Traveling is so much more than just the sights, the hotels, the restaurants. Your experience has so much to do with the people you encounter that can really take any experience from good, to something you’ll be talking about for the rest of your life. I’ve had a few of those experiences, but they aren’t like you’d think. Since I frequently go on press trips, a lot of the times all of the things that I might have issues with, or that might be difficult for normal travel, have been carefully ironed out for me.
But I think sometimes, it’s the people in the everyday experiences you have while you travel that can make your trip something more. Maybe it’s not some big dramatic story about someone who saved the day, but someone just doing their job well, going the extra step, doing it with a smile, and being kind. If you live in a city where you take any sort of public transit, or there are a lot of people walking to work in the morning, you know that one simple kind gesture is actually a huge deal.
I mean, how many times have you ordered coffee from someone that obviously didn’t care about their job? Almost every day? But you probably do remember the people that obviously do love their job, or at least do it with a good attitude, right?
So I wanted to highlight four of the Journeymakers in my own experiences. People who were just doing their everyday job, but they did it so well, it left a lasting impression on me. And honestly, they all inspired me to be better (more polite, more kind, more thorough) at my own job.
Jorge the Underground Cave Tour Guide at Rio Secreto
My husband and I were on a cruise that stopped on the Mayan Riviera in Mexico. One of the excursions was a cave with an underwater river. Even though caves freak me out a little, I knew it’d be an opportunity I’d always remember so I wanted to go for it.
The excursion was called Rio Secreto (secret river) because in the cave there is a river. The river is so clear, you can see to the bottom. The route we took through the cave kept us underground for a few hours. Reason number one why I was freaked out — I’m not a huge fan of being underground (or underwater).
I was trying not to show how nervous I was, but our group was small, about 10 people, so we got to talk to our guide, Jorge, a lot. After talking to him for a while I found out how much he was obsessed with splunking. He loved his job and said that he comes out to explore the cave even when he isn’t working. It made me feel so much more comfortable that he was so obsessed with the cave and said he “knew it like the back of his hand.” I don’t know why but this remark calmed me.
At one point we were fully in the water with only our heads out, and the ceiling just kept getting lower and lower. Then the space got so small, we had to take off our life jackets, hold them in front of us, go single file, and turn our heads certain ways to get through the cave. So basically picture only enough room (and air space) for your head — like 6 inches above water — and you are in a line of ten people swimming though a cave. Not going to lie, I was telling myself to just breathe and hoping we’d be back out in the open cave soon.
Even though inside I was nervous, Jorge’s passion for splunking made me feel as safe as possible, and made the experience extremely enjoyable whereas a less enthusiastic guide could have made me feel much less comfortable.
Additionally, I just love it when people love their jobs and you can just tell by how they do it. To me, finding a job you love and doing it with such happiness and passion is one of the things in life that not everyone will get to enjoy. Jorge obviously did.
Randy the Massage Therapist at the St. Regis Reméde Spa in Bal Harbour
You know how when you book a massage and you look forward to it almost every minute of every day until the appointment? I know I’m always eager to feel the relief a massage brings me.
When I was in Miami in April, I was looking forward to a well-deserved 90-minute massage at the St. Regis Bal Harbour.
While most massages always feel good, I want someone who really knows their stuff and isn’t afraid to push hard. I carry a ton of tension in my upper back, neck, and shoulders and I just want it gone.
Sometimes the massage therapist listens and has the skills to knead my tiny muscles into submission, and sometimes the massage a feel-good letdown.
My massage at the St. Regis Reméde Spa was memorable for two reasons.
After I told my therapist Randy that I wanted him to focus on my upper body and that I was ticklish on my feet, he asked me of I wanted my feet dipped in paraffin wax and he’d leave it on during the massage. Um, yes. That was such a simple thing that immediately took this massage to the next level. I have never had a massage therapist do that before and it was a game changer. Every spa should steal this idea.
The second reason was that Randy listened to exactly what I said and worked my back, neck, shoulders, and arms with the perfect combination of pain and pleasure.
After the massage he said I was right, there was no time for the rest of my body with the amount of tension I had in my upper body.
I’m still thinking about that massage and how another visit to Miami for one would be totally worth it because Randy was just that good.
The flight attendants on my Cathay Pacific flight from NYC to Hong Kong
When I flew to Hong Kong last year, it was going to be the longest flight I’d ever been on. From New York to Hong Kong is around 15.5 hours. I think my longest flight previous to that was around 8 hours to London, so a major difference.
I was lucky to have an upgraded seat in premium economy and the extra room (not to mention the empty seat next to me) so I was already pretty happy with the circumstances, but what made even more of a difference was the service level of the flight attendants.
Some flight attendants go above and beyond, and while I’ve never had any issues on a plane that required a flight attendant going out of their way to help me, the flight attendants on all of my Cathay Pacific flights— from New York, to Hong Kong, to Shanghai and back — took service to the next level. Nothing against flight attendants in the US, but I’ve just found that the service on foreign airlines is entirely different, and it seems genuine.
I was told I needed to drink a lot of water. I probably called them for a bottle of water every few hours, and they happily brought me one within minutes each time I asked. Half of the time they would anticipate that I’d want one and would just bring it without me having to ask. Usually I feel bad about calling a flight attendant for anything on a domestic flight, but I knew I would only be greeted with a smile and someone happy to help me on Cathay Pacific.
Great service makes a long flight much more enjoyable, and trust me, you need to drink a lot of water on a 15 hour flight!
My server at Pizza Bob’s in Haleiwa, Hawaii
Service really goes a long way. Especially when it’s the most common type of service — at a restaurant.
My last night on Hawaii’s North Shore during a press trip we didn’t have a scheduled dinner. On the North Shore of Oahu there aren’t a ton of restaurants, and many of them are closed on Sunday.
A Mexican place was recommended to us, but by the time we got there the wait was too long for our grumbling tummies, so we went to the pizza place next door, Pizza Bob’s.
The pizza and salad was fine, but the server is what made the experience great.
There aren’t that many people who are servers at restaurants that really love their jobs, but our server obviously did. He was so fun and funny that I’m positive it made the pizza taste better.
His laid-back Hawaiian personality was so refreshing, but it didn’t cross over to his level of service by any means, he was on top of things. I literally found myself with a huge smile on my face every time he came around, because he had a huge smile on his face.
When a server makes you want to tip more than 20% even when the food isn’t the greatest, is always a good experience.
I partnered with American Express Travel for this post to celebrate their 100th anniversary. They’ve launched the Journeymakers campaign website where travelers can type out short notes of gratitude for the people who have gone above and beyond to make traveling memorable.