Have you ever met with yourself?

I meet myself every time I travel.

The first time I traveled out from my nest in Istanbul - Turkey, it was the most unique, breathtaking experience I have ever had, and today, it is still the most astonishing moment of my life. I was just 12 years old. We traveled to Saudi Arabia, and my father held my hand and told me to close my eyes and not open them until we were right in front of The Masjid Al-Haram in Mecca. I was aware that I would see the Kaaba, but I was just a child and wasn't aware of the feelings I would experience in the next few minutes. I closed my eyes and held the hand of my father.

My father said, "Open your eyes!"

Today (after 16 years), I still cannot describe that feeling, the anticipation, and the excitement. It was something I had never felt before, and I never felt after that day. We all have an event that has taken place in our life where it has been etched into our memory and never goes away. For me, that event took place in Mecca. I fixed my gaze on the Kaaba, and it was simply mesmerizing. As I moved towards it, it was getting closer and closer while getting larger and larger.

I could feel the goosebumps overwhelm me. It was so real, and I felt like I was all alone with the Kaaba. I can't remember any other person in the Masjid Al-Haram. I felt very close to Allah SWT, and for some reason, I knew that He would accept all my dua's. Even if I was a 12-year-old child, I felt all the fantastic feelings that emanate from laying your eyes on the magnificent Kaaba, its beauty, greatness, and significance. InshaAllah, everyone who wants to visit Kaaba will have a chance to do so. It is definitely a life-changing experience.

I wanted to start this article with my Umrah trip because those feelings and those experiences shaped my life. I always saw the Kaaba on TV and in pictures, but that trip taught me that I must physically be there to feel, experience, and explore any new destination.

A year later, I traveled to the Balkans for three weeks on a school trip. We went to Bulgaria, Macedonia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kosovo, Albania, and Montenegro. I felt so grateful and blessed to get such a chance. I was 13 years old, and I had already traveled to seven countries. There are many historical or touristic places in those countries, and I visited those but what I remember today is not the historical places. It is the feeling of exploring the unknown. By just walking in the backstreets of a foreign city, you can feel the people's history and culture.

When I visited the Balkans, my initial reaction was that they were different countries, different people with different cultures. However, at the age of 18, I revisited the Balkans, and it was a totally different experience. I realized that the things I sought to see and feel while I grew up were changing. I went to Bosnia and Macedonia 4 times, and each time it felt different. These countries were so similar to Turkey since they were part of the Ottoman Empire for a long time. I was able to identify similarities amongst the people, the culture, and even the language. We had so many shared words.

Long conversations with the locals were reminders of a painful past endured with the Ottoman Empire's breakup. Growing up in a Muslim country shields us from fully understanding the daily struggles and appreciating the strength and steadfastness that our fellow Muslim brothers and sisters have to endure as minority groups in different parts of the world. Visiting them felt like expressing support to wipe away the wistfulness they experience.

With this new perspective of discovery and seeking knowledge, I started traveling as much as possible. Today, I have traveled to 19 countries, maybe more than 30 times. I visited the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, Syria, South Korea, Japan, Lebanon, United Arab Emirates, Azerbaijan, Russia, Netherlands, and Switzerland. In some of these countries, I stayed only for a day, and in some, I stayed for two years.

Each time I travel, I learn something new and experience a different feeling. I explore not only a new country but also a new path in my life. I have friends who have never traveled to another country, and the first thing I say is to go to Mecca if possible. Just go and experience it, and you'll never be the same again.

Every country is different. The culture is different, the gestures, the language, the food… and if you travel enough, you'll realize that it doesn't matter. We are all the same. We feel the same feelings; even if our cultures, languages, foods are different, we all feel the same emotions, and that is what matters. This universality of emotions allows me to relate to every person I meet.

Today I'm not traveling to explore new countries, cultures, or foods. I'm traveling to explore myself, and each time I travel, I find something new.

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