How I Travel: Joey Harrington

Joey Harrington: Family Man on the Move

Joey Harrington has always been known as much for his upbeat attitude as his heroics on the football field. His name will forever be linked to the University of Oregon, where he became a star and led the Ducks to a win in the 2002 Fiesta Bowl. After a spectacular senior season he was named a First Team All-American, the Pac10 Offensive Player of the Year and one of four finalists for the Heisman Trophy. He was later drafted with the 3rd pick overall by the Detroit Lions and has since played for the Miami Dolphins, Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints.

Now that his playing days are behind him, Joey’s excitement for life and drive has transferred smoothly into a career in media and philanthropy. In between broadcasts for FOX Sports Radio, he sits on the board of numerous charitable organizations including his local chapter of the SMART (an Oregon initiative to help young students become better readers). He and his family also run the Harrington Family Foundation which has given grants and donations to charities worldwide.

This week, Joey gave us a look inside his carry-on, sharing the insights he’s gained through his trips to Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Kenya, Thailand, The Seychelles and other spots around the globe.

Growing up we never “traveled”—we drove.

I don’t think I got on an airplane more than once before I turned eighteen. All of our trips were to the Oregon Coast or to Central Oregon. For as much as I love exploring different parts of the world now, some of my first travel memories are from summers on the Oregon Coast or at Black Butte or on the Mackenzie River. Those were places that were close to home, but they make for some of the best memories because they were with my family.

Joey with his two brothers at their great-great grandfather's tombstone in Ireland
Joey with his two brothers at their great-great grandfather's tombstone in Ireland

The things that motivate me to take a trip change.

Originally it was seeing where my family came from. We descend from a very small town in Ireland and getting to see that village and share it with my parents, my brothers and my wife was an incredible experience. I was standing at the tomb of my great-great grandfather, looking back at the bay that he would cross every week by rowboat so that he could get to church on time. It was one of those surreal moments and something about having your family there makes it that much more special.

I don’t want to be a parent that says “we’re just gonna stay at home for the next twenty years because I don’t want to hassle putting the kids on an airplane.”

There are so many great things that I’ve experienced that I want them to experience. From here on out traveling for me will be with my family because I want my kids to know that there’s more to life than just speaking English, eating hamburgers and playing football. There’s a lot out there that I’m excited to show them.

Joey's wife Emily and their son Jack in Tuscany
Joey's wife Emily and their son Jack in Tuscany

I’m not the kind of guy who can land and then say “where am I going to stay and how am I going to get there?”

I need to have lodging and transportation solidified before I set foot on the airplane. There are certain things that I can be spontaneous and flexible about, but I’m not a “hop from hostel to hostel” kind of guy. That being said, once I feel like I’ve arrived I feel free to explore. Whether that means going for a hike or visiting a museum or just sitting around by the ocean and doing nothing—I’m pretty flexible when it comes to the things I like to do once I’m settled…But I need to have a home-base.

My secret for staying fit while I was playing was to always travel right after the season ended so that I wouldn’t have to worry as much about working out.

If I’m going halfway around the globe I want to experience culture, food—all the things that make that place unique—and not have to worry about finding a gym.

The places I’ve been have all been my “favorite” for different reasons.

Going to Ireland I felt like I was making myself whole. I met cousins and great aunts and uncles who I never would’ve had the chance to meet them without going there. A place like the Seychelles was truly the most incredible beach, the most relaxing blue water that I’ve ever seen. Going to Thailand was a completely foreign experience to me as far as food, people, culture and language. In Kenya I was five feet away from a lion and watched three cheetahs hunting together. So every trip has been my favorite for a completely different reason.

Getting up close and personal with a lion in Kenya's Masai Mara
Getting up close and personal with a lion in Kenya's Masai Mara

I like to see as many different things for different reasons as I can.

I wouldn’t want to go to Fiji and Bora-Bora back to back because they’re both tropical, both in the South Pacific. I like to find different locations around the world that are unlike anyplace I’ve been to.

When I travel I try to come in with no expectations and be open to anything.

I was laying in a pitch black cave in New Zealand, looking up at a million glow-worms on the ceiling and our guide, who had helped us repel into this cave, told us about a group of Texans who he’d taken through the same spot. He said that the first comment out of their mouths was “we have glow worms twice this bright in Texas.” That story made me cringe because those people had come in with the notion that nothing could compare to where they were from. That completely defeats the point of travel. When you travel you’re out there to experience things that you’re not familiar with. By having pre-conceived notions of what it should be like or comparing it to home you defeat that purpose.

Joey holding Jack for the bird's-eye-view of Rome
Joey holding Jack for the bird's-eye-view of Rome

My travel style has definitely changed as I’ve gone through different stages of life.

When I was single, traveling by myself or with friends, I went at an exhausting pace. I tried to see everything at all hours of the day. Then I got married. My wife Emily likes to take a day to relax between the adventures. She loves the adventures, but she likes a break between them. That taught me to let what we had seen sink in. I learned how to experience things more in the moment while I was traveling, instead of processing it all on the plane ride home.

When we had our son Jack we took him to Italy when he was only nine weeks old. It was a lesson in patience. All of a sudden we were on somebody else’s schedule. I don’t know that we could have taken a newborn to any other country, but in Italy it worked because so much of the experience is sitting and talking to people, enjoying a meal and soaking up the countryside. And that’s what we had to do, we had to take time for his naps, we had to take time to feed him—we had to slow down—and it fit perfectly with the lifestyle there.

I think that the best way to get a true feel for the culture and people of a certain place is to be humble.

Do your best to show them that you don’t think your way is better than their way.

I try to learn at least the basics of the language from whatever place I visit.

I think it makes the experience that much more genuine. I did the Rosetta Stone just before we went to Italy and I didn’t become fluent, but I learned enough to start a conversation. It got me into trouble because people thought I was fluent and then I’d get two or three sentences in and have to say “sorry, that’s all I know.” But it also showed that I was willing to embrace their culture. When people feel like you’re more willing to embrace their culture, they’re more willing to share it.

Enjoying an empty beach on Frégate Island in the Seychelles
Enjoying an empty beach on Frégate Island in the Seychelles

I never leave the country without my camera.

It’s important for me to have something to remember my trips by. Especially because these are the experiences that will shape my mentality as I get older. Having photos reminds me of the things I’ve learned in my travels that I can continue to apply to my life in the United States.

I’ll try anything once.

I’ve traveled by boat on the Mekong River, by camper in New Zealand and by elephant in Northern Thailand. One of the most frightening experiences I’ve ever had was the drive from Cork City to my family’s home on the Beara Peninsula in Ireland. These are some of the windiest roads, driving on the other side of the road, flanked by rock walls. And everyone else there knows the road like the back of their hands and can drive them like they’re freeways. I’ll try anything once—then there are things that I might avoid a second time… like those Irish roads.

I’m not someone who thinks that every big city is something to avoid.

Because then you end up searching for a country that may not exist, searching for a romanticized idea of how a place “should be.” So if you think that you have to stay out of big cities you’re not going in with an open mind. You’re going in with a preconceived idea that might come from a movie or book, but may not be what the country is about.

A lone giraffe crossing the Masai Mara
A lone giraffe crossing the Masai Mara

I love travel because every time it’s something new.

Every time it’s something that you can add to your pot of experiences. As much as I love our country and I love the ideals and freedoms that it was based on, I think there’s a lot for us to learn from different parts of the world. Every time you go somewhere else you experience something new. It’s something you can draw on so that you can become a more open, respectful, engaging person. I think that’s one of the true benefits of travel: that no matter where you go you learn.

To learn more about Joey’s charitable work, check out SMART (the Oregon initiative to help young students become better readers) and the Harrington Family Foundation which has given grants and donations to charities worldwide.

“How I Travel” is a BootsnAll series publishing every Tuesday in an effort to look at the unique and diverse travel habits of some of the world’s most well known and proficient road warriors. Got ideas for who we should talk to? Drop us a note.

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all photographs provided by Joey Harrington and may not be used without permission.

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