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Turkey is an extremely hitchhiking-friendly country. Your waiting times will rarely exceed 15 minutes on reasonably used roads, even off the main roads. On smaller roads, the first vehicle passing you is likely to stop for you. Also you're very likely to be invited for tea and food, and often also to home stays. Very few people speak English, while German might be a little bit more useful, especially in the east. However, it's essential to learn at least a few words of basic Turkish, also for your safety. Turkey has a very distinct reputation, especially considering girls, but once you get on terms with the dynamics of interacting with Turks (likely only after you make your first mistake, though) you'll usually be fine. See the Safety Chapter below. Opposing to popular belief, it's not very likely (but happens occasionally) to be asked for money. If you feel your status as a free hitchhiker is unclear, make sure to say para(m) yok before you get into the car. On the other hand side this might offend drivers who genuinely want to help you and do not expect money. Hitchhiking at night also works well as long as you stand in a somewhat visible spot.
Getting a visa at the border is easy for most people, oftentimes even free. Refer to this article for detailed information.
There is one main border crossing each with Greece (Ipsala) and with Bulgaria (Kapitan Andreevo-Kapıkule border crossing). 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 there's not that much traffic. Towards Iran you might chose between Doğubeyazıt in the North and Yuksekova in the South and one east of Van. There are no border crossings with Armenia. For Iraqi Kurdistan, there's two border crossings. Only one of them seems to be open for foreigners, the one South of Yuksekova. Syria and Turkey have a number of border posts as well, many of which might be closed at the moment. The busiest one is Bab al-Hawa, connecting Antakya with Aleppo.
In 2008, Guaka was refused entry by a border guard presumably expecting a baksheesh. This appears to have been an isolated incident, though.
Turkey has been getting a bad reputation for girls hitchhiking following the murder of Pippa in April 2008 and the presence of many disheartening stories, going from minor harassment (see for example Personal Experiences section) to near-miss murder/rape cases like the one Zenit and the girl he was travelling with experienced in November 2011. While these things shouldn't deter anybody from travelling in Turkey, they certainly prove that there is a specific code of conduct different from any other country that needs to be respected in order to avoid unnecessary problems. It will take a little bit of travelling in the country first to get used to this different dynamic, so this will be the time to be extra cautious. Further good reading for girls and anybody else travelling in Turkey is this blog. Safety is always important while hitchhiking, so check the Safety article before going out to wave your thumb!
Following is a list of general guidelines for hitchhiking in Turkey. Remember, though, that you cannot fully master the different dynamics of social interaction, especially between members of opposite sexes, until you've been exposed to the inital special attention you'll receive as a foreigner and possibly made some enlightening minor learner's mistakes.
- First of all, keep in mind that in Turkey there is widespread prejudice concerning the willingness of Western girls to engage in casual sex with random strangers.
- Having said that, the biggest part of problems arise from the different conceptions of flirting in the West and in Turkey. In Turkey, making eye conctact, smiling and accepting compliments can all easily be interpreted as outright flirtateous behaviour. Another thing to watch out for is that Turkish men will test guys travelling with girls to see how protective they are of the girls they're travelling with. This will always be in a somewhat playful manner, and hardly ever in a threatening way. One very important thing is that a guy travelling with a girl should never let her sit next to a man other than himself. This cannot be stressed enough, as drivers will read from this behaviour that a) the guy has no claims in the girl and don't really care what happens to her from this point and b) that the girl might be interested/easy.
- Another important point, if one that goes somewhat without saying, is about clothing. Turkey is definitely not the place to hitchhike in hotpants and a tanktop, the least should be long trousers and a unrevealing t-shirt with sleeves down to your elbows. Anyone wearing less than this (apart from the Western coastal regions maybe) will usually be seen as a prostitute, and without the necessary language skills to explain women's rights over their own body you might get yourself into hassle you don't really need. If you want to be extra safe, you can also hitchhike with a headscarf and/or a long ("Iranian style") gown going down to your thighs and hiding your shape.
- There is different things you can say about your marital status. If travelling with a guy, the classical story of the married couple can work well enough, but won't necessarily stop a determined guy from trying his chances. Also keep in mind that many truck drivers (but generally not drivers of private cars) know that foreign hitchhikers tend to lie about their status as married couples. This might actually encourage some truck drivers to try his luck even if in the first point they never intended anything at all. If travelling alone as a girl, it seems to be safer to say that you are unmarried - meaning, for most people, a virgin. The purity of virginity is widely respected and can provide protection. You can usefully combine both of these strategies (if travelling in a couple) by saying that you're cousins because a) you will be seen as a unmarried virgin, b) male relatives traditionally protect unmarried female family members and c) a cousin might at some point also have been picked by the family to be a future husband to the girl.
- Something that plays into the dynamics of hitchhiking in Turkey as well are the mostly Russian/Eastern European prostitutes that can be found practicing their trade all over Turkey. As a girl hitchhiking, be it alone or in company, you will at some point likely be confused with one of the working ladies. As an effect of many of those girls being Russian, the words "rus" or "natasha" have come to mean "foreign prostitute". If your driver says any of those words, he's most likely asking if you're a prostitute. Make very very clear that you have nothing to do with this, say yok very clearly without hesitating, smiling, laughing, or any other even remotely flirtateous reaction. Be insulted. Likewise it's not a very good idea to say that you're Russian or even from any Eastern European country that could be associated with Russia, especially Ukraine. If the driver has understood that you're not a prostitute, he'll usually not bother you about it any more.
- There is one main Turkish hand gesture that leads to confusion among foreigners. It is indeed extremely ambiguous, used in very different situations and complicated to understand in its context. It consists of the index fingers of both hands rubbed against each other back and forth. Some important meanings of it include casual sex, friendship, physical contact, geographical closeness of objects or places, money, etc. You see that the meaning can range from explaining how to get somewhere or explaining that driver is going close to your destination to asking for casual sex. Nothing more can be said than to use your common sense and not to be overly paranoid.
- When it comes to accepting rides, listen to your intuition and don't worry about being picky. Remember that even if you say no to several cars you'll still not wait very long.
- To finish, a brief list of useful vocabulary in difficult situations. Check out the pronounication guide in the Turkish phrasebook.
- çok ayıp - lit. "big shame", the most useful thing to say if somebody is harrassing you (sexual or not.)
- Allah akşina - lit. "for Allah's love", i.e. for God's sake
- bakire - "virgin"
- kuzen - "cousin", biz kuzen - "we are cousins"
- evli - "married"
As a brief summary: As a girl, be aware of your body language - smiling, eye contact, being flattered by compliments are all bad ideas. As a guy hitchhiking with a girl, stand your ground, show presence; always make sure to sit next to the driver. If the driver talks mostly to the girl, it's a bad sign. Girls should dress modestly and make sure not to be confused with Russian prostitutes ("rus", "natasha"). Be picky about your rides. Most importantly though, keep in mind that in 99% of the cases all will be fine, especially if you pay attention to those guidelines!
As a guy travelling with a girl it is rare that you will be hit on with the notable exception of the far Eastern part of the country. However travelling alone as a guy you will/might be asked for sex depending not so much on your attractiveness in the Western sense as on how exotic you are (i.e. being big and blond will most likely increase the level of attention). Keep in mind that just even if a guy asks you to have sex with him it does not necessarily mean he's gay. Especially in Eastern Turkey it's very common among unmarried straight men to engage in casual sex among each other as an effect of an extremely conservative society and sometimes horrible ramifications for girls having pre-maritial sex. However other than the nuisance of being asked for sex you're unlikely to run into any problems.
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.
Outside of populated areas, almost every gas station has mescit (pronounced: mes-jeet), something like a small mosque, and it's a perfect place for sleeping. Just take respect of their religion, take off the shoes, wash hands and feet, and pay attention not to sleep by the wall where mihrab (niche) is. Don't ask gas station staff could you sleep there because they would probably say no, although they use it for taking a rest, but once you are inside, nobody will disturb you.
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.
Some recent thoughts and reflections about hitchhiking Turkey as a solo female: http://shelobify.wordpress.com/2013/01/04/an-update-about-hitchhiking-solo-as-a-female-in-turkey/
- 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. 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.
- 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.
- 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 150 km/h, drinking tea 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!
- Summer 2012 we spent hitch-hiking around Turkey. Me (male) and my girlfriend have experienced a lot of hospitality from Turkish drivers and hosts. Many times they stopped on the road and they offered us lunch/dinner. Turkish men never hardly spoke to my girlfriend (they fully respect fact that woman is in relationship with other man). Once whilst hitch-hiking the bus pull-over. We explained that we don't have money for payment - it was any problem. Another fantastic thing about hhiking in Turkey is you rarely have to wait more than 10 minutes, drivers pull-over their car on the highway and sometimes you just have to walk alongside the road and they will stop the car. Great experience, but I really recommend to go there as a mixed pair!
- 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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