Budget Travel in Turkey: A journey on the overnight bus
Writing about adventures in Paris may be wonderful, but everyone needs a holiday. That’s why I spent the month of July exploring the amazingly beautiful Turkey. After some R&R along the Lycian Coast (which I highly recommend as far as beach holidays go, by the way), I needed to figure out how to make my way back to Istanbul before my flight home.
Transiting around Turkey is a relatively stress-free and economical experience. For all the money I spent on travel, I could probably have bought myself only a one-way train ticket in France!
In order to get around, you have several options:
Domestic flights in Turkey are generally very budget-friendly due to competition between various Turkish airlines. There are several airports that serve the country, and you can fly with:
Atlasjet: www.atlastjet.comOnur Air: www.onurair.com.trPegasus Airlines: www.pegasusairlines.comSun Express Airlines: www.sunexpress.com.trTurkish Airlines: www.thy.com
Prices can range from as low as €30 to around €100… not bad!
Turkish State Railways is a dependable form of transport with low prices. Photo: Romel J
The Turkish railway system is generally considered to be outdated, but things are slowly improving. Take the train if you’re after a more calming, scenic travel experience, because the railway is certainly not the most direct way between Turkish destinations, but it sure can be beautiful. The high speed train between Istanbul and Ankara is becoming quite popular, taking only 3.5 hours and costing around €33.
For more information, I recommend visiting Seat 61′s page on Turkish trains.
Related: Turkey’s rail revolution
Traveling by bus is the most popular and developed form of travel in Turkey. A bus trip in Turkey will most likely be a highly enjoyable experience! I was extremely impressed with the efficiency of all parts of my bus trips, from the planning and purchasing of the tickets to journey itself. Here’s the low-down: almost every Turkish town and city will have a bus station, called an “otogar”. You can buy your bus ticket (“bilet“) there either in advance or just before your trip, depending on the popularity of the route. Here are some of the major bus companies you will find at the otogar:
Kamil Koç: www.kamilkoc.com.trUlusoy: www.ulusoy.com.trVaran: www.varan.com.tr
For more information on bus routes, visit Turkey Travel Planner, an amazing source of information.
I purchased a one-way ticket from Fethiye, a small city on the southwestern coast, to Istanbul for €33 with Varan, which was comparatively expensive, due to the fact that I was traveling during a major Turkish holiday. I arrived for the journey 10 minutes early and had plenty of time to spare. By 7 PM, the bus was on its way, right on time.
The seats were big and comfy and relined back to an almost horizontal state. Other perks included the air conditioning, which was a huge comfort in the 100-degree weather, the service of tea, coffee, soda and snacks every few hours, and the mini-TV with Turkish-dubbed films. My bus did not have Wi-Fi, but many do.
As we drove north, the bus stopped twice at rest stops, where it seemed there were thousands of other buses and travelers mid-journey. At the stops you can get out, walk around, purchase some snacks (there are, of course, kebab restaurants) or stay in the bus snoozing. With no appetite at either 11 PM or 3 AM, I stayed in my comfy seat. When I opened my eyes again, it was 7 AM, and we were nearly at our destination. By 8:30 AM, I had arrived at Istanbul’s main bus terminal, Büyük Otogar.
Related: Istanbul budget tips from transit tickets to nightlife
The main bus station in Istanbul, Büyük Otogar. Photo: Takehiko Ono
From there, I wearily searched for a Varan mini-bus (“dolmus”) with the words “Taksim” on the window to bring me to my final destination. Sure enough, there was a bus waiting for me, and I enjoyed a free trip into central Istanbul.
Taking the overnight bus in Turkey was a great experience. I was comfortable, safe, well-fed and my wallet was happy. Sleeping on the bus meant not having to pay for another night in a hotel or hostel. If you’re considering visiting Turkey, don’t be thrown off by the idea of a long bus trip—you might just enjoy it!