By Samuel P.N. Cook
I was born in Belfast Northern Ireland, but my earliest memories as a child are from a lake cabin in Minnesota. When I was younger, my father insisted that my family take a month long vacation every year. When we were living in Ireland, this meant a trip to see our family in Minnesota. When we moved to Louisiana, it meant we would pack up our family Ford Econoline van with suitcases, and drive across the country. Looking back on my childhood, most of my family stories came not from my home, but from our travels. Our fondest memories were from our traveling experiences together. My father built our family, our memories, our story, through travel.
When I was deciding what to do with my life in high school, I was determined to move away from Louisiana by all means necessary – not because I had a special dislike for my home state, but because I knew from my travels that the world out there was much bigger, and I had to go explore it. When I heard about West Point – which I had studied in history books and civil war battlefields – I somehow knew I had to take this path in life. The Army would provide me the opportunity to travel and see the world – little did I know how far that would actually take me at the time.
I was not particularly close to my older brother Chris growing up, but when I was deployed in Germany, we spent 3 weeks traveling together. I found when traveling with him that we had quite a lot in common. When we were in Munich in 1999, I took a tour with Mike’s Bike Tours, that brought travelers together on a bicycle tour through the most famous beer Gardens in Munich. On this tour, Chris and I met some great people, had a lot of beer together, and we still laugh about the drinking games we played on the tour and how everyone crashed their bicycles in the English Gardens after the third beer Garden. To this day, Munich is my favorite city in Europe, not because of the historical monuments, but because it is the city where I met a ton of great people on vacation, have some great stories to tell from a tour, and most importantly, I finally connected with my older brother.
I have spent the last 13 years of my life traveling thanks to the U.S. Army – and despite all of the hardships, the mediocre pay, the long hours, the months away on training exercises, or the years spent deployed fighting overseas, I would not trade it for anything. Why? Because when I sit down at a bar, and someone asks me who I am and what I have done, I have an interesting story to tell. Now the Army life is not for everyone, but we are all searching for a similar calling in life that allows us to live an eventful life – a life worth talking about.
From the earliest days driving across the U.S. with my family, to the time I spent living in Germany, where I traveled to a different city in Europe every weekend on a train, with just a guidebook and a vague idea of what I would do when I got there, I define my life, and its stories. And that is the true magic and the power of travel. It is our escape from reality to a world where we discover ourselves.
Someone once asked me, “If you died tomorrow, would they be able to do fill half an hour on A&E with a documentary about your life?” Although I am only 31, I believe I can answer yes, and almost all of my stories come from my traveling life. Life is about stories, and almost all of the stories we tell are about where we have been, and what we did when we were there. So if you find yourself struggling to answer this question with a “Yes,” the missing key to your life is probably traveling more, and more importantly, traveling in a social and meaningful way.