Let's Talk Turkey - A how-to guide for planning your trip
Back in mid June, KLM Canada held a little contest that resulted in some temporarily amazing prices to Istanbul from across the country. Judging by the number of e-mails, Tweets, and Facebook messages I received, I think it's safe to say there will be thousands more Canadians than usual visiting Turkey later this year and in the spring of 2013.
Many of the messages were from people that were excited about getting such a cheap flight to Turkey, but now had questions like: Where should I stay? What should I see and do? How should I get around?
That's the thing about travel, what makes for a great trip for someone else won't necessarily make for a great trip for you. Everything from your previous travels, to your life experiences, to your travel style (relaxed vs. active, budget vs luxury), to your personal interests, will be a factor in your planning.
So I can't offer a 'one-size fits all' answer that will help everyone, but perhaps what I can offer is a guide to how I typically plan my own trips when I visit a new country. I know there's probably some of you out there that might think it's a bit overwhelming to plan your own trip to a foreign country, but all you really need these days is a game plan, some good advice, and Internet access.
With that in mind, here's the step-by-step planning process I typically go through when planning my trips, and I'll work my own Turkey itinerary into the mix as an example. This is what works well for me, but everyone is different, so take what you will from it.
Step 1: Starting a Google Map
For this, you'll need to login to a Google Account (if you have Gmail, you already have one, just login to that). Then you can just go to https://maps.google.com/ and click on 'My Places', and then the 'Create Map' button. Give your map a title, and hit Save.
The goal here is to add the sights you want to see in Turkey to the map, so you can start to get a good idea of where things are located. This in turn gives you a good idea of where you should focus on staying. It also comes in handy for a lot of things later, such as directions and distances.
But how do we determine what we want to see/do and add it to the map? My first stop is usually TripAdvisor's list of 'Things to Do'. For Turkey, that can be found here:
Hundreds of thousands of the world's tourist sights have been reviewed and ranked here. Go through them and find things that look interesting to you. When you see something you like, you can try searching for it using your Google Map. When you've located it, click on the map marker, and save it to your map.
Sometimes this can be tricky, especially in certain countries where Google might have trouble determining exactly where a sight is. I've found that one reliable way is to Google for the sight name, followed by 'Wikipedia'. For example: Hagia Sophia Wikipedia - and then go to the Wikipedia page and click on the GPS coordinates in the top right corner.
On the GPS page, copy and paste the coordinates into the Google Maps search box. The coordinates will look something like: 41.008548,28.979938 In Google Maps, this will result in a green arrow pointing to those coordinates, and you can click on this green arrow and save it to your map.
It doesn't really matter if you don't intend on visiting every sight you add to the map. It may not be logistically or financially possible. But you can start to get an idea of what areas of the country you should be focusing on, which forms the basis of your itinerary.
Along with sights, you can also add things to your map later, such as accommodations, transit stops, restaurants, airports, etc. Once you get comfortable with Google Maps, it's one of the handiest things to have in your travel planning toolkit.
For a handy reference link to my map, I like to click on the link icon (it's right next to the print icon, top left). Take this link and plug it into a URL shortener, like TinyURL.com or Bit.ly - You should never need to update this link, and it will always be an easy way to access your map, or share it with people.
For example, here's my current Google map for my upcoming trip to Turkey:
That's quite a few map markers, I know! Sometimes I get carried away. But it gives me a good idea of the areas I'll be concentrating on. The sights I've chosen are what interest me, and may or may not be the same sights that would interest you. I tend to start with highly rated sights on TripAdvisor, or advice from a mixture of travel books (just grab a bunch from the library, Lonely Planet is usually a good start).
These days, I find myself focusing more on natural sights, as opposed to earlier in my travel days when I found myself visiting every church, ancient ruin, and museum. I still like to see a few of these types of things on my trips, but I definitely limit them more now.
So now that we have a map, and a link to it, we can add it to our text document. Speaking of which...
Step 2: Starting a text document
I keep a text document (turkey.txt) into which I copy/paste *everything* to do with my trip, from the Google Map link above, to my itinerary, to all reservation info, to advice I've found online. Sometimes you'll run into something while browsing the web, and think you'll remember it later, but you won't. Copy/paste it into your text file. (A Word document would work just as well of course).
Step 3: Figuring out where to stay
Using our Google Map, we have a good idea of where things are located, and the cities/towns that are nearby. With this, we can start to look at where we might like to stay. How much you enjoy your accommodations can have a big impact on how much you enjoy your trip.
TripAdvisor is usually my first stop for figuring out where the best places are to stay. And I don't just mean in terms of a specific hotel, but by browsing the overall review scores you can get a sense of which towns or cities are full of overpriced and underwhelming accommodations, and which offer a disproportionately high number of great little places to stay.
Even for me, someone that's very comfortable with researching places to stay, I found that accommodations in Turkey were a bit overwhelming to browse, with a large number of great little towns and so many well reviewed places to stay for such a reasonable cost.
You could spend countless hours going through all the different towns individually on TripAdvisor, but here are some key links that will help you browse the reviews for Turkey accommodations in larger groups:
Aegean Coast (West coast of Turkey)
Mediterranean Coast (South coast of Turkey)
Nevsehir Province (Cappadocia area)
By grouping them like this, you can see which cities and towns typically have the most well reviewed accommodations without having to go through them all individually. Of course, you need to balance this with the proximity to the things you want to see and do.
After narrowing down the towns/cities, you can start to compile a list of accommodations that are well reviewed and within your budget. You don't need to book them just yet, you just want to get some ideas. One place I like to look is under the 'B&B / Inns' section of TripAdvisor (left hand side, under Property Type). A lot of times these places aren't bookable online through major booking engines, but they can be some of the best deals around. Just Google the accommodation name for their personal website for rates and booking info.
Myself, I like accommodations that are usually smaller, independently run by good people, in a great location, clean, get amazing reviews on TripAdvisor, and for a reasonable price (I'm not a fan of spending much more than $75/night for a place to sleep if I can avoid it). In Turkey, I found that it was *usually* possible to find a place that met these requirements in the range of about $50/night for two people. Sometimes even cheaper.
For the record, these are the towns I found to have a good combination of value accommodations and near the things we wanted to do:
Aegean Coast (West coast of Turkey)
Mediterranean Coast (South coast of Turkey)
Nevsehir Province (Cappadocia area)
Once you've narrowed down some options, you could try plotting them on your Google map. Sometimes this can be tricky, as Google won't always be able to accurately pinpoint the hotel.
Step 4: Planning your basic itinerary
For some, having a defined itinerary is just not their travel style, and that's fine. I've tried traveling with the fully flexible schedule, and found that you usually just end up spending your vacation time figuring out where to go next and planning things you could have planned more easily at home.
One downside of a defined itinerary is that if you really like a place, you can't just decide to stay there a little longer without throwing off the rest of your schedule. But I find with experience you generally get a good sense of how long will be an adequate amount of time for you in a certain place.
I find that for me, 3 or 4 nights in a major city is usually enough time and then I'm ready to explore outside the city. I like at least 2 nights in each place I visit, a one night stop always feels like you are packing up to leave just as you unpacked. I've learned to focus on trying to see more of less, rather than less of more. Everyone has their own pace though.
Start by adding your dates & days into your text document, ie:
Thu, April 11
Fri, April 12
Then copy/paste your known flight details into the beginning and end of your itinerary.
Now go through each day and start entering in some rough details of where you will want to spend each night, and a basic idea of what you might want to do each day and how you'll get there. You don't need to be too specific, just a general gameplan of where and when you think you might want to be each night, based on what you want to see.
Once you've entered your destinations, walk yourself through your itinerary and figure out how you're going to get from point A to point B from one place to the next. Bus? Train? Plane? Car? Add this info to your itinerary to see if it's feasible.
I've found that flights within Turkey can be extremely cheap, to the point where it becomes more attractive than taking the bus.
I think we'll probably rent a car for the Mediterranean coast though just for the flexibility and convenience and we'll probably get good use out of it. The cheapest I've found is about $40/day after taxes but that's including the one-way drop off charge, which is significant. A regular rental looks to be closer to $20-$30/day. From what I hear, gas is pretty expensive though, so definitely go for as fuel efficient a car as possible if you're thinking about renting one.
You can start entering these transportation details under each day of your itinerary and get a sense of your gameplan and how viable your itinerary is. Always assume that things will take longer than you think.
If you're thinking of flying within Turkey, http://www.skyscanner.com does a good job of covering the low-cost Turkish airlines. Here's some links to individual airline sites:
I've found that the flights I want are in the range of $40-80 after taxes, one way.
Istanbul has two airports, but IST airport is more convenient to fly in and out of than SAW.
For the rest of the airports in Turkey, I've plotted most of them on the Google Map. It's probably easiest to use their 3 letter airport codes if you're using SkyScanner to look up flights.
So to be clear, at this point, you don't need to book anything, you're just getting a rough idea of your itinerary and whether all the details seem to work out smoothly.
I've found on numerous occasions that I've planned out what I think is a pretty great itinerary, only to find out that doing the itinerary in reverse is even better (saving time or money or both). It happened to me on this trip in fact, I was planning to go in a counter clockwise direction around Turkey, but the flight times and prices worked out better going clockwise. It's always worth trying both.
Here's the itinerary I ended up going with:
- 15:45 Land in Istanbul (Ataturk Airport, Turkey)
- Fly to ASR airport at 23:50 for $70 on Turkish Airlines
^^^ this airport is one of two near Cappadocia, but ASR is further away. The late flight is not ideal, but it kind of came down to a decision between spending the night in Istanbul, or continuing on with what will already be a long travel day.
Still not entirely sure how we will get to Cappadocia from the ASR airport so late at night (technically early in the morning) but apparently there's a shuttle service. I've e-mailed Goreme.com and their response seems to suggest that a shuttle is possible, even that late, for 10 euros.
The hotels in the Cappadocia area all seem to be able to arrange this shuttle service for you as well.
- Spend the night in Goreme. Goreme is our longest stop on the trip, and that's probably a good thing after what will be a long journey to get there. I've also heard so many amazing things about Cappadocia, and commonly people say that they wish they had spent more time there.
- There seems to be no shortage of great, well priced hotels in the Cappadocia area. The hard part was narrowing it down. In the end, we went with the Caravanserai Cave Hotel:
Spend night in Cappadocia
Spend night in Cappadocia
Spend night in Cappadocia
- 10:25 AM flight from ASR to AYT (Antalya) - $70 on Pegasus, Arrives at 13:25
- Can bring up to 15kg of baggage each
- Pick up rental car at AYT (one way rental for 9 days, to be dropped off in Izmir)
- https://www.avis.com - Used code AWD K817167 - $398 - Fiat Linea or similar
- Check out Termesses
- Drive to Olympis, stay at Daphne House ($86/night)
- Spend the night in Olympis area
- Spend the day in Olympis area
- Spend the night in Olympis.
- Spend the night in Patara (Akay pension, $30)
- Check out the Blue Lagoon beach
- Check out Patara Beach and Kaputas Beach
- Spend the night in Patara
- Drive to Fetihye area
- Paragliding ?
- Stop at Saklikent Canyon on the way
- Stay in Fetihye - Caretta Apart Hotel - http://www.tripadvisor.ca/Hotel_Review-g298031-d663433-Reviews-Caretta_Apart_Hotel-Fethiye_Mugla_Province_Turkish_Aegean_Coast.html
- possibly do a boat cruise
- Spend the night in Fetihye
- Drive to Pamukalle area.
- Stay at Melrose House ($50/night) - http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g297992-d586177-Reviews-Melrose_House_Hotel-Pamukkale.html
Spend the day at Pamukalle.
Spend the night at Melrose House.
- Drive to Selcuk
- Check out Ephesus
- Stay at Homeros Pension ($40/night) - http://www.tripadvisor.ca/Hotel_Review-g293976-d307645-Reviews-Homeros_Pension_Guesthouse-Selcuk_Izmir_Province_Turkish_Aegean_Coast.html
- Check out Selcuk market. Explore Selcuk.
- Izmir to Istanbul on Atlasjet at 15:30 - $47
- Spend night in Istanbul.
Like a lot of major cities, accommodations in Istanbul look to be a bit pricier. I'm thinking of trying something a little different and finding a place to stay through AirBNB. If you haven't heard of AirBNB, it's one of the current darlings of the Silicon Valley travel startups, and allows ordinary citizens to rent out their apartments/houses.
It's a bit of a gamble, since it can be anything from crashing in someone's spare room in their apartment (or on their couch) to getting your own apartment to yourself. I think the key is reading the reviews carefully and making sure you really know what you're getting.
The Cihangir district of Istanbul looks to be right in line with the type of neighborhood we usually look for in a big city. A little bit trendy, with lots of good cafes, restaurants and shops. Not super touristy, but with good access to transit to take us to the more touristy areas during the day, and then come back for dinner & nightlife later on.
Cihangir is also near Istiklal street, the most famous avenue in Istanbul. It's lined with boutiques, music stores, bookstores, art galleries, cinemas, theaters, libraries, cafés, pubs, night clubs, etc. Cihangir seems to be close enough for an easy walk to Istiklal, yet far enough away so you can escape the noise.
Here's a search you can try on AirBNB to find properties in this area:
I also looked at the area just north and west of there, the Beyoglu district, which seems to be a great location too, and perhaps a little bit cheaper. But people did seem to often mention in their reviews that you should bring earplugs for sleeping, as it's a pretty lively and noisy area all throughout the night.
Spend night in Istanbul
Spend night in Istanbul
Spend night in Istanbul (sort of, flying out really early in the morning)
Sun 4 Nov 12 05:45 Istanbul (Ataturk Airport, Turkey) to YYC
You can see that my itinerary isn't detailed down to an hour by hour basis of what I'm going to do in each location. It's just an idea of where I'm going to be spending each night, how I'll be getting there, and perhaps a general idea of what I might like to see/do on each day to see if it's reasonable.
Step 5: Booking things
Once you've gone over your itinerary a few times, and you're happy with it, and things seem to be working out from a logistical point of view, you can start to book things.
You should be aware of what things you book will be set in stone (or at least cost you a chunk of change if you cancel), and what can be changed easily.
For example, flights will be one of the few things that can't really be changed if you change your mind about your itinerary. Once they're booked, they're booked, and not likely to be refundable. They're also probably the biggest limiting factor and could dictate your itinerary if flying is the way you want to go. So you might want to be absolutely sure your entire itinerary (beginning to end) works out really well for you, before committing to any flight purchases.
Car rentals on the other hand, can always be booked, canceled, modified, etc, at no cost.
Hotels will often let you rebook on different dates without too much worry (as long as it's far enough in advance), although if you book through certain sites you might be forgoing a deposit or even possibly the entire rate, so be aware.
You may want to start by sending a preliminary e-mail to all your accommodations asking about availability and rates on your dates. This is just to make sure they all look to be available. You may also want to check out the room tips on the hotel's TripAdvisor page (click on the 'See which rooms travelers prefer' link under the ratings). This can be handy for making a request for a certain room that's better than others, even at the same price.
Then once you're satisfied that all is well, you can start booking the things that are a little more concrete, like flights. And then confirm your accommodation bookings. And then book the easily modifiable things like car rentals.
I think that about sums up most of my planning process. If anyone has any other tips, or a better/different way of doing something, feel free to comment on this post! If you've been to Turkey and think there's something I could do to improve on my itinerary, suggestions are always welcome.
On the forums I've also listed some tips that readers who have been to Turkey have sent into me. They were all greatly appreciated and many helped out with my planning.
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