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Six Tips for Solo Female Travel in Turkey

I remember planning my first ever solo trip to Turkey and my friends’ reactions when I told them I was going there on my own for a few months:

“Oh my God! Why Turkey?”
“Isn’t it dangerous?”
“Don’t they put drugs in your bag there?”
“You’re going to a Muslim country alone? Are you crazy?”

I couldn’t believe how much people really did not know about this beautiful country that has become like another “home” to me.

More recently, due to the negative press that has followed Turkey the past few years, the question I’m asked most often today is:

Is Turkey safe for solo female travelers?

Short answer? YES! It most definitely is.

This post is meant to give some insight and tips on being a solo female traveler in the country to help you travel smarter, alleviating some fear of the unknown that may be stopping you from going. Below are some things (positives and negatives) that you may experience and if necessary, solutions to combat them.


1. Don’t be afraid to ask locals for assistance

Hospitality is a cornerstone in Turkish culture and is a characteristic Turkish people are known for all over the world. I have never met a people as kind, helpful and accommodating. Locals will always try to help somebody who looks like they may need assistance, so don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.

I’ve had people stop what they were doing just to make a phone call to find out some information I needed if they didn’t know the answer. Others have walked me to my pansiyon/hostel if I couldn’t find it myself.

You will never feel lost or alone in Turkey.

In fact, the phrase “no problem” should be the country’s tag line, as this is the ubiquitous response to practically any request. No matter where you are or how big or how small your request is, it seems any issue you may have can be solved with “no problem!” and a smile.

No problem cafe

2. To cover or not to cover is mostly a personal question.

Don’t worry about the need to cover your hair while traveling in Turkey. It is only a requirement in mosques (as well as covering your shoulders and knees) and is a matter of personal choice anywhere else. If you feel more comfortable wearing a headscarf in more traditional places, then by all means, go for it!

When traveling around the country, do not wear revealing clothes such as tight dresses, see-through shirts, short-shorts or miniskirts. If these kinds of things are part of your wardrobe, save them for places like Bodrum, on the coast, where this kind of dress is more common during the summer season. Istanbul and most of the west side of Turkey are used to Westernized fashions, but the east of Turkey is way more traditional.

Respecting the culture not only prevents you from offending anyone, but also keeps you from getting into uncomfortable situations.

A note about tattoos

I have many tattoos. I am hyper-aware of this fact when I travel as some cultures perceive them in a negative light. In Islamic culture tattoos are seen as a destruction of the body that God gave you, and to some it is seen as something “dirty”.

In my case, it’s hard for me to cover them all at the same time (especially when it’s hot!). When I traveled to more traditional places, covering my tats did make me feel tons more comfortable because I wasn’t stared at as much.

In the seaside and tourist areas, though, it’s not really a big deal as many Turks in these areas also have tattoos and you’ll even seen tattoo shops around.

But, if you’re traveling alone, it’s up to you. Use your own judgment and do what makes you feel most comfortable.

Izmir

3. Things not to say (a quick lesson in phonetics)

When traveling in a foreign country, nobody wants to say something that is offensive or inappropriate to the locals. But what if you don’t know what you’re saying?

These are some regular English words not to say because they mean something very different in Turkish!

Please refrain from saying “Um”

We’re all guilty of it. I say, “um” when I’m pondering my options, thinking about something or just plain undecided. However, this is the number one word to STOP yourself from using, especially as a solo female traveler, in Turkey.

In Turkey, when you say “um”, it sounds like the Turkish equivalent to the derogatory four-letter “c” word, or in other terms, what some call a “see-you-next-Tuesday”!

A Turkish friend told me a story of a time when he invited a British family with a little baby to his house to meet his family. The father was feeding the child and was saying, “um” every time he put the spoon in the baby’s mouth. My friend’s sister was shocked and shyly whispered to him in Turkish, “why’s he saying THAT to the baby?!”

My solution is to use “uh” instead. This is something I had to really train myself to do, as I am a habitual user of “um”. But once I realized that I was saying the “c” word, all willy nilly – to shop owners, friends, bus drivers, elderly people, etc., it’s something I had learned to be conscious of really fast!

 If you don’t feel well, don’t tell someone you are “sick”

Sick, in Turkish (spelled without the ‘c’) is the F word. If you don’t want to be misunderstood, or joked around with by some pervy dudes, say that you feel “ill” instead.

Keep these funny phonetics in mind when interacting with locals. We don’t want to send the wrong message, ladies! 😉

 

Turkish breakfastTurkish breakfast for one

4. Dealing with unwanted attention

I like to tell people, “I’ve met more men in Turkey in five minutes that I have in five years in America!”

Being a solo female traveler in Turkey will get you lots of attention. It could be because men are intrigued. Or unfortunately, it may be because you are alone they think you’re easy.

While the attention can initially be flattering and the charm of these guys is something that can really draw you in, it can end up leaving you in a not so flattering situation with them trying to sleep with you or getting jealous if they see you talking to other guys around town, even on a casual level.

My advice (from lots of personal experience!) is to not be overly friendly to guys unless you are really interested in them.

They may take your openness or a smile in a way that will have them emailing you long after you’ve left their town, pledging their love or telling you how much they like you and want to see you again. It’s seemingly innocent but the persistence can be annoying.

However, it is very important to note that the attention never made me feel unsafe or threatened in any way.

It’s also important to note that not all Turkish men act or think this way. What I learned from locals is the ones working in the tourism sector may have a bit of a skewed view when it comes to solo female travelers because of SFTs that have come before us whose behavior may have given us that kind of name.

Aphrodisias Turkey

The temple of Aphrodite at Aphrodisias

During the day you may not see many women around on the streets, causing you to be the eye candy for groups of men who hang around, drinking tea and playing backgammon. While being stared at may make you uncomfortable, remember it’s just staring and there’s nothing to be afraid of.

And if being alone is getting to you, fear not –Turkey draws in a ton of independent travelers and backpackers so if you are interested in seeking out company, you will have no problem finding like minded folks.



Booking.com

5. How to fend off touts

Because you are alone, touts will be more apt to bother you. Being touted to buy something or having everyone you pass trying to start a conversation with you can become irritating after a while.

My solution? Adopt a weapon of combat.

At first, my weapon of choice was my earphones and some music. That is, until I was presented with this lovely gift at a pansiyon that I was staying at. (Speaking of phonetics …)

Go away hairdryer

The “Go Away” hairdryer – the perfect weapon to use against touts!

I envisioned myself walking the streets, armed with this hairdryer, pointing it at anyone who bothered me and shouting “Go Away!” using the power of the “on” button to make the perp vaporize into nothingness.

Just kidding, I didn’t really go around aiming a hairdryer at folks! But I love the message.

Dark sunglasses will also do, but earphones worked best for me.

BodrumBodrum Seafront Cafe

6. You’ll always sit next to another female on the bus.

If you are traveling alone, you don’t have to worry about any kind of unwanted male attention or harassment on an overnight or long-haul bus ride. On any long-haul bus rides between cities where you have to book a ticket, you will always be assigned a seat next to another female.

So you see, traveling as an SFT in Turkey is not scary or intimidating at all. In fact, it’s quite the opposite – an enriching, fun and heart opening experience. It’s mainly because of the people. You’ll leave with friends for life and memories that you will keep with you forever. Whether it’s your first or fiftieth solo trip, it is a country that should definitely be on your list!

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