Hey ROCO Fam! Like most folks during the pandemic, we had more than one cancelled vacation. Our original plan for 2020 was to do a Brazil and Argentina trip during April. Clearly, plans changed. We moved the trip two times before we finally gave up on traveling to South America for the year. I was ready to call it and do more domestic road trips (more to come on that) but my spouse and travel agent entered what I call the “revenge travel” stage.
Please note, we travelled from November 19 – December 6, 2020 prior to a negative COVID test requirement. These are the steps we took to have a successful trip while in Turkey during a global pandemic:
- Know Your Regulatory Bodies, Testing and Quarantine Restrictions – This is number 1 for obvious reasons. Know what the CDC, Republic Of Turkey Ministry Of Culture and Tourism, U.S. Embassy & Consulates in Turkey, domestic and international airline carriers have to say about traveling right now. For us, the CDC and the Tourism Board of Turkey were saying opposite things (stay home stay safe vs. please come!) We did not have to take a negative PCR test prior to departing nor did we have to quarantine upon arrival, however there were frequent health checkpoints along the way. It is critical to do research on testing sites prior to return and save those in your itinerary and within your map app of choice. It is one thing finding approved test sites in US, but understanding the turn-around time, price to expedite test results and location of test sites in Turkey is a much greater challenge.
- Mask up Mask Everywhere – In the United States, people are pretty relaxed on wearing masks in outdoor areas and the quality of the masks. Remember the face shields trend? Ha! We should always be culturally sensitive when travelling, and COVID sensitivity is another aspect to respect. Americans can have a more chill attitude towards it, but if you’re in another country you play by their rules always. For turkey specifically that meant: wearing medical masks (normally we wear buffs), wearing masks in outdoor spaces
- Know Restaurant and Hotel Policies – When we arrived in Turkey, restaurants were closed only for takeout. The one exception was any restaurant within a hotel (or has majority tourist traffic) was allowed to provide dining service for travelers. There was a bit of grey area here on what places could offer dine in. We mostly ate within hotels if we wanted to dine in, but occasionally restaurants near famous mosques in Istanbul were allowing us to sit and eat at their restaurant.
- Leverage your Accommodations to Navigate Local COVID Restrictions – We are normally the independent types, creating our own itineraries and not really leaving it up to chance or suggestions after we already arrive. This was a huge change we had with COVID since they were more hip with any impending restrictions. Our hotel manager in Ephesus was able to hook us up with a Taxi driver giving us a fair rate to tour us around the attractions. Our Hotel in Istanbul told us which restaurants were open in the area that are walking distance. Our Hotel in Urgup, Cappadocia ordered us takeout at local restaurants that spoke no English. Our Bergama tour driver in Izmir told us about the upcoming curfew over the weekend.
- Stay flexible and frequently monitor your attractions – We have a habit of overbooking ourselves with activities and attractions. Every hour is usually planned out, we are those type of people. This trip we knew the activities that we wanted to do, however we could “drag and drop” on different days depending on the fluctuating COVID restrictions. This meant staying on top of the regulatory bodies (see #1), checking social media (facebook, twitter, instagram), review sites like trip advisor or google maps to check the timestamp of the latest reviews and websites for activities of interest for reduced hours and any closures or capacity during peak traffic time, including the weekend. We personally experienced reduced hours with the museums we visited. Additionally, the Basilica Cistern was open the day before we arrived in Istanbul, and was closed the remainder of our trip. There was limited information on their website, so we visited a few days in a row only to find the same piece of paper taped to the front door that it was closed until further notice. We heard rumors from local that they may re-open so our hopes were perhaps too high as we continued to visit each day.
One of the upsides to our COVID Trip to Turkey was the fact that most attractions were nearly empty. Most notably, the historic city of Ephesus! There were maybe 10 people in the city the entire time. It was as if we had the entire city to ourselves without having a bunch of tourists in the background of our pictures, and not wait in line or deal with large crowds. The general atmosphere towards tourists was one of hospitality and welcomeness. The lack of tourism has certainly hurt businesses out there, and locals were very friendly towards us the entire time for that reason. Thankfully the exchange rate was great between Turkish lira and the US Dollar, so we certainly did our part supporting the economy.
Let us know how your trip went with the current COVID travel restrictions and as the vaccines roll out!
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