Updated: Jan 26
The Golden Question
Ever since I left Bali to spend the summer in Turkey, I've constantly been asked, “But why Turkey?” To many, Turkey is not the obvious choice for a summer in the Mediterranean. There's Greece, Spain, Italy. But that is one of the reasons this underrated country is the ideal destination. Yes, there are tourists. Summer is high season and Europeans (as well as domestic travelers) flock to the beaches along the Mediterranean coast. But compared to it's nearby counterparts, Turkey is less crowded and significantly cheaper, with just as much to offer. That, coupled with the lifting of Covid restrictions and easy entry requirements, made Turkey the perfect place to spend the summer months.
Unlike many of my travel decisions, Turkey was not a last-minute thing. Turkey has been on my radar for a long time. I seem to always meet Turkish people during my travels, and have enjoyed doner kebabs in such random places as South Korea! I even worked briefly in a Turkish restaurant in Dallas, Texas. Istanbul was always mentioned in online teacher forums, and Cappadocia had been on my bucketlist for ages. I have been drawn to Turkey for a long time. So when it was time to leave Bali, it was the obvious choice.
Architecture and History
My reasoning might be more of a personal journey, but there are a million reasons you would want to visit Turkey. There is SO much history to learn. We often learn about Greek and Roman empires, the Colosseum, the Parthenon. But there are tons of ancient sites, ruins, and architectural beauties spread across this country. Did you know there exists a labyrinth of underground cities that could house around 20,000 people?! And the ancient city of Troy is actually on Turkish soil?
Turkey is also full of natural wonders. There are mountains, forests, and hiking trails that take days to complete (Lycian Way), a 1,500 kilometer coastline of beaches and rocky coves (stretching from Mersin to Antalya to Fethiye and beyond), cave houses and amazing rock formations (Cappadocia), and the travertine terraced spring pools (Pamukkale). With phenomena so whimsically referred to as "fairy chimneys" and "cotton castle" how can it be anything less than magical?
To me this is one of the most obvious draws of Turkey. Although most people are only familiar with the kebab, and maybe Turkish coffee, there are actually so many dishes I never knew existed, and every day I was discovering something new. I never ate so much food in my life as I did in Turkey. Cheeses, olives, meat, lavash, yogurt, baklava, Turkish tea, and an endless selection of mezzes (starters). Turkey is an absolute dream for any self-proclaimed foodie. (Check out this post for more Turkish food).
But is Turkey Safe?
The second most common question after, “Why Turkey?” is always about safety. This comes from a few different places of reasoning. First, Istanbul has unfortunately been victim to terrorist attacks in the past, as have many other large cities around the world. Turkey also shares borders with war-torn countries, and has accepted many refugees as a result. Another source of fear comes from women worried about harassment, especially if not dressed in a certain way. And then finally, how can you travel safely during a global pandemic?
First, I'm going to give a generic answer: You should always use the standard safety precautions and care when traveling in ANY country or city. Safeguard your belongings, be aware of your surroundings, and don't tell people your personal information (Turkish men love to ask you if you are alone... Honestly, it is most likely a harmless question, but never EVER tell anyone you are alone!).
Okay, saying that, I never once felt unsafe anywhere I traveled in Turkey, whether I was alone or in a group. I never worried about pick-pockets, I never worried for my personal safety, and I never felt uncomfortable about dressing the way I wanted.
There is a pretty noticeable police presence at the larger tourist sites in Istanbul, with checkpoints going in and out where they will check any larger bags being brought in (for example, around the entire Hagia Sofya area). There are also tourist police out and about who can help if you run into any trouble.
As far as dress, you will see a WIDE range of outfits, from full burqa to tube tops and short shorts, sometimes standing right next to each other. Many women cover their hair, and many women don't. The population of Turkey is predominantly Muslim, but thanks to Ataturk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, religion and law are separate. People are free to worship (or not worship) however they please. It is incredibly progressive in that aspect and people coexist quite peacefully. That being said, if you do want to visit one of the many beautiful mosques, you are more than welcome, but will need to wear appropriate clothing – cover your shoulders and legs, and wear a head scarf.
And lastly, let's talk about harassment. I'm not going to lie and say it doesn't exist, but it mostly exists in the form of vendors wanting to sell you something. In the major tourist areas (like Sultanahmet), it will be a very exhausting experience of telling people no, you don't want a rug, or no, you don't need a guide. You will be asked a million times where you are from and, “I just want to ask you one question!” Sometimes you will be followed (especially if you are a woman alone). Sometimes you just have to be rude. But just stand your ground, and keep walking. There are usually way too many people around for anything actually bad to happen, and at most, when you deny their marriage proposal, they will call you a snob. Keep in mind, this is typical in the touristy areas, but in other areas that are predominantly locals, most people pay you no mind at all, and if they do, they are genuinely trying to be friendly.
Is Turkey Expensive?
Lastly, everyone wants to know: How expensive is it? With my network of digital nomad friends, we're always looking for new places to explore while toting our laptops around the world. But it's a lifestyle, not a vacation, so it helps if our temporary home is budget-friendly. Of course, expenses are always going to be relative to your lifestyle and needs. But overall, I would consider Turkey very affordable, especially for someone earning Euros or dollars (unfortunately for our Turkish friends, the lira is quite low at the moment).
Public transportation is incredibly efficient and easy, which is lucky since Turkish traffic (particularly Istanbul) can be absolutely nightmarish. It costs about 4 lira to take the metro, tram, or even ferry! Taxis are not always at the ready or willing to take you where you want to go, but if you manage to snag one, the rates are also very reasonable. Always make them use the meter, and if you have any issues, say you will call the Tourist Police. You will need to get an Istanbul Card and register it with your HES code to use any public transport.
Back to my favorite topic – food! Depending on which area you are in, restaurants can also be quite reasonable. Avoid Sultanahmet restaurants if you are on a budget, as this is the most touristy and overpriced area. Even still, you'll likely only pay 10-20 dollars for a meal, and maybe 5 bucks for a beer (note that these are on the expensive side). Head off the beaten path however and you can find street kebabs for a dollar, hole in the wall restaurants with local food for under 5 dollars, and beers for 2-3.
If money is tight, consider staying around Kadikoy on the Asian side of Istanbul. Because it's much more local, prices are much more local-friendly. I spent some time there and found it to be quite a fun area, with a young hipster-type crowd, cute streets, lots of shops and cafes, and tons of pubs.
Then there's always the supermarket. If you have somewhere to cook (or even just a minifridge) this is always going to be the most economical option. After living in Asia for so long, I was like a kid in a candy store looking at the prices of cheese, olives, walnuts, and cherries in the local mart. I was able to stock up on a week's worth of necessities for around 10 bucks. (This is me eating most basic meals and snacks at home – eggs, cheese, deli meat, bread, veggies, fruits, nuts, coffee – and having some snacks and dinners out.)
Accommodation in Turkey
This is probably the most variable expense. There are so many factors at play here, including the neighborhood you're in, what type of accommodation and amenities you want, and the time of year. When I first arrived in Istanbul it was the beginning of summer, and prices were a lot higher than when I left. This definitely applies to traveling along the coast as well, since the summer months are of course when everyone is visiting the resorts and beaches along the Mediterranean.
I really just recommend having a look on Booking.com (which you will need a VPN for if you are booking from inside Turkey) and AirBnb and just seeing what is available for your preferred price range. In my opinion, it is very affordable compared to other cities of it's size in both the US and Europe.
A couple helpful tips: Again, the Asian side is going to be a bit cheaper. Also, hotels and Airbnbs are actually a lot more expensive than renting an apartment long-term. So if you are looking to stay for a while, look into the different neighborhoods, and check out room-sharing groups or apartments for rent on places like Facebook. If you want to know a little more about the neighborhoods, I love Nomadlist.com or wait for my next post that will break down some of the main areas.
Entry Requirements and Covid Info
So if I've got you convinced that Turkey is the place to be, you might be wondering what exactly you need to plan your visit. As of September 2021, there are no major restrictions in Turkey. Curfew has been lifted since the beginning of summer, and masks are required in most indoor places. You are also required to have a HES code, which is the government's system of tracking your whereabouts for Covid purposes. This number is associated with your passport number and your public transit card, and is sometimes asked for when entering restaurants or shopping malls.
For entry into Turkey, you can either be fully-vaccinated or show a negative PCR test, BUT it's important to know that most airlines will require a PCR test just to board the flight, regardless of the entry requirements of your destination country.
You may also need a visa to enter Turkey. Americans can apply for a visa in advance via the Turkish government website, or get a visa on arrival. I really recommend taking care of it ahead of time, just in case anything changes at the last minute! Now more than ever, rules and regulations can change so quickly, so ALWAYS double-check your own visa requirements before flying.
Be sure to only use the official government website, as there are many “visa processing agents” that will charge you a massive fee, and may not even be legitimate. The visa fee should only be 50 dollars, and this will get you a 90-day multi-entry visa that you have six months to use. Note that you can leave and return on the same visa, but can only stay a total of 90 days during that 180-day period, so you won't be able to do a visa run and come back if you stay for the full 90 days.
Time to Pack Your Bags
Although I only spent a few months exploring Turkey, I was feeling quite nostalgic already when I left. Istanbul is a place I could definitely call home, even if for a short time. The view of the Bosphorus, the balloons in Kapadokya, and the boats in the harbor in Fethiye are images I will think of fondly until I inevitably return.
Planning a trip to Turkey soon? Be sure to check these tours from GetYourGuide:
Did I answer all of your moving-to-Turkey questions? If not, leave them down below!
Other posts you might like: 8 Must-try Turkish Dishes.
Want more Turkey content? Check out my Turkey series on YouTube: