Notes on traveling as a solo female in Turkey

Notes on traveling as a solo female in Turkey
Just watch, all of you men. I’ll show you what a woman can do…I’ll go across the country, I’ll race to the Moon… I’ll never look back.
–Edna Gardner Whyte (more great solo female traveler quotes here)

 

Traveling has its ups and downs, especially when you are a solo female with a dog. But apart from the normal stress of traveling and the burden of having to figure out and plan everything on my own, I've never had real issues as a girl traveling alone.

Until I got to Istanbul.

Before I dive into my experience in Istanbul, let me say that before the trip I read quite a few recent articles online regarding the safety of traveling in Turkey and solo female traveler experiences there. Nothing I read screamed 'red flag' so I planned my trip accordingly. Reflecting on my time in Turkey, never did I feel like my personal safety was threatened. Of course, I do my best to be a smart solo traveler by not going out alone at night and always having a ferocious guard dog by my side.

So, while I didn’t feel traveling in Turkey was a threat to my personal safety, it was definitely an experience that left me feeling targeted and put in uncomfortable situations. Istanbul was especially bad, because there are so many tourists there despite a huge decrease these past years due to terrorist attacks and the political climate. Istanbul is chock full of aggressive men who want to sell you something, and they’ll say or do anything to get your attention so you’ll buy from them.

When Mango and I first arrived in the country, we were leaving the Istanbul airport and were approached by someone offering a taxi ride into the city. Traveling with a dog, I’m usually in the situation where I have to beg a driver to give us a ride, so having someone approach us was refreshing and I took him up on his offer. Well, the taxi was $45 compared to the normal $15, meaning I was already off to a bad start. Whatever, I just wanted to get to the hotel. When the taxi finally dropped us off at the hotel (btw the taxi drivers in Istanbul never seemed to know where anything was, they are notoriously horrible), I was taken to a cramped room the size of a closet reeking of cigarette butts, not the spacious, sunny apartment with an equipped kitchenette I had booked. Unable to cope with the cigarette smoke due to my allergies, I talked to the hotel staff and someone drove me to a run-down building where they led me through a dark hallway by the kitchen to a bare room with a bed and surprisingly gorgeous water view. Too exhausted to protest, I stayed the night with the hopes of figuring things out in the morning. The next day after talking with the hotel staff, I was taken to yet another run-down building, which resembled the apartment I booked but in its pre-Photoshopped state. I tried to make that apartment work, but when the smell of bleach and cabbage kept me up the first night and the shoddy ambiance proved too depressing, I threw in the towel and booked a new, better apartment. I can’t speak for other travelers, especially solo females, but situations like this really annoy me and stress me out. It’s a lot for one person to deal with alone, especially when they are in an unfamiliar, unsafe location. I had been in Istanbul only a few days and was ready to leave, what more could go wrong?

Aggressive men, that’s what could go wrong.

men, everywhere you look

men, everywhere you look

I’m the type of tourist who minds my own business and likes to be left alone (Ryan Gosling, you are my one exception). But like most Westerners, if someone talks to me I politely respond because society has taught me that it’s rude to do otherwise. Well, that’s one rule to throw out the window when visiting Turkey, because everyone and their brother wants to talk to you. Well, not talk to you; more like convince you to buy something from them. Just walking down the street I was accosted every few meters, someone running up to me saying they liked me and wanted my number or a muffled ‘where you from, lady?’ emanating from a souvenir shop. When I went out to eat, strangers joined me at my table sans invitation. Walking past the Blue Mosque, well-dressed young men appeared out of nowhere to firmly guide me in a certain direction while reciting historical facts; typically rug sellers, these men always wanted me to visit their shop afterwards. It got so bad that for a few days, I refused to leave my hotel room except to let Mango out for quick bathroom breaks.

sign at mosque reminding women of their separate prayer area

sign at mosque reminding women of their separate prayer area

While many of these antics are directed at tourists in general, I felt especially targeted as a solo female. How do I know? Because the few times I was in the company of a man, I was ignored. And while I’m no bombshell supermodel, I am blond, young-ish, and, according to some people, good-looking, factors which proved too much to handle for Turkish men not accustomed to unaccompanied females such as myself. Turkey is a majority Muslim country where men and women are not treated equally, as indicated by separate prayer sections, trains requiring gender identification so unaccompanied men don’t have to risk sitting next to dangerous unaccompanied women, gender ratios at cafes of a hundred men to one woman, and fully-covered women with men wearing whatever they damn well please. Checking into hotels, eating at restaurants, or even taking a bus was an open invitation for men to encroach on my personal space, and I didn’t appreciate it one bit. Wherever I was in Turkey, every café I walked past featured throngs of staring men sitting on stools, making me more self-conscious than normal; where were all the women?? On a more personal level that I won’t get into here, I did have a few exchanges with men where I was treated with an enormous amount of disrespect and deceit. When I refused to put up with their overly paternalistic and machismo attitudes, I was met with bewildered expressions.

As honest and negative as I’m being here, I don’t think all Turkish men are out to get single women such as myself. I met many kind people, including men, that were nice and treated me with respect. Many women have traveled alone to Turkey with no problem, and I was fortunate to meet many other females traveling the country. Based on my experience, Turkey is an amazing country worth exploring… if you can move beyond the men that objectify women and are more than happy to rip you off, something I unfortunately wasn’t capable of doing.