Crazy travel plans? Nah.
When I decided to visit Turkey this summer, I didn’t exactly scream my decision from the rooftops. I told my friends and chatted about it with fellow travel bloggers, but that was basically it. I told my parents that I was going to Izmir, Pamukkale, Cappadocia, and Rize before visiting Georgia and Armenia. I left out the fact that I would be spending my birthday in Istanbul–alone. Since they had never heard of the places I was visiting, and since they didn’t really know much about the geography of the area, they happily accepted my summer plans.
You see, Turkey has a pretty bad reputation, especially to non-travelers. Earlier this year, American woman Sarai Sierra was found dead in Istanbul. It was her first trip abroad, and the tragedy put Istanbul, and women travelers, in the spotlight. How could she have gone to such a dangerous place alone? She had children and a husband…what a stupid woman! The accusations flew (especially in the comments sections) the moment the story hit the news, and many of them pivoted on a central idea: women should not travel alone, Turkey is a dangerous place, and the victim was to blame.
Between sensationalized news stories and popular culture (Taken 2, anyone?), no wonder it seems like a scary place.
But as savvy, empowered women who know the truth about solo female travel, I hope you’re raising your eyebrows and questioning the premise of Turkey’s reputation at this point.
Simply put, from my personal experience and that of others, I’m going to unequivocally say that YES, Turkey is a safe and fantastic place to visit, especially as a woman! I even had some whacky experiences while I was there, but never once did I feel like I was in real danger.
Don’t listen to the hype.
Let’s break down two of the most common concerns that I’ve heard about Turkey. An American woman was cruelly murdered there, and it’s inherently dangerous. Plus, it’s a Muslim country and they hate Americans, making it even more unwelcoming and dangerous.
According to data on homicide rates by country, from The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Turkey’s 2009 murder rate is lower than the U.S.’s: 3.3 murders per 100,000 people and 2,320 total homicides. The U.S. had 5 murders per 100,000 people, and a total murder rate of 15,399. Realistically, the most common incidents in Turkey revolve around thefts such as pickpocketing. Like in many countries, the bad guys tend to want your stuff, not your life.
Often, the sticky situations that women encounter arise from cultural misinterpretations. Western women can be a lot more forward, especially when compared to Turkish women. We smile at everyone we meet. We’re polite, friendly, and open toward strangers. But, in Turkey, these signs of friendliness from women can be misread as flirtation. And just as Turkey has a (false) reputation for being a dangerous place, foreign women sometimes have a reputation for being promiscuous (also false.) These issues can be avoided by dressing modestly and by being aware of your own body language.
When I was traveling there this summer I usually wore long skirts and t-shirts that covered up my chest. I never had any problems. A friend met me in Izmir, and she complained about the treatment that men gave her when we first arrived. She wore shorts and t-shirts. While walking around the city in a long dress, I was mostly ignored. Sometimes, men will leer and make catcalls anyway, but it’s typically harmless, and its hardly behavior that only happens in Turkey. Don’t engage with them, and you’ll be fine.
As for Turkey being a Muslim country… so what? Yes, it’s a predominantly Muslim country, but that isn’t a bad thing. It’s interesting. It’s new and different to many people. And isn’t that why we travel – to experience and learn things about different cultures? And, contrary to what certain news stations might want us to believe, all Muslims do not hate Americans. If anything, most of the Turks that I met thought it was awesome that an American girl was traveling to Turkey on her own, and they strived to give me good advice to make sure I had a wonderful time in Turkey.
And I did have a wonderful time. A hostel or hotel owner, the restaurant owner down the street, the owner of a local shop… they’re all great resources and are usually willing to help if you give them a chance.
The people in Turkey are some of the nicest people I’ve met traveling.
Mustafa, the owner of one of the hotels I stayed in, drove us to a lovely open air museum, helped us book a hot air balloon ride for a great price, directed us to a great day hike, and chatted with us for hours.
Hiking with a brother & sister pair that we met while exploring the Kaçkar Mountains–a place that we never would have made it to without the help of a Turkish friend I met during the first part of my trip.
Would I recommend that Turkey be the first destination you take on if you’ve never traveled much before? Maybe, maybe not. It really depends on the individual, but I’m pretty confident that most street-smart travelers could take on Istanbul at the very least. I found Turkey to be an easy place to get around and it quickly became one of my all-time favorite countries. So don’t let the hype scare you away from a fabulous place. It’s the 6th most visited country in the world for a reason.
Would you travel to Turkey? Let us know in the comments! And if you have any questions about visiting Turkey, please ask away – I’m happy to help!