Turkey Highlights – Overview of Planning and Preparation

Just got back from 12 days in Turkey traveling through 8 cities – loved every moment and I would return to each place again! I began and finished my journey solo but spent the majority of my time with my best friend of 20 years, Alison, and this was the trip of a lifetime for so many reasons! It’s hard to pinpoint a highlight or best experience because each city offered such a different flavour and the whole Country is incredibly rich with culture and history. Hot air ballooning over the unique and strange lunar landscape of Cappadocia was magical, walking through one of the best preserved Ancient cities, Ephesus was surreal, and simply stepping outside my hotel in the old part of town in Istanbul lead to so many beautiful and historic sites.




This was a trip of many, many firsts! (I probably crossed another 5 things off my list)




I plan to go into full detail of each of my days in Turkey and share some of my learnings along the way.

Some first time experiences included:


– Traveling as a solo female (navigating a new and foreign city on my own! Meeting other travellers – shout out to my kindred spirit, Megan 🙂 )
– Traveling with my best friend internationally for the first time ever!
– Learning a new language
– Showing other travellers around (when I myself, was new to the city!)
– Hamam (Turkish Bath!)
– And mentioned earlier – experiencing the miracle of flight in a hot air balloon 🙂 (Tops many travel bucket lists – eg. Travel + Leisure’s Best Life Changing Trips, 10 Best Hot Air Balloon Rides Around the World)
2015_Cappadocia balloon_collage
(Celebrating Alison’s 30th birthday with a spectacular VIP hot air balloon ride and some bubbly at the end! As soon as I got the call that her vacation to Turkey was approved, I immediately booked this special day for us!)


I like to break down these planning and preparation posts of mine into:
– Cities visited (how they were chosen)
– Transportation
– Hotels/accommodations
– Visas and other requirements
– Food
– Activities!(See some of my other posts on travel prep for: Cook Islands, South America, Angkor Wat, Amalfi Coast) Please stay tuned for detailed accounts of each of these topics, as this post will simply be a summary for now.


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Quick tips and impressions:

– The country is bigger than people think when it comes to “European” cities (It’s usually grouped with Europe but it’s mostly in Asia!)
– The people are very warm and friendly (sometimes too friendly!)
– Learn Turkish! I was lucky to meet someone in Vancouver for private lessons (similar to when I met Ella right before I went to Brazil!) and it helped me connect with people and ask for directions when lost


– Be open to booking a tour! I’ve always traveled “independently” in the sense that my partner and I like to organize all the flights, accommodations and day-trips entirely on our own. I’ve been against tours because I’ve gone on those stereotypical Asian bus tours with 30 people and annoying stops at shops. However, the Istanbul-based agency Road Runner Travel was very different and specifically geared towards independent travellers! They were flexible and open with me, they suggested things I never thought of, and helped reassure me during times of civil unrest in the Country.


– On the note of safety: right before I left, there were some riots and targeted attacks against Asians and while I was there, Turkey suffered a terrorist attack called the Country’s “9/11”. To reassure my family (I had already booked the trip), I gave everyone copies of my itinerary, I stayed on top of breaking news (help from friends back home, thanks Alex!), registered with the consulate, and again, referencing the benefit of a travel agency, I was able to provide their personal cell phone to my family should they need to contact me! More on this later, further down below
– Change your money there – the exchange rate is so much better


– For some activities – definitely get a guide who will be able to give you interesting background information and delve into historic stories of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, or ancient Greek and Roman mythology.
– Tour guides are incredibly well-informed and go through extremely rigorous training! Their Tourism Ministry offers a formal program that requires years of schooling and testing, followed by 45-day tour of Turkey answering all kinds of questions about the different regions in two languages. The guides must learn historic facts in multiple languages to prevent bias – this was fascinating to me and gave me a deeper respect and appreciation for the guides that lead us!


– The “shopping” tours that are added on to day-trips are actually quite interesting – be open to it! I watched both a pottery and jewelry demo.
– For other activities, you don’t need a guide, so save your money – eg. The Bosphorous Cruise! Just grab a ticket and get on the boat2015_turkey12
– Most day-tours include a lunch stop, but note, lunch does not include drinks. I always drank lots of water before and after lunch because I was being thrifty and saving money
– Buy lots of water!! The tap water is not drinkable
– Bring a water-proof bag for your phone and camera when going on boat activities
– Be prepared to have a lot of people ask to take your photo! Fair enough, as I asked several people if I could take *their* photo!


– Everything is open really late – food and shopping go past midnight, so take naps in the afternoon to recharge after touring and to beat the sweltering heat (the humidity and heat are brutal in July/August!)
– Try to get a hotel with a pool


2015_turkey139– So.. it’s hot! Bring sunscreen, a large hat and an umbrella! When touring sites like Ephesus, be aware that it is vast and offers limited shade! An umbrella will protect you from the heat
– If you’re traveling by bus between cities, it will take longer than you think. This is because the busses pick up and drop off  passengers anywhere along the road! This is great for locals, but slightly annoying when you thought you would get somewhere in 3 hours and it ended up taking 4 😉
– Most hotels don’t have elevators (at least, the boutique ones we stayed at!) so be prepared for exercise and have small bills ready on hand to tip those porters that work so hard!
– Turkish delight is sooo much better in Turkey! Made with real chunks of fruits and nuts and interesting add-ons like marshmallow and nutella2015_turkey– Turkish breakfast is the BEST!! So many vegetables for breakfast, you feel incredibly healthy 🙂 All of our accommodations included breakfast with the hotel fee, so do yourself a favour and try new things! Don’t be the guy we made fun of who only had cocoa puffs for breakfast 😉


2015_turkey82– BAKLAVA is amazing here. Eat LOTS. In Istanbul, Hafiz Mustafa is wonderful – definitely will have tons to write about in my upcoming food post:)


Cities visited:Istanbul, Goreme (Cappadocia), Antalya, Kas, Fethiye, Pamakkule, Kusadasi, Ephesus


(Instant connection with fellow solo female traveler, Megan!! Had an impromptu breakfast together at this rustic hillside joint where the locals were eating in front of a stunning mountain landscape. We were with two other travellers and learned over breakfast that all of us would be turning 30! And when Megan said she had a “30 before 30” travel list , I just about lost it!! She’s been to Israel on her own and I would love to go there soon!)2015_turkey121


Why Turkey and why these cities?

Eric had traveled to Turkey about 10 years earlier and I’ve heard some great stories through him. I’ve seen his photos of the diverse landscape and heard of the friendly people and delicious, wholesome food! He’s shared accounts of how revered the eggplant is in Turkey (king of the meal) and how he considers Istanbul to be the most romantic city! This, coming from someone who’s family is from France, and has spent a lot of time Paris – the usual suspect for the World’s most romantic city!! We had said we would go together one day, but given his crazy work schedule with limited holiday, and my finding an insanely good deal to Turkey (I was already traveling halfway there for work!) I decided to go on my own. But not before contacting Alison and asking her, “HEY, how would you like to celebrate your 30th birthday in Turkey!??”


We both booked our tickets about 3 weeks out – kind of “last-minute”!! But it can be done! A helpful factor? I’ve had a few friends travel to Turkey recently so a few months back I had already been messaging them about their experiences which gave me a head start in research!


I used a tour agency to plan out the cities listed above to get the perfect mix of history, culture, activities, natural landscapes, mountains, beach-time, unique land formations and ancient ruins!

Booking a Tour through an Agency (eg. Road Runner Travel)

Here’s a helpful resource: Turkey Travel Planner.
Tom is the curator of the website and has published many guidebooks on Turkey. His site contains thousands of pages of useful information for those that like to figure things out on their own! For someone with limited time  in Turkey (less than 2 weeks) he highly recommends booking a tour to maximize your time there, plus it saves the time you would take up planning and booking. Below are reasons why I suggest booking a tour as well, and specifically, with Road Runner in Istanbul!


– With limited time, you want to see as much as possible
– A tour agency is used to booking these itineraries, and can organize the best itineraries based on flights and times
– They can often get better rates
– Can suggest things you didn’t think of (hotels, activities) eg .Road Runner suggested sea kayaking over ancient ruins in Kas!
– Road Runner was the cheapest itinerary I found online
– I worked with Muharrem, and he was very responsive and flexible. One of the things I love researching and booking is hotels! (See: some of the amazing luxury hotels I’ve stayed at in Brazil, Cambodia, the Amalfi Coast or the private tropical island in the Cook Islands). When he gave me a list of suggested hotels, 3 of them were the same ones recommended by Lonely Planet! Great suggestions in my opinion! Plus, when I wanted to change a few hotels based on personal preference, he made it happen
– Upon arrival, I hung out with Muharrem and his team, and they really gave me a warm welcome to Istanbul and showed me around – I really, really appreciated this being an independent female travel on my very first solo trip!
– Plus, Muharrem suggested I give out his personal mobile to my family in case they wanted to reach me (with all the civil unrest going on..) Highly, highly recommend getting in touch with him. Let me know if you want an introduction 🙂




Internal flights
Istanbul – Cappadocia (Nevşehir Airport) – Pegasus Airlines

Cappadocia (Kayseri Airport) – Antalya – Sun Express Bus
Antalya – Kas – Bati Antalya  (note, Road Runner arranged this for us, so our driver purchased our ticket for us at the counter)
Kas – Fethiye – Bati Antalya
Fethiye – Pamakkule via Tour
Kusadasi – Ephesus – Izmir via Tour and also Pegasus AirlinesHotels and Accommodations2015_turkey212I’ve said it before – I like to stay at really simple places when I know I’m going to be out and about, and then splurge on luxurious places when I know I’ll have time to unwind! For this trip, we were celebrating Alison’s 30th birthday and she trusted me to plan everything, so in addition to her birthday present of a hot air balloon ride, I wanted to arrange for special accommodations!!
Well, Cappadocia with its volcanic rock formations and unique cave hotels tops many travel bucket lists (including Business Insider’s Hotels You Must Stay at in Your Lifetime). This was another example where Muharrem worked with me to get the hotel I wanted (Harman Cave Hotel) and specifically a cave suite (sometimes when you book a Cave Hotel, you’re actually staying in a modern part of the hotel, not an actual cave).The rest of the accommodations suggested by Muharrem were centrally located to landmarks and activities and I’m excited to write a detailed post about the different hotels in the coming weeks.2015_turkey84(Our spectacular cave room!)


Hotel list, in short:


Istanbul: The Empress Theodora Hotel  
Cappadocia: Harman Cave Hotel
Antalya: Mediterra Art Hotel
Kas: Medusa Hotel
Fethiye: Villa Daffodil Hotel
Kusadai: Liman Hotel
Istanbul: ISG Airport Hotel


Visas and Requirements


Canadians need to apply for a visa before arrival. I believe some other nations can purchase this on arrival. Here’s the link and you can pay online: https://www.evisa.gov.tr/en/

It only takes a few minutes.

Travel Advisories

The Canadian government advises that one exercise a high degree of caution, but of course, that depends on where you’re going. I knew I would be staying far away from the Syrian border, but nonetheless, I contacted the Canadian Consulate and registered my travels abroad. I also read the news everyday to see what was going and posted in Trip Advisor Forums. This was a helpful news site: Today’s Zaman, Turkish Online NewspaperIt was shocking and saddening to learn of the terrorist attack while I was away, and I made sure to keep in touch with family so they knew I was safe.



2015_turkey44(Dining on my own after a cruise along the Bosphorous! That’s a fish soup and eggplant dish)

Other than Chinese food, I find it really hard to get vegetables when traveling. Turkey then, is a mecca for people that crave delicious vegetables at every meal!! In my quick tips above, I reference food you must have! Get your fill at the breakfast buffets – you will miss them when you’re gone!


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In addition to baklava and turkish delight, the ice cream is lovely.



The ice cream made with goat’s milk so the consistency is quite sticky! The ready-made ice cream treats are insanely cheap as well. Alison was the first to discover Magnum bars and made a point to eat them every time she saw them! For 3 Turkish Lira, how can you say no!!



I love writing up my International Food posts because I combine my love of travel AND food, so this one should be up shortly.



The list is simply endless of the places you can see and things you can do in Turkey!!! Here’s a brief list of activities I will write about in my daily summaries:

Hot air balloon over Cappadocia
Sea kayaking over ruins in Kas
Hiking through the rose valley
Museums (ayasofya) Hierapolis
Ruins (Ephesus)
Boat cruise
View points (Fortress, at the Bosphorous Cruise, Castle near Kas)
Sightseeing (unique structures) – Basilica Cistern (man-made), Pamakkule (Travertines, Natural infinity pools)
Mosques/ churches


2015_turkey203 2015_turkey196 2015_turkey186 2015_turkey88 2015_turkey97

Well, I have so many new and exciting memories and will be eagerly writing this down and sharing tips and advice before it all escapes me.

Please comment below if you have any immediate questions! Or if you have some tips and stories of your own to share!

I took about 3000 photos that I have to sift through, but in meantime I’m sharing some of them on my flickr page.

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