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    Camping in Afghanistan and Other Family Adventures

    The winner of our travel correspondent contest shares memories of exotic family vacations from the national parks of Afghanistan and the Rockies, to the reminder of being a tourist in our hometown. Future plans and some favorite travel tips included.

    Hello, My name is Tyler Burton. 

    After a decade of living and working overseas, my family and I now call a farm in central Iowa home. My greatest joy in life is my 3 kids – Tariq 9, Zara 7 and Justus 5. I am a writer, a passionate gardener and always ready to lend a hand to my husband on the farm.  While working in the non-profit sector, we were lucky to travel and see some amazing places around the world. Though not able to venture as extensively or distantly now, we are still passionate about exploring and experiencing new places, cultures, and people.

    Afghanistan is not for the faint of heart, but underneath its extremely tough exterior, lies a gold mine. Our 7 years working in health and development in the rural areas of the country gave us a glimpse into the harshness and complex beauty of that place. Our focus was on eye care, mental health, physiotherapy, and basic health/midwifery training. No running water, limited electricity, extreme security challenges, harsh weather and travel conditions are easily forgiven when surrounded by immense beauty and wonderfully gracious people.

    Afghanistan’s Grand Canyon

    Please tell us about your extraordinary Afghan camping trip while you were working there with an aid organization.

    Bande-Amir National Park, in the central highlands of Afghanistan, is most likely not at the top of many people’s vacation lists, but it ranked right up there on ours. In 2013, we were thrilled to join our local staff on a camping trip deep into our time in the country. After an 8-hour overland trip, we excitedly set up camp on the floor of a mudroom attached to the local tea house. The next three days were spent exploring this stunning place. We rode paddle boats with our staff, hiked the mountains and cliffs, and tried to brave swimming in the ice-cold water. Evenings found us sharing meals plentiful with oily pulao (the Afghan national dish of meat and rice) and hot tea and naan. After eating, we would play cards and listen to local musicians and storytellers.

    Afghans believe that the water of the lakes has holy and healing significance. Years later, I still think back on our time there and how sacred and healing it was to our family during a very challenging season of life. As I soak in the memories, I don’t think the Afghans are wrong.

    Where was your last trip?

    In August, our family was bitten by the National Park bug! We spent a week in Colorado, tent camping in Hermit Park Open Space, just outside of Rocky Mountain National Park. The campground is simple but was perfect for our family. It was beautiful and not crowded, which made it the perfect landing space. Each day, we explored Rocky Mountain National Park. It is truly breathtaking and there is so much to see and do! At the end of our trip, we felt like we were just getting started and were sad to leave, knowing how much-untapped potential was there. We enjoyed the lakes and waterfalls. We hiked, saw wildlife, hiked some more, drove Trail Ridge Road, hiked a lot more, and soaked in so much beauty. The Junior Ranger program was perfect for our kids and a fun addition to our trip. Though the hikes we did were kid-friendly, my husband and I were just as refreshed and entertained as they were. It was truly a wonderful trip and I find myself daydreaming about it each day!

    What’s on tap for your next adventure, be it a big trip or small getaway?

    Because we now have National Parks on the brain, we are beginning to plan a camping trip to Glacier National Park for this coming summer. My parents met while working as guides in the Park, so I can’t wait to experience the place. Not only because of its beauty, but also for the sentimental significance it holds for my family.

    We are also saving and planning for a bigger international family trip. We would love to return to Afghanistan, where we lived and worked. Camping at Bande-Amir, in Central Afghanistan, was my favorite experience ever. We dream of taking our kids back there again. We also have our sights set on a trip to the rice terraces in the mountains of the northern Philippines.

    In the meantime, we will continue to explore our little section of the Midwest; trying local restaurants, exploring nature, and also just soaking up time on the family farm – there is truly something so special about it.

    You are certainly well-traveled. What are any tips, tricks or trip reviews you’d like to share with our audience?

    Travel with kids can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be! We find that going with the flow makes the trips more enjoyable. I want to see and do everything I can, but I find that having downtime is essential for my kids. They love to explore and experience things at their own pace. We learned a lot during our first tent camping trip. We packed simply, using plastic totes and large blue bags from Ikea instead of suitcases. We focused on simple meals that were easy to prepare and clean up. We waited to get into the Park until later in the day after the crowds had died down. There were fewer people and we didn’t feel rushed.

    (Read More: Our Top Ten Fitover Inspired Destinations)

    The world is full of beautiful places and amazing people. Step out of your comfort zone! Try new food, go somewhere you don’t know the language, risk getting lost! The best adventures are usually just beyond our comfort zones! Happy Traveling!

    On the importance of sun protection:

    Many parts of the world do not have adequate access to eye care. That care was something I had not given much thought to and had always taken for granted. But working in Afghanistan helped me to understand the reality of that hardship. Preventable problems left untouched can have devastating effects. Cataracts, glaucoma, and blindness are common. Not only did I become passionate about healthy eyes for the Afghan people, but I became more aware of my need to protect my own eyes from the elements.

    Finding sun protection that works with my regular glasses has proven challenging in the past, so I am excited about Fitovers sunglasses. Everyone knows that having the right equipment can make or break an experience. Whether it is hiking at high elevation, enjoying the beauty of a beach, or harvesting corn on the farm; proper eye protection is crucial. Taking care of my eyes helps me make the most of every opportunity.

    In partnership with John Paul Fitovers

     

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