What I learned about Solo Travel in Istanbul

Solo Travel Surprises after 25 years

I accepted an offer to participate in tours offered by Walks of Turkey when they launched their new tour company this year.

I have traveled solo for years but nothing prepared me for the challenges of Istanbul.
I read the entire Lonely Planet book on Istanbul, had a map of Istanbul, arranged for a car to pick me up at the airport and selected a hotel centrally located that had a restaurant.  Everything was planned.

First surprise was the size of the Istanbul airport.  It is massive but easy to negotiate.
Next the car service driver: no sign with my my name on it.  There were hundreds of drivers and people waiting outside the arrivals exit.   Had always wanted to have a driver waiting for me at the airport.  Alas, no driver.  
The helpful information point staff, called my hotel to find out ‘the driver is stuck in traffic’.  
So off to take a cab.

Negotiating the city:
The maps had NO street names other than the one or two main streets
The streets have no street signs and the one I did find did not match the map!

I was told later this is common in Istanbul.

Turkish is not a simple language and with only a few days before traveling to Istanbul I didn’t even try to learn the typical:  can you tell me how to find……….. or  which metro takes me to ……………where is the bathroom?……………….and many other simple comments.

Surprise:  NO SIGNS IN ENGLISH
VERY FEW PEOPLE SPOKE ENGLISH OR ITALIAN, my only languages
I don’t expect the world to speak English but I have found in ‘tourist’ areas there are usually a few signs in English to point me in the right direction.

Shoe shine vendors with an elaborate brass stand that folds up.

Never found the tourist office:  I didn’t see a location at the airport so I thought I would start my quest when I arrived in town.   The one office I found was a kiosh that for 2 days pointed me to the river instead of the main square I was trying to find.   The last day I found the train station (which should have housed the tourist office) but it was too late to get detailed instructions on how to take the ferries.

So as I do in every city, I walked.  I walked across the bridge several times so I would not have to negotiate the subway.  Not the actual trains, but how to buy a ticket from a machine!   I walked up the vertical streets where the sidewalk was actually a staircase.  I walked. And the last afternoon I found the main street I had searched for!   Wow!  I think everyone under the age of 50 was walking this multi kilometer avenue:  shopping, eating, stopping to chat.   This is where I would have seen modern Istanbul

Safe:  For a few hours I wandered in the older parts of town nearer the monuments.  Again without a map I thought I would find the Bazaar again.   No luck but I did find streets where the locals shopped. I may have been starred at a few times (the only woman without a scarf) but NO one bothered me or even spoke to me.  Eventually I found the water front again.  My guide had told me all the roads go down hill, and this was a great tool for finding my way back to the bridge.

Cats:  There are many ‘independent’ cats in the city.   People leave food for them and they sit in the sun and nap.   While at the Blue Mosque my group commented on the large group of dogs that seemed to move as a family.  We were told they too were all over the city and usually caused no harm.

This trip was an excellent test for my fall adventure to China.    I was asked in Germany, if I had ever traveled alone before?  Guess I will have to sharpen my skills after all these years on the road solo.

Published by Lee Laurino

A traveler not a tourist, searching for experiences not in travel books. Solo traveler who travels as long and far as possible sharing photos of the people and places I discover

2 thoughts on “What I learned about Solo Travel in Istanbul

  1. Depending how far you roam, China can be daunting. My ex-partner was one of only two Europeans in a city of 4.5 million people. But in the bigger tourist locations my advice is – find a park, especially early in the morning. There among the Tai Chi exercisers you'll find people anxious to practice their Engrish and openly curious about foreigners.

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  2. so sorry to just see your message now! usually i am notified when a new comment arrives. thanks for the above suggestion. solo and western I often have to plan for carefully when i travel

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