changedbytravel

Changed by Travel: Wanda Bogacka

WANDA BOGACKA IN MONGOLIA

WANDA BOGACKA IN MONGOLIA

When I made a plan to set off for Mongolia, people told me I was crazy. Not because I was traveling to one of the most remote areas of East Asia – a place with no running water or electricity, but because I’m vegan and absolutely hate the cold. A wild, desolate country, their winters are unforgiving and temperatures can drop to -40°C. Hearty local cuisine consists of meat in the winter and meat with dairy in the summer. Yet, I’ve longed to come here.  

Why?

Was it the raw beauty, sublime landscapes, or sense of adventure that called me? Was it seeing the rare, endangered Przewalski (Takhi) horses and wild Bactrian camels? Perhaps it was a combination of all these things. Once I arrived half way around the world, my journey took me to the far eastern border of Mongolia and China. It was here in the Altai Mountains where I met the remaining nomads of the Eurasian Steppe, the Kazakhs, that I would be #changedbytravel.

I spent three weeks with the nomadic people and found their life to be very hard; a life I certainly don’t envy. It felt as if I had traveled back in time to the era of Genghis Khan with the only reminder of the present, or at least a more modern time, being the occasional sighting of a Russian Furgan van, popular in the 60’s and 70’s. Despite the hardships, they are one of the happiest, warmhearted, and hardworking people I’ve ever met.

By Western standards, I’m a minimalist. But the nomads take simple living to a new level. I found this to be very liberating. I would spend my entire day exploring the vast Altai Mountains and sleeping in a traditional ger on the dirt floor. I wore the same clothes day in and day out. Despite no running water and a shared toilet, which was nothing more than a hole in the ground, I didn’t even smell – maybe because it was so cold.

 It was here I experienced true hospitality. Sharing food, tea, and sweets from my personal stash that I brought from home, telling stories, and listening to a father and daughter sing while they played the horsehead fiddle, moved me to tears. At no time was I criticized for being vegan. In fact, many nomads found it to be very good karma and actually respected me for it.   

In Mongolia all the distractions and noise faded away. The time for self-discovery was ripe and showed me that I am stronger than I give myself credit for. No matter how hungry, uncomfortable or exhausted I felt, I never compromised my values. It was here I realized I’m driven by my positive outlook: seeing the brighter side of things even when it’s easier to acknowledge the negative. Instead I express gratitude for the little things in life.

Living with the nomadic people was unforgettable, something that I will always cherish. Their authentic hospitality made me realize what is truly important in life: people, relationships, and nature. Everything else is just a distraction. It is these types of travel experiences, that show you that in discovering new places, it’s also about the journey of connecting with people, having an open heart, asking yourself important questions, and most importantly, expressing gratitude for the simple things, all so that you return #changedbytravel. - Wanda Bogacka

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Changed by Travel: Linden Schaffer

Image PRAVASSA© - Linden Schaffer (R) and Friends in Italy

Image PRAVASSA© - Linden Schaffer (R) and Friends in Italy

Riding through Paris on a motorcycle. Hitchhiking the German Autobahn unsuccessfully then pitching a tent as the sun lowered across the horizon. Watching Yugoslavia’s summer rays beat down over the glimmering, cliff-side sea.

I first heard of these adventures as a teenager and promptly made my father pull out the slides for proof that he was talking about the same people who raised me. Sure, I’d witnessed remote tribal villages through the pages of National Geographic as a kid – I knew there was more to the world than my small suburban existence. Yet imagining people so close to me exploring the other side of the world simply blew my mind.

At 10-years-old, my uncle gave us a globe. I spent countless hours studying it, wondering what it would be like to live in the Soviet Union, East Germany or any number of places that no longer exist within the borders of an old map. I never imagined a life dedicated to travel, but hoped to explore as many of those places as possible one day.

At sixteen I won a spot to compete in a volleyball tournament in Canberra, Australia. 4 flights and 30 hours later I was on my first international trip with a group of girls I’d never met. We lost the first day of competition, but it didn’t matter because I had made it to the other side of the world.

I still remember five girls huddled for warmth in sleeping bags, waking up to snowfall during what was summer back home; running along the Australian Parliament House’s rooftop garden; coming face-to-face with a guy who had puzzle pieces tattooed all over his face in Sydney’s red light district; feeding eucalyptus to a koala bear in my arms; and exchanging addresses to keep in touch with new friends.

Without social media to fall back on, I remember certain aspects of that trip so clearly because I was present for each moment. Traveling halfway around the world with no connection to home, experiencing new landscapes, animals, and people, and capturing them all with my father’s loaned camera (diligently loaded with film rolls and kept out of sunlight, of course).

Australia lit a fire in me and I vowed then and there that many far-flung adventures were to come. Returning home, it didn’t matter that only one of those film rolls actually produced any photos, because I had discovered it’s the journey that makes the lasting impression. I had discovered, for the first time of many, the feeling of being changed by travel. - Linden Schaffer

 

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Changed By Travel: Katie Jehenson

Photo: Katie Jehenson in India

Photo: Katie Jehenson in India

I am used to city living. I grew up in Chicago and currently reside in New York—both large metropolises that consist of similar elements, yet are undeniably different. Search online and you’ll find endless lists proclaiming why one is better than the other, ranging from the quality of museums, access to public beaches and the age-old question of preferred pizza type (thin crust vs. deep-dish). Rather than adding to that debate, I’ll say that spending time in each city has made me appreciate the other.

Some people consider it silly to visit other cities if you live in one—seen one, seen them all. I suppose there is some truth to that idea, but for a moment, put aside the far reaching effects of globalization and consider the unique sights and traditions to be observed; urban life around the world isn’t the same everywhere.

Wander the streets of Rome and you’ll stumble across the Coliseum; stand on a Barcelona rooftop and you’ll discover Antoni Gaudí chimneys. Behold the site of Mumbai’s dabbawalas delivering home-cooked meals to office workers since it’s expensive and considered unhealthy to eat out. These are just a few of the noticeable differences that cities show you. Of course, there are less appealing aspects like you find in any urban environment, but it’s all part of life.

In Tokyo, my husband and I stayed in the Shibuya District at a hotel near the famous Shibuya Crossing. We parked ourselves on a corner to observe the nightly ritual where hundreds of people surge into five crosswalks on a green light. The people move en mass, but at a seemingly similar pace, in concert, so there is no pushing or shoving to be witnessed. No one scurries past with a harsh word or eye roll, as I have grown accustomed to when making my way through Times Square or Rockefeller Center.

Once the procession of people subsided, we were left to focus on the crossing itself lit up with a variety of billboards and television screens advertising the latest pop music, fashion and electronics. The bright lights, flashing screens and flood of people reminded us of being in Times Square or Piccadilly Circus, but there was something different—there was a sound ringing from an unidentifiable source. It took a few minutes for us to realize that sound was coming from the screens. Rather than a silent advertisement, a pop song was actually playing for all to hear. It was an incredibly stark contrast to the subdued nature of the crossing!

Shortly after returning to New York, I wound up walking through Times Square and noticed the silence. It may sound ridiculous, but I appreciated that the bright billboards weren’t speaking to me. Most people think I am slightly crazy when I tell them my newfound appreciation for Times Square, but it just goes to show you never know what might make you #changedbytravel. - Katie Jehenson


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