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The long way round: hitchhiking in Turkey

Hitchhiking is seen as a romantic endeavour, but how easy is it to catch a ride in Turkey? Sandra Spencer relives an unforgettable journey.

Hitching in any country is not for the faint of heart, but it can lead to wonderful experiences - while also saving you a good chunk of money and giving you the chance to meet some memorable characters. In 2013, I hitchhiked around Turkey with my best friend Julia. We were two women in our early twenties with open plans on what we wanted to do but willing and ready for adventure.

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Staying safe

Turkey has a good reputation for being hitchhiker friendly. Still, safety should always be a critical factor in hitchhiking anywhere in the world, so teaming up with a friend or partner is a good idea. Advice from other hitchhikers in Turkey says if you are a male and female travelling together, either say you are married or cousins, and the male should sit by the driver. 

Our adventure took us from Istanbul to Izmir, along the coast to Fethiye and inland to Goreme over about two weeks. 

My friend and I looked through travel forums before embarking on our cross country adventure, noting the warnings that you should be "modestly dressed" in case you are mistaken as a sex worker - called "Natashas". Our workaround was wearing cheap wedding rings, sensible clothing and convincing stories of husbands left at home with children.


Navigating the lingo

A common theme we found in our mission was the language barrier. In 2013, apps like Google Translate weren't what they are today, so download this or any other app that will help with translation and make sure you have a working internet connection through your foray around Turkey. 

Failing that, you could get a trusted Turkish friend to record messages you can play to drivers who pick you up - saying who you are, where you are from, where you are going, and if the driver can help you. It might be helpful to have a Turkish friend who you can call to do any needed quick translations and offer a sense of protection - someone who knows where you are and who you are with. Similar to this is sending a photo of the vehicle licence to a friend, which is a good habit to form in any hitching you do anywhere in the world.

While you can't rely on outside sources for all your translating, it's essential to learn a few phrases yourself and be prepared to play charades! This might mean acting out what you do, where you are from or pointing to your home country on a map. 

We also held up signs with the places we wanted to go written on them - again a common global practice and asked locals (who spoke English),  at spots like fuel stations, the best places to find rides. We also found doing this could lead to the fuel station workers asking drivers in the shops if they can give us a lift, and with that signature Turkish hospitality, there were times where the fuel station workers also offered us tea and snacks. 


A friendly experience

Our experience hitching in Turkey was very positive, with little waiting time for pickups and generally jovial hosts. None of our drivers spoke English, so there were many charades and trying to pronounce Turkish words and phrases, with drivers nodding enthusiastically when we figured out how to express something (or, more likely, they were polite). In almost every ride in our trip along coasts and on inland highways, the drivers would stop buying us tea from roadside vendors and, more often than not, lunches and snacks. Drivers were also careful to drop us at our accommodation or places we could easily find our following rides. 


Take your time

If you decide you want to hitch in Turkey, add a few extra hours to your journey time. According to Google Maps, our trip from Izmir to Fethiye should have been a five-hour ride, but it was 11 hours for us. 

This started with a series of rides with unsavoury drivers: speeding too much, or being worryingly uncommunicative. In these situations, it's vital to trust your instincts and get out of the car - or don't get in, in the first place. 

After either refusing offers from rides or getting out quickly, we were finally picked up by what ended up being my favourite and most memorable ride of the trip; a big, burly but gentle truck driver who again spoke no English. He kept making jokes and cracking himself up while rubbing his protruding stomach. He also insisted that my friend and I took naps in the sleeping berth in the cab and kept us well supplied with drinks and snacks. 

If you like the idea of hitchhiking across Turkey, go into it with an open mind but also keep your wits about you and do as much research as you can ahead of time, keep people updated on your plans and whereabouts and if possible, travel with someone else.

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