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Celebrating International Women’s Day with Courtney Dunagan

March 4, 2020 by Kate Abderholden

In the run-up to International Women’s Day on Sunday, we are highlighting all things Women in Travel! From the hard-working and well-traveled group of women in our office to our fantastic female guides and support staff across the globe, we are proud to have such accomplished women leading the way in adventure travel.

Perhaps the best person to kick off this week is our Manager of Operations and Partnerships (and former Adventure Coordinator for Asia), Courtney Dunagan. With 60 countries under her belt in just 32 years, she just might be the most well-traveled member of our team. She has climbed glaciers, ridden camels, explored churches and temples, hiked overpasses in sleet, rain, and snow, eaten street food and wandered through busy markets but when I asked her what her favorite travel memory was she recalled something much more humbling:

“Prior to joining the travel industry, I had a few career paths, which felt very aimless and daunting. Before I found MT Sobek, my family and friends advised me to find my bearings by looking around and creating a list of all the things I love rather than focusing on the feelings of failure. This search was daunting but I stumbled upon a photo of the Nasir-ol-molk Mosque. Its rainbow mosaic tiles and stained glass not only colored all the walls but instantly reinvigorated my passion for travel. That places like that actually exist at all is the reason why I want to visit them and why I started traveling in the first place. But it was disheartening to find out that the mosque was located in Iran, a place I thought I would never get to travel to. A few days later I applied for a job at MT Sobek and went on to become the Adventure Coordinator for Asia. A position that coincidental enough, included coordinating our Treasures of Iran trip. Within a year, I was sitting in the exact spot where that old photo of the Nasir-ol-molk mosque was taken. That moment in that mosque will forever be my favorite travel memory.”

Travel lets us reconnect and refresh. It brings clarity and focuses the mind all while allowing us to indulge in new sights, sounds, smells, tastes and experiences. Yearning to explore is a trait that most of us share and when parents and guardians foster this, it can lead to some truly special moments.

“My parents took my brother and me on a trip to England and Ireland when I was 9 years old. We had a really long layover at Charles de Gaulle Airport but our parents rushed us off the plane regardless with these huge Cheshire cat grins. We ran through the airport to the train station, barely making it through the closing doors. When my brother and I asked where we were going they told us we had to hurry so we could make it back in time for our connecting flight but that it was very important for us to experience all the magic that travel had to offer in our first trip. A short train ride later and I was standing absolutely awed under one of the most iconic symbols of travel, the Eiffel Tower.

Their lesson was a very profound one for us that day and influenced the entire way that I’ve lived my life. We shouldn’t let anything hold us back from experiencing all that the world has to offer us. Because if not today, then when?”

In light of International Women’s Day and the passion that her parents instilled in her, I asked Courtney what she thought about being a well-traveled woman. What does that mean to her and why does she feel that it is important for other women to be intrepid.

“There is so much meaning out in the world beyond our own selves. And this is difficult because you can only see as far as you can think. But travel has the ability to expand the mind. It gives you a hunger, to see everywhere, do everything and meet everyone. And the more that women go out to see, the more we become capable of seeing and doing.”


One of the last questions that I asked Courtney was “where are you going next?” and without missing a beat she replied, in very Courtney fashion, “I’m going to Antarctica!

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to walk the earth and capture it. 60 countries & 6 continents later and the earth still grows more beautiful to me every day. But my ultimate wish (on this planet at least 😊) as always been to step foot onto Antarctica and now I can say that in a little under a month, I will!

Antarctica isn’t just a place to me. Its borders migrate and landmarks melt. Its populations are counted by pods of whales and its cities are inhabited by penguins. It’s hundreds of shades of blue and white. You can sit on the banks of a 10,000-year-old iceberg as it slowly disappears into the ocean. As history melts away, you breathe in air that’s been released after millions of years, frozen in ice. Antarctica is impervious to thumbtacks in maps and flags planted in soil. Antarctica is only called a continent for as long as we continue to believe it is one, especially in light of the current climate crisis. Antarctica isn’t a place. It’s a feeling.”

I should have known. Where do we go when we’ve been everywhere? We head to the very edge, as far out as we can and then we take another step.

Interested in taking a page out of Courtney’s book? Explore our Antarctica Fly & Cruise trip!

About the Author Kate Abderholden

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