People often ask me why I travel. I’m always stumped at first, usually responding with something like, “Why not?” In April 2014, while attending IPW 2014, an international travel conference held in Chicago that year, I remembered exactly why I travel.

Chicago skyline

The Chicago skyline seen from Chicago 360 atop the John Hancock building. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

The conference, which hosted more than 6,700 people from around the world, finished off the week at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. After a charter bus ride across town, we all disembarked as crowds of Chicagoans clapped and cheered, welcoming us to the Windy City.

As we gathered at the foot of the steps leading inside MSI, all of us exhausted after an intensive few days at the conference, a group of young people assembled on the steps and began singing. The kids, part of Dr. Walt Whitman’s Soul Children of Chicago, were full of life and energy and I felt myself relax as they sang, forgetting my exhaustion with my feet tapping to the music. But there was one magical moment that defined the night for me.

Museum of Science and Industry

Museum of Science and Industry with Soul Children of Chicago performing. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

The kids were singing a beautiful song about believing in your dreams. Just as the words “I believe, I believe, I believe” rang out across the international audience, a plane took off at nearby Midway Airport. As the plane soared skyward above the museum, I felt goosebumps and blinked back a few tears. In that moment, I remembered exactly why I travel.

Why I Travel

Travel opens my eyes to the world and gives me faith and hope in the future. I believe people have much more in common than most of us realize. When I visit other countries or even other cities and states here in the U.S., I like to think that by offering others a glimpse of far-off places they will see the beauty in the differences between us and appreciate those basic human traits we all share.

Watching that plane fly overhead as I stood surrounded by thousands of travel professionals, I realized how incredibly fortunate I am to do what I do. Since my childhood, I would look at planes flying overhead or trains going past on the tracks and imagine all the far away lands I would someday visit. As a little girl, I spent hours in the library, going through books about places that sparked my imagination. I had a set of bright red Encyclopedia Britannica Juniors growing up and I would flip through the pages looking for destinations I would someday visit.

I remember imagining myself sitting at a sidewalk café in Paris. I read stories about the pyramids and imagined what it would be like to stand before the ancient wonders. I would imagine exploring the jungles of Central America, going on safari in Africa, climbing among the Mayan ruins in Mexico, walking the streets of Bangladesh, seeing the fog lift from around the Golden Gate Bridge. I believed deep in my heart that I would do these things. This little girl from rural Virginia was absolutely certain she would see the wonders of the world. I still pinch myself sometimes when I stand in one of the places I used to dream of visiting.

New American in flight

New American plane in flight. Photo courtesy American Airlines

The children in Chicago sang of believing in their dreams as I watched the plane disappear into the distance, heading to places unknown. Yes, I believed in my dreams. I never gave up hope even when I had no idea how I’d ever do the things I wanted to do. Have I seen everything I dreamed of all those years? Not yet, but I can mark an awful lot of them off my bucket list. So for all those children who sang that night at the museum about believing in your dreams, keep on believing. For all those who wonder how you can do the things you ache for in your heart, keep on believing. For all those who wonder if it's too late to make your dreams come true, keep on believing.

So why do I travel? Because there is a world out there filled with miracles and wonders. There are things that make you stop and say wow. There are people who touch your heart and your soul and give you hope for the future. I truly believe that travel can change the world. It can change each one of us, one individual at a time.

Some of My Top Travel Experiences

Why travel is a theme I plan to revisit over the next few weeks as I share my top 20 travel experiences. Come along as we explore my best travel experiences from my home state of Arizona to my birthplace in Virginia, over the Atlantic to Europe, south into Mexico, across the Rockies, west to the Golden Coast and over the Pacific into Asia. I’ve experienced some incredible things during my travels. I hope you join me for some of the most amazing of those experiences.

Exploring Spain's Lloret de Mar
Hiking the Devil's Causeway
On safari in Zambia
Top First Time Travel Experiences

Come back for more soon…

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