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University of Missouri

Lessons from the Road

A world traveler tells stories from her journeys.

woman on camel

Few people have seen as much of the world as Audrey Walsworth, and she has learned a lot along the way, including from the top of a camel in Timbuktu, Mali. Photo courtesy Audrey Walsworth.

When globetrotters trade definitions of “world traveler,” some parse by continents and countries: say, all seven continents and at least 100 countries. Others allude to a cosmopolitan outlook and wanderlust.

But it might be simpler to define world traveler in Walsworthian units, a measure inspired by the travels of Audrey Walsworth, BJ ’56, of Marceline, Missouri. She is the only living female member of the Travelers’ Century Club to have set foot within the borders of every geographic location the club designates as a country. Walsworth’s worn-out passport tallies 324 trips not only to sovereign countries but also to territories, island groups and enclaves.

As a journalism student at Mizzou, Walsworth became interested in world cultures. “I was always fascinated about why some people did a thing one way and some did the same thing a different way.”

That curiosity has pushed her to put one foot in front of the other. In 1980, her world travels began in earnest with a trip to China, which only recently had opened its borders.

Since then, Walsworth has learned a great deal.

For instance, she has collected several of the world’s gauges of beauty. In Ethiopia’s Omo Valley, she saw Mursi women who begin decorating themselves at an early age by wearing ever larger clay plates in their lips. In Papua New Guinea, Walsworth asked a man what he regarded as the ideal of feminine beauty; he said, “She’s beautiful if she’s a good worker.”

Walsworth has grown fond of the temples of Southeast Asia and of that region’s “gentle, smiling” people.

She also has seen injustice and inhumanity.

In African countries rich in minerals, Walsworth has toured opulent government compounds while, two blocks away, citizens lived in shacks.

In India, while rounding a corner in a cab at dusk, she saw a man lying in the middle of the street. “Our driver swerved and missed him, but there were many cars behind us. I told him to stop, that we needed to help him.” But the driver continued on. “ ‘No,’ he said, ‘he’s either dead or drunk.’ I couldn’t sleep that night.”

She has learned a thing or two about herself along the way.

I discovered that I could do things I never thought I could,” she says. “Once you get comfortable in situations different from what you grew up with, you realize that what seems like a scary situation isn’t really scary; it’s just different.”