At Expat Explore we like to give you top travel tips for all the destinations we travel to. Ralind Swartz (25) has been working as a supervisor in our customer service department for three years and travelled to Turkey on an Expat Explore trip to get a first-hand taste of what our clients experience on tour.
Here are 15 top Turkey travel tips from Ralind for first-time adventurers:
“My passion has always been interacting with people – even if it’s just over the phone. Getting to know them, learning their stories, observing the way they think and do things in life, those funny little moments; I love those experiences,” says Ralind. “All the people on my tour remembered a few names of Expat Explore employees who helped them in preparation for their tour and wanted me to take photos and videos to bring back to South Africa of them saying hello. I really like that we leave that impression. Expat Explore brings people together. People who didn’t know each other from a bar of soap came together and ended up booking another tour and departure together because they’ve become friends.”
“Travelling alone is always more expensive. If you want to keep costs low and want the safety net of a tour guide, pre-organised transport and accommodation, as well as a built-in group of friends, group travel is amazing,” recommends Ralind.
When you’re travelling to a new place, it helps to learn a few phrases in the local language to pave the way for simpler communication. However, when push comes to shove a friendly attitude and a smile goes a long way. “My first impression of the Turkish people was that they are quite serious, but later on I asked a local where to find the luggage carousel and even though he couldn’t speak English, he showed me the way and we laughed together at me being lost. The kindness and generosity I experienced in Turkey were amazing,” Ralind remembers.
“I got a SIM card when I arrived in Turkey, but I only realised after purchasing it that I didn’t really need it. I could’ve used the Wifi in hotels, restaurants and roamed with my South African contract. Also, it’s actually better not to be connected all the time; it keeps you off your phone and in the moment,” recommends Ralind.
“I know what we normally advise our customers to pack, so I kept that in mind. I also know myself – I’m a shopper and knew I had to keep space in my luggage for the things I’d end up buying. In fact, my first experience in Istanbul was a shopping experience; I managed to find my way to a massive mall in Istanbul and it blew me away. So I was glad I only packed a few outfits and two pairs of comfortable trainers (since I knew there would be lots of walking).”
Another way to keep costs low while you travel is to purchase snacks and meals where the locals shop. “On the first day I took a 10-minute walk from the hotel and found a little corner shop at a garage where the fresh strawberries, oranges (and chocolates) were unbelievably cheap,” says Ralind.
“Turkey took me by surprise. It was not a bucket-list destination for me before I went, but now I know that it should be on every traveller’s must-see list. It’s authentic and inspiring and very safe. I was also very interested to learn all about the country’s fascinating history, traditions and way of life. The places I saw, the things I learned and the pictures I took have left me forever changed.”
“When you join in on an Expat Explore Turkish group tour, you have to be ready to walk a lot. My phone records my number of steps each day and I took between 15,000 – 16,000 every day,” advised Ralind.
“Certain visitor’s attractions like the Blue Mosque require that you cover your arms and head. Carry a light jacket or sarong in your day pack so you can cover up when necessary.”
“Our tour leader was great – he was there with us every step of the way, suggesting all the things we should try while we were on tour. I wanted to have the full experience, so I went in very open-minded about the food and wine,” says Ralind. “There was this one traditional drink called raki which you drink from a shot glass and changes colour when you add water to it. When you drink it, you say ‘shirefe’ which means ‘to your others’. I love enjoying little bits of local culture like this.”
Expat Explore group tours always leave plenty of time for personal exploration. Ralind recommends that travellers take that time to venture out on their own. “I spoke with locals, went dancing, explored the little side streets and corners. I enjoyed the music on the streets, drank coffee by myself, went for walks, and sat down to watch people go about their daily lives not knowing I’m from South Africa – it was absolutely amazing,” she says.
Meat is not for everyone, but Ralind says that you have to give the lamb a try when you visit Turkey if it falls within your culinary preferences. “On day 4 of the tour, we went for lunch before visiting the Acropolis. The lamb was cooked perfectly; it just melted in my mouth. If heaven could be described as a food, it would be that lamb. I wanted more!” she remembers.
“When I heard that I was going to Turkey, hot air ballooning was the first thing I wanted to do. I like pushing myself and it’s such an iconic part of the Turkish landscape. The supplier we use offer hot air balloon rides around the world. Afterwards, you get a certificate and celebrate with a glass of local red wine. It’s very special and rewarding.”
“Turkey is very hot! Luckily we got free water on the coach and there was aircon while we travelled because the temperatures soared up to 37, 38 degrees celsius. You’re always so happy to get back onto the coach!” laughs Ralind.
“If I could go again, I would take less photos and feel more. I climbed a lot of steps to get the best view and perfect shot. I would just enjoy the feel and view and take it in. That was an important lesson to learn on my group tour to Turkey,” advises Ralind.
There you have it – 15 top Turkey travel tips from an Expat Explore insider to inspire your next adventure. If you want to meet bubbly Ralind and talk to her about Turkey she is only a phone call away. Get in touch with our customer service department and she will be happy to tell you all about her Turkish group tour experience. In the meantime, we also recommend that you take a look at our Highlights of Turkey tour so you can see how incredibly affordable Turkey tours can be!