I was at work last Tuesday when I received a text notification from my friend that was simply a link. No description, preface, or explanation. I neglected to check it until I had finished my Excel sheet.
When I opened my phone, I saw the article she’d sent met was this: “Dream Job Alert: The New York Times is Looking For Someone To Travel the World.”
My heart beat faster, but I opened the link with trepidation. I was assuming it was a glorified advertisement for an Online Travel Journalism Course, or an obscure blog based overseas that only hires UK citizens, or the cover-up title for a position in which “traveling the world” really means monitoring live webcams on Google maps.
And if it were a real job, The New York Times would never consider someone like me, right?
Well…here’s the description:
“Every year, The New York Times recommends 52 Places to Go, one place to dream about exploring each week. The list is an ambitious forecast of which beaches will remain unspoiled, which starchitect-designed museums will live up to their renderings and which culinary treasures are worth hopping a flight to eat.
This year, we want at least one ambitious traveler to turn our wish list into an itinerary.
We are seeking a writer who will go to every destination on our list and tell us the story of each place and the story of life on the road. The ideal candidate is a permanent student of life and astute documentarian of the world. This person should have a well-worn passport, the ability to parachute into a place and distill its essence and to render a compelling tale with words and images.”
Further, the qualifications listed:
Media experience is required, as is fluency in English, expertise in social media and facility with digital devices. Familiarity with languages beyond English is a plus though not a requirement.
Has traveled to several destinations.
Have documented travel in writing, social media or elsewhere.
Is active on social media.
Has prior experience at a magazine, publishing company, newspaper, digital publication, film or other media organization.
Can commit to a full year.
Wait a second. Are you telling me I qualify for this job?
I couldn’t sleep for three days, and that was before I started the application.
The article said there would be a question about my most recent trip–there wasn’t–but I had this sudden Hallelujah moment where I realized, “Maybe this is why I felt called to do the Global Scavenger Hunt!”
(Ironically, when I sent the link to my boss, she said the same thing, adding, “It sounds like this job description was written just for you.” Have I mentioned I have the greatest boss in the world?)
The article also said I would be asked to submit a 500-word memo on the themes I’d like to cover–I wasn’t–but I did spend an entire evening looking through the 52 Places to Go of 2017 and coming up with a list of themes and ideas I would like to pursue around the world.
I’ll save those ideas for a rainy day.
Nevertheless, the part of the article that was accurate was that I needed to submit an answer to the question, “What is the most interesting place you’ve been to and why?” in 500 words or less.
Before I share my response with you (which of course I’ll do, especially if you don’t mind praying over it, sending good vibes, kissing the computer screen, offering a rain dance, or lifting up whatever good luck charm you can think of!), I need to thank a supportive group of friends and family whom I bombarded with emails over the weekend. Despite grading papers and writing sabbatical proposals and attending meetings, weddings, NFL games, and Tori Amos concerts, they still took time to offer honest and thoughtful critiques and feedback. You all are superstars, and I would say my greatest takeaway from the last 72 hours is just how blessed I am to know you.
(But if my essay is terrible, I blame them.)
And a thank you also to all of you out there reading this, who give my writing purpose! Without you, such a far-fetched dream would be completely unattainable. You are the reason I write, and will keep writing, no matter the outcome.
Without further ado, my essay:
Our driver is flying down the road. The fact that there is no such thing as traffic lanes—simply a matter of available space—is something I’ve not yet gotten used to in Egypt. I watch with terror as we come close enough to a motorcyclist that I could reach out the window and touch his jacket. The air freshener spins wildly out of control as the driver guns the engine, slamming on the brakes only when it’s clear we’re about to bottom out over a speed bump. He’s installed an ambulance siren into the taxi, and rather than slow at the prospect of oncoming traffic, he speeds up and flips the switch.
My friend and I say goodbye to loved ones in an iPhone video. Our driver tries to bargain with us, but his English is limited, so he doesn’t understand, “If we die, we cannot pay you!” With one hand on the wheel, the other hand in front of our faces—palm up—he asks for double the money.
Only an hour ago I was crab walking down a vertical shoot into a pyramid, thinking it was the best day of my life…
* * *
When the artist Rafael was asked, “What is your greatest painting?” he replied with a smile, “My next one.” In much the same way, I believe the most interesting place I’ve been to is my next one. Each new experience makes me into a better traveler.
Earlier this year, I was part of the 2017 Global Scavenger Hunt (GSH), a three-week, ten-country, round-the-world expedition in which ten teams competed for the crown of “World’s Best Travelers.” While my teammate Mark and I—the only teammates who met each other on Day One—did not win the prize, we learned to:
- change time zones every 36 hours, cover 21,913 miles in 23 days, sleep upright, and tackle hundreds of challenges from the moment we landed.
- cover our heads, arms, and legs in 100-degree heat, eat with our hands, sleep under mosquito netting, and communicate despite language barriers.
- pack for ten unknown countries across four unknown continents.
- navigate each country without the use of smart devices or prior research.
- blog daily—in photos, articles, and videos—while also raising money for three charities.
- overcome fatigue and still see beauty in the unexpected, learn from our failures, and find friendships among strangers.
Prior to this trip, I thought I knew how to travel. I’d visited 17 countries on four continents, primarily solo. I’d hiked a volcano at sunrise in Bali, bungee jumped off a bridge in New Zealand, and milked a goat in Greece; I’d eaten blood sausages, snails, sea urchins, and kudu. I’d hunted octopus, tracked wild pigs, and consumed more gelato than one human ever should—yet the GSH was the most challenging, character-stretching experience of them all. That is, until now.
Fifty-two destinations in 52 weeks? Yes, I believe the best is yet to come.
Thank you for reading. Thank you for being with me on my journey. And thank you for not saying anything if you saw a typo. My heart cannot handle it.
Oh, and of course: Have a Happy Halloween 🙂