Nat Geo TOY 2014

Travelers of the Year

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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.

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.

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!)

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:

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.

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  1. 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.

  2. 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 🙂

  3. 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…

  4. 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!

    1. 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. 🙂

  5. 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!

  6. Congratulations!! You guys deserve it 🙂 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*

    1. 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. 🙂

  7. 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!! 🙂 Will hop on over now to vote. Congrats again.
    Julia and Barry

  8. 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.

  9. 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). 😉

    Bask in this! Such an exciting and admirable achievement!

  10. 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 🙂

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

    Congrats you two. SO SO SO very happy for you.

  12. 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 🙂

  13. 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.

  14. 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!

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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. 🙂

  18. 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!

  19. 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 🙂

  20. That’s awesome! Congratulations 😀 I will definitely be voting for you guys for readers choice!

  21. 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)

  22. Wow, a huge congratulations to you both!! And the Twitter story–that’s so incredible, but it was meant to be 🙂 Your blog has been quite inspiring to me on my own slow travel journeys, and I can’t wait to see what happens next!

  23. 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!

  24. 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.

  25. 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!!

  26. 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

  27. 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!

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

  29. 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.

  30. 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!

  31. 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 🙂 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

    1. 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! 🙂

  32. Ahhhh such a cute, cool story! I love that email from your mum 🙂 🙂 and fair enough about leaving Twitter two weeks later, I totally understand her point of view there.

  33. Congratulations to both of you!

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

  34. 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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