My trip spanned across Istanbul, Bursa, Ankara, Cappadocia, Konya, Antalya, Pamukkale, Kasdasi, and Canakkale before returning to Istanbul. I traveled through great attractions and history: Ephesus, Perge, Pergamon, and Troy, to name just a few. I met many people "“ some of whom expertly attempted to sell me a rug. I took 1200 photos and came to believe Turkey, despite the endless tour buses that roamed the highways, is a wholly unique and exotic destination that can likely fit any traveler's budget — especially in this economy. In short, I loved my visit to Turkey. I tasted from its varied palette of offerings over 15 days. It was a lot of ground to cover, but the trip was well worth the effort.
The upside was clear. I came home loving Turkey and thought it was an incredible place for just about anyone who loves travel. The company I traveled with had made this trip hundreds of times and knew all the best places to stop for homemade meals and clean bathrooms. I stayed in mostly five-star hotels, with most meals included. Could I build and execute a trip like this myself and pay less? No. I might be able to stay in youth hostels and eat sardines. I could also be lost and stranded and not have enough language skills to ask for favors. Of course, nothing is perfect.
I used FLO Tours, a popular tour operator who specializes in Turkey, among other places in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. The tour was great (And I highly recommend FLO). The downside, and in my opinion a stretch, was traveling with a diverse and sometimes opinionated group of people, which is the inherent problem of taking a packaged tour.
While there were busloads of pluses to taking a group tour, I have a few pointers to help make the trip better. Here are my tips to help you get the most out of your group tour.
1. Expect hotels, attractions, meals and whatever else is on the itinerary, do not expect a magic wand of total flexibility.
2. Traveling on a tour means sacrificing your personal wants in exchange to save money, probably a bundle. This means the tour operator has done the best job of finding as many great things to show you as possible, but still has to keep to a schedule.
2. Pack a medicine cabinet. A tour may not have the time or the ability to save you from colds, headaches, nausea or the trots. The medications I use for minor annoyances are thrown in a bag and readily available if needed.
3. You do not have to be friends with everyone on the tour, but compassion and kindness help. I tend to focus on the positives even when someone else cannot stop complaining — usually about nonsense. My listening and nodding with reassurance go a long way toward a pleasant trip.
4. Again, you do not have to be friends with everyone, because the bus is big "“ the destination bigger. When someone is caught up in drama, sometimes the best he or she can do is drag those around him or her down. When I get bombarded by someone feeling too much, I move. I change my seat and never let someone else's bad time affect my experience. My priority is enjoying my adventure.
5. Keep an open mind. Sometimes the tour guide will have a different aesthetic, a different sense of history, or a different understanding of the world then I have. It is a great opportunity to understand the world in a different way. This is cultural exchange and an opportunity to learn about something from a different angle. This does not mean that my mind will be changed, but it may broaden my horizon of understanding culture and history in a new way.
6. Read the itinerary carefully. There will likely be days that breakfast or other meals are not included. It might seem off-putting to know that you are now having to spend more money, but it can be a chance to explore your surroundings and pick your own meal.
If you are on a bus ride that feels too long, remember that the beauty of a packaged tour is the ability to save money and get a good taste of a destination for future trips. If you get from point A to B, eat three meals a day and see everything on the itinerary, consider it a success.
Here are some photos I took along the way, just a few of the 1200 from my spectacular trips with FLO USA in Turkey…