Seymour woman shares her experience of solo global travel
As a gift for graduating from high school, Tara Sutherland said her uncle gave her a ticket to anywhere in the world or money.
At the time, she was going to school and planning to get married, so money was the priority.
Since then, her life has changed and she decided it was time for a big trip.
After her daughter, Taylor, graduated from Seymour High School in 2021, the two had planned to go to Thailand, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they chose Curacao. It was appropriate because Sutherland’s family is Dutch and Curaçao is a Dutch island in the Caribbean. One of Taylor’s classmates, Brandon Kleber, also went.
“I have been traveling since I was 12 years old. My first big trip was to Hong Kong. I felt like I needed her to go through the same kind of things that I had because you learn something about yourself and where you live and the people around you when you travel,” said Sutherland, now 42.
“For them, it was amazing, and I just watched them grow,” she said of her daughter and Kleber. “It was a really cool experience before they went off to college to see this flower bloom.”
Then in August 2021, Sutherland and her son, Walker, took a trip to Florida.
When she was in high school, Sutherland remembers her German teacher, Olga Otte, telling her, “If you come home from a trip and you’re not tired or don’t feel like not seeing anything, it’s your fault. You did wrong.
Traveling to 15 different countries over the years, she has kept this in mind: go out there, see everything you can, experience everything and immerse yourself in the culture.
Sutherland felt like he was doing this with his daughter and son. With the pandemic keeping people indoors and shutting things down, she said part of her felt like she had to go out and do something on her own.
“I always wanted to go on a solo trip by myself as a woman anyway,” she said. “Then I thought, ‘What are you waiting for? If you’re waiting for someone to tell you it’s okay, it’s happened before. It happened over 25 years ago. Since then you’ve been planning this solo trip. What do you do now? Because if you’re looking for the right time in life, it’ll never come, so make it happen,” and that’s what I have done.
Packing a carry-on suitcase and grabbing her phone and cash, Sutherland left on New Year’s Eve and flew from Indianapolis to Chicago to Istanbul, Turkey, Cairo, Egypt, to Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.
At 9 p.m., she leaves for a three-hour bus ride to Saint Catherine to meet a Bedouin who will take her to the top of Mount Sinai. She wanted to make a pilgrimage to the top to see the sun rise on the first day of the new year.
Experiencing sleet, snow and rain along the way, Sutherland was near the summit when she fell seriously ill. With the help of her Bedouin, however, she made it the rest of the way. He was given a woolen blanket and hot tea before sleeping in a hut for two hours.
When she woke up, Sutherland said she felt like a completely different person and saw the sun start to come out.
“It was the moment I’ve been waiting for,” she said. “That’s what I didn’t realize at the time would be the highlight of the trip because it was so emotionally overwhelming. … I thought, ‘You know what? If you can do that, the rest of this trip is a breeze,” and it was really after that point. It felt like everything from that point on was just a bonus.
After spending the night in Cairo, she flew to Luxor, Egypt, and stayed at an Airbnb. With the help of a driver and tour guide, she visited temples, saw people traveling on horseback, buggies and camels, and observed people growing sugar cane, mangoes and oranges.
Back in Cairo, Sutherland said the culture shock was real. It was very busy and noisy, just like in New York, and there was a mix of camels, horses and buggies, people pulling food carts, buses, taxis and cars on the roads.
Just outside the capital were the pyramids, including the Great Pyramid of Giza and the Great Sphinx of Giza.
“I can see them from the city and I’m like, ‘Wow! They’re right there,” Sutherland said. “The size makes them feel like they’re there because they’re huge. When you stand next to them, you really feel like a grain of sand. We don’t have that kind of history here. (in America) Standing next to something that’s been there so long and resisted so long, if you’re not humiliated, you should be.
Despite being claustrophobic, Sutherland said she was successful in visiting the pyramids and tombs, where in many places there is only 4 or 5 feet of space high and wide.
Outside, she took pictures while being ridden on a horse and standing on a camel’s back and participating in camel races in the desert.
Her next stop was an unplanned trip to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where she said it was the complete opposite of Egypt – very organized, clean, glitzy and glamorous.
She reached out to Facebook friends to find out what to do while there, and one suggested going skydiving. One problem: it costs $750.
The friend then said that if she opened an account for people to donate money, they would help make it happen. And they did.
Sutherland reached out to her two kids, and they thought it was awesome and exciting and wanted her to send them a video.
After taking a drive out of town into the desert, she met a man from Brazil who was going to jump with her, and they boarded a plane for Sutherland’s first skydiving experience.
“It was the most amazing feeling,” she said. “There are few feelings in the world that I’ve experienced, but it’s completely on the next level. The free fall for me, which I thought was the most terrifying part, was the most exciting part. … He there was a scream of fear at the start of the unknown.Once I realized that feeling of free fall, the rest of the screams from then on were just happiness.
They took a turn before pulling a ripcord, which snapped and pulled them up and allowing Sutherland to admire the view of the sky and the desert as she floated to the ground.
The last week of her trip was in Turkey, where she visited mosques and palaces and immersed herself in the culture.
On her flight home on January 15, Sutherland was able to reflect on all she had done.
“I love learning and immersing myself in culture, learning religion, seeing what everyday life is like,” she said. “I don’t want to stay in a five-star hotel. I don’t want to do what everyone else does. It’s not my idea of what a real experience is. It was more like a spiritual journey or just to learn culturally and get myself out of that comfort zone and push myself hard to see what I’m made of.
She said that’s exactly what happened.
“I feel like when you do that, when you really allow yourself to do that, you change, you become a stronger, more independent, more confident person,” she said. “You lead a more fulfilling life. You learn to appreciate things around you that you may have forgotten about, like the simple relationships you make with people, the way you treat people, the way people treat you.
After a trip, Sutherland said some people said they were happy to be back home. While she said she is a proud American and is very grateful for the opportunities here, she appreciates what she left behind on her journey.
“It was a simple life. It was simplicity at its best, where these people are really happy in a third world country because they don’t know what America is like, they don’t know what we face every day and what we do,” she said. “People work so hard every day and invest everything in a job or a career, they forget what life is really about.”
Sutherland said it was interesting to see what life was like in each place she visited.
Adding to Otte’s high school comment, Sutherland said, “If you come home and you don’t feel changed, you haven’t done it well. You haven’t completely immersed yourself in their culture. You did not allow this to happen. You went there for something else, that is to escape your daily life.
Sutherland said she didn’t leave to escape her daily life. She went to enrich him.
“I want to learn these things so I can be a better person, so I can bridge the differences or help bridge the gap,” she said.
In his work as a Hospitality Support Specialist for Cummins Inc., Sutherland teaches customer service, diversity and inclusion, which are part of the company’s standards and ethics. Whether she’s at work or talking about her recent trip around the world, she tries to lead by example.
“I want to encourage people to go out and see and do things,” she said, noting that it’s important for them to see that they are capable of doing what she has done. “Nothing is holding us back”