The first time I set foot in Las Vegas, Nevada, it was a high school graduation gift from my parents and a scorcher of a day in June 1995.
The seat belt chrome was untouchable. The soundtrack of the time belonged to the folksy soul of Sheryl Crow. And a herd of burros straddled the Taco Bell road set before us, wandering idly as if to say, “Hey man, just passin’ through,” while keeping secrets of the desert as deep as a hole that only Nicky Santoro could dig.
Flanked by old western settlements and luxury ranch spas, this brown and terra-cotta city had it all, from Burberry tartan check at the Fashion Show mall to Native American turquoise in kitschy souvenir stores on Fremont Street.
Downtown, we met the smell of stale cigarettes and the sounds of techno jangle slot machine bells. On The Strip, a flock of flamingos awaited, as did Caesar Augustus, Penn & Teller, high-kicking showgirls, and extravagant hotels that stretched for miles beyond the glitz of Las Vegas Boulevard.
Whether we choose Vegas or Vancouver, Vienna or Vietnam, I believe that most destinations have the ability to offer a little bit of everything that I’ve just categorically described: history, character, artistry, aesthetic, culture, local flare, and a life far beneath the surface just barely scratched during a week’s vacation with a suitcase and a mid-size sedan.
My parents have always traveled, and I cannot thank them enough for it. From the depths of my childhood, they ignited my love for tourism and a desire to seek pathways that would open my mind and enrich my life.
Long before Las Vegas, I have memories of boardwalks, beaches, bumper cars, natural wonders, and historic mansions. Visiting those attractions usually involved catching a flight or driving a fair distance up or down the coast.
Likewise, I have memories of roadside Americana from exploring my own home state on weekend road trips in the family Buick. Those short and sweet experiences are my living proof that travel doesn’t have to involve a plane ticket to be memorable, educational, rewarding, or exciting.
From the treasure trove of retail outlets that once occupied Reading, Pennsylvania, to the moist, cakey, cream-filled pillows of joy known as whoopie pies inherent to nearby Lancaster, I grew up with fond memories of traveling east amid the Poconos and the welcoming rows of Pennsylvania Dutch hex signs adorning brightly painted barns.
Thus began my appreciation for locally sourced confections and hand-crafted goods: Amish desserts, farm stand crops, antique cooking utensils, patchwork quilts, and wooden rocking chairs.
Eco-friendly, organic, old world, and new world—our travels support a region’s economy, its artists, and their distinctive products.
And as a bonus, we come to feel the overall genuine spirit of a place, its life force, and its stories both told and untold.
As a city gal searching for peace, there’s a meditative quality to our massive forest lands and the creatures inhabiting them. Meanwhile, there’s something empowering in the voices that speak to us through colorful urban murals, ancient ruins, and battlefields.
So, what turns a simple experience into something extraordinary? What adds that extra dimension, that authentic layer that we can’t quite capture solely on camera?
Sometimes it’s the food, like open-hearth bread, key lime pie, deep-dish pizza, po’boys, and pecans.
Sometimes it’s the wildlife, like protected birds quietly nesting in national parks and conservation sites.
Sometimes it’s a stroll through an old summertime resort that’s far beyond its heyday, yet still breathing life into its sleepy town with general stores and exquisite lakeside views.
And then, sometimes we find the most remarkable elements of design in our own backyard: artisan ice cream, small-batch bakeries, ball fields, corn fields, wineries, bicycle trails, holiday parades and heritage festivals, train tracks that lead to everywhere and nowhere, and a marching band still practicing as the sun begins to set.
Long after Vegas, I have visited major cities and territories, rivers and valleys, and oceans and streams in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Some by boat and some by plane, such excursions have led to great discoveries. They have been soul-stirring, soothing, and sentimental. They have cultivated a love for country, connection, and, by golly—creation.
Travel is in my blood, and in my heart.
And at the heart of it all, I believe the most noteworthy finds, along the wide-ranging passages we may take, will always be the people we accompany and the people we encounter.
Field trips, family trips, shopping trips, and girls’ trips—I have a collection of memories, photographs, and keepsakes to last a lifetime. It gives me great pride and comfort to know that I have shared beautiful experiences with those I love, as well as those I am likely to never see again.
For me, traveling is not an escape. It is essential to broadening my horizons and enabling a more global vision. It is my passport to conversation, social connectivity, and cultural exploration.
To travel is to uncover humanity—an experience that allows us all to move through life with the knowledge that we are not alone, that smiles are universal, and that the world is a much smaller place than we think.
In the words of legendary Vegas performer, Frank Sinatra:
“If you don’t know the guy on the other side of the world, love him anyway because he’s just like you. He has the same dreams, the same hopes and fears. It’s one world, pal. We’re all neighbors.”