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Passionate experience junkie. Lover of the arts and architecture. Want to see and share the world, one village at a time.

I Took a Tour to Turkey and Loved it – To a Point

house sitting travelI’m not a fan of travel tours. Travelers are rushed through cities and countries, see only the main tourist attractions, and have little or no time to explore on their own. The valuable component that is missed on travel tours is cultural immersion. You know, those sweet times when you meet a local and discover through them the realness of a place – good and bad – or get lost down side streets and discover local haunts that reflect the quirks of the country’s people and historic sociology.

I concede that changes are afoot in terms of travel tours and that’s a good thing. The choice in types of tours is expanding to fit the huge expansion in types of travelers.

What I want to share with you is my first experience into the world of a traditional travel tour which I took to Turkey. The circumstances were this:

Conrad and I were asked by friends to accompany them on a discount tour they discovered in the Washington Post. I read over the website three times to find the small print, (that I was sure must be there), telling of additional costs such as, “Air fare not included.” To my surprise I found the list included everything – air fare, all meals, and all ground transportation.

house sitting travelIt was such a great price we couldn’t say, “No!” And by the time all the plans were settled, there were six of us going.

We’ve been back two months now and all-in-all we’re really glad we went, but we made the decision to not take a tour again. Here is my evaluation – Thumbs Up and Thumbs Down:

Thumbs Up

  1. house sitting travelÖzgür Arslanyilmaz, our tour guide from Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism was spectacular. With our group of 34 for nine days, he supplied information sprinkled with anecdotes, history, mythology, and humor, as well as soothing nervous nellies, answering 58 million really idiotic questions with the grace of a loving father, and making sure our tours and hotels were ready for us when we arrived. No small feat, that, and I quickly developed a healthy respect for Özgür and tour guides in general. Having a constant presence of a knowledgeable guide adds greatly to the enjoyment of a place or event. Sure, Conrad and I have spent hours upon hours in museums, for instance, reading the plaques and brochures, but having that special person who conveys the story to you is a treat. Özgür was passionate as well as cute, with his accent and sometimes bungled expressions. He obviously treats his job as great theater, performing and hamming for his rapt audience.


2.house sitting travel We felt quite pampered. From the get-go, neither Conrad or I had to be concerned with any details – no reservations, no getting lost, no dragging ourselves into a place at midnight because we underestimated how long it would take us to arrive in a town, no fretting over a rental car bill that was unexpectedly three times what we thought it would be, no waiting in line at an attraction for hours, and no worry if the place we decided to stay was safe. For just this one time, it was a joy to embrace our inner tourist.

house sitting travel

  1. house sitting travelWe saw the glorious highlights of Turkey. A tour is efficiently planned to smash in as much as possible of the grand places.In Istanbul, we marveled at glorious ancient structures like Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and Topkapi Palace, as well as attractions like the spice market and Hippodrome. We heard the call to prayer five times a day which rang out from minarets sprinkled across the land. In other house sitting travelparts of the country we binged on ancient ruins thousands of years old that sparked our imaginations about the amazing past of human beings. We came away with a heightened appreciation for a country that held the birth of our civilization, feeling the pathos of the ages by walking among stones hewn by hand 6,000 years ago.

Thumbs Down

  1. house sitting travelWhile the provided food was good and amazingly plentiful, everywhere we ate was geared towards throngs of folks on tours. The dining rooms were immense places with multitudes of tourists crisscrossing back and forth through the many buffet lines. Much of the food was very pretty and nourishing, but one of the most important joys of travel to me is discovering the street food or a tiny hole-in-the-wall place with authentic regional fare where the chef comes out to chat or even gives house sitting travelyou a tour of the place. We have had some of our best travel experiences revolve around meeting local restaurateurs. Our tour to Turkey was devoid of that.
  2. house sitting travelWe barely set food on a city sidewalk. Most of our view of city and countryside was through a bus window. We ached with longing to get out and spend our next few days just wandering on foot to discover house sitting travelon-the-street happenings – where we knew the authentic Turkey could be found. This is my biggest complaint with travel tours – they strip away the real discovery of a place and keep you separated from locals and their lives.
  3. house sitting travelThe atmosphere of our travel group was sterile. For instance, Özgür gave the local temperature forecast for the day – in Celsius – and our group of Americans asked him to convert it to Fahrenheit. (I’m happy to report that he did it once but then refused after that, saying, “You’re in Turkey.”) Another example was in the use of money. Since we were always going to places that catered to tours, the vendors accepted American Dollars, Euros, or Turkish Lire. I don’t know if “sterile” is the right term for all that, but whatever you want to call it, I didn’t like it. I travel to experience different cultures – not the same stuff I have at home. I WELCOME the house sitting travelchallenges that come with having to figure out different currencies, languages, foods, customs, protocols, and manners. I resented our group for wanting to strip that away. (And by the way, my own unscientific survey of others in our group revealed that almost to a person, they all desired tours because they eliminate the need to learn a new currency or language.)

House Sitting TravelWhat is your experience with tours?

Wishing you safe and happy travels — even if they’re tours! — always and all ways

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32 Responses to “I Took a Tour to Turkey and Loved it – To a Point”

  1. Hi Josie – thanks for your honest appraisal. Some of my relatives (in a younger age group) did a tour of Turkey recently. They were given time to wander streets on foot, but also felt they spent far too much time on a bus. They mostly loved the destinations. They thought the food was repetitive and unappetizing – and dumbed down for tourists.
    Heather recently posted..How to fall in love with NaplesMy Profile

    January 11, 2014 at 5:35 pm Reply
    • Hi Heather,
      Hmm, sounds like your relatives had a fairly similar experience. Thanks for checking in to comment!

      January 11, 2014 at 5:45 pm Reply
  2. I like you would find it hard to pass up a bargain tour. I have never been on one, but I have done day tours and I admit that having a local explain everything and add little anecdotes is very appealing. I love doing day tours, not that we do them often. We are more likely to wander by ourselves. I know I would not like being bundled into a bus, we really enjoy walking the streets and making our own discoveries. Still there are lots of people who do like doing tours and good for them. We probably will do tours in the future, and I anticipate they would be small tours of 12 people – say like Intrepid Travel. Anyway, you had a good time, at a bargain price and you got to see Turkey. Wonderful!
    budget jan recently posted..Tuesday in Townsville at Relish CafeMy Profile

    January 14, 2014 at 7:28 pm Reply
    • Hi Jan,
      Absolutely right that a smaller tour of 12 people or less would be much better. It would feel more like a group of friends! — instead of being part of a herd, which is what we felt like! I sure envied you when I read your posts about wandering around Turkey, free as a bird on your journey of discovery!

      In the end we are fortunate to have a traveling life and I don’t ever want to take that for granted. As for the tour, I’ll chalk it up as one more experience!

      Thank you for coming by, Jan, and I wish you safe and happy travels.

      January 15, 2014 at 7:43 am Reply
  3. Hi Josie,

    What a great read. I’m the type of guy who doesn’t even like guided museum tours. However, your “Thumbs Up” report almost had me wanting to go on a guided tour…that is until I read the “Thumbs Down”. I don’t think I could bear not being able to walk around and sample the local street fare or being cooped up on a bus.

    Thanks again for sharing your wonderful worldly adventures. Cheers!

    February 11, 2014 at 5:00 pm Reply
    • Hey Trevor,
      Haha, you are so right — being cooped up on the bus was pretty torturous. I mean, the streets are where it’s happenin’ ya know! Ah well, everything’s a trade-off.
      Thanks for stopping by and I appreciate your kind comments.

      February 15, 2014 at 8:44 am Reply
  4. Organized tours scare the hell out of me. It’s just this feeling to loose control over your time. I do not like that. Btw – just followed you on Twitter as well – please keep it up. Looking forward to connect! Torsten
    MightyTravels recently posted..Airfare Deal – Cheap Business Class to Europe from $1,400My Profile

    April 1, 2014 at 11:19 pm Reply
    • Hi Torsten and welcome. I hear you loud and clear about fear of tours. Good advice!
      Thanks for the heads up on Twitter and your site. I enjoyed having a read about your expertise – airline miles. More good advice there!
      Wishing you safe and happy travels,

      April 3, 2014 at 11:26 am Reply
  5. I haven’t taken this kind of organized tour, but think I would feel the same about pros and cons. There are some places in the world I’d feel more comfortable on a tour, but in general I like to do the planning and discovery on my own.
    Donna Janke recently posted..House ExchangeMy Profile

    May 18, 2015 at 12:38 am Reply
  6. I’ve never taken an organised tour either and probably never will for exactly the reasons you mention. Turkey is so easy to travel to independently and as you mentioned you miss so much. I suppose there are some countries that may be easier to see by tour…Iran comes to mind..but it would have to be a special tour!

    May 18, 2015 at 1:00 am Reply
    • Hi Jenny,
      Yes, it would have to be a very special tour to entice us again, too! Thanks for stopping by.

      May 18, 2015 at 8:49 am Reply
  7. Interesting post for me because we recently also did a 7 day tour of Turkey. I thought our tour was a decent compromise for people who had limited time (i.e. us). It sounds like we were also much less on a leash than you were on your tour. We had the option of eating with the group and the tour guide each night or going off on our own—same thing for lunch. There was also free time in each location to wander at will. Our group and bus were also smaller—15 people plus the guide—who, like yours, was very good. It looks like our hotels were less upscale than yours and were mostly in neighborhoods where real people lived. One night we even stayed in an old Inn (hostel) where we had to carry our suitcases up ancient cobblestone streets to get to. We weren’t traveling with friends and our group of 15 was very diverse in terms of age with 5 different countries represented. The language of the tour was English, but it was interesting to be able to hear what people from places outside the US had to say about their observations. You can never know what the “personality” of a group will be. Fortunately, everyone on our tour seemed to gel and respect each other. I’ve never been on a so-called “big bus” tour–although I have been on cruises which in some ways are quite similar to what you describe. Was your tour with Gate One Travel? We saw quite a few Gate One big buses. It’ss true that their prices are pretty amazing.
    Suzanne Fluhr recently posted..AARP Member Discounts – A 50th Birthday PresentMy Profile

    May 18, 2015 at 1:19 am Reply
    • Hi Suzanne,
      You bring up the good point that there exists many different kinds of tours in terms of quality, cost, and flexibility. Thanks for pointing out the differences between our two Turkey tours!
      Our tour was not Gate One, but American/European Tours.
      On a different note — hope you have a chance to recharge after all your whirlwind travel lately!

      May 18, 2015 at 8:48 am Reply
  8. I have to agree that it would be nice (occasionally) to have someone plan all the travel logistics, especially how to get there and where to stay! But the cons you mention are huge, especially not being able to control the time factor or delve into out of the way places, talk to locals and try the interesting foods. And who wants to be rushed through places like the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque?
    Anita @ No Particular Place To Go recently posted..Cruise Virgins: Voyage to SpainMy Profile

    May 18, 2015 at 1:54 am Reply
    • Hi Anita,
      Precisely. Nobody wants to be rushed through history and beauty and culture!
      Thanks for stopping by,

      May 18, 2015 at 8:44 am Reply
  9. Hi Josie – I totally understand where you are coming from! We’ve avoided organized tours in the past for many of the same reasons. A smaller group might have alleviated some of your frustrations, but maybe not. We’re both patient in small groups, but even then only for a few days.

    It is wonderful, though, not to have to worry about logistical details such as finding a hotel or a parking place. But balancing that with an inauthentic or distant experience through a bus window is a tough call to make.

    I do NOT understand, and never will, the tendency to want everything familiarized – such as units of measure or monetary exchange – for convenience. If you want the temperatures in Fahrenheit and to pay in American dollars, why exactly have you traveld to a different country where ::::shockingly:::: things might be: different. ????

    A good alternative we’ve found is to hire a private guide on our own, but in certain destinations this can be pretty spendy. Then we’ve turned to small group walking tours on the ground, and have had a delightful time.
    Betsy Wuebker | PassingThru recently posted..Costa Brava Cuisine Fresh from Farm and SeaMy Profile

    May 18, 2015 at 2:15 am Reply
    • Hi Betsy,
      Not having to worry about the logistical details while traveling — that is the biggest reason people give for taking a tour. I believe that’s what defines the two different types of travelers — if I can say there are only two! There are the travelers who take tours to avoid planning the logistics, and there are the travelers, like us, that relish all aspects of travel, even the adventures that come with botched reservations or car break-downs, or missed flight connections. The discovery of off-the-beaten-path delights is a beautiful thing!
      Luckily for all travelers, there are more forms of tours recently. We love walking tour also and have enjoyed them in many cities around the world — including our home town of Ann Arbor, Michigan, where we learned a great deal.
      Thanks always for your insightful comments!

      May 18, 2015 at 8:42 am Reply
  10. Pros and cons when you take a tour rather than independent travel. Nice honest appraisal!
    Charles McCool recently posted..16 Fabulous Road Trips Around the WorldMy Profile

    May 18, 2015 at 7:19 am Reply
  11. I’m with you on the need to experience street life and food. I love city food walks and day tours with a specialist in whatever-subject. Tour groups, big buses and buffet lines–not to mention hotels that cater mostly to travelers in herds–give me the willies. Small group walking tours are about my limit!
    Anita recently posted..Blanes, gateway to Catalonia’s “Wild Coast”My Profile

    May 18, 2015 at 7:57 am Reply
    • Hi Anita,

      Yup, Gotta get with the locals, walk in their shoes, eat their food — to really understand the culture. So glad you agree, and thank you for stopping by.


      May 18, 2015 at 8:25 am Reply
  12. We took a walking tour of Istanbul and loved it, but agree about the food. We always like finding our own little out of the way cafes.
    The Gypsynesters recently posted..3 Money Mistakes Empty Nesters Make – and One of Them is OURS!My Profile

    May 18, 2015 at 7:15 pm Reply
  13. What a great post and wonderful comments. I guess there are tradeoffs. While I sure wouldn’t want to be on a tour all the time, there are times when you don’t have time to plan and want to see the highlights before you truly immerse yourself. Your tour is reminiscent of ocean and river cruises because they have many of the same pros and cons.
    Irene S. Levine recently posted..Guest Post – Sailing the Mediterranean on Wind Surf:  Historic ports. Unique shipMy Profile

    May 18, 2015 at 7:23 pm Reply
  14. Interesting assessment of tours. I just did the same thing for a tour I took to China, which I really liked. A difference, our tour had 11 people, used a mini bus, gave us some free time when we could ferret out a meal on our own and explore unassisted. Here’s my take, http://travelswithcarole.blogspot.com/2015/05/sights-to-see-china.html
    Carole Terwilliger Meyers recently posted..Sights to See: Forbidden City, Beijing, ChinaMy Profile

    May 18, 2015 at 8:14 pm Reply
  15. Josie, I dislike organized tours, for the same reasons you have mentioned. I prefer to have some variety of dining experiences, from restaurants, food stalls, to bars or small cafes. I also enjoy traveling by local transport, to be with the locals, to experience a little more of the culture. I travel alone so that I get to make all my own decisions. I think short guided tours are okay for some places – in Cappadocia I enjoyed a 2-day tour. We had a great guide, excellent food, and after 6 pm we were on our own to explore the town and choose where to eat our evening meal.
    Susan Moore recently posted..Costa Brava Hiking Lloret de Mar WildflowersMy Profile

    May 18, 2015 at 10:33 pm Reply
    • Hi Susan,

      Using public transportation is one of my favorite ways of seeing real locals as they go to work, school, or just about their regular day. Families with children are a cultural teacher, too.

      Thank goodness there are lots of different kinds of tours appealing to various travel styles. Thank you for your great comment!


      May 19, 2015 at 7:54 am Reply
  16. You are so right on your positives and your negatives. Often you can’t even slow down to take a photo without the group getting way ahead or the endless time on the bus, “to the left; to the right” observations. BUT, your positives are great too. I really don’t like to think about logistics when I am in an area I am unfamiliar with. I think if tours would build in more free time it would help bring the positives and the negatives closer to a happy medium!

    May 19, 2015 at 1:42 am Reply
    • Hi Marilyn,

      Not being able to slow down for a photo? Argh, that’s awful! That’s the tour I don’t want to take. And you mention about free time, also, which is key.
      I think some tour operators think they must jam everything possible into the shortest period of time for guests to feel they got their money’s worth.
      Thanks for bringing up some really good points.


      May 19, 2015 at 8:01 am Reply
  17. Part of the fun of travel is exploring, eating local food and learning about the culture from locals so I understand your complaint.

    May 21, 2015 at 3:42 am Reply
  18. I do tours occasionally for places that are hard to do on my own – Machu Picchu and Cuba for example – or if I just want to check a place out for a bargain price and perhaps go back later. I’ve found that for me the group size needs to be 20 or less so I feel less like I’m being herded. A good guide, such as you had, is an amazing differentiator and they work so hard and know so much! Overall group travel is never going to be my preference but it’s sometimes an option although I agree with all of the negatives (particularly those damned buffets!) that you mention.
    Kay Dougherty recently posted..Like ceremonies? You’ll love Fiji!My Profile

    May 22, 2015 at 10:27 am Reply
    • Thanks for weighing in Kay. I like your flexibility with traveling styles — sometimes you tour and sometimes not — depending on the need. Good stuff!
      Yeah, the damned buffets. They define a hum-drum experience.
      I appreciate your sophisticated opinion!

      May 23, 2015 at 9:12 pm Reply
  19. You left out what for me is the most important ‘thumbs down’: the chance that one or more of your fellow tour group members is a complete jerk! When we took a three-day safari in Tanzania back in the 80’s, that’s what happened. This guy was rude and bossy and incredibly insensitive to the driver, and his two friends traveling with him were no help. The whole tour group was only 8 or 9 people. If it hadn’t been for the spectacular game viewing, it would have ruined the whole thing for me! Never again!
    Rachel recently posted..Fort St. Louis and the Rum BattleMy Profile

    May 23, 2015 at 1:16 am Reply
    • Hi Rachel — and welcome,
      Man-o-man I feel so bad about your rude tour mate in Africa. With so few people on the trip, three bad ones is awful.
      Wishing you peaceful travel in the future!

      May 23, 2015 at 8:59 pm Reply

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