Where East meets West: A guide on solo travel to Istanbul

Can a solo female traveler go to Turkey and explore Istanbul without worrying about her safety?

Not only is my answer yes, I also believe that Turkey is a great destination for solo female travelers and a perfect introduction to the Middle East.

Last September, when I proudly announced that I was travelling to Istanbul alone, I was met with the usual amount of skepticism, worry and doubt, mostly from my family. The common notion that Turkey is a ‘Muslim’ country in the Middle East was their main concern. And when a young 24-year old Indian woman decided to explore Istanbul on her own, my family couldn’t digest it well.

But I calmly reassured them that Turkey is a very safe country and that I was going no matter what they said; I continued to plan and coordinate my first solo trip.

Aya Sofya/Hagia Sophia: a basilica turned into a mosque which is further turned into a museum
Aya Sofya/Hagia Sophia: a basilica turned into a mosque which is further turned into a museum

Here are my 6 tips for solo female travelers in Istanbul.

Turks are the most hospitable people

After spending six months in Germany, I arrived in Istanbul with a huge suitcase, another huge backpack, a laptop bag and a hand bag. You can imagine how I was struggling not just with my luggage but also with the underground metro, the directions, the language, the address of my hotel and what not.

A young Turkish man who happened to be in the same metro not just helped me in searching my hotel, but he also carried my suitcase, delayed an appointment of his and made sure that I safely reached the hotel. Not once did he try to flirt with me or take undue advantage of me being a foreigner and totally lost in the big city.

You just need to give people a chance. Honestly, I have felt safer in Istanbul than I have ever felt in Delhi.

The Turkish hospitality is amazing. Turks are kind and very friendly. One can’t and shouldn’t stereotype a country because it is a Muslim country and lies in the Middle East. Turkey is a very east-meets-west country, with many girls dressing the same way as Westerners, working and living just like you or me. There are good people and bad people in every country. You just need to give people a chance. Honestly, I have felt safer in Istanbul than I have ever felt in Delhi.

Inside the Blue Mosque
Inside the Blue Mosque

Make friends on Couchsurfing

As I was doing a solo trip in Istanbul and didn’t know anyone there, I thought it is a good idea to make some friends beforehand. So I logged into Couchsurfing and searched for students and young people living in Istanbul who would be interested in meeting people from other countries and have a cultural exchange with them.

I made two friends via CS, whom I then met while I was in Istanbul. They showed me around, which is yet another great way to explore a city with a local and going off the touristic track rather than with a map and a Lonely Planet in your hand. Needless to say, I’m very glad I took this step as I made some great friends and spent amazing time with them which I’ll always cherish.

Galata Tower
Galata Tower

Book your hotel in a well-crowded place

This is the single most important thing while travelling solo. Istanbul is pretty much safe but still to be on the ‘double safer’ side, I would suggest that one should book hotels in well-crowded and touristic places. When I booked my hotels in Turkey, I did a lot of research and carefully chose ones that were perfect for women travelling alone.

Research where you will stay. Read the reviews; ask other people who have been there for suggestions. Don’t sacrifice saving a few bucks to stay in a hotel in a bad area. When you check in, think about what the area will be like after dark and if you have to walk back alone.

When you check in, think about what the area will be like after dark and if you have to walk back alone.

I would suggest looking at websites such as Neredekal and booking.com  for hotel bookings. Sultanahmet is a good area to book a hotel in. Taksim is very central, but probably costlier. Fatih is again a good area and is also well connected with trams and a metro which directly goes to the airport.

At the Topkapi Palace and the Prince Islands in my background.
At the Topkapi Palace and the Prince Islands in my background.

Blend in

Nothing works more than a warm and friendly tourist who really wants to know about the country and its culture rather than just sight-seeing and clicking away photos. Don’t be afraid, interact with people and ask questions if you have any. Locals love to talk about their surroundings and narrate little stories attached to the various monuments.

Although I saw tourists in all kind of clothes, I would suggest carrying a scarf and a thin cardigan all the time. It can get a little chilly in the evenings and it’s always nice to feel warm with a hot chocolate overlooking the Bosphorous.

At the Blue Mosque
At the Blue Mosque

Say ‘No’ when you have to, but politely

Turkish men are flirtatious and they will approach you, try to chat up with you and ask for a coffee, etc. This happened to me several times during my week long trip in Istanbul. But not once did any one of them tried to force themselves upon me after I politely but firmly said, No.

More important is managing your body language. Turkish women pay no attention to strange men. Foreign women may think it is rude not to respond when a handsome young man asks “Where are you from?” Turkish men may read more into your message than you intend to offer. I saw dozens of single women who visited Turkey and seemed totally fine and well with their experiences in Istanbul.

At the Dolmabahce Palace
At the Dolmabahce Palace

Least to say, be smart and alert

Needless to say, one should stay alert and be smart whenever one is travelling, be it India, Europe or the Middle East. The usual things apply, like don’t accept food or drinks from total strangers, take care of your belongings, be conscious of your surroundings, etc.

If you are concerned about being alone, then don’t be alone. Stay in a hostel and make friends, join a day tour or research group activities. There are plenty of ways to be with people when you are travelling alone.

Over time you will learn caution, and learn to read situations better while traveling that can keep you from getting into danger. This takes time and experience

Panoramic view of the city from the Galata Tower.
Panoramic view of the city from the Galata Tower.

 

Disclaimer: This article was first published on Women’s Web on March 12, 2014. 

Advertisements

5 thoughts on “Where East meets West: A guide on solo travel to Istanbul

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s