Growing up, traveling was one thing I always used to fantasize about but I always thought it would be really expensive to travel anywhere in the world. All this changed once I got my hands on a little thing called Google and started looking at how surprisingly cheap prices of airplane tickets can be.
In a bid to share the wealth of knowledge I accumulated from my time spent traveling, so far, I will be sharing all the secrets on planning your trip, hunting super cheap tickets to getting your visa processed and staying at a comfortable place for very cheap or even FREE and the best of all; exploring the city.
A couple things I would like to share before we go on and I reveal all my secrets for hacking 12 days in Turkey for less than 75K:
- I was traveling alone for this trip and luxury was not on my list.
- I did a lot of walking (I was averaging 18 kilometers a day) and I did not use taxi or Uber to commute.
- No, I did not dine out at Salt Bae’s restaurant or any other fancy restaurant but I sure as hell had their Kokoreç!.
- My trip was a total of 12 nights, 7 nights in Istanbul and 5 nights in Antalya.
So now that those are out of the way, let’s get down to how it all happened:
Planning the trip
I planned this trip 1 month ahead of time since I had a US Visa on my passport I availed the e-Visa online option from this website. All the details are mentioned on their website to check if you qualify for the e-Visa. If you don’t qualify for an e-Visa, it’s totally cool because getting the Turkish visa is not THAT difficult.
One thing I hear from my friends’ circle is how tough it is to get any sort of Visa on a Pakistani passport which is totally not true. All you have to do it present a genuine case to the Embassy of any country you are applying to. If your intent is clear and you show the embassy you will be coming back, they don’t turn you away cause they need the money you will be spending in their country. It’s just like asking for permission from your parents when you’re a kid; if you don’t ask them with a genuine reason they will not allow!
Things to know when applying for a visa
The best time to apply for any visa is when it’s not the holiday season, you will get your application processed quicker and a higher chance of getting it accepted. Make sure you have decent money in your bank account. If you have around Rs. 200,000 or more, you are good.
If you’re a student, have a document verifying that and if you’re a working professional make sure to get your employment letter from your current employer and your tax returns. Tax returns help A LOT since we Pakistanis are super lazy with this and all the embassies look at this document as proof that you have been a good citizen of the country.
Also, make sure to submit your hotel bookings and travel itinerary. You can make hotel bookings at Booking.com which can be canceled later. Airline bookings can be made online as well or you can reach out to any local travel agent.
Hunting for cheap tickets
I hunt almost all my tickets through Skyscanner and Google Flights. Using these two platforms does not guarantee that you will find cheap tickets, you will have to use trial and error method and try multiple dates to get the best flight options but this hard work pays off, eventually.
Another thing with these cheap tickets is that most of the options on these apps will have a very long layover. My flight from Lahore to Istanbul had 1 and a half hour layover but the flight back had 7-hour layover so these cheap flights have some trade-offs.
Also, you will need a debit/credit card to make your purchase. My return ticket cost me Rs. 45,000/-
Deciding where to stay and meeting strangers
This part of my travel plan was very important, I spent most of my time making sure I find a place to stay that’s a central location in the city where the public transportation connects and walking around the city to major attractions was also not a hassle.
I stayed at the World House Hostel which was a 5 minute walk from Sishane metro station stop. Galata Tower was 5 minutes from my hostel and the place had breakfast included. I did not get a private room since the location was perfect, I was an akela larka and I had to pay 3 times more for a room. I stayed at a 14-bed mixed dorm costing me Rs. 9,782/- for 7 nights; less than Rs. 1,400/- a night. I would recommend Taksim or Beyoglu area to find such accommodation.
At first I was a little nervous about staying at a hostel since I have never shared a room with anyone while traveling and I knew I’d be sleeping with 13 other people in the room but this was THE BEST decision of my trip. I met people from all walks of life; a girl who has been on the road, traveling for 2 years and shared amazing stories about Palestine, Israel, and Syria. I wouldn’t have met people and shared stories from Germany, UK, New Zealand, Syria, USA, and Australia, if I hadn’t chosen to live in a dorm.
If you want to venture more you can stay for FREE by using the Couch Surfing where you will have to create a profile and request people for a stay on their couches, literally! Couch Surfing is a platform where you get to meet strangers and they offer you their couch or bed and show you the city. I could not coordinate my stay through Couch Surfing but I met 3 locals who hosted me for their chaaye with a ton of amazing stories! You can check out my Couch Surfing profile here.
Commuting around Istanbul
For the whole of the trip, I did not use a taxi or Uber for any of my commutes. Istanbul is a well-connected city through metro where you can hop on one metro and switch in between to go anywhere in the city. When I landed at Ataturk Airport, I bought a data SIM card to get my internet on and used Google Maps to find the metro to my hotel. Google Maps will provide you exact stops to switch trains and where to walk in specific directions. Make sure you have a good hold on reading maps since this app will be your best friend to find metro and buses.
Make sure to carry a battery pack with you at all times since you will be using data and GPS at all times and this will consume your battery like crazy!
There is a huge language barrier in Istanbul, people don’t understand your English and will not be able to help you go anywhere.
Once you land in Istanbul, get hold of the Istanbulkart RFID Card which can be used to pay for metro and buses across the city, and you can top up once the credit expires. Carrying cash and paying at each stop will be a hassle in the long run.
Keep the Uber app handy on your phone to request any emergency rides. My ride from the airport to the hostel cost me 8 lira which is Rs. 232/- , a taxi would have cost me a minimum Rs. 1,400/-.
So I had spent a total of Rs. 63,151/- on airline tickets, accommodations for both Istanbul and Antalya by this point and I had about Rs. 12,000 to spend on food and getting around places.
First thing I did was to explore all the tourist attractions like Blue Mosque, Taksim Square and Istiklal street. You can find all the major attractions on any online guide, I can’t be going into the details for recommendations because it’ll take way too much time for generic stuff but I will share my two personal favorites
I personally found the Süleymaniye mosque more peaceful than the Sultan Ahmet (Blue) Mosque since this mosque isn’t that popular with tourist and had fewer people pouring in.
The mosque has a huge complex around which you can walk around and explore. Mimar Sinan, the chief Ottoman architect is also buried in the same area.
Streets of Ortaköy
This is something I would recommend to EVERYONE to visit: take the bus from the city center, it’ll take you around 45 minutes to get there in 2 lira but this area is magical. You will find plenty of food options in the area with tiny streets to walk around in and a beautiful mosque sitting right by the Bosphorus.
And you do not want to miss the Kumpir at Ortaköy! Its a full meal for 2 people where they take a one huge baked potato and split it in half. You will be presented with multiple options to pick from like sliced sausages as meat, corns, pickles, jalapeños, mayonnaise and other sauces to mix with and you get THIS:
Onwards to Antalya
Once I was done with Istanbul, I used the bus to get to the Sabiha Gokcen Airport which does not have a metro connection and it cost me 2 Lira for a 1 and a half hour trip. I booked a private room in Antalya for Rs. 8,369/- with breakfast included for 5 nights in the Old Town area where you will get to see the major tourist attractions within walking distance.
Train stations are not updated on Google Maps for Antalya so you will have to use the conventional maps to find the nearest tram stop to your hotel and walk.
For me Antalya was an okay-ish experience, I stayed in the old town and walked to all the attractions. I was more interested in the history and architecture of the city but it was like any other city. I just found Istanbul to be more vibrant.
I took the flight back to Istanbul and had to change airports to catch my next flight back to Lahore. This was a pretty stressful ordeal since I couldn’t find a direct bus and had to find a metro connection to get to the Ataturk Airport.
All in all, I had an amazing experience traveling alone, walking amazing streets, discovering street food and meeting strangers in Turkey. If you have any questions to travel anywhere feel free to drop a comment below and I’ll try my best to answer all your queries.
Cover image via: Daniyal Shahid