Turkey 2013

This trip was cancelled on February 16th, 2013, due to low enrollment and a changing security situation in Turkey.

When: May 31 – June 30, 2013

Where: Turkey

Who: 8-10 students (ages 14-19) plus trip leaders Jack and Michelle

How Much: $3500 plus airfare

Priority Application Date: Jan 1, 2013

Welcome to Turkey

Going to Turkey is like stepping through a Narnia-like portal into ancient history: You can walk among the ruins of Troy, climb the walls that guarded crusader castles, sing to your friends from the stage of a Greek amphitheater, descend seven stories underground to a hideout built for Christians during 7th century Arab raids, visit inns where Silk Road camel caravans took their rest, and tour the small city that was once the Harem of the Sultan.

  • Noah’s Ark? Washed ashore in Turkey.
  • The seven wonders of the ancient world? Turkey has two.
  • Rumi? Entombed in Turkey. You can still see Whirling Dervishes perform.
  • Cleopatra? Met Mark Antony in Turkey.
  • The Virgin Mary? Resting in peace, in Turkey.
  • King Midas? Geographically speaking, a Turk.
  • Santa Claus? Saint Nick was born in what is now southern Turkey.

That’s just the beginning. Turkey’s more than history. It’s a land of gregarious, romantic, patriotic, and hospitable people who descended from horsemen of Asia and, today, are predominantly liberal Muslims. The landscape includes sparkling Mediterranean beaches, sub-tropical rainforests, river canyons, and high deserts with endless horizons. Turkey’s food reflects its cultures both past and present: Greek, Armenian, Jewish, Lebanese, Serbian and Russian.

No matter whether you’re a history buff, outdoors enthusiast, or you just want to explore a fascinating new part of the world, this Unschool Adventures trip will be a voyage of a lifetime.

Kachkar Mountains, Turkey – Photo: Flickr / Ran Yaniv Hartstein

Trip Destinations

Every Unschool Adventures trip is created with specific purposes in mind. This trip will sample four different regions in Turkey, giving us a chance to become better acquainted with the landscape, customs, subcultures, and history of each. Our destinations include:


This city will blow you away. Domed mosques and minarets stack upon each other, and open-air and covered markets sell everything from spices to birds to bathtubs. Along the labyrinthine streets stand Greek and Roman ruins, palaces resplendent with treasures of past empires, and churches and mosques without architectural equal in the world, all surrounded by a city in constant motion. We’ll walk through the oldest parts of the city, getting a feel for its historical layout and the hidden corners of what was once Constantinople. We’ll take a boat cruise up the Bosphorus, which divides the city into Europe and Asia. We’ll visit a monastery where the Whirling Dervishes still dance. Street vendors selling things like roasted chesnuts and corn on the cob will provide a good part of our food, and occasionally we’ll dine at sidewalk restaurants where gypsy musicians serenade the patrons. We’ll make sure to hit the high points on the tourist trail: Aya Sofia, The Topkapi Palace, the underground cisterns, and the grand mosques of Suleyman. While visiting Istanbul, we’ll stay in youth hostels and mostly dine out.


In this region of pink canyons smoothed by time and carved by settlers, we’ll have the chance to see how the first Christians lived and worshipped. We’ll visit churches chiseled right into the canyon walls, descend seven stories into underground cities where residents went in troubled times, and hike among the orchards and farms of modern-day inhabitants. Our hosts here are 6th generation potters and we’ll stay with them in Avanos, a town known for its ceramics. We’ll have the chance to join a pottery workshop and meet with local teenagers who live in Avanos. While visiting Cappadocia, we’ll stay in guest houses, eat out sometimes, and prepare our own meals sometimes.

Kachkar Mountains

 Rising to nearly 13,000 feet within 30 miles of the Black Sea are the rugged Kaçkar Mountains, where shepherds pasture their herds among jeweled lakes and alpine meadows of wildflowers. Here we’ll stay with a Turkish family that has been homesteading for generations in one of the deep and verdant valleys leading to the mountains. Sprinkled in the semi-tropical forests are small hamlets, nearly inaccessible to all but foot travel, where famous products include tea, honey and cheese and yogurt. We’ll help with the daily work on our host family’s homestead: gardening, tending to animals, trailbuilding. Then we will set out by foot on a four-day backpack into the mountains, taking us to the summer hamlets above treeline where you can watch the fog roll in from the Black Sea atop a 11,000-foot mountain. While visiting the Kachkar Mountains, we’ll stay in small cabins, eat with host families, and camp for three nights.

Farm Stay in Assos

Turkey is basically the breadbasket, fruit bowl and vegetable garden for Europe; almost everything is grown here, year-round. With demand for organic produce increasing, Turkey has spawned its own WWOOFing network. We’ll stay with a lovely Turkish/English family that runs an olive orchard near the ancient Greek city of Assos, where Aristotle resided during the peak of his career. The Aegean Sea is just down the road, and only 15 miles of open water separates us from the Greek island of Lesbos, where the great lyric poet of the 6th century B.C., Sapphos, was born. During our stay we’ll combine work with play, visit a nearby school, and eat 3 delicious vegetarian meals a day from our hosts’ garden. While visiting Assos, we’ll be staying and eating on the WWOOF farm.


Detailed Itinerary

Day 1 – 2: Air travel from New York to Istanbul

Day 2 – 3: Istanbul Part 1. Get acquainted with each other, rest from flight, introduction to historic old city.

Day 4 – 10: Farmstay in Assos. Mornings we help the family who runs the Dedetepe Farm on their olive farm. Activities include basic farm chores, yoga and meditation, informal talks on Turkish culture. Afternoons free to explore nearby ruins and seashore.

Day 11 – 17: Homestay in Avanos/Cappadocia. Morning hikes through valleys to cave churches, pottery workshop, visit with teens from nearby trade school, trip to underground city. Afternoons free for working on pottery, walks in small villages, or down time at our home.

Day 18 – 26: Homestay with Turkish family in Kachkars. Daily activities with our host family might include tending to their vegetable garden, monitoring their bee hives, helping build trails between hamlets, or any number of projects that suit the interests of our group. Within our stay here we ascend to the alpine country and spend four days backpacking in the Kachkar Mountains (tentative).

Day 27 – 31: Istanbul Part 2. Morning walks through old city to explore The Hagia Sophia, grand bazaar, Turkish baths, underground cisterns, several historic mosques; watch ceremony of the Whirling Dervishes, take a boat ride up the Bosphorus. Afternoons free for exploration, journal writing, blogging, etc.

Day 32: Fly home.


Everyday Activities

  • Daily group meeting and check-in
  • Internet access (including e-mail and Skype) available in most locations
  • Helping with group meal preparation, clean-up, and packing.
  • Free/unstructured time for exploration, photography, journaling, relaxation, and spontaneous fun

Cappadoce Fairy Chimneys – Photo: flickr / blieusong

Safety in Turkey

Turkey is a country that cares deeply about its reputation abroad. The majority of Turks have very positive associations with Americans. Turks are extremely proud of their strong tradition of hospitality and foreign guests are often embarrassed by the royal treatment they receive. Politically Turkey is a dynamic yet stable democracy. There is a strong trust in the military and great respect for its security forces. Acts of political violence aimed at foreigners are rare: When they have occurred (none since 2006) they were limited to high profile tourist destinations on the Mediterranean crowded with Europeans on beach holidays. Military officials and police have been attacked by members of the Kurdish Workers Party over the conflict in the southeast part of the country. Our itinerary stays clear of both the touristy spots and very far from the conflict in the Southeast. We will be staying in small villages where there is a tourist presence, but far from the well-worn path most tour groups follow. The trip leaders monitor the safety situation in Turkey through local contacts and will continue to do so up to (and throughout) this trip.


Trip Leaders

Visit the leaders page to learn more about trip leaders Jack and Michelle (and their 4-year-old Sylvia, who will also join the trip!).

Turkish boy in Ottoman costume. Photo: Flickr / sly06

How to Apply for Enrollment

Apply by filling out our online application. We’ll get in touch and schedule a short phone interview. Enrollment will be offered beginning on the Priority Application Date (see top). After being offered enrollment, completed paperwork and a security deposit are required to secure your spot.

Have More Questions?

Contact us via e-mail or phone and we’ll be happy to answer your questions.

Frequently Asked Questions

*Please read our FAQ for answers to common questions about U.A. international trips*

How much are the extra costs on this trip?

The program fee does not include international airfare (to Istanbul), domestic airfare (to our U.S. departure airport), the $20 turkey tourist visa, and personal spending money.

International airfare to Istanbul varies widely, with a rough estimate of $1000. We recommend bringing at least $150 for spending money (snacks, internet, toiletries, etc.). In total, the estimated extra costs are $1170 plus domestic airfare to/from our U.S. departure airport (most likely New York JFK or LaGuardia).

How physically fit do I need to be?

Most of the physical activity on this trip will involve walking up to four hours/day with carrying just your snacks and water. Late in the trip we will walk at 8 – 9,000 ft for four days, carrying backpacks weighing 30 lbs. Throughout the farmstays we will do some physical labor, so participants should be ready to work in the garden or build trails for a half day.

Are there special considerations for female travelers in Turkey?

As a young women traveling in Turkey you should be prepared for a little more attention than normal. Most of it is curiosity, some of it is flirtatious, and rarely is it offensive. In big cities you will see some women wearing the full veil, but most Turkish women dress very much like any fashion-conscious woman in the West. When visiting mosques you will be required to wear a head scarf; this proves to be a useful fashion accessory for a variety of situations. We will always be traveling as a group so that slightly awkward feeling of being a foreigner (female or male, none of us will be anonymous) will be shared by all.

How will we get around?

Turkey has an extensive network of luxury-class bus companies. You’ll ride in more comfort and receive better treatment than you would on any airline in the U.S. We will take one domestic flight with a reputable Turkish airline.

How much free time will there be?

Students will enjoy multi-hour blocks of free time in pretty much every destination. This is a good time to explore, journal, write postcards or e-mails, or simply relax.

Will I be able to keep in touch with my family?

Students will have access to computers at most destinations, allowing students access to e-mail and (sometimes) Skype. If you’d like more options for staying in touch, we recommend bringing a small wi-fi enabled device (e.g. iPod) if you’d like to take advantage of available wi-fi networks. Trip leaders will be available via e-mail and will carry an international cell phone in case of emergency.

What’s the plan for health safety?

We will drink only bottled water (which is available everywhere), stick to restaurants with excellent reputations for cleanliness, and eat a lot of home cooked meal from our Turkish hosts. For more serious conditions there are state and private hospital and clinics in every town we visit. Jack is a registered EMT and has been in several Turkish hospitals as a patient and patient’s advocate.

What’s the food like in Turkey?

Be prepared to gain weight…based on simple, fresh ingredients, the food in Turkey is delightful and diverse. Stuffed vegetables, flatbreads with pizza toppings, spicy kebabs, filo-dough cheese pastries, lentil soup, and lots of fresh baked bread are just a few examples.

I have special dietary restrictions (vegetarians, vegan, or gluten-free): will I survive?

Most definitely. Fresh fruits and vegetables have such a prominent role in Turkish cuisine that one could easily live without dairy, meat, and/or flour.

What special gear do I need?

A backpack is the ideal way to carry your stuff around, but you don’t need a fancy, high-tech one. Comfortable walking shoes are a must.

Do you recommend reading any books to better understand Turkey?

The Black Book, Orhan Pamuk (Nobel Laureate)
Memed, My Hawk, Yashar Kemal
Birds Without Wings, Louis de Bernieres
My Name is Red, Orhan Pamuk
A Fez of the Heart, Jeremy Seal
Journey to Kars, Phillip Glazebrook

Go top