Plan Turkey Alone or With A Tour?

We're now planning to go to Turkey, and at first I was planning to get a travel agent from Zicasso to book the internal flights, hotels, etc, but not a big group tour, as my boyfriend and I are pretty independent and like to do things our own way. However, the BF doesn't drive, and I HATE driving, so we won't be renting a car, which seemed to throw off the travel agent. I had assumed it would be easy to take trains or planes around Turkey, but she didn't think so. We really want to see Istanbul, Cappadocia, Pammukale, and probably Ephesus. I found a really cheap tour that does all this (it's a company my cousins use all the time) but it's all inclusive, which is great, but I don't want to eat every meal and spend every minute with 30 people I don't know, plus my BF and I are 33 and 34, and most of the folks in the tour will be in their 50s-60s. I don't have much experience organizing travel (my mom always did all that) and my boyfriend is "fine with whatever I decide" (meaning no help at all). So, I'm nervous to try to make too many decisions, but also don't want to be miserable and stuck on a boring tour. The cheapest and easiest course of action is the tour, but am I just being a scaredy cat?

Posted by Sylvia
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
331 posts

Liz,
Have you checked out the tours on this site? The one they have to Turkey sounds pretty amazing and the groups are small. I doubt you would be spending every minute or every meal with the group, but would probably end up having a great time and meeting new people. It would definitely help you see Turkey without having to drive. I haven't done a tour, but if I ever do, it will certainly be a RS tour.

Posted by Liz
Watertown, MA, USA
16 posts

Thanks, I just checked that one. However, it costs more and doesn't include the international flight. The other company does. Also, the dates of the other company work better for my job. But it does look similar.

Posted by alana
seattle
3 posts

im traveling with two friends in turkey dec through jan. we are using the bus because we want to see the land and see how turkish people get about. the buses are easy. we gesture, bring our guidebooks and write down the names of the places we want to visit. the ticket sellers write down the times and lira. there are lots of smiles and offers of turkish tea. we buy our bus tickets the day before we want to travel in a ticket office in town or make a trip to the ottogar bus station to buy the ticket. on departure day, we arrive about an hour early. this gives us time to people watch at the bus station. we have found turkish people very friendly. english speakers come up and start a conversation with you. we allowed one hotel receptionist to help us find the next hotel in the next town. often they assisted us in getting a bus ticket also. trip advisor, hotel dot com and guidebooks are useful my advice. skip the tour. travel in turkey is relatively easy. you will find a warm and welcoming people. we traveled without an itinerary and slowly so that we could integrate what we were seeing. we also valued connecting with locals in family run restaurants and hotels. we visited mosques and hamams or turkish baths----every small town has at least one of each. the women were open and we sang and belly danced, shared a hair wash and shoulder massage in a hamam in sivas. we spent a few days in touristy places and i can tell you i enjoyed being off the beaten path much more enjoyable. id also recommend seeing hittite ruins hattusa. its a magical place. enjoy. enjoy

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
2852 posts

It sounds like you really would prefer to go on your own, but are apprehensive about the logistics. If that's the case, don't worry. Turkey has a good tourist infrastructure in the places you want to go. You certainly can do it on your own, thanks to the Internet (and guidebooks). Start by spending a few days looking at the wealth of information on this site: http://turkeytravelplanner.com/. For Istanbul, I found Rick Steves Istanbul invaluable; you have to supplement it with other sources for the rest of the country, but all the places you want to go are on the standard visitor itinerary, so information is easy to get. We used Lonely Planet Turkey. Trains only go to a few places in Turkey, but buses and planes are great. The website above has all the details for the places you want to go. I went with my mother to Turkey in October 2011. Our route was Istanbul to Ephesus to Ankara to Bursa to Istanbul. Transit on all legs was by plane, except for Bursa to Istanbul which was by high speed ferry. To get to Ephesus by plane, you use Izmir airport; it's easiest to fly with Atlas Jet, because they have a free bus from the airport right to Selcuk (the town closest to Ephesus). continued..

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
2852 posts

continued.. It's been said that flying in Turkey is like it was in the US decades ago, in the best way; the flight attendants are actually nice, legroom is decent, and you get food and beverage even on the short internal flights. That was certainly my experience. I'll be blunt; my mother and I were worried that travel in Turkey would be a bit too "third world" for us, and were pleasantly surprised at just how "first world" it was. For instance, every hotel we looked at (not just booked, but considered) had free WiFi in the rooms. The only difference was not being able to flush toilet paper (you deposit it in a little basket next to the toilet). if you can handle that, you won't have any trouble.

Posted by Carol
Martinez, CA, USA
523 posts

You say you don't have much experience organizing travel. Well, join the club. None of us did until we did it the first time. Agree that you sound like you'd rather do it on your own. In 2011 we spent 24 days in Turkey and made all the arrangements ourselves which included 2 plane flights within Turkey, one overnight bus ride, two seperate car rentals, and all our hotels. We used the RS Turkey guide book and Fodor and the web. Those guides will help you narrow down the sites you want to see and have the time to see. We used booking.com for our hotels, and tripadvisor.com, virtualtourist.com, and this website for information and advice. We also visited Istanbul, Cappadocia, Pammukale and Ephesus among many other sites. We flew into and out of Istanbul. We flew from Istanbul to Cappadocia, landing in Kayseri and having a van take us to our hotel in Goreme. From there you can either rent a car to see the sites in Cappadocia or you can take one or two day bus tours, depending on how much time you have. You might also enjoy the early morning hot air balloon ride. From there you would probably take a bus to Pammukale where the site is in walking distance from most hotels, and from Pammukale to Selcuk to visit Ephesus. From Selcuk you would probably take a train or bus to Izmir to fly back to Istanbul to return home. We booked our plane flights within Turkey from home. You can get your bus ticket when you arrive in the town. Your hotel will be able to give you a lot of information and help. You don't say when you are going or how much time you have to plan. Also, how many days do you have to spend there? Regardless, if you want you should be able to plan your trip to your own liking and have a great time. Good luck!

Posted by Brenda
Philadelphia, PA, USA
69 posts

HI LIz Your note resonated with me because that's EXACTLY how I was feeling summer of 2011, when I was planning my husband's and two week trip to Turkey (Sept 2011). A couple of items 1) Inter-city flights are cheap - we flew from Istanbul to Kayseri to see Cappadocia (recommend staying in Goreme) and then flew from Kayseri to Izmir. At Izmir our hotel proprietor in Selcuk (next to the ruins) picked us up from the airport. The airlines we used were Pegasus and Sun. One thing to note, if you fly in Turkey, there are TWO security checkpoints, one just to get inside the airport, and then one to go to the gate, so plan yoru time wisely. 2) we used Rick Steves' book and Turkeytravelplanner.com (both were fantastic). 3) we did not go to Pammukale, I thought it was too far of a bus ride for us so I just said, "Next time" 4) Trust your instincts about the guided tour. Greg (husband) and I are early 40s and have been traveling internationally since our twenties. In Istanbul we decided, for the first time, to take a guided tour of teh Topkapi palace. MISTAKE! we had to board a bus with a lot of other people when inr eality it was about a 20 min walk to the Palace. Then we had to wait in traffic due to the bus!. In our experience, the people (even our age) were not particularly active so husband and myself found ourselves irritated by the buses and slow timelines.
5) yes you can plan a trip to Turkey, the small mistakes are half of the great memories you'll get good luck and have fun

Posted by Brenda
Philadelphia, PA, USA
69 posts

I neglected to add the following - in Istanbul, stayed in the Old Town (Sultanahmet) at Hotel Sari Konak (Rick's book, highly recommend); in Goreme, we stayed at Local Cave Hotel (do not recommend); and in Selcuk, we stayed at Hotel Nazar (highly recommend). Hope that helps!

Posted by Lois
El Cerrito, CA, USA
1 posts

I spent 2011 - 2012 as a Fulbright teaching at Ege Universitesi in Izmir (near Ephesus) & traveled around the country some. You can go to all the places you mentioned easily on your own. Buses are the primary way Turkish people travel & they are modern, clean, easy, with regular stops on longer trips. Planes are pretty cheap. People are welcoming and friendly. Forget trains; few and slow. Travel guides (I like Lonely Planet) are worth more than a travel agent who does not know the country. Air BnB is a great way to find lodging. Istanbul is way more expensive than the rest of the country, but worth it. And don't assume the 50s - 60s are too old for you. I'm 67 and a great travel companion! Yes, you can do it without a tour.

Posted by Terry kathryn
Ann Arbor, Mi
2612 posts

I would definitely plan it on my own. I don't care for organized tours either. Just too much time wasted on what I don't want to do and not enough time for what I want to do. I also had a few reservations about Turkey as I was taking my 11 year old grandson, but through my own investigation and help from people here I planned an incredible trip for he and I to Turkey & Greece. I always drive in Europe but did not on this trip and we did fine. the people are so helpful and very friendly and I was go back again in a minute. One of my favorite places...Just know that you will probably make a few mistakes...but, if it's not life threatening it is probably OK.

Posted by Sally
Detroit, MI, USA
2 posts

I'm currently planning a trip to Istanbul in April with my BF (we are in our early 30s). We'd rather not do the tour and are booking on our own. We discovered that getting around great Turkey is rather expensive and a pain. To go to other regions is almost a day-long journey or very expensive airfare, so we started looking at other cities in eastern Europe and are now doing a trip that is 1 week in Istanbul and 1 week in Budapest. It's working out great because Istanbul is my dream but Budapest is my BF's dream, so we're getting the best of both worlds. I agree, booking is a pain, but once we let go of having to see everything in Turkey, everything got a lot easier (and cheaper). If you happen to be traveling to Istanbul the first week in April, let me know! We'd love meeting up for dinner with some other Rick Steves folks!

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
2852 posts

Sally: just a comment on the "very expensive airfare" you mentioned. Booked in advance, our domestic flights within Turkey were much less than $100 per segment; even booked at the last minute, they're not too expensive. A Turkish woman told us that for busy routes like Istanbul-Ankara, people just show up at the airport and buy their ticket for the next flight. She also said that people often fly to another city for a day trip to visit family (the fares being cheap enough to do this). Were you looking at the airlines' own websites (they have an English option)? For instance, I just looked at Atlas Jet for Istanbul to Antalya for tomorrow; the prices including fees are between 104 and 114 Turkish Lira per adult, or roughly US $59 to $65. That seems cheap to me. One flight is sold out in coach, and business class will cost you 324 Turkish Lira ($183). I realize you've already booked your trip to Budapest, and it's a wonderful place too, so I think you'll have a great trip. But I wouldn't want anyone else to get the idea that travel around Turkey needs to be "difficult" or "pricey."