Who knew that “bringing the world back home” — the Third Goal of the Peace Corps — could become a career? When fellow Volunteer and co-editor, Randy Wood, and I decided to write the first comprehensive guidebook to our host country, Nicaragua, we were simply looking for a fun way to remain in country. “Getting paid to travel” sounded like a nice gig, especially after nicaraguatwo years in our respective sites. So after completing our service, we went out and scoured the country, working day and night on that first edition of Moon Nicaragua, then holed up in Managua for months to type it all up.

A decade later, I’m still writing guidebooks, travel articles, and, most recently, serving as a guide and “location specialist” for the Travel Channel. I’m a full-time cross-cultural liaison, teaching Spanish part-time at home (Boulder, Colorado at the moment) and seeking cultural oddities and practical advice for my readers and viewers.

In 1942, a TIME magazine article entitled, “Join the Army, See the World,” highlighted the cross-cultural foibles of U.S. soldiers abroad:

[In South America our boys] learned to be careful about approaching Brazilian women, whose men are touchy. They were puzzled by the bidets in hotel bathrooms . . . at Leopoldville, Belgian Congo, the doughboys impressed the natives with the ‘magnificence’ of their equipment . . . In Trinidad soldiers ate plenty of American beef and pork chops shipped especially for them, while the native population often couldn’t buy beef for days on end. Doughboys . . . paid a dime for Coca-Cola on Panama’s Far Fan Beach.”

Rough, imperialist encounters to be sure, but during World War II, cultural sensitivity was not the point. The Peace Corps Era, which began in 1961, provided a tranquilo alternative for Americans with a desire to ship out — without a weapon in their hand. Traveling to far-away lands to immerse oneself in a foreign culture became a hip possibility, a new approach to travel which begot budget backpacking, which begot ecotourism, and so on.

Who among us did not join the Peace Corps, at least in part, because of the pure travelicious excitement of the unknown? It was a chance to play travel roulette! Signing up was literally spinning a globe and letting a stranger in Washington put their finger down, deciding the next two-and-a-half years of our lives.

I was always impressed by my fellow Volunteers who had never traveled before their Peace Corps service. In my training group, there was a girl from Iowa who had never seen the ocean before; I remember watching her first tentative steps at the beach in Pochomíl, watching as she gained confidence and waded farther out into the surf.

That TIME article was amazingly prescient:

As millions of long-isolated doughboys stream abroad, a new kind of international relations . . . is in the making. In the future, conversation around the U.S. cracker barrel and thinking in U.S. heads will be conditioned by a knowledge of peoples in far corners of the world, which the U.S., with all its yearning for world peace, has never known before.”

— Josh Berman