It was 10 am, Sunday, December 11th, 2016. The notification light on my phone constantly blinked. Half asleep, I managed to look at it. I had a couple of snap chat messages, Facebook notifications, a message from Yildiz (my Turkish friend) and then Breaking news from BBC. I unlocked my phone and checked the news first. “Stadium blast in Istanbul kills 38 people“. My hands started to shake. My trip to Turkey was going to be the following weekend. I clicked on Yildiz’s message. “Do you still want to come to Turkey?” -Yildiz asked. “I wanna, but I’m scared” I replied after contemplating my response for 10 mins. “Everyone is scared, I could have been there” she replied. I didn’t respond. A few days later Yildiz messaged me “There has been another attack. Consider coming to Turkey again. I am saying this just because I feel I have to…” Worried, I messaged Zehra, another Turkish friend and asked her on her country’s safety. “The media gives you the perception that Turkey is a war zone and that you have to hide. But life goes on. We take it easy, now I am outside having breakfast” she replied. If you were like me at that time, you probably would have googled “Is it safe to travel to Turkey or Is Istanbul safe for a woman traveling alone” over a thousand times. Just like the responses from my Turkish friends, my research online yielded me two answers on both ends of the spectrum. It was left for me to make a decision.
I followed Zehra’s advice, confirmed my flight and spent one week in Istanbul. Here was my experience.
During my trip to Istanbul, I was surprised by how little Turkish locals spoke English. I knew little to no Turkish as well, which was a challenge for me. Despite that, I found the locals friendly and helpful. It made me realize that kindness was (and still is) a universal language. I met Yildiz virtually through a travel facebook group. We had been communicating quite a bit prior to my arrival in Istanbul, Turkey. Meeting her in person felt like I had met a long lost friend. Yildiz took the one-hour bus journey from her town to the city center, every other day to show me Istanbul. I was also introduced to a mutual friend who eventually became my second tour guide. She even took me to her workplace and introduced her coworkers to me. These two extraordinary women made my time comforting and enjoyable.
Besides the friends I had made before coming to Istanbul, I also made new friends while walking on the streets and in the mosque. Strangers were eager to help even though we communicated using hand signals and a calculator (Don’t ask me why! lol). One interesting thing that usually happened was that after I asked for help or directions, the Turkish locals would ask permission to take a selfie with me. I didn’t think I stood out in Istanbul as there definitely were other individuals with African features. I thought it was a friendly gesture, though.
I enjoyed the kindness and friendliness Turkish locals showered me. What came as a pleasant surprise to me was that in Turkey, Chivalry isn’t dead. In the U.S. we always gosh and use this phrase whenever a guy opens the door for us or “luckily” helps us with our heavy bags BUT Ladies, Turkey is the real deal! I visited Turkey in December, so it was cold and it rained a lot. This particular day it not just rained, but it was also windy. So I took the flimsy umbrella my Airbnb host left in my room. As I walked through the streets of Istanbul, the waterproof cloth that was supposed to protect me from the raindrops would shoot up, leaving the iron rods that supported its curved form, dangling as it had surrendered from its duties. While I struggled to fix my umbrella, a middle-aged man ran up to me. He pointed to the umbrella and straightened it out. “Good as new” he smiled and said once he got done helping me. It was just like in the classic movies. “Tashakur” I thanked him with the only Turkish word I knew. The same thing happened when I was struggling to carry my luggage up the hills in one of the Beyôglu streets. “I could get used to this,” I thought.
Besides me admiring the view of the beautiful mosques, astounding architectures, and appreciating the kindness of the locals, Turkish food has some of the best cuisines I’ve ever tasted. Seriously, I was overjoyed for the next Turkish meal I could try. And no, I am not just referring to Turkish kebab! I found out that Turkey has a plethora of scrumptious dishes to discover. Don’t get me started on the sweets. Turkey is a true foodie heaven.
In the past 3 years, Turkey has suffered bomb threats, lost lives, resulting in an air of unpredictable safety. I walked through the Bosphorus bridge almost every day and I always saw the locals calmly fishing and chatting with their fellow fishermen like there was nothing to worry about. “Regardless of what happens, life goes on” Zehra’s words kept ringing in my ears. This state of mind and the daily ritual of the fishermen is a symbol of the local’s response to the current situation in Turkey.
Fishermen fishing on the Bosphorus
I would be lying to you if I told you that I felt completely fearless prior and during my visit to Turkey. I came out of the Ataturk airport, passed through Taksim square, stopped by Besiktas Stadium, thinking “wow people died here.” Not to be sinister but it was hard to ignore and not be vigilant during my stay. Whenever I saw people gathering or having mini-protests, I changed my direction. My eyes darted from side to side and my ears were perked up for any unusual situation or sound.
Is Istanbul safe for a woman traveling alone- Besiktas area after the attacks
Due to the numerous travel warning from government website sites and the ongoing attacks, it was inevitable to see that tourism had gone down in Turkey. Few foreigners were booking a flight to visit and the vendors from the bazaars were reluctant to haggle unless you shopped with a Turkish local.
The other not so good experiences I had in Turkey had nothing to do with security but mostly related to due diligence. I had to be assertive with Men who tried to take advantage of a solo female traveler and I also learned how to find peace in the midst of a crazy Airbnb host.
Did I regret my trip to Turkey? Absolutely not! in fact, as I’m writing this post I feel nostalgic. There is something interesting about the country that draws people from around the world to its center. During my stay there, every day felt like an adventure. I must emphasize that Turkey, in general, is a safe country and the attacks that are being inflicted on it could happen ANYWHERE!!! Although I had my worries, watching those fishermen gave me some perspective to life and calmed me down.
If something is destined to happen to us, it will happen. Whether we are hiding in a cave or sitting at home or taking a metro or driving to work or whatever. We can’t let fear stop us from living our best life….. Regardless of what happens, we must remember that Life goes on…
If you find yourself still asking, “is it safe to travel to Turkey?”, here are some resources that contributed to my decision.
This post isn’t to encourage nor discourage you from visiting Turkey. If you do think about visiting the country, do some thorough research and weigh the options. At the end of the day, you know yourself best and only you can decide if a trip to Turkey would be a good choice.
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Very interesting. Nice pictures and scenerios.
Thank you for sharing! I went to Istanbul in November 2013 and never felt unsafe. I would love to go back!
What a great reflection post on your trip to Turkey! I think it’s great that you ended up going on your trip despite your fears, which I would be feeling too! Sounds like you had an enriching experience.
I was wondering, why I have not come across your blog. You are such a prolific writer. I just could not leave a single word unread. Two of your sentences are my thoughts as well; 1) kindness was (and still is) a universal language and 2) Life goes on! I enjoyed reading the way you describe how the waterproof cloth could not protect you amidst rain.
Awww thanks for reading this!!
Turkey is such an amazing country – the places and food! I have heard about friendly people too. It is so on my travel list and i hope to visit there in next 2 years. Thank you for the post.
I’ve always wanted to visit Turkey, especially after reading all those books by Orhan Pamuk. I’m also a solo female traveller, so reading about your safe and enjoyable experiences in Turkey is really comforting for me :) Thank you for sharing this!
I am glad you made it to Turkey and had a wonderful time there! I never visited before but I really want to one day ! Especially for kebabs :D I used to live in Berlin and Turkish kebabs were the best ! Its really sad whats happening over there tho !
That’s great! But you should try the other dishes of Turkey besides kebabs. There are tons of dishes that we aren’t even aware of
I loved that you published this piece because this is a legit question that many people have, including me. Turkey is extremely high on my list but with all the negative media coverage it’s lost its appeal because of safety. Thanks for sharing you account and the video was an excellent ending!
Loved this post and enjoyed hearing your perspective. I visited Istanbul this past May with my boyfriend and never once felt unsafe. I also found the people incredibly kind and it was sad to hear how much tourism has gone down since the attacks. That being said, we were able to stay in a luxury hotel that we wouldn’t normally be able to afford because of the lack of tourists. So I say now is the time to go to Turkey!! And I believe you can’t live your life in fear of terrorists because that’s exactly what they want!
Loved this post as I do many that involve places many consider “dangerous”. Glad you managed to conquer your mild fear and have a great time in Turkey.
Loved this post! I thought it was really great that you talked on both the good and the bad, a lot of people gloss over the not so savory parts of their travels. Very informative! Heading to read about your crazy host experience now!
Thanks Jess, haha enjoy the video. I don’t wish it on anyone
Turkey sounds like an amazing country.People in turkey look friendly.Turkey is definitely on my bucket list.The post is amazing.
I was just in Barcelona during the recent attack…it was scary but I refuse to stop traveling! Great post!
What a beautifully written and honest post! I think we skirt over negative feelings and situations too much and it’s refreshing to hear your experience. I like how you presented your experience and are encouraging others to make their own decisions. Not everyone would feel safe and I’m so glad that you recognized that!
I’m nostalgic too after reading this. I lived in Istanbul for three years, met my wife (who is Turkish) outside Galata Tower, and worked in Besiktas about a 5 minute walk to Vodafone Arena. I was in Osmanbey the night of the attack and one of my wife’s friends from college was killed that night while riding home in a dolmus. Still, reading about your experience (which I heard from many friends who were going to visit and then cancelled because of the fear of attacks) I don’t look back at the city with disdain, but with fond memories. The people are so warm and inviting, especially now because they know people are afraid to visit and they want to distance themselves from that as much as possible. The city’s beauty and history – a gorgeous chaos, as we always used to say.
Also, Turks are the selfie kings! I joke about it a lot, but really they just love them. It’s a modern way of preserving that memory.
Also, it’s unfortunate how prevalent it is that someone tries to rip you off over there. But, if it helps they try the same on Turks, but if you speak the language you can get them to back down. But, it’s exhausting, especially when you live there.
I’m glad you enjoyed your time!
Thanks for your comment! Wow, that must have been crazy being in Istanbul during the attacks. I’m sorry to hear about your wife’s friend :( It was truly a tragic day. The Turks are brave for being able to separate these unfortunate events from their daily lives. I love your statement of referring to Istanbul as a “Gorgeous chaos”. It perfectly describes the city. On Turks being the selfie kings, I can attest to that haha. I was actually glad that they loved the camera, people from other countries aren’t so fond of taking pictures or people vlogging in their presence. I was glad they were on board. Do you still live in Turkey?
Really Interesting and beautifully written article. I must say you are quite brave girl. Agree! whatever is destined to happen, surely happens and we can’t stop it. I loved the honesty of your post.. Turkey is on our list too and would love to visit it someday.
Such an interesting read. I wouldn’t have been able to travel had I been in your position. Loved reading your story and how nice of the girls to help you see Istanbul.
You mentioned about a Facebook group in which you met zehra and Yildiz. What is the name of the group? I also want to join there
Hello! I met her in this group:https://www.facebook.com/groups/1057312181012712/. You can also join: https://www.facebook.com/groups/2115455312114388/ (Muslimahs who travel)
I am from turkey and I am glad you visited turkey despite of your fears. As you said life goes on there.. unfortunately media doesn’t show the reality. They exaggerate. I miss turkey so much now I am in Sweden as an Erasmus student and your blog really inspired me! I will travel more ! By the way I will be glad to host you if you come turkey again :)
Thanks for your comment and your kind words! I totally agree with you. The world needs to see how beautiful Turkey is and less through the eyes of the media.
Turkey is safe! Turkey is home to fairy chimneys and hot air balloons, Roman history and kebabs, a world wonder and 16 UNESCO World Heritage sites! In 2017 Turkey will also host many international travel conferences, as it aims to draw more visitors to this historic country.