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.

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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.

– Nikki Erlick on February 25, 2019

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