I’ve spent six weeks in Turkey.
Some of that time was spent travelling with my partner; some of it I spent alone.
My trip through Turkey saw me traveling overland from Istanbul to Fethiye with stops in Cannakale, Troy, Selçuk Ephesus, and Pamukkale. From Fethiye, I spent 11 days sailing a yacht around the southwest coast of the country, visiting Göcek, Gökkaya, Kekova Roads, Kalkan, Karakaören, Kaş, Kayaköy and Uçagiz. I finished my time in the country with a stay in the small village of Kadikalesi.
I genuinely didn’t know what to expect from my time Turkey. I’d struggled an awful lot while traveling solo through Morocco due to the harassment and abuse from local men — so much so that I’d had to cut my trip short — and I’d heard from several people to expect Turkey to be similar.
I was interested to see if I’d experience anything like the same level of hassle in Turkey, and what difference there would be between traveling alone, travelling with women, and traveling with a man.
There Was a Noticeable Difference — But Not a Bad One
My boyfriend and I arrived in Istanbul late afternoon, and within a few minutes I could tell that my time in Turkey would be nothing like Morocco.
That evening, as we wandered around the Sultanahmet neighborhood, I felt as safe as I feel in most countries around the world. I didn’t feel vulnerable, I had no worries, and I definitely didn’t feel uncomfortable. The local men weren’t staring, the was no whistling or catcalling. In fact, there was very little attention directed my way.
Of course, in Islamic countries this can often be the case when I travel with a male friend.
The following morning, I decided to head out alone and see what Istanbul was like for a solo woman. I was surprised to instantly notice a difference, barely making it 20 meters from my apartment before being approached by a local man who wanted to chat.
I received so much more attention while I was traveling alone than with my boyfriend, although it never felt like I was being harassed.
In Morocco, it was very much harassment — men would grab me, call me horrible names, shout at me. In Turkey, there was none of that.
Simply avoiding eye contact in Turkey would prevent most men from approaching me, and the others would leave me alone if I indicated I didn’t want to talk with them. The men were never abusive or intimidating in any way. In my experience, the local men were friendly, helpful, and slightly flirtatious. It didn’t ever feel malicious, though. I felt very safe.
In fact, I had just one isolated incident from my entire six weeks in Turkey that left me feeling uncomfortable.
My boyfriend and I were taking a tram through Istanbul during rush hour and were sat on opposite sides of the tram car, making it appear as though I was alone. It was a few minutes after sitting down that the man next to me started leaning into my side a little too often and a little too hard. I slid further away from him but he followed along and began rubbing his elbow up against my side in a sleazy manner.
I felt uncomfortable, and so I got up and stood for the rest of the journey. Problem solved.
After leaving Istanbul, I had no issues whatsoever and felt incredibly safe for the rest of my time in the country.
Safety Tips for Women in Turkey
After spending a significant amount of time in Turkey, I want to share some of my top safety tips for solo women, in order to ensure you have a safe and trouble-free trip.
Use Your Common Sense
This goes for pretty much everywhere in the world, but it’s something I always take the time to remind myself. When you’re travelling, you should behave how you would at home — more cautious, in fact, than you’d be in a situation where you felt comfortable.
When I travel solo, I always make sure to buy my own drinks, keep a close eye on my glass, and stop drinking when I feel a little tipsy. I’m wary of anybody who’s overly-friendly towards me, whether it’s day or night.
I make sure to research the unsafe neighbourhoods before I arrive — in Istanbul, that’s generally the areas that are further from the water, and in Turkey, it’s the regions that are close to the borders with Syria and Iraq — and make sure to avoid them. I avoid going out super-late at night and steer clear of any dark alleyways, parks, or poorly-lit areas.
Act As Though You Belong
Whenever anything bad has happened to me while traveling, it’s been when I’ve stood out as a dazed and confused tourist.
In Turkey, this doesn’t mean covering up with a head-to-toe burqa, but walking with purpose and pretending you’re a long-term expat rather than a local.
Stride confidently and look as though you belong by not spending ages staring at a map on your phone or looking lost. Figure out where you need to go before you step outside so you can appear confident to anybody looking to scam an innocent tourist. Learn a few key words of the local language — especially the word for no: yok hayır — to dissuade anybody who views you as an easy target.
Scams Do Exist, So Keep Your Wits About You
I was crossing a bridge in Istanbul when a shoe-shine vendor happened to drop his brush on the ground as he walked ahead of me. I ignored it and stepped over the brush because apparently I’m a bad person.
I’m also a smart person, because this is a scam that’s found all over Istanbul.
If I had bent down and picked up his brush, the vendor would have thanked me profusely and offered to polish my shoes as a thanks. Once they’ve shined them up, they’ll then ask for a ridiculous sum of money in exchange. I’ve even heard of this happening to people who were wearing flip-flops at the time!
My greatest advice for avoiding scams while traveling is also something that makes me feel a little sad to mention. Quite simply, you should be suspicious of any overly-friendly locals with excellent English who approach you for seemingly no reason at all. Travel should be all about meeting and connecting with locals and learning about their culture, but the fact is, most locals have no reason to approach a random foreigner and invite them out for drinks with them.
Do you do that when you’re living your life at home? Nope.
So, yeah. You’re going to want to be wary of anyone who comes up to you and immediately tries to become your best friend. Odds are, they’ll invite you to dinner with them, present you with an exorbitant bill or drug you and rob you when you pass out.
Don’t Bother With Fake Wedding Rings
As I mentioned above, I spent 10 days sailing around the southwestern coast of Turkey, and it was right at the end of our trip when disaster struck.
Our yacht ran out of fuel, thanks to a faulty gauge that told us we had plenty left, and it happened when there was a dearth of wind. Fortunately, I wasn’t on board as I was day-tripping to a nearby village, but unfortunately, I now needed to find somewhere to stay for the night while they worked on getting back to shore.
I elected to stay in a mid-range hotel rather than a hostel, and I decided to wear my ring on my wedding finger — something I’ve never done while traveling before. I felt a little nervous about being the lone woman in the hotel and had read that other travel bloggers often did this to ward off unwanted attention from men.
It’s probably something I’ll never do again.
Mostly because I’m a terribly liar, but also because it felt so weird to keep trying to drop into conversation that I was in Turkey with my husband. As someone who is often mistaken for being a teenager, it didn’t come across as being particularly believable.
There’s no need to make up crazy backstories while traveling — just tell the truth and you’ll feel much more comfortable.
You’ll Receive Less Attention if You Cover Up
Yeah, we should be able to wear what we want, but if you want less attention in Turkey, covering up will help a lot.
When you compare Turkey to other countries where Islam is the predominant religion, it’s relatively unconservative. You’ll frequently spot locals wearing tight jeans, short skirts, and revealing tops on nights out in Istanbul. Still, outside of the capital, locals tend to cover up, and it’s respectful to do the same as a visitor.
In the small village of Kadikalesi, for example, I made sure to wear long, flowing skirts and long sleeves, because the locals were much more conservative.
No matter where I visited on the coast, though, I found wearing a bikini on the beach to be fine.
Don’t Expect Fantastic Hospital Care Outside of Istanbul
This is exactly why you shouldn’t ever travel without insurance.
Unfortunately, while I was in Turkey, I fell deeply unwell.
It was in Selçuk that I woke up drenched in sweat with the room spinning around me for no apparent reason. For the next three hours I was crying, vomiting, and trying everything I could to stop the room from moving. Nothing was helping and I could barely move, so it was time to visit the hospital.
I was given so many tests (all from male doctors, all requiring me to be topless), received no answers, and was then put in a room with a bed and a drip, where I waited for a doctor to arrive. I was told it wouldn’t be long but ended up waiting for over four hours. The doctor gave me a five minute inspection that involved mostly just listening to my heart and asking me if I was pregnant, and then sent me away with some pills and little explanation as to what was actually wrong with me.
In fact, I only found out what the diagnosis was after speaking to a friend of mine who is a doctor (I had benign paroxysmal positional vertigo — where small crystals in your ear become dislodged, drift into your inner ear and as they roll around, ie, whenever you move your head, they brush against the hairs in your inner ear causing your brain to think that you’re moving, resulting in vertigo.)
I obviously can’t make a blanket statement that the healthcare in Turkey sucks after having one poor experience in a relatively small town — I’m certain hospitals would be far better in Istanbul. However, I wasn’t impressed with the care I received. It’s a reminder to get travel insurance — it’s for unexpected situations like these. You can get a quote from World Nomads using the form below — I recommend using them for travel in Turkey.
I arrived in Turkey apprehensive and left eager to return and see even more.
However, it would be fair to say that while I was in Turkey, I was based entirely in areas that see some degree of tourism. I have heard of problems, for both men and women, in the southeast of the country (close to the border with Syria and Iraq) but having not personally been there, I can't comment on the safety of this area.
As long as you use your common sense, behave how you would at home, and take care not to draw attention to yourself, you’ll be able to have a safe, happy and enjoyable trip.