Recalibrating Travel – Replacing expectation with experimentation and curiosity

By: Lynne Scullard 

One of our Unsettled Experience Leaders, Scully, takes her first international trip since March 2020 and finds out what “lockdown qualities” will also serve her back out on the road thanks to an unpredictable turn of events. 

 

Many of the Unsettled team have been grounded since the start of Covid last year, going from digital nomad living to suddenly living very very settled. As we are each easing back into travel we have been sharing our insights and adventures with each other to see how travel has changed for us, both personally and collectively.

Global Experience Leader Scully is from South Africa, the place she urgently rushed back to from Unsettled Medellin in March of 2020. She travels on a South African passport, her only one, which can sometimes come with its own set of travel complications.

As you also may know, South Africa has had some very challenging times recently from a slow roll out of vaccines, to the Corona Delta Variant, and social unrest (including looting and violence) that erupted in July. When the chance came for Scully to take her yearly break with her partner during the southern-hemisphere’s winter, she decided to go for it. Initial plans to go to Spain fell through; they made last minute adjustments to head to Turkey that hinted at the “Covid-Travel-Gods-Trickery” ahead.   

To put it simply: plans had to change. This is adapted from Scully’s blog on what happened next…

HUMILITY. ADAPTABILITY. ACCEPTANCE.

Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change”. 

I often ask myself, “what is normal, what is strength, and what is intelligence?”. 

Craig D. Lounsbrough says “Intelligence without wisdom is nothing more than stupidity that looks smart.”

Rikki Rogers says “Strength doesn’t come from what you can do, it comes from overcoming the things you once thought you couldn’t”.

What does it mean to be adaptable? 

Psychology tells us that it’s the ability to adjust your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors to changing situations and conditions. 

Before heading to Turkey from South Africa, I was under no illusions about the fact that we would be traveling at a time like no other. I was under no illusion about the fact that challenges would come our way from a variety of different angles, and I was under no illusion about the fact that we were going to have to be adaptable. I like to put myself in the thick of things. I like to challenge myself, my fears, my beliefs.

I wanted to see, first hand, how people, places, situations, and conditions were adapting to the global change. To do this, I needed to travel. For the past 4 years, I’ve spent half my time working remotely, so this was not a problem from a work perspective. Planning with my partner, we picked a date, NOT a destination, and agreed that on our chosen date, we would fly to whichever country would have us. That country was Turkey. They were accepting South Africans that would self-quarantine and they have a very easy to use eVisa application process. For South Africans, this is gold. We received our Visa’s  immediately after completing the process. We were thrilled. We were traveling. Not to Mallorca but we were staying open to what came our way. As the good old adage says, be careful what you wish for.

The first thing that changed was our flights booked to Istanbul. We got a notification from the airline… our flight would be departing 2 days after our booked date. Not a big deal, we thought. We were actually grateful for the extra time to tie up some loose ends before our departure. At this time, however naively, we did not do our daily online check for Covid travel restriction updates. We had done our due diligence faithfully up to that point and assumed we had known what to expect – we would be let in and expected to self-quarantine in an AirBnB we had booked for our first 14 days. We did ‘verify’ at the South African check-in counter at the airport, that all of this was still the case, especially that we were still able to self quarantine in Turkey. 

But as we were to find out… no – this turned out not to be the case at all.

The changes in regulations over the 48 hours our flight was delayed were all it took to put us on an immediate journey of adaptability. A journey that triggered every emotion. A journey that challenged us to become aware of how we were falling into a state of “what we were used to” instead of “what we were discovering”.

It all began after the easy, pleasant flight into Istanbul on Turkish Airlines. 

On arriving at passport control the officer on duty started waving my passport around vigorously,  declaring loudly “South African, South African!”. The moment was quite surreal. 

Other officers arrived. They took our passports and made us follow them. No one spoke English well enough to tell us what was actually happening. Hours passed and eventually after managing to get a vending machine snack someone told us that South Africans could no longer self-quarantine and that we were going to a STATE FACILITY to quarantine for 14 days. The rules had changed…just two days ago… surprise! This indeed was how we were to begin our exploration.

Without laboring the fact, state quarantine, which was free, is really not something I’d ever choose to do. I’ll summarize with a few photos and by letting you know that I believe we were amongst the first people to use this facility.

It was not anywhere near ready for use. We spent the first few hours trying to leave, the next few hours in disbelief and the next few in meditation. On accepting the fact of where we were (sort of). We managed to hunt down some cleaning materials and we got scrubbing. This was a very humbling experience.  For me, cleanliness is the beginning of a happy life. A clean environment seems to clear my mind and leaves space for better thoughts and activity or simply stillness and calm. So we scrubbed and scrubbed. 

There was no internet, no hotel-type facilities like a kettle, tea or coffee, no fridge, no cups, no plates, no food, no drinks – NADA!! Just 4 empty beds in a bare dorm-style room. Oh yes, and they wanted us to share with two strangers for the next 14 days. This was a hard NO for us so we just sat on our luggage and shook our heads from side to side until we got our own room.  

On the second day, we got internet use. Unpredictable WiFi but internet use nonetheless, and in those few lucky moments, we spent three more days calling embassies, consulates, friends, friends of friends, friends of friends of friends, trying desperately to be ‘released’ because of the poor conditions and the fact that we’d arranged an apartment to self-quarantine in. 

Nothing worked. It was time to surrender and adapt to our new digs. 

We started by moving the beds around, placing the ones we slept in closest to the natural light leaving a large space in the middle of the room. Thank goodness we had a big window that opened fully and if you leaned out of it and avoided looking down, the view was actually quite lovely. We could see a small slither of the Sea of Marmara. We could see the colorful buildings set in front of the surrounding Anatolian Mountain backdrop. The world below us was a view of armed guards, a few dumpsters, and the road where we could watch the world go by. Through this window we saw countless Delivery Riders (none of them wearing helmets), interesting intersections, pedestrians, and preachers with a captive audience. Not too far away, a mosque, calling its followers to prayer 5 times a day. 

We realized that one of the things we most frequently felt there was too little of at home, was time. And now we had so much of it. Our only distraction was a knock on the door, three times a day, with water and food. So even though we were stuck – we moved! We did yoga, we did Tai Chi, and we danced to playlists we no longer want to hear. We came to find the call to prayer soothing, and we sat in still meditation when we heard it.

Even though we were ‘isolated” we came together. We had real, meaningful conversations. We laughed. We cried. We sat in stillness and we shifted. We accepted. We adapted. We were not necessarily comfortable, but we had the time to explore the depths of our relationship and so we poked and prodded. Nowhere to run or hide, nothing to distract us, we had to sit, listen, and hear each other. We healed wounds we did not realize were there. We fitted pieces of a metaphorical puzzle that we didn’t know were missing and started a beautiful process of reconnection, even after so many years of being together. 

It was time and space we didn’t realize we needed until it was basically ‘forced’ on us. 

Then, after 14 days of wishing for an earlier release, at just before midnight we heard a knock on the door. Startled, we woke up and answered. Half asleep, the conversation went like this: 

The guards – “You must Go!” 

Us – “To where???” 

The guards –  “we need the room for new patients” 

Us – “NOW?!” 

Us – “It’s midnight, where would we go?”

The guards – “You must Go!” 

Us – “Wait, wait… give us a moment”

Now ever awake, we close the door and call the kind Turkish man that had been living in South Africa who we met at the airport, both of us arguing with customs officials that we could self-quarantine. 

Kind Turkish Man –  “*&^%^*^^*#@#%!” (all in very loud Turkish)

The guards –  “ok”
… and then they leave.

Bewildered, we return to laughing. We’ve been so desperate to leave and now that we actually can, we didn’t want to!

The next day we leave with the taxi our kind Turkish Friend arranged for us… and suddenly, we are free.

As we drove away, we realized that our quarantine period was necessary in order for us to be given the freedom to explore the ancient city of Istanbul, rich in history and story, both practically and also energetically. It gave us the freedom to explore the beautiful country that is Turkey, to move and discover the magic that appears when you change your perspective and adapt to a situation. It led us to our incredible Two-Wheel Ride along the Mediterranean coast where we met Warm, Welcoming People to balance out what had been a cold and harsh arrival.

If anyone had asked me, before we left South Africa, if I would choose a strict lockdown in a pop-up state quarantine facility for 14 days, it would have been a definite NO. Looking back, was the experience worth the lessons of humility, adaptability, and acceptance? Absolutely! Moving from discontent to content was when ‘The Magic’ began.

Travel, as always, has so much to teach us.

Unsettled is a global community for those who embrace the unknown and value meaningful human connection. Our mission is to inspire a lifelong pursuit of growth, meaning, and adventure through travel and shared experiences. In 2021 and beyond we are carefully and intentionally making our way back to travel, with a balance of optimism, realism,  and embracing the unknown. Join us for adventures in Tuscany and Tahiti this fall, or figure out your next move from the comfort of home with our Lifestyle Incubator. If you have a travel story, a big question, or an Unsettled musing that you would like to share, reach out to us!

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