On Feb. 1 of last year, Cleveland-area native Lindsay Marissa Osborne, then 27, embarked on the trip of a lifetime. As part of her initiative, The Small World Project
, she traveled to 32 countries around the globe in 11 months.
Documenting the stories of natives she stayed with through video and social media, Osborne’s goal is to create a ripple in counteracting the negative perceptions she continuously saw portrayed – and perpetuated – through the media.
“Almost all you see in the media is what’s bad about a country,” says Osborne. “It only gives us a skewed view.”
Her travels showed her a different world. Osborne’s first stop was Auckland, New Zealand and she continued through Australia, Asia, the Middle East, Africa and South America. She returned to her hometown of Brecksville on Dec. 23.
In her living room, vintage sepia-toned Disney books line the table. For anyone who grew up mesmerized by the animated tales, the singalong “It’s A Small World” brings to mind a melting pot of diversity. It’s part of what inspired the title of Osborne’s project. Through her travels and documentation, Osborne hopes to encourage others to see cultures through a different lens.
Previously, Osborne lived in Los Angeles and Nashville, where she managed touring bands and played country music. She landed jobs in the service industry at some of Nashville’s top nightlife hot spots, but something didn’t feel right.
Night after night, she overheard comments guests made about other cultures and it gave her a new perspective of the misconceptions many held.
It was the start of Osborne's world-wide project. She saved her money and raised $1,000 toward the trip through a Kickstarter campaign. She received another $1,000 in donations from her website.
For nearly her entire trip, Osborne used the popular website Couchsurfing
, a service that connects travelers to locals who open their homes for free stays.
“A hotel isn’t the best way to learn about a culture,” she says. “And even at hostels, everyone you’re surrounded by are other tourists. It can be the blind leading the blind. I felt very at home at each place I stayed.”
One exception was in Bali. When her mother and sister came to visit, the three instead “Reverse Couchsurfed” by inviting a native to stay with them at a villa. Wika Kusmira stayed with the family for four days to show them around the county.
Lindsay's mom Lorraine, Lindsay, Wika, and her sister Courtney at their rental in Katana Villa
“Every country has different foods, culture, and habits,” says Kusmira of her stay with the Osbornes. “To learn, we need to stay with local people and see how they live.”
In the recent year, there’s been no shortage of talk in the media about women traveling alone, including a Time
article last February entitled “Why Every Woman Should Travel Alone” and in USA Today
debunking “5 Myths of Women Traveling Solo” last July.
Many cite the potential for loneliness or boredom along the way. Skeptics need look no further than Osborne, who insists it’s a way to dive directly in and experience a culture firsthand.
But in spite of the generosity Osborne met with, it was her father who was concerned about her trip. When traveling alone, including abroad, safety can always be met with uncertainly.
“He said some things that broke my heart because it was what I was trying to fight against,” she says.
While in Hong Kong, Osborne met a Pakistani who invited her dad to visit his home to see if he could help shift her father’s perspective. Together the three visited Sheikh Zayed Grand, a mosque in Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates
. The place of worship itself was constructed to unite the diversity of the Islamic world.
“The guide walking us through took a moment to say, ‘I know that there are many misconceptions about us, but they’re not the case,’” recalls Osborne. “I remember my dad connecting with that. In the end, he said it was his dream trip.”
Much like her friend who eager to show off his native Pakistan, Osborne met many people through an online Couchsurfing forum who begged surfers to come to their country to share its untold stories. Among them was a Rwandan who urged readers to visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial. Because of his comments, Osborne visited the museum and is helping to spread the message through her narratives.
Last year, Osborne also launched #TSWP
, an acronym for The Small World Project. Much like #RAKE
, the popular Random Acts of Kindness Everywhere campaign created by Clevelander Ricky Smith, Osborne encourages her followers to use #TSWP to share positive messages and news of all kinds.
It was in part inspired by the ISIS videos. “They were using social media to spread hate and fear,” she says of the ISIS videos. “You see the power that’s giving them. What if we did the reverse? You can do a lot by drowning out that noise.”
Lindsay at the Monastery at Petra
Osborne’s final destination was Lima, Peru, where she visited Convento de San Francisco, an historic monastery, library and catacombs. Its library holds more than 25,000 antique texts.
Back home, Osborne shows a piece of jewelry that attaches to a sari given to her by her Couchsurfing family in Mumbai.
She thumbs over a few bronze ancient Roman coins found in Petra, Jordan. Though in America it’s common to give gifts to those we stay with, in many countries hosts are the ones who equally bestow the gifts.
Osborne will soon continue her journey. She’ll be traveling to Hawaii, where she’ll continue editing her videos and piecing together her trip around the world – to share with everyone. A book may even be in her future.
“When I decided I was going to go do this, it was always about going out in search of human kindness,” says Osborne. “And I knew I would find it.”