Finalists: 2015 Summer Independence Travel Writing Contest


Hamburg sunset on lakeFinalists for the SUMMER INDEPENDENCE 2015 Travel Writing Contest

Thank you to Jessica Tsuzuki, Richa Gupta, Alan Seeger, Zainab Suleman, Sarah Shin, Gina Nelson, Heather Whitehall-Trochon, Amelie Gagne, Mark Schmitt and Hailey Hennessy for your incredible articles. Thank you to everyone who participated in the 2015 Summer We Said Go Travel Writing Contest! 

Please find the Finalist articles below. Please enter the Fall 2015 Gratitude Travel Writing Contest and share your story. Winners of the 2015 Summer Independence Travel Writing Contest will be announced in December 2105.


A few weeks ago, my toddler and I decided to take a trip into the city of Sendai. This would be special in that it was the first time we would go that far from our house without the comfort of a stroller. At almost two years old, my daughter has grown to a point where the stroller can be nice to have if she’s exhausted or a burden to keep track of while chasing her down. This day would be an experiment to see how far and how well we could do without the wheels. READ MORE…

The Natural Gemstone of the United States by Richa Gupta

In the protective confines of my household, even a straightforward, five-minute walk to my music class requires strict accompaniment by a parent, much to my utter distaste. However, having been denizens of India for over thirty years, my parents and their motivations are understandable, and I respect their underlying rationale, regardless of how much I hold it in contempt. Nevertheless, I still dislike crossing the street with my fingers interlocked with my mothers’, or calling my father after a two minute jaunt, or periodically updating my family by hourly text messages or missed calls if I’m outside the sheltered enclosure of my residence. Yet, I abide by their rules because a small, surrendering part of my mind agrees with them, and appreciates my family’s concern for my well-being. READ MORE….


I grew up in the American Midwest, namely Oklahoma. For four decades, I led an average life; I grew up, went to school, got my first car, fell in love, started a career. I spent twenty years working for a major telecommunications corporation as a so-called ‘cubicle dweller.’

Then everything began to change. First, the economy changed, and my company began to cut back on its expenses. READ MORE….


For me, life has been a constant journey of challenges and survival. Living in an egocentric society dominated primarily by males, we have been taught since our childhood that our opinions and dreams hold no value. Marriage, child bearing and domestic responsibilities are the sole function of a woman, while self worth and self identity are of no importance.

Growing up in a lower middle class family, we were enrolled in mediocre schools, where the only purpose of learning was not to gain education, but only obtain a namesake degree. READ MORE….


“This is the womb of the world,” he says, looking out at the sea which forms into waves so clear I can see the silver fish carried inside them.

Water churns around our shins in foamy currents, threatening to destabilize our footing.

“People are re-born here,” he continues, his gaze firmly on the sea.

Daniel is a short, stout, middle-aged man, strong in the legs and wide at the waist with that distinct Mayan nose, reminding me of the toucans living in the tangled jungle behind us. READ MORE….


I rarely stray from my workout routine, even when on vacation. I am by no means a “gym rat”; I actually loathe gyms, but I do like adventure and thrive on physical challenges. Having grown up with eight brothers (3 of whom competed in natural bodybuilding) and having participated in competitive sports since the age of 12, I am always looking for ways to push my body to the limits. After completing a hike up Lion Mountain (a 669 meter mountain in Capetown, South Africa), I was determined to hike up Table Mountain, the imposing, flat mountain that overlooks the city and stands at 3,563 ft. above sea level. My friends urged me to take the cable car up and down the mountain to save time and energy, but any true fitness guru knows that the noblest way to experience a mountain like that, is by tackling it on foot. READ MORE ….


The chill of the early morning bites through to my bones like starving dogs tearing savagely at a discarded piece of meat. It is incredible to contemplate that within just a few hours I’ll be craving shade and gasping in exhaustion, as the midday sun strikes out with the abruptness of a wronged woman.

Easing myself away from the reassuring warmth of my well-travelled sleeping bag, I pile on layers of clothing and head out into a slowly awakening world.

A small clutch of early morning risers huddle together in companionable silence, their shoulders swathed in blankets as they nurse steaming mugs of coffee. We acknowledge each other with the briefest of nods and I make my way briskly to my trusty bicycle. My morning meditation begins elsewhere…READ MORE…

THE LAST $1000 IN MALAYSIA by Amelie Gagne

It has taken me realizing that the amount of money I have left in my bank account equals exactly what I owe on my credit card to ring the alarm. I am broke. The travel fund is empty.

The first realization was that I could not keep traveling on my own the way I had been as a couple the last year and a half; the second, that I possibly couldn’t keep traveling at all. I had no plan B to begin with, no safety net. For the last few months, I have been sustaining myself by volunteering at a guesthouse in Malaysia for accommodation and eating free food at a Sikh Temple while I come up with a new plan. I had to borrow $1000 while I turn myself back around. It is great time to rethink the how. READ MORE….


It was a Monday morning, I was fourteen years old and the ink had yet to dry on my Japanese exchange student visa. Three things had just crystallized within my culture shocked skull. I was lost, not just a little locationally challenged, but honest to God, ‘which way is north’ confused. I was also utterly surrounded by sensory apocalypse, lost in a raging sea of signs, words, smells and habits that threatened to draw tears – I was wearing my host families toilet slippers. Likewise I knew that I had just taken my virgin hit of the drug called travel. READ MORE...


by Hailey Hennessy 0 Comments

I have never been a part of a clique.  In grade school I became friends with my teachers but was never a teacher’s pet.  I thought practical jokes were clever but was never the jokester of the class.  In high school, no matter if I joined a sports team or musical theatre I never quite fit in one place or another.  I was a self-diagnosed social floater.  My teenage-self desperately felt the need to belong to a group of people to know who I really was.

Throughout these younger years I developed my wanderlust. 

Lisa Ellen Niver

Lisa Niver is an award-winning travel expert who has explored 102 countries on six continents. This University of Pennsylvania graduate sailed across the seas for seven years with Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean, and Renaissance Cruises and spent three years backpacking across Asia. Discover her articles in publications from AARP: The Magazine and AAA Explorer to WIRED and Wharton Magazine, as well as her site WeSaidGoTravel. On her award nominated global podcast, Make Your Own Map, Niver has interviewed Deepak Chopra, Olympic medalists, and numerous bestselling authors, and as a journalist has been invited to both the Oscars and the United Nations. For her print and digital stories as well as her television segments, she has been awarded three Southern California Journalism Awards and two National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Awards and been a finalist twenty-two times. Named a #3 travel influencer for 2023, Niver talks travel on broadcast television at KTLA TV Los Angeles, her YouTube channel with over 2 million views, and in her memoir, Brave-ish, One Breakup, Six Continents and Feeling Fearless After Fifty.

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