Travel Turkey: Getting Around by Bus
Roughly a little larger than the size of Texas in overall land area, Turkey can be quite easy to navigate. Even though sometimes the public transportation isn’t the most well thought out, the local transportation and long distance bus lines are something to definitely write home about.
When I first arrived in Turkey, I must admit I was nervous about getting into the mini buses that were so commonly used. The dolmush, as they are locally called come in two types: one is a small red minivan type of vehicle, while the other is a slightly larger all-white cargo van that has been altered with rows of seats and standing posts on the inside. The looks of these buses weren’t the intimidating part–it was figuring out how to use them.
Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
The dolmush have bus stops across each town, just like regular transportation systems, but they have no set schedule. They leave when they are full, or if the driver is confident he can pick up enough passengers along the route to make a profit. At first glance they look extremely disorganized, but they all are like larger taxicabs that run in a designated route. So, you can be picked up anywhere along the route, as long as you can wave them down; and be dropped off at any point, bus stop or not.
So this requires a little bit of a strategy, especially when you aren’t very confident in your Turkish. The first couple of months that I used them, I would have no problem getting on, paying the fare, and then just waiting until someone got off relatively close to where I was headed. If you aren’t in a hurry, it can be a quite fun gambling game. But as my Turkish got more and more useable, it was quite easy to understand that the passengers were only yelling out popular cafes, restaurants, stores, or park names at the driver so that he would pull over–pretty much no Turkish necessary.
Riding the dolmush requires a little bit of a strategy, especially when you aren’t very confident in your Turkish.
These dolmush only run inside the city limits, and sometimes between neighboring towns.
If you want to travel further distances without traveling by air, there are quite a large variety of major bus lines to choose from, which will all be competing for your business.
Initially, I was not very excited about this aspect of traveling. I’ve done some bus travels in less-well-off countries, and it wasn’t always very pleasant, and the good-ole Greyhound Bus lines in the States leave a lot to be desired. However, I was completely surprised at the differences in cross country buses in Turkey from those in the United States.
First of all, there isn’t just one company to choose from, as I mentioned. There are hundreds that will go all over Turkey, literally from one end the other. The prices are cheap and the times are very manageable. Depending on what city you are staying in, usually the local population has a more favored company. They are always proud of the businesses that start from within their city.
The professionalism that I have encountered in these bus routes still astounds me today.
Second of all, riding these buses is like taking a plane without leaving the ground. Each bus has its own free WiFi connection, TV screen in the back of each seat, and coffee and tea service throughout the trip. Plus, for longer journeys, each bus is required to stop every hour and a half for smoke break or to stretch your legs, and then provides snacks and other amenities for the remainder of the route. The professionalism that I have encountered in these bus routes still astounds me today. The bus drivers are well trained, they can back up huge double story buses almost blindfolded, and each bus is equipped with one to two bus attendants only for the needs of the passengers.
After getting over my own fear of yelling out my destination in a bus in Turkey, instead of pulling a cord or pressing a button, which is the common form for American public transportation, it became relatively painless to travel anywhere without having to worry about the hassle of the airports.