One of the most frequent questions I get asked nowadays is what’s my favorite country.
Um, is it just me or is that the hardest question in the world?! Don’t ask me that – it’s like picking a favorite child…out of around 30….
I guess I’ve been busy!
Places stand out for me for many different reasons, and there’s rarely been I place that I seriously didn’t enjoy. But it’s like comparing apples to oranges, and I hate to exclude anyone so I usually answer, well, “I loved Iceland, but Spain has my heart, and OMG Italy you just can’t beat, but Jordan is absolutely incredible…” the list goes on and on as I evade the question.
I love everything, ok?! What can I say?
But there is one country that’s always in the back of my mind, a place I don’t think always gets the attention it deserves, and depending on how hungry I am when asked the dreaded “favorite country” questions, it usually is the first one out of my mouth.
I can hardly believe that 10 months have gone by since I traveled to Turkey on what would become the slippery slope downwards to becoming a professional travel blogger – whatever THAT means.
Turkey has gotten a lot of shit this past year in the media, but you know what? It is STILL one of my all-time favorite countries. Now I know I just completely undermined my own authority in offering advice about favorite countries, but let me just say, I love Turkey.
And a solid 70% of my love of this east-meets-west country is rooted in food. Turkish food is phe-NOM-e-nal – see what I did there?
I might get a lot of hate for this, but I feel confident shouting out loud that Turkey is generally considered to be a summer destination, or at least “warm weather” destination. From the sexy coastline to hiking activities, at least for me, I usually thought of going to Turkey when it was warm enough to swim somewhere pretty and get a tan.
Boy was I wrong.
Not only is Turkey fucking stunning in winter, I would even argue that it’s even BETTER visited in the colder months.
I know, I know, I know. Hear me out.
While the same can be said for places around the world, here are my thoughts on why Turkey shouldn’t be overlooked in winter.
1. It’s significantly cheaper
Prepare to have your mind blown. Are you ready?
The reason I decided to head to Turkey in February was because I was searching for cheap getaways on Skyscanner, and it popped up.
Washington D.C. – Istanbul, round-trip on Lufthansa, Friday afternoon to the following Sunday afternoon
Holy crap! Those are 2008 prices! When you see a deal that good, there is only one thing you do, click buy and don’t look back!
And it only gets better from there.
Traveling in Turkey in February is incredibly cheap because it’s the major off-season. This means that hotels are discounted significantly – in fact, most hotels offer a winter-summer price list. The same goes for tours, restaurants and activities. There is usually a discount for booking in the winter.
I’m not talking about a measly $20-$30 off, I mean like a 75% reduction.
And I don’t know about you guys, but I love a discount!
2. It’s empty
If there is one thing I hate when traveling, it’s crowds. Not a fan.
Large groups of people make me anxious. Large groups of idiot cruise ship tourists (which is pretty much all of western Turkey in the summer) make me want to go hide somewhere and never come out again.
But in winter? No cruises! No idiots! Turkey is empty except for Turkish people and some brave foreigners.
The perks of visiting a popular destination in off-season are endless. Less crowds means no waiting in line. For example, to visit the famous Hagia Sofia even in winter has a line, but I went early and waited about 5 minutes. I can ONLY imagine how lovely that gets in the summertime.
I loved getting lost in the back streets of Istanbul with only a few mangy cats for company. I loved hiking all over Cappadocia and not seeing a single soul. I loved exploring the ancient city of Ephesus with about 10 other people.
For me, you can’t beat traveling halfway across the world to a gorgeous historic and fabulous country AND feel like you have the place to yourself. It was as if I rented Turkey for a week and it was all for me.
3. It’s easier to meet locals
Because you aren’t fighting tooth and nail to get around large crowds of tourists, this means you are much more likely to have a more local and authentic experience, if that’s your jam – I know it is for me!
The natives are friendlier because they aren’t jaded from listening to hundreds of tourists ask where they can buy good carpets and thus are much more likely to talk to you.
Maybe because I was traveling alone, but I found Turks to be some of the most inviting and hospitable people I’ve ever encountered on the road. I made friends everywhere I went, and I really enjoyed learning about the culture and history from complete strangers and people I just happened to meet on the road.
I make a point of trying to do this wherever I travel, and I can tell you firsthand, it is much more difficult to do in places crowded with tourists and visitors.
From getting my fortune read in the famous coffee dregs in Turkish to learning to cook traditional dishes in the home of the owner Turkish Flavours to making pottery with local artisans in Cappadocia to learning to weave near Ephesus, I felt like I really got to experience some truly local moments, and that makes all the difference for me.
4. It’s absolutely gorgeous
Again, when I envisioned Turkey over the past few years, my mind was plastered with images of rocky beaches, crystalline waters, and endless sunshine.
It’s so much more than that.
My first day in Cappadocia, I was touring around with Middle Earth Travel, and I was completely knackered because I got up at the crack of dawn to go hot air ballooning but it was cancelled because of the winds. It was a blustery cloudy day outside, nothing special, and I fell asleep with my face smooshed against the glass window of the van as we drove to the next site.
When I woke up, the world had gone white. Apparently I died and had gone to Narnia.
The landscape was covered in crisp, fresh snow, and boy, if I didn’t think Cappadocia was magical before, I did now.
Being me, I immediately blurted out, “STOP THE VAN,” so we could get out and take photos.
Seeing this ancient land, completely bereft of people and covered in a soft layer of snow was not something I’d likely soon forget.
Absolutely silent and peaceful, standing there in that vast white countryside, I realized how happy I was with choosing Turkey to travel to in winter.
And it only got better over the next two days where I spent outside exploring Cappadocia in the snow, especially seeing it from the skies hot air ballooning at dawn. Somehow getting to see it covered in snow made it all the more special and memorable, knowing it was an occurrence that few got to witness.
Visiting Turkey in February was eye-opening in many respects, but perhaps the biggest take-away I left with was having my eyes opened to visiting a place outside of the standard tourist calendar. Have you ever been surprised by a place like that?
Have you ever been to Turkey? Would you consider going in winter? Have you ever to a popular tourist destination way outside of the off season? What did you think? Spill!