I’m lucky and I know that. Traveling the world has been something I’ve wanted to do since I could walk, and probably even before that. It’s part of my DNA, who I am as a person. I’ve been doing some self-reflection lately (shocking, I know) and specifically I’ve been thinking a lot about my travel experiences over the years. There have been many special moments, unique experiences that just weren’t fun but changed me in some way. Either they opened my eyes to a new reality, or gave me the chance to think more about my station in life and the person I want to be. And yes, sometimes there were just fun. Rather than a BuzzFeed style list of cool things to see around the world (Do we really need another one of those?) I wanted to share moments that were important to me, a LoperBuzz post if you will.
1. North America – I often ignore my home continent, and especially my own nation – the U.S. I’ve resolved time and time again to change that, but I always seem to get sidetracked. As the place that started it all for me, so to speak, I do have my fair share of travel memories, but one is more important than the others. In 1996, the Olympics were hosted in Atlanta, Georgia and as a lifelong fan of the Games, I knew I had to find a way to see them in person. I was young though, just 20, but even at that tender age I was determined and never allowed anything to get in my way. Although I’d never really traveled alone before, I decided to suck it up, bought some tickets and drove down to Atlanta to experience the Olympics for myself. The trip was amazing, not just for the Games but for this first experience of traveling, albeit a short distance, by myself. It taught me a lot, but mostly that with planning and determination anything can be accomplished.
2. Europe – Ah, my first and still strongest travel love – Europe. There’s nothing quite like traveling around the Old World, from quiet villages in France to the hustle and bustle of large cities like Berlin, Prague and even Zagreb. A lifetime could be spent exploring the nooks and crannies of what I think is one of the most interesting geographical regions on the planet. It’s also important to me on a personal level though. When I was 22, newly graduated from college, I used all of my meager savings and spent a month backpacking around the UK – England and Scotland to be more specific. I’d never done anything like that before. It was my first time backpacking, traveling internationally alone and while I was scared out of my mind, I had never been more excited. It was a lonely month, 30 days with my thoughts as my only companion. Sure, I met folks in hostels and on the road, but I was mostly alone and that was fine with me. I was at a personal crossroads, about to enter graduate school and uncertain about my own future. I also hadn’t come out of the closest yet, and was dealing with that mental torture simultaneously. But the UK cleared my mind. Gone were the thoughts of exams and family woes and in their place a certain mental freshness, a reawakening that I so desperately needed. There’s a lot to be said for solo travel, and that experience forever changed my life.
3. Asia – I love traveling in Asia more than I ever thought I would. From the chaotic streets of Bangkok to the well-organized chaos of Tokyo, the diversity of the region is shocking at times. Rather than a deep and meaningful conversation, or interactions with locals, my favorite moment is one that means something only to me. My partner and I were in Bangkok celebrating his completion of law school and taking the bar exam. It was my first time in that part of the world, and while it was overwhelming at times it was also mesmerizing. One day we were exploring the temple Wat Arun when a sudden downpour erupted, not an odd occurrence in this part of the world. We sought cover under the awning of a side building, waiting for the shower to end. Looking at him there I couldn’t help but smile. There I was, in Bangkok with my partner, enjoying life and having adventures I never thought possible. That may have been one of the first times I understood how very lucky I was, not just for the ability to travel, but for having such special people in my life.
4. South America – Although I’ve spent precious little time in South America, the experiences I have had there are meaningful and special to me. In particular, a trip to the Galapagos a few years ago had the unintended consequence of forever changing my life. I had won a sweepstakes, the grand prize a Lindblad Expeditions cruise adventure along the Galapagos archipelago. For an animal lover like myself, it was the experience of a lifetime. There is nothing quite like walking through a field dotted with giant tortoises, or swimming practically nose-to-nose with playful sea lions. When I returned home a new spirit of wanderlust was reawakened, I realized how much I enjoyed adventure travel and wanted to share my experiences with as many people as I could. A few months later I started this web site; I firmly believe that trip to the Galapagos was the intellectual impetus for LandLopers. Without it, I still might be stuck in a cubicle not living the life I was meant to live.
5. Australia – It’s hard not to love Australia. It’s everything we want in a destination; it’s fun, quirky, diverse and adventurous. This massive country is the stuff of daydreams and with good reason. Although I’ve only visited a couple of times, I quickly developed a deep and unabiding love for the country and the fantastically odd people who call it home. It’s also a place that lends itself to meaningful travel experiences. It’s hard not to be reflective when gazing at the foundations of life on planet Earth in Shark Bay or learning about Aboriginal culture that predates all others in the world. For me though, that meaningful moment came during the drive from Alice Springs to Uluru, otherwise known as Ayers Rock. My partner and I were in a 4×4, delicately navigating corrugated dirt roads and stretches made treacherous by shifting sands. One day while driving in the early morning hours, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. Like dolphins flying through the water, kangaroos were jumping alongside the truck, hidden in the tall grasses of the Outback. It was a scene plucked from a tourism commercial and I nearly veered off the road into those beautiful creatures from the shock. They soon left our company, but it was then that I properly understood the global addiction to all things Australian. It’s a remarkable continent inherently prone to equally remarkable experiences.
6. Africa – This is another continent that surprised me. I always expected special moments of personal growth, but what I didn’t anticipate was falling so deeply in love with what is a fundamentally misunderstood part of the world. My heart though belongs to South Africa, a massive country that delights the senses with its beauty, but also warms the soul with its kindness. My moment came while biking around a township near Cape Town. Townships are holdovers from the apartheid era, communities that tend to be poorer and still separated by race. It’s tempting to engage in poverty tourism when visiting, but I learned it’s even more important to leave one’s own mental prejudices behind and instead really look at the communities with eyes wide open. While playing with some kids in a local nursery I realized that while I may have more money and opportunities than they will ever enjoy, they were kids. They were happy and frankly they acted just like kids act in any part of the world. They scrambled and played, cried and laughed – nothing abnormal or odd about them. They weren’t characters out of a Dickens novel, poor orphans begging for porridge. No, they were great kids who just wanted to have a good time. That day taught me that I tend to think from an imperialist point of view. That anyone who doesn’t enjoy a similar background to mine must be suffering in some way. That’s not necessarily true and that travel moment in South Africa taught me the importance of stepping out of my own skin, to ignore my prejudices and really look at new places with eyes wide open.
7. Antarctica – If any continent lures travelers with the promise of special moments, it’s Antarctica. Hard to reach, hard to travel around it’s one of the last few truly adventurous trips still available to us in the modern era. And my own trip to Antarctica did indeed deliver those unique moments in spades. Aside from the impossibly cute (and slightly dirty) penguins though, it’s the seemingly impenetrable landscapes that impressed me the most. After hiking up a snowy switchback path to the top of a hill, I was met with one of the most impressive scenes I’ve ever witnessed. The icy waters extended into the horizon and all I could see were vast quantities of rock, ice and water. It seemed to go on forever and I have never felt smaller in my entire life. Standing there on the bottom of the world, it was an important moment to help quantify the immensity of the planet. It’s a fact that we modern travelers tend to forget. In an age when I can hop on a nonstop flight and be in Hong Kong tomorrow, it seems as if the world has never been smaller. But we forget just how massive this beautiful planet is and how many unique experiences there are to be had. We forget about the small inlets and villages forgotten to time. It was an important moment as it put into context what I do now for a living and how it isn’t just part of my life – it IS my life. This quest to seek new answers and discover new things will never end, just as that horizon in Antarctica seemed to have no boundaries.
Looking back at this list I see many commonalities. My most important and personal moments over the last 38 years came when experiencing something for a first time. It may have been my first visit to a developing nation or the first time I had traveled alone. That’s why it’s so important to always push our personal travel envelopes; to take every opportunity to do something new and unusual. There is enormous value to being uncomfortable sometimes and indeed I think it’s the only way we can grow as individuals. If that’s not what travel is all about, then I don’t know what is.
What are some of your own special travel moments?