How to Travel on a Budget in Turkey

Azmac River in Akyaka Turkey

In 2018, Turkey suffered a major economic crisis and the Turkish Lira lost much of its value. While this has caused inflation in the country, the loss in value has made it easier to travel on a budget in Turkey for those coming from countries with a stronger currency (dollar, euro or pound).

Traveling to Trabzon

There is not much use in stating the exchange rate, because it is continuously changing. A great resource to check on the most up to date and reliable exchange rate is XE Currency. I used this the entire time I lived in Turkey. 

If you are looking for a country to travel in on a budget, Turkey is a great choice. While it is not as cheap as Southeast Asian countries, you can get great quality vacations for a fraction of the cost it would be to do the same in Europe. 

Karasu Koyu Dilek National Park Kusadasi Turkey
The beach at Karasu Köyü in Dilek National Park

Domestic Flights vs. Buses

Many people fly into Turkey through Istanbul, unsurprisingly. It is a metropolis and hub for international travel. Istanbul is not the cheapest place to travel in Turkey. Most museums in Istanbul require their own entrance fee and the price may range from 10-15 USD. After 5 or 6 places that adds up! The rest of Turkey is not like that. Generally, you can buy one tourist museum pass and it will get you in everywhere, but that is not the case in Istanbul. 

Uzungol in Trabzon Turkey

If you really want to travel on a budget in Turkey, you should venture outside of Istanbul to the southwestern coast of Turkey, Antalya, Cappadocia, or the Black Sea region. At this point, there are a few options for transportation when traveling to other locations in Turkey.

If you plan your itinerary out and already know which cities you want to explore, then buying plane tickets domestically ahead of time is a good choice. Domestic flights in Turkey are generally inexpensive, especially if you book in advance. Some cheaper airlines are Pegasus and SunExpress. Many of the cities you would travel to have airports in them or nearby.

On the other hand, if you are just winging your trip and need transportation immediately, then sometimes it is cheaper to take a bus. The downside to this is that it will take hours to get somewhere vs. 1-2 hours by plane. The upside is that many Turks still utilize these bus lines over airplanes, so they are generally clean, comfortable, provide snacks and make several pitstops. Some popular bus lines are Pamukkale, Metro, and Kamil Koc.

Cappadocia Turkey

In the summer of 2018, instead of taking a plane to Cappadocia, my husband and I opted to take an overnight bus because it saved us 1,000TL (nearly $200). Cappadocia is a major touristic attraction and finding cheap flights can be hard. This is when the bus lines are great cheap alternatives! Just be prepared for a poor night’s sleep. I don’t regret it though, because to me the money we saved was worth it.

Make sure to always check both flights and bus ticket prices before purchasing tickets, sometimes there are major price differences and sometimes they are almost exactly the same. If they are the same, choosing to go by plane is an obvious benefit because you save so much time.

Dining Out

Like any place, there are upscale restaurants and hole-in-the wall eateries. The good news is that even in the nicest of restaurants, you are not likely to pay more than $13 for your meal. This type of food would be the traditional Turkish dishes like meatballs (köfte), kebab, lamb skewers (kuzu şiş), and other delicious dishes.

The cheapest food is probably doner (sliced beef or chicken), which could cost you as little as $3. If you can find a pilavci, you can pay as little as $1.50 for your shredded chicken and rice. It is up to you to decide how frequently you want to eat at fancy places and how often you want to stop at your local donerci.

pide in karadeniz turkey

Some foods that I do not recommend sharing would be meatballs (köfte), kebab, or lamb and chicken skewers, because the portion size is not big enough for two. Some foods that could be shared are pide (it is similar to pizza) and Turkish breakfast. Turkish breakfast was made to be shared!

Hotels vs. Villas

Hotels can also range greatly in price and quality. Some places you can find for as little as $20 while some others can approach $85. You can easily find a very nice hotel, with breakfast included, for $65 a night. If you are coming in a group and booking more than one room, you may be able to negotiate a price.

Tip: Haggling is normal in Turkish culture, try to negotiate your prices as often as you can when booking with a business directly or purchasing items from local artisans.

I have found that it is cheapest to contact hotels directly, because the booking websites take a hefty cut. We have saved 40-80 Turkish Liras by contacting and booking a hotel room directly from the hotel. You may feel nervous about language, but many people working in tourism in Turkey have rudimentary English skills. It will be a great chance for you to practice some of your Turkish, too! One way to find hotels is by searching on etstur.com then calling the ones you like directly. The website is in Turkish, but it is manageable with a little help from Google translate. 🙂

There are also villas available in many touristic areas and there is one condition where these can be more affordable. If you are coming in a big group and can split the cost or as a family of 5+, then it might be cheaper to rent a villa. Some villas have up to 10 beds spread across 4-5 rooms. There are also smaller villas available, so these are great choices for families who want to keep their kids nearby without all being in one room or having to book multiple hotel rooms.

Elif Hanim Hotel and Spa restaurant
View of the restaurant at Elif Hanim Hotel & Spa

The added bonus of renting a villa is having access to a full kitchen, which is stocked with the essential cookware. If you’re lucky, they will even have some salt and olive oil in the cupboards! Cooking while on vacation is another great way to save money, especially for families! Most villas also come with either a private pool or a shared pool with the other villas in the complex. 

Oftentimes, villas and hotels can be comparable in price and depending on your group/family size, villas can end up being much more affordable. They are also just more comfortable in general.

Great locations if you want Villas:

  • Dalyan
  • Kalkan/Kas
  • Foca

*All located in Southwest Turkey

Great locations if you want hotels:

  • Antalya
  • Bodrum
  • Cappadocia (I recommend the cave hotels in Goreme or Urgup)

Regardless of which you choose, you can easily find affordable andnice places to stay in any city.

Ruins in Ephesus, Turkey.

Note: Hostel style accommodation is not common in Turkey, but the closest you will find is “pansiyon” which are usually the cheapest of the options. These are nothing fancy and don’t usually include breakfast. You can find some of these for about $14 a night.

Note on AirBnB

AirBnB is also up and coming in Turkey, so check out those rates as well. There are some great deals on there but be careful, because some cost even more than the nicer, local hotels that also offer breakfast.

Travel in the off season

You cannot really travel to beach towns during winter because everything is closed but hotels begin to open up in April and stay open through the end of October. The prices are cheapest between April-June and Sept-Oct. You can save a few hundred Turkish Liras on your trip by traveling during these times. While the price of food will not vary too much, hotel prices will change by up to 150 TL per night.

Suleymaniye Mosque

Turkey is very hot in the summer, so visiting beach towns during May and September is, in my opinion, even more enjoyable than it would be in July or August.

Rental Cars

Renting a car will save you money if you are having to constantly use taxis to get from point A to point B in the place you are traveling. It is also nice to have mobility to see various off-the-beaten-path locations. However, if you are confined to a hotel for your entire stay (like the all-inclusive ones in Antalya) you really don’t need a rental car. Many hotels can arrange airport transportation to and from the hotel.

Kilitbahir Castle

While public transportation is great in cities, if you are venturing off to the beaches and want to be mobile in town, rental cars are the way to go. Just be prepared for crazy Turkish drivers. Be willing to yield and mimic their driving etiquette.

If you book directly with a rental car agency, it will cost more than going through a site like economycarrentals.com. We always booked at least a week in advance with economy car rentals and the earlier you book, the cheaper the price. You have to be a foreigner to utilize this site. We always picked our cars up at the airport. You can expect to pay about $15 a day depending on how early you book your car.

Sal Plateau Rize Turkey

We did not enjoy booking through local agencies and I think they are a bit sketchier. The agencies at the airport are held to higher standards, so I always felt secure booking through them. If you are having trouble with economycarrentals.com, you can try a comparable Turkish site called Yolcu360.com that does the same thing.

Please note that gasoline is not very cheap, so if you can rent a car that has LPG compatibility then you can save a lot on gas. LPG is much cheaper than “benzin.”

Boat Tours

One of the best activities that are also affordable are the boat tours that are open to the public. These boat tours are available at all the seaside locations. Some of my favorite tours have been in Akyaka, Kalkan and Fethiye. These tours will cost you about $10-$15 and they last the entire day with lunch included. Only drinks are not included, but you are free to bring all the food and drinks you want on board (including alcohol). They stop in several locations for passengers to swim in the gorgeous turquoise sea.

If you are in a group, you may be able to rent a boat privately for the same price. We have been able to negotiate a private boat for about 1,200 TL for 15 people, so the price was about the same, but we had the boat to ourselves.

There are tour guides available at different historical sites, either for hire or through audio headsets. They offer most of the major world languages. Personally, I don’t prefer these types of tours, so I cannot comment in their quality for price. I enjoy wandering at my own pace and wherever I want. Some places offer headsets for free with the purchase of a ticket.

Dolmabahce Palace Istanbul

Like I mentioned, there is a museum pass you can buy that will get you into nearly all the museums and historical sites in the country, like Ephesus, the Seven Churches of Revelation, the Archeological Museum in Hatay, and many others. For more information on the museum pass, you can visit the Turkish tourism website. Keep in mind, if you are not entering many places then buying the pass will not be worth it. 

Visit Somewhat Obscure Places

Okay, I can see why someone coming from a foreign country is going to want to see all the beauty of Istanbul, Cappadocia and Antalya. They are incredible for very different reasons. However, Turkey has so much to offer and some of these smaller cities still cater to tourists and charge much less for food and board.

Canakkale

You can learn a lot about Turkish history and see the Dardanelles by visiting Canakkale. This is where the battle of Gallipoli took place during the Great War. 

Canakkale Turkey

Akyaka

You can go on a boat tour in the small beach town of Akyaka, one of my favorite places that I have been to five times. If you need advice on where to stay in Akyaka, check out this article. 

Azmac River in Akyaka Turkey
Walk alongside the beautiful Azmac River in Akyaka, Turkey

Rize & Trabzon

You can check out Rize, which is amazing and will make you think you are in Poland or Switzerland with their huge mountains. While you’re there, you can make a trip to Trabzon, which is also in the Black Sea region with much history and beauty.

No matter where you go, there will be amazing food. Just be sensitive to the various cultures in each city, they are certainly not all the same. Some places are very progressive, while some are more conservative. But some of these less well-known locations will provide a cheaper, yet high quality holiday. 

Pokut Rize Turkey

For guides on more popular yet still affordable locations, visit my articles on Ephesus, Cappadocia, Istanbul, and Fethiye/Oludeniz.

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