At Hammam-e Sultan Mir Ahmad (Persian bath) in Kashan, Iran.
Audrey Scott and Daniel Noll are Americans turned world travelers who have covered more than 70 countries in almost five years together—and they’re still married. Driven by curiosity and a desire to share unfamiliar places with the world, they publish inspiring photos and stories on their website, Uncornered Market, and do their part to change the “ugly American” perception while abroad. AFAR gets some insight into just how they do it.
Tell me a little bit about your backgrounds and how you both became world travelers?
Audrey: For me the travel bug started almost immediately. My parents were diplomats and I took my first trip abroad when I was five weeks old when my parents moved to Chennai, India for two years. I actually spent most of my childhood abroad in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. As an adult, I still wanted to travel and learn and live abroad so I spent two years in the Peace Corps in Estonia. So for me, it’s been an ongoing journey about exploring as many places as I could as well as exploring places that are not as well understood or traveled.
Dan: And my life is infinitely more interesting because I spent the first 18 years of it living in Scranton, Pennsylvania (laughs). I went to school in upstate New York and didn’t travel outside North America until I was 26. My first trip abroad was to India.
You moved to Prague together in 2001. Why was it important for you to live abroad?
Dan: We knew deep inside that we had this resourcefulness, but setting out on something like this really forced us to employ that resourcefulness. We had friends and family say we were crazy for doing this. Czechs would ask us “Why did you move here from San Francisco? That’s such a beautiful place.” And those same exact questions were asked of us when we left Prague five years ago to travel around the world. It’s this pattern that we describe to people as “regret for what ifs.” It’s the idea of not wanting to, in five or ten or twenty years after time flies, look back and wonder “What if?”
Your mission seems twofold: to spread awareness about unfamiliar places but also to represent a different kind of American traveler to the people you encounter abroad.
Dan: Yeah, it is. I don’t think we set out so deliberately to do that in the beginning, but once we began interacting with people and traveling to places like the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the former Soviet Union—places that we were kind of afraid of—we learned that these were special places. We started questioning what that fear says about ourselves and others, in terms of what we do and don’t understand. That’s what we wanted to understand for ourselves and then share with our readers.
Audrey, I found the part in your bio about seeking ‘everyday universal experiences’ wherever you are intriguing. How do you find these experiences?
Audrey: One of the places where I seek universal experiences is at markets. It’s in this ordinary life where you find the differences and the special moments. It’s also where you find a lot of human interaction and surprises. For example, we went to Uzbekistan, which a lot of people fear, and we went into a market in Bukhara, one of the silk road cities. Doing normal things like shopping for grapes and cheese with other people just opened up so many conversations. Women started showing me how they bless their fruit with smoked herbs. And the next thing I knew I was talking to them about their families, about education, and about life. You realize that there are more similarities between people, which sounds clichéd, but the more you travel the more you realize it. Going through the marketplaces and chatting with young girls in Iran, I realized that they’re focused on the same things as girls in the United States, like trying to get away with as much makeup as possible and testing the limits with their mothers about what they’re wearing. Of course, the circumstances there are much different, but the underlying similarity is there.
I’m glad you brought up Iran because your site has placed a lot of emphasis on the country lately. If there were one thing you could share with Americans about Iran what would it be?
Dan: Iran and its people are not scary. The general narrative in American media is that Iran is a place that’s going to potentially be at war with the United States, and because of that, it’s easy for Americans to perceive it as a place of dangerous people. Not only was that not the case, but as Americans, we were welcomed with particularly open arms and hugs and invitations to people’s homes. This was right when the American hikers were released from jail and the [International Atomic Energy Agency] report about nuclear plants, so there was all sorts of rhetoric flying back and forth. If there was ever a time to test the hypothesis about the place not being as dangerous as people think, this was it.
Is that often how you pick destinations? You choose a hot-button place and try to disprove the stereotypes?
Audrey: We’re interested in places that are changing quickly—economically, socioeconomically—and also places that we didn’t understand very well. Some people think we’re adrenaline junkies and that’s not it at all. We do our research. We contact people on the ground and try to get a good idea for the safety issues before we go to a place. We’re not trying to put ourselves at risk, for ourselves or for our family. But when it’s a place that we have an intense curiosity about and we do our research, even if perhaps on the surface from the media it seems like a difficult time, if our research says it isn’t we’ll go.
Dan: One thing we’ve suggested to people is to push the edges of their apprehensions. I think we both feel like one way we can actually embody that is to go to these places. Not to jump right into the middle of the flash point, but to go to these places that are lesser understood.
How do you deal with the uncertainty?
Dan: The level of uncertainly that you have to accept is sometimes beyond what most people would be comfortable with. We have to manage our expectations and make compromises, not only with ourselves but because we are a couple, which means there are more expectations to be stirred into the mix. There’s a post on our website about living deliberately that captures a lot of this.
How have you traveled around the world together for five years without killing each other?
Dan: There’s an article on the site in fact titled “How to Travel the World Together Without Killing Each Other.” (Laughs).
Audrey: Patience is a big part. A sense of humor is another. Also just checking in with your partner to make sure their goals are still alive. People change, things change, so whether it’s your travel style or your life’s goals, it’s important to be constantly communicating. That can be tough when things aren’t going well. But at the same time, we have each other, which is a great blessing. We’re two sets of eyes, two sets of observations. We’ll often come home at the end of the day and share completely different experiences. Even though we’re in the same place, we learn and experience something different, and that’s one of the joys of traveling with someone.
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