“All journeys have a secret destination of which the traveler is unaware.”
A while ago, Cruisecritic.com member brazilgirl asked if I had a favorite itinerary. It was a tough question and one that took me quite by surprise. The travel destination most on my mind is usually the journey I’m currently planning or the trip I’ve just returned from. When I think of all the vastly different places I’ve had the honor of visiting, how could I possibly pick one as my favorite? And how would I be able to ensure that my number-one choice would match the expectations and experiences of someone else?
As I quickly flipped through a mental photo album of my travels great and small, the memories that came flooding back were not so much the places themselves, but the moments that happened there. Of course, the fabulous, splashy bucket-list destinations were immediately top-of-mind. But looking back, it was the little moments, often unexpected, that took my breath away and forever burned themselves into the fabric of who I am.
I remembered the first time scenery moved me to tears. We had been walking in Waimea Canyon on the Hawaiian Island of Kauai, when we reached a summit with a view I had never even come close to imagining. Beyond the swirling pinks and greens and stunning colors of the rocky canyon was the Nā Pali Coast, a part of Kauai only accessible by water or air. The crystalline water and matching sky blended into each other in such a way that it was hard to tell where one left off and the other began. It seemed as if we were completely above the clouds, looking through a prism into an extraordinary world that couldn’t possibly exist.
I remembered a day in Rhodes, Greece, a smaller port on a cruise that had included the grand cities of Athens, Istanbul and Venice. It was an exhaustingly hot August day, and after a short walk to the Old Town, my husband and son decided to head to the beach. But for some reason, my daughter and I wanted to stay inside the old walled city. We spent hours wandering the medieval streets that day, getting lost, finding our way and getting lost again. We discovered some lovely handmade jewelry at a small shop run by the man who created each piece himself. And we took a break at an outdoor café, sitting in a peaceful apricot-colored courtyard under the canopy of a beautiful shade tree. It was an unexpectedly wonderful moment, and all these years later, Emily and I still smile when we think of Rhodes.
And I remembered Williamsburg. We were living on the East Coast and had planned a spring break road trip to the colonial village. I was determined to create a fun historical experience for my family, even signing us up for a late-night, story-filled guided Ghost Tour. But it wasn’t scary stories or colonial life that ended up making the trip special. It was the lobby of the Williamsburg Lodge. In keeping with its historical theme, the lodge placed beautifully crafted, oversized wooden checkerboards and game pieces on tables throughout the lobby. While waiting for dinner, we would all get something to drink and relax by the fireplace while Emily and Andrew were engrossed in a game. We only stayed there a couple of nights, and we had a cabinet full of games at home, but there was something about that moment that just made the trip.
The following Christmas, I called the Lodge and asked if I could buy one of their checkerboards as a surprise under the tree for my family. This was before the ease of finding things online, and I was thrilled when my idea actually worked out! Our Williamsburg checkerboard found a place on our family room coffee table for many years – a game with a story that became part of our family lore and a visual reminder that the greatest travel experiences are found in the unexpected moments.