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Turning Fear Into Curiosity : On the Road with Audrey Scott and Dan Noll

This is a traveler case study. (Read others or nominate yourself.)

Audrey Scott and Daniel Noll have sold everything to travel the world—twice. After five years exploring Europe and being settled in Prague, they decided to pursue a new adventure. Here’s their story:

Tell us about yourselves.  

We’re a husband-and-wife speaking, writing and photography team. We’re both originally from the United States, but we’ve been living, working, and traveling abroad for 13 years.

With six suitcases and no jobs, we moved to Prague, Czech Republic. Everyone thought we were nuts. We weren’t, though. We were just curious about the world and its possibilities. Five years later our curiosity kicked in again, but this time it expanded beyond Europe to the rest of the world. We quit secure jobs and careers, sold everything (for the second time) and donned backpacks with the goal of traveling the world for 12-18 months in pursuit of a “creative sabbatical.”

Over seven years and 85 countries later (yes, we realize we have way more to go to catch up with Chris!) we’re still traveling and exploring. We still tend to confuse people when we talk about what we “do” and that we can essentially work from anywhere in the world as long as we have electricity and an internet connection.

As for what makes us tick, it’s this: turning fear into curiosity. Experiencing life. Story. Finding connection.

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How do you go about turning fear into curiosity?

By sharing stories of countries we visit and the people we meet, we hope to break down stereotypes and the fear of others to form connections based on our shared humanity. An idealistic objective perhaps, but that’s at the root of why we share stories. And this is why we often travel to places misunderstood or considered “dangerous” back home — places like Iran, Central Asia, Bangladesh, or Ethiopia.

We also believe in this on a personal level. Travel has the potential to be one of the greatest platforms for personal transformation. It pushes you constantly to face fears and do things that you don’t believe you can do. With new skills and confidence developed through overcoming these fears comes greater curiosity, greater interest in pursuit of what’s possible.

Do you have a recent experience in that?

We recently spent six weeks in East Africa, including two weeks in Ethiopia. During our visit there we went on a few treks in the Gheralta mountains of Tigray in the northern part of the country. Imagine the red rock deserts of Arizona or Utah, but with 1000+ year old cave churches carved into the cliffs at the top. The depth and breadth of history in Ethiopia amazed us, especially as you can feel such a strong connection between the culture and customs today and the past.

In order to get up to those cave churches we had to do a bit of free climbing on sandstone rock face. One small move and you could easily fall on one side of the cliff to the other. It was so tempting when things got tough to just say, “I can’t do this. I’ll sit this one out.” But we persevered with the help of our local guides who told us where to put our hands, feet, and weight so we could make it up the wall on our own.

The view of the mountains from the top was amazing, but it was the visits to these old churches covered in simple fresco religious paintings with an old priest to lead the way that made the experience so memorable. We learned that people form the nearby villages make that same climb sometimes every week for church service, while mothers will do it with a 40-day old baby tied on the backs. Perspective.

Our fear of falling was very real, but having that bigger goal (to get to the church) helped to keep that fear in check and focus on what we needed to do to get beyond it. There are probably many lessons for business and life in that.

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Have you learned anything from your time abroad?

The difference between the image of a place based on what we’ve seen on the news and the reality of ordinary life and people on the ground.

There seems to be an almost inverse relationship between how dangerous our friends and family think a place is and how welcome we have felt there. Whether it was traveling through Iran or all the ‘Stans of Central Asia or Bangladesh — countries that do not have the best reputation back home — we were surprised by the curiosity shown by local people about the United States. This provide such a great opportunity for citizen diplomacy, to learn and exchange.

How did you earn or save money for your trips?

When we began our big round-the-world journey at the end of 2006 we started out with savings. We had been working in Prague at the time and lived deliberately for several years — no car, a simple apartment, cooking at home often, etc. — in order to save money so we could travel for an extended creative sabbatical.

Once we began the big trip, we secured a few freelance writing and photography jobs almost by chance through out blog, Uncornered Market. These days some of our travel is sponsored by travel companies and tourism boards or is in connection to a conference at which we are speaking. However, we usually try to add extra time to these trips and explore more deeply and widely on our own, unencumbered by project work. We also always put aside time and money for our own independent trips — e.g., trekking in Ladakh or wine tasting in Strasbourg.

Now that we have transitioned from being fully nomadic to having a base in Berlin, we try to apply the same principles of living simply yet fully.

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The great debate: aisle or window?

Audrey = window

Dan = aisle

Best travel tips. Go:

1. Visit the fresh market.

This is one of the first places we usually go when we arrive in a new place. providing us grounding for a place as the market is usually a cross-section of society and full of activity.

2. Visit (or book an Airbnb in!) a city’s neighborhoods.

They will usually give you more opportunities to interact with local people and the restaurants are usually better as they are geared towards locals.

3. Walk as much as you can.

Walking provides you closer interaction with life on the streets and therefore helps you feel a place. So many great adventures can happen, walking and on public transit.

Where are you two headed next?

We’re enjoying spending time Berlin during the summer and are planning an early winter escape (perhaps to Sri Lanka).

Follow Dan and Audrey’s journey on their blog,  Uncornered Market  or via Twitter @umarket.

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