Anywhere in the world: Or how I won the coolest contest ever

Just last week, Spencer and I sat chatting. A cooking show hummed in the background. I turned to him as I often do, posing Big Issue questions.

“If money weren’t an object,” I started, “and you could go anywhere in the world — anywhere — where would you go?”

He turned to me with a thoughtful expression, his bottom lip puckering slightly. “I . . . would have to think about that,” he replied carefully. “I really don’t know.”

“Think about it.”

“. . . I don’t know. How about you? Where would you go?”

Visions of sunsets in Greece or sunrises in Hawaii danced before my eyes. I thought of Scotland and delicious meals there, and of Italy’s history and rich architecture. I thought of London, my favorite city, and of Big Ben. The Thames. The Tube.

I thought of the many places I hope to see someday and the things I want to experience. The vistas that will take my breath away. The spots rich in history and culture and beauty, and all the things I want to capture with my camera.

And something incredible has happened.

In April I toured through England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Ireland and Wales with Trafalgar Tours, an awesome tour company with planned excursions all over the globe. I’ve recounted many of my adventures from that trip (with more to come!) and had so much fun with my family. We saw more in 10 days than I could have imagined and made many warm memories.

Trafalgar recently put out a call for “WOW!” moments from past travelers, asking participants to send in stories and photos of their favorite times on Trafalgar vacations. Dad showed me the travel magazine with information on the contest. Thinking of our trip isn’t hard for me — and neither is writing about it.

Without much thought, I sat down and wrote up five paragraphs on my “wow” moment from Woodstown on the Irish Sea — an incredible place where I danced with a local, sipped Smithwick’s and made friends with an Irish dog. It was at the end of our trip, which had been a rollicking adventure all over the United Kingdom. I was enchanted with the Scottish, Irish and English we encountered, and felt distinctly at home everywhere we went.

It was “foreign,” yes, but in the best way possible.

I sent in my entry.

Thoughts of the contest fell by the wayside, buried under months of vigorous work and busy weekends.

On Friday, slumped over at my desk after a work pot luck, I was listlessly scanning my email and waiting for the work day to end. Useless since my big lunch hours before, I was so tired that I had awkwardly tried to stand and fell out of my rolling desk chair. In front of my coworkers.

And that almost happened again minutes later.

At 4:45 p.m., an email marked “important” landed in my inbox. It was from Trafalgar. About the contest I’d entered two months ago.

I won.

I won the grand prize. My “wow” moment was picked by the company for publication in their magazine’s fall issue, and what was my reward?

A complimentary trip for two on any Trafalgar tour.

Any tour. Up to 10 days. Anywhere in the world.

Anywhere. In the world.

As soon as I processed the message, my hands started to shake. I’d known the stakes when I entered, sure, but never thought I would actually win. I mean, who wins a free vacation? Those are reserved for Internet scammers and radio competitions, right? You have to be the tenth caller on the tenth day of the tenth month or answer 10,000 trivia questions or something.

You don’t just win a free vacation.

But I have, friends. I’ve won a free vacation to take in 2012. It’s on the website and everything.

And I’m faced with the best possible dilemma — an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime chance to travel anywhere my heart desires. I’m left answering the very question I posed to Spencer:

If money weren’t an object and you could go (almost) anywhere in the world, where would you go?

My God, the possibilities.

I’ve had a week to calm down and think and plan. I’ve narrowed down my choices to two continents — yes, because that is helpful — and figure I want to go somewhere mountainous and beautiful. Somewhere I can take pictures. Somewhere I would never go on my own, because I’d be too nervous or wouldn’t bother.

France, because I need to see Paris. I just . . . do. And the French countryside? I almost feel as if I’ve already been there, having read about it so often in novels — but that’s not the real thing, of course. And there are tours that tackle both France and Switzerland, and also others that cut a large swath through France, Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands.

That sounds awesome, and is heavily my favorite right now.

But there are the Rocky Mountains of Canada, too. And Western Canada. I’ve never visited our neighbor to the north save one trip to Toronto years before (and Niagara Falls, too), and the scenery calls to me. I don’t much about Canada (bad neighbor!) but am certainly willing to learn.

And then there’s Greece, the original answer to the question I posed — a question I never thought I would honestly get to consider. The beautiful coast and Santorini, cite of the Traveling Pants books I love. Olympia. Delphi. Athens.

Needless to say, life has just gotten way more interesting.

I’m in no hurry to make a decision. In fact, I’d really like to milk this for all its worth! I didn’t know when I’d be able to take an international trip again after last year’s excursion, and I definitely never thought I’d go on a trip I didn’t have to pay for (aside from pesky things like airfare, of course). As planning a vacation is half the fun, I’ll be planning until my little OCD heart’s content.

I really can’t wait.

So tell me, friends: where would you go? Money is no object. You have all the time in the world. Where, where would you go?