Before Visiting Turkey Tips

13 Things to know before visiting Turkey: Make the Most of Your Time in Turkey

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Before visiting Turkey, as with anywhere, there are things you should be aware of to make sure you have a great time abroad!

Every time you travel somewhere new, you realize how different we all are. Each country does things differently. Thinks differently.

There is nothing worse than getting somewhere and expecting one thing but getting an entirely different thing.

They store their property and products and information differently. When you travel, you embrace courage and learn something new. I had to learn these the hard way.

I enjoy learning new things and new ways to do things. A different way of thinking and experiencing reminds me that my way isn’t the only “right” way.

Traveling cultivates compassion.

There are also things that just kinda drive you batty as you travel. In this list, I want to save you some grief so that you know these key things before you come!

1. What floor am I on?

If you’re from America, we all know that the bottom floor is the 1st floor in any building. Here in Turkey, that is not the case.

They number floors starting with 0. So the bottom floor is always zero. The next floor up that we would typically call 2nd is the 1st.

A great help to figuring out what level you’re on is to count how many flights of stairs you go up.

On my flight, I go up three flights of stairs to my apartment so I am on the 3rd floor though in America we would call it the 4th.

This is especially helpful when you want to order food or something to where you’re staying. They will always ask for your floor number.

2. Tea is life

In every culture, there is something we enjoy doing to convey the hospitality that we have for the people we are welcoming.

We want people to feel at home. Well, at least this is true if you’re from the south for sure.

Here in Turkey, drinking tea with someone is an important part of life. If someone offers you tea, welcome it gladly!

They are extending their hospitality to you and it would be so dishonoring to reject them.

That being said, it is important to note that when people ask if you want çay and it sounds like chai, it doesn’t mean chai, it means Turkish tea which is black tea.

Sometimes it has bergamot and sometimes it doesn’t but it’s black tea all the same.

If you, like myself, have a sensitivity to caffeine at night, I have found these De-Caffeinate pills to be magic workers!

One day a friend joked that maybe they had a pill for that. So I did what any wise person would, I checked to see if Amazon did. THEY DID!

I bought them, quite skeptical. I used them fully anticipating not sleeping that night but I slept like a baby.

They worked marvelously. Definitely give them a try when traveling abroad.

3. Keep Tissues on Hand

As I traveled around Europe, I was always so sad at how hard it was to find a public restroom if I needed to go.

It seems to be a common thing outside of America. Turkey does have a number of public restrooms that you can use thankfully.

But the unfortunate circumstance comes up often of no toilet paper. Especially if you are out in rural Turkey.

You will go to do your business only to realize there is nothing there.

Always, always, always carry a pack of tissues in your day bag. Trust me. I have needed them on more than one occasion!

4. Public transportation

The public transportation system in Turkey is pretty great! It includes buses, metros, ferries, minibus and when you want, taxis are available.

Buses, metros, ferries, and the marmaray (similar to metro but goes between sides) are all paid for by the IstanbulKart (no cash).

Their public transportation card can be reloaded. Check back soon for an in-depth how-to for your Istanbulkart.

Dolmus and minibuses are paid for with cash only. These are like big vans, small buses that you can get to take you throughout Istanbul.

For taxis you can use a credit/debit card as well as cash.

But beware, sometimes there will be a problem with the card reader and so it is best to always have cash on hand in case there is a problem.

5. Squatty pottys

As Turkey has updated buildings and facilities, they have installed many Western-style toilets but you can’t always find one.

Typically you will see a sign on the door that indicates a western style or a squat-style toilet. You will get used to it.

If you want to be able to use the restroom in rural Turkey, you will master this task.

My best advice, fully squat. Trust me on this one. Upon coming, I was eternally grateful for my years of growing up going camping and having to learn such a task.

Before visiting Turkey

6. Ask for a menu

Sometimes you will stumble across a quaint restaurant and you are dying for an adventure…make sure you ask to see a menu with prices.

One time I went with a couple of Turkish friends to a fish restaurant to celebrate a friend. I figured they knew what they were doing so I just went with it.

I was expecting to pay 50 tl or maybe even 80 tl for my portion of dinner.

In the end, my portion was 220 tl and others paid more than me!

If you don’t look at a menu with prices, you might find yourself at the end of a great night with a 1200 tl bill when you thought it would be much cheaper.

Do your due diligence.

7. Tap water

Many people say you can’t drink the water because it has viruses and bacteria in it. While that was once true, it isn’t true anymore.

There have been great strides towards cleaning the water.

Unfortunately, it is still best to not drink it straight from the tap because of heavy metal levels.

Some people still use tap water for tea or the like, you will notice that there is lots of scaling and deposits in their kettles.

It is best to use bottled water to avoid drinking such heavy metals.

I still use tap water to boil pasta or potatoes or something where I will not be drinking the water but in general, I use the 5-gallon water containers.

If you don’t have access to them at your place or are only in town for a short period of town, you can get really large bottles of water and refill your smaller bottles regularly.

There is also a great water filter option that is specifically good for tap water and heavy metals.

You can read more here about why I support Epic Water Filters. They have a couple of options.

  • Epic Filter with Nalgene body
  • Epic Filter with Glass bottle
  • Epic Filter with Vostok | Vacuum Insulated Stainless Steel
Epic Water Filters

Needless to say, this company is on it! They also have pitchers you could bring if that was more suitable to what you were doing.

Make sure you read the blog about why I support Epic so you can understand best how they can help you!

8. Cash & Cards

While Turkey has grown and become much more modern in recent years, cash is still king. You will definitely get discounts when you pay in cash.

If it is for anything big, make sure you get the appropriate level of receipt.

It is also important to note that they don’t typically accept American Express or Discover. You may find someone here or there but on the whole, they are not widely accepted.

Also, if you do anything online, you will find that you have problems if your card/bank doesn’t support 3D security.

I am personally a fan of simply withdrawing cash in the local currency from ATMs instead of carrying large amounts of dollars. there are a couple of reasons.

  • Firstly, it is much more safe. If you get pickpocketed or lose the cash somehow, you are out all of that money and there is little to no recourse.
    • When you do this, make sure you use ATMs that are attached to a bank. In the event you withdraw money from an ATM and it keeps your card, they will send it back to your address attached to it.

      If it is, however, attached to a bank, you can simply go in and let them know and they can retrieve it for you immediately.
  • Secondly, I have found each cash changing station charges a different fee. I mostly just don’t want to deal with the hassle of figuring out who has a better rate.

    If you’re an Enneagram 8, you probably will prefer this method….you do you!
  • Lastly, things like travelers’ checks are out of date and no one really uses them anymore. You’re likely to have more issues with them.

It is also good to have a little bit of cash on hand if you want to do a bit of tipping though it isn’t usually expected in Turkey unless you’re in a tourist area.

9. Animals

Most people are animal lovers. While I grew up in a house full of pets, I realized that I am not really a pet lover.

That being said A. I do have a soul and 2. I am quite lovely with pets, I just don’t want one in my house.

Cats of Istanbul
You’ll often find cats in shop windows, soaking up the sun.

For the animal lovers you will love that as you wander the streets in Turkey, you will see so many stray animals.

But they are not like stray animals in the States. They are often very well taken care of, though not always.

Because Turks believe animals hold an inherent value as Muhammed did, they often care very well for animals.

They provide temporary shelters and put out food often for them. The dogs, though massive, are surprisingly docile.

I have only ever seen them barking at those who are picking up recycling, oddly enough.

And on Instagram you can find so many great photos of these cats of Istanbul with the hashtag #catsofistanbul.

10. Crossing the street

Crossing the streets in Turkey was something I definitely had to get used to here. Essentially you cross wherever you want to.

I believe technically it is illegal but it is done all the time, regularly in front of police, but something that is just accepted.

So typically the cars are going slow enough that you can easily cross even on a big street. But you just have to own it.

My biggest tip is to follow the locals. It is a little nerve-wracking at first but then it becomes quite comfortable.

Also typically drivers are slow to let you cross even if you have not waited like you should. Rarely do they honk and make a big deal out of it, especially in the rain. They get it.

Obviously, you don’t have to cross like a local. If you’re more comfortable waiting for the light, please do that.

I just want to make you aware of the culture around crossing the street….as it is quite different from the States.

11. Don’t flush the TP

Because the pipes are really old here in Turkey (think Constantinople), they can’t take the extra load of lots of toilet paper.

While the pipes aren’t as old as some of the buildings, some perhaps are close.

If you use lots of toilet paper and flush it you will likely be the cause of a backup…and who wants to call someone in for that while on vacation!

Luckily every toilet has a bidet built in and has trash bins for your used toilet paper.

As Westerners this will likely be a hard concept to swallow but it is recommended especially in old buildings.

But even in new buildings, there can be issues because concrete or other building materials will often get flushed or put down the shower drain and cause unnecessary build-up along the way.

To save everyone’s trouble, just go ahead and throw away the toilet paper instead.

12. Throw out the schedule

Before visiting Turkey you should also definitely know that Turks value the person they are with more than the next appointment.

When I first got here, it was so overwhelming that I had a schedule and it often felt like it was being tossed aside but that is just how it goes in a highly relational culture.

You will find this throughout the middle east, Africa and India as well.

So let go and go with the flow. Stop for the tea and trust that you will see everything you need to see.

If you give up the rigid hold you have on your schedule, you will likely have a much better trip than you thought possible.

13. Beware on the street

When you are walking in a touristy area, make sure you are aware of your surroundings and your personal items.

Like any public touristy place throughout the world, there will be pickpockets and people who try to take advantage of unsuspecting foreigners.

To be safe on the streets in Turkey, make sure you keep your money and passport in your money wallet or deep in your travel purse or backpack.

This will help it be extra secure. Especially if you’re wearing a backpack, wear it on the front to add an extra layer of protection.

I hope you have enjoyed learning some things you really should know before visiting Turkey.

If you’re getting ready to come to visit, make sure you check out my blog on packing travel hacks and staying safe while traveling.

Turkey really is such an amazing and beautiful country albeit quite different from the Western world.

I really hope that you enjoyed all of these different tidbits about Turkey. Hope you get to visit soon!

Were you surprised by any of these? Which one are you most glad to know?
– Kimberly

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