Member Spotlight: Katelyn Jarvis, Loveland, Ohio

Katelyn at the Blue Mosque in Mazar-I-Sharif, Afghanistan.

I was born into a family of strong, stubborn women. So, when I told my parents in March 2017 that I was quitting my job to travel the world indefinitely, it did not come as much of a surprise. As a child, my family traveled often — mostly by car throughout the continental United States. We drove everywhere. One of my fondest memories was a two-week road trip to the western United States where we visited the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, the Badlands of South Dakota, Yellowstone National Park, and down to Navajo territory in New Mexico.

My mother had a goal for us to visit all 50 US States, as she had done as a child. Her family was quite adventurous, as well. Their idea of a fun family vacation was traversing the Alaskan Highway through Canada before it was paved. To protect their windshield, they fixed a piece of chicken wire to the front of the car to keep rocks from breaking it. In June 2010, my family visited Alaska together and it became our 50th state together as a family.

After reaching my final state, I posted a Facebook status that said, “All 50 States: Check. Next up: All 7 Continents.” I had forgotten that I made this post but I chuckle now thinking about the trajectory my life has taken.

So how did I get to that moment in March 2017? While travel is a huge part of my life, so are athletics. Lacrosse was and still is one of my biggest passions. The feeling I get flying above the clouds, heading to a new place, is pretty darn close to how I feel when I step onto the lacrosse field. Many of my US East Coast travels happened during my high school years while I was playing for a national lacrosse team. My family would schedule time before or after tournaments to visit different areas of the northeast, Maine’s Acadia National Park being my personal favorite.

My lacrosse career continued on to college when I accepted a Division 1 scholarship to play at the University of Cincinnati. I played for three years, before I had to make the decision whether to accept an internship or continue my lacrosse career. I chose the internship. I was feeling very lost because lacrosse had been a part of my life for the last 10 years. I investigated the study abroad program and that is when I decided I was going to study abroad in Australia.

In July 2014, I flew to Melbourne, Australia to begin my semester abroad. It was also my first time traveling internationally alone. I fell in love with Australia, visiting all corners of the continent. After the semester ended, I spent a month in New Zealand. This is where I learned of the phenomena they call backpacking. That was it. The travel bug had bit me hard.

I went home and finished my studies, graduated in May 2015, and continued on to the work force. After working for two years, I felt unfulfilled and chose to leave my job. I decided to incorporate my own non-profit, Peace Stamps, and travel the world promoting cultural awareness.

In June 2017, I set off on my mission. While traveling, I worked with organizations that ranged from humanitarian issues to animal welfare to environmental issues. I volunteered at homeless shelters, animal hospitals, turtle sanctuaries, beach cleanups, and education centers for children with special needs. More recently, Peace Stamps has made it a priority to work with countries in crisis situations. Our most current projects have been in Afghanistan, Ukraine, and Liberia. Peace Stamps funded a girls school in Afghanistan, drove refugees from Ukraine to their new homes throughout Europe, and is currently working to fund a well in Liberia. I want Peace Stamps to be a light in the darkest moments of people’s lives.

While my travels have been about the Peace Stamps mission, I have still had a lot of fun too. One of my most memorable moments was when I traveled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo for my 27th birthday to trek with the Eastern Mountain Gorillas and then climb Mount Nyrigongo after. I observed the Baracka troop for an hour and it was incredible. I had adolescent gorillas curiously crawl towards me and the Chief Baracka charge me; sending me to my knees. Another highlight of my travels was visiting Syria. In January 2020, before the world shut down, a group of Americans and I were able to get the visa to go to Syria. We had an unforgettable time visiting Damascus, Homs, and the Roman ruins of Palmyra. This was also a memorable experience and one of my favorites.

Another one of my most impressionable trips was when I went to Federal Iraq with Ramblin’ Randy Williams. We were the first two American tourists to get the Federal Iraq visa after the war. We flew into Najaf. When we visited Babylon, Randy pulled out a plaque and asked me to take a picture of him with the guards. When I asked him what the plaque was for, he told me Iraq was his 100th country and he was now a part of the Travelers’ Century Club. Iraq was my 107th country so when we went back to the hotel, I immediately signed up to join this inspirational club.

While I traveled to Iraq with Randy, a large majority of my travels were by myself up until 2021. In 2021, I started traveling with my boyfriend Jim, who has an adventurous spirit as well. Our first international trip together was to Timbuktu, Mali. I asked him if he wanted to join me there four months into dating. Since then, we have visited 15 countries together, as we are currently driving through South Africa, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi together. I would say our most favorite adventure together was to Niger for the Gerewol Festival. We spent three days with the Fulani tribe in remote Niger, experiencing a courtship ritual, weathering sand-, wind-, lightning, and rainstorms.

At this point in my travels, I have visited 153 countries. I have dedicated myself to promoting cultural awareness through my travels around the world. As I journeyed from one destination to another, I made it a priority to immerse myself in the local cultures, engaging with the people, learning about their customs and traditions, and sharing my experiences with others by volunteering. I have become an advocate for cultural exchange, encouraging people from all backgrounds to embrace diversity and celebrate differences. I am looking forward to where this journey continues to take me, and I am excited to have a group like the Travelers’ Century Club with whom I can swap experiences.