Sitting in Coffeemania, #Burdur, listening to Je t'aime which was banned from radio when I was girl. Now fine in cafe w/toddlers present.
You won’t have been in the country for long before you realise that Turkey is not the cheap travel destination it once was.
This is partly because the cost of living in Turkey has skyrocketed over the last decade as the country modernised, but also because many of those working in tourism have, quite understandably, moved upmarket over the years to try and maximise their profits.
Petrol costs are some of the highest in the world which inevitably feeds through not only into public transport fares but also into the cost of everything that has to be transported. Electricity and gas prices are outrageous which explains why hoteliers are reluctant to slash rates in winter. Alcohol is subject to punitive “sin taxes” which means that that glass of wine with your meal can make a huge difference to its price.
But don’t despair. It is still possible to travel cheaply here, and there are certainly lots of ways to keep costs to a minimum especially if you stay away from İstanbul and the coastal hotspots. Travelling in Eastern Turkey is much cheaper than travelling in the west once you’ve absorbed the cost of getting there; this is especially true of eating out which is often blissfully cheap especially in the alcoholic deserts of Diyarbakır and Şanlıurfa.
But it’s also much cheaper to travel round the inland towns of Western Anatolia. Places like Sivrihisar, Göynuk and Akşehir see very few foreign tourists but offer very inexpensive stays to those who do pass through. Competition for the shrinking backpacker market has also kept prices down at the family-run pensions of Selçuk (for Ephesus), Olympos, Antalya (Kaleiçi) and Göreme (Cappadocia).
As yet Turkey doesn’t offer reduced prices for return bus or plane trips. Holders of student cards can get discounts on admission to state-owned museums and other historic sites – and for the time being most such sites are state-owned. There is also an İstanbul Museum Card that offers marginally reduced admission to the main sights - but only if you whip round all of them in three days.
Here are ten more general suggestions for keeping costs to a minimum:
10 Tips for Travelling Cheaply in Turkey
- Travelling by train is cheaper (but slower) than taking the bus. Check first that the station is actually in the town centre so that you don’t end up having to pay a taxi fare to get there. And beware pricy high-speed routes like those linking İstanbul, Ankara and Eskişehir.
- Book internal flights well ahead to get the best prices – midweek is likely to be cheaper than travelling at the weekend (including Monday and Friday). Prices are keenest on routes where Turkish Airlines flies in competition with Pegasus, Sun Express or Atlasjet. Over Turkish public holidays prices soar.
- Never buy food for your journey at the bus station (let alone the airport) as prices are usually double those elsewhere. And remember that bus conductors often come round with tea or coffee immediately AFTER you stop for a meal break, so you may not need to buy a drink at all.
- Always check whether there is a servis, a free transfer to the town centre, before hailing a taxi at the bus station.
- If you’re staying put in any of the big towns for a few days you can usually buy tickets for public transport in bulk at a slightly discounted price. In İstanbul owners of an İstanbulkart (electronic purse) pay less for transfers along the way.
- Away from İstanbul business class hotels often quote much higher room rates than they really expect to get so don’t be scared to ask for an indirim (discount), especially if you’re staying more than one night.
- If your hotel doesn’t do breakfast opt for a bowl of mercimek çorbası (lentil soup) which will be served with enough bread to keep you going all day. A glass of tea is usually thrown in too.
- Shopping in chain supermarkets (Migros, Kipa, Carrefour, Beğendik) helps you keep control of costs as the prices are always clearly marked. Bim and Şok are the discount leaders – limited range but keenest prices.
- These days bargaining is not usual unless you are buying in bulk. The glaring exception is if you are shopping in İstanbul’s Kapalı Çarşı (Covered Bazaar) where it would be unwise (foolish even) to accept the first price offered.
- If you need to take a taxi to an off-the-beaten-track site always negotiate a price inclusive of the round trip plus waiting time with the driver before setting off. Over long distances the meter price is likely to work out more expensive.
Finally, while it's never especially wise to recommend hitchhiking because of its obvious intrinsic risks, word is that Turks are still just as happy as they ever were to give free lifts to the impecunious especially in rural areas where public transport is thin on the ground.
And now there's couchsurfing, the accommodation-seeker's take on hitching. Users report that they have been able to find free bed and board all over the country, usually offered by professional, middle-income Turks with spare space in their homes.