Ask any travel expert why they got into the business, and they’ll likely be quick to shout out a specific destination that stole their heart. Maybe it was the incredible food, the lively arts scene, or the picturesque views that won them over and made them think, I’d like to do this for a living.
While the options are seemingly endless, especially for people who do it for a living, everyone secretly has that one spot that trumps the rest. We asked six travel experts to weigh in on the places that made them fall in love with travel.
Sarah Marston Crocker, the founder and owner of Pathways Active Travel in Boulder, Colorado, grew up hiking hut to hut in the Swiss Alps with her family. But it wasn’t until 2016, when she was between jobs, that a trip to Northern Italy propelled her into the travel industry.
The idea for her active travel company was born on a rocky, rugged hiking trail, the Alta Via 2, in the heart of the Dolomites, a mountain range in the northern Italian Alps.
“We had just ascended up to the highest point on the Alta Via 2 and were enjoying a nice gentle traverse while taking in the panorama as we made our way towards Passo Pordoi and closer views of the Marmolada Glacier,” Crocker told HuffPost.
Next, Crocker visited Madonna di Campiglio, a small ski town, and was blown away by how beautiful and accessible this area of the Dolomites was. The visit solidified her desire to create Pathways and share this type of memorable hiking experience with others.
“I fell in love with this place and these mountains — and with the friendly, warm people, the culture and the incredible food,” she said.
Emma Lasiuk visited Costa Rica in her junior year of college to volunteer near Manuel Antonio. She fell in love with the country’s lush green fauna, deep blue sea and pink and orange sunsets. The local people, or “Ticos” as they proudly call themselves, won her heart next.
“I had traveled extensively before visiting here but had never felt so warmly welcomed and safe,” said Lasiuk, now a travel consultant with Costa Rican Vacations. She embraced the Pura Vida lifestyle, filling her days with hikes, early-morning beach swims and wildlife spotting.
When it was time to return to the United States, she was terrified that Costa Rica would fade to a memory — so much so that she instantly booked another trip and eventually moved there full-time.
“There is something for everyone in Costa Rica, whether it be zip lining above the treetops in La Fortuna, swaying on hanging bridges in the dense cloud forest of Monteverde, jumping off waterfalls in the deep jungles of Manuel Antonio or diving off the Central Pacific coast at Caño Island,” she said. “I cannot see myself living anywhere else.”
Madison Ned Butler, communications manager with the Rail Passengers Association, has seen most of the country through their long-distance train travels, but one destination in the South stood out.
“Mississippi is beautiful, complicated, joyous, bold and friendly,” they told HuffPost. In 2019, Butler spent a week and a half traversing the Gulf Coast and exploring the Delta, in awe of the state’s culture and communities.
“The food, music, and art scenes are phenomenal right now. I’ve seen brilliant emerging talent from the state that has already produced many of our most acclaimed artists,” Butler said.
“There is a feeling of hopeful change with a recognition of history’s tragedies that I think is very conscious and beautiful,” Butler said. “I think everyone that lives in the U.S. should visit these sites and take that history in for themselves.”
In 2006, Stephanie Chastain and her husband were looking for a destination for their honeymoon. Chastain had never traveled internationally. They chose Ireland because they’d heard great things about the scenery and history.
Chastain, now the founder of Infinite Ireland Travel Co., told HuffPost she “was a goner” from the moment she stepped off the plane. She was most looking forward to the iconic sites like the Cliffs of Moher and Killarney National Park ― and while they were spectacular, it was the people and the local sites that wound up being the most memorable for her.
She and her husband spent their days weaving though mom-and-pop shops, visiting old, tiny pubs, and stumbling on hidden gems that weren’t in their guidebooks, such as the 300 A.D. stone fort sitting in the middle of a farmer’s field.
After that trip, and a few return visits, Chastain decided to help others experience authentic, local Ireland. People who travel to Ireland often try to zip around to all the iconic sites; Chastain encourages people to go at a slower pace so they have time to meet the local people, meander through lesser-known spots, and leave room for adventure.
Nick Kembel, a travel photographer and writer, first visited Taiwan because he was curious to learn about a new destination. He immediately felt welcomed — he said locals help people navigate around and provide tips on cheap eats.
“They’ll insist you try their grandma’s secret soup dumplings, or point you toward hidden night market stalls that only locals know about,” Kembel said.
What sealed the deal for him, though, was the nature. “From the peaceful Sun Moon Lake to the dramatic Taroko Gorge, every landscape told stories, and hiking was seeing more magic,” Kembel said.
Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
Years ago, Jim Pattiz, a nature filmmaker and co-founder of the organization More Than Just Parks, took a spur-of-the-moment summer road trip from his home in Atlanta to the Grand Canyon. It ended up changing the course of his life. Pattiz and his crew borrowed his grandmother’s Prius and drove straight through to New Mexico, followed by a visit to Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.
“Having grown up in Georgia, all I knew were woods and streams, but here you could see beautiful summer storms rolling in miles and miles off in the distance,” Pattiz told HuffPost.
He recalls the blue mesas, the striped hills and, of course, the petrified wood. The vastness of it all awakened his senses, he says, and everything suddenly seemed so exciting and possible.
“That feeling of enchantment and wide open possibilities is one I’ve chased ever since in my travels all across America’s public lands,” he said.