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Seeing Travel Through Fresh Eyes

Sometimes you see your own blessings more when looking through someone else’s eyes.

I recently returned from hosting a group of Going On Faith readers on a familiarization trip in Jordan (click here to read about our 2019 Jordan FAM and hear from the pastors who were on this trip). We host FAM trips to numerous domestic and foreign destinations each year, but this one was different: In addition to professional travel planners, the group also included eight pastors and a couple of their wives.

The idea of bringing pastors along was to introduce them to the amazing biblical sites and faith-based experiences throughout Jordan in hopes they will bring groups from their congregations on return trips. Based on the feedback we got, I think that’s sure to happen. But for me, there was another benefit to traveling with a group of pastors: I got to see the experience through a fresh set of eyes.

This fall, I celebrated my 15th anniversary with our company. In a decade and a half of full-time travel journalism, I have visited 48 states and nearly 30 foreign countries, and I have lost track of the amazing experiences I’ve been privileged to enjoy as part of my job.

If you do anything long enough, though, it can begin to feel routine. And if I’m being honest, 15 years in tourism has taken its toll: I’ve been a lot of places and seen a lot of things. But it’s hard not to become jaded, particularly when each trip now requires me to be away from my young family.

And that brings me back to Jordan. This was my third visit to the country — I was also there last winter — and my third time to see to many of its most popular sites. And since I was helping to facilitate the FAM, I was more focused on managing the logistical details of the trip than experiencing the history and culture in front of me.

That all changed at Bethany Beyond the Jordan. Many archaeologists and scholars believe this to be the site where Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, and it’s one of Jordan’s most important faith-based sites.

After a wonderful tour guided by the site’s director, we made our way to a secluded place on the river bank where some of the people in our group wanted to be baptized. And when the first couple went into the water, I knew it was going to be a special moment. The other members of the group spontaneously started singing hymns. Then one of our pastors baptized his wife, and she came out of the water shouting for joy.

The emotion of that moment caught me completely off guard. I was so jaded by my previous experiences — and so preoccupied by our itinerary and schedule — I had forgotten what a special place this is. For me, a visit to Bethany Beyond the Jordan was just another day at the office. For these pastors, though, it was a life-changing experience they’ll never forget.

After that day, I tried to see the rest of the trip through our guests’ eyes. And I loved it. It was a pleasure to watch them discover the wonders of Jordan for the first time. And it was a wonderful reminder of how blessed I am to have a career in travel.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.