On Harnessing the Fairy Dust of Travel to Create Everyday Magic
Last summer I traveled to northern Tanzania on an off-road jeep safari with a small group of friends. We bounced our way across the country, and watched as the scenery turned from high verdant cloud forest in Ngorongoro National Park to the brown parched Olduvai Gorge. The gorge is said to be one of the most important places on the planet for understanding early human evolution. You couldn’t help but notice its primal energy. The earth was inundated with shimmering quartz fragments and animal skulls.
We walked with a Maasai warrior across the flat dusty earth, passing baobab trees and a few giraffes, until we reached his village. The village’s warriors, covered in purple and red cloth, welcomed us with their famous jumping dance. They then invited us into their homes, tiny, dark, sandy-floored huts made from straw and branches. They even offered to share their favorite meal—a fermented mixture of milk and blood. (We passed.)
As we hiked to an outcropping of rocks, our Maasai guide explained their animist religion, based on a belief that non-human entities such as animals, plants, and inanimate objects possess a spiritual essence. We watched the most enormous golden African sun set and the full moon rise. We howled and danced under the moonlight. We were free.
I’ll never forget the scent—a mixture of smoke, earth, and musk—as we walked under the moonlight back to our tented camp. The scarf I wore those days still carries that special smell, bringing me right back to Africa.
That trip of a lifetime reinforced my belief in the true magic and renewal of such an incredible journey.
A few days later, in a jet-lagged haze, I returned to my apartment and stood at the front door, fishing my house keys out of the bottom of my bag, only to accidentally excavate a sparkling piece of quartz, which fell to my feet. As I unlocked the door and entered, I set my bag in the living room, looked around—and just stood for a moment. My heart sank. It was just as I’d left it weeks ago, but now, the space felt colder and emptier than ever. I longed so deeply to be back in the warm dry sun of the delta.
The next morning, I headed by bus with fellow commuters across the Bay Bridge and took in one of America’s most iconic views. As the sun rose, the sky changed from deep blue to pink, yellow, and gold, the fog gently rising around the Golden Gate Bridge. Surveying the inside of the bus, I couldn’t help but notice that everyone was sleepily staring at their iPhones. It saddened me to know that they had missed that glorious view.
Like many of my fellow travelers, I traverse the globe several times a year in search of unique experiences. Last year alone, Americans spent over $476 billion on international travel. Yet according to a recent study by the University of California, San Francisco, nearly half of us report feeling lonely—the highest percentage ever recorded.
The disconnect between these two statistics piqued my curiosity. Aren’t we supposed to be happier with the freedom that travel brings? As we’re exploring the most remote corners of the planet, what are we so desperately seeking?
Most world travelers agree that a well-executed trip confers a lift. Travel naturally gives us permission and even challenges us to push our comfort zones, to get deep into nature, and to connect with the people of other cultures. These trips of a lifetime and the memories they create deliver lasting inspiration.
I have deep gratitude for the travel opportunities that have opened me up, and I plan to continue to be a traveler for the rest of my life.
But recently I began to wonder, what if we didn’t have to wait to travel to be more conscious, more present? What if we could harness the extraordinary magic that’s created when we travel to feel more alive every single day?
Our most precious travel memories are almost always inspired by the passionate people we meet on the journey: the charismatic winemaker in Argentina who teaches us about the terroir of the Malbec as we walk through his vineyards, the innovative chef who shares his family’s secret recipe for the perfect ceviche at a kitchen table in Lima, the talented Afro-Cuban drummer who teaches us the healing vibration of the Yoruba beat on the roof of his home overlooking Havana and the Caribbean.
We remember these people because when we travel, we dedicate time to being with others who are different from us. Somehow we’re more willing to open our ears, and our hearts, to different perspectives. Travelers believe that it’s the journey that gifts to us a special ability to open, which naturally cultivates our compassion. But this special travel fairy dust actually comes from inside each of us—and is available every day.
The magic appears when we slow down and listen deeply. It sometimes happens when we schedule time for it, but it more often shows up during the unscheduled moments.
I began to contemplate and discuss this newfound revelation with my friends and peers as it came into focus. Soon many questions arose and broke open my perspective: What if Italy wasn’t only a country, but something that could be created in our own backyard by inviting over a few friends and neighbors to enjoy a bottle of wine? What if in addition to trekking to a Buddhist monastery to find peace, we committed to meditating a few minutes every day? What if we assumed our neighbor held the same deep wisdom as a Peruvian shaman and listened closely for his insights? What if we were able to keep the same open mind we seem to so easily adopt when we’re traveling once we got back home? What if we could listen with the same level of intention to each other, suspending all judgement—even holding our differences of opinion in great reverence?
What if we didn’t hold off until we were in one of the most remote parts of the world to give ourselves permission to disconnect from technology?
What if instead of waiting until we could get to Africa, we gathered for a bonfire on our local beach and danced around it? What if we refused to bury ourselves in errands and obligations, and actually allowed for unscheduled moments? What if we committed to doing something fun every single day?
What would it look like if we integrated the very best parts of all the places we’ve been into our daily lives, and showed up as our most inspired shiny travel selves every single day?
What if each one of us on that bus heading across the bay were able to maintain the same sense of wonderment as when we saw that incredible view for the first time?
Once my newfound perspective felt true and clear, I couldn’t wait to share the gift of the insight with others.
That evening I sat on my living room couch ready to write. I quickly realized that I would need a few more anecdotal examples of how my own life had been transformed to really illustrate my point. But what stories would I share?
At that precise moment, there was a knock on the door. It was my neighbor, Max. “Jennine,” he said, “I remember you said you love Brazilian music. Well, three of the most famous Brazilian musicians of all time are having a concert. It’s happening right across the street and it’s starting right now. You’d better go or you’re going to be late.”
Of course, I figured this must be an unmistakable sign. I walked across the street towards the dilapidated house I’d passed a thousand times over the years. With shingles falling off and the graying which comes from several decades of neglect, the house looked like it had been abandoned long ago. I entered and found that the kitchen opened onto a living room concert hall that was packed to the brim. I sat in complete disbelief within inches of Brazil’s living Bossa Nova legends. I could never have imagined meeting these people in person, let alone enjoying their music in a living room concert a stone’s throw from my own home. Their guitars and flutes took the audience on an auditory magic carpet ride. Sitting just a few inches from the musicians, I was moved to tears.
The next day, I went for a walk at the local lake with a friend. For the last decade, I’ve hurriedly passed a group of African drummers there. That day I decided to stop being in a rush. I joined them and started to unabashedly dance. The lead drummer must have felt the energy rising inside of me because he turned to me and said, pointing, “Please grab my car keys from my bag. Go to my car over there and grab what’s in the trunk.” I walked to the car, his elderly mother asleep and snoring in the front seat, and unlocked the trunk to find 20 hula hoops. I brought them back to the drummers, and my friend proceeded to teach me to hula hoop. Within minutes, the rest of those 20 hula hoops were occupied with gyrating bodies.
It even continued the next day, on a road trip to Napa. As I was leaving the parking lot of a local market, I noticed an overgrown garden with a sign that said, “Restricted to authorized persons only.” My curiosity and intuition led me to open the gate and enter. The garden in the glory of spring was dripping with flowers—I’ve never seen so many shades of green.
At the other end of the farm, in the distance, I could see a group of people. One of them began quickly walking toward me. I began to slowly walk back toward the gate—obviously I was trespassing in this very special place! “Wait, wait!” yelled the man. “Are you interested in the garden? Please, let me show you around!” Pepe said he was a farmer originally from Oaxaca who now grows produce for Napa Valley’s top chefs. After proudly showing me the various corners of his field of sprouting seedlings, Pepe exclaimed, “Well, today is my birthday, so you will have to join us for some carne asada and margaritas!” How could I turn down such a generous offer?
We sat in the warm bright sun on chopped tree trunks surrounded by vineyards, as my new friends began their parilla on a small basic grill. They used a technique of stacked mesquite wood to create an open flame to char the meat and elotes.
In Spanglish, Pepe introduced me to the others, a mix of dishwashers and construction workers. Among them was the unassuming and casual Armando Ramirez. Armando shared his story: He had come to Napa from Mexico as a teen and worked day and night as a dishwasher. Over the course of 15 years, he had been promoted and promoted until finally he had become head chef and then partner in several of Napa’s most famous restaurants. Now at the apex of his career, Armando travels the world regularly in search of culinary inspiration (he traveled to Barcelona five times last year alone to do research for his new tapas restaurant). Though it’s clear that he now effortlessly floats between worlds, again and again he returns to this particular bend of the river in Napa to enjoy a simple asado surrounded by friends and family.
Since I decided to have the same curiosity in my everyday life as I have when I travel, the magic has shown up every day. One day this week alone I counted 10 different bird species in San Francisco’s Presidio, where I work. Another day, I decided that I would “be” Italian, and someone actually approached me and started speaking in Italian.
I know that I am not alone in my yearning for a sense of connection—everyone around me just wants to connect too—and now that I’m allowing for a little more time, those connections are being made.
Perhaps what I was really seeking when I traveled abroad was love. But now that I am free in my knowing that I am surrounded by love and acceptance wherever I am, that magic is appearing more regularly.
At a time when many of us in the United States are feeling divided, we have the opportunity to show up as our best selves every day and to connect with people in our own communities and beyond to build bridges of support.
So, invite some neighbors over for a bottle of wine. Make that bonfire on the beach. And you too may find that harnessing the magic of travel every day gets easier with every passing moment.
Jennine Cohen, Managing Director of Americas at GeoEx, is a luxury travel expert, as seen in Vogue, Travel + Leisure, Condé Nast Traveler, Yahoo Travel, Fortune, Forbes, and other publications. When not traveling the globe in search of fascinating destinations, she lives in Oakland, California and bikes to work each day always in search of a little magic.
Learn more about all the inspiring destinations that GeoEx offers by visiting GeoEx.com, or contact Jennine at 888-570-7108.