Solo female travel in Turkey: As a relatively conservative Muslim country with a culture that is vastly different to that which we are accustomed to in the west, Turkey has always been a travel destination that has some element of uncertainty around it when it comes to the ease of traveling around the country as a solo woman.
In recent years, concerns about terrorism have seen the number of international visitors to Turkey drop significantly and these concerns are surely another contributing factor when someone is trying to determine whether or not Turkey is the destination for them.
As you can imagine, when I announced my (impromptu) plan to travel solo around Turkey, people gasped and told me that it could be too “dangerous” for me to go there alone. However the trip ended up being one of my favourite adventures so far! I hope that my solo female travel guide to Turkey can help answer any questions that you may have about travelling solo in Turkey as a female, or if you are in any way nervous or on the fence about going then I hope that this post can help instill confidence ready for your trip.
Related article: Is it safe to travel to Turkey?
My Experience as a Solo Female in Turkey
I’ve mapped out my route below. I travelled solo across Turkey, mostly utilising public buses. I had travelled to Istanbul twice previously before doing this cross country trip alone, but admittedly I was a little nervous about my travel plans prior to departing. When it came to it though, minus a few minor annoyances, I generally had a great time. Turks are typically very warm and friendly people.
I started in Istanbul and loved exploring the different neighborhoods (each with their own quirky personalities) of Turkey’s largest city. From there I travelled to Ankara where I made a brief stop before travelling on to Cappadocia. From Cappadocia I made my way to the conservative central city of Konya, before proceeding to Denzili (for Pamukkale), Ephesus and Izmir.
Solo Female Travel in Turkey: The People
The People are Warm and Hospitable
Turkish people are incredibly warm, friendly and hospitable. Though in some touristic areas you may feel a little hassled to buy things in the bazaars, this is not the case in the majority of the towns and cities (and remember – you are never under any obligation to buy anything! Just give a polite but firm “NO” if pestered!). Particularly when I got to the more “off the beaten path” parts of the country, people were stopping me and inviting me into their cafes and businesses for a tea or a hot cup of salep. I met a lovely group of young Turkish people in Istanbul through Couchsurfing.
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People Won’t Hesitate to Help
It was a mixed bag in Turkey in terms of people’s English abilities and it wholly depends on where you are going to be travelling. If you are heading to the beach resorts or other places that are accustomed to foreign tourists like Istanbul and Cappadocia then absolutely you are going to encounter people who speak English. In other areas, it may be tricky so it’s worth carrying a Turkish phrase book and learning a handful of words and phrases. In restaurants where the staff didn’t speak English (in areas like Ankara and Konya), the waiters took me to the kitchen to show me the food being prepared. When I looked lost in Istanbul, people materialised from nowhere to point me in the right direction so you can be assured that people will do what they can to help you.
Solo Female Travel in Turkey: Terror Threat
As I’ve mentioned is the case with several travel destinations around the globe, so often the media exaggerates the situation in Turkey and makes it seem like a dangerous, inaccessible warzone. Yes there have been several incidents over the past few years (recent bombings and the military coup), however the same can be said of many other places around the globe – including the UK, France and other European destinations.
Essentially when it comes to western media, “if it bleeds it leads” meaning that stories of terror, scandal, death and destruction are the ones that we encounter more often than tales of good deeds and ‘chicken soup for the soul” style stories. This is because sensational, shocking stories are the ones that cause copies of newspapers to fly off the shelves. However the fact of the matter is that life goes on as normal in Turkey, as it does anywhere else in the world 95% of the time.
Security measures in Turkey have increased in light of these incidents – you will find that airport style security checks are in place in bus, rail and subway stations and armed police are often on duty at the entrance to popular sites such as Ephesus and Pamukkale. It can seem intimidating, but they are there for everyone’s safety.
Solo Female Travel in Turkey: Safety Pointers
I never felt unsafe in Turkey in the sense that I felt that I was in a compromising situation or that I was in any danger. My main annoyance was with advances from men which I have gone into in the next section.
As with most destinations around the globe, you should (as I did) exert basic common sense when travelling alone in Turkey – I.e. don’t go wandering around by yourself late at night or after dark and be mindful of who you trust.
A few useful safety pointers to note are…
- Istanbul’s dedicated Tourist Police are located between the Hagia Sophia and the Basilica Cistern and so that is worth remembering.
- Remember that although liberal, Turkey is still a Muslim country. In the beach resorts and tourist areas then people are more accustomed to seeing western women in summer clothes but as a solo female traveller in Turkey I always feel it’s best not to draw too much attention to yourself. In central and Eastern Turkey, it is much more conservative and so you should dress modestly – wearing long skirts or trousers and not displaying cleavage.
- Istanbul is generally very safe and petty crime is low , however you should be mindful of your belongings around the Sultanahmet area since pick-pocketing and bag snatching can happen.
- Taxi drivers have been known to trick tourists and so you should always ensure that the meter is used during you journey. Do not accept any fixed fee.
- In several cities around Turkey, including Izmir and Istanbul, you will find tricksters operating around the markets and souks offering you a tour guide. Many of these are not licensed at all so it’s better to give them a polite but firm “No” if they approach you. Only hire guides from hotels or other professional travel companies.
Related article: Safety tips for solo female travellers
Solo Female Travel in Turkey: Turkish Men
The main problem that I had during my time in Turkey – particularly in Istanbul, was with constant unwanted advances from Turkish men. As you know, I’ve travelled to a number of Muslim and Middle Eastern countries – last year I travelled solo to Jordan and Palestine with no problem whatsoever. Turkey on the other hand was a completely different story.
It’s important to remember that although some of the major cities are quite liberal, Turkey is still a majority Muslim country. It’s not really commonplace for a woman to walk around unaccompanied so a lone foreign woman is a perplexing concept for them. Unfortunately, like several countries around the world, Turkish men seem to correlate western women with what they have seen in the movies – i.e. that we are easy. Traditional gender roles still apply in Turkey and in some places (certain forms of public transport and places of worship for example), the genders are still segregated. I know the rules – I always dressed modestly and was respectful but the attention I was getting on occasions was like flies around poop.
Especially in Istanbul, men would come and sit at my table in coffee shops and restaurants sans invitation and try it on. Alternatively, they would just latch onto me while I was walking and refuse to take no for an answer when I told them that I wasn’t interested. I even received dozens of messages from men on my Instagram when I was using the #Istanbul hashtag for my stories (how desperate is that?!) I am usually relatively polite when people approach me and respectfully decline, but that doesn’t work in Turkey so you have to be more abrupt. On a few occasions, the men suddenly became aggressive at the surprise that I may possibly not be interested in their advances.
Solo Female Travel in Turkey: Dealing with Turkish men
Politely decline their advances but be firm. If someone is bothering you, don’t hesitate to tell someone – if you’re already in a cafe or restaurant and someone materialises at your table then tell the waiter. If you get hassled when you’re out exploring then head into a local business and tell the people inside that you’re being followed. In some locations you will find that the tourist police are on hand.
Solo Female Travel in Turkey: Getting Around
The distances between various points of interest in Turkey are vast and so journeys by road and rail can be quite long. Internal flights are also a good option and don’t break the bank. On this note, you can find some great deals using the low cost Middle Eastern carrier Pegasus. As always it’s also worth browsing comparison sites for deals too (my favourite is Kiwi.com)
Travel by Bus
I am normally someone who absolutely detests travelling by bus, however in Turkey this was a really pleasant experience. Some of the journey times are incredibly long (i.e. 8 hours from Istanbul to Cappadocia, 5 hours from Cappadocia to Konya, etc) but buses in Turkey have inbuilt entertainment just like airline seating so you can watch TV and listen to music during your journey. The buses also serve complimentary refreshments and snacks at several points throughout your trip (National Express and Greyhound – take note!). There are no bathrooms, however the buses stop every 3 hours.
The process to buying a ticket can be a little confusing. At the central bus stations of each city, you can purchase a ticket, however you will notice that there are several bus companies operating to the same destinations, each with different timetables so it’s worth asking each one if you have a particular departure time in mind. The price differences between each is marginal. I travelled with a lot of different bus companies during my time in Turkey and found them all very pleasant. You should try to book your ticket at least a day in advance of your intended departure, especially if you are travelling during the summer season.
Buses run in both daytime and overnight form. I always opted to travel in the day, however I encountered other solo female travellers in Turkey who had used the night buses with no problem.
Traveling Turkey by rail is generally done at a lower cost than the buses (with the exception of high speed trains). You can find comprehensive information on traveling Turkey by rail on the Lonely Planet website here. You can also review the timetables here. Night trains are safe and pleasant and you can reserve your own private carriage that come complete with a sink, a bed, and even a fridge so are perfect for solo female travel in Turkey!
Solo Female Travel in Turkey: Visa Considerations
It’s true that you need a visa in order to travel in Turkey, however the process couldn’t be more straightforward. You can apply online prior to departure here, or receive it in person at the airport. If you opt to purchase your visa at the airport, you will need to queue twice upon landing – once to get the visa and then once more to pass through immigration and so for this reason I’d recommend buying it online for convenience. Prices and multiple entry options vary depending on your nationality. For me as a British citizen, it was $20 for a three month multiple entry visa.
Solo Female Travel in Turkey: Accommodation
You can find decent accommodation without breaking the bank. I opted to stay in mid range hotels and was typically able to find a room for a maximum of around $20 per night. If you are looking to stay in hostels, you can find a bed in a dorm for around $6-$8 a night though I’d recommend opting for female only dorms
When travelling alone in Turkey, always check the reviews of accommodation before you stay. I was travelling in the off season, and in some “off the beaten track” places and in a few instances, I was the only international traveller at the hotel! The places I stayed were fine, but if you’re somewhere sketchy then that isn’t going to to be the most pleasant experience.
Traveling solo in Turkey as a woman is completely possible and provided you take the right precautions, can be a safe and enjoyable experience.
Have any questions about solo female travel in Turkey? Let me know below!
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