. Can your best travel experience really change your life? : Budget Travel Adventures

Can your best travel experience really change your life?

Tartu Estonia best travel experienceCan the people we meet on our travels or a once in a lifetime travel experience change our lives?

In 2000, I saw him for the first time.  He didn’t look like much of a travel guru.  He was a bit dorky.  However, he inspired me.

Back then, I didn’t get a lot of TV channels so I watched a lot of shows on PBS.  While I was watching some educational television, I was learning some things about myself too.  Now this guy shows up on my TV screen and I realized I had to do something different with my life.

His name was Rick Steves and now I wanted to go to Europe.

A few years would pass before my feet walked the ancient streets of Rome, climbed to the top of the Eiffel Tower, or hiked through the Swiss Alps.  However, Rick Steves helped make that dream a reality.

How people inspire us to travel

Prior to 2004, I would never consider myself a traveler.  Now I am telling people how my travel bucket list can change their lives.

However, this passion for travel started with people.

There are times in life when you meet someone with a passion for something and realize that you want to be just like them.  OK so maybe I didn’t want to be just like Rick Steves but I can’t deny how much his travel experiences had an effect on me.

For many people, travel TV host Anthony Bourdain is a travel god who is everything a traveler should be.  Honestly, he doesn’t do it for me (for many reasons).   Even his biggest fans have to get a little tired of his weekly fights with Paula Dean.

However, everyone who travels finds inspiration from someone.

For those fortunate enough to have traveled a lot when they were young, maybe their parents were the ones to infect them with the travel bug.  Shared travel experiences with people on a high school trip or a backpacking trip after college may have opened your eyes to a world beyond your back door.

Maybe a compassionate soul compelled you to see that person who is hurting, hungry, or hopeless in life.  Maybe it was Africa, Central America, or Asia that called out to you because of a child you met, tears that were shed, or a heart that was touched.

Most people can look back on their trips and point to a person or travel experience that changed their lives.  Maybe you don’t even know the name of that person but their face, words, and touch are etched upon your soul.

What if the person who inspired you to travel really wasn’t your inspiration after all?  What if they were only a part of your travel story?

Rick Steves Jeremy Branham best travel experience

Rick Steves and me

Many people look back at a person or an experience as the defining moment or spark of inspiration that changed their lives.

They are wrong.  Life didn’t change at the moment.  It just started.

There are experiences in your life that led you to that encounter.  And your life wasn’t changed by that moment (not yet anyways).  For that person that inspired you only revealed something that was hidden but already existed – your passion and who you really are.

In your life, that person who inspired you was an essential part in your journey.  However, a book, a conversation when you were a kid, a family vacation, a college experience, and hundreds of other moments in your life have also played a part in your story.

However, this moment or that travel experience didn’t change your life.

Once in a lifetime experiences and encounters only matter if they lead you to a lifetime of purpose and action.

That moment is the culmination of events that have led you to this opportunity to discover who you are and what you love.  What you choose to do in that moment and beyond may serve as an inspiration to others for many years to come.

This is only the beginning.

Think about that person that inspired you.  In their lives, they probably had a moment like this too.  That led them to a decision, which led to more choices, and then helped them continue on a path.

Maybe those inspirations inspired someone to take a step, make more decisions, and then go in a completely different direction.  That moment was inspirational.  Yet it was only one moment in a journey down a path with ups, downs, and changes in direction along the way.

People that inspire you can’t change your life.  They only inspire you to make decisions so you can continue your own journey.

My travel experiences, inspirations, and personal travel journey

Rick Steves lecture Sacramento Jeremy Branham best travel experience

(Photo by Anya Clowers)

Many years ago when I watched Rick Steves traveling through Europe, I was inspired to see somewhere different.  However, that journey didn’t begin with Rick Steves.  It began in Estonia.

On that trip, I discovered a passion for culture and traveling I never knew existed.  Family trips had planted seeds.  Travel experiences in college helped them to grow.  And in Estonia, they blossomed.

Like plants, if passion isn’t nurtured and watered, it will die.  In my life, the passion didn’t die but it did slowly wither.

Eight years had passed since I had taken my last trip to Estonia.  Rick Steves provided that inspiration once again.  In 2004, I went to Europe for a month.

I’ve been traveling every year since then.

Like my life before, the passion to travel inspired by Rick Steves could have died.  However, I acted upon that passion and went to Europe.  Then I went again.

I met more people, made life changes, and traveled to places I had never considered visiting.  As a result, my views of the world have changed.  My politics have changed.  My beliefs in the things that matter and make a difference in the world have changed.

I have changed.

And now I believe that travel can change the world.

Inspiration can only serve as the catalyst for action.  Inspiration by itself will never change anyone’s life. 

I look at my journey over the last eight years.  And honestly, I never imagined myself on this particular journey.  I’ve seen lots of failures in my life but I’ve always been one who avoided taking risks.

Shortly after seeing Rick Steves on TV, I moved across the country from South Carolina to California and started a new life.  I had a number of ups, downs, and failures.  Big failures.  In 2004, I went to Europe.

That trip led to a few other trips to Europe.  I traveled to Hawaii, explored California, and made stops on the west coast.  I traveled to Canada and discovered places close to home.

In 2009, I made the decision to start writing about travel.  I stumbled along focusing on my small little piece of California for a start up news site that paid based on how many views I got.  I wrote more, developed my own voice, and started meeting people.

I took more trips, started two new blogs (including this one), and went to travel conferences.  New opportunities, ideas, and relationships began to form.  I decided to put my two biggest passions together – sports and travel – to go along with budget travel and some adventure travel.

Last year, I launched the College Football Travel Tour with a desire to use college football as a way to introduce people to travel, culture, and sports in my own unique style.  New doors are opening and I will be going to more games, campuses, and towns this year.

Jeremy airport on the way to Estonia best travel experience

On the way to Estonia!

Twelve years ago when I first saw Rick Steves on TV, did I ever imagine I would be writing about travel, doing a sports travel series, hanging out with Rick Steves, and or be a part of Rick Steves radio show? (I was invited to be on the show to talk about my experiences in Estonia – 38:59 mark)


However, I am here because of choices that I made.

I acted upon inspiration and my travel experiences have led to transformation – who I am, what I believe, and how I view the world.  My transformation gave me passion to try something new and even start a new vocation – travel writer and blogger.

Many hours of traveling, writing, and researching have led to perspiration – blood, sweat, and tears (OK just sweat and tears) as I have worked hard to get better at writing.  And all this hard work is paying off and given me confirmation that I am doing what I love.

I may not be the best travel writer or anyone’s favorite.  I may not be the most popular or most successful travel blogger.  However, I was inspired and made some choices to use this passion and who I am to be the best me that I can be.

Travel inspires people to live a meaningful life

For me, travel writing has led me a purpose driven life.  One of those people that inspired me was Rick Steves.  However, that was only the beginning of the journey.

In each of our lives, we get one chance to live.  May the people and experiences that inspire you be the catalyst to live a life that matters.

You don’t have to choose the same path as me.  Just make sure you find your own journey.

Don’t let these moments of inspiration be the highlight of your life.  Let them be the moment where you begin to live.

Be thankful for the people that have inspired you.  Whether its travel, teaching, toddlers, or time travel, be inspired to live and make choices so that you may one day be someone’s inspiration too.

What person in your life has inspired you?   After meeting them, what decisions did you make that started you on your journey?

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  1. For me it was a country, not a person, that inspired me to travel: China. I went there to study and the second I walked off the plane the travel bug bit me. What an inspiring post!!!

    • I think that is the case for most people. For me, it started with Estonia but Rick revived a passion that was dying. However, that was point – inspiration alone is not enough. You have to take action.

  2. Barbara says:

    Such a wonderful, wonderful post! I was inspired to always travel after staying in Poland during the fall of Communism. It felt like I could appreciate what people had gone through and witness that important moment in time with them — tell them people in the outside world care. I was inspired by their stories and their courage. That dual inspiration by me living in difficult places made me want to continue to travel forever. :) (I so understand what you mean by a purpose driven life!)

    • In Poland, I’ve been to Auschwitz and Krakow. I liked Poland a lot. Your experience was probably a lot like mine as being in a former communist country is so very different than the rest of Europe. Being there was difficult and their experiences are so different than ours. It definitely gave me a greater appreciation for people and cultures. I am not sure if I would have been as motivated or inspired if I had and seen Paris and all the sights there. I loved it but it’s not the same.

  3. What a cool post! I never really sat down to think about what gets me going, but when I do think about it, it has to be my German boyfriend. I met him in Hamburg and even though we live out this wild long distance relationship, I ended up going to great lengths and cool places to meet up with him again. We always rendezvous in different cities around the world; Boston, Philadelphia, Cologne, Quedlingburg. He’s the ultimate travel buddy!

    • Maybe I am wrong but having someone to travel with may help you with the motivation. Now someone is there to keep you accountable to following through, helping you make plans, and share in the excitement together. I am sure you have lots of extra motivation since you can travel to see him – and what an exciting way to see new places!

      What was the first place you visited? Why did you go? What was your favorite place?

  4. Miruna says:

    Great post, Jeremy!(As usual)I had no idea Rick Steves inspired you so much. What can I say, when I read his posts about Europe, I have the same feeling.He is great.
    Anyway, travel, in any of its forms inspires us more than anything in this world.

    • Thanks Miruna. Rick was my second inspiration after Estonia. After coming back from that trip, I didn’t go anywhere for a while so watching Rick again inspired me to take that trip.

      What was your first trip that you took? Where did you go?

  5. Christine says:

    Actually my best travel experience has really changed my life, I’ve met my husband on a vacation in Spain, and this trip has changed my whole life in the most positive way! And I am grateful for it!

    • Trips are awesome! I have had experiences that have really changed my perspective and inspired me. How has this trip changed you> What changes will you make in your life as a result of this trip?

  6. For me it was all the great people I met working in the hotel business. Guests were coming in from all over the world on a daily basis, and I decided travel needed to be in my life too…

    • I have to admit that is a pretty interesting way to be inspired. I’ve never thought about working in the travel industry and being inspired. Normally (or at least my perception of it) is that people who work in those industries already have an interest in tourism and travel. I guess tourists can be inspiration as well!

      Where is the first place you visited?

  7. Juno says:

    The first time ever I went backpacking overseas, I knew that I will be going to love this; and turns out I was right. I guess the inspiring person would be all the travelers I met on the road. I’ve never met foreigners who travels before, and honestly I didn’t’ know anything about backpacking even when I was backpacking. I just followed the guidebook, and tried not to lost. And here I am, writing about the world. What a funny thing! :)

    • So what inspired you to take a backpacking trip Juno? Like you, once I went on that trip I loved it. I enjoyed reading stuff in my guidebook and finding new places. However, what was your inspiration that led you to going on that first trip?

  8. For me it started with my Dad as far as adventure as he got me to go camping. My dad hates to fly and refuses to fly so the overseas aspect did not come from him. I think it was history that initially got me overseas as I studied World War II in college and was fascinated by Europe.

    • That’s awesome that you had those experiences with your dad. I did family vacations growing up but my mom didn’t care for the outdoors at all. So all of my outdoors and hiking stuff came later after I left home. I wish I had more of those bonding experiences with my dad. However, the one I do have with him is the Gamecock football games. So that wasn’t a bad experience. Like you, the fascination with Europe started in college.

  9. Laurel says:

    Love this message and agreed, your best moments may be memorable but won’t go anywhere unless you use it as a spring board. Travel writing has given me a purpose as well and now I couldn’t imagine not doing it, even though it is technically work.

    • For me, travel writing was just a part of the journey. I never aspired to do it. And I am even embarrassed to say why I stated it. What motivated you to start writing?

  10. Goody says:

    To be honest nobody has actually inspired me to travel. Travelling is just insime me, in my soul. I think I decided to be a traveller since I chose to study foreign languages at high school! I was 18 when I had my road trip to UK alone…and from there on I’ve never stopped!

    • I guess you were born with travel in your DNA! For me it was definitely an evolution. Now that you mention it, I liked my French class in high school but it wasn’t until years later that I realized why. I guess that desire to travel, learn, and engage other cultures was already there.

  11. Ali says:

    Great post Jeremy! It was a gradual thing for me, I can’t really pin it on one person. Like you said, the action is the important part. I didn’t leave the country for 8 years because it didn’t occur to me to just travel alone. When I finally went by myself, my passion for travel was reawakened & it blows my mind how much I’ve done and seen in the past 4 years.

    • Our stories are similar then. Aside from that trip to Estonia, it was 8 years before I left the country again. However, that passion was always there – I just didn’t realize it. It came out in little ways and slowly I got it. However, I had to take those steps to make it happen.

      Even that first step seems like a big one but then you take more and more steps after that. Look at your life now!! I don’t think you would have imagined your life like this a few years ago.

      Where did you go on that first trip?

  12. Spencer says:

    Absolutely! My RTW travels in 2004/05 changed my life and certainly my focus in life. The feeling of liberation I experienced during travel and all I saw has been the thing that has driven me ever since I returned home.

  13. Crates says:

    Really inspiring post. The person who keeps inspiring me to travel is my father. He travels a lot and I love when he is at home and telling stories about the places he had been to.

  14. Pune Travels says:

    I am positive, Yes, A Best Travel Experience can change your life.

  15. Joe W says:

    Rick Steves surely has been an inspiration, but for me it was also after visiting a city, that was San Francisco. That opened my eyes to know that there’re incredible places out there. Can’t wait to visit southeast Asia soon…Great post Jeremy

    • Thanks Joe. Glad Rick and San Francisco inspired you. I think the key to being inspired is to use that inspiration to take the next step. What that looks like for each person is different.

      Where will you be visiting in southeast Asia? How long will you be there?

  16. Mark Hodson says:

    Hi Jeremy. Interesting post, and proof that travel really can change people. I’d be interested to know more about what you were doing before you made this leap, and whether you think travel blogging will provide you with a sustainable career.

    • Thanks Mark. I still work a full time job but also do a lot of traveling. Before, I always thought about traveling or got so busy with other parts of my life, I never made time for it. When the opportunity came in 2004, it was the right time for me to go. I appreciated that experience and have made it a point of traveling ever since.

      As for a career? I don’t know. Honestly, I am still trying to work all of this out. I enjoy doing this but juggling this and everything else in my life is a lot of work.

      What inspired you to travel? What do you want to do with travel and writing in your life?

  17. Wow! A photo with Rick Steves! I so envy you. :)

  18. toemailer says:

    Not sure about the lifetime of purpose thing, but have to admit I have met a lot of very inspiring people while traveling.

    • I think each person we meet does give us something to think about. In that way, our travels shape us and help give us a purpose. Learning from the people we meet is a great aspect of traveling.

      Is there a person you met in your travels that really stands out?

  19. toemailer says:

    Not really just the one. I tend to think of some stranger, speaks another language, different culture, yet is right there, maybe in the town square, or at an event, and for a second you acknowledge each other and some very profound human connection gets made. Wish we could tap that into our everyday lives.

    • That’s what it is all about – the connections. For me, the different the person, the background, the culture, the more I treasure and remember the connection. You are right about experiencing that in our every day lives. I wonder if we just miss opportunities because we are so focused on other things? When traveling, we seem to ‘be’ more than ‘do.’ I don’t know – maybe that’s just me.

  20. Danyelle Franciosa says:

    Having some trip in different places are great and I do believe that by traveling you are learning at the same time because every now and then you meet different kinds of people and attitudes some inspires and some are not.

    • I think meeting people can teach us something, even if they inspire you or not. Those experiences are valuable because they help shape who we are. I think we travel to see the world and yet the greatest experiences may teach us more about ourselves.

  21. Jeremy, I love the title and question you asked in your post, because that made me think back and ask myself, if my travelling experiences,for the past 8 years, changed my life and my answer is: absolutely and positively YEAH, in a major way! The way I perceive now,everthing and everyone surrounding me is totally different, so as my outlook on so many different things in life, not to mention that, getting in touch with so many different cultures and mentalities made me really aware how colourful the world is!I love your blog and posts and congratulate you for the choice to become a travel writer and blogger!Please keep us posted!

    • I think the initial reaction of most people was “yes” to this question. However, I am not sure that is the right answer – at least for me anyways.

      When I went on my first trip, I immersed myself in the culture and language and my world was turned upside down by what I experienced in Estonia. However, I came home and did nothing about it. Sure, I went on vacations and even a couple of trips to some big cities. But it was 8 years before I did another trip over seas.

      As much as travel can impact you, it can only change your life if you make decisions to alter your life after you get home. Maybe it is just a matter of semantics but I think the key to changing your life is not what happens on the trip but what happens when you get home.

      There is no doubt the trip can change the way you view your world or interact with people. However, you have to make those choices to live differently. I guess that is the point I was trying to make.

  22. Sara says:

    The best travel experience can really change your life…Welcoming people, climate and culture are surely gone give some impression.

    • People and culture can definitely change the way you view and interact with your world. However, what if you visit a place, are overwhelmed by your experience, and then come home and live life the exact same way? That happened to me and then I had to wonder whether my travel experience really changed my life.

      There is no doubt it impacted me but if I didn’t live any differently, then there wasn’t much of a change. I think changing your life happens with the decisions you make when you get home.

  23. You don’t need a great trip to change your life. I found my first main travel, which was good, changed my life and I knew right there and then I needed to travel A LOT, for my life.

    After that, I’ve had some seriously huge life changing trips where I met my husband and became an expat.

    Traveling, in my opinion is the most important thing of life and the best we can give our kids.

    • I traveled some as a kid – saw most of the east coast before high school. However, I had one flight from SC to GA at age 11. I never flew again until I was 20. That is where travel began for me. And I admit that’s what started my passion for travel.

      As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that I don’t need to travel far. I’ve still done my fair share of traveling but have redefined how I look at travel.

      I do believe that we don’t need to go far to be inspired to travel – especially with kids. I believe it’s more about the memories and experiences than where you go. I hope everyone can be inspired to travel no matter where their journey takes them.

      What was the first trip that inspired you?

      • Soooo true. With kids, a staycation can be a huge trip :) Although, I’m staycationed out in Guatemala, and my need to travel always wins out.

        I traveled plenty as a kid, but it wasn’t inspirational since as a teenager it was all about me and my friends.

        However after studying abroad and doing a backpacking Europe trip – totally pushed on me by my parents (gotta thank them for that). that’s when I Knew until I travel for a very long time I will not be satisfied in life. And I did just that, for 1.5 years non stop backpacking, hitchhiking, the works.

        Now I’m over long term travel, too much work with kids, but love to take 2 weeks – 1 month at a time.

        • Staycationed in Guatemala isn’t a bad place to be! :)

          You had an experience I regret not having – studying abroad. When I was in college, I was a Rhodes Scholar nominee. However, much like my experiences as a teenager I had no desire to study abroad for a semester. A year later I took that first trip to Estonia and wish I had pursued an opportunity to study overseas. My parents hated to fly so I wasn’t encouraged like you were. That trip for you seemed to ignite your passion for travel and you haven’t stopped. Thankfully Estonia did that for me.

          It was 2004 that I realized long term travel wasn’t for me. I missed home too much. I wish I had the freedom to travel whenever I wanted – even if I don’t choose to go anywhere right now. But that just gives me more reasons to stay close to home and explore where I live. And that’s OK too.

  24. I definitely believe travel experiences can change one’s life. Most experiences better one’s self for further life interactions. Thanks for sharing your post about your experiences :) Safe travels.

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