National Geographic Traveler asked me to speak at the White House Travel Blogger Summit on December 9. It was surreal, thrilling, steeped in titles and policies, and… yeah, pretty surreal. As a travel experience, it sort of ranks with my first uncertain steps in remote Istanbul neighborhoods or moving to mid ’90s Vietnam. Different and new. I like that.
Anyway, I spoke into a mic for four minutes and fifty-nine seconds about the future of travel, and why travel needs leaders, mentors, experts. I said something about light sabers too. This is it:
Six things about what this whole thing:
- The event wasn’t actually in the White House, but in a pretty cramped room with blue curtains on an upper floor of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, originally the State, War & Navy Building.
- All of us went through rigorous checks, including a radar detector, a couple ID checks from guys behind bullet-proof glass, and a dog-sniff from a dog kept out of view.
- I believe in study abroad, but must confess I’m still not sure what “study abroad” is. As I say in the video, “I study abroad, every time I leave the country.” I go to learn. Just AFTER I graduated from college, I took an official study-abroad trip to Russia. I paid for it for YEARS (and have zero regrets about it — absolutely loved it). But, in my working 30s, I took a couple two-week trips to Latin America to study Spanish, DIY-style. I had a private teacher, lived with a local family, and ended up probably having a more immersive, enlightening experience — for much less. That’s study abroad too, right? I don’t say this to challenge study-abroad programs, I love them. It’s just to remind that there are other ways to get a proxy of the experience. And that you’re not ever too old to do it.
- Beforehand, a White House staffer — or at least an Eisenhower Executive Office Building staffer — came by the overflowing coat rack where I was fumbling with mine. “What’s this about?” I told her, “A travel event. Why travel’s good. Why you should study abroad.” “Oh, that’s fun. I want to do that.“
- It is pretty great that travel bloggers were lurking around the White House for a day.
- Yes, I mentioned “Star Wars” and Chevy Chase in my ramble. It’s because I believe in dreams.
Before the event, we visited the White House on a tour, which made me remember my brief James K Polk fetish in fourth grade.