Return Trip: Erin Pehlivan’s New Mag Redefines Travel As a Tool for Self-Growth

As a second-generation immigrant who has lived abroad more than once, travel is a huge part of Erin Pehlivan’s identity. “For a long time I wanted to start a travel blog, but I felt stuck, like it wasn’t authentic to how I wanted to express myself,” she says. “I was always attracted to the personal and emotional stories behind travel and the tension that came with constantly adapting, learning and reflecting in a new place. Travel is such a great tool for self-growth, and I wanted to read about people who had some sort of revelation on the road, instead of reading a top-ten list or a review of a hotel.”

She contacted a few friends who had been travelling and living abroad (or who had really strong ties to their own culture) and asked them to contribute to a new print travel magazine she was working on. Fast-forward to now: Return Trip has nineteen contributors who all touch on the vulnerability of travel, identity and culture. “It’s not really a conventional travel publication,” she says. “I wanted to focus on a more expansive definition of travel, and explore discomfort in both local and global ways.”

We asked her about wanderlust, feeling at home abroad, and the lessons she’s learned in brand-new places. 

SDTC: What country, outside of Canada, have you felt most at home in? 

EP: My family is Turkish, so I definitely get pangs of nostalgia whenever I think about that culture, though I don’t know that Turkey is “home” for me. I’ve lived in Copenhagen, Ho Chi Minh City, and Montreal. All these cities have temporarily felt like home in the past, but I don’t think they are anymore, and that’s okay. 

Home is Toronto. My home in Canada has shaped who I am as much as my travel experiences have, but in a different way. This is why it’s important to return to our roots; I think that’s where we can re-examine ourselves and take the time to reflect, which is important if we want to achieve self-awareness. When we travel, we gain new wisdom and insights that can only be unlocked once we return to where we started. Home can also be a person or a thing or a feeling, I don’t think it always has to be a place. I’m mindful of those who have been displaced and how they define home, as it can be a temporary situation or a place they may not ever live in again. Who knows, maybe Toronto won’t always be my physical home, but I think part of my soul will always live here.

What’s your favourite way to explore the world? 

I like a mix of itinerary and spontaneity. I generally want to know where I am staying in advance, especially if I’m travelling alone or in high season. And I tend to want to know where to eat and drink ahead of time. It’s not a good feeling when you end up eating somewhere mediocre when actually the city’s best restaurant is just one block away. But also, it’s important to leave room to stumble upon new places and experiences unexpectedly. So I’ll plan to visit a neighbourhood that has shops, cafes, etc, and will walk around without much on the agenda. 

How do you travel differently now compared to how you travelled five years ago?

I’ll compare it to the time I was in university almost a decade ago. At York University, I had access to an excellent international office that offered funding opportunities to go abroad for exchange semesters, internships and volunteer programs. I would say if you’re in school, take advantage of those opportunities if you can. Those experiences will shape who you become in the future, and they will change your life. You can apply what you learn to your studies and the real world in a much more tangible way.

Nowadays, I don’t have as much time to travel like I used to because there are other commitments at home, so I tend to go on shorter trips. Saving up for a long trip like Southeast Asia took me years and a lot of planning. That being said, I still fantasize about living abroad in faraway locations and teaching ESL, doing a research project, or taking part in a writer’s residency.

What comes to mind as the place or experience that provided the biggest lesson?

I traveled solo to Southeast Asia and Japan last spring when I was thirty. Travelling doesn’t have to be something you can only do in your twenties, and it doesn’t have to be something you do with other people. It also doesn’t have to be expensive. It can be a lifelong journey if it’s something you want to prioritize. 

Was there a trip you took that changed your perspective entirely?

On my trip to Southeast Asia, I came closer to accepting who I was, and I realized (and am still realizing) that my priorities right now are different from those assigned by our dominant culture, which revolve around homeownership, full-time jobs and starting a family. Not to say I don’t ever want those things, or that I am special in any way for going against the mainstream, but I think everyone works at a different pace and that’s okay. People are different. We all do things in a different order, in our own time. You’re not a failure if you choose a different path for yourself.

What about travel fulfills you most?

Travel is empowering. I’ve grown and learned so much about myself by living abroad, specifically in cultures that are vastly different from my own. When I lived in Denmark for six months and Vietnam for three months, I was regularly out of my comfort zone, even though I had adapted to daily life. When you’re out of your comfort zone, you are vulnerable, and that’s where those moments of change can really happen. That being said, travel does require a level of privilege and it isn’t the only way we can cultivate self-discovery. But for me, it really accelerates that feeling of self-knowledge and tests my boundaries like nothing else.

The Return Trip Issue 1 Launch Party is happening on April 25 at Antikka Cafe & Records (960 Queen St. W)

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