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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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