Five Trips That Changed My Life

Every trip is important, no matter where we go or what we do. Travel transforms us in ways that aren’t always apparent or even realized until long after we have returned home. But there are certain travel experiences that not only impact our lives, they change them. These adventures are rare, but when they occur they are moments to be treasured for a lifetime. Here are the five trips that I believe most changed my life.

Bateaux-Mouches, Notre Dame, Paris, France

1. Paris – My first international trip (not counting Canada and Mexico) was in 1993 when I traveled to Paris to spend a month as an exchange student. It was my 3rd time on a plane, first time overseas and I had no idea what I was doing. At first I hated Paris, a lot. I didn’t feel particularly comfortable, I was tired of looking at churches and cathedrals and just couldn’t get into the groove of the city. Then one day I struck out on my own, walked along the Seine next to Notre Dame and enjoyed a lunch at an outdoor cafe watching the world walk by. I still remember feeling my attitude towards Paris change at that very moment and ever since I have loved Paris more than any other city in the world. Ever since I was a young child I’ve wanted to see the world and Paris was the first test of this wanderlust. Not only did the test reaffirm everything I thought to be true, but it sparked a lifelong love and addiction to travel.

Jan Hus Monument Prague

2. Prague – In 2003, my now partner and I embarked on our first international trip together. We started in Vienna and visited Prague, Munich and Salzburg before returning to Vienna. This was the first true test of our ability to travel well together, something that can kill some relationships. I can’t say that it was all unicorns and puppies, we had arguments, I got us lost and the camera broke. But it proved that we could not only survive a trip together, but that we really enjoyed traveling as a couple. This was also the trip when I realized that my hostel and ultra-budget travel days were behind me. I had backpacked around a bit following college and naively thought I wouldn’t mind hostel living even though I was a little older. The proverbial ship had sailed though, the hostel experience was miserable and midway through we retreated to the warm embrace of proper hotels and have never looked back. As we grow and evolve as people, so do our travel preferences, as I quickly learned in Prague.

3. Galapagos – I’ve always loved animals and try to find unique wildlife experiences when I travel. But our cruise of the Galapagos archipelago took this proclivity towards conservation to an entirely new level. A week of intense immersion led by the Lindblad Expedition scientists really changed the way in which I think about travel, conservation and sustainability. I’m not someone who thinks we should just all stay home lest we damage the world around us, but I am of the mindset that responsible tourism is essential. It’s essential in the obvious way that it preserves the destinations and sites we all want to see and visit, but it also creates a more robust travel experience for the tourist. Armed with the knowledge that our trip may actually aid in various conservation projects that will preserve our travel destination of choice makes the experience that much more enjoyable. It was also the photos and stories of the Galapagos which ultimately helped convince me to start this web site and share some of my experiences with like-minded people around the world.

Western Wall - Kotel Jerusalem travel activities

4. Israel – I can’t say that I had ever traveled outside my comfort zone until I visited Israel, not really. Yes, I have visited developing countries, but the paths were well trodden by tourists and it really didn’t take a lot of convincing to visit them. One area of the world I thought I may never visit though was the Middle East. Growing up in the US, I have seen hundreds of thousands of images reflecting danger and violence in the region, most of it unpredictable. I’m sorry to say that I let those images paint a false image of the region and I had very little interest in visiting. Then US Airways had a special Twitter promotion, $99 each way to Tel Aviv for the first few respondents. I didn’t think very long about it, I didn’t have the time, and in what one can only call impulsive behavior I booked my tickets. There was no turning back at that point, I would be visiting the Middle East. Before I knew it I was standing in Israel, all by myself ready to explore as much as I could. That trip was transformative, not just because of the destination, but for pushing me beyond my travel comfort zone and opening my eyes to what has become one of my favorite regions in the world, the Middle East. Since then I now look for ways to go beyond what is comfortable and in the process, my travel experiences have been all the more richer.

Lake Rotorua

5. New Zealand – I readily admit that I may still be too close to this trip to reflect objectively on it, but I do feel that it was a life changing adventure. Prior to my sojourn through Hobbit world, my travels had been primarily focused on historical and cultural sites of importance. Except for the Galapagos, nature was an ancillary character on my trips, always there and sometimes important, but rarely the entire focus. Then I met New Zealand. I’ve never been anywhere so rich in natural beauty not just in some areas, but everywhere. It’s almost embarrassing how lush and jaw-droopingly gorgeous Kiwi land is. Yes there are historical and cultural activities, but for the most part the trip revolved around nature and fun things to do in the outdoors. Zorbing, hiking, rafting, zip lining were just some of the many ways I got to experience the great New Zealand outdoors in a more personal way. This was an important trip not just for introducing me to a new travel love, but for teaching me to think outside the travel box more often than I do currently.

These five trips were ones that I feel changed me in some way and altered either the course of my life, or at the very least the way I travel. Even though these were monumental adventures for me, every trip ultimately is life changing and alters our perceptions in ways both positive and negative. That’s why I think I love travel so much, for its ability to teach us more about ourselves and the world around us.

What are some trips that changed your life?

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By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.Also follow Matt on Twitter, Facebook and

21 Responses

  1. Cynthia Scarborough

    Great article Matt. I’ve only been to one of the five places you mentioned. Still need to see Prague, Galapagos, Paris, and Israel. New Zealand is my all time favorite. Been there 10 times I think. Am still blown away by the natural beauty of the place!

    Reply
  2. Stephanie - The Travel Chica

    I am one year into my travel sabbatical, and it has definitely been a life-changing experience. The highlights have been celebrating Carnaval with locals on the interior of Panama and living as a pseudo-expat in Buenos Aires.

    Reply
  3. Sean @ Gozimba

    Went to Nepal for the first time last yr. Just back from another trip to the Annapurna. I’ve never come across anywhere more beautiful. Trekking there has become a real addiction. Planning a trip to New Zealand. Sounds similiarly spectacular. Great post. Happy dreaming.

    Reply
  4. Kirsten

    Paris would, of course, be on my list as well! I can only hope I will get the chance to experience New Zealand for myself.

    Reply
  5. Kim

    Great piece! Completely agree with Paris. It’s once you settle into the Parisian way of life that you truly appreciate the city. Been traveling for a little over a year now, however my all-time life changing experience happened while I was spending a month discovering Morocco. Definitely out of my comfort zone, but the one I feel after which I’ve experienced the most growth.

    Reply
  6. Fly Girl

    What an enlightening post. It really prompted me to think about my most transformative trips. I’ve traveled for most of my life so I can’t really remember when the travel bug officially hit, I think it’s in my genes. But the first time I remember coming back a changed person and friends noticed the change, was Jamaica. I traveled by myself to Nine Miles, which is Bob Marley’s birthplace, Accompong which is a maroon settlement and Mandeville, in the mountains of Jamaica. Meeting locals and briefly living their lifestyle completely changed my perspective of the world and how I wanted to experience it.

    Reply
  7. Roy Marvelous

    Oooh trips that changed my life. Great question – I never thought about it before.
    - South Island, New Zealand
    - New York, USA
    - Prague, Czech Republic
    - Toronto, Canada – but not necessarily in a good way. Then again, if I hadn’t gone to Toronto I would have never ended up working on cruise ships.

    I may have to write a longer post about this!

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Love how NZ is on so many people’s lists

      Reply
  8. jenjenk

    Funny, my attitude towards Paris had changed at Notre Dame as well! So stunning and I love visiting it!

    I’m jealous you got to go zorbing. that’s high on my list of things to do!!

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Everyone should zorb at least once, it’s amazing.

      Reply
  9. 50+ and on the Run

    Hate to be a parrot, but NZ did it for me!

    Reply
  10. Gerard ~ GQ trippin

    This makes me even more excited for NZ. So glad that it’s only 2 weeks away! We’re visiting Hobbiton but we heard that they might not be allowing photos because The Hobbit is being filmed.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Oh I’m jealous! Can’t wait to return – enjoy your trip!

      Reply
  11. Wendy T

    The trip that changed my life was a backpacking sojourn through the desert with my eleven year old son. Nothing like nature without distractions combined with the need for teamwork to get down to what’s real.

    Reply
  12. Abbie

    I would love to go to the Galapagos! Some day :)

    Reply
  13. Lisa

    So enjoy your posts! As a fellow traveler, I relate to all that you say. Interesting thought….most trans-formative trip? I think most people with an adventurous spirit know remember when they actually realized how large the world really is….how much there is to see….how many places there are to fall in love with. Thanks for a great post this morning!

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Thanks for saying that, it means a lot. You’re right, only by traveling do we realize how big the world really is!

      Reply
  14. Natasha @ Wandering Kiwi

    Awesome post, got me thinking. I can’t really say New Zealand would be on my list but I obviously have to agree that Kiwi land is stunningly gorgeously beautiful (and the people are so nice). I think maybe growing up there has fuelled my wanderlust – feeling so far away from the rest of the world I’m constantly desperate to discover more of it.

    Reply
  15. Matt Westby

    Great post Matt, thanks. New Zealand was a life-changer for me too. Before going there, travel was just a holiday; after, it became a lifestyle.

    Reply
  16. renee

    Great post Matt. My trip out of the country as an adult was also Paris and I had the same reaction initially then fell in love with it after taking a stroll along the Seine and seeing all those street artists, bought a few paintings and to this day, that trip started my love for traveling as well.

    As for middle east…my feelings about going there is still up in the air..reading and seeing all these things in the press, well scary…I applaude you for going out of your comfort zone.

    New Zealand, on our to do list for sure and to echo your post about testing a relationship through traveling, we went through that as well. So true!!

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      My advice is to not paint every Middle Eastern country with the same brush. They are each very different from each other. Some are safe, some are not, just like any other region in the world. I can only speak from experience and both Israel and Jordan were wonderful travel experiences.

      Reply

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