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Travel's Power to Celebrate Special Moments

Article & Photographs by Matt Long 06.13.2016

We all travel for different reasons, whether it’s a simple vacation, an epic trek or, very often, to celebrate something. Birthdays and anniversaries are the normal ways many people use travel to celebrate moments in our lives, but they aren’t the only ways travel and celebration are inextricably linked. Looking back at my own travels, I realize that many of my trips have been celebrations, just of a different kind. I wasn’t celebrating a milestone birthday, instead I was celebrating other life moments, ones not as high profile as a birthday, but no less important. Here are a few travel moments that celebrated important events in my own life.


When I first started traveling on my own as an adult, I did so as a budget traveler. I’m not alone, most 23-year old kids don’t have a lot of money and so being budget conscious is a must. My partner had done the same before we met, and for him a particularly strong memory was backpacking around Asia with a friend, staying in hostels that now we would never even consider, but at the time seemed normal. After he passed his bar exam, I planned a trip for us to go back to the continent we love so much, Asia, but to enjoy it in a different way, as accomplished adults.

One of our stops on our trek through Asia was the city-state of Singapore, a destination that took my breath away as soon as I saw it. It was also the final stop on our trek, and walking around the city, enjoying the best that it had to offer was meaningful to both of us. While I knew the trip was about celebrating his passing of the bar exam, it turned into a much different type of celebration. It became a celebration of ourselves, our lives and the hard work it took to get us to where we were. Sacrifice, long days and nights and much more were all to thank and while it wasn’t easy, we were proud. Proud to be standing there in Singapore, looking out across the horizon at our own futures.


Washington, DC

I first moved to Washington, DC in 2000 after graduate school in order to pursue my career in, something. I knew what I wanted to do, but the first job I took was in a related but different field. It was a fateful decision, although I certainly didn’t realize it at the time and set the course for my eventual emergence into the wild and weird world of travel blogging.

But Washington has a special place in my heart; it’s been the site of so many wonderful times, as well as more tragic ones. It has been my constant companion, the one who never left my side but instead grew with me over the years. When I was making the transition from 9-5 professional to location-independent writer and photographer, I took some time to strolling around the city on my own, spending hours walking from the Tidal Basin, through downtown and eventually winding up in Dupont Circle in front of the office building where I had my first job. I didn’t intend to finish there, not really, it just sort of happened and while I didn’t hop on a jet to travel somewhere new and different, it felt like a journey. It was a personal journey through time, past the places in town that had helped shaped me as a person and that day had as much an impact on me as a person as any travel day in more far flung capitals of the world.

Smithsonian in DC, taken by Matt Long

Amelia Island, Florida

Three years ago, my partner and I went through a number of life changes. Looking at where we were in life, we weren’t happy. My partner had a job that everyone else would consider to be the height of success, but he was working himself to death, literally. He needed to make a change so that he could enjoy life and not have heart problems at the tender age of 34.

Looking back at his change in jobs, it seems like such a simple thing, but at the time it was a monumental paradigm shift for the two of us. To help usher in this new chapter in both of our lives, we traveled down to Amelia Island in Florida for a quick getaway.

Florida means a lot to my partner, having spent most summer vacations there as a kid, he has a natural fondness for the state. The long weekend was fun, but it was a simple and tender moment that brought us back together again after many months of distance. Sitting on the back deck of The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island, we relaxed in cozy chairs and made S’Mores over a fire. It wasn’t the fanciest of moments we’ve ever had, but it was a tender one, a simple one and while we may not have realized it at the time, it was a celebration of who we are as a couple and of a new start in our lives.

Staircase to beach on Amelia Island, Florida


Something special happened in Berlin when I was there a few years ago. I was still new to the lifestyle of a fulltime blogger, having only made the transition a year earlier. I was still getting the ground beneath my feet, struggling to make a career out of a passion. Staying at The Ritz-Carlton Berlin, I spent some time exploring the city after attending a professional conference in Leipzig.

While I had attended other similar conferences in the past, this one was different. This one was actually productive, resulting in work, paychecks and a way for me to truly make this weird job a career. I celebrated that while in Berlin, doing what I love most, exploring a new city for the first time on my own, just wandering around. Returning to The Ritz-Carlton that evening I toasted myself, a rare instance of self-praise but I thought I deserved it. I work hard, very hard, we all do really, and these small moments of congratulating ourselves on jobs well done is important. There are no attendance ribbons in life, but we should reward ourselves after accomplishing what others thought impossible.

View of city of Berlin photographed by Matt Long

New York

Celebrating life is something we all do in different ways. It’s hard though to celebrate the life of someone you loved, but who has sadly passed away. While it was a sad premise for a quick getaway to New York City, it proved to be an important one for both my partner and I. Losing a very close family member, we found ourselves in New York not long after, and instead of being mournful we used the time to celebrate her life. We went to the places she loved, ate the food she always ordered and spent the weekend celebrating her memory instead of only mourning her. It was an incredibly important trip for us, to say goodbye in a very personal way but one that meant a lot to us and still does today.

Central Park at night, New York City


Sometimes celebrations are serious and other times they’re not. It’s ok if we celebrate minor moments in life, things that may be inconsequential to others but mean a lot to us personally. While in Chengdu, China recently, I stayed at the Ritz-Carlton Chengdu who helped me accomplish a life goal so outrageous that I never thought it would ever really happen. I hugged a panda. I don’t now why, but I’ve always loved pandas and for some reason hugging one made it on to my bucket list many years ago. But I never thought it would actually happen, it was sort of like saying, “Gee, it’d be nice to walk on the moon.” Sure, that would be fun, but it’s highly unlikely. The same held true for panda cuddling, until it happened. Not everyone would celebrate this or even think it important, but for me it was. It was a celebration of a special event, something I had always wanted to do all made possible by my journey to Chengdu, a place that will forever mean a lot to me. 



Matt long with panda in Chengdu

Travel is about celebration, whether we recognize it at the time or not. It can be a literal celebration of a birthday or anniversary, but it can also celebrate special moments in our lives. These six memories are amongst my most vivid, most important because they celebrate the things I love most in life. My family, my partner and my career.

These ARE my life and these travel moments have helped me recognize and celebrate them in ways so special that I know I’ll never forget them.