The Finalist Countdown

Each year, travel enthusiasts and amateur photographers come together to compete in the mother of all photography competitions—Condé Nast Traveler’s Dream Trip Contest. On the line? A $25,000 dream trip to the destination of your choice.

So imagine my thrill and surprise this morning when I woke up to discover that my photograph—taken this summer in Göreme, Turkey—is one of 25 finalists out of more than 17,000 entries. The photo was taken on a sunrise hot air balloon flight over the volcanic rock formations and fairy chimneys of Cappadocia—the best reason I’ve ever had to wake up at 4:15 a.m.

Through September 30, readers can vote each and every day for their favorite photograph (just click on the star icon here), helping one extremely lucky photographer win the trip of a lifetime. In my case, I would be heading to Argentine and Chilean Patagonia, the natural wonderland guarding the edge of the world. Why? Here’s the short essay I submitted to accompany my photo.

I like to think that I inherited my mom’s sense of adventure.

On the surface, Linda O’Brien is a generous and nurturing mother, grandmother, and elementary school teacher; a perennial president of the PTA who has been known to use “sugar” as a curse word. But it turns out that she also has a pretty wicked appetite for the unknown—one that led her on a solo excursion across Brazil and Venezuela in the 1970s. As she swam in the Amazon River, slept in riverboat hammocks, and hitched rides from new friends (was that so wise?), my mom developed a deep connection to the people, cultures, and traditions she encountered along the way. That love for South America has been contagious, and my mother’s adventures have been the inspiration for my own journeys to Argentina, Brazil, Peru, and Uruguay. Yet my South American dream trip still remains undone.

If I’m lucky enough to win this competition, my dream is to travel to Patagonia—where Ferdinand Magellan and Sir Francis Drake once sailed to the edge of the world. I want to marvel at the jagged peaks of the Cuernos del Paine; wake up at the base of Monte Fitz Roy in El Chaltén; and strap on some crampons for a trek along the Perito Moreno Glacier. But most of all, I want to experience the South American frontier as my mother did 40 years ago—by appreciating and embracing every person, culture, and tradition I encounter along the way.

And with Condé Nast Traveler’s help, I won’t even have to hitchhike.

So get voting! And a special, enormous thank you goes out to Butterfly Balloons in Göreme, without whom I would have never taken this photograph nor had such a wonderful experience.


  1. Mary Ellen OBrien

    Good luck Maura. What a thrill talking the picture and now the reward!

    Sent from my iPad

  2. Helen Weires

    Congratulations Maura! Wonderful photo and wonderful essay. Best of Luck!

  3. Erin Hartnett

    Great picture and definitely the best essay. I really hope you win and take that trip to Patagonia!!

  4. Great job, Maura! I just voted for your photo. Good luck!

  5. Thank you all so much! I’m so glad you like the photo and essay!

    1. Joanne Slaboch

      I’m voting every morning!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s