10 things to be aware of when backpacking and hitch-hiking in Turkey

Sign displaying 'tank outlet' - On the road, Turkey

10 Things you should be aware of when backpacking and hitch-hiking in Turkey

Visas

UPDATE from the U.S. Embassy in Ankara:“Beginning April 10th, 2014, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs will no longer provide visas on arrival to foreign travelers. All foreigners must obtain their Turkish visas from Turkish missions abroad or from the e-visa application system, depending on eligibility. PLEASE NOTE: The e-visa system is only usable for travelers entering Turkey for tourism or commerce. For any other purpose of travel, the applicant must obtain a Turkish visa in advance from a Turkish diplomatic or consular post.”

For specific visa information for your country check here or here.

Food & Drink

Turkish cuisine is among the finest in the world, descended mainly from the Ottoman cooking tradition and rich in Central Asian, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Balkan influences. Dishes vary greatly across the vast country, in the Black Sea Region fish is used extensively, especially anchovy (hamsi). The south-east is famous for its kebabs, mezes (a sort of tapas) and dough-based desserts such as baklava, kadayıf and künefe.  Mediterranean regions, noted for its use of olive oil also relies heavily on vegetables, herbs, and fish. Central Anatolia has many famous specialities, including keşkek, mantı and gözleme. Put simply there is a world of wonderful tastes out there so don’t just stick to the kebabs.

Price-wise eating out in Turkey is generally not too expensive but prices are climbing every year. For about 7 TL you can get a filling pide (big, round and flat bread) and for 10 TL a donor kebab or köfte. Set meals cost about 25-30 TL. Simply look around for the best deal and if it’s the only restaurant in town, well, eat there.

Be warned that Turkish waiters, especially in the western tourist resort areas are adept at slipping things onto your table that you didn’t ask for. Enquire if its free, if they say no, ask them to take it away again.

BBQ party with new friends - Ankara, Turkey, backpacking and hitch-hiking in Turkey

Weather

Turkey is a huge country and within the climate can vary greatly. The coastal areas around the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas enjoy a temperate Mediterranean climate, with hot, dry summers and mild to cool, wet winters. The Black Sea coastal areas have a temperate Oceanic climate with warm, wet summers and cool to cold, wet winters. It is also the wettest part of the country with rain falling all year round.  The areas surrounding the Sea of Marmara (including Istanbul) have a transitional climate with warm to hot, moderately dry summers and cool to cold, wet winters. Snow is also common during the winter months. In the more arid interior there is a continental climate with sharply contrasting seasons. Winters are especially severe with temperatures of −30°C to −40°C not uncommon in eastern Anatolia, In the western interior, winter temperatures average below 1°C. Summers are hot and dry, with temperatures climbing above 30°C.

The sunset breaking through the clouds, over Kars Castle - Kars, Turkey (7), backpacking and hitch-hiking in Turkey

Seating arrangements

In traditional Turkish culture a woman may only sit next to her husband or a member of her family. If you find yourself in a car with men and women, don’t be surprised if a complicated game of seat swapping takes place in order to sit males and females apart. If you are a girl, make sure to sit at the edge/end or next to other girls, both out of respect for their culture but also to avoid any unpleasant misunderstandings.

Turkey - gesture showing closeness / sexual relationship / marriage, backpacking and hitch-hiking in Turkey

source: maria-brazil.org

Women travel advice

Another thing you should remember while travelling in Turkey is that single women travelling on their own are a very rare sight. In general young women in Turkey are expected to be married or engaged, so if you are a girl travelling with your boyfriend or in a mixed group, you may cause astonishment among locals by saying you’re not married. The easiest way to avoid questions, strange looks or unpleasant situations is to say you’re actually married. If your Turkish is not fluent just yet, you can express it by pointing at your ring finger to show that you’re married (picture below).

Another common gesture you are very likely to see is rubbing two index fingers together which means a sexual relationship (picture above). While hitchhiking we were often shown this gesture by our drivers and thought it meant “are you together?“, which we always said ‘yes’ to. Only later did we find out it actually means “do you sleep with each other?“.

Can showing that you're married - Turkey, backpacking and hitch-hiking in Turkey

Ramadan

Although Turkey is a secular state, the majority of Turkish population are Muslim. Therefore travelling during Ramadan may be a slight inconvenience. During this holy for Muslim people month, they are not supposed to eat, smoke, have sex and, if you’re very devoted, even drink water before the sunset. In theory this rule should apply only to Muslims and Turks in general wouldn’t impose it on you, seeing your Western pink skinned face, but there are places (especially in the east) where you might be given strange or sometimes hostile looks while eating or smoking in public. If you stay off the beaten track it might also be tricky to buy anything to eat or drink during the day, so make sure you buy everything you need the previous evening.

One of our drivers - On the road, Turkey, backpacking and hitch-hiking in Turkey

Transport

The concept of hitch-hiking is generally well-known in Turkey and in most cases people would know what you’re doing. However, in more remote places (in the east, again), where there are not that many tourist, the cars you stop may actually provide a paid form of transport. Often they are not marked in any particular way and the locals just know which ones to stop using their local wisdom, but to an unaccustomed eye they would seem to be regular private cars. If you want to avoid paying for transport, you should make sure they don’t charge money before getting in, and if you find yourself in one of those cars, try to explain that you are hitch-hiking, put your apologetic face on and get off as soon as you can.

Our Russian cargo boat - Istanbul, Turkey, backpacking and hitch-hiking in Turkey

Political Situation

At the time of writing, travelling anywhere near the Turkish-Syrian border is not recommended due to the ongoing conflict in Syria and the numerous refugees flooding across the border.

Since the summer of 2013, following the Gezi Park protests, there have been a number of demonstrations in cities across the country. The police response has been severe, with tear gas and water cannons used on those demanding political change. Further problems cannot be ruled out.

The Kurdish question is a long running problem in Turkey with no end in sight. The KGK (formerly known as PKK) frequently carry out attacks throughout the country, in the name of Kurdish independence, although there has been a little progress since the launch of the Government’s peace process with the KGK in early 2013. It is also smart to take note of where you are in the country and if it is a Kurdish region. The people are lovely but do not appreciate being called Turkish!

Sign displaying 'tank outlet' - On the road, Turkey, backpacking and hitch-hiking in Turkey

Atatürk

One of the first things you notice in Turkey is the omnipresent fatherly figure staring down from pictures inside houses, cafés, bars, and any public space. This man is Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Ottoman military hero and first President of Turkey. Ataturk, whose name ‘Father of the Turks’ is reserved solely for his use, is an extremely interesting and fundamental figure in modern Turkey. For many, he represents secular liberalism (well, a Turkish form of it) and he is revered. The cult of personality is such that it is a criminal offence to insult his memory or to destroy images representing him. So, be careful what you say and who you say it to!

Big picture of Ataturk in Ankara, Turkey

Bartering

In many establishments, and especially on markets, there are no fixed prices. Bartering is a must when there is no price displayed, and if you are not prepared to, you will end up paying far more than is necessary. Begin bartering at half the price, and go up from there. If you don’t like the price you are being quoted then walk away. Many times you will be called back and a price more to your liking can be agreed on.

Traditional market with circumcision celebration costume on display - Antakya, Turkey, backpacking and hitch-hiking in Turkey

written by: Ania

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