1. Delays are more common than you think
As much as I like it when things go as scheduled, sometimes some things are just beyond your control. Such as a bomb threat.
When I boarded the plane in Ankara last February, London-bound with a stopover in Istanbul, little did I know about the roller coaster I was embarking on. It was obvious, when we landed in Ankara for the second time after doing the Ankara-Istanbul-Ankara trip twice, that something was seriously wrong. News of an attempted hijacking of a plane in direction for Russia to bomb the Sochi games, which led to the closure of the whole Istanbul airspace after the emergency landing of said plane, was all over social media.
A bit more than an hour later, we boarded the plane again, in pure chaos if I may add. I missed my flight to London and was put on the next available flight to London a day later. I’ve since had my share of delays due to pilot strikes or the most common here in Turkey, breakdown of buses on the road. Possibly not the best way to start a trip but all you can do at the time is suck it up and deal with it: inform anyone who might be waiting for you at the other end, read a book and wait for more information – which could possibly not be in English. If so, just follow the crowd.
2. Always have a least a pair of underwear in your handbag or hand luggage.
Somehow amongst all the chaos my luggage made it on my delayed scheduled flight to London but I didn’t. I rarely travel with any hand luggage so all I did have with me really was my phone and charger (thank god for that), some money and a book I had bought at the airport in Ankara. I was placed in a five star hotel and resort whose only facilities I used was the open buffet at breakfast. I shared a room with a German girl who was on her way to Tel Aviv. We both had the same problem – no clean clothes to change into. We handwashed the underwear we had on and put it on the radiator with the hope they would be dry the next morning. They weren’t.
3. Sometimes it’s worth buying flexible tickets
Every time I go somewhere, I end up wanting to stay more than planned and usually end up doing so if my other commitments allow me to. I got lucky last summer when I went back home to Mauritius and extended my stay to five weeks instead of the three weeks originally intended: my cousin who works at Emirates managed to postpone my flights without me spending a penny. During my most recent trip to London however, I wasn’t so lucky. I had managed to get the cheapest flights to London from Istanbul and since my time was limited as well, I did think that there was no way in hell I could stay any longer. I faked food poisoning and got some more days off work but ended up having to buy a whole new return ticket back to Turkey on the morning my original flight was due, which costs a little fortune. Was it worth it? Yes. Did I still wish I had gone for the slightly more expensive but flexible tickets? Yes.
4. It doesn’t hurt to leave just a little bit early to catch a flight/bus/train
As silly as this sounds, I nearly missed my bus to Istanbul and hence my flight to Nuremberg because my nails didn’t dry fast enough. I’ve had near misses for things less silly though: an accident on the M25 in London, our navigator system sent us on a goose chase, because I got on the wrong bus to the train station (the sign didn’t say what I thought it said), because I got stopped at security check for pissing one of the staff off, and the list goes on. I’m usually told I’m silly for wanting to the airport or station too early but given my track record, I’d rather be safe than sorry.
5. You don’t need to see EVERYTHING
Before I go anywhere, I usually make a long list consisting of everything I want to see and mentally check them off as I do. However, as impressive it is to see a millennia old structure of which nothing much is left, all the snap and go opportunities you get are part of but do not make the travel memories you now cherish. Memories are made when you try hitchhiking in the rain, but in the wrong direction, end up in a small village, stop at a traditional Korean restaurant in the middle of nowhere and have imported Korean ramen before taking the bus back to the hostel. Or when you spend all night giggling and walking on a pretty secluded road leading to see the eternal flames, watch the stars in the clear sky instead of the actual flames, listen to some off-tune singing of a group of intoxicated Turks and having a very limited conversation in Turklish with said Turks.
6. Nor is it worth getting up at ungodly hours EVERY DAY to beat the tourists
I hate crowds and usually I try to avoid them as much as possible. Even if that means waking up extremely early. As much as I like having the whole place to myself, I tend to drive myself to the point of exhaustion sometimes. I get tired and cranky and so does everybody else I’ve managed to drag along with me. There are some days when it’s just more enjoyable having a lie in, slowly take pleasure in that first cup of coffee before going on a wander, even if you have to deal with a bit more people than you’re used to. After a year of living in Turkey, I’ve learned much about peak and off-peak season, which is when I tend to travel these days.
7. A rough plan is a good start for every trip
But nothing is set in stone. This is something I still struggle with. I probably have a mild obsessive-compulsive disorder and tend to plan everything down to the T for my whole trip. Going for a week? I know exactly what I’ll be doing on the Saturday at 4 pm. I’m an organiser, which is usually why I end up doing the planning when I’m going on trips with friends. However, it’s definitely makes the experience so much better when you’re not watching the clock and in a hurry to getting to the next location on the list. It’s nearly the museum’s closing time? So what? There’s always next time. It’s definitely hard to change this particular habit and even if I generally don’t voice it out, my mind’s already writing my whole schedule. Just winging it is probably never going to be my style but I think I can settle on trying to keep my options open.
8. Not everyone speaks English
Learn a few words in the local language. Before coming to Turkey, I had always been to countries where locals knew at least some English and French. It was literally culture shock when I landed in Ankara and no one even at the airport spoke any English. I was put on the phone to someone at the information desk who spoke very limited English and managed to give me directions to the place I was supposed to go to. I had luckily written down the address down and showed it to everyone from the bus driver to strangers on the streets until I made it there. The following six months were probably the hardest: I couldn’t even go to the local supermarket without getting stressed, Hand gestures became a second nature. Even now, after a year and a half of living in Turkey, nine months of which were spent studying Turkish, I still get anxious and frustrated when I cannot get my point across.
9. Overnight buses are a traveler’s best friend
And saves you a night’s accommodation. Turkey is a big country and flying isn’t necessarily the cheapest option. And I do dislike all the hassle that comes with airports and flying, so I’d rather avoid if possible. Ankara is sort of a centre for most bus routes, so it’s basically child’s play if you decide to go somewhere on a whim: just turn up at the bus station and buy your ticket. There’s rarely a need to book your ticket in advance, unless you need to be somewhere at a specific time, like catching a flight. Unless you’re going on a day trip, the bus ride will usually last at least six hours. The first time I got on a six-hour long bus ride, I ended up in Istanbul at three in the morning and had to take a taxi to the hotel. Since, I’ve learned to time my bus timings well so that I’ll make to my destination at 6 am which is when public transport starts running in most cities. I suppose it also helps that I can sleep on anything that moves.
10. Travelling solo doesn’t have to be lonely
I rarely go anywhere alone but recently, I’ve had more solo trips than I thought I’d have. I enjoy travelling with people and having someone to share my experiences – good or bad – with. I’m usually relieved to have someone to fall back on if something goes wrong, safety-wise and otherwise, and things have in the many trips I’ve taken last year. However I’ve also enjoyed the times I’ve broken off from my little safety net and gone off on my own. I’ve met and opened up to people I’d never see again but also made friends with others whom I probably wouldn’t have spoken to as much had I been with my own friends – I usually tend to let them do the talking. I’ve definitely grown more as a person during those times and became more confident in my own person. It’s still scary at first when I go venture somewhere on my own but less so when I finally get my bearings around. Then it’s party time!