Travel As Service: A Mission Trip to Haiti

April 16th, 2018 by Keith Hemstreet

Travel can do many things. It can excite, or it can frighten. Travel can relax, and it can also be trying. The beauty or chaos of a new place can awaken senses that lie dormant when we are at home. Travel can introduce us to new people, cultures and environments. It can teach, and it can inspire. Travel can even change our perspective on life. The best travel, I believe, does all of these things.

Pico Iyer’s essay Why We Travel opens with the line: “We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves.”

This sums up the purpose of my recent trip to Haiti. First, I traveled to lose myself. To leave behind, if only for a moment, the day-to-day routine and cast aside recurring worries I couldn’t help but feel were superficial. Next, as Iyer wrote, I traveled to find myself. To rediscover the person I truly am at heart once the rigors of daily life were stripped away.

There is a dangerous complacency that can arise in those who sit idle — a sealing off of the mind can occur, a distrust in outside ideas, a settling into one’s ways. In other words, idleness can lead to single mindedness. A tried and true cure for this condition is travel. More specifically, traveling to a part of the world that is very different from your own.

My entire adult life I have talked about the importance of volunteering. I discuss it with my daughters and friends. I speak about it at schools when I am promoting our book series. I compliment those who give of their time every chance I get. But never once had I committed to doing it myself. My charity consists mostly of small donations to various causes. Lately, though, this effort did not seem enough, and I began to feel like a hypocrite, always talking, but never doing.

As it happened, over the holidays, I was presented with an opportunity. For twelve years, my wife’s cousin, Ricky, and his wife Shae have been active in the Canaan Christian Community, an orphanage and school in Montrouis, Haiti. They visit regularly, serving in whatever capacity is needed. When at home in Kansas City, they spend time raising money for Canaan. I have always admired their dedication and when it came up that they were visiting Haiti again in March, I asked if I could join them.

A few days into our journey, as I crawled under a mosquito net to record the day’s experiences in my journal, I wondered how I would ever be able to convey in my writing anything that even came close to what life was actually like in Haiti. How would I be able to sketch an accurate image of a country after only seeing a small part of it? How would I understand a nation of people after only meeting a few? It isn’t possible. In Haiti, I was an outsider, a foreigner, and I left knowing far too little to draw any conclusions. Therefore, all I can offer is my own experience, framed by the places I visited and the people I met.

For that reason, it seems the best way to tell this story is by publishing a few excerpts from my journal. By the end of the week, I will post my first entry, “Haiti Journal: Part I.” Additional excerpts will follow in the coming weeks. At the end of each post I will include a link to Canaan, should anyone wish to donate to this extraordinary orphanage and school. The children at Canaan are fortunate in many ways. They are educated, fed, housed and loved dearly. But they need continued support. U.S. dollars go a long way in Haiti. What the average American might spend on a family dinner at a restaurant can buy much needed school supplies, solar lights, medicine, or a meal for the entire orphanage.

Our mission at Travels with Gannon & Wyatt is to bring the magic of nature and far away cultures to the imaginations of children and their families. In our blog, we are able to delve deeper into the places we visit. When we can, we also do our best to help if help is needed. If our humble effort does nothing more than raise awareness and trigger compassion among readers for those born into difficult circumstances, then we feel we have made strides toward our goal.

Thank you in advance for taking the time to read this series of blogs.

Visit the Canaan Christian Community Website

Five Inspiring Quotes on Nature

December 18th, 2017 by Gannon & Wyatt

These five inspiring quotes on nature remind us of the importance of the natural world in our lives. So, while you have some time off from school and work this holiday season, get outside and explore. Take a walk in the park, a hike in the mountains, or a stroll down the beach. Watch a sunset, or better yet, a sunrise. Sit at the edge of a pond and observe the refection of the clouds as they move across the water’s surface. Enjoy the sights and sounds provided by mother nature. Let the peacefulness of your surroundings calm you.  don’t forget to  leave your devices behind!

Nuuk Greenland Sunset

Five Inspiring Quotes on Nature

Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. —John Muir

Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished. —Lao Tzu

If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.  —Vincent Van Gogh

Some of nature’s most exquisite handiwork is on a miniature scale, as anyone knows who has applied a magnifying glass to a snowflake.   —Rachel Carson

Working for the earth is not a way to get rich, it is a way to be rich. —Paul Hawken

Grand Tetons


Jane Goodall Movie

November 9th, 2017 by Gannon & Wyatt

A movie on the life of Jane Goodall is coming to theaters near you!

One of the great champions of the nature world, Jane Goodall left England at 26-years old to study human beings closest relative, the chimpanzee. Setting up a camp in the Gombe Forest of Tanzania, equipped with little more than a notebook and binoculars, Jane began studying chimpanzees in their native habitat. Soon after, she became famous around the world for her work. Today, at 83-years of age, Jane remains a strong voice for the protection of endangered species and the environment.

One of the original inspirations for Travels with Gannon & Wyatt, Jane Goodall is wonderful role model for youngsters who are curious about wildlife and the environment. Her life’s work is an example of how one dedicated person can truly help make the world a better place. Let’s face it, today we need more people just like her. Our hope is that this film will inspire more young people to stand up and help protect the natural world. Because who knows, the world’s next great environmental hero might just be you!

Be sure to watch the trailer and CLICK HERE to find a showtime near you.

To learn more about Jane Goodall visit the Jane Goodall Institute.

How Do Hurricanes Form?

September 1st, 2017 by Keith Hemstreet

This past week Hurricane Harvey devastated parts of Texas. Before the flood waters have even receded, another powerful storm, Hurricane Irma, is developing in the Atlantic. Hurricanes are the most powerful storm on earth. But how do hurricanes form?

How Hurricanes Form

Hurricanes form when moist air rises over warm ocean waters. The humid, warm air meets cooler air at higher altitudes, creating large storm clouds. Add wind and circulation and you have all the ingredients for a superstorm.

Where Hurricanes Form

Hurricanes form over the ocean in the earth’s equatorial regions. The scientific name for these super storms is Topical Cyclone, but they have different names depending on where they form. For example, in the Indian Ocean they are called cyclones. In the South Pacific nearest Asia they are called typhoons. If they form in the Atlantic Ocean or the Pacific nearest North America they are called hurricanes.  These storms are also given actual names, just like a person. In the southern hemisphere, tropical cyclones rotate clockwise. In the northern hemisphere, counterclockwise.

Hurricane Season and Categories

Hurricane season season runs June 1 and November 30. When a storms has sustained wind speeds of 39 mph, it is officially labeled a Tropical Storm. Once winds reach 74 mph, it’s a hurricane.  Hurricanes are categorized by the highest sustained wind speeds. There are five categories of hurricanes:

Category 1: 74 to 95 mph

Category 2: 96 to 110 mph

Category 3: 111 to 129 mph

Category 4: 130 to 156 mph

Category 5: 157+ mph

Hurricane Harvey Relief 

With 130+ mph winds, Hurricane Harvey was a Category 4 storm when it came ashore in Texas. I have a family member in Victoria, TX, where winds topped 110 mph. Her home received extensive damaged, but she and her family made it safely through the storm. Harvey has impacted hundreds of thousands of people. Lives have been lost, others turned upside down. Growing up in Florida, I have experienced the devastation of hurricanes first hand, but Harvey is different. Parts of Texas received over 3 feet of rain! Our hearts go out to all dealing with the aftermath of this storm! For those wishing to help the recovery effort, here is a link published by the New York Times, WHERE TO DONATE TO HARVEY VICTIMS.

Ironically, it’s tragedy that often inspires the best in us. Here again is an opportunity to show our compassion for one another, an opportunity to help people who suffering, an opportunity to show that we are one human family.

A Visit to the American Museum of Natural History

August 14th, 2017 by Gannon & Wyatt

Spending one single day at the American Museum of Natural History is not enough. You could literally spend days, even weeks visiting the museum’s many amazing exhibits. The museum has an Earth and Space Hall, Animal Hall, Fossil Hall, Environment Hall, Human and Culture Hall. So, yeah…the museum is BIG! And the exhibits are so incredibly life-like! Trust us when we say, there is plenty at this museum to keep kids engaged for hours on end. We’re talking lions, buffalo, gorillas, grizzly and polar bears, not to mention a gigantic life-sized blue whale…and that’s just a short list of the animals on display. And if you’d like to imagine what might happen if the museum sculptures actually came to life, be sure to check out the movie A Night at the Museum.

One of the most inspiring things we saw while visiting was a message to “Youth” from President Theodore Roosevelt. It is etched into a marble wall just beyond the museum entrance and reads:


I want to see you game boys. I want to see you brave and manly and I also want to see you gentle and tender. Be practical as well as generous in your ideals. Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground. Courage, hard work, self mastery and intelligent effort are all essential to a successful life. Character in the long run is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of and of nations alike.

Unfortunately our time in New York City was limited, so we only had one afternoon to tour the museum. Still, we made the most of it, visiting every floor and photographing as many of the spectacularly life-like dioramas as we could. Our hope is that these photos will inspire you to make your own trip to the American Museum of Natural History next time you visit the Big Apple. It’s definitely worth the time!

Happy travels!

Soul of the Elephant

July 27th, 2017 by Gannon & Wyatt

Released in 2015, Soul of the Elephant is the 16th movie by the award-winning filmmakers Dereck and Beverly Joubert. The adventurous couple has been making films, protecting wildlife, and preserving habitat in Botswana for over 30 years. We are big fans of the Jouberts. Their films, photography and dedication to conservation inspired us before we traveled through southern Africa conducting research for our first book, Travels with Gannon & Wyatt: Botswana. Truth is, the Jouberts’ work still inspires us today.

That is why we were shocked and saddened to learn that the couple was recently attacked by a Cape Buffalo. According to reports, the couple was walking to dinner at their camp in the Okavango Delta when a buffalo charged from the bushes. Dereck suffered broken ribs and a fractured hip, but his wife’s injuries were far more serious. She was trampled and gored by the buffalo. The horn shattered bones and came within millimeters of rupturing a major artery. For eleven long hours Dereck remained by her side doing all he could to keep her alive while they waited for medical help. At the hospital, Beverly underwent reconstructive surgery and spent five-weeks in intensive care. The fact that she survived is a miracle.

Dereck and Beverly Joubert, Wildlife Films

But you can’t keep these good explorers down. After leaving the hospital, they took to social media, writing: “We are sharper, more focused and resolute to do what we can to change a version of the future where there are no buffalo, no wildlife, no rhinos to save, no lions…because the wildlife of the world is in a similarly traumatic phase, (in the ICU) and if we don’t perform emergency interventions we will all be writing obituaries about nature.”

We at Travels with Gannon & Wyatt send our best to you, Dereck and Beverly, and want to thank you sincerely for all that you do to protect wildlife and help make the world a better place.

You can learn more about the Jouberts’ films and conservation work at Wildlife Films.

Warning: films contain graphic wildlife footage that may be upsetting to some viewers.

Summer Reading List for Middle Graders

June 8th, 2017 by Gannon & Wyatt

As another year of school wraps, we at Travels with Gannon & Wyatt have put together an exciting summer reading list for middle graders. The beauty of long summer days is that they give us plenty of time to play outside, hang out with family and friends, and read!  So grab a book, fire up your imaginations and embark on  an epic adventure! Happy reading everyone!

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

Imagine walking two hours each way in a country ravaged by war to collect water for your family. Told from the perspective of two 11-year olds in Sudan, this is one of the most moving books we have read in a long time. Based on a true story, we highly recommend this short novel to all young readers.

Old Yeller by Fred Gipson

A heartwarming and tragic tale of young boy and a mischievous stray named Old Yeller. As faithful and brave as a dog can be, Old Yeller helps young Travis navigate the dangers of the Texas frontier. A Newbery Honor book and a classic, Old Yeller should be on every youngster’s reading list.

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

Ever dream of setting off into nature and living off the land? Another Newbery Honor book, My Side of the Mountain tells the tale of young Sam Gibley. Fed up with life in New York City, Sam  sets off to live in the deep woods of the Catskill Mountains and journals about his experience.

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

The story of 12-year old Artemis, super-genius and criminal mastermind, is just good fun. The first book in this series opens in sweltering Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, with a moody Artemis and his heavily armed butler on a mission to restore his family’s fortune.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Dog Days by Jeff Kinney

If you’re looking for a good laugh, book #4 in the series is a hilarious summer read. In Dog Days, young Greg, a boy who prefers the indoors, is forced outdoors to participate in a number of summer activities that inspire “family togetherness.”

Hoot by Carl Hiaasen

Another humorous tale about a boy who relocates with his family from Montana to South Florida, this book is really about the price of development in paradise. Hoot includes an amusing cast of characters, including a renegade eco-warrior, a school bully and a bumbling police officer. It also makes readers think about the damage we often inflict on nature in the name of “progress.”

The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

For those young readers (and adults) who appreciate a masterful work of literature, there may be no better choice. Set in the harsh backwoods of Florida, a landscape teaming with hungry wolves, bears and alligators, The Yearling tells the high-stakes tale of young boy and his adopted fawn. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, The Yearling has been hailed as a great work of American literature. [ideal for slightly older readers, ages 12+]

We look forward to seeing some of you on our school tour next year! We hope you enjoy our summer reading list for middle graders. Remember, the more you read, the more you know, and the brighter your future!

Disneynature’s Born in China Comes to Theaters

April 19th, 2017 by Gannon & Wyatt

Disneynature’s latest movie, Born in China, comes to theaters April 21! This epic film takes viewers to some of the most spectacular wildernesses in China and features three of the country’s most iconic creatures — the giant panda, golden monkey and the snow leopard.

Just as Travels with Gannon & Wyatt brings “the magic of the natural world and faraway cultures to the imaginations of young readers and their families,” Disneynature’s film series brings the majesty of the natural world to the big screen. Each film showcases a different environment and the animals that call it home, enlightening viewers to the importance of environmental conservation.

Born in China is the ninth film in the Disneynature series. Other films include Bears, Chimpanzees, African Cats, The Crimson Wing, and Oceans. In all these films, the cinematography is beautiful and the stories are fascinating, making for the kind of wholesome, educational entertainment the whole family will enjoy.

The release of Born in China intentionally falls on the eve of Earth Day. If you didn’t know, Earth Day is a worldwide celebration designed to promote environmental and climate literacy. This year Earth Day will be celebrated on Saturday, April 22. So, this weekend help make the world a better place by doing something positive for mother nature. Maybe recycle some bottles and newspapers, or pick up some litter, or even plant a tree.


The World of a Snow Leopard

March 3rd, 2017 by Keith Hemstreet

The world of a snow leopard is not well known to humans. The main reason is that the habitat of a snow leopard is extremely uninviting. One of the rarest and most elusive animals on earth, the snow leopard lives in the Himalayan Mountains. Extreme cold, snow, rock slides and avalanches make it difficult for humans to observe the snow leopard in its natural habitat. Photographers and film crews have camped out in the mountains for months, only to leave without even catching a glimpse of a leopard. This is why the video below is so incredible. It offers a view into a world seldom seen by humans.

The Travels with Gannon & Wyatt team has never been to the Himalayas, but it is high on our wish list. We would love to include in the series a Travels with Gannon & Wyatt: Nepal, Tibet, or Bhutan, or maybe just Travels with Gannon & Wyatt: Himalayas. Imagine Gannon and Wyatt on a Himalayan expedition in search of the snow leopard. During the expedition, they’d might trek to a camp at the base of the tallest mountain in the world, Mt. Everest, climb an 8,000 meter peak, traverse glaciers, dodge avalanches, encounter wolves, eagles, blue mountain sheep, all the while searching for the mythical snow leopard. They would also meet lots of interesting people from this region of the world, and learn all about the Sherpa Culture, or that of the Nepalese, Tibetans or Bhutanese. What an amazing setting for an adventure, right?

It is estimated that there are approximately 4,000-6,500 snow leopards in the wild today. Like all endangered species, they could use your help. To read more fun facts about the snow leopard and lean how you can help protect this majestic creature, check out the World Wildlife Fund Species Overview.

Below is an scene from the BBC’s Planet Earth Documentary Series. It features what is likely the most spectacular footage of a snow leopard ever caught on film. Enjoy! (WARNING: Parts of this wildlife footage may be considered graphic, as it shows a snow leopard stalking and killing a blue sheep).


Seven Great Quotes on Writing

February 22nd, 2017 by Keith Hemstreet

Below is a collection of seven great quotes on writing. When I speak at elementary and middle schools, I tell students that a big part of writing is “rewriting.” As Ernest Hemingway himself said (and I’m editing out the expletive he used), “The first draft of everything is crummy.” The first step in the writing process is to get your story on paper with a begging, middle and end. But that’s just a start. After you have a first draft it’s time to begin the next phase, rewriting, which is every bit as challenging as writing the original draft, maybe even more so.

Author Ernest Hemingway was an avid traveler and wrote his novels in a variety ofinspiring around the world.

Author Ernest Hemingway was an avid traveler and wrote his novels in a variety of inspiring locations around the world.

Another piece of advice I pass along students, especially those who are interested in one day becoming a writer, is that there are two things they need to do: 1) Read, read, read…and 2) Write, write, write! I mean, all the time! Myself, I am also constantly seeking advice from the greatest writers who ever lived. After all, is it possible to find a better mentor than Mark Twain or Harper Lee? I don’t think so.

I hope you enjoy these bits of wisdom from some of the great literary icons. And happy writing to all!

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time — or the tools — to write. Simple as that.” —Stephen King

The difference between the almost right word and the right word is … the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.
—Mark Twain

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. —Anton Chekhov

Author Harper Lee, and the cover of To Kill a Mockingbird, 50th Anniversary Edition

Author Harper Lee and the cover of To Kill a Mockingbird, 50th Anniversary Edition

I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.
—Harper Lee

The work never matches the dream of perfection the artist has to start with. —William Faulkner

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. —Elmore Leonard

First, find out what your hero wants, then just follow him!
– Ray Bradbury