I first had the idea for a big trip abroad as I approached my 40th birthday. I’d been steadily progressing in my architectural career at Jersey City after years of jumping between jobs following the 2008 recession. After five years, I finally felt I was in a comfortable place career-wise and I was ready for something new. I wanted to begin the next decade of my life with a huge adventure.
My mother is Panamanian and my first language is Spanish. So, from a very young age, I was aware that a world existed beyond where I lived in the USA. I spent many childhood summers in Panama, experiencing first-hand the contrast between the affluence and extreme poverty of the people who lived there. Later on, I got my doctorate in Hawaii. And, in my 20s, I backpacked extensively across South America.
I was finally ready for a long-awaited bucket list trip
However, in the intervening years I barely traveled at all. I was too busy paying off my student debt and working out how to make a living from my degree in architecture.
Sadly, Covid then got in the way of any 40th birthday plans to travel. Instead, I did at least get to spend it with the people I love and care about. By the time my 41st birthday came around this summer, I was finally ready for a long-awaited bucket list trip. I saw that Flash Pack had relaunched and decided to book the trip to Turkey, knowing it would be packed with fun-filled days and awesome people.
It wasn’t a vacation, it was an adventure
This was my big revamp moment. I was keen to do things in comfort and style and flew to Turkey first class from Newark. Straight away I noticed the group mentality was the same as mine – we were all really adamant about soaking up the Turkish culture. We were all keen to learn about the history of the local communities we traveled through, and the day-to-day lives of people living in them. It wasn’t a vacation, it was an adventure. Each new day brought something different.
One of our very first experiences together was a sunrise paraglide in the city of Fethiye. As we cast off from the hillside, I was relaxed, until my instructor started doing barrel rolls mid-air. Some of the group were scared but I loved that they all decided to go for it anyway. It really bonded us.
It was motivating how we’d all taken time to invest in ourselves
I also found time to sketch a little, something I used to do on my travels when I was younger. I love to be able to sit in one place for a few hours and draw what I see. One of my favourite moments was sketching on deck while we were sailing on the Med. I did the same at Nişanyan, a beautiful hotel we stayed at in the ancient mountain landscape near Ephesus. I sat outside beneath a tree, surrounded by birds and foliage, with a very nice bottle of wine and my sketchbook: I was living the dream.
I’m very much a one-to-one type of person, so I really enjoyed hearing all the reasons people in the group had decided to travel. There was a kind of magic to how the cosmos came together to form our little team. In the same way that my own story led me to Turkey, everyone else also had their own narratives, too. It was motivating to hear how we’d all taken time to invest in ourselves.
It’s through traveling that we get to push boundaries
The advice I’d give to anyone else telling themselves they can’t travel, is to make a point of doing the opposite. Our lives these days have made us somewhat complacent. As a society, particularly in America, we’re too comfortable. We’ve lost the knack of what it feels like to explore a new city or try something new. But, it’s through traveling that we get to push boundaries. That in turn can help us find a missing sense of ingenuity and drive.
Missing out started to eat away at my soul
In the decade I chose not to travel, I vividly recounted what it felt like to adventure the world. Missing out started to eat away at my soul. What’s also great about visiting new places is the people that you meet along the way. It’s these chance encounters that can also profoundly inspire you in your own journey.
Orlando Quarless, 41, is a trainee architect from New Jersey who traveled with Flash Pack to Turkey.
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Images: Flash Pack