Turkey is an incredible country that is filled with history, culture, and some of the friendliest people you will ever meet in your life. The turquoise waters, spectacularly diverse landscape, and mouthwatering food simply add to the spectacular charm. One of the best aspects of Turkey is that is can be cost effective for budget-conscious travelers and is extremely easy to navigate. There is a comprehensive system of buses, planes, and trains, not to mention fairly drivable roads that make Turkey a backpacker’s dream. Jump from hostel to hostel, cave hotel to cave hotel, and sample the diversity of culinary dishes, natural landscape, and local cultures with ease as you follow the tips in this guide for backpacking around Turkey.
1. The bus system is amazing.
I cannot stress this enough. While airlines like Turkish Airlines (one of the best in the world) and Pegasus Airlines make it a cinch to explore multiple cities from coast to coast, the bus system allows you to soak in each tiny unique town. Plus, many of these buses have WiFi and personal TV screens. The world needs to be introduced to how amazing game shows are in Turkish. Almost all buses serve complimentary tea, coffee, and snacks for patrons and they are fairly on schedule, sometimes leaving exactly on time.
2. Snacks, it’s all about the snacks.
Turkey is not known for its breaks, pretzels, and baked snacks, and that is an absolute shame. There is nothing like pulling into a bus station at the crack of dawn and stumbling to the nearest vendor about 10 feet away to serve you piping hot crusty sesame caked bread. The street food in Istanbul is phenomenally great and extremely inexpensive. Prepare yourself for bulgur stuffed mussels and thank me after you have order ten of those bad boys.
3. Stop for some tea or a Turkish coffee.
Tea is a lifestyle in Turkey, and not the sugary apple tea that vendors sell to tourists. I am talking about the black Turkish tea (çay) that can be found everywhere. If you are standing in line, walking by a backgammon (tavla) game, shopping at a market, or just standing there doing nothing, you will be offered çay and a friendly conversation.
Turkish coffee is an acquired taste but one of the most delicious coffees in the world as long as you ask vendors to prepare it to your taste ahead of time (sugar level). Whatever you do, for the love of all that is good in the world, DO NOT stir a Turkish coffee. You will end up mixing the tasty coffee with the course grounds that live at the bottom of the cup.
4. Hop from beach to historic ruins to mountain and soak up the history and culture.
Turkey has been the site of such an incredible amount and variety of history and culture for over 10,000 years. Gobekli Tepe, Turkey’s (and the world’s) oldest temple, predates Stonehenge by about 6,000 years. So many civilizations have moved and shaped this landscape and culture that even Saint Nicholas (Santa Claus) was born in Turkey. From Istanbul to Cappadocia to Alanya, you can view ancient history, unearthly landscapes, and stunning Mediterranean beaches that were once enjoyed by Cleopatra. There is just so much in Turkey that you will never have a moment of boredom.
5. Visit a hammam.
Going to visit a hammam (Turkish bath) is such a pampering experience. You will get naked (or at least bathing suit) with strangers, steam in a sauna, get scrubbed to within an inch of your life by a strong man or woman (you will be separated by gender), luxuriate in a personal bubble extravaganza, and then top off with an oil massage. You will leave feeling the cleanest that you have ever felt and with an immediate desire to turn around and head right back in for round 2.
6. Always, ALWAYS, locate the best kahvalti in each new city.
Kahvalit is Turkish breakfast and easily one of the tastiest meals in existence. It is a tapas offering of egg dishes, fresh vegetables, candied fruits, mouthwatering breads, and a smattering of other dishes and sauces. When looking for a great kahvalti restaurant, look to see where the locals go and scope out the number of dishes on any table. If there are less than five dishes, move along and hold out for at least seven or eight.
7. Rock out to some awesome Turkish music to pass the time.
Turkish music is catchy, fun to dance to, and addicting. Blend in with locals and download some tunes to blast on your phone, computer or music player. If nothing else, just keep an ear open when in shops, restaurants, bars, or just walking down the street and prepare to whip out that Shazam!
8. Bring a bathing suit, a sweater, a scarf, and comfortable shoes.
At any given moment, you will be close to a beach, a hamman, or a mosque. It is always good to be prepared and so having the proper clothing necessities will go a long way. You will do a lot of walking around Turkey so make sure your footwear is comfortable. Women and men are not allowed to have bare shoulders or legs in mosques and some require women to cover up their hair. While many provide scarves for you to wrap up, you might as well buy a stylish souvenir and get ready to gear up.
9. Enjoy dondurma from a street vendor.
Dondurma is a type of Turkish ice cream that is delicious and more viscous than most other types of ice creams that you are likely to have experienced. Vendors do fun tricks and shows with this chilled delight, so be ready with a camera or video recorder when you order one.
10. Watch a sunset and listen to the daily call to prayer.
Turkey is a Muslim culture, if not government, and so you will need to get used to hearing the call to prayer. I always found it calming and peaceful, but for those on the fence, find a rooftop bar or restaurant or even climb up a historic tower, and watch the sunset while hearing the calls of a dozen mosques intermingle in the growing twilight. It is an amazing experience that you are not likely to ever forget.