I have always wanted to travel. I vividly remember a long-ago business trip to Miami, sitting on the beach after a morning run and calling my husband, Todd, to tell him we had to quit our jobs, sell the house and see the world. A few months later, Todd received a publishing contract to write a series of travel guides entitled Bike & Brew America (pairing great mountain bike trails with great brew pubs). We quit our jobs, sold the house and over the next two years traveled from one beautiful town to the next; camping under the stars in our small tent with our dog Nikki. It was wonderful and challenging and all too soon it was over.
Traditional life continued. We renewed our careers, adopted more dogs, had a couple kids, adopted a few more dogs…but my desire to travel overseas did not wane. I wanted to see all the magnificent art and architecture and to experience all that history. But, we now had so many excuses to just stay home.
Then in 2012, all the excuses stopped. I was training as part of a six-woman relay team to swim a double crossing of the English Channel (from England to France and back again) to raise money and awareness for ALS/MND (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Four months before our swim, I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer.
Over the next 4 months I had surgery to remove the tumor and underwent 16 weeks of chemotherapy. I continued to train throughout. Sixteen days after my final infusion, still exhausted, nauseous and bald, we swam to France and back again in 18 hours and 55 minutes - setting a new world record. We also raised over $120,000 for ALS.
I returned home to 6 weeks of radiation. While all evidence pointed to being cancer free, another threat on my life was uncovered. During a routine CT scan, doctors reported an “incidental” finding of a brain aneurysm. So, just a month after my final radiation treatment, I underwent a craniotomy to clip the aneurysm. When my neurosurgeon came out to see Todd following the operation, he told him it appeared ready to burst. In a strange twist of fate, breast cancer saved my life.
Those 7 months made it clear how quickly life can change. Todd and I decided there should be no more excuses and our family began to travel. We went to dream destinations like Amsterdam, Sydney, London, Cleveland, Paris, Athens and the Greek Isles, Antwerp, Bruges, Rome, Florence and Venice. We checked the well-known tourist sites and museums off our list.
Unfortunately, more often than not, we were underwhelmed by the experience. At historical sites like the Roman Forum, it was often difficult to distinguish one standing column or pile of rubble from another and at museums the paintings soon began to all look the same. Every so often, we would come across a wonderful tour guide who gave us a glimpse into what we were truly seeing. But tours can be expensive, difficult to find availability or fit into a time schedule. And, surprisingly, sometimes the guide gave inaccurate information.
To better prepare, I began doing research before we left on our trips. We soon realized the huge difference a little bit of knowledge made in our own experiences. Putting a place in context with fascinating events of the past allowed our family to see these sites in an entirely new way.
I began telling stories to Todd and my kids about real historical figures who had walked on the exact same spot of ground they were standing on. We spent time trying to imagine what it would have been like to have witnessed those events: to sneak through those secret passageways at the Palazzo Vecchio and share state secrets with the Grand Duke of Tuscany; to be at the Doge’s Palace in Venice on the day Casanova escaped; or to stand side-by-side with Leonardo da Vinci as he crafted one of his masterpieces.
I soon realized that education given through entertainment (quality storytelling) was the key to making these experiences valuable and satisfying. The idea of Museum Edutainment and BARDEUM was born.
Here is a link to a documentary on Amanda's record-breaking swim across the English Channel: