I have always loved to travel. It started when I was a little girl when my family would take trips to Florida or go camping Up North in Michigan. Once I reached college, I grew to be more independent and found ways to explore new places. My travels have been nothing short of life-changing, and I encourage all girls to get out and experience other cultures and see new landscapes.


Who knew that hiking up a glacier would be so windy? Exit Glacier in Seward, Alaska.

My first big solo trip was to Alaska. After my second year of university, I landed an internship at the Alaska Museum of Science and Nature in Anchorage. I spent two months learning all about Alaskan animals, the Ice Age, dinosaurs, and earthquakes. In my free time I was able to bike around town, visiting local parks and the farmer’s market. I even hiked up a glacier! This trip helped me to gain confidence in myself – when I got home I felt that I could truly do anything that I set out to do.

After hiking up a series of waterfalls, the only way down was to jump! 27 Charcos in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic.

After hiking up a series of waterfalls, the only way down was to jump! 27 Charcos in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic.

After completing all of my university courses, I had to have a student teaching experience to practice my teaching skills. I completed some of this at a local school in Michigan, but was able to finish the last month in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. I lived with a Spanish-speaking family, taught students who spoke 2-4 languages, jumped off waterfalls, tried amazing new foods, and learned to salsa dance. This trip taught me that it can be so much fun to try new things – I literally earned the “bravery” award from my university at the end of the trip.

Most recently, I traveled to Europe and had an amazing time exploring four countries. The purpose of the trip was to attend summer school for my masters degree program at the University of Leicester. I thought, well I’ve already bought the plane ticket across the pond, so I might as well see what else is here! My favorite stops were Barcelona, Spain and La-Roque Gageac, France. Both are great places to try new foods and experience different cultures. At first, all of the small alleys seemed strange – they would be so creepy at home and I would never walk down one. But it seems as though that is where all of the hidden gems are in Europe: delicious restaurants, art boutiques, and gelato shops. It was a fun challenge to work with the language barrier and I really enjoyed communicating with the locals as we both tried mixtures of English, Catalan, Spanish, French, and gestures. Europe taught me that there is so much more to see in the world and it is amazing how similar, but different places and people can be when you travel a few hundred miles.


Hillary and her fiancé at La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.

My point is that girls and young women should make every effort to explore their world. Whether it is near or far, you’ll be amazed at how new cultural experiences can shape who you become. I can’t imagine life without adventure, and I know that you’ll be hooked once you try it!

-Hillary Hanel
Museum Education Advisor
Girl Museum Inc.

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