What I Wish I Knew Before Backpacking Turkey Alone

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I spent a month backpacking Turkey in 2022 and LOVED it. Turkey quickly became one of my favourite countries, and I already started planning my next trip there before I even left.

Even though my solo trip to Turkey was amazing, there are still a few things I wish I knew before backpacking Turkey. Things that would have made my trip go a little bit smoother or save me time or money.

So if you’re planning a trip to Turkey (which I’m assuming you are since you’re reading this article), I hope the information in this post helps you avoid making the same mistakes I made on my first trip to Turkey.

Just because there are things I wish I knew before backpacking Turkey doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go to Turkey!

It’s hard to describe just how beautiful and friendly Turkey is. It’s the type of the place you have to see to believe. Especially places like Ephesus and Antalya.

Turkey truly is one of the most underrated countries in the world and doesn’t get as much love as it deserves.

Anyways, you’re not here to listen to me gush about Turkey. You’re here to learn how to prepare better for your trip to Turkey!

So, here are all the things I wish I knew before backpacking Turkey. Hopefully they’re of some help to you!

Library of Celsius, Ephesus, Turkey

Intercity Buses are Always Late

I relied on intercity buses to get between cities while backpacking Turkey. I quickly learned that even though they normally leave on time, they don’t seem to get to their destination on time.

I never had an intercity bus arrive at the destination anywhere near the time it was supposed to.

The most on time bus I was on was an hour late. The latest was 5 hours. It was painful. What was supposed to be a 5 hour bus ride turned into a 10 hour bus ride. People were not pleased at all.

I’m not entirely sure why the intercity buses would arrive at their destination later than scheduled. There didn’t seem to be any unscheduled stops or super long stops at bus stations along the way.

It’s not really a big deal that the buses run late as long as you’re aware of it an plan for it. Here are a few tips:

  • Take the first bus of the day if you’re on a long bus ride. This will ensure you have a better chance of arriving in your next city while it’s still daylight.
  • Don’t plan anything for right when you’re scheduled to arrive in your next city. Allow at least two to three hours of leeway before you have any plans.
  • Make sure you bring water, snacks, and entertainment for the bus. I have Libby and rent audiobooks from my library!
  • Most buses has a two by one seating arrangement. If you can get a single seat, your bus journey will be so much more comfortable.

I found the buses in Turkey to be quite comfortable. They have big, cozy seats, and you don’t feel squished.

They’re also extremely affordable and in my opinion the best way to travel around Turkey. That is, of course, you’re only in Turkey for a few days and travelling long distances. Then flying is probably the way to go.

top tip

Install an esim on your phone, so you can scroll the internet or watch YouTube during your bus rides.

Turkish People are Super Friendly, but it Could Also be a Scam

Turkish people are super friendly. Hotel workers, shop owners, restaurant servers. Everybody I met in Turkey was just the nicest.

However, there is a bit of a downside to that as well.

With the Turkish people being so nice, it may lure you into a false sense of confidence that everybody is super nice and friendly and just wants to say hi.

That’s true for most people, but there are a few people who have decided to use how friendly Turkish people are and turn it into a scam.

Luckily, it’s super easy to figure out who is likely scamming you and who is just being friendly and helpful.

If someone offers to tour you around their favourite parts of the city, that’s likely a scam. They’ll end up taking you to a carpet shop and try to pressure you into purchasing an expensive carpet.

The people who do this (in my experience) are often older men who seem very friendly and helpful. When someone tried doing this to me in Selçuk, he saw me walking from the bus stop to my hotel. He asked where I was staying (I didn’t tell him) and tried to continue making conversation.

Later that day, I walked by him again on my way to dinner, and he once again tried to strike up a conversation with me. Giving me tips and information on the city and Ephesus. Then he invited me in to learn about how he makes carpets in a traditional way.

So, if a random person comes up to you on the street and starts making small talk, just assume they’re trying to sell you something.

The people you’d meet in normal circumstances like people at cafes or shops who are being friendly are just nice people!

It’s pretty easy to figure out who may be trying to scam you and who is just nice.

Antalya, Turkey

There are Lots of Places You Don’t Have to Barter

Almost every blog post I read before backpacking Turkey told me that I’d have to barter for any souvenirs I wanted.

I don’t like to barter. I avoid it at all costs and do everything in my power to avoid it. I thought based on what I was reading that I’d have to barter in Turkey.

That definitely wasn’t the case.

I had no trouble finding souvenirs that didn’t require any bartering. If you enjoy bartering, there are lots of places you can do that, but if you’re like me and hate it, there are also lots of places that you can just pay the sticker price.

Here are some of my best tips for finding places you don’t have to barter:

  • Purchase souvenirs at museum gift shops or at tourist attractions. This may sound weird because those places are normally very overpriced, but that wasn’t the case in Turkey. I found more unique souvenirs at museum gift shops than in most places in Turkey, and they didn’t break the bank.
  • Avoid souks and markets. You’re pretty much guaranteed to have to barter there.
  • Take a peak in the shop windows. If you see prices, then you likely don’t have to barter.
  • If you walk into a store or stall where you realize you have to barter and you don’t want to, just walk out. The store owner may call at you trying to get you to stay, but you’re under no obligation to stay.
  • Don’t purchase souvenirs at the airport. You won’t have to barter, but they’re significantly more expensive than outside the airport. Probably the highest markup I’ve ever seen at an airport.

The Cities are Very Walkable

Every single city I visited in Turkey was extremely walkable. This includes Istanbul. I only took public transportation twice in Istanbul. Once to get from the bus station to my hotel and to get to the Asian side of Istanbul and back to the European side.

You can get most places in Turkey with your own two feet and not have to rely on public transportation. I even walked from my hotel to Ephesus in about 30 minutes!

The only outlier to the walkability of Turkey is the bus stations. They tend to be way out of the main part of town, and you can’t walk to wherever you’re staying. I typically took a taxi rather than the bus because it was faster, more convenient, and still very affordable.

So, make sure you have your walking shoes packed when backpacking Turkey because you’ll be using them a lot.

I’m by no means complaining. I love walking and try to avoid public transit as much as possible when I travel. Turkey was a dream. It was so dreaming walking around the old streets and see all the architecture.

You always see way more by walking than when taking public transportation.

Cash Always Preferred

I took out enough cash for my entire trip backpacking Turkey before I left Canada, so the love of cash over cards in Turkey wasn’t an issue for me.

I did, however, see lots of tourists scrambling to find an ATM machine or bank because the merchant they were purchasing from didn’t accept credit cards.

Many stores and restaurants in major cities like Istanbul and Antalya accept credit cards. It is less common in smaller cities and in souks or markets.

I highly recommend you always have cash on you when travelling in Turkey. You don’t want to be in a situation where you can’t pay for your food or entrance ticket just because you don’t have cash.

I had about 14,000 Lira (approximately $525 USD) with me for my month backpacking Turkey in 2023. It was more than enough for restaurants, entry fees, grocery store snack runs, transportation, and taxis. I even ended up spending a lot of money on Turkish towels the day before I left because I had a lot of cash left over.

Note: This is just what I spent in 2023. Please don’t use it to base your information off of. Inflation is high in Turkey right now, and you may travel and spend differently than I do.

Moral of the story is bring some cash to Turkey. You’ll need it.

Istanbul

Turkish Delight is the Most Addicting Thing Ever

I never had Turkish delight before visiting Turkey. The two things I knew about it was the little boy in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was willing to betray his family for them and that Lorelei and Rory in Gilmore Girls hated them.

Two very polarizing opinions.

I had no idea what to expect when it came to Turkish delight. I was honestly a bit nervous about trying them because they seem like a love it or hate it item.

Let me be the first one to tell you that Turkish delight is incredible. You’ll become obsessed with it and want it all the time. It is so flavourful and light and just delicious. Leave room in your suitcase to bring some home!

My favourites are from Ali Muhiddin Hacı Bekir in Istanbul. They’re the oldest Turkish delight makers in the country, and you can’t beat the flavour of them. They’re also very affordable as well.

I would try to stay away from the ones being sold by street vendors that are six packages for a couple of dollars. They tend to be lower quality and won’t give you the best impression of Turkish delight.

But even those are way better than what you’ll likely find in your home country.

Please just promise me you won’t leave Turkey without trying Turkish delight. Unless you have an allergy of course!

You can probably tell that I’m very passionate about Turkish delight and dream about them all the time seeing as I’ve dedicated a whole section to it in this article that’s supposed to be about backpacking Turkey and not how amazing Turkish delight are.

Some Tourist Attractions are Quite Expensive

I honestly don’t quite understand the pricing at tourist attractions in Turkey.

Some of them are extremely affordable like Ephesus (they should really be charging more for it). Some entry fees are super expensive like Troy and Dolmabahce Palace are more expensive than they should be.

I suggest you bring a fair amount of cash with you on the days you visit tourist attractions that have an entry fee. You never really know what the entrance fee will be until you get there.

You may be thinking just Google the entrance fee. That seems logical, but from my experience, what is listed online isn’t always correct. The internet said the entrance fee to Troy was one price, and when I got there, it was twice the price listed online.

Gotta love inflation!

So, be prepared to be surprised about how much some tourist attractions cost. Sometimes you’ll feel like you’re getting a good deal. Sometimes you’ll feel like you’re overpaying.

It all balances out in the end, and this is likely your only time backpacking Turkey, so you may as well do what you want and not have regrets when you get home.

The Museum Pass is Istanbul is Worth it

I normally think that the museum or city passes are a bit of scam. You rarely get your money’s worth out of them.

That isn’t the case with the Istanbul museum pass. It is 100% worth the money, and I highly recommend everybody consider getting it on their trip to Turkey.

Heck the entrance fee to Topkapi Palace is about half the cost of the museum pass in one single attraction.

You have to be very careful when buying your museum pass though!

There are two different passes you can get in Istanbul. The museum pass that gets you entry to 10 different museums and Topkapi Palace. And the Istanbul pass that gives you access to something like 85 different attractions in Istanbul.

You want to purchase the museum pass not the Istanbul pass.

At the time of writing, the museum pass is 700 Lira (approximately $26 USD).

You used to be able to purchase the museum pass online and have it delivered to your hotel when you arrived in Istanbul, but that stopped during Covid.

Now you have to purchase the museum pass in person when you’re in Istanbul. Luckily, it’s very easy to purchase.

There are museum pass stalls all over Istanbul near the popular tourist attractions. Especially the attractions included in the museum pass.

I purchased mine right near Hagia Sophia. The location was surprisingly very quiet compared to the one near Galata Tower. If you’re able to, I’d recommend purchasing your museum pass there.

Your museum pass is valid for 5 days after purchase and allows you entry to the 10 locations once.

My favourite museum included in the museum pass was Great Palace Mosaics Museum. I highly recommend you take half hour out of your day to visit it!

Çanakkale, Turkey

Taxis are Very Affordable

I’m from Canada, and taxis here are very expensive. Since that’s what I’m used to, I kind of think of taxis as a luxury and not something that should be used on a regular basis.

That’s not the case in Turkey.

Taxis are very affordable in Turkey. That’s a good thing since bus stations tend to be located quite a distance out of town, and you might not want to wait an hour or so to catch a bus.

If you need to get somewhere quickly in Turkey or don’t want to wait for a bus, you can take a taxi without breaking the bank. It’s quite nice to know you can rely on taking a taxi without stressing about how much it’s going to cost you. A nice luxury indeed.

I found the taxi drivers to be very helpful and didn’t really have an issue with being scammed, which is always a bit of a concern as a solo female traveller.

The only time I got mildly scammed was my ride to the Istanbul airport, but that was only for a couple of dollars. Not a big deal in the whole big scheme of things.

Just make sure the taxi driver turns on the meter and that the meter actually starts counting upwards.

Turkey is More Affordable than I Thought it Would be

All the blogs I read in preparation for backpacking Turkey told me that Turkey was affordable. I took that with a grain of salt because they were written before Covid, and I knew Turkey was dealing with a major inflation problem.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Turkey was a lot more affordable than I thought it would be. Even when I was in Istanbul and ate in a touristy area where the prices are always way higher, the prices were still very reasonable.

In a lot of cases, I found Turkey more affordable than some Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia and even Cambodia.

It is definitely a country you want to visit if you’re on a budget and love history. Even if you’re not on a budget, it’s always nice to have your money stretch a little more than you thought it would.

I found that if I took information from a 2019 budget guide, I could often expect to pay about 50% more for food. That was in 2022 at least. Prices have probably increased a bit since then as well.

Even though the prices have increased a fair amount in the past couple of years, it’s still very affordable in Turkey compared to other nearby countries and especially Europe.

top tip

Leaving a 10% to 15% tip at restaurants in Turkey is customary.

You Need Your Passport for More than You’d Think

In most countries you need your passport to check into hotels and into flights, and that’s pretty much it. China’s a big exception to this rule, but, in general, you don’t really need your passport all that often when you travel.

Turkey is also an exception to this rule. I found myself pulling out my passport way more than I normally have to when I travel.

You need your passport to book bus and train tickets and sometimes even to purchase entrance tickets to tourist attractions.

The most strange thing is that oftentimes my passport number was the login for the wifi. This meant I had to wait quite a while before I could access the internet in my room (that wasn’t an issue since I had an esim) and that I ended up memorizing my passport number. That is not something I ever thought would happen.

Be sure to carry your passport on you when backpacking Turkey. You never know when you might need it.

Antalya, Turkey

The Importance of Internet Safety

One of the most important travel safety tips that most people ignore or don’t know about. You rely on public wifi when you travel. Even if you have an esim (highly recommend!), you’ll still be using public wifi at your hotel at a minimum.

Public wifi puts you at risk of having your personal online information and data stolen. Even if it has a password on it, everybody else who knows the password is able to access the internet. Anybody who wants to and knows how can access your online data.

Trust me when I tell you that you don’t want to deal with cancelling your bank cards while abroad because someone stole your banking information. It’s a headache I don’t wish on anybody.

The only way to keep your online information safe when using public wifi is by installing a VPN on your devices.

It essentially puts a forcefield around your devices that makes it impossible for prying eyes to access your online information.

A VPN makes using public wifi networks just as safe as using your home wifi where you’re the only person who knows the password.

Its’ the easiest and quickest safety precaution you can take when travelling!

NordVPN

My Favourite VPN

I’ve used a lot of different VPNs over my many years of travel. VPNs are notorious for slowing down your devices and making the internet painfully slow. A lot of the time I would turn off my VPN and put my information at risk just because the VPN was slowing down the internet so much.

All that changed when I started using NordVPN. It’s the quickest VPN on the market. I’ve never noticed any internet slowdown and forget I’m using a VPN most of the time. It just feels like I’m scrolling the internet like normal.

Not only is it the fastest and most reliable VPN out there, but it’s also super affordable. You can install NordVPN on up to six devices on a single subscription, so you can protect all your devices for one price.

The price per month of a two-year subscription is less than a single Starbuck’s latte!

I always say that if you can afford to travel, you can afford to protect your online information with a VPN.

top Pick
NordVPN

NordVPN

Get the fastest and most reliable VPN on the market!

My Favourite Things I Did While in Turkey

once in a lifetime

Visit Ephesus (one of the highlights of my life)

Conclusion

I really hope this article helped you decide whether backpacking Turkey is right for you or not. I love Turkey and really want to encourage more people to visit it.

It’s one of the most beautiful and historically rich countries on the planet!

Turkey is also extremely safe and a great place to start exploring as a solo traveller. It’s easy to get around, affordable, and full of bucket list experiences.

I know a lot of people just visit Istanbul and Cappadocia, but I encourage you to spend more time in Turkey and explore some of the less popular tourist areas. You won’t regret it!

What I Wish I Knew Before Backpacking Turkey AloneWhat I Wish I Knew Before Backpacking Turkey AloneWhat I Wish I Knew Before Backpacking Turkey AloneWhat I Wish I Knew Before Backpacking Turkey Alone
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