It’s no secret that Turkey is my favorite country to travel around and live in as a digital nomad. I also love writing about it and sharing travel tips. When people ask me about my top tips, I always try to think about what else I can add to make their trip to Turkey even better. A lot of my articles about this Mediterranean country were either inspired by a unique road trip I took or by questions from others about how they can plan their Turkey holidays.
But I also see how many people make mistakes when planning their vacation to Turkey. So I wanted to address a few things that you should avoid doing while traveling here. Or even before you plan your trip and come to visit Turkey.
NOTE: If you would love to get some travel tips for Istanbul, refer to this article.
Budgeting Too Little For Their Turkey Holidays
Okay, Turkey is one of the cheapest countries in Europe and most people know that. But prices can come as a shock during the summer season when they go up each week.
Turkish people who live by the coast make money mainly between the months of April and October (as in the Balkans or other countries of the Mediterranean region). And their income depends on tourism. So you cannot expect to rent a cheap flat or find a cheap hotel deal with the best quality and level of service. Accommodation, car rentals, and tours will not be cheap.
You might want to travel to Turkey during the low season if you are on a low budget or be ready to splurge a bit to have fancy vacation time.
Of course, traveling on a budget in Turkey even in summer is very possible. But do not expect to pay $20-$30 (as you’d pay in a low season) for a room in a nice hotel with a pool or hot springs near the coast.
Not Seeing Anything But Istanbul or Cappadocia
Oh yes, Istanbul is amazing and you should plan to spend at least 3 days there (one week would be ideal). Cappadocia’s beauty and the number of activities in that region are off the charts. These two destinations are no doubt spectacular and can keep you busy for months.
Yet, I feel that the majority of people who travel there do it for the sake of instagrammable photos rather than for in-depth experiences. And for the same reason, they skip all other incredible places in Turkey thinking they are not going to look as appealing on their Insta feed.
When you make a plan to visit Turkey, be sure to travel to 3-4 different regions. Especially if you are traveling from Canada, the US, Australia or any other part of the world other than Europe you want to plan your trip in that way when you can see as much as possible. Do not come for 2-3 days to Istanbul or Cappadocia only.
Other Turkish cities and rural destinations in the countryside can offer just as much. Also, do not combine a trip to Turkey with other destinations. It will be exhausting and you’ll end up spending more time on getting places than actually experiencing the country.
Not Hiring a Car
A lot of people don’t have any idea that renting a car and going on a road trip in Turkey is one of the best things to do. Most people just stick to tours or exploring the country on their own using public transportation. However, with the number of things to see outside the cities, with great roads and good prices for car hire, Turkey is one of the best countries in Europe for road trips.
For many months we were afraid to drive in Turkey but once we rented a car and gave it a try, we couldn’t go back to public transportation. Especially with the covid, we started to feel much more confident traveling in our own vehicle.
Most Turks drive a stick shift, so if you can’t work with that, you have to let the rental agency know in advance and rent an automatic transmission.
Underestimating Distances on Their Turkey Vacation Itineraries
Turkey is a big country with hundreds of destinations worth a visit. The most famous of them are located in Western, Central and Southern Turkey but it doesn’t mean that there is nothing to do or see in the East. In fact, Eastern Turkey is rich with natural landmarks and historical sites. Traveling between West and East or even between West and central part takes time.
When many people look at a map they assume that everything is very close and in a few days they can visit all the major highlights. When in reality it is not really so.
Checking the map can be deceptive as short distances can end up taking surprisingly long to cover. First of all, because there are a lot of winding roads and second, because there may be a lot of things to do on the way. Like on our drive from Pamukkale to Antalya. The drive was around 3 hours but it took us all day long since we couldn’t miss a bunch of places.
So, if you are planning to spend a few days in Istanbul, then hop to Cappadocia or Pamukkale and then go all the way to Antalya or Marmaris while making stops at ancient ruins, you might want to refer to Google Maps and make a plan accordingly. For such a trip you’d want to have at least 2 weeks of time. Do not purchase tours where you can see entire Turkey in a week. That’s unrealistic. You’ll spend more time in a car getting places.
Not Booking Accommodation in Advance
Turkey has a lot of different options for accommodation – hotels, guesthouses, private cottages, apartments, hostels, treehouses, and camping sites. However, all of them can book out really quickly during the high season which lasts from April to October. Summers are especially busy and people book accommodation a couple of months in advance to secure a good price and their preferred type of room.
If you’re headed to the Aegean or Mediterranean coast in the summer or to Istanbul, then you should really try to book your accommodation at least 3 months in advance, if not earlier. This way you’ll have the best chance to get the cheapest/nicest hotels.
If you usually book on Booking, don’t forget that this website doesn’t work in Turkey. Use VPN when in the country or book in advance when outside Turkey.
I’ve written up some accommodation guides to the areas I know best in Turkey, including my top choices ranging from budget to luxury. You can find them all here.
Choosing Hotels or Apartments Over Guesthouses
Hotels in Turkey are great, especially all-inclusive hotels on the first line near the beach or hotels in old towns in authentic Ottoman-style houses. We’ve stayed in many hotels around Turkey and our experience for the most part was excellent.
However, guesthouses are by far the most popular type of accommodation in rural Turkey and anywhere along the coast. When you stay at a guesthouse, you’re spending the night in a family home, eating organic meals and drinking freshly made beverages.
Breakfast is usually included and consists of homemade ingredients. There can be also a pool, garden and always a beautiful territory. More than that, you get a chance to interact with owners who can organize taxis, tours and tickets, can recommend the best restaurant or hidden gems.
In all guesthouses where we stayed, we had an opportunity to share interesting stories with owners and learn a lot about local culture. In other places, we felt like we gained new friends.
Staying in a guesthouse in Turkey is a very special experience that feels more like a homestay. It is a really nice way to make local connections and experience real Turkey.
Visiting Istanbul For the Sea & Beach
I’ve written about this before but I will mention it again. If you want to hit the beach when in Turkey, Istanbul is not the right destination for that. You should head to the South or to the West (nice beaches in the West start near Cunda Island and go south) to have a beach vacation.
Another option is to visit one of Turkey’s lakes that also offer swimming. The nearest lake to Istanbul is Lake Iznik with calm waters that actually looks very much like the sea, not a lake. An alternative to that is to visit one of the Princess Islands. All four islands have beautiful beaches but in my opinion, the best beaches are on Burgaza Island (where we got to spend 6 weeks and explored every single beach) and Buyukada.
Sticking to the Most Touristy Places
The mistake tourists make when going on holidays to Turkey is sticking to the most famous and touristy activities. Joining the same organized tours as everyone else recommends is great but often for a more in-depth experience it is better to go where locals go.
I follow locals on social media to see where they travel (and use google translater when needed) and often just study the map finding dozens of places of interest that are not mentioned in any guide. This is how I found Küçükköy village on the Aegean coast.
I understand, when you are coming for a few weeks to Turkey, you probably won’t have any desire to experiment with random places you find on a map. That’s clear. But why not go on a tour with a local? I like using WithLocals resource and occasionally GetYourGuide where not only companies but independent guides register too. There are many different tours that include unique experiences and hidden gems.
Forgetting to Tip
It is always important to educate yourself on the tipping culture of a new destination. In Turkey, some tipping is normal but it is not mandatory as in the US. It also depends on the level of service and the type of restaurant you go to. In fancy restaurants (like those fish restaurants in Bodrum) tips can be already included in your bill or waiters expect you to leave a tip. Other than that, it is up to you to tip or not.
The only thing to remember is that Turkish waiters don’t earn a lot. Their salaries are actually quite small. So they do go above and beyond to leave a good impression and deliver the best service. You’ll see that the service in Turkey is very good.
At the same time, the culture doesn’t tend to be as strong as it is in America or in some European countries, so you also don’t want to tip too much.
In most cafes, you can just round up the bill to the next full lira. And never feel bad about taking your change. Whenever you’re eating at a higher-end restaurant, it’s normal to leave 10 percent of the bill.
Not Learning Any Turkish At All
In many (touristy) places around Turkey you’ll encounter that a lot of people speak English and you can communicate easily whenever you go. In fact, I haven’t learned the Turkish language after living in Turkey for almost 2 years but do just fine without it. Yet, I can tell from my experience that people perceive me differently when I try to use Turkish words. And they will look at you differently too when you know at least some basic phrases.
After traveling to 50+ countries and living on 3 continents I can admit this is the rule for almost every place. People love hearing foreigners try to speak their own language. I think the only two countries where people seemed not to care were Romania and Montenegro.
But in Turkey, hearing a foreigner speak Turkish (even with lots of mistakes) puts a smile on people’s faces. They are more eager to help or leave you alone (like with beggars or scammers, for instance. Just say ‘yok’ instead of ‘no, thank you’ and they will leave you alone. Otherwise, when hearing you are a foreigner they can keep following you for a while).
Additionally, understanding the basics of the local language will help you out in different situations, when it’s time to read signs or listen to public announcements where there is no English.
More Tips For Your Turkey Holidays
Is this going to be your first time in Turkey? Second? Third? No matter how many times you’ve been to this country, there is still something new to learn and explore. I have many posts and key resources about different regions of Turkey that may help you organize a trip in the best possible way. Here are some of the posts and resources that I personally use for travel in Turkey:
– i-Visa website – great resource for checking if you need a tourist visa for Turkey and if you do, how to apply for an expedited visa online.
– For car rental, I use DiscoverCars and LocalRent, depending on the region. I walk you through the process of car hire and what to know about driving in Turkey in this guide. If you haven’t read it yet, do so because there are a lot of tips.
– Find a transfer from the airport in any city in Turkey on HolidayTaxis, the world’s leading airport transfer provider.
– SafetyWing – insurance for travel in Turkey which also covers covid and offers different travel plans.
– Order a copy of the latest version of the Lonely Planet Turkey Guide book.