Esra Uğurlu: “The Country I Visit Should Be a Culture Shock”

9 May 2024
Esra Uğurlu: “The Country I Visit Should Be a Culture Shock”

Esra Uğurlu is a traveler who has been to 48 countries so far. Contrary to what we are used to, she started traveling not from easy-to-travel European countries, but directly from difficult geographies. Indeed, she has neither visited a European country nor the USA. Because her logic cannot accept spending money and time to get a visa. Countries where life is standard and easy to visit do not interest her either.

I realized how small the world really is when I met traveler Esra Uğurlu five years ago. In 2019, when I was following many travelers, I started to follow Esra. Her posts were very intriguing for me because at that time she was staying in Peru, in a village at the bottom of the Amazon Forest. With her very limited internet, she was reporting from a world we don’t even see in movies.

At the same time, Umut Çor, a friend of mine from university, was on his way to do a real-world tour and coincidentally, she was also a guest of the villagers in a village in the Amazon Forest at the same time. When I realized this, I was so excited that I couldn’t stop myself and asked Esra, whom I didn’t know at all, “Do you know there is another Turk nearby?” and helped bring the two of them together. Esra and Umut continued their journey together for a while and then went their separate ways.

Esra Uğurlu: “The Country I Visit Should Be A Culture Shock”

After this interesting meeting five years ago, I removed many of the travelers I followed from my list for many reasons of my own. However, I never gave up on Esra and started to look forward to each of her travels as if I was going to do it myself. Thanks to her, whenever I asked a question or made a comment about her travels, she never left any of them unanswered. After a while, I started to feel like she was an old friend I hadn’t seen in years, even though we had never seen each other face to face or even spoken on the phone.

Since I decided to interview Esra, I have been thinking about why I am addicted to her travels and most importantly why I feel so close to her and I think I finally found the reason. I think the reason was the sub-messages in Esra’s posts showing that you don’t have to be a crazy, rootless person to travel the world.

Esra Uğurlu: “The Country I Visit Should Be A Culture Shock”

For example, let me put it this way: On the one hand, she is determined enough to reach her goal despite being hurt and very cold during the Everest climb, even though her traveling companions had already given up and turned back, she is bold enough to stay in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, share a table with the sea gypsies of Thailand for days, or be a guest in a house made of mud in Africa. But on the other hand, she is also a person who cannot give up his roots, like us, who prepare meals for her father at home and store them in the freezer before embarking on a long journey and set off to return to Turkey, which she calls “home” every time.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? We follow you but we almost never know what Esra does outside of traveling.

Hello, I am Esra! I am a woman whose most passionate act in life is traveling. I made my first trip abroad in 2011, but I have been traveling extensively since 2016 when I put travel at the center of my life. When I am not traveling, I am definitely at home because I love spending time at home, cooking and hosting guests.

I started traveling during my university years by making domestic trips. I was studying sociology at university. It was very exciting to see with my own eyes the places I had seen pictures of and watched videos of since my childhood. Moreover, even though we were living in the same country, I was very interested in the changing lifestyles, customs, culture, food and folklore as we moved away from Istanbul. At that time, I traveled to many places, mostly in Eastern and Southeastern Anatolia. While my peers preferred sea tourism during summer vacations, I was trying to go to the most remote parts of Turkey.

The jobs I worked after graduation often required me to work on public holidays, which prevented me from making travel plans. I was not interested in short-term close routes like Europe. The places I wanted to see were more exotic and mystical countries. I also had the idea that traveling abroad was expensive and unsafe, so I never traveled abroad until I was 28. After I took the first step, my life took a different shape. I became unable to live without dreaming of traveling.

Sometimes you travel for months at a time. Do you have a job that allows you to work remotely?

I resigned from my regular job after saving for a long time in order to be able to make my first long trips. I got acquainted with investment instruments in those years in order to use my savings properly. I have been marketing some products as a freelancer for a few years and I still continue to use investment instruments actively. Since I am self-employed, I can determine my own travel times. Maybe I have no career prospects left, but I am very happy to be able to establish an order in this way.

Esra Uğurlu: “The Country I Visit Should Be A Culture Shock”


How many countries have you traveled so far?

The first country I visited was Morocco. It has been 13 years and 47 countries since then. I traveled the country with a map in my hand. I didn’t have a smartphone yet! One day I would like to go back to Morocco and experience it again with my experienced eyes. I have visited 48 countries so far. I don’t have a goal to visit all the countries in the world, but I love to count the countries I have visited and even do some number calculations about my travels. For example, I have spent an average of 19 days per country in the countries I have visited so far. This number makes me happier than the number of countries I have visited!

Many travelers usually start from European countries where the journeys are more comfortable and relaxed, but you started with countries with difficult geography. Were you always this brave?

In the years when I had never traveled abroad, I dreamed of traveling to mystical, ethnic or exotic countries with cultural differences. Although European countries are more accessible in terms of proximity and recognition, these countries were not the answer to my dreams. I needed very different cultural characteristics. Different religions, clothes, rituals, customs and more interesting life elements… I wanted the country to excite me and give me a culture shock.

Traveling to the countries of my dreams scared me because of the unknown. There was no one around me who had traveled to the countries of my dreams and social media travel content had not yet entered our lives in those years. After a dare to Morocco, I realized that my fears were unfounded, because I had successfully completed a trip that I had planned myself from start to finish. It was happening. I could do it.

As far as I know, all the countries you visited (except India) were visa-free. Was this your goal when you started your travels, or did it just happen that way?

According to my calculations, I have only visited a quarter of the world. When I started traveling, I didn’t think that I had to go to visa-free countries; but as luck would have it, the countries I wanted to see first were always visa-free or visa-at-the-door countries. The first countries I visited were Morocco, Tanzania, Hong Kong, South Africa and Madagascar, which did not have visa problems. When I saw that I could travel without visa problems, I couldn’t wrap my mind around the stressful visa process and spending time and money for visas. I still can’t!

Esra Uğurlu: “The Country I Visit Should Be A Culture Shock”

Where did you travel the longest? How long did you stay?

A seven-month trip to Latin America where I bought a ticket only 15 days in advance. I didn’t plan for it to be such a long trip, but I saved money, and it took much longer than I expected.

Your travels are to places that very few people know about. How do you prepare for your travels?

There are many people who think that I go to lesser-known places, but I don’t think I go to lesser-known places. I think the detail here is that I spend more time to visit a place than most people. For example, I’ve been to Mexico twice and spent four months in total, I spent 40 days in India and 35 days in South Africa, so my experience of Mexico, India or South Africa is much different than those who spend a week or 10 days there.

Esra Uğurlu: “The Country I Visit Should Be A Culture Shock”
Esra Uğurlu


How do you set your route?

I like to prepare well for my travels. I read many local and foreign blogs. I mark the places I want to see on the map and start creating my route. However, since I can never plan a trip month in advance, I cannot say that I am well prepared for every trip. In that case, I find written sources and take the printouts with me. I keep reading and researching while traveling.

Sometimes my travel time is not long enough to see everything on the map. Then I focus on what I really want to see. I don’t like traveling with a list. What I enjoy most is exploring the streets of an unfamiliar city on foot. Walking through the alleyways watching the locals, watching women washing clothes by the river and children playing games in the river usually makes me happier than visiting museums or historical sites.

There are trips where you experience all four seasons and you travel with a small backpack. How do you prepare your suitcase before such trips?

On most of my trips, I must carry everything from bikinis to underwear, from fleece to raincoats. I make sure that all the pieces I take with me are compatible with each other and that they are easy to dry but not easily wrinkled. I try not to carry clothes that weigh too much; because I backpack most of my travels, I know that every extra item I take with me will be a burden on my back, so I try to prepare accordingly. I think the trick is this: I never take any item in my bag that I think “Maybe I will wear it, maybe I will use it!”.

Esra Uğurlu: “The Country I Visit Should Be A Culture Shock”
Esra Uğurlu

You have a mysterious traveling companion who never appears in the posts and I would like to mention her in this interview because of the amazing photos she takes. I won’t ask who she is, of course, but I am curious about this: Long journeys can sometimes wear down the nerves and there can be tensions with the traveling companion for no reason. How do you overcome such situations?

No matter who you are traveling with, no matter how much you love and respect your traveling companion, traveling can test your relationship tremendously! Especially if you are traveling to challenging geographies for long periods of time and on a limited budget, you cannot expect every day to be a blast. I’ve traveled with a lot of people, most of them quite uncomfortable.

To be honest, my favorite type of travel was solo, because I could decide everything on my own, but I changed my mind a while ago. My current travel companion and I have found a very good harmony. We know each other well, we know our expectations and we can adapt to the current conditions together. On trips where hygiene and comfort are not even mentioned, sometimes we go hungry, sometimes we die of fatigue and stress, sometimes we dream of a clean bed or a warm home. Such factors cause you to flare up quickly, but we have learned to throw sand on that flame with our hands before it turns into a big fire.

Now for the question that everyone is curious about. How do you finance your travels?

I finance all of my travels myself, so I am very, very careful about all my expenses both at home and when I am traveling. When I am in Turkey, I try to save as much as possible, and when I am traveling, I try to keep my expenses to a minimum. I avoid unnecessary expenses both at home and while traveling.

Esra Uğurlu: “The Country I Visit Should Be A Culture Shock”
Esra Uğurlu


You travel in challenging landscapes and have faced dangerous situations many times. How do you protect yourself from dangers and tourist predators?

I have traveled a lot to countries where the level of security is very low or where tourists are perceived as walking dollar signs. When you are on the road, you have to ensure the safety of yourself and the valuables you carry (passport, cards, camera, phone, etc.). At the same time, you have to make great efforts not to be cheated or even, to put it mildly, ripped off. I used to be a cautious and careful person, but the roads have given me a lot of experience. For example, when I buy a service, I always get prices from different places, ask for all kinds of details and get a written document if I can. Again, if I am going to buy a product or service, I always ask the price beforehand. In some countries, the seller is not honest with you, but the ordinary citizen is often trustworthy. For example, when I take public transportation, I prefer to get price information from passengers like me.

Again, in some countries there are willing to help you wholeheartedly, but in others I know that I will be asked for something in return. I don’t like people who expect something in return for a favor, so if I sense this kind of situation, I refuse to help the person. Sometimes I might offend someone who really means well, but the moment I stop being cautious on the road, I feel like everything will turn upside down. Being alert and never letting caution go is often tiring, but it is enough. Sometimes you have to trust your feelings.

Esra Uğurlu: “The Country I Visit Should Be A Culture Shock”

In a recent post, you said that you have visited almost all visa-free countries and that the circle is getting narrower. Do you intend to break the visa taboo?

I don’t know how much longer I can travel to visa-free or visa-at-the-door countries, but the more I think about the visa process, the narrower I get. It looks like I will continue without a visa for a while. At least I don’t plan to apply for visas such as Schengen, USA, Canada, UK in the near future.

You have spent a long time in the company of Amazonian natives, sea gypsies of Thailand, villagers of Africa and many other people that many people would hesitate to get close to, let alone stay with. What kind of an Esra were you before all these extraordinary experiences and how are you now?

I think my travels, especially to third world countries, have taught me many things, the most important of which are patience and tolerance. The people living in the places you mentioned are all struggling for something! This struggle is more important than ambition, stubbornness and the desire to rise! The struggle for survival!

It is impossible not to admire them when you see this struggle, which is mostly for a full stomach. I have been a guest in the homes of people who are trying to survive in a single room with no running water, electricity or toilet, and with a dirt floor. I have even stayed in those houses. Every person who opens their door to me and shares a bite of bread or a cup of tea with me, or at least smiles at me, is very valuable to me. The environment they live in, the clothes they wear, what they believe in are of no importance to me. It is a great privilege to be a guest in the lives of these people who are free from ambition and do not want more than what they have.

Esra Uğurlu: “The Country I Visit Should Be A Culture Shock”
Esra Uğurlu

Your most frightening moment?

On our first day in Kenya, when my brother and I were in the car that we called from the Uber app and the car was manhandled by some men in the traffic and the driver of the car was so scared of the men that he drove his car into other cars in order to escape from them, that was the most frightening moment of my life. That moment when I looked out the back window and saw the men running towards us, shouting and running through the cars in the traffic! It was really the scariest moments of my life.

Most influential place?

I cannot answer this question with a single place! There are so many places that I was impressed by! If I have to say a few places that come to my mind first:

Fuego Volcano (Guatemala)

Baobab Trail (Madagascar)

Everest Base Camp Trekking Route (Nepal)

Pedra da Gavea (Brazil)

Serengeti Plains (Tanzania)

Bagan (Myanmar)

Actun Tunichil Muknal – Crystal Tomb Cave (Belize)

Esra Uğurlu: “The Country I Visit Should Be A Culture Shock”

Where do you think you could live?

My home is Turkey, but if I wanted to settle somewhere one day, it would be Mexico.

Biggest disappointment?


Biggest surprise?


The most difficult country to visit?


The most useful thing you carry that you can use in any situation (excluding passport, money, etc.)?

A waist or chest bag that integrates with my body when traveling. It makes me feel safer.

Your dream destination that you haven’t visited yet?