NYT best selling author Andra Watkins wants you to take a gap year
Do you remember the first time you traveled abroad? Once you were out there wandering cobblestoned streets, making new friends, and tasting every local delicacy you could get your hands on, did you stop and think to yourself, “Man, I wish I had started traveling sooner.” Did your first experiences with international travel uncover new passions you didn’t even know you had?
In this field, it’s a tale as old as time. You never forget your first international trip and it almost always leads you down a new, less-trodden, but more fulfilling path. Best selling author Andra Watkins can relate. She didn’t start traveling until later in her life, but her experience working with Rotary International students—and her own young travel aspirations—inspired her upcoming book, “I Am Number 13,” about a young woman who embarks on a gap year in Honduras and how that experience uncovers who she truly is.
We sat down for an interview with Andra Watkins about her experience with travel, the inspiration behind her book, and what she hopes to accomplish with it. Spoiler: she wants you (yes, YOU) to travel! Preferably sooner, rather than later.
I really wasn’t allowed to travel as a kid. You’re encouraging teens and people in their early 20s [and everyone...really!] to get out and see the world, and my parents were too stifling to let me do that. So, I didn’t go out of the country until I was 32. I can’t tell you how much travel has altered my life and shaped who I am, and I think every travel experience does that for us.
[Travel] gives us another boundary that we need to push out of our own lives and gives us a way to experience life differently. And, understand that experiencing [life] differently isn’t bad. It can be one of the most illuminating, exciting, and exhilarating things we can do.
Tales from Andra’s travels
I had a recent experience where I was selected as a writer in residence at a place in Switzerland. And, so I went and I had dinner with these five Swiss people who were total strangers, who ended up being friends by the end of the night.
We had a wonderful evening and late in the evening one of them looked at me and said, “I don’t know that I would ever go to America and just go to a random dinner like this. I didn’t realize that Americans like you existed. And, how adventurous it was of you to just come and spend an evening with a bunch of strangers who speak French.”
So, it meant a lot to me to have that experience and be sort of an ambassador for our country in a world that doesn’t, maybe, see Americans very favorably.
What travel has taught her
One of the things that I think travel has taught me, is that all these cliches that we believe are not really true. You can certainly find people who personify those cliches in any culture, but in general the people are not, at all, like what you hear they are once you really get to know them. And, that’s one of the reasons I wished I had traveled when I was 15.
More about “I Am Number 13”
Fiction really gives me a way to explore roads not taken. I think it’s one of the most interesting ways as a creator, as an artist, as a writer, to explore things I wish I’d done.
And so, my character in this book, “I Am Number 13” is an 18-year-old girl [Emmaline], and she finds out on the day she’s graduating from high school that her father has died in a car accident. But, she had committed to work with refugees in Central America on a gap year and deferred her entrance to Vanderbilt University for a year to do that. So, she decides to go on with that plan.
The book is a fantasy book because through this work with refugees she finds out who she really is. Her parents aren’t who she thought they were and she’s not who she thought she was. So, the experience of volunteering and spending time in another culture gives her a springboard to find out who she really is and it’s very transformative for her. As I think it would have been for me—or for anybody.
I was very involved with the leadership of Rotary International and so we had a youth exchange program, and I would interview the students. Most of the people we interviewed were 18 and they were taking a gap year. And, I just loved following these kids and seeing how they would all—I mean, it happened to every one of them—they were just totally transformed.
I don’t know that Emmaline’s experience [from “I Am Number 13”] in my book is as true as somebody who’s done one would say it is. But, I hope that meeting these people has given her a sense of truth to her gap year.
I think those experiences, those gap years and those young travel experiences, make us into such interesting and flexible and diverse, adventurous people. And I want as many people as possible to make that choice.
Following a dream isn’t glamorous. It’s the hardest thing anybody will ever, ever, ever, ever do, but I have never been happier.
Where can you get “I Am Number 13”?
After our interview with Andra Watkins we’re just as eager to get our hands on this book as you are! The good news is, it will be available to purchase in the Fall! To learn a little more about the book, stay up to date with its release, and check out some more of her work, go to Andra’s website.
Whether you’re a returned gapper, a soon-to-be gapper, or just a lifelong lover of travel and reading, “a speculative blend of riveting suspense, forgotten history, and a dash of paranormal fiction,” we think you’ll find I Am Number 13 entertaining and inspiring—just like its wonderful creator, Andra Watkins.
So...what are you waiting for?
If you’re still hesitant about traveling—especially as a teen—we’re here to assuage your fears. Seeing this great big ol’ world around us will only benefit you. Hopefully our interview with Andra Watkins has left you as inspired as it left us.
And when you can’t drop everything, pack up, and travel, books can help you go to new places and experience life through a new set of eyes. Just don’t ever let that stop you from going out there and traveling to experience the world through your own eyes.