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Is It Safe for a Woman to Travel Solo to Turkey?

Karima has traveled to 10+ countries alone and is always thinking of her next destination.

Turkey is an incredibly hospitable country. Pictured: Topkapi Palace

Turkey is an incredibly hospitable country. Pictured: Topkapi Palace

Turkey is an enigma. It is at once both modern and ancient, Eastern and Western, peaceful and chaotic. It’s no wonder that it is one of the most visited countries in the world, and its most populous city, Istanbul, is one of the most popular cities for tourists.

Because of this, it shocks me that people balk every time I mention that I’ve traveled to Turkey alone. In fact, I’ve been to Turkey three times, and have so far emerged without so much as a scratch. I don’t speak a lick of Turkish, but I was able to navigate the country with relative ease. I’ve made friends, taken public transport, and navigated cities alone, both during the day and at night. This article aims to address some common misconceptions about Turkey, including:

  • Language
  • Catcalling
  • Crime
  • Terrorism
  • Where to Go

Do I Need to Speak Turkish?

While people working in tourism tend to speak English, it was a bit difficult to find English speakers outside the tourist hot spots. Either way, it didn’t really matter—I found Turkish people to be incredibly friendly, and, despite my nonexistent Turkish-language skills, have been able to hold hour-long conversations with people who could barely string a sentence together in English. They really make an effort to make you feel welcome and at ease, and language was not a barrier for them at all.

Will I Get Catcalled?

Women get catcalled all over the world, from New York to Buenos Aires to Berlin. Unfortunately, Turkey is no exception, especially in Istanbul. Tourists and non-tourists alike will probably hear whistling, kissing noises, or rude comments at all hours of the day. The best thing to do is to act natural and ignore it—let it fade into the rest of the hustle and bustle of the city.

Unfortunately, many Turkish men are under the false impression that Western women are “easy”, as that’s what it seems like from what they’ve seen in movies and on television. Keeping in mind these cultural perceptions, it could help to dress a little more conservatively than usual, especially in the less-touristy central and eastern parts of the country. It’s not necessary to cover your hair unless you're in a mosque, but wearing long sleeves and not showing cleavage would be a good idea. If someone bothers you, just be firm in asking them to leave, and don’t hesitate to ask someone nearby for help—most people would be more than willing.

Turkey is a beautiful country, and nobody should be afraid to visit it!

Turkey is a beautiful country, and nobody should be afraid to visit it!

What About Crime?

Turkey is pretty safe, especially compared to the United States. It has a lower murder rate, a lower number of rapes, and a higher number of police officers relative to the population. It’s even rarer for a foreigner to be the victim of said crimes, so you really have nothing to worry about.

In terms of violence against women and harassment, Turkey is not particularly dangerous. However, it does have different gender dynamics, so don't be surprised if people are shocked that you, a woman, are traveling alone. Follow your instincts—if someone feels creepy, say that you're traveling with a friend. Don't give strangers your hotel address, and take metered taxis or Ubers so that you're not tricked into paying more than you should—basically, all precautionary measures you should take while traveling to any country.

That being said, what most tourists should really be wary of is pickpocketing, especially in crowded areas such as the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. This is no different from cities such as Barcelona or Paris, so just keep an eye on your belongings.

Should I Worry About Terrorism?

The US State Department currently puts travel to Turkey at a Level 2 warning, meaning that it recommends that you "exercise increased caution...due to terrorism and arbitrary detentions.”

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That being said, the United States is not any safer. While Turkey had 363 terrorist attacks in 2016, the United States had 477 mass shootings. In 2018 alone, this country has had nearly one shooting for every single day of the year. Statistically, you’re more likely to be shot at home than killed by a terrorist attack in Turkey.

Additionally, most of the violence is concentrated in southeastern Turkey, where the misfortunes of the Syrian civil war have crept over the border. Popular tourist destinations, such as the western Mediterranean coast, see little to no violence. As long as you don’t travel near the Syrian border (which I don’t recommend anyway), you’ll probably be fine.

Where Should I Visit?

Like I said, anywhere other than the southeastern border with Syria will be fine. Some places are less touristy (and have fewer English speakers) than others, but it’s not a problem. Big cities, such as Istanbul, have certain areas that any tourist should avoid, so do your research beforehand.

Turkey has a vast network of buses that can take you from place to place, or, if you prefer something preset, walk into a travel agency and ask them to arrange something. There are also affordable internal flights if you prefer—Pegasus Airlines is a good option, especially if purchased in advance.

Other than Istanbul, popular destinations include:

  • Cappadocia
  • Pamukkale
  • Izmir
  • Bodrum
  • Fethiye
  • Konya
Fewer and fewer Americans are visiting Turkey each year. Pictured: the ancient ruins of Ephesus.

Fewer and fewer Americans are visiting Turkey each year. Pictured: the ancient ruins of Ephesus.

Why Are People Afraid of Traveling to Turkey?

Despite its beauty, history, and kind people, Turkey has the unfortunate misconception of being unsafe. Maybe it’s because it’s a majority-Muslim country, because it’s in the Middle East, or because neighboring Syria is embroiled in conflict, but Americans are increasingly afraid of visiting Turkey each year—in 2016, only about 450,000 Americans visited the country, down from almost 800,00 the year before.

This baffles me. As a woman, I never felt unsafe traveling through Turkey by myself, Though the streets and alleyways of Istanbul can be confusing to navigate, they were not particularly scary. When I needed help catching a bus or finding a location, it felt like people were tripping over themselves to assist me.

When I first got off the tram from the airport to where my hotel was, a man at the station immediately told me where to go, without me even asking. Another stranger in the Istanbul airport lent me money for the subway fare when my ATM card wasn’t working, and a passing tour guide near Cappadocia saved me from walking two hours back to town after a long hike when I missed the last bus going into town. I’ve been more scared walking through downtown San Francisco at night, a city that I am far more familiar with.

Traveling to Turkey is the same as traveling to almost any other country, and there’s nothing especially harmful about it for women. Though their customs may be different from yours or mine, all it takes is a little understanding. It's not any more dangerous than staying where you are, so live your life!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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