outdoor activities, travel

Travel is so Broadening… in 10 ways

I recently returned from three weeks in Turkey. My heart was full, my mind replete with warm memories, and my computer teeming with new photos. The best part, though, was that my travel compatriots now love Turkey as much as I do.

It happens. Traveling to new places broadens who we are.

1. Build and strengthen friendships.

I knew most of the ten people in our tour group, but they didn’t know each other. By the end of our weeks together we were a cohesive, caring clan. Sharing unique experiences is a wonderful way to bond; whether old friends or new, traveling together builds relationships.

We ten--friends forever
You can tell we’re bonded both by our smiles and our “blue clothing” theme. Left to right: Me, Tom Olson, Tony Paulus, Jane Johnson, and Jane Hofkamp (light hair), Sue Nordman, Sally Nankivell, Marnie Paulus, Rondi Olson, and Jini Danfelt–friends all!

2. Challenge yourself

Some of us visit the same places year after year because they’re comfortable That’s fine. However, visiting a country with a different language and culture stretches you. It challenges every part of you—your senses, your palate, your ears, and even your sense of self. Waking to the Call to Prayer, so different from the loon calls of my northwoods home, warmed my heart each morning.

a coffee toast to ballooning
Some of our group took the plunge and hopped on an early morning balloon ride in Cappadocia. Jini toasts them with her morning Java.

3. Expand your knowledge

I was bored with history through school, yet when I visit a foreign country as an adult, I’m fascinated with the sequence of events that brought it to where it is. Turkey’s rich history, both political and religious, continues to spur my desire to learn more. After traveling I always come home eager to devour both historical fiction and non-fiction about the places I’ve seen.

ladies in the Turkish bath
A Turkish bath is DEFINITELY a new cultural experience, and we loved sharing the adventure. L to R: Sally Nankivell, me, Jini Danfelt, Jane Johnson, Rondi Olson

4. Experience new cuisines

Ah, the food! There’s something about new tastes that elivens the palate. From the döner of street vendors to the haute cuisine of the world-renowned Mikla Restaurant, my palate was tickled daily in Turkey. Breakfasts of tomatoes, cucumbers, dried fruit, bread, eggs, and olives greeted me each morning, and I blush to confess that I never left my plate with fewer than 20 olive pits. We experienced the unique cuisines of each region, always preceded by mezes (Turkish appetizers). One favorite dish was the testi kabob, a rich stew baked in a pottery jar that’s brought flaming to the table, then broken with a flourish by an enthusiastic waiter. And of course, the fish was not to be missed—grilled head-on, it required a bit of finesse to separate the flesh from the bones, but we were rewarded with the tantalizing flavors of fresh, light trout or sea bass.

fish lunch on the Galata Bridge
We happily indulged in a fabulous sea bass dinner on Istanbul’s Galata Bridge.

5. Learn about yourself

As you traverse a new country, you can’t help but push the limits of your abilities, both physical and emotional. You may find yourself conquering hills you would never have attempted, or foraging into buildings you might not have explored. You’ll be astonished at how well you can communicate with signs and pantomime. Your confidence increases along with your curiosity as you immerse yourself into new experiences.

We were definitely challenged by the rough terrain as we explored the ruins of Termessos on a mountaintop near Antalya (on the Mediterranean coast).

6. View the world through a new lens

I’m embarrassed that my country is so self-absorbed that we seldom know what’s going on outside our Western World. Shame on us. I love seeing the world through the lens of a different culture, viewing the advances and accomplishments of a smaller country and listening to their perspectives on America.

carpet shop
Nazmi Bey fascinated us all with information about Turkish carpets during our stay at his Bella Hotel in Selçuk.

7. Understand world politics

When I’m overseas I pay much more attention to international politics. Visiting a less-known destination helps dispel the myth that a few countries dominate the world. Each country plays a role, and each faces its own issues. Turkey currently struggles with the ever-increasing power of their president, and they’re beginning to kick back. I loved discussing this issue with the Turks; I have yet to meet anyone happy with the current situation.

Ataturk and me
There’s a major conflict between the liberal Kemalists and the current Islamist government in Turkey. Imagine our surprise at finding this cardboard version of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (Turkey’s founder and hero of the liberals) waiting for photo ops in the Antalya Airport. Yup, that’s me beside him.

8. See your position in the world

Travel helps me realize how broad the world is, populated by people with varied lifestyles and experiences. When I volunteered in Ethiopia I was touched by the desperate need of people who still found it in their hearts to smile. In Turkey I was repeatedly helped by people who had no reason to care about my needs. I can’t help but realize my insignificance in this world of 7+ billion people, each one as important as I am. It brings to mind these lyrics from “The Galaxy Song” by Monty Python:

So remember, when you’re feeling very small and insecure,

How amazingly unlikely is your birth;

And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere out in space,

‘Cause there’s bugger all down here on Earth!

9. Spread the word

Because of your experiences, you’ll share insights and stories with friends. Of course you don’t want to bore them with a grocery list of events, but it’s fun to interject an anecdote about your first experience in a Turkish bath or your awe at the ancient ruins of Ephesus. Your stories can open the world to those less apt to tackle the adventures you’ve enjoyed.

fairy chimney cave hotel
Who wouldn’t be amazed at the Fairy Chimney homes of Cappadocia? This one has been converted into the Kelebek Hotel, probably my favorite hotel in the world (complete with resident pooch.)

And, last but not least, travel helps us…

10. Appreciate home!

I’m always glad to return home; being away makes me more thankful for my life in Minnesota. Though I left warm sunny days behind, I was undaunted at the ice still on our lake. I reveled in time with good friends and dove back into local activities. It’s the life I choose, the home I love, and the wilderness I occasionally leave to explore the world beyond.

You can read more about the Turkey tour on Ann Marie’s Istanbul.

This article first appeared on Sixty and Me: