It was just a gloomy, regular-kind of Wednesday morning in New York City. I was hustling to my Gilt office on Park Avenue and 32nd Steet down my usual route, crossing over Broadway and up through Madison Square Park and passing the Flatiron building along my way.
I saw a group of people in baby blue t-shirts handing out fliers, but there is a different company each day in that area handing out promotional materials so I didn’t think a thing of it. Was it Sprint this time selling a new data plan, or possibly Vita Coco handing out samples of their new Berry blend coconut water? Irregardless of who it was, I didn’t have time to stop and take a look.
I continued walking briskly, even though I noticed that the company out there was Travelocity, an obviously well-known travel company with an extremely handsome and famous little mascot.
I love travel. It is my heartbeat, and it has been for a long time. I had the opportunity to meet a friend in Europe the summer before my senior year in college who had studied abroad that previous semester, and I took it. I worked at a local bakery in College Station, Texas and baked hundreds of dozens of cookies to save money for my EuroRail pass and hostel accommodation for what would be a two month-long trek through Europe. I was twenty years old when I ventured from U.S. soil for the first time and landed by myself in Milan, Italy.
That trip forever changed me. We went to nine countries during those two months, and I interacted with people who lived all over the world, had different views on things than I did, spoke multiple languages and who had such a healthy take on work-life balance. It was a beautiful experience.
I have taken some substantial twists and turns in my life, but my thirst for travel has remained consistent in its passion and has deepened with each experience I have had. Since that trip, I’ve backpacked through India and most recently, I backpacked through Australia solo for two months, amongst many other trips in smaller duration.
I continued on to work, and as I walked away from the twenty-something blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl doing day work passing out fliers for some extra cash, I had a nudge in my spirit to go back and grab that glossy piece of paper. But I didn’t.
The next morning was another gloomy October day, as if she was warming up for winter. On my twenty-two minute walk to work, I neared the Flatiron building and saw that the Travelocity reps in their blue T’s were still out there. Today, I was going to at least grab a flier.
After all, Ashley… You love to travel. Might as well at least stop and see what this is all about.
I took the baby blue flier and looked down to read it as I continued my walk through Madison Square Park. “The Great Gnome Nabbing: One Lucky Person Could Win A Trip Around The World!” I paused briefly under the swaying trees that were starting to lose their leaves.
Ashley Castle, you were destined for this.
My heart fluttered with the kind of hope that touches to the depths of the soul and trickles out to each hair follicle and fingertip. At that very moment, I knew that I was not only going to enter this contest, but that I was going to win it. I don’t know how to explain the certainty of the spirit when it speaks or how I came to this conclusion; it wasn’t even an active, intentional thought. It was just a sense of knowing.
I got to my office and looked up the URL online and read over a few of the rules. The winner needed to make a 60 second video about why he or she deserved to be nabbed by the gnome for this trip of a lifetime. I picked up the phone and texted my friend Jeanne.
“Hey, I need you to do me a favor this weekend. Can you come over Sunday morning?”
“Yeah, of course. What’s going on?”
“I’ll explain when I talk to you, but it’s going to be big.”
Jeanne and I had just been talking a couple of weeks ago about our visions, passions and gifts and how those things could be of service for the greater good of the world. She is a friend who inspires me greatly through her perspectives and the way she leads her life with intentionality and purpose, and she’s also been a dear friend to me who’s helped me to get clearer on my own purpose and how to align that with my passions. She’s always known that travel is one of my biggest life passions and missions and has encouraged me to step in to that more and more.
Jeanne told me later that she could sense that whatever was behind the energy in my text, is was big, as I don’t normally text with that level of insistence.
She came over late on a Sunday morning and I was dressed in my green jeans- turns out she was wearing green jeans, too, which just seemed to be a part of the magic. I’ve noticed that the more I believe that good things are destined to come into my life, the more they do. The more intentional I am to see the world with eyes of wonder and believe that everything in my life path aligns not only for my good, but for the greater good…the more all of that comes into being. I took a few minutes that morning to jot down a few ideas regarding the video and what I wanted to do. I knew that this was a marketing campaign for Travelocity, so it needed to be catchy, show my spunky personality and by the end of those 60 seconds, have them convinced that I could be their girl to trek the globe with their beloved mascot.
All in all, the video took less than 2 hours to complete and post, and the voting period began.
In the coming weeks, I felt totally overwhelmed by the love and support that I received from my family and friends. The finals voting period fell during the week of the presidential election, and I was running my own campaign alongside it. I believed I had an opportunity to make it to the finals and then win, but I wanted to do everything possible on my end to help make it happen. I stayed up until 3:30 am and woke up at 7 am during those five days of the finals, working on social media, emails and pictures to do everything in my power to increase my chances. When you marry intention with action, some amazing things can happen.
When the finals ended, I felt peace in knowing that I had done everything possible to earn the trip, and more than anything, I felt so surrounded by love and support that the feelings I had were overwhelming and emotional. I knew I had a lot of people in my life who loved and supported me, but seeing them all come out at the same time and express it was so beautiful and humbling to be a part of. Irregardless of the outcome, I understood how rich I was already from having so many meaningful relationships in my life.
And then, it happened — I won. It all came together, and now the flavors of hazelnut Belgium chocolate and French Chablis reside on my palette as I’m reclining in my massage chair on this Brussels airlines business class flight, direct from New York’s JFK to Brussels, Belgium and then on to Rome for the next leg of this amazing journey.
We’re only two days in to the trip, and I am full to the brim and overflowing with gratitude. Travelocity is truly an incredible company. We’ve met so many of the people who have made this trip happen from its conception to working out all of the incredible details, and their entire goal is to make Jeanne and me feel more special than we’ve ever felt and for this to truly be the trip of a lifetime.
The trip kicked off in our own NYC- it was so much fun being a tourist in our own city, going to see “Rock of Ages” and meeting the cast backstage, taking a carriage ride through Central Park and going iceskating with the gnome on Wollman rink in the park. On this wintry morning, I took a long run through the park and went back to our gorgeous room at the Surrey Hotel on 76th between Park and Madison, only to return to the most exquisite massage and spa treatment I have ever had.
It’s an interesting feeling staying in such a magnificent hotel, coming from a practical middle-class family in Texas. As I went up the elevator in my LuluLemon gear aside a young woman about my age who was elegantly donned in Hermes and Chanel, I pondered to myself how different our life experiences most likely have been. I wondered if there was a thought in her mind regarding how exquisite and special this entire experience actually was and how 99.9% of the world’s population will never know luxury like this– Or, if it was just a normal day and a normal elevator ride up to a usual-kind of hotel room for her.
All of a sudden, I felt a tidal wave of gratitude for the ability to feel and experience such deep levels of gratitude and recognize things in life for being as special as they are. Sometimes I rush through my days and let them pass too quickly without acknowledging their uniqueness, beauty and brevity, but I work to live with intentionality and to really see the world, its people and live each day full out.
Perhaps there are many things of beauty in the world that I miss that someone else really sees. When I worked at the orphanage in India, I remember how those childrens’ faces would light up with a piece of candy. They saw so much joy in something that I quickly unwrap and devour and see as something so commonplace- normal and not to really be valued or appreciated.
It’s been two days, and I have already changed from this experience. I believe with a new level of fierceness that I can do anything and be anything in this world that I choose to create and be, and that is a powerful realization. But, there is a new sense of weightiness with that feeling, a deeper sense of responsibility. To whom much is given, much is expected. I want to serve and inspire the world in this process of life as I grow in mental, spiritual and physical abundance.
There is a new level of trust in the course of my life, and I find myself analyzing and worrying less and simply resting in what is, more.
As I embark on this journey, I want to truly thank each of you who have been a part of this process, through your votes, your love, your support and how you inspire me in so many ways to live for more fully, reach deeper and live my passions. It is my hope for each of you that you will do the same, and that we will all live full out during these limited years that we have here. After all, it is a beautiful life.