Embarking on a journey to Turkey? As a retired military dad who now calls this enchanting country home, I've explored its breathtaking landscapes, historical sites, and more. Here, I share my travel tips for fellow frugal dads, focusing on making the most of your time, ensuring safety, and, of course, saving money.
Choosing a great flight and arrival location:
For the savvy traveler, consider major metropolitan cities as your travel hubs. Optimal flight prices often revolve around these bustling destinations. If you're flying from the U.S., securing a round-trip ticket from a major city to Istanbul in mid-to-late September can cost under $800 per person. To maximize efficiency, choose Istanbul as your one-way destination and return from Antalya, uncovering gems along the way.
Must see Location: Constantinople (Present Day Istanbul):
Upon arrival in Istanbul, make your life easier by opting for a shuttle or taxi to a hotel in Eminonu, within walking distance of the Hagia Sophia Mosque. Resist the urge to rent a car in this bustling city; public transport and foot travel offer more efficient exploration. Leverage hop-on hop-off buses like "CitySightseeing" for a comprehensive tour of Istanbul at an affordable daily rate.
6 Things to Avoid in Istanbul:
Aggressive product sellers or beggars.
Unsolicited tour guides.
Street food that seems unclean.
Water from taps or open sources.
Clams or seafood not stored properly.
Repeat: Be cautious of aggressive sellers or beggars.
One final safety tip: Istanbul is one of the largest cities in the world with a population of over 15 million people with a large number of them being poor refugees. Like any large city in the world, street smarts are key. Stay around the touristy areas and well lit streets. Restaurants, cafes and businesses LOVE tourists and will want to keep you safe so business continues to come in. If you feel unsafe, just go in a business and hang out until you feel safe.
How to travel safely and efficiently:
Craft your itinerary but consider utilizing inter-city buses for longer distances. For small towns, explore Pamukkale's travel offices for bus tickets and free shuttles. Renting a car is an option outside Istanbul, ensuring you follow traffic rules to avoid penalties. Troy (Dümrek/Çanakkale) is a must-see on this route, offering a fascinating glimpse into ancient history.
If you find yourself in a small town, you might be able to find a Pamukkale travel office. They will assist you with purchasing the bus tickets and also offer a free shuttle service that will take you to the main bus hub for that city. It is super convenient and cheap to travel this way from big city to big city. Any of the cities listed below will have travel tours or other bundles. But I found that these are often over-priced unless you will enjoy a guide who will explain your surroundings to you. If you're like me, you will enjoy taking in the sites at your own pace, a delicious meal and every chance to save some money. So I never use bundled travel tours. All of my suggestions below are assuming you won't as well.
If you want even more freedom and don't mind spending a bit more money, you can rent a car once you leave Istanbul. Do NOT rent a car in Istanbul. Use a bus or shuttle to leave the city, head to the outskirts of town or to another city entirely, and THEN rent a car. Yes, the traffic is that bad. No, you don't want to deal with it. Just use the metro or a taxi and get to a car rental place out of town. You are legally allowed to drive in Turkey for up to 6 months if you're over 18 years old and hold a legal driver's license in your country. The traffic patterns and laws are similar to most western countries with driving on the right side of the road and giving right of way at any intersection. However, turning right on a red light is not permitted. If you see a Turkish person running red lights or stop signs, DO NOT mimic this behavior. They have traffic cameras and you will accrue tickets on your vehicles tag. When you return the car, you will be responsible for all of those tickets.
Must see location: Troy (Present day Dümrek/Çanakkale):
A quick one-day stop that I feel everyone should see is Çanakkale, which is the site of the ancient city of Troy. What visit to Turkey could be complete without standing under a Trojan horse in Troy! Yes, that's the real thing and what it really looked like. I put this stop next on the list after Istanbul because geographically they are the closest together, so if you are driving a rental car, it will be the next stop on your trip. For example, assuming you used the Enterprise Rent-a-car at Harmandere Mah Emir Sultan Cad 41 34912, 34890 Pendik/İstanbul in the outskirts of Istanbul; it's about a 4 hour drive to the Trojan Horse location.
Along your route, you may also be interested in stopping in Çanakkale and seeing the World War 1 memorials. These small towns have very nice bed and breakfast locations. Enjoy a slow pace and delicious local food during your stay.
Must see location: Virgin Mary's House/Ephesus/Kuşadası
Heading south along Turkey's coast, Kuşadası awaits with its beautiful beaches and vibrant nightlife. Ephesus, an ancient Roman city, and Virgin Mary's House are cultural treasures worth exploring. Shuttle services are available for non-drivers, providing easy access to historical wonders and seaside delights.
This place is on my must-see list because the historical sites are equally gorgeous. This location is home to a site known as Ephesus, an ancient roman city. The beaches and fun are only about 23 minutes from this site. If you aren't using a rental car, you will be able to find shuttles or taxis. Speak to the front desk at your hotel for help locating the shuttles. Make sure to have some cash on your person to pay shuttles and taxis in local currency.
Just a few minutes up the hill from Ephesus is the site of the last home of the Virgin Mary. There are beautiful gardens and cafes up the hill near her house. So I recommend visiting Ephesus in the morning and going up the hill for lunch and more walking around the house.
After you're done with your sightseeing, you can head back down to the beaches of Kusadasi and have a nice dinner by the seaside.
Must see location: Fethiye/Ölüdeniz
Fethiye, home to one of the most beautiful beaches globally, is a four-hour drive from Kuşadası. Buses make the journey seamless, and for those driving, a stop in Akyaka for its crystal-clear river is recommended. Fethiye offers both natural beauty and adventure, with options for scuba diving, hiking, and even tandem-paragliding for the thrill-seekers.
Again, there are buses that can take you from one place to the other to make travel easy. If you are driving a rental car, I recommend one stop along the road in a very small town called Akyaka, which is famous for it's beautiful crystal clear river. Take a break from the road and dip your feet in the cold water and have some lunch. You'll see river boats cruising up and down the river with tourists and children playing along the riverfront.
After lunch, head right into Fethiye and drop off your bags because there is so much amazing beauty to see there. Along the beach front are adventure tour businesses that offer scuba diving, hiking, 4-wheelers and even tandem-paragliding. My family are definitely among the more adventurous, so we asked what the minimum age/weight was for the paragliding. Luckily both of our boys (8 and 10) were big enough to join me on a jump.
Departure: Antalya Airport
Wrap up your Turkish adventure in Antalya, enjoying a final meal and spa before departing. Opt for a hotel on the east side for convenience, and don't miss the Topkapi Hamam for a perfect ending to your journey.
For those with more time, explore Pamukkale, Cappadocia, Bursa/Uludag, and Ankara. These locations, while slightly off the beaten path, offer additional beauty and historical richness.
Pamukkale, Capadocia, Bursa/Uludag and Ankara
I hope this guide assists you in planning a budget-friendly and unforgettable Turkish adventure. Feel free to reach out with any suggestions or questions, and happy travels!