Travel Back

By most measures, I’m a pretty well-traveled guy. I’ve been to six of the seven continents, a couple of dozen countries and 49 of 50 states (I need to plan that big trip to North Dakota here pretty soon). I don’t say this to brag (well okay, maybe a little bit), but more to introduce this week’s blog.

It’s always fantastic to visit a new place, see the people, the landscapes, eat the food and so on. But lately I’ve been finding myself drawn back to some places I’ve already been, and wondering what they might look like though the eyes of the 38 year old me who has seen a lot more than I may have, say 10-20 years ago.

To that end, I’ve gone back to a couple of spots in the last few months. Though I grew up on the east coast, I became an adult during my six years in California, and returned for the first time in a decade back in April. My wife and I drove from LA to Sonoma and even though lot of things felt familiar and I could get around somewhat without directions, even the parts that were once home felt different and foreign.

Here’s a few other spots I’d like to make my way back to:

Okay, right off, I’m going to cheat, because I did some of this already. When I was 21, I went to Rome, Florence, Venice, Nice and Paris. Everyone said traveling around Europe by train was the way to experience it – easier to move between the cities, relatively inexpensive and so on. But the thing is – I love road trips. I firmly believe that the only real way to see a place is to drive it. So when I went back last year, we spent half our time in the country, and half in the city, driving through the villages and road stops, just taking our time. I’d love to do that again across Europe when I have more time – there’s just a ton there to see and it’s all packed into a pretty small area.

Speaking of road trips…when I was 15, my Dad took off a month of work. We loaded up his car and just drove off. Cleveland, Chicago, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Wall Drug, Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone, Glacier Park, Spokane, Oregon, San Francisco, Big Sir, Los Angeles, Grand Canyon, Utah, Denver, St. Louis…all in all, it took six weeks and 10,000 miles. Since then, I’ve driven cross country four more times – once west and three times east, all on different routes. From things like the world’s second largest ball of twine, to the best chicken fried steak in Wyoming, there’s just a flavor of the United States you can’t experience without getting out there and just wandering around.

Only 80% of the size of Ohio, Ireland is a fantastic country with some of the most beautiful landscape you’ve ever come across. While I’m a huge proponent of road trips and while my next trip to Ireland will involve a car, this is one trip I feel like I didn’t hit right when we did it back in 2006. We drove from place to place, checking out the villages and scenery. But only after we checked out did I realize there’s a better way, and when I go back, I’ll have to lock my introvert-self into a closet. Seems to me, the best way to do Ireland is to stay in one spot for a few days, do some day trips (hikes and such), and then hang out in the pubs at night with the locals.

Unlike Ireland, if I have the opportunity to go back to Africa, I’d probably do it almost exactly the way I did when I was there in 2005. The Masai Mara is one of the most beautiful and remote places on earth. Only accessible via Air Kenya from Nairobi, you’ll land at a tiny airport in the middle of a grassy plain. And by airport I mean a landing strip cut out of wild grass with a windsock planted next to it so the pilot can see it. This is all dependent on the “runway” not being infested with wildebeest, like it was when we tried to land. So…a tribesman ran out there with a big stick and chased them off. We circled around and tried to land again…and the wildebeest came back. Ultimately, it took us four tries before we were able to touch down. The point is – that’s their land, the animals. The fact that we are there is of little consequence to them, but they’re going to let you know it. It’s dead silent at night. All the stars come out. And there’s just an energy that I haven’t felt anywhere else, except maybe…

New Zealand is the ultimate road trip. Every corner has some beautiful new scenery that is completely different from what you’ve seen – you can ski straight into a rain forest, for example. They have these fantastic “holiday parks” that you can stay in, essentially renting a cabin for around $80 US a night that’s about the cleanest, most well-kept place you’ll ever stay. The food is all fresh and organic – chances are, if you eat fish, it was caught that morning. Nowhere in the country is more than two hours from the ocean, the people are fantastic and friendly, and they pour some of the world’s most mind-blowing wine. If you can manage the horrifically long flight to the end of the world, you’ll have a fantastic time, and it’s very modestly priced.

Ready to hit the road?