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"The world is a lot friendlier than we're led to believe.  When you go as a traveler, pretty much anywhere on this planet, you'll be welcomed.  That doesn't mean there isn't danger.  But you can choose not to be controlled by fear.  Then you're open to new experiences."  

Matthew Harding,  Founder of

 Today I’m a 74 year old adventure traveler who’s ridden on top of buses charging along mountainous roads in Nepal, relished dishes of hot, spicy tagine cooked over camel dung fires in the Sahara, and trekked to 18,000 feet in the Himalayas. I’ve experienced most of these adventures independent of organized tours and on a shoestring budget. It could be easy for an outsider to assume that I was brought up in a well traveled family with loads of expendable cash but those definitely weren’t my roots….

     Growing up in Indiana, my family rarely left our farming community. I didn’t leave the state until I was 18. I was frightened to death to get on a plane. But some part of me yearned to see the world, in spite of my fears. Looking back, I see an arc of self-esteem blossoming from that shy girl into the person I am now.


     Meeting the man whom I would later marry, changed and broadened my world in unexpected ways. He was an adventurer, a hunter, and a fisherman. He introduced me to wilderness camping for the first time and together we raised our daughter in the outdoors. I was often left alone as a young mother at base camp in grizzly country or in army tents caring for our daughter through blizzards. I learned how to shoot a bow and arrow, fire guns and track animals and gained my confidence as an outdoorswoman over the years.


     Our first international trip to South Africa in the mid 1980s was life changing.  I was enchanted by the allure and magic of Africa: the rugged Drakensberg range towering over the savannah, tasting fresh pineapple and mangoes for the first time, chewing dried biltong jerky and rusk, standing in awe among the towering presence of elephants, listening to the chittering of bee-eaters and marveling at the silhouettes of acacia trees trimmed by hungry impala. Africa had a feel and an energy to it unlike any other place that I had known. It felt like a spirit home to me. One of a few I would come to discover and explore over the coming years. 

     On our second trip we took our daughter Rachel--who was a young teenager at the time--to Botswana and South Africa to explore the Kalahari Desert. While navigating the Okavango Swamp by boat, our family stumbled into an almost fatal encounter with a territorial hippo late one night. That trip was immensely impactful for both Rachel and me, not just because of our shared near-death experience but also because of the new worlds that it opened up for us both. 

     Experiencing other cultures, food, accents, and vistas was amazing to me.  I didn’t know at the time that I was developing a taste for more and more and MORE. (*you can check out a list of countries and states I’ve visited below).

     When the marriage ended, I had a new awareness of wanting to claim my own travel, my own destinations, traveling when and where I wanted.  My three-month solo back packing trip to Australia and New Zealand helped me learn more about myself.  That adventure helped me work through fears of traveling alone.

     Rachel and I also continued our mother-daughter travels together going on road trips and camping trips across the country, sometimes just picking a random spot on the map and driving there with no plans. We both went on to do solo traveling around the world--which gave us both more confidence, self-reliance, and a stronger sense of independence—all of which prepared us for the next big step in our evolution as fellow travelers….




     In 2001, Rachel and I hatched a plan to go on an epic trip trek to the Himalayas of Nepal. She had initially invited me so we could visit a mutual friend living in Bangladesh at the time. In all honesty, I had my hesitations; both of us are Alpha women and I was convinced we wouldn’t get along. We also had zero clues about what we were getting ourselves into.  Rachel now admits that her fantasy of idyllic  “tea house trekking” in the Himalayas skipping along very flat paths from hostel to hostel through flowing grasslands was shockingly different from the actual reality of what our trip became: a suffer fest of hiking at altitude in frigid, winter temperatures. We found ourselves cursing the sandbagger author of our Nepal guidebook as we huffed and puffed through the six directions in Nepal:  East, West, North, South, Up and Down. 

     That first trip to Nepal was momentous for both of us.  I had discovered an unimaginable appreciation and closeness with Rachel; it cemented my respect for her strength and calmness under pressure when we were confronted by some unsettling and dangerous times for two women. That first trip was fraught with danger and physical hardship but it began a journey of better appreciating my daughter. 

I also found that--after returning home--I couldn’t unpack my backpack.  The travel bug had bitten hard. I spent months dreaming about being back in the Himalayas once again. 

In fact, that backpack sat in my living room until we returned to Nepal the following year for a second and even more demanding trek to Everest Base Camp. 


     The first trip had hinted of endless adventure possibilities and we both could feel it in our bones.  Although we had the occasional mother-daughter spats, we made undeniably well-matched travel partners. 


     And so began the birth of our “Around The World With the Thurston Girls” odyssey.  In the past 20 years we’ve spent an average of a month every year traveling as mother and daughter to mostly developing world countries, independent of groups and traveling on a shoestring budget.  From dodging charging yaks in Tibet to sampling roasted giant ants in South America, our trips aren’t your usual resort bookings.  We’ve summited the world’s highest pass in the winter at 17,769 feet, ridden camels across the Sahara with Berbers, and stalked platypuses in the cold streams of Tasmania.


     How blessed I have been to have visited so many wonderful places in the world.  I’ll share those adventures in the Travel blog section below.  It is hard to believe that I am that same young woman who doubted herself years ago.

Rachel Sarah Thurston has now been my travel partner for over 20 years. I’ve been blessed to kick around 6 continents with the most fun and intelligent adventurer by my side. It is our hope with this project to inspire women and men of all ages to get out into the world to explore, to push their comfort zones, and to live life no matter their age, health, or socioeconomic status! You can follow more of our adventures here and on FB and Instagram

     How blessed I am to be traveling on this journey and to be sharing it with my daughter!

The Thurston Girls warming up in a cafe on a rainy day in New Zealand
Rachel and Karen in San Cristobal De Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

Countries Visited


Karen falling madly in love with a baby rescue wombat (world's smartest marsupial!)

Lakes District, Tasmania, Australia

Rachel and Karen enjoying fresh mango juice for breakfast in Chiapas, Mexico


Karen's Countries Visited


Croatia-Czech Republic-Russia-Slovenia-Spain-Switzerland-UK


North America:

Belize-Canada-Costa Rica-Guatemala-Mexico-US

South America:



Botswana-Morocco-South Africa-Zambia-Zimbabwe


Cambodia-China-Hong Kong-India -Indonesia-



Australia-New Zealand


Karen's U.S. States Visited

Travel Blog Posts

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Copyright 2020 Karen Custer Thurston and Rachel Sarah Thurston

Photo Credits For Travel Page:

Pic 1: Rachel Sarah Thurston

Pic 2: Unsplash/Ansie Potgieter

Pic 3: Rachel Sarah Thurston

Pic 4: Unknown

Pic 5: Perry Cabugos

Pic 6: Rachel Sarah Thurston

Karen Custer Thurston, The Woman On Fire, is a world traveler, writer, motivational speaker, fitness trainer, belly dancer, equestrian and trauma survivor who inspires women and men to live with joy and passion.
Karen and daughter Rachel Sarah Thurston codirect the travel project
“Around The World With The Thurston Girls” following their mother-daughter adventures.
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