I never thought I’d be the sort of person to embrace the selfie stick. And it certainly never occurred to me that one day I would be huddled around one with sweet local ladies and new global friends in a remote village in Turkey, laughing together at how our picture turned out, or taking a selfie with a cat at Ephesus. But it turns out the funny thing about selfie sticks is that while they may look bizarrely narcissistic from the outside once you start playing with one they’re lots of fun.
As I travelled through parts of Turkey with Trafalgar I realised I also had the wrong end of the stick about guided holidays. To be perfectly honest I had been a bit of a travel snob about them, and wondered why people would want to travel around on a coach with a bunch of strangers. It didn’t look like a lot of fun to me from the outside, but just like that selfie stick it was a whole other kettle of fun fish when I was on the other side.
In fact, ‘this is so much fun!’ is something that came to mind repeatedly on my first Trafalgar tour. I also heard myself saying “this is amazing!” and “this is incredible!” at regular intervals. And I wasn’t the only one.
From a private cruise down the Bosphorus in Istanbul, to watching whirling dervishes in Cappadocia before spending the night in a cave hotel, every day we were experiencing unforgettable moments.
But it wasn’t just the places we visited that made the trip such a special one. It was the people we travelled with, and the way we had the chance to bond over such wonderful shared experiences.
As I had prejudged group travel I should explain that I didn’t just decide to do this trip by myself. I was invited to Turkey by Trafalgar to be part of a special media group of journalists and bloggers from around the world, and after assuming I’d hate cruising and then falling in love with it after my first one, I decided this was the perfect opportunity to give guided holidays a go.
And as you can tell, I’m rather glad that I did.
As some readers know, when you’re a travel writer you can be invited on things called famils or fam trips. That’s when a tourism body or business invites you to come and experience their part of the world. Famils are not your average holiday. You’re usually treated very well, taken to the best places, and escorted around so you don’t have to think about getting from A to B, or even worry about which A and B you should be visiting.
There was a moment in Turkey when I realised that while we may have been on a famil, what we were experiencing was what Trafalgar does with all of their guests.
Everyone is greeted at the airport and whisked off to a lovely hotel. Everyone gets taken to the destinations highlights, gets the chance to eat at top restaurants one day and try an authentic local dish in a more humble eatery the next, has a butler on the coach bringing them drinks, and porters taking their luggage to their rooms. And everyone travels with new people who will very likely be firm friends by the end of the trip.
On our first night Trafalgar CEO Gavin Tollman joined us for welcome drinks and dinner in Istanbul. This may sound like a media special, but Gavin loves to meet the guests on tours and often joins them for a meal, or indeed the entire tour when he can.
Most of us were meeting each other for the first time that evening, and I remember Gavin saying that by the end of the trip some of us would be friends for life.
It was a nice thought, but I can now report it sure feels like it’s more than that. Just as Gavin predicted by the end true bonds had formed, and while a few days after a trip may be too soon to confirm a life long friendship, I’m confident I’ll know some of these wonderful women and men for years to come.
In Izmir we had the chance to meet up with another Trafalgar group and I was happy to find they were forging similar friendships amongst their group. Good people and travel. It’s a wonderful mix.
But of course the trip was about more than what was happening amongst new found friends. It was about where we went, and what we did.
It was being welcomed into homes in that remote village where a complete language barrier failed to get in the way of a lot of laughter over lunch. It was paying our respects and being moved to tears at Gallipoli, visiting the ancient wonders of Ephesus and Troy, sleeping in caves in Cappadocia, and so much more.
It was also about the insights that our Tour Director, Yesim, was able to offer, and the people she introduced us to along the way. Not to mention the way she managed to keep the group moving together and got us all onto the road on time every morning. Give that woman a medal.
I should note that Turkey’s proximity to Syria has raised concerns amongst some travellers. The current Australian government advice is to exercise a high degree of caution in Turkey in general and to reconsider the need to travel to parts of southeast turkey and the Syrian border areas.
I’ll admit before I left I did wonder whether it was safe to travel. Then I reminded myself that my home city of Sydney is currently on High Alert. While we obviously avoided the border areas at no time in Turkey did I feel in any danger, but of course as with everything in life you should consider the latest information and do what feels right for you.
As for what feels right for me? I think now is the perfect time to enjoy a piece of the incredible chocolate crispy covered pomegranate Turkish delight that I brought home from the Spice Market in Istanbul and check up on what some of my Trafalgar buddies have been up to. I miss those guys.
Amanda Woods did her first Trafalgar tour of Turkey as a guest of Trafalgar but as usual all thoughts and opinions remain her own.
Trafalgar and Uniworld are both part of The Travel Corporation.You can check out my review of Uniworld’s River Countess cruise of Italy here.
You can also see a great video of the trip and read an interview with one of my fellow travellers, Dawn Jorgensen, the Incidental Tourist here and see how this post inspired some new selfie stick love.
And you can check out my interview with Trafalgar Global CEO Gavin Tollman here.