Insiders

13 Travel Insiders on the Trip That Changed Their Life

At Indagare, we believe that travel has the power to change lives, so we asked 13 globetrotting artists, writers, tastemakers and explorers to reflect on their most transformative travel experiences—and the destinations where they're hoping to go next.

Contact Indagare for assistance planning your next customized journey.

Pico Iyer

Iyer is an essayist, novelist and acclaimed travel writer. His most recent book is

The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere.

What was your most transformative travel moment, or a trip that changed your life? I was stuck at Narita Airport on an unwanted layover, flying back from a magical trip to Southeast Asia and returning to my job in New York City at the age of 26. The last thing I needed was 20 hours in an airport hotel on the way. But, with nothing else to do, and sure I’d never be in Japan again, I decided to kill the time by taking a free shuttle bus in to the little town of Narita. Three hours later, on a brilliant autumn day—all sharp blue skies and the first pang of winter—after wandering around narrow lanes of little wooden houses and the garden of a 1,000-year-old temple, which was actually one of the great pilgrimage sites of Japan (but I didn’t know at the time), I was so pierced by a sense of familiarity that I decided to move to Japan. It took me three years to disentangle myself from my job, but finally I did move to Kyoto, on the basis of that single morning in Narita, and now I’ve been in Japan for more than 31 years and never want to be anywhere else. It often strikes me that that trip was my first, unforgettable taste of Thailand, Myanmar, Hong Kong and Macao, but, true to fable, it was the hours in the airport near Tokyo, on the way back, that turned my life around.

Where are you headed next?

I feel I’ve almost run out of interesting and displacing places, having taken care, each of the last few years, to go (or, more often, to return) to somewhere quite involving—North Korea, Cuba, Iran, Brazil, Kashmir and French Polynesia. I am, however, hoping to go to Antarctica next January; I’ve been to Ushuaia at the southern tip of Argentina, but never closer to the polar extremes, and I’m hoping that that undiscovered (by me) continent will be a real destination after a year of just heading back to GermanySingapore, India, Japan and France.What is currently on your bucket list? I have to confess that I recently wrote an essay somewhat dismissing all bucket lists, in part because the beauty of any good trip is that it completely overturns every expectation, and almost every time I’ve had some wonder in mind, I’ve been reminded, on arrival, of the Dalai Lama’s grounding line, “Wrong dream!” That said, far and away the richest—most sophisticated, layered, glamorous and surprising—place I’ve ever visited is Iran, so I would dearly love to go back there. Revisiting a place you’ve loved is like meeting an old friend: you don’t have to introduce yourself all over again, and you can start instantly at a level of intimacy and depth.

Richard Wiese

Wiese is the president of the Explorers Club and the executive producer and host of Born to Explore on PBS.

What was your most transformative travel moment, or a trip that changed your life? I don’t necessarily think any one trip transformed my life, as I believe travel and experiences are cumulative. However, when I was 11 years old, my father took me to Tanzania to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, and that seemed to get the ball rolling in my life.

Where are you headed next?

My next trip is to the Canadian Arctic with a group from Monaco headed by Prince Albert. They are testing a new, eco-friendly electrical engine that they hope will be used by future polar explorers.

What is currently on your bucket list? There are several places I’ve never been to and would like to see: Al Ula in Saudi Arabia; the wildebeest migration across the Mara River; collecting meteorites in Greenland or Antarctica; the Privalov Islands in Alaska; the river migration of the Barotse Kingdom in Zambia; shark diving off the Cocos Islands in Costa Rica; journeying the length of the Nile River in Egypt; and going to the moon. I also think climbing Mount Kilimanjaro with my children would bring me full circle.

Related: Saudi Arabia: The World’s Best-Kept Travel Secret

Tom Stringer

Stringer is a Chicago-based interior designer and the author of the book

An Adventurous Life: Global Interiors by Tom Stringer.

What was your most transformative travel moment, or a trip that changed your life? My most transformative travel experiences include shark diving at Fakarava in the Tuamotus in French Polynesia, where the beauty of the wild Pacific Ocean meets pristine reefs and placid lagoons. The underwater world there teems with life, and there is no more beautiful ballet than hundreds of sharks feeding in the early morning light. Visiting Namibia was transformative, as well. The Hoanib Desert is one of the least populated, least hospitable places on earth, yet the beauty of the stark landscape is one of the most powerful that I’ve encountered. Truly transformative, and one of the best safari experiences of my life. I’ve described it as a safari for the soul.

Where are you headed next?

Our next big journey is to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam in March. For food, culture, architecture and history, I think this one has it all. I can’t wait!

What is currently on your bucket list? Two big, long-term bucket list destinations have been Antarctica, which we visited in January and I highly recommend, and Papua New Guinea, to which we are planning a month-long expedition in January of next year.

Related: How to Build a Bucket List for Your Life

Tory Burch

Burch is a fashion designer, businesswoman and philanthropist.

What was your most transformative travel moment, or a trip that changed your life? I traveled abroad in college with a program called Semester at Sea. It was a four-month boat trip that started in Spain and ended in Japan, stopping at 14 countries in between. Many of the places we visited were developing countries—it made me realize how fortunate I was and that I wanted to make a difference. That experience was the starting point for our foundation.

Where are you headed next? The next three months are seriously busy: Tokyo, Mexico City, Chicago, London, Atlanta.

What is currently on your bucket list?

Going on safari has been a dream of mine for many years.

Jennifer Welch

Welch is an interior designer based in Oklahoma City and the star of Bravo's 

Sweet Home television series.

What was your most transformative travel moment, or a trip that changed your life? Last year, Indagare planned an incredible spring break trip for my family to Peru. Although Machu Picchu was everything one would think it would be, our favorite day was spent high up in the Andes with a Peruvian family. Initially, when my trip designer sent over the itinerary, I thought, “Why on earth would we want to spend the day with some people we don’t know”?  However, we decided to roll with it. When we arrived at their home, they were singing and beating drums and welcomed us with flowers. They immediately put us in Peruvian clothes and made us feel right at home. They prepared lunch, taught us how to shear their sheep, then weave that fur into yarn and dye it. Their accommodations were modest, but their home was full—full of culture, full of smiles, full of love. We didn’t speak the same language, so our guide interpreted for us. We felt completely immersed in their culture. I cannot describe the feelings we had that day. It was a very special—and unexpected—day. I’m so grateful I didn’t cancel that part of our trip, since it ended up being a true highlight.

Where are you headed next?

This year, for spring break, we are doing a "canal-themed" trip.  First, we will head to Venice for a few days, then on to Amsterdam. I'm happy that my children are finally old enough to absorb the ambience and culture of a different country.

What is currently on your bucket list? My current bucket list, in no particular order: Iceland, New Zealand, Croatia. But my favorite part of being an Indagare member is that every trip has a bucket-list feeling!

Aerin Lauder

Lauder is the founder of global luxury lifestyle brand AERIN.What was your most transformative travel moment, or a trip that changed your life? Vienna

. I lived there when I was a young girl and have gone back multiple times ever since. The Viennese culture is a big part of who I am today and has inspired many collections of my brand, AERIN.

Where are you headed next?

I am excited to be going to Greece this summer with my family.

What is currently on your bucket list? India has always been on my bucket list, and I hope to be able to visit soon.

John Robshaw

Robshaw is a textile designer and artist who draws inspiration from the fabric-making traditions found throughout Asia. He is the host of Indagare's Insider Journey to Uzbekistan.What was your most transformative travel moment, or a trip that changed your life?

When I was celebrating my 30th birthday in India, I met a group of lovely Indian ladies who were hiking up Palitana Mountain barefoot to see the 3,000 marble Jain temples located at the top of the mountain. I joined them, walking all day with simple pilgrims dressed in white from all over India to see these amazing marble temples spread across the mountain. During that journey on my birthday, I decided that making merit and inhaling beauty would be my mission in life.

Where are you headed next?

I am traveling to Cochin to see the Cochin Biennale. I am a big fan of contemporary Indian art, as well as the town of Cochin, so I am excited to see this once-quiet town come to life with artists from India and all over the world showcasing their works in unconventional spacesand, of course, hitting some of the massive antique shops around the area.

What is currently on your bucket list? I would like to take a year off and travel the world, staying in towns or villages for a month at a time to really get some idea of the life there and absorb all that is going on. I am always zooming around trying to see everything—artisans, museums and landscapes—in too short a time, and I come back exhausted!

Related: Travel Like an Insider at these UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Amy Abrams

Abrams is the co-founder of Artists & Fleas, a popular fashion and craft market with multiple outposts in New York and Los Angeles.

What was your most transformative travel moment, or a trip that changed your life? One of the first traveling adventures I ever embarked upon as an adult was a trip to Turkey with four girlfriends during my junior year in college. I was studying abroad for the year in Jerusalem, and we had a fall break. We spent three weeks traveling around the country. It was amazing. We had so many adventures, met people from all over the world and surrendered to the magic of serendipity. That was where I was bitten by the travel bug.

Where are you headed next?

Back to India, to spend 10 days in Jaipur and Goa. India is a place where I always find inspiration and where I am re-energized.

What is currently on your bucket list? Corsica; a trip to Italy with my husband; a safari with my children.

Paula Froelich

Froelich is a journalist, best-selling author and travel editor.What was your most transformative travel moment, or a trip that changed your life?

I have taken several life-changing trips that I think about almost daily. There was a walking tour of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail in Japan that I can only describe as moving meditation. It taught me to slowly reexamine my life and always, always keep moving: one foot in front of the other. But perhaps the trip that changed my life socially was a 3.5-week journey with five strangers up the Niger River in Mali to see what would become the last Essakane Music Festival (the civil war broke out while we were there, and it's been impossible to travel there since). Small group dynamics are fascinating, and I had to learn when to be quiet and not speak my mind for the greater good of group dynamics. I also learned that someone who annoyed the heck out of me could actually become a good friend if I gave them a chance. And the trip taught me just how very lucky I am and have always been: something that is easy to lose sight of.

Where are you headed next? I am hoping to go to Islay in the Scottish Hebrides to check out the scotch. It's a crazy little island with something like more than 17 scotch producers, due to the peat on the island. It's fascinating and rich in history...and booze.

What is currently on your bucket list?

I am obsessed with the Omo Valley in Ethiopia as well as the Las Gal caves in Somaliland (the safe, northern part of Somalia). I would also like to check out parts of Pakistan and Tunisia. I love places that are rich in history and misunderstood by Western media. I prefer to see and hear for myself.

Related: 5 Travel Tips to Know Before You Visit Ethiopia

Sara Bengur

Bengur is a New York-based interior designer and philanthropist.What was your most transformative travel moment, or a trip that changed your life?

I would say my trips to India really changed my life. I went to mostly rural parts of the country, and it was mesmerizing.  The people, colors, food, scents and the complete and unquestioning spiritual devotion...there is something magical there and completely transformative. I came back a different person, and returned four more times! Brazil is another transformative place, and Bahia specifically, where the people are so open and loving, and the culture is so full of color, music and celebration, not to mention the spectacular beaches! I have also been back there multiple times.

Where are you headed next? I am next going to the Salone Del Mobile show in Milan and then to Paris for a design inspiration boost, then the South of France this summer. I used to spend a lot of time there as a child and have fallen in love with it again…

What is currently on your bucket list?

At the top of my bucket list is definitely Egypt, followed by Tunisia, and I must say I am completely captivated by Mongolia. A friend of mine is making the most beautiful handwoven throws and blankets from Mongolian cashmere, so maybe I can make a trip to help spin the wool!

Roger Fishman

Fishman is an explorer and travel photographer whose work can be viewed at rogerfishman.com.What was your most transformative travel moment, or a trip that changed your life?

Camping alongside emperor penguins in Antarctica in -40 degree weather was one of my most transformative trips. The sense of true infinity and extreme conditions shaped my life quite dramatically.

Where are you headed next?

A month-long helicopter trip circumnavigating Greenland that intersects art, adventure and science. I plan to photograph and film the ice sheet, glaciers and icebergs, while also sharing my work with scientists as they measure the impact of the changing environment on our ocean levels and coastal lands, communities and cities.

What is currently on your bucket list? Taking a helicopter apart and shipping it to Argentina, where I would piece it back together and then fly over the Antarctic Peninsula all the way to the Antarctic continent. Plus, some other unique and insane creative and remote adventures in Greenland and the North Pole.

Cynthia Hardy

Along with her husband John Hardy, Cynthia co-created Bambu Indah, a boutique hotel in Ubud, and the Green School, an educational institute in Bali with a focus on sustainability.

What was your most transformative travel moment, or a trip that changed your life?

In 2004, we went to Jaisalmer to shoot a John Hardy ad campaign with our daughters. Our team had organized luxury tented camps, and there were beautiful camels awaiting us. First of all, to stay in the middle of the desert in such luxury was beyond my wildest dreams, and then to gallop over the ridges of the sand dunes on camels was an experience entirely out of this world.

Where are you headed next? Dvorak, Porto, London, San Francisco, New York, Lima and Machu Picchu.

What is currently on your bucket list?

Iran, 

Georgia, Armenia, Estonia, Iceland, Sweden, Siberia, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ghana, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda and Mali.

Related: The World's Best Cities for Foodies

Bradley Means

Means is a freelance writer and the founder of Luella & June.

What was your most transformative travel moment, or a trip that changed your life? Every trip changes my life in some way, but the trip that left the greatest impact on me was my time spent in South Africa. Every single moment there feels like a once-in-lifetime experience.

Where are you headed next?

Paris, I hope!

What is currently on your bucket list? Tokyo—and I want Indagare to plan it!

Contact Indagare for assistance planning your next customized journey.

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