Just in case anyone has missed the (so very many and manic) splashy pictures of my recent trip to Turkey last week, I am here to rectify the matter by declaring it to all and sundry in this humble blog of mine that I had such a marvelously exciting nine days of my life in Turkey (or rather Turkiye, as painfully explained by our local guide: “Turkey is what you eat, lady. It is Turkiye, please”. I laughed.)
And this is my first time travelling via a packaged tour and trust me, I am not going back to the headache of backpacking ever again. My cheap student life is over. Not because I am filthy rich now (God knows I am not), but because I like travelling nicely.
Let me explain.
il bruno = the good, il brutto = the bad, il cattivo = the ugly
While both backpacking and packaged tour have their respective good and bad points, the packaged tour has NONE of the ugly.
I can go on and on and on about the advantages and disadvantages of backpacking and packaged tours and why you should choose either travelling style (really, just google the matter), but the truth is, packaged tour is more convenient, more relaxing, more vacation-ish, less draining.
When I was a student, we did not have a choice. It was either backpacking, or…uh, nowhere.
We did not have enough money to travel via a packaged tour and whatever little money we had could not be replenished by our next month’s salary. We had to tighten our stomachs to save enough money to be able to see places. And for such sacrifice to have been made (going hungry is a sacrifice, okay!), it would be almost sacrilegious to just waste them for the sake of mere convenience.
I still remember how hard it was to travel back then. I had to google the place to find out the cheapest accommodation area there were in the vicinity and how to get there. And because we did not have enough money to hire a car, we had to use public transport. I had to find out which bus to take once you have arrived at the airport. And carrying our luggage into a public transport was not all that funny; it was hilariously horrendous. The driver had to wait patiently while we struggled to drag our heavy suitcases into the bus. The other passengers in the bus stared at us and we just pretended we had supermodel looks. Once in the bus, I had to tell the bus driver “Sir, we are new in town. We are trying to get to the X Backpackers, but we don’t know when to press the bell. Can you just stop at the nearest bus stop around X backpackers?”
If the driver is benevolent, he will smile. If he is maleficent, he will grunt. Or forgets to stop at the place you want him to. And you could not exactly scold him for forgetting to stop at where you wanted him to, because he could just say “Where is it written in my job description to remember where my passengers want me to stop, kid?” Ha-ha.
So while in the bus – just in case the driver forgot to stop where I asked him to – I had to constantly be on the alert and read the street names and compare it with the map to see how it matched and what progressed we have made on the journey. When I thought that we might be in the general area of the place we wanted to stop at, I would press the bell….sometimes, I was right and where we get off was the exact place we wanted to get off at. Sometimes I was wrong, and we had to walk further up to find the actual place we meant to be at. Sometimes I was SO wrong, that we had to walk for a few kilometres. (Me and Map is NOT a match made in heaven.)
After putting our suitcases in our cheap hostel, we would then go out to the ACTUAL tourist attraction that we wanted to go. And the whole bus-map-confusion started all over again. Which bus to take to get to that place? Which bus to take from that place to get back to our hostel? How long can we stay there, so that we won’t miss the last bus that would take us back to our hostel? How do I know I have actually arrived to that place, and thus when do I press the bell?
Once you are in that tourist attraction you had longed to be for years, you still can’t properly enjoy your experience. At the back of your mind, you have to constantly plan for the next agenda, and the next place, and the next bus, and the next map!
*long tortured sigh*
I am glad that nowadays, I am no longer a cheap student. Bye-bye public transport, hello wheels and GPS! Armed with a car and a GPS, it’s Afiza against the world.
In the case where I am travelling overseas, I am engaging the service of a PROPER packaged tour. I can just enjoy the view without the anxiety of planning ahead for the next cheap accommodation, the next meal and the next bus trip. It’s all pre-planned for me without me having to tax a single synaptic connection in my brain to work it all out. Oh, the bliss…. It’s all calm, serene enjoyment.
I LOVE it!
All the meals were provided when I was in Turkey. Not just any meals, folks! But the appetizer, the main course and dessert! I super-duper loved them all! Especially when I recalled that when I was a student, I only had one half of a kebab for lunch… and for dinner, I had the other half. Yup! (But before you cry feeling sorry for me, let me assure you that their kebabs were BIG, so I was not exactly starving the way I made it sound. Haha)
As an innocent, helpless, fragile female (ok, sila muntah), my parents will never have allowed me to go backpacking alone. But with a packaged tour, their worries are gone. I could go on a tour by myself; having the safety of other people’s company, but WITHOUT the constant obligation or expectation to always be together. I mean, what if I want to visit THAT particular part of the museum first…what if you are walking too slow for me? What if you are interested in another part of the history at the treasury, and I am interested to spend more time at the relics area instead? What if I want to be by myself in my own room to reflect on what I have experienced and seen throughout the day? What if I sleep with the lights on and you want it off, and thus one of us will not get enough sleep and will feel tired the next day and won’t enjoy the journey?
Being in a packaged tour give you the FREEDOM of being by yourself in a safe, controlled environment. And when you want some company, you choose which one of the many people in your tour group to engage with. I usually socialized with my tour mates during meal times, but once I have arrived at the places of interest, I went off on my own, deciding for myself how I want to divide my time in that particular place.
I am not saying that I didn’t enjoy spending time with my friends when I was travelling as a student. I adore you both (D and S), and I miss you all (my Newcastle batchmates). But let’s face it! People have different tastes and diverse interests and when you travel together, you have the obligation of somewhat staying together; not losing each other’s company. I could travel with my mother, and she would want to go shopping and she thinks that her travel is done! “Kalau tempat tu tak dak tempat shopping, mak tak mau pi.” Being a nice, obedient, dutiful daughter (my sisters would be rolling their eyes), I would go shopping with her… but I would be miserable.
Whereas, I would like to go to museums or see a beautiful place… and my mother would hate every minute of it. Just because I enjoy spending time by myself when I am travelling, does not mean I don’t enjoy the company of my friends or my mother at other times. It just means that people have different interests and priorities when they take the pains to plan their holiday to travel and see new places.
Another good thing about traveling alone via a packaged tour is that there is no need for you to disguise your displeasure or disagreement with your tour mates. Whereas, when you are traveling with a small set of friends, you always want to preserve the harmony between all of you because you are going to have to travel with them for a few more days. So you always feel the need to compromise.
Not so, in a tour.
(you may skip the story in red-coloured fonts below. It’s not really relevant but I just need to rant about it.)
There was one time when a particular elderly lady in our tour group started giving strong suggestions (read: orders) about what should be done. You know how in every large group, there will always be someone who wants to be slightly more dominant than others. Someone who wants to establish her position in the group. She is that person. She is nice, but she likes it if people follow her ideas and agrees with her. She likes to arrange people into a certain order.
And I thought: who died and make you our commander? Sheesh. We are all adults here, even if you are much older than me. (of course, I did not say that out loud)
I was free to ignore her. I had other people to socialize with. I didn’t need to do what she suggested or even consider it. Don’t get me wrong; she is a nice lady but very motherly. The sort who means well but smothers you with her good intentions that you feel restricted. In the office, she would be someone who won’t be satisfied with giving you a general direction; instead she would micro-manage you all the way obsessive-compulsively, it’s exhausting.
I have long ago understood my nature. I don’t like giving people instructions nor do I want to be anyone’s leader. But at the same time, I am not a good follower either. Unless you are the boss in my department, or you actually pay my salary, or you are my parents… I am not obligated to follow what you said.
Since I don’t want the responsibility of being a leader, nor am I a good follower, where does that leave me? *shrugs* I don’t know.
I can tolerate general direction. But NOT step-by-step instructions with you looking over my shoulder wanting me to follow every single thing you said. You just tell me to cook spaghetti aglio olio, I will do it my way and it will be delicious (insya Allah, haha). But if you keep on telling me to cut the garlics this way and not that way, or to put the mushrooms first and not the chicken first and harping on and on about details that WOULD NOT MAKE A DIFFERENCE AT THE END, I am bound to be fed up! Tell me what to do, but don’t micro-manage me like an over-anxious OCD mother. Even if you are the boss and pay my salary, eventually I will leave the job when new opportunity arises. I will not hang around where people try to micro-manage me in that manner. I value my rights to make decisions and I am always in the quest for self-actualization. I would not hang around with those who make it difficult for me to do both.
A good leader knows when to let go the rein. Someone who micro-manages other people is not being a leader, but being bossy. In the end, the result will not be good.
Okay. Enough rants about my inability to follow orders. Hahaha. (I need to rant about that. I didn’t know how MUCH I need to rant about that until I typed it all out).
Let’s move on to the accommodation.
The accommodation were all so decent. No more hostels with bathroom at the end of the hallway (and thus, no more having to wear ‘tudung’ everytime I want to go to the toilet. And no more having to think about the logistics; of what items to bring every time I want to shower and how to dress in the shower room).
This time, I have bath tub and bubbles; robes and slippers. A room with a view!
I love it!
I love it because it is convenient. Convenience is a big thing for me. It is not even the hotels or the meals. I don’t mind eating kebab every day. I don’t mind the cheap motels (but I do mind the bathroom being outside. I don’t like that at all). I would stay in a tent if they can construct a tent with its own bathroom in it, hahha. Really, I do not expect primadonna treatment on travel. I am not fussy about things like that.
But I do like not having to constantly plan and think. I love not having to ponder at maps (I hate maps). I do love knowing that everything is already being scheduled and all I have to do is sit back, relax and enjoy the journey. If you ask me what I like most about being in a tour, I would say that I want the convenience….take everything else away, and I still would take tour over backpacking.
But of course, if you DO take the good meals and the nice hotels away, I would file a complaint against the agency, for the simple reason that I am a consumer who knows her rights and would expect value for money. If I pay you RM2000, I wouldn’t expect three course meals and 3-4 stars hotels in a 10 days tour, but if I pay you RM6000, of course you have to give me MORE than mere convenience. What kind of spineless person would I be if I don’t complain when I am being cheated out of what I paid, right?
But seriously, POTO is quite nice to travel with. I highly recommend this travel agency. They always stop for our jamak prayers and design the schedule around the prayer times. Like I said, everything is thought of and planned. Have I said – ad nauseum! – how MUCH I love the ‘not having to think and not having to plan’ part? Hahah.
Not much of the bad.
But here’s a glaring one: We have to stick to the tour schedule.
That is regrettable, I must say.
Of course you cannot constantly be the person who is always late and making other people wait. You have to listen to what the tour leader say. If he says we are to meet back after 2 hours, then you REALLY only have two hours and it’s up to you how you are going to spend it and how you are going divide it between your many priorities.
The thing is, I don’t like shopping while travelling. Of course I love shopping when I actually want to buy something, like every woman out there. But when I am travelling (on a strict budget), my priorities shift. If you give me two hours at the Grand Bazaar or at the Spice Market, I am only going to use half an hour of it…because I won’t even have that much money to spend, anyway.
But I love museums. When they gave me ONLY two hours at the museum when half a day won’t be enough….I wanted to weep for the one hour and a half that I spent at the Grand Bazaar feeling bored. I could have used those hours for the museums!
You see, the museums in Turkey are beautiful. First, there’s the architectural significance that you want to snap pictures of. And then, there’s the general view of the parks and the amenities. And then, there’s the actual items of display in the museum themselves…the relics and the artifacts of historical significance. You want to gaze at the item, admire it, read its descriptions, and perhaps discuss it with your fellow gazers. And bear in mind that there are so many tourists especially in Istanbul…you actually need to line up to get into the treasury of Topkapi Palace…and there was an even longer queue at the rooms displaying the relics of the prophet and the sahabat. And the foreigners (some arabs, some other big nationalities) keep pushing and sometimes jump the queue!
Two hours are not enough! Hardly!
When I was given the feedback form by my tour leader, my ONLY complaint was the amount of time allotted for museums. I am sure the makciks all complained about the amount of time allotted for shopping, instead. The makciks are usually retired pensioners with a lot of money in their bank accounts to spend shopping. Me? My only priorities are new discoveries and amazing views.
To be fair, my tour leader did not complain when I was late in meeting them back after my visits to Topkapi Palace, the Mausoleums of Ataturk and Hagia Sophia. All the makciks were also very understanding of my tardiness. I could not help myself.
“Nasib baik tak tinggal awak, Afiza.” I just smiled, gratefully.
But life is a ‘quid pro quo’. I too did not complain when anyone was late coming back from their shopping spree. Indeed, I was patience personified. And overall, it’s a happy tour group.
Nothing ugly about being in a packaged tour.
At least, nothing ugly about the tour itself. Nice hotels, decent restaurants, beautiful places, attentive and friendly people. Perfectly picturesque.
Compare it to backpacking? Well, when you are backpacking, you might be exposed to the ugly truths outside. Your eyes are opened to how other people live in other places; one-legged beggars on the street in India or in Indonesia, the homeless man at the train station during winter, the drunkards who scare you while you are in the same bus ride with them at night.
Yes, backpacking has some ugly in it…-
….but the experience and the self-reflection afterwards is always beautiful.
And sometimes, the ugliness involves your own self-discovery of your personality. For example, I found out that I did not have much patience when I was backpacking as a student. I became easily irritable when things didn’t go as planned. I became frustrated when things were not supposed to turn a certain way and would brood over it like a spoiled kid.
I think, I am much better now. At least, I hope so.
The fact is, backpacking exposes you to difficulties and ugliness that will change you for the better if you reflect on it properly. And for that reason, I might be persuaded to go backpacking again, to experience the difficulties and take it as a ‘training program’ to teach me patience and resilience…but only if someone else worry about the bus and the map. Hihihi. If someone else worry about those, I am in a much better shape to deal with things that become awry or don’t go as planned. I can even take the crappy toilets if someone else worry about the bus and the map.
Otherwise, it will be the packaged tour all over again. Heheh.
Below are some of the beautiful places I have been to. I have almost one thousand of them (I went berserk with the camera, I must admit) but I am only going to put a few of them here. Enjoy!
PAMUKKALE & THE ANCIENT CITY OF HIERAPOLIS
HOT AIR BALLOON, CAPPADOCIA
UNDERGROUND CITY OF KEMAKLI, UCHISAR VILLAGE, PASABAG VALLEY
THE BLUE MOSQUE
MAUSOLEUM OF ATATURK
THE BOSPHORUS CRUISE