Every summer growing up we’d take a week or two vacation—almost always somewhere new, always precisely planned by my dad. He’d have us scheduled down to the minute if he could. I still don’t understand why a man who loves routine more than anyone I know would willingly cart his three young kids around the country every summer.
We did the Fourth of July in Washington, DC, train rides through the Canadian Rockies, and whale watching in Maine. We saw Phantom of the Opera in New York City and Old Faithful in Yellowstone and stayed in just about every Embassy Suites in the United States. My brother, sister, and I spent hours recording stupid voices and stupider jokes on our Talkboy; creating elaborate Troll worlds on crisp, white hotel sheets; and playing Marco Polo in hotel pools. I learned to shuffle cards in a log cabin near the Grand Canyon and to recognize every state’s license plate on long drives out West—while eating raspberry Tootsie Roll Pops and Twizzlers packed by my mom.
I can’t remember any one of these trips terribly well anymore. What I’m left with is an overall sense of what it means to be on vacation—and it tastes like Starbursts, smells like chlorine, and feels like endless possibilities.
Below, my colleagues share some of the best trips they’ve ever taken.
In 2004, when I was in college, my parents and I went on a two-week road trip from Illinois to Oregon to visit my brother, who had recently moved out there with his wife. My parents strategically planned our stops so that we could explore some of the most beautiful and iconic spots in the country: Mt. Rushmore, Badlands, Yellowstone, Salt Lake City, even the Corn Palace. At a bar in Cody, Wyoming, newly 21-year-old me and my parents had redheaded slut shots (that’s Jägermeister, peach schnapps, and cranberry juice).
We rotated who drove every two to three hours, and the driver got to pick the music, which involved flipping through my massive book of CDs. To this day, Switchfoot’s “The Beautiful Letdown” and Dave Matthews Band’s “Crash” remind me of cruising through the mountains, valleys, and rolling plains of the American West in our minivan. When it was time to leave the beautiful Northwest, we made our way home through Denver, stopping to see a Drum Corps International show. As a family of drummers, this was the cherry on top of an unforgettable trip.
When I was an intrepid 25-year-old, I set off on a solo trip to Europe. It was hands down one of the best experiences of my life. It was also full of highs and lows: I got questioned by the French police on the Paris metro, and I got my ears pierced in Le Marais (unrelated happenings). I wrote some of the best literary nonfiction of my life, and I had an emotional meltdown in a tiny, gorgeous Italian town where no one else appeared to speak English (related happenings). I lost sleep in many hostels. I learned to love espresso. I spent much more money than I had and eventually found a way out of the very related credit card debt. More than a decade later, the places I went matter less than the fact that I took the trip.
In January of 2017, my wife and I traveled to Australia for the first time for our friends’ wedding. In Cairns, we ate freshly caught barramundi (Asian sea bass) and kangaroo on a stick (not like chicken...) and checked out the Great Barrier Reef. In Melbourne, I fulfilled a lifelong dream by taking in the Australian Open, watching Stan Warwrinka and Serena Williams in singles matches while sipping my first frosé (I’ll stick to beer). We ended the trip in Sydney Harbour, where we chartered a boat to enjoy Australia Day under the bridge. After the fireworks, we ate fresh pasta out of a partially hollowed out parmesan cheese wheel. Delicious. We can’t wait to return.
Right before the pandemic, I was able to visit some of Ethiopia’s rock churches. My favorite was carved into the top of a rock pinnacle more than a thousand years ago. The incredibly sweaty climb was more than justified by the primrose-yellow frescoes that covered the interior. John the Baptist preached the good news to a crowd that entirely covered one of the six monolithic pillars. And Jesus, his dark eyes almost cartoonishly large, divided his loaves and fishes just above the altar. Outside, lunch was served. My guide Mohamed and I used the tips of our fingers to scoop up parcels of tangy injera bread from the communal pot. I was just congratulating myself on really getting off the beaten track when I noticed the faint trace of a helicopter pad. Mohamed was all smiles: “George W. Bush was here just last week.”
Manchego cheese and jamón serrano sandwiches in Spain
Ramen at MACHIDA-YA in Tokyo
Poached chicken leg in creamy white wine sauce from DZ'envies in Dijon, France
Lobster roll at Becky's Diner in Portland, Maine
Balsamic raspberry pear pie at First Slice in Chicago