- Last January, Tiffany Werner pulled her kids out of school and traveled with them for a year.
- She documented it on TikTok to show people from her hometown what other countries are like.
- In particular, Werner shared an inside look into one of her favorite tourist hotspots — the malls.
Before January of last year, 42-year-old Tiffany Werner had barely had the opportunity to leave her hometown in McHenry, Mississippi.
She went abroad for the first time in her 30s, backpacking in Europe with her mother for two weeks. Up until more recently, she had only traveled with her own children, now aged 15 and 14, a handful of times, first on cruise trips to the Caribbean and to Mexico in 2012, and then on a short visit to Paris in 2019.
After going on these holidays, Werner was still worried that her children might grow up with a sheltered outlook on life, as there were so many parts of the world they had not seen.
In January 2022, she and her husband Christopher pulled their kids, Reagan and Carson, out of school, and traveled to Tbilisi, the capital of the former Soviet country of Georgia, where they stayed for just over four months. They had actually wanted to visit Turkey, but their plans fell through due to ongoing Covid travel restrictions, and Georgia was the cheapest alternative, Werner told Insider.
The family did make it to Turkey later that year, however, and visited another four countries — Malaysia, Thailand, Greece, and Italy — as well, staying in each location for months at a time to become immersed in cultures that were different from their own.
Werner documented the entire experience on TikTok, sharing regular updates about visiting historical monuments and taking part in outdoor activities as the family traveled together.
She got a taste of viral fame along the way with her review of an impressive mall in Malaysia’s capital city, which Werner previously told Insider she filmed to dispel misconceptions about Asian countries being underdeveloped that her friends from back home, who have hardly traveled, continued to believe.
Werner went on to post reviews of every mall she visited during her travels, believing that by showing people from back home the way a country shops, she could help them get a sense of what life there is really like.
Visiting malls was one of Werner’s favorite pastimes during the trip
“I feel like you can totally judge a place by the mall,” Werner said in a conversation with Insider.
The TikToker filmed herself exploring more than seven malls around the world over the past year. Many things surprised her, including the fact that a mall in Istanbul had a Shake Shack and a Popeye’s, much like the average American mall, while in Malaysia, one mall had a children’s rollercoaster ride that twisted through the shopping center.
While Werner said she rarely intended on buying anything from the malls, going there gave her an opportunity to observe the local people and visit shops that she had never seen in America.
“Have you ever just walked through a big city, and then just gone into a major building to sit in the lobby? It’s kind of similar to a lobby experience. I just want to check it out, sit here, relax, and people-watch,” she told Insider.
Werner told Insider that her local mall in McHenry, Mississippi, pales in comparison to the large, modern malls in the cities she visited.
“I haven’t even been to our mall since I’ve been back home. I haven’t even stepped foot in it because it’s just a disappointment,” she said.
When she arrived back in the US at the start of this year, the 42-year-old also got the chance to visit “The Mall at Millenia,” in Orlando, Florida, which is thought to be one of the nicest malls in the state. However, she said that this “did not even touch” the impressiveness of the malls she visited in places like Malaysia: “The malls there, they’re just stacked, and they have some kind of architectural ambiance that sucks you in,” she said.
Werner told Insider that many people around the world believe in a stereotype that American life is superior to life in countries outside the west, largely due to popular culture and the fact that “everyone watches American movies.”
But seeing the quality of the shopping malls in other countries, in comparison to the small mall in her hometown, was for Werner just one indication that not everything about America is as glamorous as popular culture makes it seem.
“People really think all Americans live like it’s the movies — but those brick stone houses you see in little romance movies set in New York City — most people are not living that kind of lifestyle,” she said.
Now that her family is back home in Mississippi, Werner says that she is glad she is able to look back on all the videos she posted on TikTok while she was away, to remind her of the different people she met and cultures she was able to experience along the way.
“I feel like it got my kids out of that bubble, where they could see other cultures that probably very few teens in America will get the opportunity to see,” she said, adding, “I think we’re much more cultured people now.”
For more stories like this, check out coverage from Insider’s Digital Culture team here.