Of all of the places I’ve visited, many are intrigued with hearing about my experience in Turkey. I’m constantly asked about the country, the traditions, safety and my comfort level while traveling there solo. Is Turkey safe to visit? Can I travel solo? Do I need a visa? All I can answer first is, yes, solo females can travel to Turkey. In this post, I will answer these questions and other topics include why I decided to visit Turkey (although being warned against it), how I got there, my top list of what you should know before you visit Turkey and a few lessons I learned along the way.
Hello from Cappadocia! Yes, solo females can travel to Turkey.
Why did I decide to visit Turkey?
I remember the first time I read about Turkey and saw photos; I was in school in Puerto Rico. Even back then, I would day dream about traveling the world and honestly, my dreams were very far away from my reality at the time. My family and I could not have afforded such a trip, nor was anyone in my family interested in leaving our beautiful little island. This is why, while living in Berlin Germany as an expat, when I had the opportunity, I jumped right on it and the result was a life changing adventure that took me around Romania, Bulgaria, followed by Turkey. My intention was to visit Turkey for 10 days, but I was so captivated by the country that I stayed an additional 8 weeks. It was definitely a special love and connection at first sight. It was not only because of Turkey’s beauty and history, but for some reason, I developed a special connection to the music, the food culture, and the mystery behind it all. Turkey was one of my lifelong dreams, on my bucket list, and I was going to make the most of this experience.
How did I arrive there?
My experience was quite unique. After spending two weeks in Romania and another two weeks in Bulgaria, I took the bus from Varna, Bulgaria into Istanbul. The bus ride was supposed to be 7 to 8 hours. I took the 10:30am bus but I did not get to Istanbul until approximately 9:30pm. This was mainly due to the amount of traffic in Istanbul. If you are not familiar, Istanbul is known as having the worst traffic in the world. In 2015, TomTom’s annual Traffic Index (which explores traffic congestion in over 200 cities around the world and ranks a total of 146 cities) actually ranked Istanbul as #1 most congested city in the world in comparison to 146 large cities in the world. And you complain about LA Traffic, ah! Be ready to use your defensive driving skills.
Top Things To Know Before You Visit Turkey
Turkish people are the most hospitable people in the world
Everywhere you go, they will offer you Turkish coffee or tea. If you are not a coffee drinker, I recommend that you try their tea. It’s amazing! I especially love the apple flavored one. But there are so many choices of tea and many flavors of sweets (Turkish Delights) available in local markets. When possible, I always prefer to support small businesses.
You should practice the same safety precautions in Turkey as you would visiting any foreign metropolis
Based on my experience, it appears that the media sometimes exaggerated the news reported about this amazing country. And yes, I traveled solo around Turkey as a female, for over 8 weeks, just last year (2016). I was a smart, safe traveler and I had the time of my life. While I understand that things have happened in Turkey (recent bombings and military coup), but the same can be said for many other places around the world such as France, England, Belgium, Germany, United States and more. I found the cities I visited to be safe and just fine for travelers. NOTE: Prepare for extra security at the airport. There are armed police at the popular tourist sites, especially in Istanbul. I also saw them scan people at each mall in Istanbul, but it is good to know they are checking everyone.
Of course, safety is always first! You do need to be aware of your surroundings and more than anything, use your common sense. Watch where you walk (no dark alleys at certain times), take an uber or a taxi late nights, be especially vigilant when visiting tourist-heavy areas, learn the emergency number wherever you travel and always know your embassy’s location. Lastly, try to get travel insurance, because it’s better to be prepared. These are basic safety rules for when you travel, wherever you travel. See, traveling as a solo female is easier than you thought! So again, yes solo females can travel to Turkey.
People are very helpful so don’t be shy to ask
Everywhere I visited in Turkey, if people thought that I was lost, they offered help. Lots of people speak English and Spanish, especially in Cappadocia and Fethiye. In Istanbul, I noticed that people did speak English, and other languages, but only primarily in touristic areas. In this case, the language was a little bit of a barrier, but hey, there are other options. You can’t expect everyone to speak your language, especially as a woman who is bilingual and is currently learning a third language (German), I know and respect people that speak more than one language. But, I also understand that if I am visiting a foreign country, they are not forced to speak my language…it’s my responsibility to be prepared. Useful things to know: get a phrase book, try a language app such as duolingo before visiting, learn basic words online (such as “hello” or “thank you”) and common, important phrases (like asking for public transportation, restroom or simply ordering a glass of wine). People appreciate when you are trying to speak their language, even if it is only a few words. This aside, you can always find ways to communicate such as using body language, which is mostly universal.
My next tip is a very useful one, download one of my favorite travel apps, Google Translate. THIS IS MY GO TO APP. It has saved my life so many times when I travel. This app has so many highlights. First, it’s free! Who doesn’t like free.
Second, you can use it without data. How? Just download the app, and then pick the language you want to use and download it for offline usage. Keep in mind, when offline the voice recognition to translate doesn’t work but the texting does.
So, what I do is, I write what I want to say and show it to the person I’m speaking to, and then they write a response while I hold my phone. It has worked wonders for me. If you are concerned about your phone, know that I don’t give my phone to just anyone. You need to know where you are and whom you are approaching. I always wait to get the vibe and I don’t trust everyone.
Funny and Random Story: I even went on a first date, only using Google translate to communicate. It was a little challenging but so much fun too. Oh well! He was cute and a gentleman. I guess that worked! Just one example of a solo female traveler adventure in Turkey.
Turkey has two main influences: European and Asian
Many people are not aware that Turkey has a European side of the country and an Asian side. The area where Turkey is located is commonly called Eurasia. Straddling the continents of Europe and Asia, Turkey tries to be a bridge between East and West. The portion of Turkey’s land in Europe may be small geographically (about 5 percent), but there’s lots to do! The country’s largest city, Istanbul, is mostly located on the European side. The Bosphorus, which connects the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea, divides the city into a European, Thracian side—comprising the historic and economic centers (a more touristic area where you will find some of the top places to visit such as Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Sultan Admed Square, Blue Mosque, the famous Istikal street in Taksim and much more…the architecture alone makes the trip worthwhile) and an Asian, Anatolian side—a more local and residential area in my experience, which I personally loved. I totally recommend taking the Bosphorus tour to enjoy the views of both the European and Asian sides. Also, don’t miss the ferry ride to the Asian side; views are to die for and there are so many trendy areas, such as Kadikoy. Just explore!
The food culture is super impressive
There is so much to try in Turkey when it comes to food. It’s such a rich culture and it definitely shows in their food as well. The food is so tasty! I remember walking back to where I was staying in Taksim and getting food from street vendors. One of my favorite is the mussels, many found on a street of Istanbul called Bivalves. They are a staple of the city’s street vendor scene and so very delicious. I was addicted! Funnily enough, locals told me that they are hangover remedy too. I remember seeing all of the street food vendors open late, along the famous Istiklal street, as I was returning from a night out. A must try is the İskender kebap which is one of the most famous meat foods of northwestern Turkey. For those of you with a sweet tooth, never fear. There are amazing sweets such as Turkish delights and, of course, delicious baklava. Turkey won my heart with their food! Happy Belly, Happy Heart is my mantra! We solo female travelers require sustenance to keep up our strength! Honestly, I can write all day long about Turkish food. Coming soon: I will dedicate an entirely new article solely to Turkish cuisine.
It’s fairly easy to obtain a visa to enter Turkey
Yes, you do need a visa to enter Turkey, but it’s super easy to obtain. You can get it online or on the spot at the airport (or in my case at the border, since I entered Turkey on a bus from Varna Bulgaria to Istanbul). As someone with an American passport, I paid $25 on the spot, but costs will vary by country.
The Turkish people are super patriotic
They love their country, their culture and flags. You will notice flags everywhere. I don’t blame them for loving their patriotism…Turkey is an amazing country. I was visiting Cappadocia for their Independence Day and there were so many concerts, activities, and all with such a beautiful vibe with people drinking, dancing…I had a blast! Loved it so much that I stayed there for a few weeks. In addition, you will notice that the founder of the country, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, is considered a role model for many Turks. You will see statues, images and photos of him everywhere. They also have lots of respect for their flag (but honestly, who doesn’t). I understand that they consider it very disrespectful if you throw the flag on the floor or sit on it. Makes total sense. You can find Turkish flags everywhere, except I didn’t find too many flags printed on items or souvenirs, unlike other countries. You can find a few, but they are very rare.
Turkish music is beautiful and deep
Even if I don’t understand many words in Turkish, or if the song was instrumental, you can perceive how deep and passionate their music is. I instantly felt a special connection with it. I loved listening to the amazing singers, the guitars, just the overall sound was transcending. You will hear lots of music everywhere but my favorite moment is when people start singing along and dancing. You will even see people on the streets walking as a group while singing and dancing. I don’t get tired of repeating myself – it’s such a rich culture! So, if you are a music lover and visit Turkey, I’m sure that you’ll enjoy yourself.
You will probably feel a little culture shock, but it’s worth it
Turkish culture is quite unique. They have so many traditions and there is so much to learn. But people are so lovely that they will surely make your experience unforgettable. It is all about the magic of the locals. I personally prefer the local scene.
As a New Yorker, I can’t say that I was shocked by the busy streets or the sheer number of people in Istanbul (for example); it was like a huge Times Square. I literary woke up every morning and by the end of the day over 3 million people and I had walked through the streets of Istiklal. And from what I heard from locals, it used to be so packed that you could barely move. As far as I can see, Turkish tourism had decreased immensely. Sad to say, a very difficult moment in time for many local people. But you would never have guessed this from the smiles on their faces and their generosity of spirit.
Inside the Blue Mosque with my new friend, Zeina.
10. How Men approach women might be more different than usual, especially in the bigger cities
I cannot say all men are the same, but I heard from some women that they felt a little harassed in Turkey based on how men approached them. My experience was a little different, but I do understand how the way certain men will look at you can make women uncomfortable. I personally took it as if they found me exotic as a Latina traveling solo around Turkey, or many times as a joke since I would get several marriage proposals a day walking around Istanbul. When uncomfortable, I just told them to leave me alone or I ignored them and they’d walk away. For me, I was not that surprised by this behavior because I’ve experienced it a lot in NYC and when visiting other countries. What I do is I always try to remain aware of my surroundings, especially depending on the time of day. Like, after certain late night hours, Istiklal Caddesi was a little crazy with people partying and drinking. I never felt totally unsafe, but I would try to take a taxi back to the place I was staying earlier rather than later. It is better to be safe than sorry. On another note, I also met so many gentleman that helped me on my solo adventure around Turkey. I am a pretty friendly person, so I usually do not have issues to with making new acquaintances. You can relax while on vacation, but take the same precautions as you would back home.
11. Go and Explore Beyond Istanbul and Antalya
When you go to Turkey, put Cappadocia on the top of your list of cities to visit. It is like being on another planet, a fairytale place. I still cannot believe I was there. The coastal areas are magnificent too. I totally fell in love with Fethiye and its blue waters. The amazing Blue Lagoon in Oludeniz Beach over which you can paraglide from the Babadag Mountains is not to be missed. You should also visit Bodrum, Izmir and many more cities around Turkey (too many to mention). Turkey really has so much to see and explore. As a true fashionista myself, I suggest you to go shopping. You would especially fall in love with the shopping in Istanbul. It is the best! So, if you are a globetrotting woman, do not hesitate. Solo females can travel to Turkey and totally enjoy themselves safely and on a budget.
Natural Mud Baths in Dalyan Turkey
In summary, Turkey has so much to offer: Vivid colours, the delicious food and various aromas, the rich history, architecture and culture, the diversity, the nature, the beautiful views, the buzzing streets, great hospitality and the opportunity to learn so many traditions….what’s not to love?! I hope this Solo Female Travel guide to Turkey helps you on your journey around this amazing country. Life is an adventure and we need to get out of our comfort zone and go explore. I can personally vouch that solo females can travel to Turkey. Visit Turkey for yourself and you won’t regret it!
Have you ever been in Turkey? Share your experience in the comments below.
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