Lale Aran and her husband Tankut have been leading tours in Turkey for Rick Steves since 1997. She believes in Rick's "Back Door" philosophy, and enjoys expanding Americans' horizons about her native land.
How did you meet Rick Steves?
A travel agent who had worked with my husband in the past recommended us to Rick. She then arranged an appointment for us to meet. This was back in 1996, when we had no idea who Rick Steves was, but we were familiar with the "Back Door" tour style.
How did you get into guiding?
In the university years, one of my classmates asked me if I would join her to take the entrance examination of the "Tour Guiding School" organized by the Ministry of Tourism. I said fine, without realizing what it really was. My friend failed, but I passed the exams. I decided to complete the education since I had the right. After finishing the guiding school, I decided to work during the weekends as a guide for my pocket money, as I was still a university student. I worked during summer holidays and every other opportunity. It was growing on me. I never thought I would like guiding this much. Finally, I decided to practice it as a career.
Where is your favorite place to show tour members on the Rick Steves Best of Turkey tour?
There is not one, but several places. To name one, Cappadocia comes first, I guess. It is a magic land with outstanding volcanic formations, a rich history, and most important of all, I should say, the people. I must say that every place you go in Turkey is a nice surprise to our travelers, as there is so much diversity and many interesting moments. The people, living culture, history, art, and architecture; Turkey is diverse, and the Best of Turkey tour provides an interesting perspective for a better understanding of this unique diversity.
Besides Rick Steves, do you lead tours for anyone else?
I have been a certified guide since 1989. I have worked for a variety of companies in the past. Now, I only lead Rick Steves tours and lead and assist a few others that we organize on our own to undiscovered destinations in Turkey and neighboring countries.
How are Rick Steves tour members different from other tour members?
Most of all, Rick Steves tour members travel to Turkey to understand and share the values, history, and culture, past and present, not just to have one more stamp in their passport. Our travelers are flexible, with a lot of respect to local cultures and people. They can easily show that they are in Turkey for the values. The locals understand this, and so they are very welcoming to our travelers.
Some Americans are nervous that they will be the recipient of anti-American sentiment in Turkey. What would you say to dispel that misconception?
Anti-American sentiment has never been an issue in this country. People of Turkey have the common sense and understanding that visitors do not necessarily agree with the policies of their country, or the politicians. Turkish people are easygoing, and honest in the way they talk. When you ask, they will tell you what they think. They do not personalize anything in the identity of the good-willed traveler who came that far to see this country. Our tour members agree on one thing at the end of tours, and that is that the friendliness and the hospitality of the Turkish people is incredible. You can easily see this through the tour surveys they write.
Why should people who are interested in Europe travel to Turkey?
Visiting Turkey will extend your horizons. Everybody always talk about the cradle of civilization being in this place or that. I say, "Wait till you see Turkey and what it has to offer." Turkey is Asia Minor, home to countless, very important civilizations throughout the history — not only one. It has been the crossroads of cultures both in the past and today. It is not only a physical bridge between Europe and Asia, but also a cultural one.