The story of an airline pilot’s daughter includes more than seeing the world from a window seat in first class. It is one of long lines, cancelled flights, and seats back in their upright position. It is a story of lost luggage, layovers, and life lessons.

I’ve learned to run, wait, adapt, and sleep just about anywhere. But I’ve learned to enjoy the moments when things do work out, like making the same flight home to Minnesota as the boy who could call a common loon with his hands—the call I couldn’t figure out how to do myself. Luck had me sit next to him.

Airport antics and eager-to-share aisle mates have been my ticket to a crash course on life. (Fortunately, it’s been more course than crash.) Across the long stretches of a brown Wyoming or an azure Atlantic, I’ve seen façades fall and people become people.

I know the joys of Melissa, a foreign-aid respondent returning from Africa for her wedding. I know the regret of Roman, a recovering alcoholic. I even know the success of the creator of frozen yogurt, whose name I could kick myself for forgetting.

As you thumb through this issue of Stowaway, peruse our photographs, take note of our tips and tricks, and drool over our scenes from New Zealand—don’t forget that it’s the people that will make your traveling experiences memorable.

My fondest memories of places I have been are often not actually of the places, but the people. People like the Palestinian village elder who gave my friends and me twenty wedding dresses for free. The boy from the Dominican Republic who squealed with delight when I gave him a Sammy Sosa baseball card. Or the elderly French woman who shared her bread so I could feed pigeons with her at Notre Dame. Even the punk teenager on the bus in Peru who tried to run off with my wallet.

From people I’ve met, like the boy on the plane who tried to teach me how to call a loon, I’ve learned that it’s not all about the places you go—but about the people you meet. They make travel meaningful. Open your mouth, say hello, talk a while, and smile. Yes, there are many places to see, but even more people to meet.

Warm regards, Carrie Akinaka