The last six years of my life have been focused on a lot of international travel; twenty-five new countries and a handful of repeat visits makes for a lot of adventures overseas! I have always loved exploring different countries, cultures, and cuisines, delighting in the fish-out-of-water stories and memories I was collecting around the world, all the while assuming domestic travel wouldn’t allow me the same type of discovery and experiences. Besides, I had convinced myself, America is so young, so new compared to the centuries-old history found at many other places – why would I want to bother with travel in America? Especially when the same cost of airfare can pretty much get me out of this familiar pond, across oceans and into new lands. There were plenty of reasons for me to push off domestic travel, but I soon learned how wrong I was.
Of course, this revelation should have hit me sooner than it really did. I had, after all, traveled domestically many times before and quite happily. As a child, routine camping trips in the California wilderness were my first domestic discoveries and highlights of my years living in suburbia, as were the insanely fabulous trips I would take as a teenager to Las Vegas with a gambling uncle where we were fully comped for our luxury suites, fine dining meals, and entertainment. Ricky Martin and Bette Midler (it was the 1990s) were some of the more memorable shows I’ve seen. Of course, it was soon revealed that my uncle had a gambling addiction and those Vegas trips came to an abrupt end, which was great for my uncle, but you know, not so fun for me.
A momentous domestic trip took place in 2009 when I traveled to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for my birthday and realized one of my childhood dreams: to witness a space shuttle launch (which, sadly, was also one of the last). It was my first time to Florida and I made an entire week out of it with a good friend. We went to Disney World for an extremely giddy day, spent another on a boat unsuccessfully searching for manatees, lounged by the pool for many lazy afternoons, and chatted with friendly locals wherever we went. We may not have been exploring ancient ruins or speaking a foreign language, but we did see new places, try specialty food, and spoke to some really interesting people. And isn’t that what travel is really all about?
Recent opportunities for domestic travel have only increased my interest in continuing to explore the United States. Last fall, the Massachusetts Tourism Board had invited me to the Berkshires and New Bedford and I absolutely fell in love with the area. The scenery was breathtaking as there truly is no better time to visit the Northeast than when the leaves are changing colors during the crisp, autumn months. While the numerous historical sites may not be thousands of years old, a few hundred is still an impressive number and there was much in the area to be discovered and experienced. I felt rather crazed racing from one adorably quaint town to the next, trying to see and do all I could in a week’s time. I ended up with an even longer list of places I wanted to return to; never a bad thing because it means that curiosity has been peaked and the inner explorer is rearing its head for more, more, more!
As further proof that the universe wants me to continue on my domestic travel streak, last December Hilton Hotels invited me to visit New Orleans to help them celebrate their impressive 21-hotel inauguration into the Historic Hotels of America trust. Thanks to great planning by the Hilton team at the beautiful Hilton St. Charles and the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, it was a fabulous trip and a truly wonderful introduction to the spectacular city of New Orleans. Among the top highlights of my week in NOLA were a private drive through the historic Lower Garden District in the back of a pristine vintage Rolls Royce, a day floating along the enchanting bayous of Louisiana’s backwater, exploring the eclectic Bywater neighborhood, and of course, trying my first deliriously boozy Sazerac. I loved New Orleans so much I’ve already made plans to be back later this year!
I’m a firm believer that life directs you exactly where you should be. I’m also the first to admit my mistakes and well, I was wrong. I was misguided in believing there wasn’t anything domestic worth traveling to and that the level of discovery wouldn’t be on the same scale as international travel. Domestic travel is just different from international travel, but it by no means makes it a lesser experience. It’s those differences that urge us to travel in the first place and I look forward to many more journeys that are going to take this fish out of my little glass bowl.