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Alisa Tank

Author Interview - Alisa Tank

Alisa lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, where she works in international education at the University of Utah. Originally from Wisconsin, she studied French at the University of Minnesota and went on to obtain a master’s degree in international public service from DePaul University. At times calling Minneapolis, Chicago, Vermont, and France her home, she’s now pursuing her interest in writing, while also making time for outdoor adventures in the mountainous West.

“Travel isn’t merely the act of moving; it’s how you see things once you get there.”

Share with us your most meaningful experience to date. What made it meaningful?

One of my most meaningful travel experiences is also one of my earliest. When I was 17, I spent my summer in France, living with a host family in a rural village. I was put on a train and told when to get off; the family of strangers I’d live with for the next month would meet me there. I was all alone and could barely communicate. What was I doing? Yet, that question excited me as much as it scared me.

I spent six weeks in France and learned something new every day.  I visited Paris, saw how champagne was made, and ate more than I’d ever eaten before. Sometimes, my two-year-old host sister corrected my French. I went to bed exhausted every night, but I started to feel more confident during my daily trip to the boulangerie, and that little town on the hill began to feel like home. Living with a family allowed me to understand French culture in a way that visiting as a tourist never could.

One day in the kitchen, lingering over a late lunch, my host dad asked me, “How come you didn’t come here for longer?” When I told him I was scared to be away from home for a whole year, he responded, “But what is a year, really? It’s such a tiny portion of a life. It goes by so quickly.” He was right, and from that moment on, I promised myself I’d make the most of every opportunity, even if it initially scared me. Three years later, I spent an entire year abroad in France, and after gaining the confidence to live abroad on my own, the whole world seemed to open up.

What is your packing philosophy?

In all seriousness, I have a recurring nightmare where I’m late for my flight and I haven’t packed yet. For that reason, I like to start packing a couple days before I depart. First I make lists, then I throw things from the list into my bag, and eventually I end up with a huge pile of everything. Then I go through and organize it so it all fits. This also gives me time to ruminate on the list and remember anything that I might be forgetting. I’m happy to say this overly-organized method has resulted in rarely forgetting anything for a trip!

Who is your favorite fictional adventurer and why?

I don’t read a lot of fiction these days, but when I was growing up, I loved reading stories with strong female characters. Anne of Green Gables, Madeline, and Matilda may not have traveled far, but they portrayed young girls who stood up for themselves, knew what they wanted, and stayed positive in the face of life’s hurdles. These are attributes that stayed with me and remind me that it’s ok to follow my dreams and be independent.

Who or what inspires your travels?

Today I’m more inspired by real-life role models: women travelers, adventurers, and writers who’ve dared to try something new. Cheryl Strayed is a big inspiration to me; she writes life’s experiences so eloquently and her book Wild encourages me to keep exploring the outdoors.

What is the strangest, most unexpected life lessons you’ve learned while traveling?

I’ve learned that you don’t have to go far to consider yourself a “traveler.” I used to travel internationally quite often, but lately I’ve been exploring closer to home, for a number of reasons. At first this change frustrated me, but I eventually came to understand that I could be just as much of a traveler in my own country as I was when I was flying around the globe. Within a day’s drive I can find jagged, winding sandstone canyons; miles of mountain peaks tracing the skyline; and remnants of ancient peoples who lived here long ago. Discovering these places has been just as exciting as exploring Hanoi or Amman, albeit in a different way.

While I don’t post as many Facebook check-ins from far-off countries anymore, I’ve learned that anyone can be a traveler, and you can start anywhere you’d like. Your hometown, the city three hours away, or any other place that interests you. Travel isn’t merely the act of moving; it’s how you see things once you get there.