• Image about Shahin Takes Off 11-01-2007

OKAY, LET ME FIRST apologize for getting us into this.

Ask the American Airlines flying public for suggestions on where to take my next vacation, promising 100,000 AAdvantage miles for the winner?

Was I nuts?

The problem wasn’t the hundreds of e-mails I received — and, yes, read. Every. Single. One. Of. Them.

Okay, maybe that was part of the problem.

But the real problem was that I had to choose.

Reading through the entries, I started feeling bad, because on any given day someone else might have won and because I couldn’t go to every place suggested. That’s a little ironic, as my inability to decide is what started the contest in the first place.

Back in the spring, with so many places in the world to visit, my wife, Jessica, my son, Sam, and I were paralyzed by indecision about where to go on spring break. We ended up in New Jersey.

Now then, New Jersey is a lovely state. It is — really. (Hey, stop snickering.) Still, I mean, you know …

And so I concocted this cockamamy contest: Tell Jim and his family where to go on their next vacation.

The rules were simple. Entries had to include contact info, including full name, street address, phone number, and e-mail address; I had to receive the entry no later than 11:59 p.m. (CT), June 30, 2007; and the pitch could not exceed 100 words.

If any of those stipulations was not met, the entry was discarded. It pains me to recall some of the fabulous entries that I was duty-bound to disqualify. I will not disclose any of them because they would pain the entrants even more.

Actually, I will mention one, because I thought it was a great idea: Go to New Orleans and build houses. I think everyone should go to New Orleans and help that essential city get back on its feet. But I couldn’t select that entry — 160 words.

The notion of socially conscious travel emerged as a recurring theme. Go “somewhere north,” suggested one respondent, “to experience global warming: What you see will not be like that again.” Go to Calcutta, suggested another: “You will treasure exposing yourself to just how hard many folks have it and just how blessed we are.”

A goodly number of entries were about that most enduring of travel themes: romance. Respondents had Jessica and me dining at a candlelit outdoor table in Hawaii and kissing at sunrise in Greece.

There were some very clever submissions, including one that suggested Dublin by rewriting the lyrics to “My Favorite Things” and another that had the first letter of each sentence spell out the suggested destination, Hampton Roads, Virginia.

Recommendations ranged from beaches to mountains, from Thurber, Texas, to Paris, France. We came close to choosing Iceland, Malta, Kenya, and (believe it or not) Idaho.

With so many choices, I made some arbitrary decisions as I went along. One, I would not choose somewhere I had previously been. Two, the place must be at least reasonably accessible by an American Airlines flight. (I mean, come on. You didn’t think I’d choose a place American doesn’t fly, did you?) Three, at least two, and preferably all three, members of my family had to agree on the location.

I pruned the e-mails until I had my top 40; then I had Sam and Jessica select their favorites. We trimmed the nominees down to 14, and for three days, we went through them, debating, considering, lobbying.

In the end, deciding was less about choosing the single most creative submission or the most sharply written entry or, in some manner of speaking, the “best.” Rather, it was about finding the one that most spoke to the three of us overall.

The winning entrant combined a variety of compelling lures, from sites dating back to antiquity to a fascinating modern-day cultural milieu, from stunning scenery to different activities. He ranged broadly and yet specifically. His entry is below.

Before getting to it, I want to say thanks to all of you for playing. So many of the submissions were really good. But we had to pick one. And on that day, we selected the entry submitted by Alper Aras of Chicago:

I recommend that you go to Turkey:

1. Experience Europe, Asia, and Middle East culturally and geographically in one country, and even in one city: Istanbul.

2. Interested in cultural trips? Visit two of the Seven Wonders of the World (Ephesus, Halicarnassus), Hagia Sophia Church, the Blue Mosque, Virgin Mary’s House, St. Claus’s house, and many more.

3. Interested in nature? Visit the Black Sea coast for beautiful mountains and hiking.

4. Interested in beaches? Choose the Aegean, Mediterranean, or Black Sea, or take spectacular Blue Voyage yacht trips, stopping at beautiful Turkish coastal towns.

I don’t know that we actually will go to Turkey. That wasn’t part of the deal. But it is the place we most want to go, based on the submissions.

Of course, it isn’t New Jersey. But, then, what is?