It took one simple question 10 years ago to change my life…
“Do you want to come with me?”
My co-worker and friend asked me that simple question referring to visiting his home country of Turkey. I thought about it for a little while knowing virtually nothing about the country of Turkey or where it even was on a map and I answered,
This simple answer set in motion my life today as well as a bunch of ‘firsts’ for me…getting my first passport, taking my first international flight, going through immigration for the first time, and experiencing my first jet lag.
I was 30 years old.
You, my blogging audience, have only known me for 4 years of my travels; a relatively short time. However, in honor of my 10-year anniversary of traveling, I thought I would take you back through that first international arrival in Turkey – before everything was recorded digitally. I wanted to focus on my memorable observations on that ‘trip of firsts’ – through the eyes of a very, very new – but mature – traveler.
First (lack of )Planning
This was to be a fast 9-day trip across the globe from San Francisco to Istanbul where I was to meet my friend, Giancarlo, and stay with his family in Istanbul and Bodrum. I honestly don’t even remember having a guidebook. I knew Giancarlo would be taking care of me and he would be my guide. He had the itinerary all worked out and we were staying at his family homes the whole time. I knew him well since I’d worked with him for the past 2 years and we had become good friends outside of work. I think he felt it was a travesty that I hadn’t been out of the country at my age, and took it upon himself to fix that black mark on my personal resume. We talked about the trip a few times before we left, but the only thing I really remember was that Bodrum was a party town and to bring my swimsuit.
First International Flight
The plane flight seemed long as I went from San Francisco to Chicago to Istanbul.
This is the first time I flew on an international airline carrier, Turkish Airlines. My first memory was the fact that the flight attendants had very different outfits than US flight attendants. They were all wearing turquoise dresses and weird hats. I distinctly remember thinking the food was really strange and I was a little surprised that the audio entertainment wasn’t in English. This flight experience made me actually think about the place I was going to. I started to worry on that flight…what if I couldn’t communicate, and what if I hated all of the food, what if this was a bad idea?
First Travel Snafu (that didn’t take long)
Upon arriving, Giancarlo was supposed to meet me after customs. I didn’t really understand immigration or customs but blindly followed the people in front of me. When I came through the doors to be greeted by throngs of people waiting to pick up loved ones, I didn’t see him. I panicked. I continued to scan the crowd in my sleepy haze and my eyes finally stopped on a sign that read ‘Sherry Ott’ – and it wasn’t Giancarlo who was holding the sign. I walked up to the sign and in choppy English, the man introduced himself as Giancarlo’s father, Romolo. He came with the message that Giancarlo was stuck in Bodrum, and he (the father) was to put me on a plane to Bodrum that day. That wasn’t our plan…our plan was to stay in Istanbul. I just got off of one long, long flight and now I’m supposed to get back onto another…what an introduction to traveling. Romolo walked me across the street to the domestic terminal, sat me down with a cup of tea, and went to try to get me on a flight.
I remember thinking that getting on a flight without a ticket in advance wasn’t possible, yet here was this man up at a counter arguing with the desk staff on my behalf. I sat back and looked at my glass of hot apple tea and picked it up to take a drink and try to come to life. Owww!!! How do you hold a hot glass of liquid? I looked around me and realized that the people were holding the glass at the top near the rim else they would burn their hands. I thought…but why? Why don’t they just use a mug…why this silly juice glass?
Romolo had no luck in getting me on a flight right away, but he said that we would come back later and try again. Try again? I was used to a smooth operating set of rules that you follow to get a plane ticket…and there seemed to be nothing smooth or any rules to follow when it came to getting me a domestic ticket in Turkey.
First Foreign Food
I ended up spending the day with Romolo, making small talk as he played tour guide and took it upon himself to introduce me to Istanbul. He drove me all around Istanbul while trying his best to communicate in his choppy English. I just remember everything being so, so new in my eyes; yet in reality it was all really, really old. The cars were old, the roads were curvy, and the traffic was hectic; it was like arriving on an alien planet for me. That first day in which I was whisked around the city by a man I had just met was a jetlag haze of new experiences. Yet somehow I loved it…I loved every bit of it.
We stopped for food at some point as I was practically dozing off in the car. At this point, I hadn’t even gotten the money yet, so I wondered silently how I was going to pay for anything. Back then I had traveler’s checks (something I would NEVER travel with now!), and I didn’t have a chance to change them yet as we toured the city. He asked me if I ate anything and I answered “yes”. He proceeded to order a feast of food I had never seen before. I was a little leery after eating the airplane food, but the midwesterner in me of course was cordial and tried everything. He joked around with the waiters and I had no real idea of what was going on nor what I was eating. I remember distinctly worrying that my stomach might not like Turkish food and really being concerned that I would get sick.
First Sprint to the Plane
We went back to the domestic airport and once again Romolo sat me down with a steaming glass of apple tea in a juice glass and he went to try to work on getting me on a plane again. I sat and watched him as he talked to the agent. I noticed the tone of his voice get stronger and stronger and soon it felt as if he and the agent were having a yelling match. I watched incredulously as this didn’t happen where I came from and I was rather confused as to what was going on. He would look at me and point as he was yelling at the agent and I imagined him saying “Get her on a plane dammit – I can’t play babysitter forever!” Soon it all died down, and he hurried over to me and said – you have to leave now! I was so confused as he put a ticket in my hand and whisked me off to the boarding gate. I hadn’t even paid any money…nor finished my juice glass of tea! I asked what was happening and he said that I had to go now and get on this plane. Uh…ok…I guess that’s ok, and I sprinted off to the plane.
Once I sat down in my seat – I wondered….am I on my way to Bodrum? Who will pick me up? How do I pay for the ticket? But soon all of the worries floated away as I settled into a deep sleep before we even took off.
What an introduction to travel. The trip was full of ‘firsts’, many ‘whys’, and ‘hows’ for me. It challenged my brain and my way of thinking in so many ways. Drinking hot tea in a juice glass was just the first of many eye-opening cultural experiences. I remember being ultra worried about everything that trip, but it was that trip that left me wanting more…and more, and more, and more.
After the trip to Turkey 10 years ago, I decided I would use my cool new passport to see other places. Travel was intriguing and exciting – and it was challenging; I was hooked. Between 2000 and 2006 I utilized my meager 3 weeks of vacation to go to other countries and get more passport stamps:
• Canada – Vancouver/Whistler skiing
• Australia adventure travel
• France road trip
• Costa Rica
• Peru to hike the Inca Trail
• Brazil sailing adventure
When I came back from my Brazil trip, I met my boss in the elevator my first day back and he asked me how my trip was. I said that it was wonderful, perfect, and
“Next time I leave the country, I’m not coming back (to work).”
4 years later I’m still not back.
Travel is addicting, rewarding, educational, and the way I want to live my life. I’ve never had such fun in 10 years. Thanks to Giancarlo (and his lovely family) for taking this midwesterner and turning her into a global citizen.
By Anil August 31, 2010 - 7:45 am
There is so much awesomeness in this post, great story!
By Jason Demant August 31, 2010 - 8:50 am
I have to agree with Anil, great post. Now I’m trying to remember how I felt on my first trip abroad, I don’t think it’s anywhere near as interesting as yours!
By Gillian August 31, 2010 - 9:45 am
Congratulations on 10 years of travel!! May the next 10 years be as rewarding! Cheers!
By Lynn August 31, 2010 - 12:08 pm
So much fun to read about your first international travel experience! What a long way you’ve come, kiddo!
By Amy @ The Q Family August 31, 2010 - 1:30 pm
Congrat on a decade of travel and for many more years to come! 🙂
By Audrey August 31, 2010 - 1:40 pm
Isn’t it fun to think back to the beginning and all those firsts? Isn’t also amazing how one trip can really change your life in terms of getting the travel bug and wanting to experience more of the world. Now you’re helping others take that step with Meet, Plan, Go. Great work!
By admin September 2, 2010 - 7:41 am
Thanks for the kind words Audrey!
By Federico August 31, 2010 - 6:49 pm
10 years of traveling, what a fantastic experience and number. Being able to share those experiences is something I apprecaite as well. By the way, that last shot reminds me of the great time I had in Sapa too…took some fantastic photos as well, one of which also includes the same lady you have in yours.
By admin September 2, 2010 - 7:41 am
Ha! – Good to know that she’s still around workin’ the tourists! She was actually quite nice as I remember – and spoke pretty good English!
By Jaime D. August 31, 2010 - 10:43 pm
So inspirational thanks for a great post! Stories like this are what make staying in on the weekends, not buying this or spending on that remind me its all going to be worth it in the end when I start my RTW trip!
By admin September 2, 2010 - 7:40 am
Way to be diligent on saving…always keep the ‘prize’ in mind!!
By Michelle Seltzer September 1, 2010 - 1:15 pm
Fantastic story!! I am very jealous!
By Earl September 1, 2010 - 3:26 pm
Just amazing! It’s hard to beat a travel story from the earlier years of one’s travels, when the innocence ensured that every second of every day had such a memorable effect on us. Congrats on the 10 years!
By admin September 2, 2010 - 7:36 am
Thanks Earl – and thanks for following along on my journeys! You are absolutely right in saying that every second has a memorable impact when we are in those innocent years of travel!
By Mariela September 1, 2010 - 4:51 pm
What a lovely post!! Very inspiring. Thanks for sharing!
By carla September 1, 2010 - 5:44 pm
I have a doubt… so you quit your job?
By admin September 1, 2010 - 5:47 pm
Yes – I quite my corporate job 4 years ago in 2006 and took a career break and traveled around the world (that’s when I started this blog). However – the break turned into a permanent career change as now I am a nomadic travel blogger/writer/photographer!
By Dave and Deb September 1, 2010 - 8:56 pm
I love this post! So fitting that we are doing the Mongol Rally with you next year because it is our 10th year of travel too! Are we kindred spirits or what. You’ve come a long way baby!
By admin September 2, 2010 - 7:34 am
Who knew…we are all relatively new travelers considering our ‘maturity’!! I can’t wait to start planning for our Mongol Rally 2011..who would have ever thought that a measly 10 years ago I would even know anyone like you guys…you are the best!
By islandmomma September 2, 2010 - 4:34 am
Lovely post. You know, I’ve been reading all about MPG, and wishing there was one in Europe too, but it strikes me that Europeans’ first travel experiences are likely not so dramatic as are Americans’, so I can understand the need and interest for your project will be much greater in the US. For one thing, crossing borders has always been fairly easy, and these days is even easier, plus, the explosion of the package holiday industry in the 60s brought so many destinations into the affordable bracket. Americans have such a vast and beautiful country to discover on their own doorstep, so I can fully understand why such a low per centage of Americans, compared to Europeans, have passports. That said, learning about other cultures is now beyond being important, it is imperative for international understanding, and it is just great that those seeds planted 10 years ago in your case have grown into this project to help other people to travel. Maybe the one problem with the ease of travel in Europe (and especially if English is your first language) is that we take it for granted. Many Brits shuffle about the world in their own, little shells, gaining nothing from the experience, and leaving only their tourist dollars behind, so teaching people “how” to do it so that it becomes a cultural exchange is wonderful. Congrats on your anniversay and congrats on MPG, and the very best of luck.
By admin September 2, 2010 - 7:33 am
Thanks for your kind words and insightful observations. Having just been in Europe for the month of August I think your observations are spot on. Traveling is really a different culture in Europe – plus I find that Europe is as big of a melting pot than ever these days – so your exposure to different cultures is vast! Hopefully through Meet Plan Go we can get a few more people out there experiencing the world!!
By Donna Hull September 2, 2010 - 11:16 am
Sherry, I loved reading your story and how you came to be a full time traveler. It obviously suits you well. Keep on traveling and writing about it for us so that we can read your great stories.
By Gray September 3, 2010 - 10:43 am
What a great travel story, Sherry! It’s a perfect example of how things don’t have to go perfectly when we travel, and sometimes are more interesting if they don’t.
By Mary Jane September 8, 2010 - 4:59 pm
Wow, what a great way for me to spend time reading it. I enjoyed the fun packed adventure and how you wrote it amazed me. 🙂 Thumbs up for this.
By Lynn N June 19, 2012 - 7:07 am
Love this story…and yes reminded me of my first time out of the US. A 6 week backpacking / hitch hiking trip to Central America back in the 70’s. Two girls, obsolutely clueless, minimal Spanish, Mexico, Belieze, Hounduras, El Salvador, Guatemala. Now that I know more about what was going on in those countries back then it amazes me that we arrived back all in one piece. But beautiful people, views, little hotels….I still have that passport too!