Her work has been featured in National Geographic, USA Today, Fodor’s, LA Times, CNN, The Telegraph, The Guardian, Yahoo, and many other places. She’s been to more than forty countries and is a full-time freelance travel writer. If you follow her blog you’ll know she’s one of those people who knows how to make travel easy, interesting, and fun. She seems larger than life, and probably is! Shelley is a great example of living an authentic life, of taking chances, of living the life she was meant to live no matter how difficult it may have been at times. I wanted to know her better so asked if she would write a little about herself for Adventures in Wonderland. This is her story:
By Shelley Seale
My love of traveling was born of three things: my love of reading, my insatiable curiosity, and restlessness.
I was born into a pretty typical middle-class family; maybe lower middle class when I was young — we didn’t have much money and so didn’t travel at all except for car trips to visit family or driveable destinations. My family was really wonderful: supportive, loving and healthy. I’m truly blessed with them, and credit a lot of who I am and where I’ve gotten in life to the self-confidence and love they’ve given me.
That said, there also wasn’t much venturing outside our little-known corner of the world when I was growing up. It was a relatively sheltered suburban upbringing in an environment where everyone else pretty much looked like we did, lived like we did, and didn’t question much beyond that existence.
As a voracious reader since the age of 3, I would escape into the wondrous worlds of literary imaginings to places far away and exotic — either actual places geographically, or different places in another time. I was happy growing up, but I always had a restlessness, some sort of discontent or dissatisfaction that this was “all” there was. What about other ways of life and ways of thinking? Other religions? Other cultures and foods and traditions and holidays and music and architecture . . . . the list went on and on, while no one in my family or immediate circle really seemed to ask these questions.
And so my desire to see those other worlds, to experience them for myself, was born and it never went away. In fact, the longer I move through life the stronger it gets.
For my high school graduation present, I only asked for one thing — my high school Spanish teacher, Dr Rodriguez, was organizing a month-long trip throughout Europe, and I wanted to go. It would be a chaperoned group of students, so I knew my parents would feel safe and comfortable with that. My dad wondered why I wouldn’t want something more “practical” and long-lasting, like a car, but my mom championed the idea. Because they both always supported me and my dreams, I got the trip to Europe.
Well let me tell you — that trip changed everything for me. My dad’s concerns that spending a few thousand dollars on something that would be over and done with, the money gone, after a month was completely unfounded. Quite the opposite; if I had gotten a car instead, that vehicle’s useful life would have been over in a few years. The trip to Europe, though . . . it’s now 35 years later, and it’s still with me. I still have the memories, and that experience fuelled the entire rest of my life. I’ve travelled to too many countries to count, all over the world, in the years since then. Many articles and studies have been published positing that experiences make us happier than things, and I absolutely concur!
After that 1984 high school graduation trip across eight European countries, I didn’t travel much internationally (except the occasional Mexico trip) for many years. I went to school, I started a real estate career, I got married and had a baby. My love for traveling and exploration never went away, and I took many trips around the U.S. during that time. But the seeds of wanderlust had been planted, way down deep in my soul, and they quietly grew. Hidden away in a place I wasn’t even completely connected with myself, they blossomed over the years.
Fast-forward a decade later, and I was in my mid 30s and divorced, and in the midst of a life transition. With my own business and a twelve-year-old daughter between schools, I had a time of freedom to choose a new life course. In 2002 I moved from Dallas, Texas (where I was born and had lived, in the surrounding metropolitan area, my entire life) to Austin — maybe not a huge move geographically speaking, only 200 miles, but culturally it was very different. The artsy, entrepreneurial, independent-minded, progressive and funky character of Austin was much more me (after all, the city’s motto is “Keep Austin Weird”).
And it was more than just the physical move — I also made other big changes in my life. I took over a new business in Austin, went back to college to get my journalism degree, and pursued my first passion of writing. Easing out of real estate, a career I had just fallen into, I began a freelance writing career while finishing my degree and raising my daughter. I also began traveling a lot more, finally seeing all those far-flung places that I had longed for and dreamed about my entire life. India. China. Central America. South America. More of Europe. More of Asia. More of my own country — I made it a mission to visit all 50 US states by the time I turned 50 — mission accomplished!
Throughout these journeys there have been a lot of scary moments; in fact, downright terrifying ones. Somehow, those moments felt more alive than anything else had (even though they were often difficult while actually moving through them), and when I look back I can see the obvious pattern. The scariest times in my life, those times of the most change and upheaval — sometimes even heartbreak, turmoil, anxiety or depression — were the catalysts for the most amazing new phases of my life. Like the growing pains of a toddler or a teenager, I’ve never stopped having growing pains at times along the way (I don’t think any of us ever really do). And those times of painful growth have led to some of the happiest times of my life, as well as incredible experiences both at home and in far-flung places around the globe.
Today I am a full-time freelance writer and editor, the author of several books, and an entrepreneur involved in another start-up. I travel the world constantly, sometimes spending weeks or months at a time in places; yet I also treasure the home I’ve created as well, and love coming back there after my journeys. And I can tell you from experience that the only way to get to that person you’re meant to become, to make those innermost dreams a reality, to really live your most authentic life instead of just going through the motions — is to not let fear stop you. To embrace change, to throw off the shackles of expectations, of what’s known, to go after what could be with your whole being.
Shelley is a writer, entrepreneur, and world nomad based in Austin, Texas (when she isn’t gallivanting elsewhere). Check out her website at www.shelleyseale.com. And you’ll find the stories about all her amazing travel adventures at www.tradingplacesglobal.com.
All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2019.