All foreign travelers are required to have a passport that is valid for at least six months after the planned conclusion of your trip. A visa is also required, but citizens of the USA, UK, and Mexico (who are permanent residents in the US), can purchase the visa upon arrival at the airport. The fee is $20 US cash (or 15 Euros, or 10 Pounds for UK citizens).
The first and best way of staying healthy on the Pilgrimage is to arrive fit and healthy. Weeks before you leave, be sure you are exercising regularly, eating well, and getting enough sleep. Neglecting any one of these will compromise your immune system. (Not may, but will!) If you are taking vitamins or food supplements, be sure not to skip any during the time of preparation, and be sure to bring enough along.
Be sure to drink plenty of water. It's very easy to get dehydrated on a trip like this, and that wreaks havoc on your immune system. Bottled water can be purchased everywhere, and it's cheap and convenient to carry around. (There are also frequent opportunities to "use the facilities," so you don't have to worry about drinking too much water.) Tap water is generally safe to drink, but, like in many places in the USA, may not always taste pleasant.
You will not have to worry about getting sick from the food or water in Turkey. That is, you won't have to worry any more than dining out in the USA, or eating in your own kitchen. Food and water standards are as high in Turkey as they are here at home and in Europe. You may suffer a bit of constipation or diarrhea, but that's likely more from the conditions of travel itself - change of schedule and routine - than from any bug.
The bugs you do have to worry about are the ones you'll get from (and give to) your fellow Pilgrims. It has happened that one person who came sick with a respiratory infection and a fever, recovered fairly quickly, but not before transmitting it to almost everyone else.
I'm not going to say "stay home" if you should come down with a cold right before departure. But there are steps you can take to minimize the risk to others, and if you are healthy, to reduce your own risk of getting the bug. Read, study, and follow guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control. Click here, and be sure to read all the sections under "Good Health Habits."
Number one rule is wash your hands. Wash your hands more often than you'd ever think necessary. Soap and water is not always available, so bring lots of those moist towelettes -- and use them. (You can buy them everywhere too.) Disinfectant properties are not so important; thorough cleansing is important. Germs, whether bacteria or viruses, require a moist medium to survive, and are most commonly transmitted by hand contact.
Number two rule is cover your cough or sneeze. When you cough or sneeze into the air, the person who breathes that air will inhale an infectious dose of contaminated invisible droplets. Cover your mouth and nose, but it makes a big difference how you do it. If you cough or sneeze into your hand, it will convey an unwelcome gift to the person you shake hands with, or even touches something you touch. Immediately dispose of used tissues in a way that won't contaminate others (a closed bag, not your pocket or purse), and wash your hands before you touch anyone or anything. For ordinary coughing and sneezing, I usually do it into my elbow (The "Dracula Sneeze"; here's what not to do.)
Watch this and you'll never forget the rules!
We will be traveling at a time of year when we won't encounter hard-core ice, snow, and freezing temperatures, but some places may still be quite chilly and damp, and we will likely encounter some rain. Be sure to bring warm outer clothing that you can "layer." (My wise childhood Scoutmaster used to say, "You can always roll long sleeves up,but you can't roll short sleeves down.") I also take an extra immune-system supplement (such as Airborne), beginning on the plane (where we're breathing constantly recycled air) and continue using it every day. Nasal irrigation is also highly recommended as both a treatment and prevention for nasal and sinus infections. It takes some getting used to, but I do it and find it very effective. (Note: I used to use a bulb syringe for this, but it was too time-consuming to fill. Now I use a cheap little neti pot, and it's much easier. Warm tap water - with salt and baking soda mixture - is OK; no need for distilled or boiled.)
Deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) is a significant and potentially deadly risk on both lengthy flights and long bus rides. I highly recommend getting knee-length compression stockings, in addition to frequent stretching and moving about on the plane or bus. (At the recommendation of a doctor on our first Pilgrimage, I got compression stockings for the trip, and found them so comfortable I've worn them all the time since then.)
You won't need any special immunizations Turkey, but be sure your regular ones, especially tetanus, are up to date.
Communicating with the Folks Back Home
Each year the technology of communication expands by leaps and bounds.
More and more Pilgrims are bringing laptop computers and their own cell phones. Every hotel has a free high-speed internet connection. (Not all work perfectly all the time, however -- just like here.) If you don't bring a laptop, most of them have a computer available. You can email, Skype, chat, etc., etc. If you want to bring your own cell phone, please check with your provider; they all have different policies for international calling.
Calling from your hotel room is convenient, but expensive.
In case of emergency, the Orion Tour office 011 90 (212) 232 6300 or 011 90 (212) 231 9570.
Turkey is 10 hours ahead of Los Angeles, and both are on Daylight Saving Time during the Pilgrimage.
- Pacific Daylight TimeTurkey (+10 hours)Midnight10 am (next day)2:00 amNoon4:00 am2:00 pm6:00 am4:00 pm8:00 am6:00 pm10:00 am8:00 pmNoon10:00 pm2:00 pmMidnight4:00 pm2:00 am (next day)6:00 pm4:00 am (next day)8:00 pm6:00 am (next day)10:00 pm8:00 am (next day)Midnight10:00 am
For someone here wanting to call there:
- When it's morning in LA, it's late afternoon or evening of the same day in Turkey.
- When it's evening in LA, it's early the next morning in Turkey.
- When it's morning in Turkey, it's still the previous evening in LA.
- When it's evening in turkey, it's only morning of the same day in LA.
Battery chargers and all electronic/digital gadgets (laptops, smartphones, cameras, iStuff, etc.) are OK for dual voltage (check the fine print). Many small appliances are too (e.g., hair curling irons, shavers), but not all – you need to check the labels very carefully.
Unless you have need of an appliance that is not rated for dual voltage, do not waster your money (and valuable baggage space and weight) on an electrical converter. Nor waste you money buying an expensive set of adapter plugs for all over the world, when you only need one.
All hotels have hair dryers. Because of a potential fire hazard, most hotels do not want you to use in-room heating appliances, such as immersion coils, personal coffee makers, etc.
One thing that many, even the nicest, hotels lack is an adequate number of in-room electrical outlets. While a very cheap ungrounded adapter may be OK for simple uses (http://www.amazon.com/US-to-European-Plug-Adapter/dp/B0012S304W/), if you have several things to charge overnight, I suggest getting one grounded adapter plug (http://www.amazon.com/VCT-ADAPTER-CONVERTS-GROUNDED-PLUG-GERMAN/dp/B000WFYUGI/) and a heavy-duty triple-tap (http://www.amazon.com/Leviton-694-Grounded-Triple-Adapter/dp/B000H5WG28/) . Then, while you are recharging your own batteries with a good night's sleep, all your gizmos will be getting recharged too. If you bring a surge protector or power strip, be sure it's rated for 220 volts. One year somebody blew a hotel fuse when their 110-volt power strip shorted out.
All the hotels, without exception, have free wireless internet. Most of them also have a “business room” with a computer and printer that you can use, but they may charge for it.
Hotels and Laundry
This year especially,because of baggage restrictions (44 lbs), you will want not only to plan carefully what you bring, but also how and where you wash your clothes. There are no self-service laundromats anywhere in Turkey. You may want to bring outer clothing that you wear repeatedly, perhaps alternating days for some things, as well as underclothing you can wash in the sink or tub in the hotel. I find hotel soap or shampoo to be adequate for this purpose, and long ago gave up trying to bring Woolite or some other “travel soap.”
As an aid to drying, after wringing the garment out by hand as well as you can, try spreading it out on a bath towel, then rolling it up and stomping on it. A surprising amount of water wicks into the towel. Bring some cheap plastic hangers to dry the clothes. (I've never been able to find places to securely anchor a clothesline.) If your clothes aren't completely dry by morning, all the hotels have plastic laundry bags in the closet. Put your still-damp clothes in the plastic bag to finish the air-drying the next night somewhere else. These free laundry bags are also ideal for keeping dirty clothes separate from clean ones in your suitcase.
All the hotels have overnight laundry service. I usually do not recommend using them, and they can be a bit pricey, but most of our stays are two or three nights, so may may want to consider using then once or twice. Plan ahead, you con't want to get caught having to move on before your laundry is done! Here's a quick rundown:
- 1 night upon arrival in Istanbul
- 3 nights in Kuşadası
- 2 nights in Pamukkale
- 3 nights in Antalya
- 1 night in Konya
- 3 nights in Nevşehir
- 4 nights in Istanbul
- (for those staying longer, we transfer to Cosmpolitan Park Hotel for 5 more nights)
All hotels have good bathroom facilities, with wonderful Turkish towels (naturally!), but none of them supply washcloths. If you want to use them, I suggest bringing a couple of your own, each in a plastic ziploc bag, or course.
Regarding the quality of hotels, they are all have at least a four-star, and a couple of them are five-star. Some are quite elegant, and all have friendly, helpful service. All are clean and neat, some with newly renovated facilities. All have a nearly endless breakfast buffet, and dinners in the hotels range from good to excellent. There are also a few meals we'll have outside the hotels that I would rate as outstanding. (Note: the Terrace and Cosmopolitan Hotels, for the last five days, are two-star. Both have nice clean rooms, with views to die for, and private baths, as well as nice breakfasts. What they may lack in amenities, however, they make up for in location, friendliness and personal service.)
All you really need are $20 US cash for your visa at the airport, and a credit card and an ATM/debit card. If you want to know the current exchange rate, you can easily get an app or widget from the app store or market on your smartphone, tablet, or laptop. Or it's easiest just to Google it. (The usual abbreviation for the Turkish Lira is TL, or perhaps YTL, for New [Yeni] Turkish Lira.) Note: there's an currency converter in the right-hand column on this page that is simple to use.
ATMs are everywhere, and they are reliable and safe, especially those outside banks. There's also a currency exchange counter at the airport, if you want to get local currency right away. $100 in TL should be enough to last a while, depending on how thrifty you are.
Don't forget to phone your bank and credit card company to let them know you will be traveling in Turkey from April 1 to April 18 (or April 23). If you don't do this, your first transaction there runs a high risk of not being approved, and it's much more of a hassle to have to phone them from Turkey. Even with notification, I have found that occasionally a transaction may not be approved because the automated approval process in the US may be overly cautious. That can usually be resolved with a phone call. (Please note that Visa and Mastercard are accepted nearly everywhere; American Express much less so.)
Be sure to bring a copy of your passport and your credit/debit card(s), along with the international phone numbers for your bank and credit card company, and keep them in a separate safe place.
I always keep my passport and credit cards (along with emergency information) in a pouch hanging around my neck under my clothing. Do not keep them in a pocket or purse or backpack or fanny-pack. The likelihood of being mugged or robbed is extremely low, but opportunistic pickpockets swarm around tourists (not just in Turkey but everywhere in the world) like ants at a picnic. Try not to make it easy for them.
You may find a use for bringing a few hundred dollars in $20s and smaller bills. I don't think it's really necessary, but if it makes you feel more secure, do it. I bring some spare American cash – just in case. Do not bring travelers cheques, the are totally useless antiques. Few places accept them any more.
Tipping: All the tips are included except for those meals and services we purchase for ourselves. However, waiters and domestic staff are, like everywhere, not well paid and if you wish to leave a few lira or a few dollars for exceptionally good service, feel free to do so. But it's not expected. The suggested minimum tip for the tour guide is $8-10 per person per day; for the driver, $5-7 per day. I suggest being more generous if your satisfaction level is high. During the last few days, I will ask someone to begin collecting the tips for the guide and the driver, and we'll present it to them at our farewell dinner. Dollars or the equivalent in Turkish Liras or Euros are all acceptable. Although there will be a check list to insure everyone is given the opportunity to leave a these tips, no record will be kept of the amounts.
Also, many of the churches and religious houses where we celebrate Mass are both quite poor and have an important mission in this country. We will take up a collection at each of those Masses for them.
(Please do not even think of tipping me! That said, a donation to Good Shepherd Church – tax deductible – for the Pilgrimage fund to help provide scholarship assistance for future pilgrim-teachers will always be gratefully accepted.)
Clothing and Baggage
Our Turkish Airlines International flight has a very generous free baggage allowance: two checked bags, 50 lbs maximum, plus one carry-on that will fit in the overhead compartment, and one “personal” item (handbag or laptop bag) that will fit under the seat.
HOWEVER, we will be taking two internal domestic flights in Turkey, and their baggage allowance is quite restrictive: one checked bag, 44 lbs (50 kg) maximum. The carry-on allowance is unclear, and may depend on the plane. (A standard bag that fits in the overhead compartment, plus a smaller purse or briefcase under the seat bag maybe OK.) Excess baggage is charged 3 TL (about $1.70) per kilogram. Plan to keep your suitcase at 44 lb or less!
Lightweight luggage is therefore really important, and can save money as airlines are charging heftily for excess weight. I've recently purchased a very lightweight duffel bag, which on my scale weighs 6.6 lbs, and holds 5500 cubic inches (according to the manufacturer). My old favorite hard-side 26" lightweight, now really beaten up and showing some cracks after much airport abuse, weighs in at 9.6 lbs and holds only, about 4500 cubic inches (by my measurement).
For more details see the Turkish Airlines website: http://www.turkishairlines.com/en-cy/help/faq/general_baggage_information.aspx
The US TSA has regulations regarding liquid and gels in the carry-on baggage. See: http://www.tsa.gov/311/index.shtm. There are also regulations prohibiting lithium-ion (rechargeable) batteries in your checked baggage. They are OK in your carry-on. See: http://safetravel.dot.gov/whats_new_batteries.html.
Dress for comfort, not style. Prepare for some chilly and wet weather, although most of the time the weather should be comfortably cool, with sunshine. We'll be outdoors in the sun a lot, and a hat with a brim is advisable. Also, there will be some occasions when you may want to be kind of “casual-dressy” – for example our audience with the Patriarch and our final dinner.
Women will need to have a scarf to put over their heads for our mosque visits – and there will be quite a few – and no bare shoulders. Pants are OK, shorts not. Keep in mind you will also have to take your shoes off a lot in visiting mosques.
Bring swimming attire, even if you're not an avid swimmer. There are several places where the hot spring pools are wonderful, and you may want to try a Turkish bath at some point.
Be sure that your shoes are comfortable and that you have already walked in them extensively. Also, pay attention to the soles: be sure they have good traction. You will be walking over a lot of uneven marble in the ancient ruins, worn smooth by time and traffic, and dangerously slippery when wet.
Be sure you have enough of whatever prescription and OTC medication you need. I find it helpful to put each day's worth of pills in a small ziploc "snack" bag, and carry all of them in a gallon ziplock bag. Bring an extra pair of prescription eyeglasses if needed. Also a copy of any important prescriptions you need. There are a lot of pharmacies everywhere, but they may not always have the same medications as in the USA. (Our guide can be very helpful if you need something from a pharmacy.)