Before I go – Passports & Visas

I suppose it goes without saying, you need a passport to travel. Nearly every country will deny you entry without a passport that is valid for at least 6 months past your date of entry. You should actually make sure it is valid for at least a year to avoid any issues. Mine was fine, but I didn’t have enough pages so I had more added.

In many parts of the world, immigration officials are stamp happy and they want plenty of room to stamp away on your passport. They get really irritated when there’s not enough space. Before I had new pages added to my passport, I was scolded by Brazilian officials on a couple of occasions and almost wasn’t allowed to depart the country because I literally had only one spot left on my passport to stamp (and it doesn’t help that Brazilian stamps are larger than most stamps). The Italians, on the other hand, stamped whereever they felt like it without regard to whether there was a stamp there already or not.

Many countries require a page or two for visas, so it’s a good idea to have plenty of room in your passport. It’s best to acquire your visas before you go. It makes no difference if you do it yourself or have an agency do it (the agency is just a bit more convenient, but also more costly as they usually charge around $50 per visa for their services). Getting visas at the border can be time-consuming (in some cases, weeks) and expensive. In certain circumstances, it isn’t even possible—you are required to do it in you home country.

Many, though by no means all, counties allow Americans 30 to 90 days when arriving, though every country is different. Thailand is 30 days if you arrive by air and is actually a visa waiver (they still stamp the passport, it is just not an actual visa). I could have gotten an actual visa but decided I would be doing enough regional travel that would allow me to be able to get new stamps every month as needed. India, on the other hand, requires a full visa so I took care of that in advance. I thought about getting my Chinese visa now, but decided to wait.

If you are not sure about visa requirements, check out the country’s embassy and the State Department’s website. They have good information about each country and what is required. They have an iPhone app that you might want to check out as well. They also have a program called Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) that allows you to register with the State Department for where you will be. This is good in case something happens while you are traveling.

Visa requirements change constantly, so always double-check before you go. Remember, you will be a visitor to the country in question. Just because you have a visa does not guarantee entry, nor does it guarantee entry for the full amount of time. Once when going to Guatemala I was only given 8 days even though 30+ days is more standard. I had to go through a lot of hassle to increase the length.

Be polite and request what you want before they stamp your passport. If you don’t get what you want, remain polite and leave when you are supposed to. Overstaying a visa is not a good situation (it will result in you being fined and barred from the country in the future). This is because they think you sold your passport or purposefully lost it to hide the fact that you overstayed your visa.

Make sure you have a copy of your passport with you while you are traveling. This really helps if you lose your passport. I also scan mine and keep a copy on Dropbox and in my email for easy recovery. It’s a good idea to also have pictures of your visas. This will make things much easier for you should you need to replace those if you lost your passport.

Germans and dumplings

I’m back in Seattle from my short stint in Hong Kong and Macau. Hong Kong reminded me of a more interesting and dynamic Singapore. There is far more going on and the vibe is far more interesting than in Singapore. I think it also helps that not everyone is living in fear of a $500 ticket for doing something wrong. What was really surprising was the cleanliness. Hong Kong and Macau are both very clean, especially considering their size.

On Saturday I took a turbo ferry to Macau. While waiting for immigration (the lines into Macau take well over an hour to get through) I met three Germans that I ended up hanging out with for the day—Shirin, Marcel and Fabio. They reminded me how fun it is to travel and meet new people. They were a blast to hang out with and they certainly made the day more interesting for me. We had a great time wandering around the old streets of Macau and then hanging out in the casinos to get away from the heat where Fabio made and broke his fortune many times. The Venetian is identical to the one in Vegas. In fact, many of the casinos in Macau are the same brands as those in Vegas. They also had the massive amounts of people streaming in on buses. Go figure.

And, of course, I loved the food. Walking around the old town they give out free tastes of these little cookies that simply melt in your mouth. They are sooooo good. They also gave out samples of this meat “stuff” that looks and tastes like beef jerky, only a bit softer. I think this meat “stuff” is actually a “parts is parts” type of thing, which I tried not to think about too much. I also tried a custard which was really good and apparently something Macau is known for, along with the cookies.

I had a great time in Hong Kong and Macau, but in the end all I can think about are the Shanghai style dumplings. These little dumplings are steamed to perfection in a soup that is contained within a thin outer layer that also holds the meatball (I wrote about these in my previous post). I seriously love these dumplings. They are so damn good I could just eat them all day long. If you go to Hong Kong for nothing other than these dumplings, the trip will have been worthwhile!

Great food and great views in Hong Kong

Traveling to Hong Kong for work has been very interesting. Hong Kong is cosmopolitan with a mix of people from all over the world. Everywhere you go you see people from mainland China, the UK and the surround Asian region. Everything is bustling and moving quickly, and the people will tell you that in Hong Kong time is money. Business is done efficiently but with always with a smile.

I am staying at the W Hotel which costs more per a night than my apartment in Chiang Mai will cost for a month. Of course, the W is a great hotel and everything is wonderfully appointed. There is very little more I could ask for. I have an amazing view of the harbor from my room on the 20th floor, the bed is absolutely fantastic and the bathroom is amazing (I took a nice long bath last night). A comfortable room certainly makes business travel much easier, especially when you are in meetings all day and dealing with a 15 hour time difference.

Everyone you go in Hong Kong there are spectacular views. My client’s building has a truly amazing view from their offices on the 57th floor. We have a full view on Hong Kong that is breathtaking. The entire area is covered in massive skyscrapers in every direction. I was told that one area covered in literally hundreds of tall buildings had nothing on it 5 years ago. Amazing.

When you are not admiring the views, you are eating. My client took me out to lunch yesterday and it was truly amazing. The restaurant specializes in Shanghai cuisine. I let her choose the dishes and when she found out I liked spicy food she was excited for me to try a fish dish. I wish I could remember the name. The dish was a white fish in a spicy sauce with clear noodles. The spicy sauce is so hot that it actually makes your tongue go numb and tingle.

I also tried this dumpling-like dish that was made with a very delicate casing that held some juices and meet inside. Apparently this is considered to be a favorite in Hong Kong. It was so challenging to pick up without ruining it (because it is so delicate) that my host graciously helped. My chopstick prowess was lacking for this dish. Of course, they were correct. This was a little dumpling from heaven. I was tempted to eat the entire plate of them myself.

I still have several days to go before I leave. I haven’t even been to the tallest bar in world yet (118 stories up in the ICC building) or to the Peak. Nor have I enjoyed all of the culinary offers (though I have been trying). Nonetheless, I can easily say that if you enjoy cities and food, Hong Kong is the place to be.

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Paradise has bad traffic

I’ve finally returned from my trip to Indonesia and Singapore. It was my true intent to write posts as I traveled. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out to be possible. We were on such a blitz of traveling there was not be a moment to even breath, let alone write a post. While I had a great time, the trip was nothing like I anticipated.

My friend wanted to plan this trip since he’s from Indonesia and had family there to make recommendations. We were under the impression that the recommendations would be for special little places known only to locals and would provide us with a unique experience that only a native Indonesian would know how to plan. Instead, we ended up with packaged tours arranged just days before we left that were way overpriced and kept us stuck in traffic for 10 to 12 hours a day, for days and days in a row. We were all thoroughly exhausted having seen so much but not really experiencing much—except, that is, for intensely bad traffic which seems to be the hallmark of Indonesia.

We stayed with his family in Jakarta and Yogyakarta, and they were absolutely the best. They were extremely gracious hosts that went far beyond what they should have done for us. I really enjoyed my time with them and they were truly wonderful. We had great conversations and they went to great pains to ensure we had a good time.

When we got to Bali, though, we spent most of our time in a rattling tour bus being scuttled from tourist trap to tourist trap while our friend was constantly on his iPhone arranging his late night trysts (or sleeping because of them). We actually paid to have touts try to sell us stuff! And pay we did. This trip was far more expensive than my trip to Brazil for New Year’s celebrations in Rio. And Brazil is not known for being cheap, whereas Indonesia is one of the cheapest places in the world. We managed to get an extra “free day” so we could enjoy the beach and get a nice spa treatment, but that was just too short amount of time to really relax.

Our only moment of relaxation came on our tour to Rinca and Komodo Islands (something I had to insist on with my friend when he planned the trip). This was everyone’s favorite part of the entire trip. Probably because Labuoan Bajo is a quiet, beautiful little town overlooking stunning turquoise waters and verdant islands popping from the sea. Even better, there was hardly any traffic and no cell phone service. The people were wonderful and the scenery was amazing. And, of course, there were dragons! It was a really unique and exciting experience.

All good things must end. I ended up with a seriously bad sunburn from falling asleep on the boat in the sun. I thought I had been resting for 10-15 minutes. Instead, I had been in the sun for over an hour after having snorkeled for over an hour before that. No one woke me up! I actually had blisters on my back the sunburn was so bad.

We went back to Bali for one night (which I spent convalescing because of my sunburn) and then to Singapore. We were supposed to stay at a “family friend’s condo” while in Singapore. It took us two hours to find because our friend didn’t get the information for it. When we finally found the place it turned out to be a tiny room with only two beds (there are four of us) that is rented out to whomever is willing to pay the high rate, and is shared with tons of random people. When we saw it we so surprised that we opted to go find a hotel instead. That was a fun experience at midnight. We ended up a shitty hotel that prostitutes frequent—not sure if that was my best decision ever, but I had finally reached a breaking point. Nothing in this trip was remotely like we expected. Eventually I found a nice hostel that we stayed at and we made the best of it.

Singapore ended up being nothing special. We were there for much too long. There is not much to see or do (unless you like malls or $25 Singapore Slings). Singapore is a very sanitized place and there is a low-level of fear among people that they might do something wrong. Not exactly what I consider a very fun place. To make it even better, our friend ditched us most of the time to hang out with guys he met online. That didn’t enhance the Singapore experience.

In the end I was thoroughly exhausted from this trip.  I spent so much money and didn’t really get an opportunity to relax. I still had a good time despite everything, though I don’t feel like our friend really gave this trip much thought. He just went with whatever the travel agent recommended which was all packaged tours. Most of the time he was completely disengaged from us and the trip anyway. He just wanted to go to malls or  bury his face in his iPhone. That was disappointing to say the least. In the future I will definitely plan my own trips. After all, I do own a travel agency. One must appreciate the irony!

Jakarta Indonesia

Jakarta is a complete assault on the senses. The traffic is intensely bad, the rivers and canals are terribly polluted, there is a layer of filth covering everything, and it’s truly amazing!

There is a constant bustle of activity everywhere that never stops. On one street you see beautiful, modern houses and across from it you see shacks with garbage strewn about. There is colonial architecture across from modern office buildings.  The malls have the same shops you would expect to see in Europe or the US; walk across the street and there are literally hundreds of street vendors selling everything from vegetables and soup to kid’s toys and women’s underwear.


Colonial Governor's Mansion
Colonial Governor's Mansion



Despite the cacophony of people and traffic, there is a certain geniality about the whole thing. Just when you think you will snap from the craziness of it all, someone flashes you a smile and reminds you that we are all in it together. People are truly friendly and extremely welcoming.

At one point in the traffic another car was literally inches away. I smiled and waved at the driver who did the same back before returning to the serious work of navigating Jakarta’s traffic. And serious it is. I’ve seen some bad traffic, but Jakarta’s is by far and away the worst. People ride motorcycles on sidewalks, navigate in between speeding vehicles in death-defying maneuvers, go the wrong way in one-way lanes, and constantly jokey to move one inch closer to their destination.


Jakarata traffic
Jakarta traffic



No one gives way for any reason. To do so would mean a flood of cars and motorcycles that would take advantage of your weakness and continue to cut you off. Fortunately for us, we had a driver (very common for middle class families in Jakarta) so we didn’t have to worry too much.

Jakarta traffic
Jakarta traffic


When you finally reach your destination, you are rewarded with beautiful temples and a rich menagerie of people celebrating the new Chinese month. There is a large Chinese population in Jakarta, mostly centered around Glodok. We wandered in and out of incense filled room at the Buddhist temple Jin de Juan and continued on through the Petak Sembilan street market that surrounds the temple.


Jin de Yuan
Jin de Yuan



All this and it was our first day in Jakarta!

Dragons and a good caning

With the house finally sold, I need a vacation! For the next three weeks, I am heading to Indonesia and Singapore with a couple of friends and my 15-year-old niece. Yup, my niece is going with us. She is very excited about the trip. This will be her first big trip and first international trip.

I am really excited about the trip too. I’ve wanted to go to Indonesia for some time, so when my friend said he was going back to visit family I wanted to go too. We have 19 days of travel starting Tuesday night. One entire day is spent on a plane to get to Jakarta. It will take literally 24 hours from the time the plane lifts off from Seattle to the time it arrives in Jakarta (with a few hours in Taiwan). This is the least fun part of the trip, though we do get to fly on the upper deck of a 747—something I’ve never done before—on Eva Air (Asian airlines are soooo much nicer than their American counterparts; perhaps it won’t be too bad to spend 20 hours stuck in a metal tube at 38,000 feet in the air).

We will be spending a short amount of time in Jakarta, then heading to Borobudur in Central Java for a couple of days. Then we head to Bali where we spend the next six days relaxing on the beaches, touring various temples and exploring some of the surrounding area. After Bali we are heading to Komodo to see the dragons and explore the surrounding islands and Pink Beach. We will be sleeping on a boat for at least one night. Finally, we head over to Singapore for a few days. Originally we were going to Borneo (Sarawak and Brunei), but the flights just didn’t work out well. In Singapore I plan on having a Singapore Sling at the Raffles Hotel where it was invented and, if I am lucky, I might get caned!

Aside from getting some needed rest and relaxation, I plan on using this trip as a practice run for my upcoming travels in the fall. I will be bringing pretty much the same things I will in the fall and seeing how it works out. Ideally everything will go smoothly and I will get an idea for the best way to handle any snafus that might arise.

I am going to try to continue to blog here and on my other sites (try being the operative word since I have no doubt I will be doing a lot of relaxing) and keep up with my normal activities all from the other side of the world. That means finding internet cafes and all the other fun stuff that is required to keep up a “connected” life.

So, over the next three weeks you will see some posts and pictures about Jakarta, Borobudur, Bali, Komodo, and Singapore. That is, unless I am eaten by a Komodo Dragon!


Dream destinations

We all have dream destinations. I have been to a few of mine already, but there are far more on my list that I haven’t yet visited. I am a big fan of nature and historic structures. And, of course, the unique and interesting is hard to beat. While I would love to visit Antarctica, Borobudur (Indonesia), the Pyramids, the Dead Sea, and many other places, the following destinations are at the very top of my list.

Socotra, Yemen

Socotra is a small island off the Arabian Peninsula that is covered in unique and spectacular plants. Nearly 40% of the plant species are endemic to the island, making it the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean. The Dragon’s Blood Tree is probably the most notable plant on the island. In the past there were giant land turtles and crocodiles, but they are no more. Unfortunately, Socotra is not located in the most friendly of places in the world for Americans, never mind the fact that it is relatively isolated. One day, I hope soon,  I will have the opportunity to visit.


Off the Eastern coast of Africa, Madagascar is probably most famous for its lemurs. The island’s long isolation from the mainland has resulted in some really interesting flora and fauna, beyond just lemurs. 90% of the native plants are found nowhere else.  Unfortunately, many of the plants and animals are in danger of extinction. The Elephant Bird (a 10 feet tall bird) went extinct in the 17th century, and lemurs are not far behind. I hope to have the chance to see what is left before habitat destruction takes it toll.

Petra, Jordan

Made famous by Indian Jones, Petra is a real city that was carved out of stone—truly amazing. The Nabataeans had a flourishing society in the middle of the desert on a main trade route. Intricate systems of channeling water into the city meant they had a precious commodity that made them in hot spot for caravans to stop. Of course, the Nabataeans extracted a fee for traveling through. Roman rule and changing trade routes caused Petra to rapidly decline. Erosion, poor restoration of the structures, and unsustainable tourism are the current threats to Petra today.

Easter Island (Rapa Nui)

Giant eyeless Moai, with their backs facing the ocean, peer across an island that is no longer covered with palm trees. Deforestation caused by climate change may have contributed to the decline of Easter Island, though more likely it was due to the inhabitants cutting down the trees. If anything, climate change exacerbated the problem, and the resulting soil erosion decimated the small island. Easter Island still has a unique ecosystem and much to see for one of the world’s most isolated island.

Machu Picchu, Peru

The name means “Old Mountain.” The Inca built around 1400AD and the Spanish had no idea it existed while they were busy with their conquest, making it a rather significant find for archaeologists. The wheel was no used in a practical sense by the Inca (they had no beasts of burden and the terrain was not suitable anyway) even though they knew of the concept, making Machu Picchu that much more interesting. The growing numbers of tourists have had an impact and there is currently a debate on how to deal with it.

What is at the top of you travel list?

Fast Travel: Turkey

I had some down time before starting a new job so I decided to make use of it and visit Turkey. I know people decry fast travel and think you should take your time to immerse yourself in a culture. Sometimes you don’t have the time so you have to do it fast if you want to see a place and I wanted to see Turkey.

One of the first things you will notice in Turkey is that everyone, and I mean everyone, is genuinely nice and welcoming. My trip started in Istanbul. Arriving in the afternoon, I decided to take my time and walk around Sultanahmet, the heart of historic Istanbul where the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapı Palace, and many other sights are located. Everywhere you go there will be someone ready to sell you a rug, but don’t fret. They are all very nice and polite. I did receive some respite from the call of “My friend…” when a woman riding her bike slide on the slippery cobble stones and fell down. Nearly every person in a thirty meter radius ran to her to help (she was embarrassed, but thankfully not hurt). The Turkish people want you to enjoy your visit and do everything they can to help you.

Waking early the next morning to the call to prayer—a beautiful lyrical dance between the hundreds of mosques around my hotel—I smelled something that immediately made me hungry: fresh baked bread. The city retained that smell well into the late hours of morning. Turkey consumes more bread than any other nation in the world. Every meal you order comes with bread regardless of what it is. I am not talking about a little basked of a few pieces of bread. They server nearly a full loaf, if not more, piles high on a plate. I wondered if I ordered bread, if I would receive a side of bread with that.

The only problem I see with getting bread with every meal is that you have to be careful not to fill up on it least you miss out on the excellent food. Kabobs are for sale nearly everywhere, included the doner kebob, but the real feast is testi kabap. Testi kebap is slow cooked in a clay pot in a stone oven in the floor that is cracked open to serve. In goes a wild assortment of meat, vegetables and spices. The medley is stewed for three hours into a wonder that will tingle your taste buds with an explosion of flavor. Of course, Turkish coffee and Turkish delights are a must.

Turkish Delights
Turkish Delights

Speaking of Turkish delights, they are several! Ephesus is a truly amazing place to visit with its preserved library and colosseum. A stroll through Ephesus on a nice day is wonderful and full of surprises given how well the site is preserved. Pamukkale used to be one of the most famous sites in Turkey. Unfortunately, the water has dried up and the travertines are not all full anymore. Nonetheless, it is worth a visit and little hike to the top where you are greeted with the sprawling ruins of Hierapolis.

Hierapolis, Turkey
Hierapolis, Turkey

The real delight of Turkey, however, is Cappadocia (Persian for land of beautiful horses). No longer filled with horses, there are fairy chimney everywhere. The natural landscape is so unique and unbelievable it is best seen from the air. A hot air balloon, that is. Floating through the valleys and over the cities is a highlight of the visit to Cappadocia. Every morning the sky is filled with so many balloons that you are surprised their is room for them all. When your ride is over you can wait to hike through those valleys and see all those fairy chimneys. You might even be sleeping in one when you visit!

While I had to eventually go home, I did have one last stop in Istanbul to just walk around an explore some more. One can’t get enough to Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar with all exotic ware and foods for sale. And the Blue Mosque is worth two visits if not more. Eventually you have to leave. Waiting for the tram to the airport I hear, “Amerikalı?” and turn to see a smiling gentleman standing next to me. “I love Amerikalı!”  “I love Turkey,” I said. We both smiled and he patted my back in satisfaction. “I’ll be back,” I declared as I hopped on my tram.

Cappadocia, Turkey
Cappadocia, Turkey

How I did it…

Seattle Istanbul Ephesus Pamukkale Cappadocia → Seattle

Primary flight: used points (95,320) to book a flight on Delta from Seattle to Istanbul via Paris; return to Seattle from Istanbul via Amsterdam. Cost: $0

Istanbul, 3 nights: stayed in an inexpensive hotel for €27 a night (roughly $37) called Cordial House Hostel & Hotel which is very centrally located. I had my own room with my own bathroom. Breakfast is not included, but can be purchased for €3 (about $5)  Cost: $110

From Airport: Istanbul has an excellent transportation system. The train takes you directly from the airport to Aksaray where you transfer to a tram that takes you to Sultanahmet; total time is about 50 minutes. Cost: $3

Sites: Most sights are around 10-20TL (about $7-13) (Hagia Sophia, Topkapı Palace, Basilica Cistern, etc.) while many are free (Blue Mosque, Grand Bazaar, Spice Bazaar, Hippodrome, etc.). Cost: approx. $45

Flight to Izmir: I chose Onur Air because they offer a free bus to Selcuk, about 45 minutes away from Izmir. Selcuk is right next to Ephesus and is a cute little town worth a visit in its own right. I just walked from the drop off point to my hotel. Cost: $45

Selcuk, 2 nights: I stayed at Artemis Hotel (not to be confused with Jimmy’s Place); private room and bathroom.  Breakfast was included and the staff was amazingly nice and helpful. I have to admit, the power was out one morning so there was no hot shower and the next morning I realized that the hot water on demand nob was broken the next morning. Sponge bath was fine, though. Cost: $42

Ephesus: There are buses to Ephesus for 3TL. Ephesus was amazing, and a typical entrance fee of 20TL. For some reason they do not give a map with entrance, so that was additional 5TL. I paid an additional 15TL to visit some ruins within Ephesus that are still being excavated. You can easily walk back to town or catch a cab. I shared a cab with some people I met, so my portion was only 5TL. The Virgin Mary house is nearby, but not within walking distance. Mostly for the devout to pray, I skipped it since there wasn’t much to see and I am not religious. Cost: $33

Selcuk sights: Several sights around Selcuk are worth seeing, including the Castle (no entrance), the Basilica of St. John (15TL), Isa Bey Mosque (free), Roman aqueduct (free), Temple of Artemis (which I did not see), and a walk around town. We were lucky since there was the Friday market filling several streets with everything (literally) for sell. That was a blast to walk through. There was some sort of street party the last night, but I managed to sleep through all but a moment of it (I was exhausted, apparently). Cost: $10

Pamukkale: The bus to Pammukale was 3 hours and 23TL. Make sure the bus takes you all the way to Pamukkale (some drop you at Denizili).  I met a nice lady that I spent the day with. The travertines are free to walk up and around, as are the Hierapolis ruins. There is a museum that I skipped, but heard it is an okay visit. Spend a full day exploring. It is worth it, but no need to spend the night as there is not much more. You will be worn out after your day. I had a few beers and a nice mixed grill for dinner for about 20TL and meet a new person (from Seattle no less) that I hung out with for the rest of the trip since our itineraries aligned. Cost: $30

Night bus to Goreme (Cappadocia): The night bus is tough, but fairly comfortable. It lets you get from Pamukkale to Cappadocia without wasting a lot of time traveling since most flight have to go to Istanbul first before Cappadocia. Buy your ticket from a tour company in Pamukkale and it generally includes a ride to Denizli (where the main bus terminal is for the area). Be sure to negotiate the price. I paid 45TL. Cost: $31

Goreme, 3 nights: Goreme has a helpful little tourist information booth at the bus stop. Don’t be afraid to use it for information as they are very helpful. They called my hotel to let them know I was coming and gave me directions. It was already booked and they knew it, they just did it as a courtesy. I stayed at Dream Cave Guesthouse, but did not actually stay in a fairy chimney (my friend scored a very nice fairy chimney room for 60TL) private room and bathroom. Breakfast was included and was quite nice. Cost: $52

Goreme: The first day we went straight to the Open Air Museum (20TL) first thing (make sure you see the church on the way back out, it is included in your ticket price) and then spent the rest of the day relaxing and drinking to recoup from our long bus ride.  The next day was some big stuff, at a big cost. We did a hot air balloon ride for one hour—an absolute must. Negotiate the price and buy it in Goreme (€100). Then we did the Green Tour through the Ihlara Valley (the Red Tour includes the Open Air Museum, something you can and should do on your own). This is an amazing trip that includes a visit to an underground city, a hike through the valley, lunch, and a few other stops for 70TL. After all that we had the best meal ever at Dibek. It was expensive, but worth it given the atmosphere and the food, especially the apricot desert.  Cost: $260

Flight to Istanbul: I used Turkish Airlines and flew from Nevsehir because the schedule was the best, leaving at noon and arrive at 1:15pm (though I was delayed by a couple hours). It was as bit more expensive (129TL) but the flight arrived at Ataturk Airport. Sabiha Gokcen Airport has no metro service and is far from town, requiring a costly taxi ride. A bus from Goreme to Nevsehir is 20TL and takes an hour or so. Cost: $90

Last Day/Night, Instanbul: My flight did not leave until the next morning at 5:55am. I reserved a room, but never used it. Instead I spent the afternoon taking a ferry ride to to the Asia side with an older couple I met on the tram (I was heading to Sultanahmet with no agenda and heard them speaking English). They told me about previous visits to Istanbul and their upcoming travel to other parts of Turkey. We had an okay dinner together. I did a little more looking around, had a couple drinks, then went to the airport where I spend 4 hours resting in an open lounge bar. Cost: $30

Total Trip Cost: $781, plus some nominal incidentals (so around $800)

Total Trip Length: 11 days (2 days for primary flights)

Backpacks versus suitcases

As I prepare for my trip to Turkey, I was thinking about which would be better: backpack or suitcase? I have used both on trips and they both tend to work well. In some circumstances, the suitcase is preferred. In others, the backpack definitely rules. I read a blog in which someone said they decided they would “grow up” and start using suitcases. I am not so sure that person will find suitcases all that convenient for their travels.

Business trips and what I call high end trips tend to require suitcases. On a business trip you often have to take your luggage with you to meetings since you are either rushing from the airport just before a meeting, or rushing to the airport after a meeting. A backpack just looks out of place, especially if you are wearing a suit. There are also suitcases specifically for that purpose. Their design keeps suits, shirts and dresses in fairly decent shape. I have seen people with backpacks at meetings and it just looks unprofessional, I don’t care how comfortable and convenient it is.

On a high end trip you are generally not the one worrying about your luggage, or if you are, you are only worried about it for a brief amount of time while en route to your destination or away from it. You certainly won’t be lugging it around—that will be the porter’s job. A backpack doesn’t make sense since you are not carrying anything yourself or having to worry about size and convenience. Congratulations if you travel like this. You probably don’t visit this site if you do, anyway. So keep with the suitcase. It makes sense for you.

I find the backpack to be very useful if I am moving around a lot, have a minimal amount of stuff with me (though, you would be surprised at how much a good pack can carry), and I am taking the typical traveler clothes—one nice outfit for clubs, one or two regular outfit for everyday use, and one outfit for beaches and the like, plus the odd and ends we all travel with such as sundry items, and so on. You can, of course, through the electronic gadgets in there as well without any issues.

There are no worries about whether the pack will fit because it is flexible, whereas luggage usually isn’t. You can hold the pack if you absolutely need to since there aren’t any sharp edges and wheels to jab you. The pack can grow and shrink as needed, assuming you packed it correctly to start with. And bestof all, there is no dragging heavy luggage across cobblestones (which is what I faced in Central Europe this summer), lugging it across muddy roads or trying to get it up their stairs of your hotel. The backpack is also much easier to get into and has more pockets and spaces.

All in all, I think the backpack wins out for most typical travel given it’s convenience and versatility. There are convertible backpacks worth considering, but I think a good quality backpack is the way to go. Visit a reputable shop that specializes in this type of gear and try out several models. Make sure it fits well and is comfortable. Even if you don’t buy from them, REI is a great place to try on different packs and receive good advice. A good backpack is not cheap, but it is well worth the investment.