Turkey is a breeze for independent travellers. The guesthouses, hostels, travel agencies and transport system all more than cater for those not on a package tour, and you can arrive in one town and if you feel like it, be in another town seven hours away before sundown.
For me, Turkey’s shining star has been the ease of travelling between destinations. The coach system is extensive and highly competitive, meaning that the fares are fairly uniform and fairly cheap. The coaches are more like aircraft, with comfortable reclining seats, individual seatback screens and tray tables, and even a coach captain who wheels a trolley full of free snacks and drinks up and down the aisle every few hours.
It’s as simple as showing up at the local otogar (bus station) with your bags packed and finding a company that has spare seats, unless you’re travelling over a weekend in which case it pays to book your seat at least a day in advance. We even managed to conquer Istanbul’s gigantic, puddle-soaked otogar in less than thirty minutes, and were in the town of Eceabat less than eight hours later.
We have discovered that there are some tricks to coach travel in Turkey – here’s some of what we’ve learned, noting that these tips are solely for coach travel – dolmuses (minibuses) are in a league of their own!
Stick with the big names
Some of the companies, like Kamil Koc, are larger and offer slightly better service (and legroom) than some of the smaller companies. If your first choice doesn’t have availability or service your destination, ask them for recommendations – chances are they’ll call up their friend from the company two doors down who will come and escort you to the right office.
Choose your own seats
This is a mistake we made over and over again. Our first overnight bus ride we managed to end up with seats 23 and 24, which are over the back door of the coach and as such have no room to stretch your legs out. Our second overnight bus ride, booked the night before a weekend, saw us on the dreaded back seat.
Snacks and Supplies
If you can’t be bothered purchasing water or snacks to take with you – don’t! Packets of biscuits and cakes are handed out liberally on the bus, and whenever you feel like a soft drink, tea, coffee or cold water, the coach captain is more than happy to oblige. It’s included in your fare! Plus, all the stops along the way will have food for sale.
You won’t usually find toilets on board a Turkish coach, but that’s okay because they stop roughly every two to three hours at roadhouses or petrol stations with well-maintained facilities. They’re usually European-style (though sometimes not!) and usually have toilet paper – bring tissues for the odd occasion that they don’t. Toilets can also cost between 0.50TL and 1.00TL. Note that the time between toilet stops may be slightly longer during overnight journeys.
If you’re travelling with an iPhone, iPad, laptop or other wifi-enabled device, check if you can find a network once you’re on board – there’s nothing like having access to your email and RSS reader on an overnight bus! Best of all – it’s included in the price.
When you arrive at your destination, check whether your coach company offers a free shuttle bus to your hostel, or somewhere closer to your hostel than the local bus station. In Fethiye, the coach company loaded us into a shuttle bus and dropped us at the hostel and in Istanbul, rather than going all the way to the otogar we were able to get a shuttle bus to Taksim, much closer to our guesthouse than the bus station. Very helpful in 40 degree (celsius) heat!
Depending on the distance, a seat cost us anywhere from 30TL (19 USD, six hours) to 65TL (41 USD, fourteen hours). You don’t need to bargain, as the prices are set. Shopping around at the bus station might save you a few lira, but the fares between major destinations are largely the same no matter the company. There may be discounts if you purchase your fare online (assuming you can navigate a Turkish-only website).
Want to know where I travelled to on coaches in Turkey? Check out all my posts on travelling through Turkey in the archives.
On my RTW trip during the summer of 2010, I met my friend Alicia in Istanbul and we spent the next 46 days travelling overland through Turkey, Syria and Jordan before I headed to Egypt solo to join up with a quick organised tour through upper Egypt.
Read more about this leg of my trip on my Middle East roundup page.