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Wide Open World - A Book Review

In my 20’s, I went to Italy by myself. I didn’t do it to be brave. I got my heart broken and felt like I’d strayed a bit off my path. I’d heard people went to Europe to “find themselves.” I wanted that.


It all went splendidly until I got lost. When I travel, I might see a tourist attraction or two. But really I want to experience life as a local. I want to know what it would be like to call that place home.


From Florence, I took a hour-long bus ride to Siena. Beautiful. I set off to explore the Tuscan countryside. After walking a short distance, I realized I’d gone too far. I wasn’t sure how to get back to town. 


The first place of business I came across was an auto mechanic shop. I stepped inside and was greeted with smiles all around. Very friendly people. I attempted my very best Italian accent and kept it simple, 

“Bus (boos).” 


It took about fifteen minutes and three different Italians to decipher that I needed to catch the bus back to Florence. One of the ladies that worked there loaded me up in her tiny European car and we drove about twenty minutes to a different bus stop. She assured me (as well as she could with our language barrier) that this bus would take me back to Florence. She accepted no payment and just smiled, ushering me out of the car. 


Fortunately for me, she knew her bus routes. I returned safely to my hotel right on schedule.


 I received a copy of  "Wide Open World:How Volunteering Around the Globe Changed One Family's Lives Forever,"  John Marshall's first book, from NetGalley for the purpose of generating a review. Italicized quotes are from the book. The opinions expressed here are my own. 



Not everyone likes to travel this way. It would likely send an anxiety-ridden person right into panic attack mode. Many are content to lounge at gated resorts and take guided tours. 


But author, John Marshall, he speaks my travel language. Actually, he also speaks a little Spanish, Thai, Hindi, Tibetan. He takes cultural immersion to a whole new level. 


"Wide-Open World: How Volunteering Around the Globe Changed One Family's Lives Forever" tells the story of a time his family of four leased out their home in Maine and took off on a six-month tour of the world. They had a location or two in mind, but by and large his family set off on a spontaneous adventure.


“We wouldn’t just be sightseeing. We’d be helping. Instead of impersonal hotels and budget restaurants, we’d be in communities where we were needed, making connections to local people, eating with them, living with them.”


Through Internet searches, Marshall found places where his family could volunteer their time. Usually about a month in each location. For next to nothing or in exchange for labor, these places providede ground transportation, room and board for the family.


Their first stop was Costa Rica. They worked at Osa Wildlife Sanctuary. Living among the spider monkeys. I do mean “among.”


Through a program called “World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms” (WWOOF), the Marshall family spent about a month in New Zealand with the Kiwis doing manual labor and a little sight seeing. 


Through a U.S. organization called Volunthai, they taught English in a rural Thai village. Although they encountered quite a  language barrier there, Marshall found the Thai people to be exceptionally polite and neat. 


From there, they volunteered at "The Farm" in New Delhi, India. A Christian orphanage. The children they met during this stint would change their lives forever. Although Marshall didn’t share the faith of these workers or the orphans, he realized: 

“Faith for these boys was not something to debate or deny. It was something to hold on to, a lifeline for them when the world had tossed them aside.”


Next stop, the Himalayas. Land of many mountain ranges and Tibetan Buddhism. They experienced both first hand. On their way to see THE Dalai Lama, they passed a sign that read:  

“The Khardung La Pass; The Highest Motorable Road in the World (18,380 Feet).”


Finally, the Marshall family concluded their trip around the world in Portugal. A city they’d lived in when their kids were younger. They reunited with some old friends and, although not quite back to their home state of Maine, they knew this place. 

“We walked familiar hillsides, through fields of rosemary and wild fennel, past ripening fig and almond trees, eventually ending up at our favorite private coves.”


What an incredible journey! You read about the areas this family visited. But you also read about the life journey of each family member. Marshall gained a whole new appreciation for home. He also learned to let the small stuff slide. His wife remembered what she enjoyed most about life. Spontaneity and compassion. Their teenage son gained a great deal of confidence and realized the value in helping others. Their daughter, after surviving the trauma of spending six months all but “unplugged,” lost her interest in teen drama. Her eyes and heart had been opened to a great big world that didn’t revolve around her.


A trip well worth every penny.


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