Turkey On A Budget: Top Ways To Make The Most Of Your Money In Turkey
Turkey is one of the hottest countries to visit in southeastern Europe right now. That’s hardly surprising when you think about the fantastic summer weather, the wealth of history and culture to experience and see, and the beaches that glisten in the sun.
Whether you’re thinking about heading to the south coast and hitting the beach, looking for some cosmopolitan city time in Izmir, or considering immersing yourself in culture in Istanbul, Ankara, Trabzon, Adana, or Bursa, there is plenty to see and do in Turkey. However, nothing comes for free.
However, the great news is that you can save a large amount of cash in Turkey by being smart with your money and knowing the hacks to keep your hard-earned Lira in your pocket.
The Turkish Lira is at an all-time high against most other currencies at the moment, which means you get a lot more Lira than you ever could before. So, when visiting Turkey, you have more to spend from the get-go.
To help you make the most of your cash while visiting this beautiful and cultural country, let’s check out some hacks to save money in Turkey.
Be Savvy When Choosing Accommodation
It’s a good idea to avoid all-inclusive resorts on the south coast, instead opting for a self-catering apartment.
Yes, you save money on food and drink when staying at a resort, but trust me, all-inclusive food in Turkey is never delightful, and you’ll end up going out for a meal in a top restaurant nearby anyway.
Suppose you opt for a self-catering apartment, on the other hand. In that case, you can buy some essentials cheaply at the local supermarket (there are always plenty around) for daytime meals while going out and trying some authentic Turkish cuisine in the evening.
Catering for yourself is almost always cheaper than the cost of an expensive all-inclusive getaway, no matter how many things and services are “free” or “complementary.
Don’t Be Afraid Of Hostels
If you’re staying in a city, try a hostel instead of a hotel. You’ll find countless high-quality hostels in Istanbul, many of which are in the Taksim, Fatih, or Sultanahmet areas. Many also offer private rooms.
Hostels are a great way to socialize with other like-minded travelers. You can enjoy the hostel bar and go out for delicious local food while saving cash on an expensive hotel.
Cook If You Can
Don’t be afraid of cooking if you’re staying in an apartment or have a shared kitchen in your hostel. You can cook a seriously impressive meal for a much lower price than in a restaurant. All you need to do is head to the local bazaar and pick up plenty of delicious vegetables, meat, and fish.
Fill Up At Breakfast
We know that Turkish breakfasts are pretty large, and most traditional breakfast places serve breakfast until late into the afternoon. In that case, indulge in a late breakfast and fill up. You won’t be hungry until much later; it’s incredibly healthy, and you’ll save on lunch!
Eat Where The Locals Eat
If you want to eat out, the same advice applies to Turkey as most other tourist destinations: eat where the locals eat, and you’ll save money and enjoy more authentic, delicious food.
All tourist hotspots in Turkey have a tourist area. In Istanbul, that’s Taksim. In every tourist resort, it’s beachfront, while in Izmir, it’s the waterfront. These areas have plentiful bars and restaurants, but the prices are higher, and the food, while good, cannot compare with authentic Turkish fare.
Be a real traveler and try something different! Venture away from the tourist streets and head to an ockabasi. This is a traditional BBQ restaurant where you’ll fill your belly with meat, meze, bread, and all manner of other delicious treats for a quarter of the price of a tourist-focused restaurant.
Of course, you can always head back to the tourist areas for a drink afterward because you’ll have saved plenty of cash on your meal.
If you’re in Istanbul, try some of the street food—super-cheap and delicious! This way, you’ll keep cash in your pocket without going hungry.
As a side note, avoid Sultanahmet in Istanbul if you’re looking to eat out. Sure, it’s great for history during the day, and it’s a must-visit because of that, but the “authentic” restaurants around here are vastly overpriced. Moreover, the food isn’t as good as the fare you enjoy at a traditional restaurant in a non-touristic area.
Use Your Debit Card
If you have a Visa debit card, it’s a good idea to use it in large bars and restaurants to pay your bill. Not only will you benefit because of the exchange rate against major currencies, but you also don’t need to have large amounts of Lira on you.
Always Change Your Money When You Arrive
Never change your money before you arrive in Turkey, as you’ll always get a lower rate. Also, avoid changing your money at the airport because their prices are usually lower than the exchange offices at your resort or the city you’re staying in.
If you want to keep a little local cash with you for when you arrive to tide you over for a day, keep it minimal. Remember that tourist resorts and cities have numerous ATMs to draw out Lira using your international card.
You’ll also find many exchange offices around. You need to find the one offering the best rate and change your cash there. Do check; they don’t charge commission first, though!
Get An Istanbul Museum Pass
Suppose you want to visit several locations around Istanbul. In that case, you can purchase a museum card, which gives you cut-priced admission to major attractions while also giving you cheaper public transport.
You’ll find different prices for different packages when visiting large attractions, not only in Istanbul. E.g., You’ll be told you pay x price for the basic access, and you pay extra to get into another part. Question whether you need to pay the extra; from experience, you can see everything you want with the basic price.
Get Your Haggle On
Don’t be shy! When you’re browsing for souvenirs at the markets and the bazaar, you’re expected to haggle. If you do this well, you’ll save a lot of cash, which you can then spend on experiences and create even more memories.
On a side note: don’t attempt to haggle in shops, though, or anywhere that has marked prices on goods.
However, prices are usually fair game on markets and in large open and closed bazaars. It’s great fun to try and see how cheap you can get your items. It’s almost like a game of cat and mouse; once you get over the cringe factor, it’s quite an entertaining activity!
Avoid Buying Excursions From Your Rep
Most hotels in the beach resorts have an in-house rep who’ll try and sell you their excursions. Avoid doing this and, instead, head out onto the street and buy from one of the local operators.
These trips are almost always the same and far cheaper. By doing this, you’re also doing your bit to support the local economy and make your travels a bit more sustainable.
Of course, if you’re feeling adventurous, it’s even better to head off and see the local sights on your own without having a tour guide with you.
However, this is not always possible for some trips, such as boat trips or jeep safaris. They might sound touristy, but they’re great fun, so don’t miss out.
Avoid The Buy-One-Get-One-Frees
This isn’t so much of an issue in Istanbul and other cities. Still, if you’re visiting the tourist resorts like Bodrum, Alanya, Side, Kemer, Marmaris, Icmeler, Gumbet, etc., you will see the inevitable BOGOF offers everywhere. They might seem like a great idea, but they’re false advertising, especially on alcoholic drinks.
BOGOF cocktails are no stronger than just one drink, and most of the time, it’s so watered down that you might as well have bought a regular spirit for a lower price.
It’s far better to stick to locally produced drinks, such as Efes beer, which are far cheaper and very enjoyable to drink, too.
Travel Outside Of July And August
Every place and everything in Turkey is more expensive during July and August. This is the peak tourist summer season, and flight prices, accommodation rates, and everything else shoots through the roof.
Instead, June and September are great months to visit for both lower prices and smaller crowds. October is also an excellent time for anyone who doesn’t mind the slight possibility of rain, with very cheap deals to be found.
One of the best tips to save money in Turkey we can offer you is to plan to go to Turkey in June, September, or October.
If you’re visiting Istanbul, December is always very busy. The New Year period is packed, and you’ll struggle to find a hotel that isn’t extremely expensive. However, January is a cheaper month, on the other hand, and will show you the authentic way of life in this beautiful city.
Use Internal Flights
If you’re flying to Turkey and you have a specific place you want to go to, e.g., Cappadocia, Ephesus, etc., it’s a good idea to fly into Istanbul first. You’ll find cheaper flights to this huge city, and you can then find a domestic flight to your desired location. These are pretty cheap, even with rising costs, and it saves many hours on a bus.
Domestic flight prices vary according to the time of the week and day, so set your search parameters to ‘whole month’ to find the best prices.
The amount of money you need per day in Turkey can vary depending on various factors such as your travel style, accommodation choices, dining preferences, and activities. On average, a budget traveler can expect to spend around $30 to $50 per day in Turkey, EXCLUDING accommodation.
However, if you prefer mid-range or luxury restaurants or engage in more expensive activities, your daily expenses will be higher. It’s always a good idea to plan your budget based on your specific travel plans and preferences to get a more accurate estimate of how much you’ll need per day in Turkey.
Here are some examples in USD to help guide you to know how much you need per day in Turkey:
- $10 to 30 a day for meals. It will be more expensive when you are in Istanbul or eat in touristy areas
- $10-20 a day for miscellaneous things like drinking drinks and souvenirs
- $5 a day for tips
- $15-30 for tickets and activities
Logistical Costs to Help You Plan
Now you know how to save money; you’ll still need a few general numbers to help you plan your break before you go.
Remember that the cost of living is rising worldwide post-pandemic, so the numbers you see here may not be exact. However, they are ‘rough estimations’ that should help you determine how much cash you might need for your break.
Getting To & Around Turkey
You can find cheap flights as long as you avoid the peak summer months, and even then, if you use sites like Skyscanner and try using indirect flights or arriving and departing from different airports, you can sometimes grab a bargain.
Again, the cost of flying is rising, but generally speaking, you can often find return flights from a European city, such as London, Manchester, Paris, Berlin, etc, to Dalaman on the south coast for around 350 Euros, including baggage. Remember, this is approximate and depends on the airline – budget airlines are the way to go!
If you find a cheap flight to Istanbul and you want to visit another part of the country, the good news is that getting around the country is very easy and cheap. You can take a domestic flight from Istanbul Airport or Sabiha Gocken Airport to most large cities around the country or take a long-distance bus using companies such as Pamukkale, Metro, or Kamil Koc.
The only downside to using a bus is the length of time it takes to get from A to B. A journey from Istanbul to Marmaris on the south coast takes around 11 hours! However, buses are comfortable, air-conditioned, have WiFi, and you’re offered refreshments regularly. You’ll also get to see the country for a bargain price.
Domestic flights can be as low as 30 Euros, but the earlier you book, the cheaper they tend to be. You can fly from Istanbul to Izmir in an hour. If you want to go to Cappadocia, you can fly to Konya in just over an hour and then take a bus for a couple of hours.
Once you’re at your location, getting around is very easy. Some minibusses travel through resorts and cities and get you around cheaply. For instance, a dolmus (minibus) from Icmeler to Marmaris (south coast resorts) costs just 10 lira – less than 1 Euro!
Istanbul, Izmir, and Antalya all have public transport cards you can top up and use on different public transport methods, therefore saving money. And if you choose to get a taxi, make sure you ask the price before you get in to avoid scams.
We’ve mentioned you should try and use hostels wherever possible, but how much do regular hotels and apartments cost?
Well, it depends on where you want to go, the type of area, the star rating, and the time of year you visit. However, if you’re savvy and you see out-of-peak times, choosing a site that isn’t totally central but isn’t too far away from where you want to be either, you can grab a bargain.
For instance, five-star resorts in Antalya can cost anything from 130 Euros per night upward, but you can also choose to stay somewhere less fancy and spend your time exploring the place instead of sitting in your room. Hostels start at around 10 – 20 Euros per night, whereas a 4-star hotel costs somewhere between 50-70 Euros per night.
Unexpected Costs To Think About
As with anywhere in the world, there are hidden extras you need to know about. These can be a little unpleasant if you’re not aware of them!
Tipping isn’t mandatory, but very much appreciated. If you enjoyed the service, tipping 10% is a good suggestion. For taxis, round up the amount to the nearest whole if you want to tip the driver, but again, it’s not a definite thing you have to do.
Most beaches are free to enter, and if there is a fee, it’s because it’s a special location, e.g., Incekum Beach in Marmaris or the Blue Lagoon in Olu Deniz. You’ll know about this before you get to the beach, and it’s likely to be a low cost anyway – often around 50 lira per person at most.
However, some public beaches do charge for sun loungers or parasols. If you go to a beach owned by a hotel (if they allow non-residents), a bar, or a restaurant, you’ll usually have free access to facilities as long as you buy food and drinks throughout the day. But if it’s a standalone beach, there will probably be a charge.
For a full day, sun loungers and umbrellas tend to be anywhere between 50-100 lira (2.50 – 5 Euros).
You may be charged a fee if you’re using an overseas bank card in a Turkish cash machine. This depends on the Turkish bank and whatever rules are in place for your particular bank. Some Turkish banks charge for foreign card use, while others don’t. However, you’ll be warned on the screen before you go ahead with the transaction so that you can make an informed decision.
At most, a fee will be 100 liras maximum (5 Euros). You might also be charged a cash conversion fee by your own bank if you take out foreign currency, so that is something to check before you travel if you intend to use your card in ATMs.
Use Public Transport
You might look at Turkey’s public transport system and panic, thinking it’s too hard to use and you’ll never master it. Yet, try it once, and you’ll wonder what you were worrying about.
Taxis are always expensive, and you run the risk of getting into the cab of a driver who wants to make a little extra cash. One of their tricks is taking you longer “the scenic route” to your destination and charging you for the “experience.”
However, if you take the bus or Metro, you can save a lot of money in Turkey, and you’ll have done something authentic!
Istanbul has many different public transport options to choose from. All you need to use is an Istanbul Kart, a prepaid card you top up at local markets or Metro stations. You can use this card on the ferries, Metro, buses, and trains.
Other cities have regular bus and train services, which are all very clear and easy to use. This includes Izmir, which has a very effective and reliable train service to other nearby cities.
In the beach resorts, you’ll find that you’re relying on dolmus. These are smaller local buses than regular ones, but they’re cheap and run frequently.
In Marmaris, for example, it will cost you 10 Lira to go from the town center to Icmeler, the neighboring resort. Compare that to the taxi price of 130 Lira, and you can understand why the bus, albeit busy, is a better option! The journey is picturesque, too, taking you along the mountaintop overlooking the sea.
Saving money in Turkey is easy; you must know the hacks to keep cash in your pocket!
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