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Hitchhiking in Turkey is easy. Looking like a Western backpacker will get you a lot of attention when travelling outside the major tourist areas. Often, the first vehicle to pass will stop for you (sometimes even if they are going the opposite direction!) Lifts with big trucks are the most common − partly because personal cars are very often quite full. Turkish truck drivers are generally very friendly and helpful but may not speak a word of English. Knowing some Turkish phrases will help a lot.
Especially truck driver will often invite you for tea and on long distances even for meals.
Some drivers might ask you for a few Lira, and if you are not willing to contribute to the cost of the ride, please learn to say Param yok (I have no money) before getting in the car.
Having a signboard (together with the thumb extended) certainly helps, since most Turkish hitchhikers don't use one and therefore it draws much more attention from drivers un-used to seeing signboards. Writing the name of first town on your route—no matter how small it is—and the name of a farther and bigger city is good.
Also while waiting for a lift, have your backpack on the ground in front of your feet, in a position that is easily visible and recognizable as a backpack by passing by drivers. As many will admit, seeing a large backpack and camping gear such as a mat always makes Turkish drivers more comfortable with the idea of letting a stranger in their car—since it kind of proves that you are travelling on budget, not a serial killer—and thus enabling you to get lifts far more quickly.
Hitchhiking at night works even better than at daytime. On a busy road, you will easily get lifts in less than 5 minutes, as long as drivers can see you.
Citizens of most EU and other Western countries can get a 3 months visa for 10 Euro or more. Czech, German, Latvian, Lithuanian, Italian and Romanian citizens are allowed to enter the country without any visa at all.
There is one main border crossing each with Greece (Ipsala) and with Bulgaria (Kapitan Andreevo). Going to Georgia, you'll likely pass Sarp-Sarpi border crossing or through the smaller border crossing in Posof which requires a bit more patience and time as it's a small mountain road on the turkish side and a mountain trail on the Georgian side. Towards Iran you might chose between Doğubeyazıt in the North and Yuksekova in the South and probably some others. There are no border crossings with Armenia. (Add border crossings with Kurdistan and Syria)
Hitchhiker Guaka had a terrible experience at the Kapitan Andreevo-Kapıkule border crossing in October 2008 when he was refused entry by a grumpy border guard who was probably looking for baksheesh. It took a lot of convincing to be allowed back to the truck to get back his (Guaka's) backpack. The next day there was no problem to get in.
Craig has crossed into Iran at the Yuksekova-Esendere border easily and is sure that getting rides on the Turkish side should be no problem. He and Dario hitched a petrol smuggling van from Yuksekova to the border. There were lots of cars with the same deed on the road. Iranian side is difficult though. Bring lots of time !
Following the recent events in April 2008, this hitchhiking guide to Turkey for girls might be an interesting piece to read for everyone (not only for girls) who's planning to hitchhike in Turkey. Safety is always important while hitchhiking, so check the Safety article before going out to wave your thumb!
Women hitchhiking in Turkey
A personal story:
- My friend and I (both female) hitched through Turkey from the Greek border to Cappadocia and it was quite stressful. We never waited long for a ride and most of the people we rode with insisted on buying us chai (just tea) and meals. However, I would say that with about 90 percent of our rides we got our butts, boobs, or crotches grabbed, or at least asked for sex. There is a hand sign in Turkey that means sex, which is quite different from that we have seen in America (much nicer, actually) you just rub your two pointer fingers together back and forth. It took us a while to figure out what that meant! We had to make our driver leave us on the side of the road a lot in the middle of nowhere so that was kinda dangerous. And it took us about 10 hours to make it 25 miles from just before Istanbul to just past the city. People kept trying to take us into the city or someplace we didn't want to go. We were so glad when we finally made it out of Turkey at the Bulgarian border. It was an adventure though and I would recommend traveling through Turkey, just be aware that all of the other women standing on the side of the road are prostitutes. It was all just a giant misunderstanding and a lack of respect, to some extent, on our part, for the local culture. When hitching here maybe you can learn how to say "we are just traveling and we aren't looking for sex may we still have a ride" before getting in a vehicle. For the record, our drivers always let us out when we told them too and nothing dramatic happened beyond the daily grabbings.
Note: During our travels in Turkey, hitch-hiking or otherwise, we also saw this handsign (rubbing both forefingers together) many times. Although it could be misconstrued as meaning “sex” it has many different meanings such as “relationship” “friendship” “partner” etc. So if a Turkish person makes this hand gesture don't automatically assume they are asking you for sex.
Another personal story:
- I have just finished my second two-week trip alone through Turkey just hitchhiking, and my experience has not been at all like the above. I was quite shocked when I read it! I was traveling for long distances almost every day and I must have hitched with over fifty drivers – and only one of those drivers touched me apart from to shake my hand, and I was asked for sex twice, relatively politely, and both accepted no as an answer. I was treated with courtesy, respect, generosity, kindness, invites home to meet their families, and yes, tea and oranges. Also people kept buying me bus tickets rather than 'letting' me hitchhike on, which was horribly embarrassing! I think people who picked me up probably did consider that I might be a prostitute, but easily accepted that I wasn't judging on behavior. I suspect that experiences like the above depend on inappropriate behaviour or dress, or horribly bad luck. I don't speak Turkish, so sometimes it was a bit boring, which was probably the worst thing about hitchhiking. I would recommend not understanding the questions about whether you're alone or married- not speaking Turkish can actually help! And also be aware that Turkish women hitchhiking sit in the back seat of cars, same as in taxis.
Another personal story:
- I hitch-hiked with a male friend for 3.5 weeks in Turkey. We started from Istanbul, to Safranbolu, Yozgat, Malatya, Nemrut Daig, Cappadocia, Kalkan and back to Istanbul. I was asked to have sex with the bus conductor after one of the bus conductor invited us to take us and he found out that my friend and I are just friends traveling together. Well, that's just a minor issue. We got picked up by an old man when we were hitch-hiking from Cappadocia to Nemrut Dagi. The old man had only 2 fingers on his right hand, and he was driving at the speed of 150km/h, drinking cai and talking over the phone while my friend and I were sitting at the back! He drove us to a town nearby to do some sight-seeing and invited us to stay with his daughter's family! We ended up staying there for 3 nights. My fiend joined her husband to work while i stayed at home with the wife doing some traditional stuff!
The hardest route to get a ride was probably from Antalya to Kalkan. It was late and no one wanted to pick us up! In the end, two guys who worked in a restaurant picked us up and sent us to our friend's doorstep! Traveling in Turkey by hitch-hiking rocks! I never hitch-hike before but my friend has been hitch-hiking since he was 9!
During the summer temperatures tend to rise above 35 °C, especially in the South, so it is recommended to secure yourself with sufficient supplies of water, and to plan travelling in a way that most of the actual hitchhiking would be earlier in the morning or in very late afternoon, to avoid a burning sun.
In winter, though, it can be quite cold in Turkey.
When you hitchhike in this country, people might try putting you on a dolmuş (mınıbus) or bringing you to the otogar (bus station). The dolmuş is the most common way of public transport inside and between cities & towns. These small buses that are advised to be used for small distances will stop anywhere on the road even if you don't signal them to stop. Generally, the ride on a dolmuş costs between 1 and 3 Lira.
For larger distances buses (coaches) are more common. They provide reliable service and are pretty comfortable. Free tea and snacks are generally served along the way, and the buses tend to stop in nice rest areas. Some drivers who pick you up as a hitchhiker may try to convince you to take a bus. If you do end up on a bus they are relatively cheap although not as cheap as trains which are slower but more adventurous.
Of the transportation options which involve payment, trains are by far the cheapest in the country, especially if you are under 27, when you are entitled to a 20% discount on already cheap fares. However, as the network doesn't reach far and wide, most of what is interesting in Turkey is out of rail coverage, though they are still a good bet if you need a night's sleep during the ride, especially in inland regions where rail network is relatively denser.
While waiting beside the road, town-to-town minibus drivers (which can be recognized by banners proclaiming town names all over) and intercity buses will flash their headlights or honk at you — to ask whether you'd like a ride (for a fee, of course). Don't be afraid to stop them and say "Param yok (which literally translates "I don't have money"), it's ok?". A couple of hitchhikers did this when a bus stopped beside them to drop a passanger, and then they kept doing this everytime, and about 30% of the buses gave them a ride. Inside the cities, it's even easier; ask them politely and they will take you a bit further ahead.
You will never have to worry about lack of food in Turkey. Many truck drivers have coffee makers in their truck. Turkish people are very generous, and it is seldom that you get a ride without a driver offering you food. The food in Turkey is relatively cheap, and is very meat-based. There is also a variety of a good local produce of tasty sweets and snacks. The tea (black tea or apple tea in Istanbul) is the national drink, and almost all the people that you meet offer you a tea − this is probably the most common way of showing you their hospitable culture.
A great way to reduce your bottled water costs, especially in the hot southern/Mediterranean coast of Turkey is to use free cold water dispensers, locally called sebil (pronounced say-beel), which can usually be found on the sides of the streets and mosque courtyards in less-touristed towns and neighbourhoods in Mediterranean Turkey. They look like small, white refrigators and usually have two faucets: red one delivers warm (or mildly hot depending on the weather) water, while the blue one offers comfortably cold water. Though the water coming out of the faucets is not from a commercially-bottled jar, and likely from the city water network, it's harmless and causes no stomach upsets. A way to reduce the risk may be allowing yourself a week after arrival in the region to get accustomed to local microflora and -fauna that may be present in the water and then taking full advantage of sebils.
Hospitality exchange networks have many friendly members in Turkey, and they can help you with an accommodation.
All towns in Turkey have an OtoGar, a bus terminal. Most of these offer a warm and fairly safe place to spend a night. Nonetheless, be careful and try to place your luggage in such a way so that you are surely to be awaken in case if someone tries to take your things.
Smaller towns outside the main tourist areas have very cheap hotels, starting at 8 Lira.
Many truck drivers will have an extra bunk in their truck cabin, and they are usually happy to offer it to a hitchhiker.
Wild camping is pretty much possible, OK, and legal except in large urban agglomerations. Just be discreet, away from sight of houses and roads. Private property such as farmland and oliveyards are technically off the limits, however if you arrive late, break the camp early, and leave no trace of your stay (including removing any trash and not damaging any crops), it is no problem at all to camp at those places. Beware of fires, though, as most of Turkey lies in Mediterranean climatic zone which is very arid in summer, most of country's terrain is naturally covered with dry grasses in summer months. So while wild camping, try to avoid the temptation to build campfires; even cigarette butts that are not properly distinguished and disposed of can result in damages that you can't even dream of. Another thing to take note of while camping is the scorpions (akrep in Turkish), especially in southern Mediterranean coast and in southeastern parts of the country—keep the zip of your tent and backpack always locked, check and shake your shoes before putting them on.
Cities and License plates
100.000–300.000: Adıyaman • Afyon • Ağrı • Aksaray • Antakya • Aydın • Balıkesir • Bandırma • Beylikdüzü • Bolu • Ceyhan • Çorlu • Çorum • Darıca • Derince • Düzce • Edirne • Esenyurt • İnegöl • İskenderun • Isparta • İzmit • Karabük • Karaman • Kayapınar • Kırıkkale • Kırşehir • Kızıltepe
The first two numbers of the Turkish car plates indicate the city a car is registered in. These are sorted from 1 to 81 alphabetically. This rule is not applicable for villages that recently received the status of cities.
Regions and Their Hitchability
While in general it is fairly easy to attract a lift in Turkey, locals' view of hitchhikers vary across the country. In general, people in northern and inland regions of the country are friendlier towards hitchhikers. If put systematically, the level of ease to get a lift in various regions of the country is as follows in general, from easiest to hardest:
- Southeastern Anatolia (usually the first car passing by offering a lift) > North coast (Black Sea Region) (one in every ten cars offering a lift) > Northwest/European Turkey (Thrace) (most waits not exceeding 5 mins) > Inland steppes (Central Anatolia, longest waits likely ~20 mins) > Northwest/Asian Marmara (South Marmara) > Aegean Region > Southwest coast (Lycia) > Rest of Mediterranean coast (expect waits up to two hours!), with eastern mountains (Eastern Anatolia) perhaps falling somewhere between Central Anatolia and South Marmara.
As can be clearly seen, less touristy somewhere is, easier to attract a lift there. That being said, however, there are of course helpful drivers on the highways of the south, too, although they seem to be exceptions rather than the rule.
- Hitchhiking Guide to Turkey for girls
- Just hitching rides: A journey from Eid to Christmas (Hitchhiking from Yemen to Germany), abgefahren Blogs
- User Craig hitched along the Silk Road and wrote about his experiences here: Thumbing Asia From West to East Turkey was big fun to hitch-hike. People are really hospitable everywhere - from Istanbul to Capaddocia, from Antep to Kurdistan!
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