How to (not) do Istanbul in 7 tips

Istanbul was the first, and luckily the last place in all of my travels that I encountered multiple blunders.  Hopefully this how to (more like how to not) post will help you to prepare yourself better than I did for the city on the Bosphorus.IMG_0484

My first mistake was not doing adequate research on my own, I had heard so much about Istanbul including comments such as it’s very European, very modern, it’s an extension of Europe, etc,  In my head I thought of it like I would any other European city, so I did limited research.  This is where I went wrong.

Although Turkey is by far the most modern Muslim country I have been in, there are still a few things solo female travelers and travelers in general should keep in mind.

  1. Do not arrive at night.  In general, I try not to arrive at night in any city, but I could not find a single flight in my budget landing during daylight hours.  I never felt safe at night in Istanbul.
  2. Upon arrival be prepared for very long immigration lines.  Get your tourist visa in advance online to avoid an extra, very long line.  For a US citizen this visa is $20 and you can purchase it here IMG_1060
  3. Beware of taxi ripoffs.  I arrived at the Sabiha Gokcen International Airport which doesn’t have metro services yet, and took a bus to Taksim.  As everyone gets off the bus you are inundated with taxi drivers that want to drive you to your location.  Not wanting to get on the metro from Taksim at night I thought this was my best bet.  I shared a taxi with two other New Zealanders I had met on the bus and the total was going to be 60 Lira.  This alone is way too much money, I later found out this ride should have cost about 10 Lira.  They got out a few blocks before me and when it was my turn to get out I handed him two 50 Lira notes.  A moment later he started shouting at me that I gave him a 50 Lira note and a 5 Lira note.  I thought this was impossible since between all of us we only had 50 Lira notes.  I was startled, frightened, and didn’t know what to do.  I took the 5 Lira note back and game him another 50.  I got 40 Lira in change back, but in the end he played a slight of hand on me and I was scammed.  He quickly switched the 50 Lira note to a 5 Lira note when I wasn’t looking.  I later read of this common scam in a tour book a few days later.  Here is a Lonely Planet article on how to avoid this: Avoid Taxi Scams in Istanbul.
  4. Stay in a hostel or a hotel for safety and to avoid be alone.  I booked a cheap AirBNB, and while the room itself was nice, I just did not feel safe in the building.  It felt flimsy, it was on a very busy street, and I just did not like being alone there.  I moved the next morning to the Le Meridien, where I totally splurged but it made all the difference in the rest of my Istanbul experience.IMG_0412
  5. This is totally up to you, but I found when I wore my hair down I got hassled a lot by men trying to sell me carpets.  They will start talking to you and ask you a million questions and say they have family in the USA, etc.  They will offer you tea or some treat at their fathers place, which is always a carpet factory.  I found that when I wore a hijab, sunglasses, and headphones I bothered way less and my days were more enjoyable.
  6. Do not hang around Taksim square, this is noted in most guide books. Unfortunately several public transport options stop here, but just get through it and move on.  One morning I got off the metro with my friend and there were tanks and armed men in the square.
  7. The Blue Mosque and Haga Sofia are completely free.  There will be men that try to sell you their tour services for each building, they will tell you there is a cost and special entrance.  I had read about this before so I just ignored all of them on my way in.IMG_0530

When I think of Istanbul, I still think of the mosques, the Ottoman Empire, Turkish food, Islam, and chaos.  Truthfully, even though I didn’t love every moment I was there, I look back on it as an adventure and a definite must see for an avid traveler.

Istanbul is beautiful, full of culture, and with appropriate preparation it can be a excellent destination!  Click here to see more photos.

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