Travelers of the Year

Words by Dalene Heck

We arrived in Guanajuato last March, and on our first visit to the historic centre we were both stopped cold by an unexpected sight. An iconic yellow rectangle, placed in honour of a nearby National Geographic photography exhibit, towered before us.

This was mere days after getting word from National Geographic Traveler magazine that we had been chosen to appear in their November issue (yes, we’ve had to keep this quiet for THAT long). It was our secret pleasure for the weeks that followed to sit and stare at it, hop up and down on it, take a hundred different selfies at a hundred different angles. We sent one of the photos to the editor who jokingly replied that it might very well be the first time they’d include a selfie in their magazine announcing a Traveler of the Year honoree.

And that is when it started to hit us – there was going to be an edition of National Geographic with our faces and story in it. Out of thousands of nominations, we were to be honoured as one of several Travelers of the Year.

Could anything else so wonderful happen to us in our weird little life?
We cannot possibly imagine.

Could anything else so wonderful happen to us in our weird little life? We cannot possibly imagine.

Nat-Geo-TOY-974x673

And so I’ve had over six months to write this blog post.

Plenty of time to stew, cringe, type, delete, and type again. The words followed the roller coaster that this award set us on.

They first came from a place of pure elation, for a brief period the narrative flowed with a bit of cockiness, but the vast majority of the time it reflected our staunch disbelief. Inside our little travel bubble – that of our community of digital nomads who similarly traded possessions for experiences and who also share their stories with the world – any one of us could realistically have taken this honour. Thus, the question of “Why us?” was relentlessly plaguing. I will always be able to name dozens of others who I think are just as deserving, and I even sent the editor a list of questions to extract some understanding as to why we were chosen. (Those questions were reserved until well after the photo shoot and interviews – just in case our disbelief translated into his questioning the panel decision as well.)

When we reflected on last year’s honorees, those who did such incredible things as buy land to save turtles or develop programs to ship bicycles to Uganda, our perplexity grew. It wasn’t until we opened up a little bit to our close circle of friends that some clarity was reached. A dear friend insisted that while what others have done is indeed remarkable, ours was a story that was more relatable and made travel seem achievable. Another stated that we had actually forced a change in her definition of happiness. When her recently graduated son made the decision to travel with scant plans for anything else, she found herself encouraging him (to the surprise and dismay of her husband). She did it because of what she read on our blog.

Inside our bubble, it can be easy to forget that what we do is kind of remarkable. When traveling becomes routine and you end up surrounding yourselves with like souls on a similar journey, it is easy to forget that being nomadic and traveling the world for a living is something not ordinary, not regular. And, even with all the missteps we’ve had along the way in both travel and in blogging, we can both firmly say, maybe for the first time, that damn. We are so very proud.

Nat-Geo-TOY-Pete-731x975
Nat-Geo-TOY-Dalene-731x975

These words, from the very kind and helpful editor who humoured our numerous questions, will remain a glorious hallmark of our travel career: “Your story, your approach to traveling with a purpose, and your on-the-road inspiration will help our readers see that travel opens boundless possibilities and opportunities to improve the world. Congratulations and thanks for sharing your story with us.”

To celebrate with just the two of us can get a little lonely after awhile, and so to finally have this to share with you is a giant relief. No one achieves anything alone, and without our faithful readers, our friends and family who support us to the end of the world and back, our partners, and our community of digital nomads who we share this with – we would not be where we are.

Every word of encouragement, every comment, every click, every share, every “like”, every everything – every ounce of consideration that you have given us keeps us on the road and optimistic that what we are doing is bringing some positivity to the world.

Please accept our sincerest and deepest appreciation for making this happen. Thank you.

(And if you are interested in purchasing the magazine with our mugs in it, the November edition hits newsstands on October 22nd!)

Every word of encouragement, every comment, every click, every share, every “like”, every everything – every ounce of consideration that you have given us keeps us on the road.

So, how did this award come about?

It is actually a super cute story.

It turns out that one of the factors, besides living a life of travel with passion and purpose, is to get your Mom on Twitter.

Last Christmas, while visiting my Mom in Alberta, we encouraged her to start tweeting. She’s not on Facebook or any other social media network, she scarcely opens emails for fear of viruses and whatnot, but we had convinced her that Twitter would provide better customer service for some issues she’d been having (we’re looking at you, Telus).

We helped her set it up, she chose a photo of her cat as her icon, and we helped her follow accounts of things she enjoys – her fave magazines, Oprah, and yes, National Geographic.

The call for nominations came out in January. We missed them, but she sure didn’t, and she soon sent me this email:

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She quit Twitter two weeks later, unable to understand what all the fuss was about, and went back to complaining to Telus the old fashioned way. No matter, her work in the Twittersphere was done. And I officially have the coolest and most supportive Mom on the planet.

One last thing…

From all of this comes one more exciting opportunity, but we need your help.

All of the Travellers of the Year honourees are eligible for an additional award: the Reader’s Choice. It would be an incredible honour to have everyone in our world consider us as perfectly fitting the title of “ordinary people doing extraordinary things” and vote for us to receive it.

However, after reading about the other honourees this year, we would completely understand if your vote went another way instead. There are some very special people doing amazing things in this world and some of their stories have completely blown us away – like the Inion Family of 11 who have been on the road since 2007, adopting four kids along the way and speaking in villages and schools about kids with special needs. Or Greg Gross, a retired journalist who documents his experiences as a black man traveling around the world, breaking down the perception that travel is for “other” people. Rather than just asking for your vote, we encourage you to read all of the profiles and make an informed decision. It will be a tough choice, we promise you that, but an inspiring process to get there. Read the profiles here, and cast your vote here.

104 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • October 10 2014

    You are amazing. You totally earned the Title Travelers of the Year. Wishing you all the best, safe travels and fingers crossed for the Award Reader’s Choice.

    Looking forward to read more about your adventures and thanks for the Link of the Inion Family. Amazing story too.
    Reni recently posted..Barista Course in Fremantle: We learn how to make great coffee

    • October 12 2014

      Very sweet of you to say Reni, thank you! And I’m really glad you read through on the Inion family – they have such an amazing story.

  • Needless to say you’ve got my vote! I am so proud of you guys, and I am so proud to call you my friends. You are so inspiring! And you deserve every bit of this buzz. Congrats on the new blog and the prize, and kudos to your awesomeness ๐Ÿ™‚
    A Montrealer Abroad (@marievallieres) recently posted..A Localโ€™s Guide to Visiting Montreal in the Fall

    • October 12 2014

      Thanks so much Marie-Eve! We’ll be in touch soon, might be coming your way in a few months. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Congratulations!! What an exciting moment for you both and what an adorable way to be nominated. I love that you mum left Twitter shortly after, in an unintentional “my work here is now done” moment!

    I think your friend is right, you won because your story is relatable. And that makes it inspirational to people who want to change their life with travel.

    Congratulations ๐Ÿ™‚
    Kellie (Destination Unknown) recently posted..Highlights of Iceland: Jรƒยถkulsรƒยกrlรƒยณn Glacier Lagoon

    • October 12 2014

      Thank you Kellie! And I agree, my Mom is a freakin’ rock star. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • October 10 2014

    That is such a fantastic story, I love that your mom nominated you!

    Congratulations once again on a well-deserved honour, and I’ll be sure to vote for you for reader’s choice ๐Ÿ™‚
    Beatrice recently posted..Ton plus grand rรชve, rรฉalisรฉ : le sushi mac and cheese

    • October 12 2014

      Thanks so much Beatrice! And thanks again for sharing our story with your readers. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • October 10 2014

    Our vote is in the mail, metaphorically speaking. Oh, and an inordinate amount of kudos once more! Now, if only I could convince my mom to sign up for Twitter…
    Lunaguava recently posted..The Brief Luscious Life of William Benjamin

    • October 12 2014

      More Moms on Twitter! More Moms on Twitter! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • October 10 2014

    So unbelievably proud of you guys! You deserve this! Enjoy your time in the sun!!!
    Laurel recently posted..Poznan Old Market Square

  • October 10 2014

    Congratulations on the award you two. You are so fortunate to have such supportive people in your life.
    A Cook Not Mad (Nat) recently posted..Haleakala in Black & White

    • October 12 2014

      I agree with that 100% – we are surrounded by amazing people. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Erica
    October 10 2014

    Just wanted to say that you are such an inspiration! My husband and I have been preparing for a big journey of our own that we’ve been dreaming about for many years. We’ve experienced a loss this year and we realized that life is too short to keep putting off this crazy dream. We’re not quite there yet, but your story and all you have accomplished remind us that it is possible! Thank you and congratulations!

    • October 12 2014

      Erica, I am so sorry to hear about your loss. I really hope you can turn it into something positive, and that you and your husband can follow through on your big dream! If you ever need any advice on how to make it happen, please know we’re here to help. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • October 10 2014

    I voted for you to win the reader’s choice! And honestly, it’s for much the same reason your editor loved your story. What you’ve done is REMARKABLE. But it’s also achievable. When I read some of these other stories, I can’t really relate to the other people. And it makes me feel like there’s something wrong with me. That I couldn’t adopt a huge number of children, or start a foundation like Pack with a Purpose. I want to support you two because you’ve had the courage to do the exact thing that I gave up on. You’ve made something very difficult,yet realistic, look completely possible. And that makes you heroes to me.
    Kirsten recently posted..#MyAustrianEvening and a Chance to Win Your Own

    • October 12 2014

      Thank you so much for that Kirsten, and for all of your support. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • October 10 2014

    Congrats you guys! This is so incredible! I can’t believe you were able to keep it a secret for sooooo long. Anyway, I can’t think of anyone who deserves this more, and I’m so happy for you!
    Ali recently posted..Can You Drink the Water?

    • October 12 2014

      Very sweet of you to say Ali! It was an excruciating secret to keep, I can’t believe we (mostly) kept it as well. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • October 10 2014

    Bravo! You deserve it! This title fits you both perfectly : every post you share is an invitation to travel, discovery, and sharing!

    • October 12 2014

      Thank you so much Mariannig!

  • October 10 2014

    Congratulations!! You guys deserve it ๐Ÿ™‚ I LOVE reading stories from you and looking at the gorgeous photos Pete takes. Bravo! I’m also loving the new look of the website! *HIGH FIVE*
    Pauline recently posted..Mexico: Favorite Photos and Highlights

    • October 12 2014

      Thank you Pauline! We’re pretty in love with the website too, our designer and developer did such an amazing job! And just in time for this, too. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • October 10 2014

    How on earth you’ve managed to keep that quiet for so long we will never know. Hope you’re going to REALLY enjoy singing and dancing this one from the rooftops – and know you’re worthy of it, too. Really happy for you both!! ๐Ÿ™‚ Will hop on over now to vote. Congrats again.
    Julia and Barry
    Turkey’s For Life recently posted..Istanbul – Wandering The Grounds Of Topkapฤฑ Palace

    • October 12 2014

      I don’t know how we kept it either, to be honest. It was painful! Thanks so much guys!

  • Wow, the fact that your mom played a part in this honor happening for you actually made me tear up a little! That’s incredible that such a short stint on Twitter made such a huge thing happen. It was clearly meant to be. Congratulations! And of course I voted.
    Katherine Belarmino | Travel the World recently posted..Driving Oregonโ€™s Historic Columbia River Highway

    • October 12 2014

      Best Mom in the world! ๐Ÿ™‚ Thank you Katherine!

  • October 10 2014

    A huge congratulations. What an achievement. Nice to see the award going to people who really deserve it, Love your smiles in the first photo. I’d be beaming too. Now off to vote.
    Leigh recently posted..Kayaking to Ninstints on Anthony Island

    • October 12 2014

      Cheers Leigh! Means a lot to us, thank you!

  • October 10 2014

    My heart is bursting with happiness for you! Seriously, I am so thrilled that you guys got this honour (and I’ll be honest, I’m also just feeling cool by association — I *know* someone who’s in National Geographic). ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Bask in this! Such an exciting and admirable achievement!
    Tammy recently posted..A (slightly) less touristy guide to Hoi An

    • October 12 2014

      You are the sweetest Tammy! Thank you SO much!!

  • October 10 2014

    Congratulations, what an honour, and so well deserved. I’ll definitely be picking up the November issue of National Geographic Traveler.
    Alouise recently posted..Why Iโ€™m an Awesome Traveler and How You Can Be an Awesome Traveler Too

    • October 12 2014

      Merci Alouise! On newsstands soon! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • October 10 2014

    Congrats and wow, the part about your mom on Twitter is fantastic; give and you shall receive exemplified. You’ll have to get her something great for next Christmas.

    • October 12 2014

      She will be SPOILED. My Mom is so supportive, she deserves the world!

  • October 10 2014

    You seriously made me spit out my lunch and laugh when you mentioned the t word ๐Ÿ™‚ It’s a word not spoken in our house…EVER!

    Congrats you two. SO SO SO very happy for you.
    Nicole recently posted..Yes, it is possible to travel oftenโ€ฆ even with a full time job

    • October 12 2014

      Haha! Do we need a “T” support group? ๐Ÿ™‚

      Thanks guys!

  • October 10 2014

    A thousand congratulations guys, how well deserved. You were one of the first travel blogs I came across as we set off on our own nomadic (and blogging) adventures and it’s so wonderful to see you gaining recognition for your incredible attitude to world travel. Voting for you right now!
    Charli recently posted..How To Create A #TroveOn Guide For Travel

    • October 12 2014

      So nice to hear that Charli, thank you very much! It’s been such a pleasure to get to know you a little better lately. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • October 10 2014

    Congratulations
    Nita recently posted..What Travel & Blogging Taught Me

  • October 11 2014

    Well, what a wonderful honour for two deserving globetrotters. As a fellow Canadian who gave it all up to wander and write about it, I have followed you two all along the way and I am so inspired by your journey. Joy will be found wherever you look but you two have taken the pursuit to an admirable level. Enjoy this moment and all the great ones to come.

    • October 12 2014

      Thank you for your very thoughtful response Bobbi!

  • October 11 2014

    Congratulations guys! And love the new site, the pics of you both are gorgeous. So happy all your hard work and sacrifices are paying off!

  • Sharon
    October 11 2014

    Love you guys! Congrats on the award and keep living the dream. You are DEFINITELY the coolest people I know!!

    • October 12 2014

      Woot! I know the people you know, that is a proud title for us to have! Love you too!

  • October 11 2014

    Congratulations! I’m so happy for you guys – and so happy for National Geo. I can’t think of anyone better suited to stand for the nomadic way of life. ๐Ÿ™‚
    Gigi recently posted..The Art of Being Scared Shitless

  • October 11 2014

    Congrats guys! You thoroughly deserved that. I just voted for you. ๐Ÿ™‚
    tammyonthemove recently posted..How not to do the Colca Canyon Trek

  • October 11 2014

    Well done to your Mum! That is an amusing story. I have read all the travellers profile and want to seriously vote for so many, if not all, as each one has a great story to tell.
    You have my vote too though, for the candid way you approach travels and life.
    Well deserved, keep on the happy trails!
    Jane Barnes recently posted..Bryce Gorge, Victorian High Country โ€“ Part 1

    • October 12 2014

      Much appreciated Jane! We’ve been voting for a variety of honorees ourselves, so many amazing stories.

  • October 11 2014

    Huge congratulations you two! That is incredibly epic. No doubt there will be some massive changes in the next coming years due to this nomination. Real stoked for you! =)
    Jazza – NOMADasaurus recently posted..Battambang Cambodia – More Than Just The Bamboo Train

    • October 12 2014

      Thank you! We have some changes coming, all good! This is really helping us sharpen our focus.

  • October 12 2014

    Wow, congratulations! You guys really deserve this honor! -Susan (AgelessGlobetravels)

    • October 12 2014

      Many thanks Susan! Thank you for all your support!

  • Congratulations to the both of you! This is a huge honor and you’ve worked and traveled hard and deserve it! Keep inspiring the masses and your travel community!
    Christine | GRRRL TRAVELER recently posted..Worldโ€™s Best Boardwalks: From Venice Beach, with Love (Video)

  • October 12 2014

    An honor of a lifetime. It really is inspiring and amazing! Congratulations! Keep it goin!
    Gerard ~ GQ trippin recently posted..7 tips for gorilla trekking in Uganda

    • October 12 2014

      An honor of a lifetime is right – I really can’t imagine anything better. (Still quite unbelievable!)

  • October 12 2014

    Dalene, you officially have the coolest Mom EVER! I can only imagine how proud she must be of all you’ve achieved. Savor this moment, though I suspect you’ll have even more accolades to celebrate in the future ๐Ÿ™‚
    Heather recently posted..Sigulda, Latvia: Medieval Castles Amid Autumn Leaves

    • October 12 2014

      I know, right? She’s amazing and responsible for so many great things in our lives. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • October 12 2014

    That’s awesome! Congratulations ๐Ÿ˜€ I will definitely be voting for you guys for readers choice!
    Chanel | Cultural Xplorer recently posted..Eating My Way Through Rome

  • October 12 2014

    Huge congrats you guys, you totally deserve it!! And I love the story about your mom ๐Ÿ™‚ Hoping someone will post the article online as we definitely don’t get NatGeo here on Roatan haha.
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..Roatan Month 26 Roundup

  • October 13 2014

    I gave you guys my vote – little thanks for the help and links you gave me for our Insurance post.
    Congratulations, that’s like winning the Stanley Cup! You should be very proud and great story about your mom. Very nice.
    Frank (bbqboy)

    • October 18 2014

      Haha! Now I can’t stop thinking about how I want to carry a big silver cup around with us…

  • October 13 2014

    Wow, a huge congratulations to you both!! And the Twitter story–that’s so incredible, but it was meant to be ๐Ÿ™‚ Your blog has been quite inspiring to me on my own slow travel journeys, and I can’t wait to see what happens next!
    Suchi recently posted..What happens if you stop traveling OR When not to go with the flow

    • October 18 2014

      We can’t wait either. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks Suchi!

  • Massive congratulations! You guys definitely deserve it. You have one of the most thoughtfully written blogs out there and I love reading your perspectives on places and travel in general. Your nomination is very well deserved ๐Ÿ™‚
    Katie @ The World on my Necklace recently posted..Portrait of an idyllic New England island: Marthaโ€™s Vineyard

    • October 18 2014

      Very kind of you to say! Thanks Katie!

  • October 14 2014

    I have to say, you have stuck the “travel” bug in me. If I was a lot younger, I certainly would be doing what you are doing. I sometimes tell hubby about your adventures, and say: “I could SELL everything right now, and travel the world!” He says: “Not me!” LOL So I still read your blog and dream with you! I am so happy to hear you got this award! I will most certainly be getting a copy! Oh, and “MOM” Thanks! You ARE really AWESOME!

    • October 18 2014

      (Just sell it all when he’s not looking – haha!) Thanks Jody!

  • October 14 2014

    No one deserves this more! Just voted for y’all for Reader’s Choice =)

    Good luck!
    Camels & Chocolate recently posted..Love in the OC

  • October 14 2014

    adding my congratulations and good wishes — and what a nice way you’ve chosen to share the story of how it came about and how you handled your feelings on it. well done.
    Kerry Dexter recently posted..Cape Breton and Music: Celtic Colours

  • October 16 2014

    Congrats!! And what a cool story about being entered. Fate cannot be interfered with!
    Abby recently posted..Daydream: Rural Calistoga

  • October 16 2014

    Oh you crazy kids! And how cool is your Mom for doing that? Congratulations!!
    Raymond @ Man On The Lam recently posted..The Secret Life of Warsaw

  • October 16 2014

    Congratulations indeed! Something to brag about for sure ๐Ÿ™‚

  • October 16 2014

    Congratulations guys! What an incredible award to receive! We are excited for you! We’ll have to go read some of the other bloggers stories. The road is life, so keep on travelling!!

  • October 16 2014

    Congratulations! Well deserved. You and Pete have been an inspiration to me as travelers and for your sound marriage.
    Tricia recently posted..Anchorage and a Hostel

  • October 16 2014

    Wow! Congratulations! You totally inspire to continue working on my website. Love your site!
    Shirley Hollick recently posted..10 Top Travel Secrets For Europe

  • October 17 2014

    All I can say is: Way cool!
    Michael recently posted..House sitting from a homeownerโ€™s perspective

  • October 17 2014

    I am SO proud of you two!!!!!! You both deserve it. Cannot wait to see your faces again somewhere in this big old world. xoxo
    Diana Edelman recently posted..Chiang Mai Moments: The moto ride

  • October 17 2014

    So unbelievably well deserved. And perfect timing with the beautiful new redesign! I could not be prouder to name you two as peers.
    Alex recently posted..Surviving Tomorrowland

  • October 18 2014

    Congratulations. I see from all of the comments above that you certainly have the support of the travel blogging community. It take a village…and a mom!
    Nancy D. Brown recently posted..Spa Week Deals

  • October 19 2014

    Congratulations! We’re so happy for you and pleased to have had the chance to learn from you, too.
    Laura recently posted..Finding Sanctuary During a Storm at the Grootbos Private Nature Reserve

  • October 22 2014

    What fun, congratulations! Will you be in the UK version of NG Traveller as well?
    Sophie recently posted..Silent Sunday: Baskets for sale at the market in Inca

  • Sophie @ Sophie's World
    October 22 2014

    What fun, congratulations! Will you be in the UK version of NG Traveller as well, do you know?

  • October 22 2014

    Wow, it must have been really difficult keeping the secret for several months. Congratulations!
    Charles McCool recently posted..8 Great Fun and Quirky San Francisco Scenes

  • October 22 2014

    Wow! Hey guys, I just found your site through Nora Dunn’s post on hotel hacks. Congrats on Nat Geo Travelers of the Year. Dang – I’ve just started clicking away through your site – it’s awesome. I will definitely be a regular. Just beautiful. Glad to have come across your site. Cheers.
    Tiffany recently posted..Seyon Fall, Vermont, USA

  • 6 months is a long time to keep such a big secret! That’s SO exciting! Congratulations!!
    Mary @ Green Global Travel recently posted..Top 5 Ecotourism Attractions In Sabah, Borneo

  • October 28 2014

    I cannot tell you how excited I am to have discovered your blog tonight! I have been reading like a maniac and have fallen in love with your story (and your mom…) I will look forward to following your continued adventures. Congratulations on the Travelers of the Year award!
    Heather recently posted..Show me your neighborhood around the world! {Basiglio, Italy}

    • October 29 2014

      Thank you Heather! We’re so happy you found us!

  • October 31 2014

    Congrats! You guys definitely earned it.
    Dean recently posted..Spicing it up at the Fremantle Chilli Festival

  • Iulia and Adriana
    November 16 2014

    Hi Dalene and Pete!

    we are so proud of having hosted you in Sibiu! we discovered your blog months after you were in Sibiu at our apartment, we are very happy for you and we follow your blog/fb profile & co daily ๐Ÿ™‚ great words and wonderful pictures, you definitely earned this award!

    So keep traveling and let us know if someday you plan visiting Sibiu again, you are invited!

    Best regards and greetings from Sibiu

    Iulia and Adriana

    • November 17 2014

      Hello Iulia and Adriana – how nice to hear from you! Thank you so much for your kind words! We’d love to make it back to Sibiu, we’re debating a few weeks back in Romania early next year, we’ll keep in touch! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • November 25 2014

    This is so amazing!! Many congrats to you both!! I think it’s a dream for all of us travelers to be or have something of ours featured in Nat Geo. Way to represent!
    Lina @ Divergent Travelers recently posted..Top Things To Do in Indonesia

  • December 9 2014

    Ahhhh such a cute, cool story! I love that email from your mum ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ and fair enough about leaving Twitter two weeks later, I totally understand her point of view there.
    Charlie recently posted..When I Met the Man Who Built His Own Paradise

  • Bob Thomas
    January 6 2015

    Congratulations to both of you!

    Your writing is wonderful and it’s great to see you get the recognition you so richly deserve.

  • Ellen Bentley
    October 21 2015

    Congrats are definitely deserved. Every posting by you moves my belief another step forward that I too start at age 74. Fortunately, we can vote more than once so I will be back on tomorrow casting another vote!!

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