Danielle Thurston, April 2020
First a little context...It was an ideal time in my life to make a huge career pivot and shake things up a bit. I was living in southern California in my mid to late-twenties, recently single and was six years into building my straight-outta-college career as an event planner and catering director. I was simultaneously running a non-profit theater company (my labor of love) when I realized work life was controlling me and not me it. In short, I was BUSY with a capital B and not sure the path I was on was sustainable from an energy standpoint or ideal for what I really wanted my life to be. My best friend's wedding was fast approaching to be celebrated in our northern California hometown and I was struggling to make this 4-day vacation feasible with all the commitments I was juggling often with very little assistance.
This was not OK. Only years prior I was known as the gal who would jump on board others trips when jokingly invited a week prior and join them in Hawaii, or Vegas, or Mammoth, or encouraged a friend to run a marathon with me in Italy with only a 6 month lead, or convince my friends, while brunching, to drop everything and hop on a boat that same afternoon to Catalina island for the weekend. Yet now I couldn’t make the one meaningful trip of the year possible?! I was ashamed of what I had become- and quickly realized I needed to regain some semblance of that ever dangling carrot of work/life balance.
Then I got a call. My old college roommate had begun a career in aviation. Her company was hiring corporate flight attendants and she wanted to recommend me. Although it was never a field I had thought about or had any interest in joining, it did seem surreal how perfect the timing was. This was coupled with the fact it was all about travel and hospitality, combining both my love and my experience. After a mere weekend of thinking about it, it was game on! The kicker was (remember I was keen on restoring life balance) that instead of planning multiple events for hundreds over each weekend, I was to focus on taking care of only an intimate group and would only have one plane to focus on at a time instead of multiple venues and restaurants and would have ⅓ of the month off. I was MADE for this! It was a true fit for that time in my life and I flourished in the ever-changing world of private aviation. I thrived on the fast-paced nature of pop-up trips, not knowing where I may rest my head each night, securing all the unique rider items for clients and sourcing the catering needed in unknown parts of the globe. Then there was the best part of all of course... the TRAVEL!
In the beginning I lived for making it to a new international destination and only really felt the beneficial side of this career once I did. Over time however, my perspective changed once I opened myself up to what seemed to be the less glamorous side of the job- domestic travel. Don’t get me wrong I have seen enough of north Jersey and the outskirts of Chicago and St Louis to fill a lifetime, but I started to become more and more in love with the states. Once I allowed myself to look at each new area through the same lens I did when I first went to France or Austria, my appreciation and awe grew. I thought about how so many immigrants spend lifetimes working to make their way here for a better life and I should look at the cities and towns all over my country that were a living microcosm for what might make it so. The USA thrives on international tourism and not just to the big cities, I’ve met more foreigners in our national parks than residents time and again, so there had to be something about what they know to be so special about this country and what I needed to take stock in and be grateful for.
When I started in aviation, I had only been to 7 states, whereas I had made it to 10 countries and by the end of my 5ish year career I had seen 48 states and an additional 12 countries. Such a treat, what a feat and a real privilege I now know better than to take for granted.
Many of the people I know or have worked with say that they travel to other states primarily to see people they know. This tends to be a nationwide trend. Imagine if you have a small network of close friends and family who live elsewhere and with this mindset, how few states you would visit. Would you make it to Traverse City, Michigan where you can set off on an exploration of some of the 11,000 inland lakes, or to the foodie haven of Asheville, NC? Would you have a reason to swim in the one of the highest ranked beaches in the US at Siesta Keys in Sarasota, FL or ski the powdery slopes of Vail, CO. I had opportunities to take in the quaint Sunriver village in Bend, OR and ride the streets of the uber bike-friendly college towns of Chattanooga, TN or Athens, GA. I learned to line dance in Nashville and took in the local blues music over pulled pork nachos in downtown Memphis. All these experiences afforded me the opportunity to LOVE the country with which I belong.
I learned to appreciate the beauty that can be discovered by looking a little deeper, taking the time to notice it and not always chasing the farthest spots and hardest to attain destinations. This mindset helped to shape my far away vacations for the better as well. I slowed down more while abroad and wasn’t always chasing the next thing to see and do, instead stayed more in the present and focused on the surroundings I was in versus where I was heading next.
To sum up, what I learned most about traveling after years as a private jet flight attendant was to appreciate exactly where I was in the moment, live for that moment, and if I am looking for a beautiful experience, I will certainly find it.