7 Trips That Changed Our Lives

As celebrity chef, cookbook author, TV host, world traveler, and wordsmith Anthony Bourdain once said, “Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” With that in mind, we present you with the trips that changed our lives.

Japan

Courtesy of Laura Hinely

“The spring before I finished grad school and moved to New York City, I went on a solo trip to Japan and South Korea. From mainland Japan, I flew to Okinawa, for no other reason than to see if I could find the beach in this photo of my mom and grandmother from the 1950s. My grandfather, who died before I was born, was stationed on the island and they lived there for two years. I hired a driver -- no common language between us, but now a common goal. We drove around the island asking locals if they recognized the place pictured. The light waned and our time was almost up when an American serviceman at a roadside hot dog stand recognized it as an R&R campground. We made it as the day eased to dusk, and there I stood on the same beach my grandfather did 60 years ago.” — Laura Hinely, Senior Photo Editor

Alaska

Joseph/Flickr

“I was a prissy New Yorker that lived for sample sales, pedicures, and evenings at the ballet when my father insisted I come visit him in his new home -- in Alaska. He was everything I wasn’t: an outdoorsman ready to rough it for the sake of being surrounded by nature. And now he wanted me, his pampered daughter, to come join him. For two whole weeks. I thought I’d find Alaska boring, but what I discovered shifted something in me. The staggering beauty of Alaska’s frozen landscape, the wildlife that I’d only seen on TV, the villages that were little dots on a map of endless evergreens -- they inspired a childlike wonder, even in my closed-off heart. As my appreciation grew, I found common ground with the people I met. They had the same scrappy can-do spirit as every ambitious New Yorker I’d known, and I admired the way they were determined to claim a piece of Alaska for themselves. By the time I left, I wasn’t the same snooty urbanite. I could see the beauty and romance of pioneer life, and I took a little piece of that with me that I still carry today.” – Maria Teresa Hart, Executive Editor

Belize

Falco Ermert/Flickr

“When I went to Belize in 2012 for three months as a cultural writer in residence for the Belize Tourism Board, I was lucky enough to experience the entire country as a solo traveler. Every day was a different adventure, from cave tubing to private tours of Mayan ruins to learning how Marie Sharp’s famous hot sauce is made. But the activity that really changed my life was becoming scuba certified through P.A.D.I. The process took a week and definitely tested my bravery (hello, taking a dive mask off 40 feet underwater), but the first time I took a breath and came face-to-face with Belize’s teeming Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, I knew my life would be different. Scuba diving has allowed me to expand how I experience the natural world, and I’ve since had incredible dives with sharks in Fernando de Noronha, Brazil, and an intense bioluminescent night dive in Palau. One day, I’d like to go back to Belize and dive its world famous Great Blue Hole.” — Megan Wood, Editor

Manzanillo, Mexico

Pepes Hideaway, Manzanillo/Oyster

“While I think every trip I’ve taken has had some effect on me, the one that changed my life the most was a solo work trip to Manzanillo, Mexico. This was my first solo international trip, making it scary, exciting, and definitely difficult at times. Traveling alone to a country where you don’t speak the language fluently isn’t easy, and this trip taught me to trust in strangers, be more outgoing, and not sweat the small stuff. I met some wonderful people who wanted to help me when I needed it and show off their home country, all while having fresh coconut water and ceviche, and taking in stunning vistas. I’ve taken several solo trips since, but this one taught me that there’s a beautiful world out there, with friendly people who want to make sure you love their homeland. So, if you’re thinking you need to travel with someone to enjoy a vacation, head to Manzanillo and book an ocean-view balcony -- after your first sunset, you’ll understand.” — Lara Grant, Editor

India

Courtesy of Kyle Valenta

“I’m hardly the first person to say that going to India changed their life. And yes, I took the meditation courses, lit the incense, visited the temples, and touched the Ganges. I’ve gone three times now, and spent around four months total crisscrossing the country. As a former addict, a lover of massive cities, and someone who hasn’t figured out their relationship to the spiritual realm, there’s something about the contrasts between total chaos and silent mountains, public and private, sacred and brashly superficial that all come together in a way that pushes you so far out of yourself and so far into yourself at the same time. You hate it and you love it, but in the end, that’s the most honest and most human thing you can ever feel.” — Kyle Valenta, Manager of Editorial Content Operations

New Zealand

Nugget Point Queenstown Hotel/Oyster

“I was lucky enough to go to New Zealand for two weeks in college, and just about every aspect of the trip falls into my personal ‘life-changing’ bucket. I’m certainly thinking of the big South Island classics, like hiking to a glacier (through a rain forest, no less) and kayaking around a fjord. But honestly, it’s some of my smaller, less dramatic moments on the North Island that come to mind first when I think about the trip. Trying to surf on a hairy West Coast beach and picking up a hitchhiker for the first time weren’t crazy-epic excursions, but they took pluck that my 20-year-old self hadn’t mustered before.” — Anne Olivia Bauso, Editor

Cross-Country Road Trip in the U.S.

Mobilus In Mobili/Flickr

“The trip that changed my life wasn’t one that took place across the globe, but rather right here in my own backyard. Having romanticized the idea of cross-country road trips we read about in novels, watches in movies, and listened to in songs, my now-fiance and I pulled out a map and devised a coast-to-coast journey across the U.S., in true Jack Kerouac style. After one month, 35 states, approximately 7,000 miles, and thousands of priceless photos later, we saw our home country in a brand-new way. We witnessed beauty in tiny pockets of the country we never knew existed and stumbled upon unexpected gems (did you know you could feed alligators behind an antique store in Louisiana, and see alleged dinosaur tracks in Arizona?). The country’s diverse attractions were only enhanced by its colorful cast of characters. There was the fertilizer salesman in Idaho, who passionately talked about his trade, the group of Alabamians, who went out of their way to help us when were lost, and the South Dakota truck driver, who shared mind-blowing tales of life on the road. Having grown up in a big city like New York, it was eye-opening to experience small-town America first-hand. Of course, by throwing our itinerary out the window and winging most of the trip, we stepped out of our comfort zone, rolled with the punches, and learned to turn unfortunate mishaps (like that time we got stuck in Death Valley in the dead of summer) into good tales -- three lessons I’ve carried with me on every trip I’ve taken since.”— Alisha Prakash, Editor

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