Hitch-hiking in Turkey
Capital city: Ankara
Turkey has a rather liberal visa policy. Citizens of many countries don’t require visa at all (Russia, France, Germany, Sweden, etc.), while others (UK, Poland, USA, Spain, Australia, etc.) can get a sticker-type visa upon arrival. The length of a standard tourist visa is usually 90 days.
In 2011 the visas cost us 15 € / 20$ (the exchange rate the checkpoint officers provide is not exactly up to date, so it’s probably better to pay in Euros)
Turkey is a hitch-hiker’s heaven. Not only is sticking your thumb out in the hope of a free lift possible, it’s also pleasant. The concept is widely known, so the sight of a Westerner standing by the side of the road with their thumb up doesn’t surprise anyone. Getting a lift wouldn’t take you more than 30 min. There aren’t that many motorways, which generally makes your life easier in terms of finding the ideal hitch-hiking spot. What’s more, the roads are empty, so you can be sure to get to your destination relatively fast. But what’s the most important thing is the fact that Turkish people are hospitable and curious, which, from a hitch-hiker’s perspective, is probably the best host mentality combination. What I’m saying is that very often getting a lift would be just the beginning of a pleasant day, during which you might be invited for tea, dinner or even shown around by your driver.
Although hitch-hiking within the country is a piece of cake (not to say ‘piss’), crossing Turkish borders on foot, without a car or without being on a coach or train is rather tricky. Go to Main Border Crossing sections at the bottom of the page for more information.
Turks are usually very positively disposed towards Westerners and the lack of a language in common (since very few Turkish people speak English, especially in the east of the country) is not a (heavy) downside. But by smiling and pointing you will usually get by.
Things you should be aware of while hitch-hiking in Turkey
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.
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 rubbing your two index fingers together to show a close, usually sexual, relationship (as one of our Turkish readers has pointed out, it means “I’m f* her”) or by pointing at your ring finger to show that you’re married.
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.
As I said, 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 apologetical face on and get off as soon as you can.
Absolutely essential hitch-hikers phrasebook:
- hello – merhaba. (mehr hah bah)
- thank you – Teşekkür (ederim) (teh shek uer eh der eem)
- goodbye - hoşçakal. (Hosh cha kal)
- hich-hiking – otostopa
- I don’t have money – Param yok. (Pah rham yok) (useful in any language)
- we don’t have money – Biz para yok (Beez pahrah yok)
- money – para (pahrah)
- friend – arkadaş (arkadash)
Very useful when they ask you where you’re staying. The concept of Couchsurfing is often too difficult to explain, so just say you’re staying with a friend. You can also use this word to express the relationship between you and your fellow travellers.
- tea – çay (chaay)
You should know this word, you will be often invited for some. Besides, you don’t need the work for coffee, as ‘Turkish coffee’ is a myth, no one drinks coffee in this country.
- bus station – otobüs istasyonu (otobuers eestasyonu)
You should know this word and listen out for it to avoid situations when your driver, in their best intentions, takes you off the road and drives you to a station.
- train station – tren istasyonu
Map of motorways in Turkey
Main border crossings
- Sarp/Sarpi(with Georgia)– it’s the main land border crossing between Turkey and Georgia, located about 12 km south of Batumi, Georgia and about 20 km northeast of Hopa, Turkey.It’s possible to cross on foot, however it’s rather difficult due to the total chaos and lack of information, signs, organization. For more information about this border crossing read our story.There is no public transport going from the border crossing to Hopa (Turkey), however it’s possible to get a local bus going the other way to Batumi (Georgia).
- Ipsala(with Greece) – one of the main border crossing with Greece, on the European route E84. Theoretically it’s forbidden to cross on foot due to the large no-man’s land filled with Greek and Turkish soldiers. For more information about this border crossing read our story.
- Kapıkule/Kapitan Andreevo(with Bulgaria) – it’s located on the European route E80 and according to Wikipedia it’s one of the busiest border crossings in the world, and the busiest in Europe. We have only tried to cross it in a coach and I seem to remember it took bloody ages.
- Akyaka (with Armenia) – currently closed due to the tense political situation between these two countries.
If you could share your personal experience about any other border crossing in Turkey, let us know!
Turkey’s absolute must
- Best areas for hitch-hiking
If you are looking for empty roads and stunning landscapes, Northern Anatolia is a must go place for you. It’s mainly a mountainous area with narrow, often single-lane dirt winding roads overlooking dramatic precipitous gorges.
There aren’t that many tourists there, so out of novelty value alone you are bound to get a lift. People are more conservative here, but much friendlier than in the tourism-spoiled west part of the country.
The main city in this region is a sleepy town of Kars. The main tourist attraction are the ruins of the medieval Armenian capital of Ani.
Beware: The roads in this region are not in a very good condition and are often closed for a number of hours.
2. Most beautiful natural spot
Turkey is a big country aboundant in astonishing natural sites and it was really hard for us just to choose one. Therefore we’ve chosen two, which cannot (I repeat: cannot!) be missed.
Whether you come to Turkey as a member/participant of a package tour or as an independent backpacker or hitch-hiker, Cappadocia is the place to go for its natural beauty. This breathtaking volcanic landscape, which is unique for its rock formations, lies on 1000m high plateau in Eastern Anatolia.
You should definitely come here also if you are a history buff, for this region contains several underground cities, tunnels and temples, where early Byzantine Christians used to hide from Persian and Arabic invaders in the 6th and 7th centuries.
The main city in this area is Nevşehir. The best towns to stay is are: Göreme (with its National Park, added to the UNESCO Worl Heritage list) and Ürgüp (pronounced: ÜÜÜrgüüüüüp).
This dream-like place is located in Western Anatolia and consists of hot springs that formed sedimentary rock terraces and the bluest warm water pools . Hard to describe if you are not a scientist, but most definitely one of the most extraordinary geological phenomena you can find on this planet.
And not only is it beautiful, but also relaxing, as you can soak yourself in this blue water and white mud.
There is also a little something for amateur historians, as above the pools there is a Greco-Roman ancient city of Hierapolis dating back to the 2nd century BCE.
3. Best city/town
Unquestionably the best Turkish city is Istanbul, which is the only city in the world situated on two continents. By population it’s the second biggest metropolitan area in Europe and you can definitely feel its grandeur in the air.
Istanbul is a place where you can find jaw-dropping historic buildings (like the famous Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia or Topkapı Palace, to name just a few), as well as western bars and clubs which will make you feel at home. If you are going to be in Turkey only for a short while, you should definitely go via Istanbul. It’s one of those cities you have to see before you die.
If your time in Turkey is less limited you should also visit Mardin in Southeastern Anatolia. It’s a picturesque town with narrow alleyways, soaring minarets and a bustling traditional market. It’s also a melting pot of Turkish, Kurdish and Syrian culture.
We also have a soft spot for the capital of Turkey, Ankara, but that might be because we had a really good time there, stayed with a great CS host and met some top people. Ankara is not an obviously beautiful city, but it has its own unique charm, so if you’re around you should pay it a visit.
4. A tourist trap
Depends what you like, but we found some cities/towns in the west (e.g. Kuşadası) to be overflowed by drunk Westerners, full of cynical and fed up locals sick with tourists and everything being slightly shinier and devoid of its real character. The beaches in those places are obviously beautiful (but again filled with people you wouldn’t like to spend time with), but the culture you encounter there is not the true Turkish culture. So if you want to see the real Turkey, as opposed to Turkey seen through a travel agent’s brochure, go to the east!
We have visited Turkey twice. Once, just after we’d met in 2007, we stayed in Istanbul for a week. The second time, in 2011 we hitch-hiked across Turkey as a part of our ‘Caucasus-Turkey-Greece’ trip. We entered the country crossing the Georgian-Turkish border in Sarp (Northeastern Anatolia) and left it, crossing the Greek-Turkish border in Ipsala.
Travelling across Turkey took us around a month and we covered 4233 km by hitch-hiking. We didn’t spend a penny on accommodation either thanks to the widespread use of Couchsurfing.
This was our route:
This article was also published on: vagobond.com on 30th March 2012.
written by: Ania
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