So, I’m 37 today. Another year, another number and a little closer to reaching the point of wondering what the hell happened to my youth. But I’m not feeling bad today. In fact, I’m celebrating. I’m celebrating my travel life. These 37 life travel moments aren’t necessarily the best or most memorable experiences. You won’t find seeing the Sistine Chapel or driving across the Golden Gate Bridge on here. Some of these experiences, in fact, are very minor. But looking back, I think these are 37 of the thousands of moments that have shaped me as the traveler I am today. In no particular order, here are 13 of my 37 life travel moments.
1. I love the car (or my travel beginnings)
I said no particular order, but maybe I should start from the beginning. As the story goes, my family went to a little-known amusement park in the Ozarks, Dogpatch U.S.A. when I was a baby. Apparently they couldn’t get me to go to sleep, so they put me in the car and drove around until I fell asleep. I have several friends who have done the same thing with their children. It’s a simple trick, but maybe it is one explanation for why I’ve always loved road trips. I feel at home on the road.
2. Budding trip planner
When I was 7, my family spent two weeks in Florida. It was my first time to leave Arkansas (my son is 7 and has been to 12 states and two foreign countries, so maybe I’m trying to make up for that early travel failure). What’s worth noting about this trip isn’t the amazing blue waters I recall seeing as we drove from Miami to Key West, the crazy colors of the art deco buildings in Miami Beach, or my only experience with Disney. Those two weeks in Florida saw me collect loads of travel brochures that I brought home. I kept a box full of those brochures in my bedroom closet for years. I would dig them out from time to time and dream about the magic of all those faraway places in Florida. I’ve loved studying maps and guidebooks since.
3. The wonders of air travel (or why I appreciate the little moments)
All of my travel experiences as a child came on the road. As a child, one really doesn’t know what your parents do or don’t have, but I assume we weren’t overflowing with money. I do know we didn’t travel far for our family vacations. But when I was in high school I finally found myself boarding an airplane. It was for a short 50-minute flight on Southwest Airlines from Little Rock to Dallas and I thought it was the coolest thing. I can’t recall the details of all the flights I’ve taken since, but I recall the excitement as that plane lifted off. I think those little moments growing up, including my first flight being a simple one, has helped me appreciate the little moments in travel as much as the big ones.
4. Running down a dream
When I read interviews with travelers, one of the questions tends to be along the lines of “what was your first solo trip.” Mine was in 1994, the summer after my junior year in high school. A high school teammate and I headed west on Interstate 40 from Memphis for the five-hour drive to the University of Arkansas and its prestigious cross-country camp. I was a pretty decent runner back in the day, and was excited to make that drive. During my senior year of high school, I also traveled to Charlotte, N.C., over Thanksgiving for the Foot Locker Cross Country regional championships. It was my first time to travel over the holidays and it not be to see family.
5. Running Part 2 (or why college has more to offer than beer)
I ran track and cross-country at the University of Memphis, which meant traveling to exotic locations like Carbondale, Ill., Starkville, Miss., and Jonesboro, Ark., for long days of sitting around watching boring track meets while waiting my turn. I’ve always said I’d be happy to have a corporate job that requires lots of travel, but I’m sure those business trips would be like my track trips: travel to destination, sleep in hotel, eat at crappy restaurants chosen for proximity not quality, and go to work at the track meet. But there was a cross-country meet at Vanderbilt University when we actually got to get out and see Nashville. Our coach let us drive the van from our motel along Music Row to Second Avenue. I don’t remember much about walking that tourist trap street full of bars and clubs, but it was nice to get to experience a little bit of a city we were in.
6. Running Part 3 (or how I discovered the world outside the South)
I really didn’t get out much growing up. The first time I traveled north of the Mason-Dixon line was my sophomore year of college when I traveled to Southern Illinois University for a cross-country meet. It’s hard to believe now, considering the number of times I’ve traveled throughout the American Midwest and Northeast since. I love the Midwest; it’s just a faster-talking South. And I can’t get enough of New York City.
7. I want to move here when I grow up
I envy people who moved to cities like New York after college. All I wanted to do was move to Dallas. I grew up a big fan of the Texas Rangers and Dallas Cowboys. So as I went along in college in Memphis, I wanted nothing more than to move to Dallas so I could watch my teams play. That move stunted my development as a world traveler, I believe. I was much simpler, then, in my travel desires. As much as I enjoyed living in Texas, that decision wasn’t the best one in my traveler development. So this one is a negative in my travel growth.
8. Bourbon Street initiation
Imagine being an 18-year-old college freshman who hadn’t really experienced much — certainly not without his parents — and finding himself on the road to New Orleans. That was me toward the end of my first semester of college. My fraternity started a tradition of having our formal in New Orleans back when Louisiana’s legal drinking age was 18. I recall arriving about 11 that night and immediately heading down to Bourbon Street. I was in awe. I’ve returned to New Orleans many times since. There are many stories that will never see the light of day. That first walk down Bourbon was pretty cool. This was traveling to the big time for this small-town kid.
9. We can make it back by curfew
Earlier I said I love road trips. As I get older, that’s not exactly true anymore. All those years of running have given me real pains in my knees, ankles and feet. I’m usually physically wiped after a four-hour drive, something I used to have no problem with. In fact, when I was a senior in high school, there was one Saturday night two of my friends and I decided it would be a good idea to drive to Kentucky for no reason at all and no destination in mind. It was around 7 that night as we contemplated what would take someone driving the speed limit three hours. One of the guys had a midnight curfew. So I had five hours to do what should’ve been a six-hour roundtrip drive. Well, we made it thanks to my radar detector. We crossed the state line, bought snacks, got some discarded lottery tickets sitting near the door to prove where we had been, and returned home. Nothing special about this trip at all. But it reinforced in me the idea that the open road with friends is one of life’s great travel experiences. In college I would go on many random road trips.
10. I love British Airways
My first international flight came when I was in college and had the opportunity to fly with my soon-to-be fiancée and her parents to England, where her family is from. It was a college graduation present to Stacey, and also happened to be her first flight. Ever. I considered myself an old pro by then, having flown on Southwest Airlines that one time. Let me just say I love British Airways, or at least the version in 1998 that provided me with unlimited little rum bottles and movies to enjoy while being drunk on an overnight flight. I crashed the next day, but I was in college. I was more interested in free booze and movies than hitting the ground running in London. I’d like to think I’ve grown as a traveler. I try to sleep when the final movie of three comes on.
11. You drink your tea hot?
Speaking of that first trip overseas, being an uncultured college kid from the South, I believed tea should only be enjoyed over ice and full of sugar. So I’m embarrassed to say that on the first time my future wife’s great aunt offered me a cup of tea, I declined it. Why would anyone decline a cup of tea from a sweet old English lady? Shame on me. Today, I don’t drink much sweet tea. And when offered a cup of tea, I happily take it with milk and sugar.
12. I miss chicken tenders
God, I learned a lot about how to travel on that trip. I was a typical American college kid who only cared about my comforts from home. I wanted extra ice in my drinks, free refills, didn’t care for the food and just wanted to get back to Memphis and my beloved chicken tenders and honey mustard at Huey’s. I still enjoy Huey’s, but damn it, I really love British food. I just wish I would have appreciated what I was experiencing 15 years ago.
13. When in Paris, eat at a chain restaurant?
This one is embarrassing to admit, although I do feel we have a bit of an excuse for doing this. When my new fiancée and I decided to take a last-minute trip to Paris toward the end of that British visit, we didn’t have much money and our travelers checks were about gone, so we’d be using our credit cards as much as possible. The problem for this scared kid in a non-English speaking country for the first time is I couldn’t really read a menu to know what I would eat, how much it cost and if they accepted credit cards. So we had dinner at Hard Rock Café. Twice. Yes, I’m ashamed of that move. It was our biggest travel regret that we happily rectified in 2012. For the record, I avoid chain restaurants today. But I learned from this trip to dig deeper in the local culture and take some chances.
Click HERE for the second part in the series looking at Nos. 14 through 26. You might discover a softer side to this guy, a few things I’ve learned about the sacrifices of parenthood (my back and neck hurt just thinking about it), and possibly a few laughs. Oh, and I’ll introduce you to the pee hat. That one has been worth a few laughs through the years. And for the conclusion, click HERE.