Travel is an act of love. An excess of unanticipated feeling.
It cannot be quantified or assumed. “Love”, writes Barthes, “has all the magnificence of an accident”. It has no recipe. It has no rules.
And that’s exactly why we’ve approached some of our favourite travellers. But we didn’t ask them where they want to go. And we didn’t ask them for their tips or favourite haunts or secrets. No. Instead, we asked them to spill their guts and to open their hearts. We invited them to set course on a loving journey through the halls of their memories, to write their love letters to the world.
So, memory; it’s time to speak.
I was in a weightless abyss
Martyne van Well, General Manager at Six Senses Laamu, Maldives
When I first traveled to Soneva Gili (called that at the time, now known as Gili Lankanfushi) to take on a new role, my boss and an inspirational leader at the time give me an important piece of advice for island living: pick up a hobby! On my first day off a few weeks later, I booked myself onto a discover scuba dive and I immediately fell in love.
For that hour, where communication with others was limited to just basic hand signals to my instructor, I completely disconnected from the hustle of life on land and reconnected with myself, my body, my being; each breath echoing through my body, reminding me I’m alive. In a weightless abyss, I explored a world that was completely alien to what I have ever known, from tiny vibrant patterns on corals to the elegant reef fish, sharks and rays which navigated their way around them. I was in awe.
As I progressed over the years to become an experienced diver and now underwater photographer and videographer, I continued to fall in love over and over again with the magical underwater world, as well as the impact it has on travelers and local communities alike. I am inspired by conservation photographers who tell stories with their incredible images; images which inspire and give hope, but also images that make one keenly aware of the fragile state of our natural world and the responsibility we have to protect it.
Who am I? And just who am I trying to be?
Melinda Stevens, Global Editor-in-Chief of Condé Nast Traveller, 2012 – 2021
At some point I committed in my head to the walk. 44 miles over 4 days along the Test Valley from the chalk downs of Inkpen to where its tidal waters flow into what leads to the sea. I will do it solo, just me and my cocker spaniel, staying at different pubs and inns along the route. I will train, I will prepare, I will download ordnance survey apps, and birdsong apps, and apps that will help me identify flora that engages my interest along the route. But in fact, on the day of the walk itself, I have done none of these things. I am already behind schedule, throwing everything in a rucksack that I have bought on the hoof the day before, mostly packets of anything that has codeine in that I have procured by going to countless different chemists. By the time I finish packing, a water bottle has leaked and flooded the entirety of its contents. Everything is soaked, the paper I wanted to write on, the extra socks, the toast I was trying to fill my stomach with for breakfast. I decant and grab another crappy bag with holes in it. By the time I get to Paddington the same leak has happened again, but this time I am in my seat so that now my trousers and my top are soaked, every stitch of what I am already wearing and have no alternative to. I look out of the window, at all those marching folk with all that purpose in the set of their jaws, and I think to myself, furious and defeated, ‘Who am I? And just who am I trying to be?’
In Cheryl Strayed’s beautiful, visceral book Wild – a love letter to her lost mother, her walk away from heroin and grief towards redemption and freedom in her 1100-mile trek along the Pacific Coast Way – it’s her boots that practically give her the most hurt. Woefully unprepared, her footwear literally tears the flesh from her feet and leaves her unable to turn back. I think about the African warrior who said it that it is ‘through our feet that we understand’ and I remember Robert, the Bavarian chiropractor at the famous Lanserfhoff clinic, who tells me in his jolly sing-song way that you have two bones in your arm, three bones in your leg but twenty-six in your feet. In Chinese reflexology, of course, it is the foot that has this incredibly nuanced and almost spiritual song line relationship to associated parts of the body.
And as I walk – one foot in front of the other, one foot in front of the other – something in me begins to twist and shift. I seem to be walking something out of me so that I feel lighter and carried aloft. It is as if so many things, ego and pride, have been sloughed away, leaving my heart so clean and full I can sense the meniscus of it. Movement is the balm, I realise; movement is the key. And movement is what I commit to during those days, the endless exquisite pull of simply going forward.
I was young, poor, and sleep deprived
Ryan Chetiyawardana aka Mr. Lyan, pioneering bar owner and mixologist named number 1 bartender in the world and Time Out’s Person of the Decade
There’s a beauty to structure – a regularity that helps you to refine your everyday world. But we are not creatures born to monotony, and I’ve found the ability to focus and refine is contingent on being able to step away, to look in the context of what surrounds you, and – often – being in a totally different space. Mentally this can be done at home, but to truly separate, and to get real perspective, I find you need to surround yourself with things that are distinctly unfamiliar.
This is why I not only love travel but see it as crucial. I’ve been fortunate that much of this has been exotic and different, but the same impact has come on more simple trips, too. But the most important of them has been a trip to Japan with my sisters. I was young, poor and sleep deprived, taking a convoluted plane journey to join them in Tokyo. As soon as I landed, I was electrified – rejuvenated by the excitement, the unusualness and the sheer stimulation of being outside my day-to-day. To be thrust into different sites, sounds, tastes and perspectives was a perfect illustration of the magic that leaving your comfort zone creates – and the wonderful new thoughts and bridges that this generates. From seeing the full bloom of cherry blossom season, tasting new flavours in settings both historic and modern, as well as being constantly surrounded by nature, was not only a series of memories to cherish, but it was also a jolt to the system, returning me to my everyday life renewed. Travel is joyous, but it’s also restorative; a crucial part of keeping work and personal life on the right track.
Getting to the river offers a first glimpse of heaven
Lisa Grainger, Deputy Editor & Travel Editor at The Times LUXX Magazine
I always knew my trip to the Ganges was going to be an emotional one. It’s the river on which millions of Indians choose to be burnt after they’ve died, the most sacred place in India. And a journey to the Ardh Kumbh Mela in Haridwar – a pilgrimage that occurs every six years – is one of the most sacred rituals that a Hindu can take part in. People don’t just go there on buses. They walk, for weeks. Some crawl on their bellies for months. For millions and millions of people, getting to the river is a first little glimpse of heaven.
Because it’s the Hindu equivalent of Easter and Christmas and an audience with the Pope all rolled into one, everyone’s dressed in their best. It’s like a giant holy circus. Women are adorned in saris of every hue: with gold bangles on their wrists and jingling bells on their ankles. Men wear strings of flowers round their necks. Children tear about with balloons. There are food-stalls and water-vendors, bullock-carts loaded with coconuts and teenagers letting off fireworks, toy-sellers and stray cows wearing jangly bells. And lying about, under banyan trees and beneath tarpaulins, are sadhus: holy men, who often live alone in caves, or under trees, and here come together to ply their wisdom while smoking their ganga and sitting on cushions fashioned with snakes of their own dusty, gnarled hair.
At first, joining in the crowd with my three friends felt a bit intrusive; after all, we weren’t Hindus. But once we were in the crowd we relaxed. People smiled at us and took our hands. Children practised their English, giggling and showing off. And soon we were at the river, walking down the stone steps with everyone else – splashing and laughing, as the strings of fairy lights came on, and music echoed from crackling loudspeakers, and announcements reverberated in the hazy, dusty apricot skies.
For some people, it was a mission – something they’ve longed to do all their lives, and so feel lighter, having repented and let Mother Ganga bathe their sins away. For me, it was an affirmation of what can happen when you stop worrying. When you stop judging. When you abandon what you thought you knew, and just go with the flow – literally. I came out wet, and my feet a bit muddy. But I had flowers round my neck. In my head, I had the memory of a river of smiling faces. And my heart felt like it was about to burst. I can still feel its effects now.
They were trying to discourage this huge animal from scrounging on the table
Jacqui Gifford, Editor in Chief at Travel + Leisure
There are so many individual moments that stand out to me over a course of years. But I think it’s important to choose something from 2021 because it was a year that had a lot riding on it. People were starting to take their first bigger steps out into the world, and while there’s trepidation there’s also hope. They wanted a sense of normalcy, to be reassured.
We decided, as a family, that we would go to Kenya for two weeks. And that was a big step. It was my son’s first time in Africa, and we didn’t know how he would do on safari (it turns out he did great). I’d always wanted to stay at Cottar’s 1920’s camp, which is a historic property run by the Cottar family – a family that have been here for generations. It’s on a private reserve in the Maasai Mara, and it’s just one of those places that you must see to believe. Not only for the wildlife but for the people who run it, being so warm and generous of spirit. When we got there – picked up from the airstrip – we drove out to the property, arriving in time for this beautiful lunch that had been set out for us on the grounds – in a middle of a field. There’s no formal ‘lobby’, but rather a huge grand tent with all this amazing furniture; entirely open to the elements. You’re arriving at what is fundamentally a campsite, albeit one that is so elegant and extraordinary. So, we sat down outside to this beautiful meal of barbecued meat and chilled wine. I’d dreamed of doing this for so long and to finally be there – in July of 2021 – it was totally surreal. The sky was crisp and blue. The green of the grass was so vivid. And we sat and talked with the waiter, Joseph. We didn’t want to leave, sitting there for more than two hours. It was the culmination of so many months of starting and stopping, of frustration. And it was so nice to just be there.
But as we were winding down, I got up to wash my hands – turning my back. And they have these huge, domesticated elands there, and the minute we turned out heads one particular eland – his name was Namunyak – came out and started eating all the food on the table, knocking over the wine. It was just hysterical, with the team trying to discourage this huge animal from scrounging on the table. It encapsulated for me the absurdity of life right now. The best laid plans going awry. And you realise – sometimes – that you just have to embrace the chaos.
Protests were filling the streets
Alex Chan, Lead Designer at Søster, sister company to Black Tomato
I arrived in Thessaloniki to find protests filling the streets, rioters burning EU flags, and long winding queues at every cash machine; the country caught up in the fallout from the 2015 bailout referendum. But my own destination was Mount Athos, somewhere altogether calmer – an autonomous state under Greek sovereignty, and the oldest surviving monastic community in the world.
Entry to Mount Athos is strictly controlled, with only ten non-orthodox visitors being permitted per day. Women have been barred for over 1,000 years. Having secured my diamoneterion (visitation permit) months in advance as a non-orthodox “pilgrim”, I boarded the ferry and was dropped off at the base of Simonopetra, a 13th century monastery built into the edge of a cliff hovering 330 metres above the Aegean Sea.
The journey to the summit was a pilgrimage in itself, but I was greeted with open arms and offered free accommodation, meals and open access to the monastery. After I had settled in, I headed to the garden and was welcomed by Father Isiah with a gift of freshly cut lavender and toured the lush garden, meticulously manicured at the cliff’s precipitous edge.
Meals felt functional, strictly timed and eaten in silence. Attending service was meditative; standing in a wooden pew being doused with the most wonderful incense, ethereal chanting, and the occasional chime of a bell. I visited the bookbinder in his workshop where scraps of leather and shelves filled with old books scented the air. Wandering the terraces that surround the monastery, I felt as if we were floating somewhere between heaven and earth – a far cry from the protest and riots that filled the streets of Thessaloniki.
The extreme contrast of pure peace and complete chaos is an experience I will never forget.
Like something out of the mind of Ridley Scott
Simon Rogan, British Michelin Star chef & restaurateur
My most memorable journeys of late have been those to Hong Kong. I absolutely love it, even from those first steps in the airport. And that’s because of the magnitude and the sense of arrival. I first went in 2019, but I’ve been many times since – and am now a resident. This is a big, bustling city, as chaotic as it is huge. It never sleeps, it never slows down. And in its buildings and spaces and street names you can trace its former status as a British colony – Victorian buildings poking up through all the glass and steel. And you witness all of this during that arrival, on the motorway from Lantau Island – teasers of the skyline before it emerges in all its grandeur. By day or night, it is spectacular, and lit up like a Christmas tree.
When you arrive in the city proper – across the docks, over these spectacular bridges – you’re aware of just how immense it all is. But beneath that infrastructure is where you find the life: the restaurants and bars and shops and noise, from the centre of the city to Kowloon Bay. I was first there for the food, and the restaurants are simply incredible. And while they’re not as diverse as in London, they represent every locality and specialism in the region – from Cantonese to Sichuan. The street food, the kiosks, the markets. That was the scene that ended up shaping Roganic, my restaurant in the city, because we had to react to ingredients that could be locally sourced. And while Hong Kong has a reputation for its density, there is a huge swathe of countryside and hills beyond – and this is where the growers are, with hundreds of organic farms which people just don’t realise exist. And each of them specialises in ingredients you’d think surprising to find here; many of which are already familiar to a British palette – from beetroots to lettuces. That was a pleasing part of our early days in Hong Kong, visiting these growers so that we could source everything locally, not importing a thing.
Between Hong Kong and Macau, there are more Michelin starred restaurants than London, which gives an idea of the strength and depth of the regional culinary scene. So, you never get bored going out to eat, which you can do day and night – with one place that does the best scrambled egg sandwich and another that does the best dim sum. It’s not somewhere to go if you’re watching your diet, but it’s definitely somewhere that you can push your diet into new territories and terrains. In the city’s fish markets I saw things that I’ve never seen in my life, these shiny alien creatures from the depths – or straight out of the mind of Ridley Scott. And this is what makes it so constantly surprising – and such a memorable place to be.
I was rather swamped in my temporary formal attire
Paul Croughton, Editor in Chief at Robb Report
The trip that feels both incredibly vivid yet distant, as if I’m recalling it almost from another lifetime, was a journey to Syria that I took in 2010 – a time before the war there destroyed so much of it. I remember spectacular dishes of bright pink lamb tartare; bread cooling in the morning on fences in front of the bakers; Bedouin travellers herding goats in the desert while searching for mobile-phone reception; and crumbling ruins and monuments so numerous you quickly grew accustomed to seeing them on every roadside. During my week there, I became close to my guide, who was the same age as me. Toward the end of my trip, he invited me to his engagement party near Aleppo. I was thrilled and gratefully accepted, but I hadn’t brought a suit with me or appropriate shoes; I hadn’t expected to need them. He lent me both. They didn’t fit: we were the same age, not the same size. When I arrived – rather swamped in my temporary formal attire – I realised that very few people spoke English. And I had no Arabic. But that didn’t matter. The guests were so happy to see me, and so welcoming. Via fractured sentences and sign language, we established what a great guy my guide was, how happy they were to have me there as some kind of guest of honour, and that I needed to eat more to fill my suit. Looking back on it, this party encapsulated everything that was magical about the trip. It was such a joyous moment, generously and graciously shared with me, just as the Syrians I’d met over my last few days of travel across the country had shared their lives and hospitality so kindly and willingly.
These moments weren’t something you can plan or book. You can engineer meetings, but not kindness or the emotion it stirs. The people I’d met weren’t behaving this way to impress anyone. Many had far less than I did, but they were more generous and hospitable than I could have imagined. It’s the abiding memory of a country I can never see again as it was. That, though, can be said of many such travel experiences. Even if destinations haven’t been ravaged by wars or disasters, they change, evolve, just as we do. It’s rare to return anywhere and find it just how you remember it. Memory can be a funny thing, but the memory of that party, and that suit, never dims.
It was a blessing from the queen of the south seas
Olivia Richli, General Manager at Heckfield Place, England
There are many strange things that have happened on my travels – and lots of hair-raising things that have happened while running hotels in different parts of the globe. But I think the strangest, and most wonderful, is still when we first arrived in Java. My ex-husband, Francois, was the general manager of a hotel. And we arrived some time before it opened – preparing the site, getting everything ready for its launch.
A series of weird and strange things happened on the building site during its construction – sufficiently so that the locals eventually approached us and explained that we needed to conduct a ceremony. That we need to go down to the south coast, to make offerings, and that we need to conduct a ceremony. I don’t know whether we were just really green, or this was really serious. We were all dressed up in Javanese dress. My hair was done with jasmine, and we were wearing all the sarongs and amazing outfits, to go down to the beach and meet this holy man – a tiny, wiry man. During the ceremony, he grabs something from the sand – just as the waves are about to crash – and he puts in my hand and says, ‘hold it’. Later, he takes it from me and puts it in a glass of water on this table and instructs me to wait. And when we return half an hour later – after this whole Javanese feast – and it has turned, inside the glass, into this incredible flower. A blessing from the queen of the South Seas. And it’s still the strangest and most wonderful thing that’s ever happened to me.
Ready to write your own?
Discover your next great adventure with our ever-updated travel calendar tool.