As a child growing up in New York, one of my favorite hobbies was reading. I was drawn in by the power of words -- the images they conjured up, the sounds they made, the ideas they expressed, and the actions they influenced. It was a tool for escaping what I considered to be a humdrum existence, and it fueled my desire to lead a productive life after I finished school.

Speaking of school, I excelled in many subjects -- especially English and social studies. (Science and music were two exceptions to that rule, but I digress.) The knowledge contained in the textbooks I carried around stirred my interest not only in current events, but in stories about the past (and what they meant for the future of mankind). Over time, one of the words that caught my attention was "map" ... and the more I studied them, the more I realized there's life beyond my hometown.

In looking at a map of the United States, Seattle seemed like a distant place with its own way of life. I reached this conclusion based solely on its location on the other side of the country. When I went there in 2001, I was happy to discover that -- contrary to popular belief -- it doesn't rain all the time. Furthermore, I enjoyed interacting with the city's residents while learning about its history.

That sentiment can be applied to other places I've visited over the years, whether it's Martha's Vineyard or New Orleans. The U.S. is a large country, and while I've been fortunate enough to travel to several major cities, there are many more I've yet to explore. This observation prompted me to get a passport because America isn't the only country on a world map ... and I eventually wanted to do more than just see life beyond my hometown -- I wanted to experience life beyond my nation's borders.

To the north is Toronto, where I lived liked a queen thanks to the favorable currency exchange rate ... and to the south is CancĂșn, where I soaked up the sun despite battling pneumonia. But visiting a new place means more than just going to the tourist traps -- it also means stepping out of one's comfort zone. The opportunity to engage in extraordinary activities, meet fellow Americans (and foreigners), and taste different types of foods is what makes some vacations more memorable than others.

Biking across the Golden Gate Bridge, crossing paths with a former president on a miniature golf course, dining in the presence of a famous chef, and bonding with an Ivy League alumnus in less than 12 hours are things I never would've done if my life just revolved around the five boroughs I call home. The irony of this revelation is most people want to come to the Big Apple, not leave it. It's the city where one can pursue dreams, find love, and learn what they're really made of ... and to have been born and raised in such an environment is a blessing I don't take for granted. After all, it taught me a valuable life lesson: traveling isn't about the starting point nor the final destination, but the journey in between.