How a group trip to Turkey helped shift a post-pandemic cloud for me

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I’ve always really enjoyed travel photography. So when lockdown began in March 2020, I spent the first few months going through all my travel images from years gone by. They provided a dash of escapism, when everything felt very claustrophobic and the furthest I could walk was from my home to my local store.

As the lockdown period rolled on and on with seemingly no end in sight, I had to stop looking at them. It was something I had loved and had a real passion for but, as we had no idea when travel might happen again, I couldn’t keep thinking about it. Instead, I started to refocus my lens locally, taking photos in a nearby nature reserve. 

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I decided the moment had arrived to venture abroad

Finally, in August 2022, travel was back on. I decided the moment had arrived to venture abroad once more. Pre-pandemic, I’d traveled with Flash Pack to Jordan and Sri Lanka. Now, I wanted an adventure that eased me back into the world after a long time sitting in my flat. So, I chose Turkey.

My main reason was to experience the sunrise hot-air balloon ride over the ancient rock formations of Cappadocia. With hundreds of other balloons taking flight at the same time, it sounded incredible. Also, I studied classical civilization at university so I was looking forward to the many photo opportunities at other classical sites, too, such as Ephesus. 

Our trip began dramatically with an optional paragliding excursion in the city of Izmir. I ignored the fact that I’m not very good with heights and signed up. There was a 45-minute wait which meant my nerves had time to kick in as I watched others trying to inflate their gliders in the right wind conditions before my turn.

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Once we’d landed, I felt glad I’d done the paragliding

All was well with the jump itself, until my instructor asked me whether I liked it “extreme”. Just to be polite, I replied, “a little.” He immediately put us into a very rapid downward spiral. I just managed to not be sick. But once we landed safely, I felt glad I’d made myself do it. 

There were so many other brilliant moments. I loved the quad-bike expedition across the desert. The landscape and sunset were really atmospheric. Revving up the ATV, I zoomed as fast as I could across this otherworldly landscape.

I was covered in dust with the wind in my hair and my ATV whipping up dry earth all around our convoy of vehicles. I got absolutely filthy; my sunglasses and hair were covered in dirt. I thought to myself, this is why I go on these kinds of holidays. It makes me feel happy looking back on it, as I had no expectations, but it was so much fun.

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We saw the hot-air balloons silhouetted against the sky

The sunrise hot-air balloon flight was even better than I’d imagined. I was deep in conversation with one of my fellow Flashpackers as we approached the launch site. We turned the corner to see them all silhouetted against a blue dawn sky; I just stopped mid-sentence. Everywhere you looked was so beautiful. I dashed around with my camera trying to capture the scene as they were all inflated.

Later that same day, we stopped for wine-tasting in a lavender field at sunset. The whole experience had a nice, relaxed and unrushed rhythm to it. I felt really calm. There we were eating cheese and admiring the most spectacular sunset over Cappadocia. Who does that? 

The food in Turkey was brilliant, too. We had baklava, kebabs and clay-pot meals: we never went hungry. At one point, we traveled to a traditional cave house. The lady there treated us to her award-winning pastries. She gave us a tour of her home, too, and we met her daughter. It was lovely. We all hugged at the end as we said ‘goodbye’.

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In Turkey, we never went hungry – the food was amazing

In the group were travelers from the UK, America, Canada, Germany and Australia. We quickly settled into a comfortable dynamic. Suley, our guide, was fantastic; he gave up his own free time in Istanbul to take us to the places we wanted to go to. And he was generally always there, organizing us, leading us and telling us where we needed to be. It felt like I’d made a good friend. 

At the end of the adventure, we gathered for a final dinner and then for a farewell breakfast. Then it hit me that I had to go home. There were tears at breakfast, tears at the airport, tears saying bye to Suley. Because the truth is, that first trip abroad since Covid felt as if a cloud had been lifted.

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Our guide Suley felt like a friend

It was partly due to breaking the staleness and repetitiveness of being in one place for so long. I also felt rejuvenated on a personal level. Travel photography is my first love and I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I was surrounded by inspiring landmarks. There was so much inspiration and variety for me, from the the rich cityscapes of Istanbul to classic sites like Ephesus, Cappadocia and age-old underground cities. The list is endless. 

It’s true of life in general, but also after something like the pandemic, that you don’t grasp how bad things have been, until they start to get better and you can look back. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

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Embracing travel and photography again felt freeing

I had been so careful over Covid, doing risk assessments every time I went to the store and spending days at a time without seeing anyone. To be able to travel and embrace my hobby again felt freeing. It reminded me it’s what I love to do. This is what life was like a couple of years ago and I can still achieve those things now. Above all, the trip made me feel so grateful. 

Lucinda Dixon is Head of Staff at a tech startup. She has traveled with Flash Pack to Jordan, Sri Lanka and Turkey

Got a story or adventure that could inspire a solo traveller like you? Tag @flashpack on social or email [email protected] to be featured.

Images: Courtesy of Lucinda Dixon & Flash Pack 

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