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Lost and found: rekindling my wanderlust

29 January 2013 No Comment

BlueMosqueWhy do we travel?

To escape? To discover? To relax?

Most of my recent travels centered around work, hopscotching the country from Maine to Colorado – 13 states in all during a grueling year on the campaign trail. In the first three months of last year, I slept in my own bed fewer than a dozen nights.

Airports were once gateways for getaways, perhaps to some faraway paradise. Instead, traveling had become my dread.

Sure, the beds at the Marriotts in which I slept were plusher than the stiff slab of foam at home – but give me my own bed any night.

On the road, I sometimes ate well (when I could), slicing into thick, satisfying steaks (medium rare, please) and washing down my meals with Malbec or the best local brew. More often than not, though, days began without a meal as I rushed to a campaign event. Sometimes the Quarter Pounder and Cheese, and accompanying supersized fries, intended for lunch ended up as midnight dinner; by then, though, the burger patties were as flavorful as ground cardboard.

When I ate, it was usually alone and from a bar stool, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with loneliness. On Christmas Day in 2011, I dined on chicken wings at the emptiest sports bar I could find. Why share my misery with the scores of happy people spending the holiday with their families?

I tell you all this because I so desperately want to rediscover my lost joys of traveling.

Indeed, days off now have little meaning because I no longer lust to fly off to faraway places – not if it meant making flight reservations, packing, rushing to the airport and the other ordeals of living the jet-set life of a campaign reporter. Nothing about traveling is about leisure anymore. It’s now all a chore.

coupleIn need of some travel therapy, I flew off to Istanbul last Friday to help rekindle my wanderlust.

To the very end, I had considered canceling my trip, only deciding three hours before my flight to begin packing. I nearly missed my flight.

The therapy is working. In my first days here, I’ve crossed paths with the travel-afflicted, their backpacks or ready-to-roll suitcases hardly able to contain their individual yearnings for adventure.

Leilani from San Francisco quit her job months ago and is reinvesting her savings for a wealth of memories from traveling the globe. Ryan, a civil engineer from San Diego, is heading to Southeast Asia. So is David from Ireland. Joseph from Amsterdam has been traveling since last April and has a long lis of destinations before moving to Toronto. Meanwhile, Badie is thankful to be away as the strife continues in his hometown of Aleppo, Syria; he is studying English in Istanbul, as part of his long-shot dream to secure a student visa to attend graduate school in the United States. (He knows that a young Syrian man automatically faces long odds to secure a U.S. visa.)

Eventually, the joy of traveling will return. I’m sure of it. I have congenital wanderlust; there is no known cure, although a job covering elections has been scientifically proven to be an effective, if only temporary, treatment.

fishI’ve recovered some of that joy from something as unexpected as an inexpensive uskumru ekmegi – a roll filled with a fried filet of mackerel and sweet onions – sublime in its simplicity and ordinariness. I also found a bit of that joy while lingering at the Blue Mosque, when a couple in their wedding-day splendor and giddiness erupted the visiting paparazzi.

Despite rain and snow, I kept walking to wherever my sneakers could take me, into alleys festooned with graffiti including a brick-paved route that led to an art gallery. I retreated back into my room only when my feet were soaked and nearly too numb to go further.

My frozen toes will recover, as will my vagabond shoes. I have a week abroad, with no agenda but to rediscover my love of travel.

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