Turkish Travel Stories: An Ode to the Turkish Budget Hotel

Most travellers to Turkey will overspend when it comes to lodging, and for a long time I was one of them. But no longer, my friends! Through an unhappy accident, I discovered the Turkish budget hotel, and now I am joyously sleeping in less-than-clean cigarette-scented guest houses! This is my story.

At the beginning of my first summer in Turkey, I was invited to stay with somebody that I’d met when I was there a few months before. Unfortunately, early into my stay, he got a phone call.

“I’m so sorry,” he said. “That was my dream job calling. They want me for an interview tomorrow in Ankara. You can’t be here! I need to practice for my interview! I need to concentrate! I simply can’t blow it when I’m so close to achieving my dreams!”

Rather than directing me to a hotel in the town where we were, he drove me to the bus station and said, “Go back to Izmir, take another bus to Basmane. There are lots of cheap hotels there. You can find something for around $25.”

During the day, this probably wouldn’t have been a problem. However, by the time I got to Izmir, which was still strange and unknown territory at the time, it was already 10 p.m., and dark. I didn’t know where I was going, the family I was staying with was out of town, and I felt completely overwhelmed. Maybe my ex-friend’s directions were easy for a Turkish person to follow, and I think this was his assumption. But I was a foreign girl, alone, in the dark, in a strange city, and I didn’t speak Turkish yet.

Then suddenly, like a mirage of a lush wadi in a scorching desert, a hotel appeared, complete with angelic music and all the other trappings of cartoon-like apparitions. Unfortunately, it looked expensive. A lot more expensive than $25. Confronted with the sudden choice between continuing on to Basmane and shelling out incredible amounts of cash to stay next to the bus station, I decided that the next best course of action was to burst into tears.

“Why are you crying?” said the man next to me. I had to look down because he was only four and a half feet tall. “Are you okay? Did something happen. Do you need a place to stay? I’m flying out to London tomorrow morning, but I’m staying with my uncle and auntie tonight. If you’re in a bad spot, you could come and stay with us for a night. Don’t worry, I’m a good boy.”

I did one of those hysterical laugh-sobs, because even if he hadn’t been a good boy, the fact that he was four and a half feet tall might have been a bit of an impediment to any rapey ambitions he might have had.

I was pretty sure he wasn’t lying, and I was grateful. Unfortunately for him, I felt like being alone after the events of the day, and after a moment’s deliberation, I said, “Thank you very much – that’s so kind of you. I’m going to go to that hotel and ask them how much it costs, because I think I need to be alone right now.”

I marched over to the hotel, walked into the lobby, and said, “How much does a room cost here?”

The man behind the counter said, “150 lira.” ($75 American dollars, at the time.)

Even this was a bit rich for my blood, so I heaved a sigh and made as if to blow that traveller-cheating popsicle stand and head to Basmane after all.

The guy took a closer look at my puffy eyes, and said, “Ok. 100 lira.”

What? Did the price just go down 50 lira?! That’s 25 dollars! And I hadn’t even been trying to bargain.

100 lira was more like it. Even though I could probably have bargained more, I was exhausted and willing to spend the extra money to feel safe.

“I’ll take it,” I said.

Then I noticed a sign behind the counter. One night: 80 Euros ($120 USD)

In that moment, I realized something. With the exception of large hotel chains like the Hilton, Turkish hotel owners actually just pull prices out of thin air based on how full the hotel is and what they guess travellers are willing to pay. This would not be the first time I witnessed this. Turkish hotels often post terribly inflated prices behind the counter in the hopes that unsuspecting tourists will just take a look and shell out their hard-earned cash.

So here is the #1 rule of Turkish hotels for your personal edumification: You can bargain, and you should.

Armed with my new knowledge, I took a bus to Basmane the next morning to find myself a cheaper place to stay.

Eventually, I figured out about how nice a hotel that costs 25 dollars is supposed to be: not very nice. However, I have low standards for my hotels. They must be safe, they must have internet and air-conditioning, and they must not secretly be brothels.

Mistakenly checking in to a brothel is a real concern. Signs include dirty sheets and televisions that only play porn.

Unlike in Canada, in reputable Turkish hotels, you can’t simply bring a member of the opposite sex up to your room. If you try this, especially with a Turkish man, hotel staff will give him the stinky eye and block his way. This is a good clue that the hotel isn’t a brothel.

Beware, however. Even if a budget hotel passes the not-a-brothel test, it may not be totally clean. In one hotel I stayed in, the toilet water was artfully garnished with a few cigarette butts. When I mentioned this to the man behind the front desk, he shrugged and said, “The cleaning lady must have forgotten them or something,” and went back to his work.

At the beginning of my time in Turkey, I would have been bothered by this. By that point, however, Turkey had started to rub off on me, so I just laughed and went back upstairs. I only paid 22 dollars, and I got free breakfast with that. The next day, the same man asked me how I slept. I said, “the cockroaches were a nice touch.” He laughed, and so did I.

Despite these gross details, I do recommend the Turkish budget hotel for budget travellers. They are not usually as sparklingly clean as hotels in Canada, but I don’t let it bother me unless it’s not even passably clean. You get a private room that you might not get at a hostel or couchsurfing, and sometimes it’s just nice to have a little time to regroup in your own (albeit temporary) space.

Stay tuned next time for a step-by-step guide to checking into a Turkish budget hotel.

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