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Why We Travel to Celebrate

Condé Nast Traveler logo Condé Nast Traveler 2/9/2021 Jesse Ashlock
a large body of water: A view of the Nile from the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Aswan © James Bedford A view of the Nile from the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Aswan

When my father turned 60, I sent him a letter with this proposition: You choose the destination, I'll fund the trip. What would he pick, I wondered. Croatia? Japan? Madagascar?

Instead, it was Egypt, a country he has loved since he was nine and my grandmother took him and my aunt there to live for five months while she reported on agricultural conditions in the region. When we were visiting the Temple of Philae, on an island near Aswan, my dad recalled a memorable encounter on the Nile; a local farmer rowed up and proposed to my grandmother that his daughter marry my father. More memories bubbled up as we wandered endlessly past the stalls of Khan el-Khalili bazaar in Cairo, caravanned before dawn to Abu Simbel, took a private taxi to the Valley of the Queens after missing the tourist bus. We planned the trip to coincide with his 61st birthday, which we spent traveling downriver on a felucca boat, going into a village in the late afternoon to buy camel meat, which we roasted on the banks of the Nile. The captain was a playful young Egyptian named Ayob, who fell in love with a Kiwi passenger in the midst of an epic world tour and convinced her to come back with him to meet his parents—just another crazy detail from one of the great trips of both of our lives.

When you travel to mark an occasion, you create unusually powerful memories. Here are two of my own birthdays that stand out: When I turned 29, I was in Barcelona for work, but I didn't have anything to do all day, so I spent hours in the museum Fundació Joan Miró and explored the attractions of Montjuïc Hill. When I took the gondola back down to the city, there was a complete rainbow splayed across the skyline, which I could only regard as a birthday gift from a higher power. Then, when I turned 40, my wife booked a week at one of the oceanfront cottages at Sea Ranch, in Sonoma County. She and the kids and I spent our days going for walks and watching the ocean for gray whales, cooking delicious meals, entertaining my youngest brother and my dad and his wife and their cat. They were some of the most tranquil and restorative days I can remember as an adult. (I returned the favor when she turned 40 by taking the family to GoldenEye, in Jamaica.)

Chi Kim et al. standing next to a body of water: The author with his family at Sea Ranch, in Sonoma County © Condé Nast Traveler The author with his family at Sea Ranch, in Sonoma County

You know where I'm going with this. For nearly a year now, we have been mostly unable to take the kinds of milestone trips we'll treasure forever. As I write these words, I am just a few days away from my 43rd birthday, during which I will most likely not leave my neighborhood. But that's okay: I'm already dreaming about the next one. Not long before the pandemic, I joined some old friends in Peru for another 40th; I'd love to gather the same group for a cycling adventure somewhere beautiful with great food and wine—maybe Alentejo. And I want all of you to start making those kinds of plans too, which is why we've put together a wonderful package of inspiration and ideas for celebratory trips to take in our fast-arriving post-pandemic future. So get booking!

Of course, if there's anything this last year has taught us, it's that you can mark a milestone whenever you feel like it, and you don't even need one for travel to be a celebration. I felt this acutely every time my family went anywhere in 2020—especially on our second visit to the Finger Lakes, to stay at the just-opened Lake House on Canandaigua. Now, in the depths of winter, I find myself treasuring little moments from that trip, like when my daughter started chatting up a family of locals while roasting s'mores over the firepit, or when the kids discovered their passion for ropes courses at nearby Bristol Mountain, or when I was alone in a kayak in the middle of the lake gazing back at the dollhouse-size hotel in the distance. In those moments, I remember thinking, Holy cow, I'm on vacation! And even with the masks and the social distancing and the general unease that hung over everything in 2020, it was sublime. I want more of that feeling in the months ahead, for myself and for all of you.

This article appeared in the March 2021 issue of Condé Nast Traveler. Subscribe to the magazine here.

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