Back in the pre-Covid days of late 2019, Kirk Widra was disheartened. A year before, he had lost his teaching job when the Art Institute of Philadelphia closed, his girlfriend broke up with him, and he was grieving the death of a friend.
“My buddies and I, we’re talking, and they’re like, ‘Why don’t you do that travel-around-the-world thing you always wanted to do?’ because I travel a lot and that’s my hobby,” he said. “And really quickly, I was like, yeah, why don’t I do that?”
Widra, an adjunct professor who teaches graphic design, Photoshop and InDesign to Continuing Education students at Moore, sold his stuff, ditched his apartment, got a degree in teaching English as a second language, packed 10 days’ worth of clothes in his backpack and headed west in November 2019.
FIRST STOP: JAPAN
Widra describes himself as a compulsive planner, but for this trip, the only preparation he did was to get a degree in teaching English as a second language so that he could get teaching gigs as he traveled.
He began in Japan, which he found to be far more industrial than he expected. He experienced the art, culture and food, and also traveled to the wilderness areas of the country.
“From there, I just kept going west and southwest,” he said, experiencing Australia and New Zealand, then India, Nepal, Israel, Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Estonia, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Italy and Greece.
His experience in India was humbling.
“You come back from there, you have no worries. I mean, you don't,” he said. “The guy that was my tour guide invited me to his house for dinner. His home was a modest cinderblock box and he slept on the floor on a sponge with his wife and he had a hot plate. That's it. That's why I travel, you know. I, like everybody, of course, think you have issues, and of course we do but, when you add the scope of that, yeah, that’s not an issue.”
His thoughts on Israel: “The food and people are fantastic, but it’s got an odd, palpable tension about it,” he said. Widra saw huge mounds of dirt built up along highways, which locals explained were there so that tanks could roll up on them to be able to shoot over the highway.
Widra did the whole five-month, 15-country trip living out of a backpack.
“I’m totally comfortable sleeping on the floor at the German train station in Laubach or hanging out in India in a youth hostel,” he said. Keeping his clothes clean wasn’t as easy.
“The hardest thing to do while you travel the world is laundry,” he said. “You would think that would be ubiquitous, right? But no, hardly any hotels offer it.” He said while in India, he had to send his clothes out to be cleaned.
“You’re never sure what you’re gonna get back,” he said. “I was like, oh, this is someone else’s shirt, I don’t recall having been to Miami Beach. So, that was exciting.”
When Widra left Sicily and landed in Greece in March, the pandemic was hitting Europe.
“Two days later they started putting armed guards all over the streets,” he said. “I’m like, well, they’re taking this seriously, so if I didn’t come home, I was worried I couldn’t get home.” Widra is disappointed he wasn’t able to visit Turkey, Cyprus, Egypt, Great Britain and Iceland, but he’ll try again one day.
“I’m thankful to be back at Moore because I really enjoy teaching,” he said. “I do miss that.”
While Widra didn’t take much with him on his adventure, he did bring back lots of photographs. He was encouraged by his friends.
“Creativity and doing creative thing have always been a part of my life, but I had become really disconnected from it because I wasn’t working steadily,” he said. “My friends said to me before I left, ‘You’re gonna keep doing creative stuff, right? Just make sure you take some pics on your trip.’ So that’s what I did, and I think I’ve reconnected with my inner photographer.”
His advice for traveling is to just do it—experience the culture, have fun and challenge what you think you know about people.
“So many people don’t travel because they’re secretly afraid,” he said. “Life’s for living. Get out there and do your thing. Hopefully, you’ll have the comfort of friendships and the ability to connect with people. Because that’s what it’s all about, whether you’re here in America or India or wherever.”
See more of his photographs here.