Junior Landon Smith travels across the world

Sydney Swyers, staff writer

While floating down the Nile River on a riverboat cruise, junior Landon Smith saw a village. The people were living in straw huts glued together with mud. Their homes had no doors or windows. There was a young boy bathing in the dirty river because the community didn’t have access to clean water. As everyone aboard the cruise shoveled dinner into their mouths, Landon paused to realize that nearly 20 feet away, an entire community struggled for basic necessities.

“I felt very fortunate but also guilty,” Landon said. “I wanted to help them by giving them my dinner or even just some clean water, but I knew that wasn’t possible. I remember that experience really pushing my passion to help people that can’t help themselves. Looking back at it, one of the reasons I started doing missionary and volunteer work was because of that experience. Now, one of my favorite things to do is volunteer at my church and travel to different places to help people.”

Landon has been traveling the world since he was six months old, partly due to his parents’ passion for traveling and partly because he feels as if traveling is a part of who he is. He has had four passports since he first traveled to Canada and has visited over 43 countries, including China, Russia, Egypt and Australia. One vacation that has stuck with him over the years was when he first traveled to Austria at age 9.

“My parents struck up a conversation with the royal family in a restaurant that was hosting a famous ballet and orchestra performance,” Landon said. “Somehow, we ended up sitting front row beside them. My parents discovered that the family was there because a rare $16 million Stradivarius violin was being showcased. After the performance, my family and I were invited to the Princess of Austria’s birthday party, which took place in their castle. I’ll never forget how cool it was feeling like royalty, even if it was only for a few hours.”

Although Landon enjoys the experiences of traveling, his parents’ passion for seeing the world acts as the driving force behind their adventures. Jane and Brian Smith think that traveling is an important aspect of growing up because it allows a person to see different cultures and understand how others live outside of the United States.

Although it can be expensive, the Smiths have learned how to travel affordably.  Finding deals, traveling at off-peak times during the year, staying in inexpensive bed and breakfasts, eating food from street vendors instead of fancy restaurants and taking the bus or the subway are all tactics the Smiths have adopted. They also buy books to educate themselves on the country they’re visiting in order to gain more knowledge about their destinations. This helps them decide what they want to spend their money on.

“We enjoy traveling so much that we feel it is worth spending the money, especially when we are making so many memories along the way,” Jane said. “It can be very affordable, but occasionally we splurge, like staying in Ashford Castle in Ireland. We were treated like royalty, but it was expensive and we usually don’t do that very often.”

Staying a weekend in Ireland’s Ashford Castle is not an opportunity that most 16 year olds have the chance to do. The Smiths had the entire castle to themselves, which exposed them to a lot of out-of-the-norm opportunities, such as cooking with the chef, skeet shooting and training a falcon to hunt.

“Training the falcon was my favorite because it was as if I had a pet falcon for a weekend,” Landon said. “I had my own personal instructor who told me what to say and do in order to control the falcon’s actions. Standing on the roof of the castle and watching a falcon fly above the castle grounds was such a cool thing to experience.”

Some of Landon’s other experiences include riding a camel around the Egyptian Pyramids and spending a day in Machu Picchu. Another memory was added the summer before his seventh grade year when Landon traveled to England and France. He had the chance to explore his passion through People-to-People, an organization that connects people with Parliament and allows them to travel around Paris, interact with the community and get involved in community service projects.

“My parents didn’t go on that trip with me, which was really weird because they’re usually the reason I travel,” Landon said. “Not having them there was scary but exciting at the same time because I had to take care of myself. I remember going into that vacation with a skeptical mindset, but it ended up being one of my favorites.”

Other than learning how to train a falcon, riding a camel and going to a princess’s birthday party, Landon has gained more than experiences. New memories are collected from every travel, but he’s also gained a new perspective along the way.

“Traveling outside of the JoCo bubble has opened my eyes to different ways of life,” Landon said. “We don’t understand just how fortunate we are because everyone’s so wrapped up in their own problems. I know a lot of people who dream about traveling but are scared it’s not achievable. I would tell them to never give up on their dreams even if it involves traveling the world. You don’t need to be rich to experience different cultures. If you want to travel, then don’t hesitate; just do it.”

Through their experiences, the Smiths have learned to put their lives in perspective. On the Smiths’ trip to Egypt, they realized that the key to the families’ existence was finding enough food and water each day. The Smiths have come to realize that material things are not worth as much as memories.

“Traveling makes you appreciate what you have,” Brian said. “It gives you an education in history and other cultures that no book and class can ever come close to.  Money can buy things like clothes, toys and games, phones, cars; most of those things have a short life span.  Travel gives you memories that will last an entire lifetime.  I take hundreds of pictures when we travel.  I can look back at those pictures and be transformed back to that place and time.  A memory never needs to be washed, upgraded or tuned up.  An experience can be relived over and over again with every conversation.  Spending money on travel is investing in a lifetime of memories.”