Seek Discomfort. This is the rallying cry of one of my favorite YouTube channels, Yes Theory. The idea to push beyond our comfortable boundaries to find undiscovered parts of ourselves resonated with me from the moment I watched my first Yes Theory video.
From the beginning of this adventure, I wanted to employ this mantra as often as possible. To seek discomfort and say yes to things I normally wouldn’t.
As a deep introvert, spending time alone is one of my biggest comfort zones. I believe I recharge my batteries during alone time. But its also become a crutch I lean on far too often. Using it to safely say no to opportunities to meet people and grow.
Traveling solo has given me plenty of time and opportunities to be alone. I enjoy the freedom to make decisions to do whatever I want, whenever I want. I’ve experienced countless incredible moments. But one thing that’s been proven over and over is that people make these moments so much better.
These adventures have helped push me to be more initially social and open to starting conversations. But staying in hostels, where everyone is a traveler with a story to tell and is also seeking connection, is one thing. Doing this with locals is a whole other level.
So after spending the last couple of weeks basically alone visiting Trabzon and Cappadocia, I wanted to seek some discomfort. To push myself out of my comfort zone, I booked a room in an apartment for my week’s stay in Izmir.
Staying in someone else’s home probably conjures plenty of ideas of all that can go wrong. I’ve thought about all of them. But I also have a strong desire to go deeper into the places I am traveling. To learn what life is really like for the people I see walking on the street every day.
Enter Ridvan and Ozan. I could write an entire blog post about these guys. Their welcoming spirit and kindness deserve an infinite number of words. From the moment I arrived, I felt at home in their apartment. “Make yourself at home,” has never rung more true.
Beyond their kindness, which is immense, what I found was an openness and genuine desire to get to know me on another level. Over the course of the week, we engaged in so many wonderfully rich conversations I lost count. The breadth and depth of topics were equally astonishing, nothing was off limits.
It was an amazing chance to learn about Turkish culture, how its history impacts the country in the modern age, and how the younger generations feel about where their country is heading.
We found common ground in our philosophies on life and humanity. We shared a love for football and watched many World Cup matches together, even celebrating the US win versus Iran. There was even a shared enjoyment of whiskey, which I obviously found endearing.
Beyond our personal connection, the guys were top hosts. They provided plenty of suggestions and ideas on what to see and do, where to eat and where to find good coffee.
I found Izmir itself to be a wonderfully vibrant city. It felt like a smaller, younger, hipper and more modern version of Istanbul. Cool cafes and restaurants abound and name-brand shopping was plentiful. Its transportation network was also impressive. It’s an extremely walkable city, bike lanes are everywhere and the public transportation options include both trams and metro lines.
Izmir is also a jumping-off point for exploring the rich history of this region. During antiquity, Izmir was known as Smyrna, and within the city center lies its ancient agora. Originally built by the Greeks in the 4th century BCE, it was destroyed in an earthquake before being rebuilt by Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius around 180 CE.
The biggest historical attraction in the area, however, is the ancient city of Ephesus. An impressively intact Greek city dating back to at least the 10th century BCE. The city is home to the Library of Celsus and an amphitheater capable of holding 24,000 people. Impressive as that is, the city is most famous for the Temple of Artemis, considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
Nothing makes you feel small like being in the presence of such ancient artifacts. In light of my recent harrowing events, these extraordinary locations were a timely reminder that I am but a speck of dust in the sands of time. Sitting in the stands of the amphitheater, I was humbled by the thought of all the people that had come and gone during the time this city once thrived. The notion that our modern world is but a blip on the timeline of this world, sunk deep and provided me with comfort and clarity.
Any time a place touches my soul, I have some level of sadness at leaving it. And while I indeed felt sad to leave, the biggest feeling I had was one of gratitude. I am so proud of myself for seeking discomfort and choosing to stay in the home of strangers. And I am so incredibly grateful for the opportunity to know Ridvan and Ozan. I have a better understanding of and a deeper appreciation for this country because of these wonderful humans. It was another reminder that we are all more alike than we are different.
I can’t wait to see what the future holds for these two guys, my new brothers. No doubt we formed a friendship that will last a lifetime. I look forward to the day when we all meet again. Thailand, perhaps?
I left Izmir humbled and grounded. I hope this experience gives me the confidence to do this more often. The universe continues to show me that when you ask for what you need, you shall receive it. Sometimes you might not know what you need and you might not even know that you are asking for it, but the universe does.