My trip to Istanbul and Paris was life shifting--the kind of adventure that finds you going away as one person and in a matter of days, returning as another.
It's hard to put words to an experience that changes you so deeply because it's not about any one specific thing that's the cause of the shift. Really it was me, being in this body, at this time in my life, meeting those people and having those experiences. I believe that we always get what we're ready for & what we need to help us evolve into greater beings. For me, this trip was a message and a symbol confirming, it's time to evolve.
As the plane was descending back to Atlanta, I cried. Not because I was sad to return (coming home is always a joy for me), but because....I did it. I was officially returning from the trip that at one point, I wasn't sure I "could" go on or should invest in. Didn't know how it would happen. But like every big shift in my life, it began with an urging to "just go", without knowing the who, how or why. Fast forward a few months later and I know for sure that this is a life defining trip for me. It speaks a lot to where I am personally/professionally and to the shift that's currently happening in so many areas of my life. It seemed like once I pressed "confirm" on my order, a million tiny miracles happened in a matter of weeks that are swiftly moving me towards the new goals I've set for myself. So this trip ended up being the perfect marker to usher in this new phase of my life.
If you follow me on Instagram you know the story but here's the short of it--I'd originally planned to go to Istanbul with a group but in the midst of my planning, it occurred to me that I should go by myself. Mostly because I was having trouble justifying the cost of the group trip. And while I know I missed the benefit of some of the group experiences, I'm 1000% sure that going alone was indeed the right move for me--and that fact had nothing to do with the money (although I spent 1/3 of what it would've cost me). In the end, traveling alone required me to rely on skills that I wouldn't have had to use with a group because being in a foreign country--with a very different culture--where you don't speak the language (and not many people speak English) requires a great degree of resourcefulness & self-reliance. Are these skills I cultivate at home? Certainly. But keep in mind it's within the context of a country in which I was born, a city where I speak the language, a terrain I know like the back of my hand, a ton of local friends & family on speed dial if I get in a bind and a place where I have access to my own car at all times. I didn't have the benefit of a travel guide or a friend to accompany me--I had to get things figured out on my own. And I was also in a Muslim country as a single, Black, non-Muslim, American woman traveling alone and staying in an apartment in a local neighborhood (this is key). From everyone's reaction to me, it became clear that I was not the norm.
I opted not to get an international plan on my phone so the minute I touched down I turned the cellular data off so I wouldn't incur any unexpected charges. This meant that I the only time I could actually use my phone was when I was back in my apartment and connected to wireless. Outside of that, I was on my own. Lost?? I had to consult a map & figure it out the old school way (I hate pulling out maps when traveling--they scream "target" to me). Need to know how to say a certain word in Turkish? If I was lucky I could find someone who spoke English to translate, otherwise I had to make a note in my phone so I could Google it later. I can't tell you how many times I had to order my meals by pointing to what I wanted & as someone who loves to ask a million questions about her food...it was quite a change! At the start of my trip I remember being embarrassed by having to continually point to things and feeling frustrated/helpless when I couldn't communicate my needs but then I remembered, "This is the point of this trip. If you wanted to feel comfortable & at ease, you could've gone to London but that's not what this destination was about."So I kept pressing on. One of the things to note about my trip is that I wasn't staying in a high-end hotel with a concierge at my fingertips. When I travel I like to get a feel for how the locals live so this means that I'm generally not right in the middle of tourist areas with hordes of English-speaking taxi drivers & "tourist-friendly" restaurants at my disposal. Instead, I like to stay in residential neighborhoods where real people are going about living their everyday lives. It's exciting...but as someone who definitely stood out in the neighborhood--it can also be a bit scary. I walked a lot. I visited the major, ancient historic sites. I ate at restaurants recommended & beloved by locals. I slept in & rested whenever I wanted to. I had a twice daily informal date with the owner of my apartment as he made me tea every morning before I left and then again when I returned. We talked for hours & hours. I listened to the Islamic call to prayer sound across the city 5 times a day & took that time to meditate on my own faith. I signed up for an amazing culinary tour of Istanbul/Turkey that had me tasting everything from local spices to cow/goat/sheep cheese, Ayran (pronounced Eye-ran, a buttermilk-like yogurt drink that's a cultural favorite), stuffed muscles, lamb intestines, goat milk ice cream, lots Turkish delight (of course!), Turkish hummus (more sesame than normal) and a TON of other tasty treats.Needless to say, I did & experienced a lot.
I wish I could tell you about every single incredible thing that happened while I was away, but some of it is still so hard to describe...and as transparent as I like to be, I honestly I feel like some of it is just for me because it was so personal. Instead, I'll just say that it was by far the best vacation of my life. As I like to do before I travel, I wrote out my intentions for my trip before I left and it's no big surprise that every single one of them was fulfilled. I only had 4 and they were: (1) to "totally & completely relax" by being in the moment and not thinking about work, (2) to pay attention--to the sounds, the smells (!!) & the tastes (3) to eat really good, expand my palette (lamb intestines!) and not eat Paleo and (4) to meet someone new (funny how much personal stuff you can share with a stranger). It was good to look at my list when I came home and see that I indeed accomplished everything I originally set out to do.
This trip renewed my confidence/trust in myself and reminded me that I can create ANYTHING I want. I believe that thoughts are creative (our lives mimic our thoughts) and this trip was a reminder of that--that asking "how" I would get to Turkey for all of those months was the wrong question. Instead, the only question I needed to ask myself was "Do you WANT to go to Turkey?" and once I acknowledged that I did, everything fell into place. I ended my trip with an enormous sense of gratitude for the life that I live and I'm so relaxed, focused and genuinely excited about the coming months. The renewed perspective alone was worth the investment.
So why Istanbul? I guess my thought was, "Why not??". It's geographically & culturally far away and isn't what most people think of as a single woman's vacation destination. I didn't want to relax on a beach, I wanted to DO something. The older I get the more I find myself interested in history and I knew my destination would have plenty to keep my attention. Istanbul captured my interest & I didn't want it to be a place I waited to see "until I had a man" so when the opportunity arose, I took it! Why did I travel alone?Because I really wanted to. I didn't even invite anyone else (lol). So much has happened over the last 3 (really, 10) years of my life that I wanted/needed this to be just for me. The fact that I was even ABLE to go is a sign of all that I've accomplished in building my business and transforming my life and I wanted to be able to reflect on all that good stuff alone. I think personal time is one of the most sacred & loving gifts we can give to ourselves. I didn't want to discuss where "we" should eat breakfast or what "we" should do today...I just wanted to "do me". Traveling with friends is great (did it on the Paris leg!) but I don't think it's any more important than traveling on your own. They're just 2 different experiences & the one that's right for you depends entirely on your needs. I love hanging out with friends but...I really love my alone time, too--I NEED that to recharge my batteries. So, while I was a bit nervous to venture into the unknown, I was also really excited. 3 years ago I would't have thought a trip like this was possible. And I definitely wouldn't have expected it to change my life.
NEXT: 13 Tips on How to be a Bad-Ass International Solo Traveler.