After spending three weeks hopping around Turkey, I have learned a few things. Turkey is an incredible place with diverse areas in every corner of its land. It’s undoubtedly a top five country for me, as evidenced by the amount of time I spent there. Here are a few ideas for you to help plan your trip there.
With over 84 million people, Turkey is the 18th most populous country in the world. These kinds of facts always surprise me. I knew that Turkey was big but even the smaller cities have a ton of people, and sometimes a ton of tourists. When traveling, I enjoy a mix of cities and nature. Cities give you the main sites, historical artifacts, and atmosphere of restaurants and bars, whereas unheralded places have the charm of being untapped by travelers.
Everything takes longer
This is critical to remember. Whether you are on a bus to another city or waiting for your food in a restaurant, count on adding 50% to your expected arrival time. I almost always booked my buses at the bus station right before I was set to depart a town/city (see below), I would ask the clerk how long the trip takes, and he would inevitably say 4 hours or something (because Turkey is huge, nothing is particularly close). I said great, thank you. I then got on the bus with my phone and airpods fully charged…aaaaaand that four hour trip became six.
How does this happen? The first issue is that these buses make a million stops. They stop on the side of the road to drop off old ladies. They pick up high school aged kids returning home from some event. I don’t mean this as a criticism, but something of which you need to be aware. You will get to your destination but make sure you bring water onboard and take advantage of the breaks at random bus stations by buying food and going to the bathroom.
Secondly, you are on a bus. If you put into Google Maps ( who uses Apple Maps?) your trip from your starting point to your destination, it may say 3:15 hours from Denizli to Bodrum. I expected to sleep a little and I would arrive. Nope, the bus arrived 40 minutes later and six hours later we got there. Buses go slower than cars. Sit back, relax, and know that you will eventually arrive…just do not book any tours for the afternoon of your arrival.
You can book buses the day of your travel
I kept all of my bus trips within the range that I could sleep off a hangover, listen to podcasts, nap again, and we arrive…which is about six hours. Meeting plenty of travelers who chose to do multiple overnight journeys because A) you don’t have to pay for a hostel B) cheaper than flying. For these 3-6 hour trips, your best bet is to arrive at the town’s bus station, go to any window, and ask when the next bus is to your desired destination. Even if you have to take a minibus from the smaller town, like you do in Pamukkale and Cappadocia, these run frequently and will not slow down your trip.
There is a website whereby you can book trips in advance and in my experience it does save you a few bucks: obilet.com. It works well but I crave flexibility. I like to book a few nights in a place and if I really love it then I can extend my stay, changing hostels or hotels if need be. I would suggest though that if you want to go a long distance by bus (which is the preferred method for saving money as they’re typically 40% the price of direct flights, nevermind ones with stopovers), that you book in advance. Not that they’re going to fill up but because often they leave at 3 AM and if you show up to a bus station at noon looking to go from Goreme to Trabzon, you could end up waiting half a day.
Small touristy towns typically require an extra bus ride
The incredibly beautiful places to visit in Turkey are much smaller and slightly more difficult to get to than the big cities. Such places as Cappadocia, Pamukkale, Oludeniz, Selçuk, and Olympos are all slightly farther than the main towns to which you will arrive. The means that you will need to wait at the main towns bus station and jump on a minibus (essentially a van), wait for the bus to fill, pay the driver either before you leave or whenever you choose to get off, and it will most likely add another 30-40 minutes to your anticipated arrival time…see no. 1 above.
You can avoid this process, although I suggest going through with it because its simple, efficient, and very cheap, by taking a taxi from any of the bus stations. However, this will be more expensive.
The west coast is like being in a Mediterranean country in Europe, think Italy or Greece
To some travelers, the idea of going to a place that had a recent governmental coup, extreme inflation, and requires a $50 visa to enter can be a deterrent. I found Turkey to be incredibly safe and heard the same thing from every single female traveler who I met. In addition, I would start your journey on the western side of Turkey. Most people arrive in Istanbul and then branch out from there, either working south through Izmir and towards Selcuk, Bodrum, Fethiye, and Oludeniz. Or they jump on a plane or long bus ride and go straight to Cappadocia to see the hot air balloons, working south to Antalya and then back west towards Kas.
My route was the former. Most do not realize that southern Turkey is a Mediterranean climate where summer extends into November. This was perfect for my trip because I love to swim, and did so on November 4th. The landscapes remind me of Greece mainly but a little bit of Italy and Spain as well. Huge mountains affront the coastline and although they do not have the trees and old towns of Italy, these picturesque scenes do evoke the slightly more arid images of Northern Spain (the best part of Spain, a debate for another day).
Don’t be intimidated by people trying to sell you things
This may be the most important one. At the bus stations people will usher you to their preferred stand and try to sell you a bus ticket. When you wander through the markets of the old town in Antalya they will attempt to sell you assorted knick-knacks. This is normal. The people are helpful albeit a tad pushy at times. It can be slightly intimidating for a westerner to be accosted by so many people at once. Just know that it’s normal and everything will work out…maybe a little slower than you would like.
"Harvey Falcon" is the the senior adventure corespondant for Ski Bum Van Life. From Europe to Asia to South America and beyond Harvey offers an exciting take on adventure travel. Read all his stories here.