The interview “Travel and Personal Growth” by Maria Angelova originally appeared in Authority Magazine in their March 4th, 2023 publication.
Travel and Personal Growth
Thankfully, the world is open for travel once again. Traveling can broaden our horizons and make space for people to become more open-minded. How can travel give us the opportunity for personal growth? What are some ways that travel can help us become better human beings? As a part of our series about “How Traveling Can Help Us Become Better Human Beings”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alexis Dees.
Alexis Dees is a published author and content creator who is best known for her travel blog “Carousel of Chaos” and dark fantasy series “Masqueraded”. A theme park and circus performer, her work focuses on amusement attractions and unique East Coast destinations to entertain, educate, and inspire people to live an extraordinary life of travel and whimsy. Her work has been featured on Associated Press, LA Tribune, and Digital Journal.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I’m a North Carolina native who grew up in Virginia Beach, a tourist hotspot on the East Coast and melting pot from the Norfolk Naval Base. And for as long as I can remember, I’ve always been enthralled and in the thick of travel, amusement attractions, quirky places, writing, and anything creative based.
Starting in my teens, I studied mechanical engineering for years and transitioned from dance to aerial arts because of my fixation with amusement rides and circus respectively. I’m still very much into ride design, but eventually shifted focus to the thematic elements behind them. Which in turn, also translated to interest in the stories behind more conventional travel places. I’ve found a lot of unique history and experiences in both tourist destinations like Virginia Beach and hidden gem small towns like Medina, Ohio.
All of that ended up intertwining into everything I did recreationally and academically as a kid: traveling around the East Coast, nerding over theme parks and roller coasters, training in different circus arts, and writing about each of those topics. I also began working in theme park entertainment.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I think it started with an evolution from traveling, writing, and performing recreationally leading to opportunities and possibilities that indicated it could become a career. I then explored the different avenues available in the work field related to those interests. And finding one that sort of encapsulated them all, I chased it.
If I could share these unique places, attractions, and stories with people through a creative medium, I’m sold! Putting my knowledge and skillset to use in a fun way that’s beneficial for people, whether that’s in edutainment or inspiration, why not make a career of it?
Seeing cases of people visiting SeaWorld as a kid and becoming a marine biologist as adult, moving around a lot in a military family and growing up to be travel bloggers, and visiting Epcot Center as a child and then making a career in the tech industry–I knew it was possible to do the same in my own way.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
Totally! And the answer is absolutely cliche, but it’s definitely my parents.
My mom has always been supportive of anything I do. If it’s my dance recital, she’s both in the front row and the dressing room getting me ready. If it’s opening night for my attraction at my theme park gig, she’s there getting the first footage of it. If it’s the release day for my latest book, she’s bought the first copy printed. So in any endeavor of mine, she’s the biggest cheerleading encouraging me on.
And likewise, my dad is the exact same way in being supportive and proud of my work. He’s also an entrepreneur who has run multiple successful businesses, which is of course influential for a kid growing up around. He’s always coming up with something new and then putting forth a strong work ethic in everything he’s done. So, that has definitely encouraged my endeavors and the way I work as well.
It has been said that sometimes our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or takeaway did you learn from that?
So, when I first started my travel blog, Carousel of Chaos, I was also in the midst of publishing my first book, Masqueraded: Act One. It was 2–3 months away from publication date for Masqueraded, so I was deep in finalizing manuscripts, working with the cover artist, PR on the press release and book tours, and distribution partners… I bit off more than I could chew.
My blog went stagnant during those few months because I overbooked myself. So, learning to pace projects out rather than working everything at once was a key takeaway!
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“If you can dream it, you can do it.” It’s often misattributed to Walt Disney although the company has said he’s never been known to say that exactly. It was written by Tom Fitzgerald for Horizons at Epcot Center.
And, I think it resonates so much because it’s so true! Every project, work, company, invention–it all started off as a dream of someone’s. They stuck to it and worked at it until it became reality. It’s a theme I see a lot everywhere. So, it’s not just a figure of speech, it proves itself.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I’m in the full swing of things with my travel blog, Carousel of Chaos, and that’s been a lot of fun! I’ve been aiming at posting twice weekly for a while, filling in the winter months. But it lends well to the edutainment concept in being both entertainment, exploring different amusement attractions and creative stories, and educating in providing how other young adults can experience them for themselves.
And, I’m likewise working on Masqueraded: Act Two, the second part of my book series. But this time around, I’ve definitely got my pacing on both projects straightened out!
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview about travel and personal growth. Let’s dive deeper into these together. Based on your research or personal experience, why do you think travel can lead to personal growth? Can you share a story?
First hand experience is the greatest way a person can learn, better than studying in a classroom. And, learning is always the key to growth.
Travel introduces you to so many new things: a different way of living, line of thinking, culture and experiences, and even career paths. It forces you to experience something different from what you’re used to, something you can walk away from having learned and thusly grown from even if you’re not consciously aware of it.
I’ve worked in the theme park industry for about a decade now and in doing so, I’ve seen how something that can be regarded as a trivial vacation entertainment has influenced people’s lives. Parks have been something I’ve enjoyed as well as a breather when I’m going through a hard period in life. I met the full circle in that when a couple years ago, my cast and I were contacted by a father who had lost his mom earlier that week. He said that he didn’t want to cancel the trip on his kids, so they still made the visit and watching our attraction was the first time he’d seen his kids smile since their loss. That’s spawned a lot of the sentiment I hold with all of my projects and throughout my career.
I’ve also known a number of people who are within their career path on account of the different parks they’ve traveled to. Between Busch Gardens and SeaWorld, I know several people who have gone into animal welfare careers because of visiting these parks growing up. They now work as vets and in zoological jobs. And with Epcot Center, the early years of that park, I know of two people who have made careers in computer sciences and the tech industry because of the Horizons and CommuniCore pavilions.
Personally, I’ve seen more impact on people’s lives and themselves as a person at these edutainment type parks than I have at more conventional travel spots like Oahu and Puerto Rico.
A recent survey from Psychology Today showed that over 80% of participants found that travel helped them with problem-solving or decision-making. Why do you think this is true for so many people?
It goes in hand with travel forcing you to experience something new and different. You’re learning a new way of tackling problems or handling situations. You’re given new perspectives that influence you in your decision making.
Things also never go perfectly according to plan. Reality is unpredictable and odd, even, at times. There’ll be unforeseen situations that’ll come up on your trip that you’re going to have to problem solve or trouble shoot.
And, both of these points of course builds character organically and makes you more well rounded.
Do you think travel enhances our mindfulness, optimism, or sense of gratitude? How? Can you please explain with an example or story?
Being exposed to different lifestyles and cultures, experiences and situations that are different from what you know undoubtedly makes you mindful.
It can be seeing first hand the impact of human development on the natural environment and wildlife. It can be learning the steps people are taking every day to furthering society or in conservation work. Or, it can be realizing that something like air conditioning isn’t as common as you’d expected it to be and just appreciating that simple fact.
I know I’m both mindful and optimistic seeing the efforts and progress in wildlife rehabilitation across the country.
There are a lot of positive takeaways to be found out there.
Surely not everyone who travels automatically becomes an exemplar of human decency. What are a few reasons why some people completely miss out on the growth opportunities that travel can offer?
People that miss out on growth opportunities from traveling are missing out because of a closed mindset, negativity, and stubbornness.
It’s hard to not walk away having grown in some sense. And, I think it comes from a mindset of having preconceived notions about a place or experience and not being open to learning anything otherwise. Alternatively, trivializing something or just always seeing the negative in anything and not being receptive to the new or the different lingers in some people too.
It’s a shame because they truly are missing out.
Thank you for that. Now for our main question; What are your “5 Habits You Should Develop In Order Make Travel Into An Opportunity For Personal Growth?”
Mindfulness: Carrying over from the last question, go into your travels open minded and receptive to the new experience around you. Have a positive mindset and be self aware/active of keeping that mindset the entire time.
Learn: Start the day with the thought process “I’m going to have learned something new by the end of this day.” And, regardless of whether or not that new thing you learned feels trivial or not, try to learn something new from your trip. Anything. Whether that’s the recipe for the pinchos you just tried or that manatees love lettuce.
Observe: Take a second to stop and observe what’s around you and the meaning behind it. Two examples… At Oahu, you notice the landscape is pretty. Why? It’s an important part of Hawaiian culture to nurture the Earth. At a theme park, you notice people having fun on a ride. Why? They’re not stressed or thinking about what’s going on at home, they’re simply enjoying the moment and being entertained by something designed for that purpose.
Challenge yourself: Do things that are outside of your comfort zone. If you’ve never been outside of the country before, head overseas. If the 300 foot roller coaster is intimidating, try out the 100 foot one.
Go unconventional: Whether it’s a local’s recommendation, hole in the wall restaurant, rogue path, or a weird attraction, find something unconventional and atypical of the usual activities in the destination you’re visiting. Odds are, you’ll stumble into a neat hidden gem or unique experience!
From your experience, does travel have a negative impact on personal growth too? Is there a downside to travel?
I wouldn’t say travel has a negative impact on personal growth although it might yield a negative experience here and there.
Safety is naturally something to be aware of and researched before your trip. Always remember that even at vacation spots, wildlife still lurks around and some ill intentioned people scout out naive tourists.
And there are likewise random instances like the hotel turned out to be really shoddy or you lost your wallet while you were sightseeing.
All of those are unpleasant experiences you hope to avoid, but at the very least you’ll grow from it. Maybe you’ll learn a new self defense technique or how to identify sketchy hotels before you book them online. But hopefully, you won’t have to learn the hard way! Just do a lot of prep and research before you go!
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
Probably Bob Iger because I’m a theme park junkie and spearheading such a massive, iconic company like Disney has to have been a wild ride with some interesting stories.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
The best place is my website carouselofchaos.com followed by my IG @carouselofchaos! I’m also on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter by the same handle. And, all of my books are published under my name, Alexis Dees.
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.
About The Interviewer: Maria Angelova, MBA is a disruptor, author, motivational speaker, body-mind expert, Pilates teacher and founder and CEO of Rebellious Intl.
As a disruptor, Maria is on a mission to change the face of the wellness industry by shifting the self-care mindset for consumers and providers alike. As a mind-body coach, Maria’s superpower is alignment which helps clients create a strong body and a calm mind so they can live a life of freedom, happiness and fulfillment.
Prior to founding Rebellious Intl, Maria was a Finance Director and a professional with 17+ years of progressive corporate experience in the Telecommunications, Finance, and Insurance industries. Born in Bulgaria, Maria moved to the United States in 1992. She graduated summa cum laude from both Georgia State University (MBA, Finance) and the University of Georgia (BBA, Finance).
Maria’s favorite job is being a mom. Maria enjoys learning, coaching, creating authentic connections, working out, Latin dancing, traveling, and spending time with her tribe. To contact Maria, email her at [email protected].