Traveling has its challenges—canceled flights, lost passports, maxed-out credit cards, security scares, you name it. But more often than not, at the end of the day, the thrill of becoming acquainted with a new place—and the people who call it home—outweighs the risks of leaving home. It can even be transformative.

When I was growing up, flipping through the pages of a travel magazine took me out of my life and into a world I desperately wanted to experience for myself.

Now, as a travel writer myself, I get to explore new destinations all the time. But there are some trips that stand out more than others—the ones that changed my life in some meaningful way.

Here are five transformative experiences I’d recommend to everyone:

> Ireland

Given my last name, it’s no surprise that I adore Ireland. The Irish have a special ability of making you feel welcome and poking fun in a way that, somehow, makes you feel great.

At this point, I’ve visited the Emerald Isle ten times, including a few trips with my family. I’ve biked the Aran Islands, driven the cragged edges of Dingle, and luxuriated in the history and warmth of Ashford Castle.

For me, Frank and Joan Maher, the owners of Petra House B&B in Galway, represent the ultimate in Irish charm. I wonder how Irish people learn it, and if it really is in their blood. In any case, it doesn’t get much better than being served warm scones and jam after a day of rainy exploration.

> The Mekong River

(Photograph by Vadim, flickr)
A small boat navigates the Mekong in Vietnam. (Photograph by Vadim, flickr)

This is the trip that I can’t stop thinking about, even six months after returning home. I sailed the Mekong River for four nights, from Saigon in Vietnam to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on the Aqua Mekong  (Read more...)

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