Sunday, March 20, 2016

Why you should take free stopover tours, with your child

Many major airports in the world, the home of the biggest airline companies, offer free stopover tours for their loyal passengers. In cooperation with the national government, they give their transit passenger a compliment while promoting their own tourism, which, is kind of smart. A lot of people don't know about this, I think mainly because the packages are advertised only on the official website of the airlines, so unless you buy your tickets from their official websites (many people still get their tickets from travel agencies) chance is you won't see the offer.

Until recently I only knew that Turkish airlines, Qatar airways and Emirates offer the tour for transit passengers in Istanbul, Doha and Dubai. A few days ago I found out that Thai airways and Singapore airlines offer the tours for Bangkok and Singapore. We did Istanbul stopover tour twice, in December 2014 and  March 2016; both times with our daughter (seven-month old the first time around and 23-month now the second time). We did two different tours with different destinations because they have several different schedules depending which day your transit its. You can find the detail on their website, but in short, they have three different departures depending when your transit is, with three different tour lengths depending when your connecting flight will be departing; but your transit has to last for a minimum of six hours. It looks more or less like this: you land in Istanbul, get your visa (if you need one) and pass immigration, find the counter and register yourself for the tour, wait for the departure and gather with other participants, and a tour guide will pick you up. They provide a bus which picks you up at the airport, and first drive you to have breakfast (for morning departure). After breakfast you do a walking tour to visit major touristic destinations in Istanbul (first time around they took us to the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Basilica Cistern, the second time around they took us to Basilica Cistern and Topkapi palace) and give you free tickets to enter these places. In the end, they took you to have lunch and the bus drive you back to the airport. All for free. If you have a longer transit time, take a 12-hour tour, and they have another schedule for you after lunch. We had a connecting flight at 5pm so we did the half day tour.

Next time we go to Indonesia (which probably will be the beginning of 2017), we're planning to fly Qatar airways which also now fly from Zagreb, and take their free Doha tour. With Turkish airlines you have to pay for your own visa (it cost around EUR 25), while Qatar gives free complimentary visa. If you're a solo-traveler and not a fan of organized tours, just agree with the tour guide after the bus stops in the city that you'll go see around by yourself and be on the bus at the agreed time for departure. If you're traveling with a child like us, it's probably easier just to go with the rundown. The thing is, both times we did the tour, no other child was present. In a group of around forty of us, my toddler was always the only child (which made her the star of the tour). Most family prefer to just stay in the airport (in their safe zone) waiting for the next flight, rather than going out, back in, doing all the hassle. And I want to reassure you why we think it's pretty cool to do the tour with a child (or two):

Because she needs some fresh air

If you're flying from Europe to Asia, or from Australia to the USA, or wherever you're flying, you'll most likely have one stopover or two. That probably means 30 hours of breathing "stale" air. The air-conditioned plane, straight to the air-conditioned airport, back to the air-conditioned plane. Repeat one more time. During winter times they probably over heat, and during the summer times they over cool. My lips always crack during this kind of trip, my eyes burn and my skin gets sticky. Well my legs and my butt also hurt from all the sitting. I imagine it's probably even a worse for a toddler. Get out of the airport, use the free tour if offered. Breathe some fresh natural air outside, walk and stretch your muscles and let your child runs free a little.

Because she has enough of burger kings and Starbucks

Even if we try to eat as healthy as possible at home with all of the organic foods, green smoothies and chia seeds, when you have hours and hours at the airport, you probably end up buying fries in burger king or pastries with sausages in Starbucks. Just to kill time, or to get the wifi password, or because you don't know what else to get. My child eats everything really, but I know that she would prefer other things than three bags of fries with ketchup in six hours. When we took the tour now, we had some Turkish breakfast with rich choices of local cheeses, olives and tomatoes, breads and ayran (Turkish salted yogurt) which my daughter loved! For lunch they took us to have a delicious beef kebab with salad and spiced rice and the famous Turkish lentil soup for which my daughter asked for a second bowl. So it really is a time to get your child familiar with different cuisines!

Because anything new is interesting for her

When you're two, almost everything in the world is something you haven't seen before. And everything you haven't seen before is interesting to explore, to touch, or to lick. If you choose to stay in the airport during a long stopover, she'll see and do the things she's been doing probably for the last twenty hours. Escalators and fast moving tracks, trolleys drive along the alleys of duty free shops, riding mommy while she's on the massage chair, or getting candies from the aunties at the Victoria's secret shops. Get her out and see things she never seen before, and talk about it. We told her stories how Hagia Sophia was once a church and a mosque, stories about the Ottoman empire, about the Turkish miracle nuts called hazelnuts, and stuff like that. It doesn't really matter whether she truly understands, my toddler listened and responded with "aaaa" and nods. She asked "what's that" for everything: roasted chestnuts on the streets, sleeping dogs, high minarets of the mosques, blue nazars to repel the evil-eye curse, and so on. She touched every flower, pointed at every tram that passes, excited about almost everything we saw and went into.

Because come on, give yourself a break!

You would rather be in the airport than seeing things in the city? Oh come on! Okay, probably if you've visited Istanbul for like thirty times in your life, you'd rather pass the tour. But after being in Istanbul for four times, I still prefer to be in the city than in the airport. Especially if it's a city you've never been in before. Aren't you curious? To meet the local people, to try the local cuisine, to see the architecture? Trust me it's easier to catch your happily running toddler around in an open space with fresh air than on a slippery airport tiles with overly heated air. Well I, am looking forward for my free complimentary tour in Doha.

1 comment:

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