It’s been a long time since I’ve spent Thanksgiving with my family. The past handful have been spent in various, slightly nontraditional ways — with international students at university in South Carolina, with an Ecuadorean host family in Quito, eating Swedish-prepared kebab-pizza with Australians and Koreans in Perth, and now in Florida, where it appears I might be eating home-cooked Indian cuisine for my Thanksgiving meal. (No complaints here!)

I don’t share this to brag, but to illustrate just how lucky I am to have the parents that I do. While it’s always nice to be home with family enjoying a home-cooked meal, I am thankful for all those other holiday experiences I was able to have. And none of those Thanksgivings would have been possible without my parents’ support, love and understanding.

Not all parents would be supportive (emotionally and financially) of their child going to school 600 miles away. Or traveling alone through South America. Or moving to Australia for a year. Or temporarily taking over their house in Florida. (Super thanks!)

In travel and in life, my parents have always been my biggest supporters.

When I went on my first international trip, a life-changing journey at age 12, my parents encouraged and supported me.

Even when some of my decisions might have been a bit scary for them — like taking off to travel solo in South America for three months — my parents were still there to drive me to the airport and support me along the way. I may not have kids of my own, but even I know it’s not easy to watch your kids grow up. Especially when it’s off in far-flung destinations where you can’t protect them or care for them when bad things happen.

Yet somehow, my parents always find ways to do so. When I’ve been robbed, they’ve been there to help me out and cancel credit cards. When I’ve been homesick, they’ve been there to call, lend a sympathetic ear, and even offer a ticket home.

My dad has met me on my travels in all corners of the globe — driving around Ireland, trekking to Machu Picchu, eating our way around Italy, shivering in Sweden and adventuring in Australia. We hope to have many more adventures together, especially another hiking trip, and I hope one day to be able to even minutely return the favor of all he has done for me by taking him on a trip for once.

My mom has to pop a few Xanax just to set foot on a plane, so she won’t be meeting me on my travels anytime soon. But she has always been the ultimate supporter from afar. I can always count on her to keep track of me, and I know she’s proud of the things I have done in my short 25 years.

When I was young, I remember my mom telling me I should be a “professional tourist” when I grow up. Still she encourages me to follow my travel dreams. As the worrier of the family, I know she must go through a lot when I’m abroad, so I appreciate her encouragement and all she puts up with.

So, this Thanksgiving, I just want to say: Thanks, Mom and Dad, for being awesome.

I am the luckiest girl in the world for having such supportive, caring parents. You have done an incredible job raising three children who are on their way to fulfilling, successful lives because of your endless support. I only hope we can all return the favor someday.

Love,

Rachael