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Travel Tips from Up with People Alumni

The next cast of Up with People will be arriving in January, 2020! We invited alumni of our program to share some of their best tips and advice for newcomers starting their gap year program.

Up with People perform abroad
Brody Carrasco (right)

Travel Tips

  • “Think of a great way to document your semester that you’ll stick with, and then really commit to it. It may feel like a nuisance at times, but you will appreciate it so much. I became lazy and didn’t end up with a consistent keepsake or documentation of my journey, and I really wish I had! One identical picture in each place, a sticker, whatever that may be. You’ll love to look at it all the time!!” – Jessica Moler
  • “Have a solid system for getting comfortable on the bus. Get a good travel pillow, a compact and comfortable travel blanket, those types of items. Being able to recharge on the bus will be exactly what you need on the road.” – Emilio Roberto Rodriguez
  • “Do everything that scares you! Are you asked to go ahead of your cast to a place where you don’t speak the language? Go! Are you given the opportunity to be in charge? Do it!” – Denise McGuire
  • “Live in the present. Get to know your host families. Be flexible. Try new, difficult, and scary things. That is the best way to learn and grow. Plant seeds for relationships that will continue to grow for decades!” – Lee Ann Markle Hamilton
  • “I think the biggest thing for a new traveler is to keep an open mind about anywhere you are. There is a lot of growth around you, but you have to be willing to take that step.” – Brody Carrasco
  • “If there is food, eat it. If there is a toilet, use it. If there is a bed, sleep in it. If there is something you like, buy it. If there is an adventure, go for it! You will never know when the next chance will be to do something like this. Stretch outside of your boundaries and step beyond your comfort zone.” – Anne Virta

Packing Tips

Leanne McDorman
  • “Lay out your wardrobe. If each piece doesn’t ‘go’ with at least three other items, don’t take it. Be sure your suitcase is not too heavy to carry by yourself.” – Kimberly S. McLean
  • “Pack all of your bags, then go for a walk with them. Go up stairs, down stairs, through snow, sand, and gravel. Then repack.” – Laura Coates
  • “Get a clam shell suitcase that opens in halves, so you can use what you bring. Fleece is your friend for layering all day long. A component coat with a zip out liner covers weather extremes. Pack a bathing suit, too.” – Beth Pollack
  • “Bring comfortable walking shoes and pack less than you think you need!” – Leanne McDorman

Cast Tips

  • “It’s hard to get to know everyone. You don’t have to! When you start to develop a friendship, work on it and spend time with them. Your semester will be over before you know it.” – Denise McGuire
  • “Don’t anticipate, participate. Sometimes you miss things by worrying about them. This year is way too much fun to worry about anything, just enjoy.” – Ellen Schumann
  • “Put your phone down and have more conversations with your cast members.” – Rich Calabrese
  • “Be in the moment, there will never be another one like it. Absorb experiences and interactions like a sponge!! I promise it will make you a better person. Good Luck!” – Jan Heller Martin
  • “Thing I didn’t do that I wish I had: Keep a journal, keep names and addresses of all of my host families, and take lots of photos!” – Jan Vazquez Benjamin
  • “Appreciate every experience, live in the moment, and make sure to journal and take lots of photos. You will look back on these memories throughout your entire life.” – Leanne McDorman
Keaunis Grant

Host Family Tips

  • “Invest in a host family book. Two of the three travelers I hosted didn’t have them! It is my most precious memory of my year traveling in Up with People!” – Laura Coates
  • “Be present with your host family, you can sleep next year!” – Denise McGuire
  • “Try to stay in contact with the host families that you connect with the most. It’s such a rewarding experience to be able to visit after the program.” – Keaunis Grant


“A thousand miles, somebody said,
Start when we take a single step.
A thousand reasons to begin,
To move ahead.”

A Single Step © Up with People

Where Are They Now: Interview with Alumnus, Eric Miles

Eric Miles is an inspiring alumnus who traveled in Up with People in 1992. His experience in Up with People provided him the opportunity to immerse himself into new cultures and truly see the diversity in the world we live in.

Eric now works for Full Sail University, owns two businesses, and has partnered with several other companies in the financial and entertainment world. He studied acting at Mansfield University and has acted in several shows including Ghostbusters, The Blues Brothers, Kenan and Kel, and many others.

Thanks to his generosity, Eric has shared his story about his time traveling the world in Up with People and how it has impacted his personal and professional life for the better.

Where are you originally from?  

“I am originally from Pennsylvania.”

When did you travel in Up with People? 

“I was a part of Cast D in 1992.”

What was your role when you traveled in Up with People?   

“Defining my role is tough as we all had many different roles while on the road. I travelled as a student. I performed in the show “Rhythm of the World” which had a lot of rap and hip hop songs sprinkled throughout. I primarily performed those songs with a “running crew” otherwise known as the technical crew that assists with the production of the show. I also enjoyed interning with the promotions and education departments.”

What is your current position now? 

“I’m involved in many different businesses right now. I am a professor at Full Sail University.  I teach “Negotiations and Deal Making” for the Entertainment Business Master’s Degree program.  I’m also an attorney and have my own practice called Miles Law, PLLC.  Additionally, I own a multimedia company called Miles Media Entertainment.  Over the years, I have developed partnerships with a few other businesses in the finance and entertainment industries.”

What do these jobs entail?  

“Well, as a professor, I teach negotiations. Too many people misunderstand proper negotiation tactics and strategies mostly due to television and movies. They want to win; however, it’s not about winning. It’s about establishing relationships. I apply a win-win approach to negotiations.

As an attorney, I focus my attention on Entertainment Business, but also provide contracts for startup companies and wills to individuals. I am also a trial attorney and help folks who have been sued or want to sue for various reasons such as breach of contract or personal injury.

Furthermore, I am a professional actor, writer, and director. I have won several awards for writing and directing. I created Miles Media Entertainment as an outlet for my passion. We have film, television, music and literary projects in various stages of development.”

How did traveling with Up with People prepare you for all of these different positions? 

“To be able to see the world and meet the diversified people in it was an education I could not have received anywhere else. Learning cultural differences is a plus I still utilize today. My eyes were opened in 1992 and have stayed opened ever since.

I find it a shame that most of the world looks at communication as a soft skill. Learning effective communication is a skill that I find to be one of the most, if not the most, important skills anyone can have in our global community. That, my friends, is what I first learned in Up with People.”

How did Up with People impact your life both personally and professionally?  

“Again, the value of traveling with cast members from all over the world and learning about different cultures has enriched my life to this day.  Additionally, being able to go into a community (many times small towns) and educate the people there about different cultures and traditions has been a true blessing.

Many of my experiences on the road I have translated into my music, my stories, and how I deal with others, including my own children. When teaching, I still tell stories about my time in Up with People and a certain life lesson I learned and how it continues to impact my life today.   Tolerance and understanding were two big takeaways for me.”

What advice would you give our youth in pursuing their passion/career?  

“You should never give up your passion. I tell my students, “Think about a time when you were so involved in a project that you forgot to eat.” That is your passion. When time ceases to exist and your focus is 100% on what you are doing, that’s passion. Don’t lose that. Life is too short to not enjoy your job. Truly, if you enjoy your job, you won’t even look at it as a job or at least the negative attributes that people connect to a “job.”

For you, it’s your life and your passion. Sometimes we follow the wrong path. We get misdirected and lose our way. I challenge you to take a moment and think about what really gives you joy and follow that path. Reconnect with that childhood sense of wonder and imagination that drove you forward and recapture that. It’s an ongoing battle, but you need to fight for yourself and never give up. Keep moving forward!”

Up with People Parade
Marching in Tucson for Martin Luther King Jr.

Did you always know that this is what you wanted to do?  

“If what you mean by “this” is entertainment, then yes. My mom told me a story of when I was very young. I walked up to the TV screen while Bugs Bunny was on and said I wanted to be there. I wasn’t talking about being in “Loony Toon” land. I wanted to be on TV.

I enjoy creating an emotion, whether that be in a song, in a script, book, or through my teaching that moves someone and makes them feel. Life moves by so fast and we are always in such a hurry that the predominant emotions people feel are frustration, anger, fear, and stress. Enlightenment, joy, happiness, and appreciation are the emotions I want to give and receive. As I said, life is too short to be angry all the time. I’ve always wanted to do something that makes me happy and helps others and I’m trying to do that everyday.”

What was a favorite moment while traveling in Up with People?  

“There are too many and I should write a book about my experiences, but I guess if I have to choose then at the very least, it would be two stories.

The first one was performing in Aloha Stadium in Hawaii. Being on the field and looking up to see myself on the jumbotron was pretty cool, I must admit. Performing in general was a highlight. We performed on beaches, in bull rings, theaters, and in schools.

The other was something a bit more simplistic and could be seen as mundane. I rode on the bus to Alaska. I always tell people to try and seize the moment, any moment. Seize it and make the best of any situation. One would think that sitting on a bus for 10 to 12 hours at a time would be a literal pain in the butt. However, usually you are sitting next to someone. What a perfect time to talk to them and get to know another human being!

I remember sitting next to a fella named Norbert from Poland. He grew up under communism. Being from the United States, I had only known what I learned in books. Norbert told me stories of how he had to stand in line for hours just to get toilet paper and how food was rationed. He spoke about how his country did not have fast food restaurants or certain movies and music. Having the chance to listen to him was incredible.

When I was a kid growing up in the 80s, the Soviet Union were the bad guys. Here’s the thing, maybe politically speaking that was true, but just because someone is from a country that doesn’t line up with your country politically does not mean that every human being in that country is a bad person. They are human too. They have families, jobs, and dreams as well. I think that dichotomy translates today into the middle east. Too many times we put people into categories and that is not fair. We are all unique. Once we take the time to hear a person’s story and get to know them, we realize they’re just as human as we all are. I’ve lost touch with him over the years and still wonder how he is doing. If I saw him again, I would still consider him a friend. It’s moments like that which build lifelong friendships.”

What would you tell someone who was considering traveling in Up with People? 

“Don’t consider it… just go! It will be the most intense, enlightening, exhausting, fun, emotional roller coaster ride of your life.”

Up with People travel program
1992 at the Sydney Opera House

How do you keep hope alive? 

“First and foremost, my kids keep me motivated. A little over three years ago, I weighed 270 pounds. I was working for a statewide law firm and was not healthy or happy. I was making a lot of money and if you think that’s all you need, think again. You have to follow your passion and if you passion happens to pay the bills too, bonus! However, for me, I lost my way and was slowly killing myself. It got to the point that while walking up the stairs to say good night to my kids, I would get winded.

I ended up going to the doctor and found out I have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, a fatty liver, and two blockages in my heart (Widowmaker).  My doctor told me that if I continued down this path, I would die.

All I saw were my kids growing up without a father, getting married and having their own kids, and I’d never get the chance to see that. We all face crossroads in our lives. When we do, it is up to us to decide which path we want to take. I could stay on the same path and suffer a heart attack at a young age or change my life.

Guess what? I completely changed my life! Three years later, I have now lost 85 pounds and I follow a whole food plant based diet (no meat, no oil, nothing processed). I workout, meditate or do yoga every day. All my blood work is now exceptional. As for the blockages in my heart, one is gone and the other is half the size it was. Now my energy is through the roof. I’m currently writing a book about my transformation and actually received a certification from Cornell University for Plant Based Nutrition. I’ve seen the change, I’ve seen the difference, and I’m living it.

Take a look at my before and after photos. That’s my hope. If I can go from ‘give me my chili cheese dogs and french fries’ to living a whole food plant based lifestyle, then anyone can. This has shown me that if you believe, you can do anything. I no longer see the word impossible. I’ve changed that word to read, ‘I’m possible.’ Same letters, different meaning. You are possible. Anything you dream about you can bring about. I’m living proof and so are you! We are Up With People and you meet us wherever you go.”


“Walls are falling down,
The search goes on for freedom,
And no battle sound
Will drown the drums of peace.
Winter whispers good-bye,
Tears of hope are in our eyes.
Could this be the rhythm of the world?”

Rhythm of the World © Up with People