Nations on Assignment: A Travel Guide
“Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life—and travel—leaves marks on you.”
– Anthony Bourdain
My adventures with Nations have never been dull, nor wont for a good story. Traveling on assignment has introduced me to people who live the most adventurous, self-sacrificial lives. Whether I’m riding horses bareback in the jungles of Thailand with the Eubank family, worshipping in secret Cuban house churches with Pastor Manuel, or trekking through the remote hills of Nicaragua on a heritage tour with Mauricio Rodriguez, I am consistently awed and humbled by the experiences offered to me by the reformers that we feature.
Simply put, traveling with Nations has enriched my life. It has pierced the self-protective bubble encouraged by my Western culture. It has given me my closest friends, my favorite foods, and my fondest memories. While not everyone will have the opportunity to embark on a Nations-sanctioned trip, I want to offer you the same tools, tips, and values we travel by so that your eyes may be opened to what God is up to in the world’s most beautiful, unassuming places.
Values and philosophy
- We travel to get closer to humanity—to build bridges, not walls.
- We travel to find and tell stories, because narrative drives empathy, and empathy drives connection.
- When storytelling, we consider these areas of context:
We must understand the history of the country and region in which we are working. Each story should provide enough history to give context to the present.
It is important to understand the political picture of a region without aligning with any specific party/ideology.
Culture / humanity:
What is unique and what is common? Consider food, humor, family, education, etc.
- We observe three areas of atmospherics:
1. What does it feel like?
2. What does it sound like?
3. What does it taste like?
- And we ask these questions of ourselves:
Where is the contrast? To the United States, and to each other?
What brings joy? Where is the sorrow or hurt?
What or who is the mouthpiece for this story?
What can be learned and applied, personally as well as for the reader?
What do they do here better than anywhere else in the world?
- We seek to “travel like Tony”
Over the years at Nations, we would often ask each other, “What would Bourdain do?” Chef, television personality, and writer Anthony Bourdain was an enormous influence on us as travelers and storytellers. He highlighted the dignity and beauty of the most overlooked places. He helped us find common humanity in a shared meal. He was an excellent listener and a world-class storyteller. And he inspired us to take up his mantle and share more stories of beauty and hope. We love this moving tribute to his life and legacy: “...his storytelling—both about kitchen life and food culture—reveals the multifaceted image of God reflected in all of humanity and the driving desire for belonging and communion.”
Tips and tricks to travel like Nations
- Skip the travel guides and ask the locals what to see. Ask your Uber driver, Airbnb host, or restaurant waiter for their recommendations; it’s safe to assume they know their way around and they’re always happy to help.
- If you find yourself in a long car ride with a taxi/Uber driver, use that time to strike up conversation. Ask them what they love about their city. You may learn a piece of interesting history or hear a new perspective you’ve never considered.
- Eat with locals. Ask them about their favorite food. In the words of Tony, “you learn a lot about someone when you share a meal together.” Oh, and don’t be afraid of street food. Some of the best meals of my life have been eaten straight off the spit while perched on a sidewalk.
- Learn a few key phrases in the local language (i.e. hello, thanks, goodbye) to use with locals. It’s a small but dignifying gesture that goes a long way in building connection. The Duolingo app is a fun way to strengthen your basics, and with enough consistent use, you may even become conversational.
- When conducting Nations (or other faith-related) interviews, pray with subjects first to set the tone. My best stories have been the result of letting God guide the conversation.
- TSA precheck/Global Entry is a painless investment you can make that will save you hours in the long run. An $85, five-year membership with TSA Pre will get you through domestic security lines faster. While millions of folks have jumped on board with this program, many are unaware of Global Entry. You pay a little bit more and attend a 30 minute interview at a CBP station, but it includes TSA Pre and allows you to breeze through customs each time you return to the United States.
- Travel carry-on whenever possible— you’re less likely to lose your luggage, and it’s much less cumbersome. We value the ability to be nimble, especially in fast-paced situations. I’m a fan of Osprey’s travel packs. (Because let’s face it, nothing says “look at me, I’m a tourist” more than wheeling an unwieldy suitcase down a cobblestone street or dirt road.)
Goods and gear we love
- Invest in a quality camera bag. Our favorite is the leather “Bowery” bag by Ona; not only does it look timeless, but it will last you forever. It’s the kind of piece you’ll want to pass on to your kids one day.
- Portable microphones for your smartphone/iPhone are a simple, relatively inexpensive way to take your interviews to the next level. It will make such a difference when it comes time to transcribe.
- Don’t forget the portable charger, a lifesaver on long travel days and especially for lengthy interviews.
- Pack a journal or field notebook for notetaking and observations. We love the Tennyson Journal made by our friends at Bradley Mountain.
- If you have the space, pack a couple of small gifts (or least the cash to purchase some) to thank your hosts/subjects for their time and hospitality.
We hope that these tools and values will lead you to see, share, and eventually become a part of what God is doing across the nations. It is our goal to shrink the distance between us, to break down the walls that separate, and to discover the shared humanity that binds us. So go forth, and with the heart of Jesus and the curiosity of Bourdain, “leave something good behind.”
Disclaimer: This post is not sponsored. All brand recommendations are our own and based on our personal travel experiences.
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Brianna is a Pacific Northwest-based writer and editor who seeks stories that breathe hope and inspire action. Her favorite kinds of people are peacemakers, bridge-builders, storytellers, and dreamers. She is the Senior Writer at Nations Media.