The Door to Hell, Derweze, Turkmenistan, 2013
Chantal Strasburger, assistant editor, @chantagold
Memorable Moment: The summer after I graduated college, my family and I travelled around Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan. We essentially found a corner of the world we knew nothing about and went on an adventure to change that. While in Turkmenistan—one of the more bizarre countries I've ever visited—we spent the night in the Karakum Desert in flimsy, plastic tents next to what is known as The Door to Hell. Safe to say, this is one land feature they don't teach you about in geography classes in my native Texas.
This massive pit was a natural gas field that collapsed in 1971 after Soviet engineers discovered it and tried drilling for oil (you can still see the giant rig upturned at the very bottom of the crater through the flames!). To prevent the spread of methane gas, the engineers set the gas on fire, believing that it would burn out within several weeks. Four decades later, and the cavernous hole, the size of a football field, is still burning. The heat and light it emits at night is unlike anything I've ever seen—truly fearsome to behold!
What I Learned: There are so many incredible, mind-blowing world wonders (like fire pits in Central Asia) that we know nothing about—who knows what other marvels are out there waiting to be found!
Mallorca, Spain, 2015
Natalia Tyndall, administrative assistant, @tallylabella
Memorable Moment: After a harrowing drive along on the cliffs of the Serra de Tramuntana mountain range of Mallorca, I came across the most beautiful view. Arriving at "El Mirador des Colomer," as it's called, was one of the few times in my life where I was reminded how small I am in this world against this gigantic cliff overlooking the beautiful Mediterranean—definitely a view I won't soon forget.
What I Learned: Life is way too short to worry about having a group of friends to travel with. If there's something you want to see or a place you want to go, just do it!
Tangier Island, Virginia, 2014
Christian Storm, photo editor, @cstorm44
Memorable Moment: Ever since I read about this island in the "Unusual Articles" section of Wikipedia, I had been dying to go. Tangier Island is a unique and bizarre place for so many reasons: It's in the middle of Chesapeake Bay, an hour-and-a-half ferry ride from the shore, yet it's incredibly isolated; the people have a crazy accent that's a mix between Irish brogue and a Southern drawl; almost everyone shares one of about seven surnames; and there are no alcohol or cars permitted. The most important fact, though, is that over the past 200 years, the island has lost three fourths of its land mass (many families now bury their dead in their front yards for lack of space).
Most people travel there for a quick day trip, but I stayed for a few nights. I walked around and met some locals, all of whom were incredibly friendly, giving, and unassuming. I got tips from them, secretly drank vodka with them at night, and accepted their offer to take me out on their boat to catch crabs.
What I Learned: You can gain a lot by getting out of your comfort zone and taking time to meet the locals. Now, I bring this lesson with me wherever I go.
Rome, Italy, 2010
Maia Schoenfelder, social media editor, @maiaschoenf
Memorable Moment: I went to Rome with two friends to visit a third friend who had recently relocated there. Let's just say he wasn't a great host. The three of us found ourselves on a bus with no ticket; of course, we got caught, ticketed, and seriously spooked by the Italian government (who, we assumed, threatened us in lots of Italian). Whoops. After being thoroughly terrified out of Italian public transportation, we walked around the city for the rest of the trip—through rain and shine. Not only did we burn off the excessive amounts of pasta we were eating, but navigating ourselves with a real map (gasp!), led us down the most beautiful side streets to experience real, actual Italian life.
What I Learned: Always walk! Walking through cities I visit has always left me feeling like I have a real sense of the place. When I find myself somewhere new, I spend a day walking from destination to destination. Not only does it help adjust you to the time zone (because you're exhausted), it really forces you to see so much more than you would if you took the stupid bus.
Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, 2013
Chanel Parks, assistant editor, @chanelinezp
Memorable Moment: I'm the person who always wakes up early on vacation so I don't miss out on any important vacation-y moments. Even so, I didn't expect to find anything that exciting when I went to Rehoboth Beach for a friend's birthday celebration (other than a good old fashioned dipped ice cream cone and boardwalk fries).
But one morning, at around 8 a.m., I stumbled across this hotel restaurant farther down the boardwalk called Victoria's. With an ocean view and outdoor seating, I decided to sit down and get some breakfast—but it wasn't just any breakfast. I ordered the best meal I've ever had: a bowl of shrimp and grits. The grits were creamy, and not too salty (which is key), while the cajun-spiced shrimp added just the right amount of zest without making my eyes water. The dish was served with a melt-in-your-mouth buttermilk biscuit that reminded me of my North Carolina roots, along with a fresh tomato sauce that topped the meal like a sundae cherry.
What I Learned: Now when I travel, I always scan the menu for a shrimp and grits dish. I haven't had a meal that's come close to Victoria's masterpiece, but I'm on the lookout—please snap me your recommendations!
Moab, Utah, 2015
Michael Russo, video producer, @iammichaelrusso
Memorable Moment: Last year, my girlfriend and I took a trip to Colorado and Utah, which was mostly unplanned apart from our flights and two nights camping in the Moab desert. On a visit to Canyonlands National Park, we ventured to a section of the park where we could get lost for hours, away from all the tourists. Along the path, we came across a fellow photographer and I decided to do the old "Hey, I shoot, you shoot" routine and pick his brain a bit. His name was Rick and he told me he was waiting until it got dark, when it's pitch black. "I watch the stars dance," he said. Then, he gave us a few tips, one of which was to take a long road that leads to Denver that nobody uses anymore called Dinosaur Diamond Prehistoric Highway. I clearly remember him using the word "magical" to describe it.
So, we took the highway. And what we found was amazing. It seemed like a normal road, until we realized we'd been driving for 20 minutes and hadn't passed a single car. We came across cattle just hanging out on the side of a road, signage that looked like Swiss cheese on account of all the bullet holes, an abandoned gas station, and a deserted town. You could see for miles and miles at a time.
What I Learned: That conversation with Rick was something I almost passed up to avoid being cliché, but after stepping out of our comfort zones and not keeping to ourselves, my girlfriend and I were rewarded with a singular experience that we'll never forget. Often in life we take the quickest, most efficient path—that isn't what it's all about.
Paris, France, 2016
Rebecca Deczynski, editorial assistant, @rebeccadecz
Memorable Moment: Near the end of a hectic first day in Paris with my two best friends, we discovered that a restaurant that we had been meaning to go to was closed. Meandering along Canal Saint-Martin in search of a place that would serve three hungry New Yorkers at 7 p.m. (an early hour for dinner in France), we popped into a restaurant called De L'Autre Cote (meaning, "From the Other Side") where everyone spoke English as well as the three of us spoke French—which is to say, not at all. After what felt like a game of musical chairs orchestrated by our waiter who was unsure if we wanted food or just drinks, we wound up with one of the most delicious meals of the whole trip. I ordered ravioles du royan, the French version of Italian ravioli. The pasta was stuffed with pale green herbs and a fluffy mix of gruyère and goat cheese, and served with a light, buttery white sauce. It's a dish that, especially when paired with a full-bodied red wine, has most definitely ruined typical, freezer-aisle ravioli for me.
What I Learned: The best moments are unplanned—and if you play your cards right they can end with a free shot of limoncello.
New Orleans, Louisiana, 2013
Martin Sanchez, writer, @thet_t
Memorable Moment: One important detail to know before reading this story: I'm not a fan of crowds, parades, or generally anything that involves a mass of people uncomfortably squeezed together. Traveling to New Orleans during Mardi Gras season a few years ago was—at the time—my idea of a nightmare. I love Louisiana, I just didn't think I loved it enough to put up with that level of debauchery.
But there was no way around it: my partner's mom was going to be the queen of her krewe's ball (a krewe is a small organization that puts together balls and parades for Mardi Gras—and they are all over Louisiana). This was a huge deal; we had to go. We convinced six of our closest friends to come along for the trip (because if you can't beat them, you might as well join them), and the entire experience turned out to be one of the best I've ever had. We were there the week before the official "Fat Tuesday," so we partied with the locals. (The throngs of rowdy tourists show up after all the real fun has been had.) We went to balls, witnessed amazing, over-the-top floats, and really felt like we experienced a rich, local tradition.
What I Learned: 1. Show up to the party early (especially if it's Mardi Gras). 2. Everyone should experience traveling with a group of friends that big. 3. Mardi Gras parades are about a lot more than beads.
Beacon, New York, 2015
Molly Elizalde, associate editor, @mollyelizalde
Memorable Moment: Over Labor Day weekend last year, I found myself nearly alone in New York City. With all my close friends gone for the holiday, I filled three days with activities I had meant to do over the summer: take the ferry home from Wall Street to Brooklyn, see the Frida Kahlo exhibit at the Botanical Gardens in the Bronx, eat at a new restaurant in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and take the Metro North train to Dia:Beacon. The weekend as a whole was personally euphoric, but it was the walk I took after visiting Dia that really topped the experience.
Killing time before the next train to the city, I broke off the main road and ended up at a dock on the Hudson River (what I later learned was Scenic Hudson's Long Dock Park). All was quiet and it was that infinite time before the sun completely sets when the sky is pale and the summer heat is beginning to wane. I found a tree and sat under it for the shortest half hour I've ever experienced—but also one of the most peaceful. I didn't want to tear myself away, but my train was arriving. I made sure to take a seat with river views.
What I Learned: If you ever find yourself in a place alone, don't feel paralyzed. You have more agency than you might think.
Oia, Greece, 2014
Ryan Adelson, editorial intern, @ryanshelby15
Memorable Moment: In Greece, each sunset is more beautiful than the one before. As the sun sets into the water, the orange, pink, and purple hues reflect magically on the white buildings creating a mesmerizing scene. In Oia, we were taken to a restaurant known for having amazing views of the sunsets. We sat down for our meal and waited for the main event. As soon as the sun went down everyone started clapping as if we were at a performance of Hamilton. It was the first and last time I've clapped for a sunset but, boy, did that one deserve it.
What I Learned: Take note of every sunset.
Pacific Coast Highway, California, 2007
Stefan Marolachakis, senior editor, @stefanmymind
Most Memorable Moment: When I first started playing in bands, the goal was simply to play as many shows as possible, to hell with the rules of supply and demand. We would book any tour we could, often teaming up with friends whose bands were similarly, shall we say, underappreciated. One such trip found my band with a night off in California, as our friends made their way to Sacramento to play a show of their own. We decided to be good tourmates and follow them there as a show of brotherly support—but instead of their efficient, straightforward, boring path, we would take the scenic route.
So began my first substantial trip down Highway 1 a.k.a. The Pacific Coast Highway, the most glorious stretch of road in the United States. What was meant to be a seven-hour trip slowly stretched into a 15-hour haul during which we ping-ponged between jaw-dropping cliffside views of the Pacific and dusky, meandering jaunts through Redwood forests, with barely any access to cell phone reception the entire time. Suffice to say we missed our pals' show, but the three of us came face to face with enough stunning and mysterious natural phenomena—and invented enough inside jokes—to last several lifetimes.
What I Learned: Chet Baker was right when he sang "Let's Get Lost"; the best travel "decisions" are often just mistakes in glorious disguise.
Iquique, Chile, 2009
Luke Crisell, editor-in-chief, @lukecrisell
Memorable Moment: My friend and I were on a direct flight to Buenos Aires from New York, when we were suddenly jolted awake by the plane landing, in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere. We had no idea why we had made this unscheduled stop, and still don't know, but we remember someone saying something about refueling, or switching out the crew, or something.
There we were, outside the city of Iquique, Chile, on the fringes of the Atacama Desert, as the pale fingers of dawn started to pull back the night from this barren landscape. We knew we had a few hours, and we knew we didn't want to spend them in the depressing, cold airport waiting room under fluorescent strip lighting. So we went through security (Chilean passport stamp: check!), and jumped in a cab to what turned out to be an industrial port city. With every mile we drove along the coastal highway, the sun rose further, illuminating street vendors setting up their stalls, the mountains in the distance, and the sea crashing into the shore beneath us. With no cell service whatsoever, we asked the cab driver to take us somewhere that might be open where we could get some breakfast. We ended up on the waterfront terrace of a hotel, drinking bitter black coffee and eating sweet pastries on a white plastic table with a red plastic tablecloth. About 30 minutes later, we found another cab and went back to the airport—the last two people to re-board the flight.
What I Learned: When life drops you off in a provincial Chilean airport, get the hell out of there as quickly as possible! There are things to see.