Some of my happiest moments -- as well as my most enriching and enlightening moments -- have come through travel. Which is why I'm delighted to announce the launch of our newest section, HuffPost Travel.
I still remember the excitement of my first trip out of Athens, when I was 11. My sister and I traveled to Paris for a week with my father. I still have the touristy picture of the three of us in front of the Eiffel Tower. But more than that, I have an indelible memory of my first taste of the world outside my homeland -- and of a special time with my Dad (who had already separated from my mother after he answered her complaints about his philandering by telling her that "she should not interfere in his private life").
At 16, I came to America as part of a program called the Experiment in International Living. I spent the summer in York, Pennsylvania, staying with four different American families. I went back to Athens, but a part of me remained in America. I knew this was where I wanted to live.
Back in Athens, while flipping through a travel magazine, I saw a story about Cambridge University and instantly set my heart on going to school there.
The next year, when I was 17, I traveled to India to spend a summer taking a course in comparative religion at Visva-Bharati University outside Calcutta, founded by Nobel Laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore. When I wasn't studying, dressed in a sari that I loved, I was traveling around the country in jeans and t-shirts while subsisting on rice and bananas. The train travel may have been third class, but I got a first-class education.
In my 20s, while living in London with Bernard Levin, the Times columnist I spent seven years with, we often traveled around Europe -- me at the wheel, him navigating (he didn't drive). These trips always had a purpose. We took in music festivals, ate at Michelin-starred restaurants, and stopped in to visit his many far-flung friends. He wrote about all these travels with passion, insight, and the most exquisite use of the English language. One extended trip even became a book he called Conducted Tour.
In the years that have followed, my travel has often led to columns or blog posts -- touching on things both silly (like dropping my BlackBerry in the Mediterranean or a look into the world of counterfeit cheese) and very serious (insights into the economic crisis prompted by a visit to Pompeii; insights into the war in Iraq sparked by a trip to Sicily). I also learned a lot about myself from vacationing with my ex, and about the importance of sleep and dreams from touring the Luxor Temple in Egypt.
Of course, not every travel experience is filled with insight, sweetness, and light. Indeed, I once wrote a column about a particularly nightmarish "Bad Air Day" I had in 2000. I have since learned to measure my spiritual evolution by how I handle such ghastly episodes -- especially excruciating flight delays. Do I stay Zen and use the unexpected free time to finally read one of the many books I have downloaded to my Kindle but haven't gotten around to? Or do I endlessly stress, checking my watch every 30 seconds, agonizing about the connection that will be missed, the meeting that will need to be canceled, the possibility of spending the night in some gloomy airport hotel, making do with a dinner of mini-bar snacks?
HuffPost Travel will cover all aspects of travel, from the glorious to the maddening. It will be a one-stop shop, bringing you up-to-the-minute travel news, travel tips and advice, the hottest deals, reviews of hotels, cruises, spas, and airlines, compelling photographs, blog posts about travel, and more. And we hope you'll be a big part of the section, offering tips, sending in photos, posting reviews, etc. We'll also bring you some of the great travel poetry and prose written through the ages. One of my favorites is "Ithaca," written by the Greek poet Cavafy: "When you set sail for Ithaca, wish for the road to be long, full of adventures, full of knowledge."
HuffPost Travel will be both practical and inspiring -- a reminder that travel can be a great way to unplug and recharge, and also to learn, grow, and discover. Some of our greatest writers have written about their travels -- from Mark Twain (The Innocents Abroad, Roughing It) to Charles Darwin (The Voyage of the Beagle) to George Orwell (Down and Out in Paris and London) to Hunter S. Thompson (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) to Evelyn Waugh (Labels, When the Going Was Good) to D.H. Lawrence (Sea and Sardinia) to V.S. Naipaul (An Area of Darkness) to John Steinbeck (Travels with Charley, The Log from the Sea of Cortez).
As Steinbeck put it: "People don't take trips; trips take people." So check out HuffPost Travel, and let us know what you think. Bon Voyage!