Tiny House Travelers

by Sicily Kolbeck / Oct 13, 2013 / 0 comments

I have wanted to travel abroad for as long as I can remember. The promise of stepping off the transport, being thrust into a new culture with different rules (written and unwritten) and different ways of life excites. Travelling around the US has given me some experience, but I can’t just jump into traveling abroad and expect to know everything. 

When I first met Crystal and Andrew Odom (along with their adorable daughter Tilly Madison), our meeting was completely unrelated to travel. I was building an 8x16 foot house on a trailer (still in progress), and to get some advice on how to complete the task, I broke into the society of Tiny House folk. If the Tiny House community was America, Drew and Crystal would be Christopher Columbus, plus all of the founding fathers, plus George Washington. They basically created, developed, and guided the Tiny House community until it found its footing in the world. So, on a chilly Georgia morning, I rolled into Barnesville, GA with my mother. We talked for hours wandering around their small house work shack. One topic that came up was international travel. Crystal traveled on missionary work for a major part in her adult life. Drew traveled at first as a student for a performing arts high school, and then to gain experiences.

Odom Family - Tiny House

That first meeting was the beginning of a long friendship. Over the past year, we have talked quite a bit and I am always intrigued by their experiences abroad. I asked them some questions about travel and international experiences, and their answers certainly did not disappoint.

Why did you decide to travel abroad?

Drew: My first experience traveling abroad was more of a "requirement." I was cast in a show (I went to a performing arts high school in Virginia) at 16 years old that did a theater exchange with a group from Miyazaki, Japan. The show toured four cities in Japan, Miyazki, Nagasaki, Hiroshima, and Kitykyushu. It was a 21-day long trip and literally opened my eyes and my heart to worlds and cultures that existed outside of the South.

Crystal: I've always had an adventurous heart since I was a child. I loved moving beyond the boundaries and seeing what was just beyond the horizon. In 1996, doors opened for me to travel abroad. I was more than willing to walk through those doors. So in 1997 I started my journey and each time I walked through a door another opened so I just kept walking. I felt called to go and so I went.

Crystal Odom hiking in the Himalayas

Crystal Hiking in the Himalayas

How has living abroad changed your view of the world?

Drew: I lived in Paris for the longest time. I also spent quite some time in Edinburgh, Scotland, but have passed through a number of countries along the way. Living abroad is not just about renting an apartment and falling into a pattern. It is about drowning yourself in the culture and soaking up the life.  That can happen in a few days or a few years. It is really about your willingness. So when you ask about "living," I think that you can live without staying somewhere for years. But more to the point, living abroad has allowed me to understand that [most] Americans are selfish and greedy and feel entitled. Harsh? Yes. It is harsh. But when you see the happiness that other cultures have even with a family of 6 living in 40 sq. ft., or a couple who are forbidden to date because of familial religious differences risking everything to meet and spend time together, you realize that the world is NOT just America. It is a complex chasm of rules, traditions, opinions, socio-economic imbalances, and - above all - human beings.

Drew Odom, biking in Paris

Drew riding in Paris

Crystal: Traveling as a missionary, I went to Ukraine, India, Germany, Israel, Jordan, Nepal, Australia, Brazil, Peru, Canada, Thailand, Fiji, and Cook Islands. But as I experienced different cultures, they changed my narrow mindset. I reexamined right -vs- wrong, how people live, how cultures interact, even how churches worship. It helped me to realize that I don't know it all no matter how often I like to think I do And if I had gone into these cultures with my original narrow mindset  [and not wanting to change], I would have thought most of them were crazy. And so those experiences have translated into all the other areas of my life.

If you were to recommend anywhere in the world to go, where would it be and why?

Drew: I would recommend going to London. It is the most similar to America, so it is a good "foot in the door" for international travel.  But also, it is steeped in history, rich in culture, and saturated with possibilities. The language is familiar but different enough to give you that abroad feeling. Not to mention that the tea is phenomenal at even the sketchiest of places, and the accents are endearing.

Crystal: Israel. Oddly enough, I think it is one of the safest places in the world to be. From experiencing the beaches of the Mediterranean to the tension in Jerusalem, the collision of Palestinian and Jewish cultures, to the multitude of nationalities of working kibbutzes in the countryside, the experience of Israel is one of adventure, danger, exposure, excitement, history, and chaos.  And don’t forget the food. Oh, the food! Some of THE best, most refreshing, most inviting dishes in the world!

How can living abroad benefit others?

Drew: Simply put? It can put your own life, your own belief system, and your own arrogance in check. It can at once embarrass and empower you. It causes you to dig into yourself and ask questions of your own being that I think otherwise you would never ask.

Crystal: Travelling humbled me even though I already knew America is a very blessed nation. But we don't know it all. We aren't supreme beings because of our birthplace. So when I look at my life and my daughter’s life, I realize that I want her to experience those same emotions and feelings. I want her to see with broader eyes and with a broader heart. To love different kinds of people begins to change a generation. So to answer the question, living abroad opens your eyes to the whole world and not just the world within your sight line.

Are there any tips you have for anyone traveling?

Drew: Pack light. This is something you should practice. You can wear a pair of jeans for 2-3 days. You only need one jacket or one sweater. If you need more, you can purchase one there. Only take what you can carry. That way you are light, compact, and more likely to take advantage of the "off the beaten path" adventures. I think I would also say to try and learn as much of the language as you can, even if it’s not until you get there. Don't be afraid to sound silly. Say "hello" in the native language and say it with confidence. It may solicit a giggle but it will be appreciated.

Crystal: Have patience. No other culture I have witnessed moves as fast or as stressfully as Americans. Take your time and go with the flow of the culture. Secondly, be open to other cultures. For instance, a Brazilian friend of mine was in line at a store here in America. There was a hole in the line next to her. It was in front of someone, but it seemed to be a vacant gap in line. She took the open spot. In America it is our practice to say, "Hey, you can’t cut me." But she didn't see it as that, because that is not her culture. The person she "cut" recognized she wasn't American and gave her grace, allowing her to take the spot. That's what I am talking about. Have patience, know the culture, show grace, and be open.

What is your craziest traveling story?

Drew: When I was in Japan, I was able to take advantage of the public baths. Much like they sound, they are just extra-large tubs (big enough for a half dozen men) that range from scalding hot to freezing cold. In fact, there is even one that has mild electric current running through the water designed to stimulate the nerves. But one evening, as I was at the baths relaxing, a small group of older Japanese men sat in the tub beside me. One of them asked me if I was an American with the theatre group in town. I said yes, and so there I sat - naked - being asked to sing a Beatles song to them. And so because it was just the craziest thing one could imagine, I agreed, and sat there naked, singing 'Hey Jude' to five (also naked) Japanese businessmen who told me I was the most talented American they had met, and was better than Neil Diamond.

Crystal: In 2006, I was living in Ukraine. My team of five was arrested by Ukrainian police under the guise of having "wrong" Visas. It was really like something out of a 007 movie. The police put us in a dark room, interrogated us, and threatened us with jail. They took us outside at one point in the freezing cold, hoping that would break us. To make matters worse, one of my teammates was pregnant. After three hours we were allowed a phone call, and we managed to get a hold of one of our Ukrainian lawyers. He got us released. Turns out the Ukrainian police were extorting us for American dollars.


Crystal and Drew are an inspiration to me. I aspire to be as confident as they are whilst traveling. Being accepting and seeing the beauty in everything is an amazing thing to strive toward. However, travelling has not only shown them the beauty in the world, but opened them up to change and accept different culture. If Crystal and Andrew can change their view of the world by traveling why can’t others? Traveling could be the gateway to acceptance and love throughout the world.




Sicily Kolbeck is a member of the Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship Program


All photos courtesy and copyright Drew and Crystal Odom