My spring garden with yellow baptisias, magenta wild phlox, and pink mallow in full bloom

Blaine Bonham

Thump Thump Thump. The tires of our Ford Fairlane hit the seams in the concrete road as I lay on the back seat with my head pushed into the space where the cushions met, one ear against the seat. Soon the rhythm lulled me to sleep. It was just after midnight when we pulled away from our southeast Pennsylvania home for the 400-mile trip to mother’s New York hometown on the shores of Lake Erie to visit her family. The night departure held great mystery and adventure for me.

This week-long pilgrimage happened every summer, the first week in August. It was the only vacation my dad, mom, and I ever took.

Through the Appalachian forests and the small coal-mining towns that looked so different from mine, I followed our progress on maps—I memorized town names, figured out how far we traveled, looked for rivers and mountains––I especially loved this part of the trip. It was the mark of a seven-year-old geography geek and it was a clue to my future case of adult wanderlust.

When I was 10, I won an inexpensive Kodak camera for naming Sheriff Smith’s horse on a Saturday morning TV program contest. I photographed my mom and dad, Pepe the chihuahua, family gatherings, our Cape Cod-style house, my friends playing dodgeball. I took the camera on class trips, one to a Wild West town to shoot the cowboys riding horses and having a gunfight at the Silver Dollar Saloon. I didn’t realize at the time how much the camera sharpened my visual sensibilities.

As a teenager I fantasized about exotic destinations. I hung out at the Pottstown Public Library burning through books on Egypt, Indochina, and Sir Edmund Hillary’s accounts of climbing Mount Everest. Reading provided a safe escape from turmoil at home. One Christmas I received a cherished world globe; spinning it rapidly, I put my finger on a country and then read about it in the World Book Encyclopedia. In school, geography captured my imagination, and I researched and reported on the socio-political and economic fortunes of many of these countries.

I earned an undergraduate degree at Penn State University in political science, with minors in history and accounting. After pursuing an advanced degree in business administration, I had a personal epiphany and switched from a career in banking to one in horticulture, earning a degree from Temple University to feed my new passion for gardening.

For the next few decades, I worked for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS), developing a national model program called Philadelphia Green. We engaged with mostly disadvantaged neighborhoods to create community gardens, parks, and streets lined with trees to help residents improve their neighborhoods. We teamed up with groups rehabbing old homes and building new houses to help transform communities.

Meanwhile my first trans-Atlantic jaunt landed in London for a three-week visit to England, Scotland, and Ireland, followed soon after by two trips to Oaxaca and the colonial crescent cities of Mexico. By then I was hooked on hitting the road.

A mid-career year in the Loeb Fellowship Program at Harvard University accelerated my curiosity about the rest of the world; there I earned an advanced degree in Environmental Studies.

A fortuitous event profoundly impacted my personal and travel life. I hired Eva Ray, a Bengali woman from Kolkata, India, as education director for PHS. My interest in world travel and her art history background provided perfect ground for a close friendship. She invited me to join her on a three-week journey to India, where Ma (Eva’s mother), her aunts, uncles, and cousins embraced me and introduced me to an eastern culture so dramatically foreign to me that it turned my sensibilities upside-down.

After that auspicious trip, I visited India six more times—to date— crisscrossing the subcontinent to experience its wonders and meet its people. Immersion into the daily lives of Eva’s family enriched my life immeasurably. Sprawling family gatherings, brides dressed in red and grooms in white or gold, the spectacular Durga Puja religious celebration and festival, visits to temples where Westerners are usually turned away, and the intoxicating Indian spices that explode my taste buds––how blessed I am! Early on, Ma adopted my husband Rick and me as her “American sons.”

Since the mid-1990s I’ve flown across the globe dozens of times alone and with others to Southeast Asia, Myanmar (Burma), Sri Lanka (Ceylon), Western Europe, Balkans, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece, Morocco, Cuba, and more. I honed my photography over the years and learned how to be a smarter traveler so I can experience the magic of capturing the world’s personality through the lens. An addictive adrenaline rush floods my senses every time I board a plane.

Impatiently waiting for the pandemic to end, I’ve renewed my expired passport and I’m racking up mileage points on credit cards. A five-year list of “must-visit” countries I gleaned from a pile of travel magazines awaits my first reservation. I will be more than ready to fly away from zip codes 19107 and 19958 and escape into the world again.

Get the Monthly Newsletter

That's right, just one email per month.
The latest travel stories, photos, and destination inspiration, straight to your inbox.