Whether it’s a day trip or a two-week vacation, there’s nothing like travel to help you reflect on what’s important in life.
I should know. I’m a host on the Travel Channel and I’m on the road more than 200 days a year.
Travel should inspire you. You can get back to nature or stand on top of a mountain for a whole new perspective. Sometimes it’s about swallowing your fear and breaking out of your comfort zone. And, of course, there’s the pilgrimage. Let me show you what I mean.
The Aspen Vista Trail
Santa Fe, New Mexico
I found this trail by accident while filming my fourth episode on the Travel Channel. There was a break from shooting, so I hopped in a rental car and took off in search of peace and solitude.
I came across this trail in the Santa Fe National Forest, a wide path, with only a gradual incline, perfect for my spur-of-the-moment adventure. Also ideal for mountain biking and skiing, depending on the season.
I began walking. Aspens lined one entire side, their tall thin trunks stretching up to the sky. There wasn’t another soul around.
The past few days had been hectic as I learned the ropes of being a TV host. With each step on the trail, I felt more drawn to the aspens. This might sound odd, but I started telling them my hopes and fears. It felt good to get everything out in the open.
I came to a vista, a sweeping canopy of trees as far as I could see. I heard a bird singing. Another joined in. Leaves fluttered on the breeze. A natural symphony. I stood there and just listened, savoring the moment, drawing in the beauty.
Getting back to nature reminds us how much we—not just people, but all of creation—need and depend on each other. In some ways the aspens’ lives have something in common with ours.
The trees live in colonies, each tree born from a single, interconnected root system that dates back thousands of years. Each tree spends its life finding its place in the sun. I walked back to the rental car feeling renewed.
Four years later I came back to Santa Fe to film another show. I made sure to return to the Aspen trail, to catch the trees up on how I was doing.
You have to get up early to watch the sunrise from the summit of Haleakala, the highest point in Maui, 10,023 feet above sea level. I awoke at 4:00 A.M.—an hour that usually inspires me to do nothing but burrow under the covers—to make the 38-mile drive to the top. It was freezing—30 degrees colder than the beach. And I was hungry.
Far in the distance, out over the ocean, I could see a glimmer of orange appearing. Then behind me someone began singing. I turned to see a park guide welcoming the sun with a beautiful Hawaiian chant.
The sun crept higher, its rays setting off an explosion of color through the clouds. The guide’s voice swelled. I could feel my mind, then my entire body, relaxing.
I walked over to the guide. “That was incredible,” I said. “What were you singing?”
“The song says that every morning we are blessed by the sunrise,” she said. “And in that blessing is what you need for the day.”
I looked again out over the ocean. There’s something about reaching the top of a mountain. It puts things in perspective. (The crater of Haleakala alone is 21 miles around!)
Mountains remind us of life’s challenges and accomplishments. Sometimes you have to reach your destination before you fully appreciate the journey.
The Georgia Aquarium
Water is my one great fear. I know how to swim. But I’ve had panic attacks in chest-high water. So imagine my sheer terror when my producer told me I’d be swimming with sharks, one of the hottest attractions at the world’s largest aquarium.
Not just any sharks, mind you, but four 22-foot whale sharks, not to mention hammerheads, manta rays and 3,000 other varieties of (well-fed, I hoped) fish.
I perched above the six-million-gallon tank. Deep below me I saw the massive shadows of the whale sharks. All I could think about was getting out of there. But my legs were like jelly.
We dropped into the water. I breathed rapidly through my snorkel. The guide pointed for me to look at something coming behind me, but I shook my head no and swam straight ahead.
I saw its massive head first, then its body. The whale shark was just three feet below me! I sucked in my stomach as its dorsal fin passed by, then its languid sweeping tail. For a moment I forgot where I was, that I was even swimming.
I was in awe of the shark’s size and grandeur and beauty. Its powerful yet gentle presence filled me with a sense of peace I’d rarely felt anywhere—certainly never underwater. I didn’t want the moment to end.
Then an eight-inch snapper swam up to my mask and I screamed like a baby! But the lesson lingered. Sometimes the biggest thing separating us from inspiration is our fear.
Flo’s Hot Dogs
Cape Neddick, Maine
It was a bone-chilling day. But inside Flo’s I felt warm all over. I’d gone home to New Hampshire for the holidays and hadn’t even bothered to unpack before heading to Flo’s.
It was exactly as I remembered: five stools inside a tumbledown roadside joint on Route 1. There was barely enough room to squeeze through the crowd and up to the counter, where Gail—Flo’s daughter-in-law —presides, slinging dogs and taking orders: “What can I getcha?”
“A Flo’s Special,” I said, people jostling behind me. Within seconds I held nirvana in a bun, a steamed, plump hot dog covered with mayonnaise and Flo’s secret molasses-infused relish. I know, it sounds awful. But one taste and you’ll be a believer too.
I bit into my dog. So good! I’d been coming to Flo’s since I was 12. Flo opened the place decades earlier, in 1959, back when not many women owned businesses. She’d turned it into an institution before handing it over to Gail in 1973.
Flo’s never fails to inspire me. And I’m not alone. Often people are lined up out the door. They’ve been known to wait two hours! It’s more than the sauce. Flo’s is a bonding experience. And it’s about tradition, a celebration of how things were and, in some places, still are.
We need pilgrimages in our lives, journeys that restore our faith. For me, Flo’s is one of those places. I even served her special sauce at my wedding reception.
I’ve made hundreds of incredible trips and can’t wait to pack my bags for the next one. Looking for inspiration? Follow the path that’s calling you. It’s sure to be an adventure.