in June. It is such an incredible country. Definitely at the top of my list. We got to walk with lions, pet cheetahs, zebras, ride segways and swim with wild dolphins. WOW! In October we are going to France and November-December I will be going to Vancouver, my hometown, to promote my book.
Traveling helps feed my inspiration.
What do you love the most about travelling?
I love photography and writing, though I give myself a lot of stress trying to capture every single moment which is just impossible. I love the unexpected experiences you run into, the people you meet, the funny things that happen and learning new and crazy things.
One thing which you don’t like about travelling?
The struggle of getting there. I am terrified of flying and think I’m going to die every time I get in a plane. Also, I don’t like that feeling of wishing you could share the moments with everyone. I really have to come to terms that people will never understand or know everything I’ve experienced.
The coolest person you have met on your travels?
After crossing West Africa using local transport and lugging our backpacks around, we were at our breaking point. In Ghana we met a crazy Dutch guy driving to South Africa in a truck. My whole family hijacked his big yellow truck and traveled together for 8 months continuing on to Cairo from Cape Town. We ended up falling in love and I moved to Holland to be with him over 4 years ago. He is the most incredible, crazy, shocking, exciting, funny person ever.
He actually JUST got back from the hospital after a motorcycle accident. Now home, with large scrapes galore, wrecked ribs and a leg cast, he has done nothing but smile, make jokes, sing and even commented as I dressed him, “Well at least now we can make use of all those odd socks.” It’s so important to surround yourself with positive people! He is such an inspiration to me. It’s amazing how easy it is to take our health for granted and scary how life can change in the blink of an eye. We are so blessed that he is alive.
Biggest cultural shock you have experienced while travelling?
Surprisingly, the biggest culture shock I’ve ever experienced was coming HOME from my travels. I had wanted so desperately for the first 1.5 years to go home, but in the end I went back and had a hard time relating to my best friends. Their spoilt attitudes and ever demanding materialistic mindsets mixed with my simple joy for things they overlooked such as ice cubes, hot water, street lights and clean sheets didn’t mesh when I returned. They only wanted to party and gossip and had no interest or understanding of what I had been through, trekking in the Himalayas with the sherpas or traveling over the Khyber pass leading into Afghanistan and along the ancient Silk Road.
I also felt overwhelmed with guilt being surrounded by all the luxury. Watching people buy a $300 pair of shoes that I’d once been jealous of now made me sick, knowing how that money could CHANGE a person’s entire life.
Three things you can’t travel without?
When we were on the family backpacking trip my 3 things were a deck of cards, glasses/contacts and my journal.
Nowadays I can’t travel without my iphone, computer and a copy of my book, “Sihpromatum- I Grew My Boobs in China”.
You’ve been to over 90 countries, but are there any destinations still on your bucket list?
Definitely!!!! I’m one short of 100 countries but there’s still nearly another 100 I haven’t seen, plus all the interesting places I didn’t see in the countries I’ve visited. I often have people saying, “Wow, you’ve been everywhere! Have you been to England?” “No.” “Thailand?” “No.” “Australia?” “No” “Well, where HAVE you been then?!” They are all high on my list! I’ve always wanted to go to Japan because I grew up with ESL (English as a Second Language) students living in our house.
My latest obsession is lava, so I’d love to see that. Other bucket list destinations are Iceland, Chile, Argentina, Ecuador, Bora Bora, Vanuatu, United Arab Emirates, and Antarctica. I’d like to go back to China to hold the panda bears, go on a crazy glass walkway on a cliff edge, swim with sharks, go to Angkor Wat, Chichen Itza, Easter Island, and so many more places!
Most practical piece of travel advice?
If you’re doing extended travel my number one advice would be don’t be too restricted by a schedule. Be open and free to new things and go with the flow because travelling shouldn’t be a quest or mission, it is a journey. Let all of your worries go and enjoy every second. One of my biggest regrets would be not living in the moment.
Oh, and spend more money than my older brother Ammon!!
A few others:
– Do your research on the country, visas and vaccinations
– Plan around the weather such as when the wet and dry seasons occur
– Take breaks when you get burnt out
– Bucket list. Have some personal highlights in mind so you feel enthusiastic
– Be respectful of the culture (clothing, etiquette)
– Try new things and don’t be afraid to get down and dirty
– Meet the people
– Start somewhere you have a genuine interest
Why should people try travel?
People are nice everywhere in the world, and we all have the same basic wants and needs. A world considered to be wrought with hunger, despair, corruption and danger turned out to be one full of love, family values and respect. Ironically, it seems that the less people have the more willing they are to share. I think it takes travel to learn and see that.