Far Beyond Kentucky

Updated: Jul 8, 2020

| This is the 173rd story of Our Life Logs |

My life began in the small town of Morgantown, Kentucky in 1992. If you are wondering what it was like, just picture farmland, connected to more farmland, all serving as the resting place for groups of horses and wooden fences. The rolling hills in the distance gave a sense of remoteness, and confinement—as if the only life was inside the grassy walls. I grew up in this town with my loving parents, and made many friends who I would chase and be chased by in the fields.

At 13, my family and I moved to Louisville, Kentucky where I lived up until college. I was a shy, nerdy girl who (by then) preferred reading fantasy books about wizards and adventures to making new friends. While reading, I could really go places, even if I hadn’t been out of Kentucky for more than a few family vacations.

While I was in college at Northern Kentucky University (just a few hours away from home), I had the option to take a Harry Potter themed class where I could practically live out what had been sealed inside my head for so long. I was such a huge nerd that “no” was not even an option! It just so happened that this class was taught in London, England and I would have to study abroad for this magical experience.

I thought, why not?

When I stepped off the plane 2013, I really did experience magic—not from the books I brought with me, no. This magic was right in front of me! The cobblestone streets, the bustling civilians on their morning commutes, Big Ben, and food that sent my taste buds singing.

I had seen hundreds of pictures, I had watched dozens of international films, and yes, I had been known to use Google Maps from time to time. But to live and breathe in a brand-new place was just so awesome. Before I got on the plane to return home, I was bit by the “travel bug”—for which there is no cure.

Visiting Harry Potter Studios in London, England in 2013.

The next year, I took a study-abroad trip to Cuba. Wow! What a place! Every vibrant color and whiff of salt water was nothing like London, and nothing like Morgantown. This made me wonder, what else was out there? What else could I see? When I got back from that trip, I decided I would finish my degree, and immediately return to Europe to explore some more.

I started saving up every penny I earned. I knew I was going to Europe next, but I had no idea exactly where I would stay, or how long I would be there—but it didn’t really matter because the uncertainty didn’t scare me. Instead, I awaited the promise of something new.

At the time, I had been dating a guy named Michael who was living in Louisville, Kentucky. I told him about my dreams while he listened with a kind heart. My mind was so focused on travel, and I was afraid that our relationship might crumble if I wasn’t able to go where the wind blew. So, I gave him an ultimatum. Either come along with me, or let’s take a break. Turns out, he had the same thirst for travel as me (I don’t know if I could have dated someone without) and agreed. What a relief!

After graduation in 2014, I went back to Louisville, with a backpack full of necessities and aspirations. Problem was, I couldn’t say the same for Michael. He had saved just $300 and didn’t even have a backpack!

That was tough. I had made up my mind months ago, I was going to Europe. Without really thinking, I cut things off with Michael, and went to Europe alone. Nothing was going to get in the way of another fantastical adventure!

Well, four days later, the adrenaline wore off and the consequence of my hasty decision sunk in. The buildings and landscapes looked duller without someone to walk beside. I missed Michael. I missed laughing and smiling and sharing jokes. I wrote him a long letter telling him I’d made a mistake, but he gave a harsh reply and was still mad and hurt. What had I done?

Well, one impulsive decision later, and I was on his doorstep with no money (the immediate flight back to the US was expensive) and a hundred reasons why I was sorry. No use. I had been rejected in this country too.

Defeated, I stayed in Louisville with my parents (now that I was broke), waiting tables and pinching pennies so I could begin another trip. Eventually Michael sought me out. Our conversation was just a bunch of apologies on top of each other. In the end, we agreed that our relationship was just as important as our travel aspirations, so together, we saved up money all summer so that we could spend an entire year in a new place. We chose New Zealand because…well, why not? They spoke English and we could each get a work visa that would last a year. That was a good enough reason for me.

Michael and I about to leave for New Zealand, August 2015.

But just as soon as we took in the majesty of New Zealand’s wild meadows, I received a phone call from my mother. “You need to come home immediately.” She said, “Your dad is in the hospital. We’ve already booked you a flight back.” My mom tended to be dramatic, so I asked a serious question I knew she wouldn’t dare over-dramatize.

“Is he dying?”


Michael and I scrambled out of our hostel and beelined to the airport. We boarded the plane wearing shorts and thin shirts, clearly dressed for the New Zealand summer. But in the US, it was the dead of winter. By the time we landed and reached the hospital, it was the middle of the night, and my father died just hours later. I can’t even remember his last words.

Life is short, whether we live 50 years or 100 years. My father’s death made me wrestle with this fact. Within a month of being back in the soft hills of Kentucky, I knew I needed to make peace within myself.

After the funeral, after talking with Michael, I looked at my mom and said, “How would you like to visit New Zealand?” I knew I would find comfort there, and wanted to share it with my mom, who was hurting deeply.

And so, the three of us set off, and were able to heal together. We had given up our hostel, so we spent most of our time driving around the country in our van, setting up camp for the night. Michael and I were used to this lifestyle, but unfortunately, my mother was not. She needed a warm shower each night and more square footage of elbow room to be at peace. A month later, she traveled back to the US (hopefully feeling renewed—or at least feeling grateful for indoor plumbing).

In New Zealand with Michael and my mom, 2016.

After six more months in New Zealand, we traveled to Bali, then Indonesia, followed by Singapore, and finally Vietnam. By the time we reached Vietnam, our money was dwindling, and neither of us could find a job. One of our friends suggested we go to South Korea to teach. Again, why not? Michael bought our tickets with the last of our money except for $200. Once we made it to South Korea, we’d make it all back, right?

Eating together at one of our campsites.

Wrong. We arrived at the airport a few hours early but couldn’t find any information about our flight. After needless wandering, I handed my ticket to a worker. We found that we had overlooked one tiny detail. Michael had bought tickets for a 1 am flight—not 1 pm. WHAT?! Oh, and the tickets were nonrefundable. Luckily for Michael, I was so shocked by our situation that I forgot to release my anger.

There we were. Two clueless Americans, stranded in Vietnam with nothing but $200 and two plane tickets that would only be useful if we had a time machine. We didn’t, but I realized I had something better: my mom. She would know what to do. Moms always do, right? Well when I called her, she offered me just a few sentimentally profound words of her wisdom, “You’re dumb. It’s time for you to come home.”

She arranged a flight for us, and we returned to Louisville in September 2016. Though we had run out of money, I didn’t regret the experiences we had. We had seen so many amazing things, beautiful scenery, and unique cultures. Our travels had ended abruptly and unintentionally but our spirits hadn’t died. In fact, I felt more alive than ever before.

Being back in Kentucky once more reminded me of when I was a little girl, running through the fields with my friends, looking in awe at the hills surrounding my town. If I had that time machine, maybe I would have gone back to tell her that there was a world beyond those hills, many worlds, in fact, and that she would eventually see them all. But then, I would have taken the journey away from her, the discovery, the pursuit, and the inevitable failures that make her story so wonderful.

For now, all I can do is plan my next adventure, and keep looking beyond the hills.

This is the story of Amelia Hyatt

At the time of this story’s publication, Amelia is in Louisville, Kentucky with her husband Michael (the pair of travelers got married September 2018—congrats!). After studying abroad in London in college, the spark to travel and go on adventures ignited in Amelia, and she never let it die, staying in countries like New Zealand, Singapore, and Vietnam before returning to Louisville to boost her funds again. She never let the fear of taking risks enter her consciousness; she just did things which brought her incredible experiences. Amelia and her husband recently bought and converted a van into a small home in which they soon will be leaving on a road trip across the US. While they’re exploring the US, Amelia plans to do freelance writing jobs to help supplement their income during the trip. They also plan to bring along their newly adopted puppy! Amelia also enjoys reading, yoga, and cycling in her free time. She once participated in a 100-mile bike race for MS. Amelia believes that everyone should learn to take risks because the scariest part is just the jump.

Amelia and Michael on their wedding day, with their van, 2018.

This story first touched our hearts on October 10, 2018.

| Writers: Kristen Petronio; Colleen Walker |

#travel #passion #writer #studyabroad #dream #startingover #experience #love #exploration

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