Note: These tips are as per 2019 September but there’s no reason many of them will not be relevant for whenever you’d plan your travel to Turkey. We hope you learn from our goof ups and make fewer of yours! 😉
- Food, in general, is significantly less spicy than Indian food – salt content is low and if lucky lemon is the only added seasoning on the table. That being said- please eat the local food – it was very healthy and irrespective of how picky you are, you’re missing out on an experience if you choose not to enjoy different flavours and cuisines.If you’re vegetarian learn the word for vegetarian in Turkish(it sounds similar to the English word). Vegan food is a little harder but vegetarian options are available.
- For some inexplicable reason, water was never served at restaurants we visited. The only options were bottled water which we hated purchasing but it seemed like the only option. Even at the Airbnbs, there was no equivalent to a water purifier so we literally had to buy drinking water in bottles for our entire time there.
There are a few options you have which you can pick based on your connectivity needs
- If it’s very important to have your phone calls on your personal number active – you may want to enable international roaming on your number before you leave your home country to be sure.
- If you’re ok with just internet being available on your phone + you’ve multiple devices for which you need connectivity, you can buy a pocket hotspot. We have not done a thorough price/quality comparison but we found this very convenient- especially their chat support to pick up and drop the device at the airport.
- If you’d need to make local phone calls in addition to having internet connectivity, and you don’t have too many devices to connect you can purchase a local SIM at the airport. As of today, Turkcell is an operator said to have the most coverage in Turkey.
- Understandably price may also be a consideration for your choice, so you may want to compare options based on your expected usage ,price and duration of stay to help take the final decision. Also just carry one good power bank at least for any travel in general.
- Spend time learning a few basic words to help you in Turkey. We simply installed a random free “learn Turkish” app and spent our long flight incoming flight learning the words and testing each other on them.
- Considering how kind the local people are, you’ll be glad you at least learnt the word for Thank you-teşekkür ederim. Other words that are important are those for the restroom, sorry, help, how much, no, yes, hospital, words based on your food preferences etc. Install a translation app like google translate just to be sure.
- If you’ve food allergies or health conditions, please don’t depend on your memory/pronunciation/availability of internet connectivity/your phone battery. Just print it out clearly in complete sentences and show it at every relevant place.
- We had the best moments during our trip in short conversations with people from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh who made a living in Turkey and who were so glad to see someone from a familiar part of the world. You will feel the same too. If you’ve a longer chat with the locals or them, a general rule (in life) is to avoid conversations on politics and religion- especially in a foreign land. But otherwise, be kind, indulge them and yourselves for an opportunity to open your eyes and hearts to lives other than your own.
- Always carry a scarf – works great for the sun and for entrance to mosques and tombs where you’d need to cover your head.
- In general dress on the more conservative side so you can have a flexible itinerary and visit any of the stunning mosques and tombs. Conservative = cover elbows and knees, shoulders at the very least.
- When commuting between cities take the bus instead of the flights. The airports are also frequently very far from the actual “touristy” places which means in addition to the price of the flight you’ll be wasting both time and money for the cabs/buses from the airports to your destination. We learnt this the hard way actually choosing to lose our money on our flight booking since the bus from the airport to the tourist place would cost us more than the cost of the flight itself!
- The overnight buses between locations are very convenient- they serve snacks and drinks including water and have pitstops almost every 2 hours even in the overnight bus and stop at large supermarkets with clean paid restrooms. So restroom-worry is not a problem. However, bus booking is not available online at all. So you just need to walk up to the first tour agent you see in each stop- all town centers have them- and they can book it for you.
- There is a LOT of walking everywhere we went in Turkey- whether it’s the immense Topkapi palace, the Ilhara valley or the ruins of Ephesus. Just wear the best walking shoes you can have and your feet will thank you.
- If you still decide to take a local flight, do note that connecting buses may not be available at odd timings (for ex: 3am in the morning). Just reach out to your Airbnb/hotel reception and ask them for options. They’d typically connect you to a paid cab/shuttle service that will get you to the airport on time.
- Metrokart – is used for bus and tram in Istanbul ONLY. Always make sure you have around at least 40 lira in the card. You will need it immediately as you land to take the bus from the airport to your stay. You can purchase it at vending machines just as you step out of the airport building towards the bus stand.
- Museumcard is a prepaid card for entry tickets to most tourist places but not all. The Museumcard we purchased cost 375 lira. However, if you know your itinerary well I’d recommend going through the 2-3 options for Museumcards to pick the one that meets your itinerary. In our case, we had spent a little more on the card than we had had time to cover with our itinerary but were glad it allowed us the convenience of not having to carry cash/change at every place+ allowed mental budgeting of the entry ticket expenses in advance. You can purchase it at most places that accept the card ie., tourist places. We picked ours at Hagia Sophia.
Like any popular tourist place, the ones in Turkey too have scams. While we avoided most we were still victims of two:
- An older gentleman looking a little down on his luck walked up to us while we were seated at a street-side restaurant selling almonds in packets of around a kilogram. Since almonds were in almost every market and we had decided to buy some anyway, we decided to buy it from him. Since we had a lot of our day left, we only tasted them when we returned to our stay that evening. They had completely gone bad though there were no signs on the exterior. Lesson: Do not buy other than from the legitimate stores- if not, find where locals are headed.
- We purchased a bus ticket from Denizli (near Ephesus) to Pamukkale. The agent mentioned that we’d have to change buses at a point and charged us for the change too. However, on getting off the first bus, the second bus claimed we had to pay him explicitly again the amount we had already paid for the connecting bus. This was clearly not a one-off instance since there was another family that had been scammed in the same way who also were then forced to pay again and take the bus since the other option would have been to figure out your way. Not sure how to avoid this, but well maybe double check your payment receipt and keep some extra cash in hand.
- Another scam was when we visited a restaurant and (thankfully) ordered just one dish. The owner had a whole 3 different menus with 3 different prices and of course billed you for the highest price among the menus despite your insistence that you remember seeing a different one. This happened once- but was quite a turn off.
- Mercifully, we weren’t too impacted but there are more possible scams and we’d recommend you search online for “Turkey tourist scams” before your trip just to be a little more alert and avoid ruining your experience here.
- If you have mobility issues or are not physically strong, do run a check with your Airbnb in case you’d need to carry your luggage up and down the stairs. A lot of places we stayed on the trip had narrow stairs- we were quite prepared for it but one of our co-travellers hurt their back just before the trip which made it quite a challenge for them.
- Cats and cats- There were innumerable cats everywhere we went in Turkey. They’re sweet and used to being pampered by people. However, they don’t often approach you themselves. If you’re a cat lover it’s heaven. Leave the dogs alone though, the few we saw very extremely fluffy but didn’t seem used to being petted and therefore could snap at you in fear.