The gift of travel is an investment. It is an investment in a relationship. It is an investment in personal growth. It is an investment, which pays a lifetime of dividends of memories, shared experiences, and new ways of looking at things. I didn’t fully realize that until my wife surprised me with a birthday trip to New Orleans. From there I became a believer.
Now, I’ve had great and memorable gifts before. Our first Christmas together, Ashley gave me an Xbox 360. It sounds odd, but it was one of the greatest presents I had ever received…it was on par with my first bike, a 7-year-old sized cardboard fighter jet my dad built, and my great-great-grandfather’s only remaining token – a coat button from his Union Army jacket. But here’s the thing – physical gifts tend to have a shelf life. They end up tucked away, donated, or discarded. The true value of these presents wasn’t their physical nature. It was experiential. It was learning to ride a bike with help of my parents. It was the hours I spent flying my fighter jet, feeling special because my dad had built it. It is the feelings of pride, honor, and duty in being entrusted with that coat button. Even for the Xbox, it was the hours that Ashley and I spent on it playing video games and the jokes and experiences we continue to share from those experiences.
I think I understood the value of experiential gifts before Ashley took me to New Orleans, but I don’t think I would have been able to say it with any major conviction. It was only after having an opportunity to be with the love of my life in a place we hadn’t been before and, in a city, (and football team) I am personally invested in.
The story behind this investment has many levels…so here are the key and simple highlights – I come from a University of Southern California family. I followed storied running back Reggie Bush from USC to the Saints. In 2010, on leave from Iraq and celebrating our first year anniversary while in Las Vegas, we had early access to a charity silent action that included all you can drink (and a little to eat). As we looked at the auction items for fun, we stumbled upon a Saints Reggie Bush jersey signed by the entire Super Bowl XLIV winning team. No one had put the minimum bid down. I did some beer math and Ashley agreed that if the worst case happened we could afford winning. Long story short, we won and as Ashley reminds me every time we move…I am invested.
Fast forward to 2018, while being a loyal Saints fan for about a decade, I had never been to New Orleans. Ashley saw this as a wonderful opportunity for us to reconnect on our own and gave me an epic birthday surprise…that fall we would go to New Orleans and see a Saints game! I was absolutely stoked!
The trip had many notable moments, but the best was – as it often is – completely unintentional. The Saints game we were able to see was the game where Drew Brees broke the All-Time Passing Record. He did this on an epic 62-yard touchdown pass! The stadium erupted! Men were crying. Women were cheering. I am certain that a spike of babies named Drew came nine months later in hospitals throughout all of Louisiana. (As an aside, if you are going to NOLA – experiencing a Saints game is a must!)
Beyond the football game, we spent much of our time in and around the French Quarter. We drank Hurricanes on Bourbon Street. We found bars and restaurants that were exactly our style. This including The Funky Pirate Blues Club, Backspace Bar & Kitchen, and a restaurant called Cochon Cajun & Southern Cooking. We did a food tour that taught us that a true po’boy sandwiches have their bread come from a specific bakery. We did a ghost tour that introduced us to some unique hotels and restaurants that we would never have known about. Finally, we did a history tour led by a retired chef. Of all three tours, this was the best as it gave us the greatest appreciation of the city and the food.
Influencing me, the most, was the history tour. It gave me a new appreciation for Cajun food and drink. I knew I liked Cajun and Creole cooking but what I did not realize was how much I absolutely enjoy the spice and vibrancy of Cajun cooking. At the recommendation of our history guide, we bought Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchencookbook and have drawn from this classic cookbook at least monthly, ever since. I also became a huge fan of the Sazerac – it’s exactly what I wish manhattans would taste like!
As I noted before, this trip has made me a stanch believer in the gift of travel! The gift of travel is immaterial – it is experiential. The gift of travel gives a person, a couple, a family, friends, or even co-workers an opportunity to grow together. To have a moment that they can recall or that will shape how they live in the world. I know making jambalaya every once in a while, is not going to bring world peace, but when I smell the spices and hear the sizzling of the meat and vegetables – I am transported. I am smiling to my wife at the Superdome while experiencing a once in a lifetime experience. I am at pirate blues bar listening to awesome live music. I am at a bar for writers feeling like everything feels perfect. Gift certificates to Amazon can’t do that…only travel does.
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In the meantime….
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Written by guest contributor: Kelly McCoy, Military Strategist, author of the Drink Beer; Kill War blog; Saints Fan; amazing father, and husband to Ashley Metesh-McCoy (the founder of the Peregrine Kinship blog)