Top 12 Travel Mistakes in Turkey and How to Avoid

Steve Cummings

Alacati, Turkey

Turkey is an incredible country to visit, especially if you are heading there for the first time. However, traveling somewhere new with unfamiliar rules and customs can be intimidating. However, the best way to avoid mistakes is to learn what to know before traveling to Turkey.

If you have never been to Turkey before, we have put together this insightful guide to the things you need to do before you arrive.

1. Safety First

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You should always make sure the place you are traveling to, especially if it is one you are unfamiliar with, is safe. This is usually done by looking at the embassy page for your country or the US government’s website. Given the horror stories you often hear in the news and on social media, you may wonder, “Is it safe to travel in Turkey?” or, more specifically, “Is it safe to travel to Turkey as a woman?”

The general belief is that it is relatively safe to travel to Turkey, regardless of gender, at the moment and for some time. While you should take the same precautions you would anywhere and be aware of some of the customs we discuss later, there is no reason to fear a trip to Turkey irrationally. Around 50 million people travel to Turkey recreationally each year.

It's also important to remember that the Turkish economy relies significantly on the tourism industry's revenue. Therefore, it is in the best interest of the government and the country to ensure visitors are as safe as possible.

2. Don’t Try to Do It All at Once

One of the mistakes people make when they visit Turkey for the first time is trying to do it all during one trip. It is easy to get carried away with the various towns, cities, and other places, like Pamukkale, Cappadocia, Ephesus, Antalya, Izmir, and Istanbul.

Rather than trying to cram your travel itinerary, you should take it easier. That begs the question, “How many days do you have to spend in Turkey?” That depends on where you want to explore. For instance, if you're going to hit all the major cities and popular tourist attractions, you should book at least a week or maybe even ten days to ensure you have enough time to pace yourself. If you would instead just visit one region this time and then go to a different place another, you could easily spend five days or even a long weekend in the country and have enough time to have a memorable holiday.

3. Worrying Too Much About the Dress Code

Many people ask two questions regarding travel to Turkey: “What to wear in Turkey?” and “How strict is Islam in Turkey?” While it is true that Turkey is an Islamic country, the dress code within its borders is more lenient compared to other Muslim countries nearby. A good guideline is wearing shorts and a knee-length dress and covering your shoulders and chest.

More specific rules and guidelines will depend on where you travel in Turkey. The cities that receive many tourists, like Antalya, Izmir, and Istanbul, usually have a more accepting and casual attitude toward casual dress. In contrast, the central areas and places like Konya tend to be much more traditional and strictly conservative.

When visiting mosques and temples, you should cover your shoulders, chest, and legs, as the ground around the buildings and the buildings themselves are considered sacred.

4. Not Learning the Language (at least a little, anyway)

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A concern many tourists share is, “Are Turkish people nice? Again, if you just listened to sweeping stereotypes, you may head to Turkey with the wrong opinion of the general population. While there are people you should be on the lookout for, such as pickpockets and scam artists, the average member of the population is likely to be friendly, especially to tourists.

Remember, we said that tourism was essential to the country’s economy. One way to ensure you make the right impression when you visit, and that is so quickly missed out on, is learning some of the language. You will find English is spoken throughout the touristy areas. However, you may find yourself in parts of the country where no one speaks your language. That’s when it’s helpful to have a few key phrases and words at your disposal.

Even if you encounter locals who speak English, you’d be amazed at how nice and cordial they will be to you if you try to speak their language, even if you do it badly.

5. Yes, It Does Snow in Turkey

Snow in Turkey
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Another fascinating misconception about Turkey is that it is a summery place for most of the year. While there may be many months of scorching hot weather, sandy beaches, and excellent all-exclusive resorts along the coast, you may not realize it snows in Turkey.

When figuring out what to wear in Turkey, you must ensure you are not traveling when it is snowing. Some places, like Kars in the east of Turkey, even receive around four months of snowfall yearly and experience temperatures as low as -15 Celcius /4 Fahrenheit degrees during winter. The thing to know before traveling to Turkey is to check the climate and make sure you pack accordingly for the weather. If you are interested in experiencing Turkey in the snow, we won’t blame you for going during November, December, January, or even February. 

6. Don’t Drink the Water

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Finding a decent local water source in your part of the US can sometimes be challenging, but this is even more complicated when you go abroad. This leads many to ask a question you’ve likely pondered, “Can you drink water in Turkey?”

Official sources suggest that Turkish water from the tap is safe. Before you start guzzling it down, you should note that intense chlorination is used to purify the water, which gives it a very unpalatable flavor. This is why most tourists and even locals drink bottled water or use some filtration system.

7. Missing Out on a Delicious Turkish Breakfast

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Food is a crucial component of Turkish culture, and one of the most important meals of the day in the country is breakfast. So, one of the things to know before traveling to Turkey is that you should always make time for breakfast. Trust us on this one, but Kahvalti, the name for breakfast in Turkish, is something to behold and marvel at. Think about bread, veggies, hams, cheese, jams, and other dishes prepared and served there. This is all washed down with a cup of cay (Turkish tea) and will leave you ready to face the day and your many adventures.

Make sure you are up early enough and note the time that the eateries you plan to visit serve their breakfast menu. Some will finish at 11 a.m. or midday during the week, but at the weekend, they offer brunch or all-day breakfast menu options.

8. Do You Need a Turkish Visa?

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Although we have noted how friendly and hospitable the people of Turkey are and how crucial tourism is to keeping it in the black, one thing to know before traveling to Turkey is that you may need a visa. The Turkish visa policy is very generous: travelers from over 90 countries can enter Turkey without a visa, while citizens of 28 other countries can apply for Turkish eVisas.

The countries with visa-free access of up to 90 days include the United Kingdom, United States, Ukraine, South Korea, Singapore, New Zealand, Montenegro, Malaysia, Japan, Hong Kong, Brazil, and the whole EFTA and European Union.

Taiwan, South Africa, Oman, Mexico, China, and Bahrain are among the countries whose citizens need to obtain a Turkish eVisa.

9. Not Booking Accommodation Early Enough

Are you the kind of person who loves planning and creating a detailed spreadsheet for your entire itinerary when you travel? Then you’ll appreciate this tip, and you probably already know it. Even if you are not a big planner, you need this tip.

You see, especially if you want to avoid disappointment while ensuring you can save as much money as possible on your trip, one thing to know when traveling to Turkey is to book your accommodation in advance. How soon? As soon as you know the dates you can travel.

10. See Beyond the All-Inclusive Resorts

Asian woman traveler planning
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Turkey is famous for its all-inclusive beach and coastal resorts. Unfortunately, many people think this is all there is to the country. Similar to looking beyond Paris when planning a trip to France, you should do the same when planning a trip to Turkey about Istanbul and thinking you just need to stay at an all-inclusive. 

The country has been central to many exciting events, dramas, and historical events, and its experiences have inspired modern Turkey. There are more than 28 famous ancient ruins, almost 500 museums, and over 19 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and that’s just scratching the surface. Do you really want to spend your whole time in just one resort?

11. Don’t Underestimate How Big Turkey Is

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We have already discussed an answer to the question, “How many days do you have to spend in Turkey?” The people who ask this question do not realize how big Turkey actually is.  A drive from the most westerly point, Canakkale, to the eastern Igdir covers around 1,900km/1180m and can take around 24 hours without stopping.

Turkey is 11 times bigger than Ireland and twice the size of California. We feel it is important to reiterate that if you only have a few days to spend in Turkey, it is best to stick to one area or city to get the most out of your experience there. If you are there for over a few days or as many as two weeks, you will have time to spread your adventure across the country.

12. Not Trying to Barter or Bargain with Vendors

Grand Bazar
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Another things to know when traveling to Turkey is that you should be prepared to barter, bargain, haggle, or whatever you want to call it with the vendors, shop owners, and salespeople there. You will likely visit at least one of the impressive bazaars around a beautiful city. If you do, make sure you play hardball with the salesperson. Don’t worry about offending them, as they are prepared for this type of behavior and prefer it.

Go in with an ideal price in mind that you are willing to pay and try to stick to it. People often choose to pay half the tagged or suggested price and then haggle as strongly as they can until the vendor accepts. It’s part of the experience, a lot of fun, and often means you get a bargain, even if you are new to the process.

Final Thoughts

So, what have we covered in this post? At The Frugal Expat, we have provided as many tips as possible and things to know before traveling to Turkey so you have the best, safest, and most enjoyable holiday possible. Much of what we have said may seem like common sense, but as we have read in the past of many travelers who didn’t know even the basics, we felt it was worth sharing with you all.

Just try to be polite, use the language, and take the same precautions you would anywhere else, and you should have an excellent time in Turkey. 

If you have any tips, suggestions, rules, or regulations you feel may be necessary to improve our guide, please don’t hesitate to share them in the comments section below. Thank you. 

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