Updated: May 3
When I traveled to Antarctica on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure with my father and sister last December, we were fortunate enough to have Phil Hunter as our expedition guide. Phil has been guiding travelers around the world’s most remote regions for the past decade, and is grateful for every chance he has to witness our planet’s most stunning and isolated locations.
His passion for the sea is equaled by his passions for wildlife photography and ecosystem dynamics. He is a wonderful storyteller, eager to help people connect and engage with the world around them.
Phil’s degree in marine biology and years of experience in the field make him a knowledgeable and enthusiastic resource for guests traveling with Arctic Tern Expeditions, the company he co-founded that is dedicated to providing conscious, life-changing travel experiences. Plus his passion for the ocean and ability to connect with youth led to him co-founding Ocean Youth Academy to provide access to ocean education for youth around the world who might not otherwise get the opportunity to discover the world's oceans.
What follows are excerpts from my conversation with Phil Hunter. If you wish to listen to the whole conversation, check out the podcast or the YouTube video release. You can connect with Phil on LinkedIn or follow Ocean Youth Academy (Facebook and Instagram) and Arctic Tern Expeditions (Facebook and Instagram) on social media.
How did you wind up traveling the world?
[02:27] Dr Diane: I wanted to start the way I usually do in asking you to sort of talk about your Adventures in Learning. You've traveled the world. How did you get there?
[02:42] Phil: That's a great question. It's nothing that I ever really intended to do, travel the world. And it became a focus, I realized became a focus as I was doing it. So I grew up on a small island off the coast of California called Catalina Island, and as a summer job, I worked at a kayak stand and did that just as a regular job and then transitioned to university in Santa Barbara. And I was working at an In and Out, realized I didn't like it. Food's great, but wanted to go back to the ocean. So I found a job at a kayaking company on the Channel Islands National Park. And that was fantastic. It kind of leveraged my experience from my time on Catalina and was able to get on the water and guide people around to California.
[03:38] Phil: There's one story that sticks out for me, and that's when I was on those islands, we did sea cave kayak tours. So we'd bundle people up in wetsuits and helmets, and we take families or individuals out on the water. And there was one family that I remembered. There was a father who brought his two young kids out with him, an older daughter and a younger son. And our kayaks are only doubles or singles, and we thought that, well, maybe the father could go with his younger son. But the daughter really wanted to go with her dad. And this kid, his name was Ted, Teddy, I think. And he just looks at me and says, you know what, Phil? I can do it. I can paddle this kayak. And we said, okay.
[04:28] Dr Diane: Cool.
[04:28] Phil: So we put him in a single kayak and he paddled his heart out. He paddled as hard as he could. But he just couldn't do it. In about 15 minutes, he was done. But we had a three hour tour to do. So I hitched him to the back of my kayak, and while his dad and his sister were in one boat, I towed Teddy through all the sea caves on the island. And Teddy was just beside himself. He was so stoked to see the sea stars and the sea caves and to go on a little circle through some of them. And we were in this huge cave with basically this big amphitheater, and just totally unscripted, Teddy just yells at the top of his lungs, “I love national parks!” It was amazing. And you just get kids out in these places and you let them experience things firsthand, and you just see that enthusiasm come alive in the most genuine ways. And that has always stuck with me.
For me, when I take people out into nature, that's what I love doing, facilitating that connection. That's why we guide and that's why we do these things.
My journey led me from the Channel Islands National Park to southeast Alaska, where I guided for a few seasons and in the Sea Cortez. And then I started working as a kayak guide in Antarctica in 2014 and have been doing that ever since, as much as I could, really. I would do, like, these four and five month seasons down there. And there's a reciprocal season in the Arctic. So we work in the northern summer and in the southern summer, and we just basically call ourselves bipolar guides. It’s a pretty common phrase for so many reasons. And we go to the north and to the south, and the equivalent is like the Arctic tern. So we follow the path of the Arctic tern to both poles.
How did you go from being a guide to managing a team?
[06:44] Dr Diane: And you're now an expedition leader. How did you go from being a guide to managing a whole team of guides?
[06:52] Phil: They just couldn't find anybody else, I think. There's no one else volunteering for that particular role. It's the early wake ups, Diane, that really get you.
But the thing is, with kayaking team, you are already kind of the mini expedition leader in your own right. You're putting together a group of people and you’re going out and you are a part of the larger expedition, part of a 200 person expedition, but you're this 20 person unit that gets to go out and do whatever you feel like is the best thing to do that day. So you pick your places, you look at conditions and you're making judgment calls based on those conditions. And that's what an expedition leader does on a smaller scale. So the leap from going from a kayak, we call them Kayak Masters, that’s the role that I was going at first, going from the role of Kayak Master to expedition leader was actually a fairly natural transition.
There's a lot to learn. Working with captains and hotel managers and putting together that whole product is something that is definitely far and above what a Kayak Master does. But there was a good lead in for me, so I think that's how it happened.
What are some of the most interesting challenges you’ve faced as an expedition leader?
[08:25] Phil: It changes based on where you are. When you operate in the polar regions, there is so much that is a dynamic factor in how you go about your day. You can look at sea ice and weather and wildlife, and all of those can change how you approach a landing, how you approach a day. I would say the challenging bit this year, especially in the Antarctic, I think, Diane, you came down where we had just fantastic weather.
[08:57] Dr Diane: Yeah, we had the magical week where everything went right.
[09:01] Phil: I'm going to tell you right now, that was the one off. We had such crazy weather this season. We had huge storms that would roll through these massive low pressure systems and they would pump right through the Drake Passage. So South America separates from Antarctica by this 600 miles passage called the Drake Passage, which you've sailed across twice.
[09:21] Dr Diane: Yes.
[09:22] Phil: And did you have one of the ones where it was quite a rough Drake Passage?
[09:27] Dr Diane: We had more of a Drake Lake than a Drake Shake, although I don't know that my sister would agree with me on that.
[09:33] Phil: Oh, boy. Yeah, some people handle it differently, but it's definitely a stroke of luck when you get a Drake Lake. You can definitely get the Drake Shake and feel like it's a longer sail than just two days. But we had all these low pressure systems that would pump right through the Drake Passage and they would impact the Antarctic Peninsula, the West Antarctic Peninsula, where we were, and it would impact South Georgia and the Falkland Islands. And I did trips out to those places twice this season. In both of those trips, we were really running for shelter. There's a lot of weather that comes through in Antarctica. You can get beautiful days like you had, or the picture behind me where it's just flat and it's calm and there's icebergs and those happen. But this year seemed like it was a really windy kind of stormy one. So planning for that becomes difficult where you have to say, well, we can’t go to this place because it's blowing 50 miles an hour or there's tons of waves or there's just no way that we can approach this place and get Zodiacs off the boat.
So it turns into, well, what's your plan B and your plan C? And all the way down the alphabet list until you get to Z and then AAA.
[11:00] Phil: There's been a few trips like that, but I think one of the major advantages is just having been down there and knowing what's available to you. There's so many of these undiscovered little corners in Antarctica that you can go and really have a good time. And the thing is, when you go down to the Antarctic continent, it's a growing industry, the expedition industry, and there are like 40 ships that are operating at this moment and there's only so many places that these ships can go. So we all have to work together and there's actually a live scheduler, a booking system that we all use to share sites out and to make sure that we're not overlapping. It's a wilderness protocol.
So we try not to put ourselves in places where we're passing a bunch of other ships. And we want to make sure that that Antarctic experience for everybody is an experience where they feel like they're maybe separated from the “hustle and bustle” of the Gerlash Strait, which is what I would consider to be downtown Antarctica. A lot of ships go there, but there are all these places that are off the map that you can go and divert to in places where you can find shelter. So we did a lot of that this season, a lot of that, and we ended up discovering some amazing coves and bays that I've never been to before. And that's actually really exciting for me, because when you get to these places I would really have to negotiate with the captain and say, “Hey, listen, no one's ever been here before, but we can look at these tracks and we can see that there is a sounding here and we can probably squeeze into the bay.” And when no one's been to a place before, the captain has to take it really slow because who knows what the bottom looks like. So talking with the captain and being able to squeeze into small bays and go into uncharted territory, I mean, we're only pushing a little bit in from a path.
But for me that feels like exploration. For me, that feels going somewhere that hasn’t really been put on a map before, and that aspect is still available in the Antarctic. You can still do that, and to me, that's really exciting.
[13:23] Dr Diane: Well, and I think that for me was one of the exciting things, is the idea that it is an expedition, it's not a cruise, and there's no guarantee of safety within that either. We went the week after Viking got hit by their rogue wave. There had been a couple of zodiac deaths that week before as well. And that was a sobering reminder that this was not going into a cruise per se, that you were trusting the capable guides and the captain to do what they could to keep you safe. But there were no guarantees, not at all.
[13:58] Phil: Not when it comes to whether or not when it comes to the factors of risk that exist as we go about our day to day operations. The incident with the zodiac fatalities was so unfortunate, and that really shook our industry. We have these big meetings as an industry. It's led by an organization called IAATO, which, you'll remember, puts together all the guidelines for us and puts together a lot of great information about how to operate safely and respect the environment while we do it.
[14:31] Phil: And when we go to those IAATO meetings, some field staff will be involved, and we share stories out about incidents like that, and they are few and far between, thankfully. I think the last zodiac incident that resulted in a fatality was ten years ago. But they do happen, and there are lessons to be drawn. But you're right, there's no guarantee of absolute safety. But it's our job as expedition leaders and the captains that are on board to manage that risk and to do so in a way that we feel like we are having a good time and seeing as much as we can see, but making sure that our variable, our unmovable variable, is safety.
What would your perfect Antarctica trip look like?
[15:30] Dr Diane: If you had your perfect Antarctica trip, what would be the things that you would want people to walk away from seeing?
[15:39] Phil: My perfect Antarctica trip probably looks a little bit different than what other people's perfect Antarctica trip is. I don't know if you could tell by my previous answer, but I really love getting down and exploring places and seeing what's around the next corner.And I think that's what really drives me as an expedition leader and guide.
And my perfect trip would be to push down the western Antarctic Peninsula, well past the Antarctic Circle, and just go on a deep dive onto that side of the peninsula and just see what's there.
[16:23] Phil: There are colonies of Adelies and there are colonies of emperor penguins that had been discovered recently on that side. And just seeing more of that and seeing that vast landscape kind of unfold in front of you is what I really like in going to these unseen sort of unheard of places.
Now when I think about what experiences I want guests on the expedition to bring back with them, it's this sense of connectedness with our planet.
How do we connect to the environment?
[19:31] Dr Diane: So I remember that you and I had a conversation at Brown Base. It was one of those unscheduled Antarctica landings. We had had our continental landing, and you arranged this surprise where the weather had worked out, and we had this moment where we were allowed 20 minutes at the base. And I remember getting off and just feeling overwhelmed by the beauty and the magnitude of the glaciers around me, the bay, the blue skies, the clear water. And you and I talked about the David Attenborough quote, about you have to experience something in order to be able to love it, and you have to love it in order to want to protect it. And it was that quote that I brought back with me. And I'm sort of trying to take into the work I'm doing with kids because I realized how incredibly privileged I am to have been there and to have been part of that moment and how not everybody's going to get that opportunity and what can we do to sort of create that experience for others? And I guess the question I wanted to ask you is, is that the kind of connection you're hoping that as you're guiding, you're sending people home with?
[20:37] Phil: Yeah, absolutely. I'm so glad you got that out of that moment. It sounds like it was one of those wow sort of experiences for you. And I remember that day we had a bunch of ice on the beach as well. We were walking around all these blocks of ice that were left on a low tide, and we were able to just kind of navigate around that and it was just so special. And it was, again, a beautiful day. I would say we do try to facilitate that sort of connection and we make an appeal to people at the end of their trip. I know that not everybody is in Antarctica and then would become an Antarctic Ambassador.
21:20] Phil: You get all kinds of folks that are down there, but at the end of a trip, I say, hey, listen. If this is something that you feel strongly about, there are ways to go out and support the Antarctic. You can support it by getting involved with the various organizations that are out there. I see you wearing your Happywhale hoodie, an incredible organization that's doing so much good work. There are ways to go about living your life using your experience to inform just basically how you live, how you consume things, how you then go about voting. You know, a lot of the important changes that are happening in the Antarctic in in our oceans, are directly related to legislation that happens in countries around the world and you can go and share your experience, you can share what you've learned in these places. And by sharing that, by teaching people, by showing people what's down there, what's at stake. I mean, the polar regions are the fastest changing portion of our planet due to due to climate change. And it's something that in my time down there, I've only been working there again since 2014, but you see these changes and it's something that I think we really try to focus on is creating that sort of ambassadorship for the continent and for the places that we go.
What changes have you seen in the Polar Regions?
[22:59] Dr Diane: You've been in both the Arctic region and the Antarctic region since at least 2014. What are the big changes you've seen happening in both regions?
[23:18] Phil: In the Arctic, I would say that we're seeing a lot less sea ice coming down to this archipelago that we go to. It's called Svalbard and it's north of Norway. It's in the Barents Sea in the Arctic Ocean and Svalbard is a place that is encased in sea ice. For most of the year, the sea freezes around that area and there's a warm water current that comes from the south into the west that keeps a certain portion of that archipelago open, but otherwise gets frozen completely. This amazing place to go and see Arctic wildlife, polar bears, walrus, reindeer, Arctic foxes, they're all there. And there's more polar bears than humans in Svalbard. It's this incredible natural destination. And what I'm seeing there is that over the last ten years I'm seeing this trend where sea ice isn't extending as far down south on that archipelago as it once used to. Dust ice isn't sticking around in fjords as much as it once did and it’s retreating much earlier in the season than I'm used to. And I'm basing a lot of that not only around my experience, but from the guides that I've talked to that have been working there for decades.
We are able to go to places in that archipelago that otherwise would have been unheard of going to. One example is an island called Kvitoya. It's well to the north and well to the east of the archipelago’s Svalbard, and it was this legendary landing site. I mean, it's legendary because this expedition was lost there for 30 years and was uncovered afterwards. Very mysterious circumstances. The Andre Expedition. Very interesting story. There's a book called The Expedition by Bea Uusma that's an incredible story about Arctic perseverance and eventual failure, but it's kind of a spooky and legendary spot because of that. And I talked to guides that have been working there for 20 years that have only been able to make it out to that island once or twice in their 20 years working in Svalbard. But in recent years you've been able to go out to Kvitoya each and every year. That's because the sea ice is just one of these places that is kind of an example of that. Sea ice is opening up around the Arctic. It's not just in Svalbard.
And you see countries that are going and proposing transportation routes in the Arctic and new oil exploration and seabed mining and stuff, because the sea ice is retreating. And that's this very gray area that exists at the moment that I don’t think legislation exists for. You have the 200 miles boundary around nations, the exclusion zone, but beyond that, I think there's a lot that's going to happen in terms of countries claiming things for themselves and then going and exploring that place. And that's because the sea ice is melting back so far. Because the sea ice is melting back so far, you're looking at polar bears and seals not being able to overlap in their territories very much. Seals are having their pups and they're going away much faster than they used to. So polar bears, when they hunt on the sea ice in the spring, they only have this short amount of time to go and get the seals that they need to survive a long, cold summer and winter before they come back to the spring again to feed again. And I'm seeing a lot more polar bears wandering around places eating bird eggs rather than hunting seals. That's a change. That's a decoupling of two species. You look at polar bears and ring seals, those two animals are kind of intertwined in a really important way. Ring seals are the most common seal in the Arctic, and they're a polar bear's preferred food source. And when you look at that, that’s a really important relationship. And the timing and extent of sea ice around a polar bear's range is a really important aspect of how these animals are able to interact. In the success of polar bears and the way they hunt throughout the course of the season, with less sea ice, you have less chances to hunt, and the more the polar bears have to rely on other less quality food sources, like bird eggs.
[28:21] Dr Diane: And I would imagine a bird egg doesn't have a lot of nutritional value for a polar bear who needs a lot more.
[28:27] Phil: No, it doesn't. These polar bears are huge animals, and it’s very energy intensive for them just to even walk across a landscape. Polar bears, in that main spring feeding time, they need to eat one seal every three days in order to put on enough fat to sustain themselves through an open water period through the winter and back into the springtime. And if they don't get that one seal, they have to revert to other things and you see polar bears scaling these huge cliffsides full of migratory birds. Polar bears are almost like mountain goats getting up these cliffsides and taking bird eggs. But you realize that the energy that they’re exerting to get up there probably outweighs the amount of energy they're actually gaining from these bird eggs. And that's a net calorie deficit for that activity.
[29:23] Dr Diane: Absolutely. And then if you think about sort of your food web, you're also disrupting the patterns of breeding for the birds because they only get a certain number of eggs per season. And so then you're talking about sort of a domino effect as it hits bird populations as well, I would guess.
[29:43] Phil: That's exactly right.
So if you take away the sea ice, everything else gets disrupted. That, I think, is a really important message. It's not just polar bears.
[30:00] Phil: There's that very famous polar bear on chunk of ice out in the middle of the ocean, that famous photo. And it's not just the polar bears. It's everything else that gets disrupted because the sea ice is such an integral part of that ecosystem.
Now, in the Antarctic, we're seeing something different. There's sea ice that's melting in the Arctic, and sea ice is, in some regions of the Antarctic, sort of receding as well on a seasonal basis. But we're seeing in the Antarctic glaciers melt back. We're seeing the distribution of sea ice, especially along places like the West Antarctic Peninsula, where you and I visited, that's moving further south. So we're seeing penguin colonies start to shift and those penguins are now having to move further south. And by penguins, I mean penguins that are pack ice, obligate species. And that means that these penguins spend their lives in areas where there is sea ice available, and specifically, that's Adelies and emperor penguins. Now, Adelies used to be all over the West Antarctic Peninsula. There are photos of the old explorers interacting with Adelies. They're a bit more cavalier back then, they would pick up penguins and hold photos.
[31:24] Dr Diane: All the things we were told not to do.
31:27] Phil: Exactly, yeah, no petting now, but back then it was completely fine. And all those photos of these old explorers that were coming down and seeing these regions for the first time, they were taking photos with the Adelie penguins. But those Adelies have now moved much further south because sea ice is more available further south than it is up north. And that's a knock off effect of just warming oceans and warming climate.
I'd say in the ten years that I've been there, I’ve seen multiple glaciers move back a demonstrable distance. There's comparison photos between when I started and now that do show that. And, yeah, it's pretty striking, the difference. Rock faces being exposed for the first time, the first time in thousands, maybe millions of years, and it's due to these glaciers melting back.
[32:27] Phil: So I'd say I see the difference there. And I also see that in the Arctic, glaciers that are receding both in length but also in volume, they're thinning out. So these glaciers that used to tower 100 and 250 ft high are now really thinning back and receding. So that's a difference for sure.
How can we make an impact on climate change?
[32:50] Dr Diane: What are some things that we can do to try to halt the advent of climate change or to help the speed issues that are being affected?
[33:04] Phil: I would say that climate change is here and it's present with us. It's happening right now and we’re having to see the effects of climate change to really understand how impactful it is. It's one of those things that, theoretically, you can hear, but when you see it in front of you, that changes the map a little bit. And when you realize that, you understand that some of the things that are happening right now will still have yet to change the climate. We're pumping a lot of CO2 into the oceans and into the atmosphere as well, and the changes that we see are going to continue happening.
And there's no quick way to push the stop button on climate change.
[34:02] Phil: One of the things I think could really help is creating these regions of safe havens for species that are affected by climate change. There's an initiative, you've probably heard of it. It's called 30x30. And that's to protect 30% of the ocean by the year 2030. And there's a lot of value in that. [Note: click here to learn more about the 30x30 initiative.]
[34:29] Phil: There's a lot of value in creating spaces where animals that are already being impacted by climate change will not face the prospect of being fished or harvested or having their food harvested. There's a lot of fishing that goes on in the Southern Ocean and some of those fisheries are regulated, but some of those fisheries are also susceptible to illegal and unreported fishing. So when you look at these areas, you can do a lot to say, all right, no one can fish here. There's also a lot of illegal and unreported fishing that goes on outside of any international regulations. What countries are doing right now, and what was a big win for the high seas in general, was that countries have now agreed to introduce legislation to protect the high seas. And that kind of legislation could be such a huge difference maker for our oceans. It could be such a huge reservoir and reserve for species that otherwise don't really have that. So I think that's exciting news and I think countries are taking certain steps. But right now, only 3% of our planet's oceans are protected. And to get, I mean here we are in 2023, we're shooting for 30% by 2030. That's a lot of percentage points to cover in that short amount of time.
So I think as a group of people in the world, we can move to protect those swaths of ocean that are really critical for animals to exist in. I think that's probably the most important thing we can do is protect habitat in not only in the ocean, but protect rainforests. And I think that's maybe the most useful thing that people can do is protect what is still there.
Bringing a passion for conservation and the oceans to the next generation.
[38:45] Dr Diane: As I'm listening to you talk, I can absolutely hear your passion for conservation. You're one of the three founders of the Ocean Youth Academy. I'm guessing that arose from that passion for sharing the message and helping people fall in love with the oceans and all that you do. Can you tell us a little bit about the Ocean Youth Academy, where it came from and what it does?
[39:08] Phil: I'd love to. Oh, yeah. It’s such a such a passion project for all three of us. It's myself, Amanda [Hunter], and Gaby [Pilson] that have come together and started this initiative to talk about our oceans to kids around the world. And that is because all three of us come from an expedition guiding background. And we see people come down and learn about these regions and have a positive experience and a positive impact on their lives, and we hope that they go on to be ambassadors of the Antarctic. But generally, that crowd is an older crowd. These are people that have saved up for a long time and have come and have been able to make all these decisions through their life and then come to the Antarctic and then learn about climate change and then learn about the impacts that are happening down there and then have their lives changed at a later point. That's fantastic, and it's great, and I'm glad they're there because I wouldn't have a job doing that otherwise.
But one of the most important things that we can do is take that education, take all the educational initiatives that we have on board, all the lectures and expertise that we bring each and every trip, and then translate that so it's accessible to kids around the world. And it's just so important. We have all the resources and we have all of this knowledge, but we’re not sharing it with the crowd that can make the most impact. And that's the next generations, isn't it?
So we came together and we took kind of a selection of lectures from both the Arctic and the Antarctic, and we put them together in this ten module course called Polar Oceans. And we talk about polar bears and penguins and glaciers and sea ice, and we talk about climate change and we talk about conservation, and we put it in very real terms for these kids.
If you find someone that is interested in learning about the polar regions, we like to think that we represent a really good resource for kids. And we have a middle school age thing, an offering, Polar Oceans, that is on our website right now. You can go grab that course and run through it with kids or grandkids or a classroom, and it's pretty accessible. There is also an option to donate. So that's right on the website. But those donations are going straight to scholarship opportunities for kids and to grow this course and to grow this offering. So that's what we're focused on right now.
What brings you hope?
[44:31] Dr Diane: That's fabulous. And then what brings you hope these days?
[44:37] Phil: What brings me hope -- Amanda and I were able to work on a small ship this summer, and we worked with this wonderful family and they're from London, originally from Germany, and they had this group of kids that were with them and it was perfect. We took this family to Svalbard and we saw polar bears and we saw all this stuff. These kids later went on to attend the COP (Conference of the Parties) Climate Change Panel and were introduced as young ambassadors for climate change.
And it's just this next generation that is so involved and so persistent in their belief that they deserve a good planet for them and for future generations. That makes me think that everything is going to just work out.That's what brings me hope. And you can talk to these kids and teach them and they just absorb it and then put it back out in the world tenfold. It's just the reward from this. It's amazing. It's amazing to watch.
What is your next great adventure?
[46:05] Phil: My next great adventure? Well, I'm expecting my first kid in May.
[46:12] Dr Diane: That's an adventure.
[46:13] Phil: That's going to be an adventure, but for me it probably ties into my small expedition company. I have an expedition company called Arctic Tern Expeditions and we take twelve passenger trips around the world. And it's more just like we can go to Antarctica in a number of different ways, we can go to the Arctic in a number of different ways, but I feel like these small group experiences are such a great way to put yourself in a place and to take the time to really immerse yourself in these locations. I'm leading a few of those expeditions in the Arctic this summer. I am doing a scouting trip to Norway to go see orca in the winter on the Norwegian coast later this month, and that's exciting. And we're looking at building trips into Madagascar, into these eco reserves on the east coast of Madagascar and the Indian Ocean and eventually taking trips to the Antarctic.
And it's one of these kinds of things where we want to immerse people in these locations and also bring about these experiences, these little transcendental moments where you just look around you and you say, wow. And I think that can be such a difference changer. You're a difference maker for the people that take the time to go to these places. So I think that's the next adventure is just seeing how all of that pans out.
For more Antarctic Adventures, visit the Adventures in Learning podcast. There are interviews with Gaby Pilson, Nicole Flores Jara, Gigi Satchell, and Captain Antarctica (Sean McBride) to satisfy your travel itch and prompt interesting connections