Turkey is an exciting country to explore with a culture of warm, welcoming people. It’s a place filled with rich history, stunning landscapes, and plenty of adventure for the traveller. Exploring Turkey is safe as long as you use common sense and take the same precautions you would at home. Understanding the country’s culture is important and will help you enjoy your travels and better connect with its people. Here then are ten tips for women travelling in Turkey.
1. Dress more formally
The Turkish people generally dress and act more reserved and formal than their western counterparts, so I recommend dressing more formally when traveling there with shoulders and knees covered, a high neckline (no cleavage please), and no transparent or form-hugging clothing. You’ll show respect and get more respect in return. Female travellers do not need to cover their hair unless visiting a mosque.
Pack those loose-fitting jeans, longer skirts, knee-length capris, and loose yoga pants. It’s also a great opportunity to do some local shopping. Visit popular boutiques to see what local women are wearing and purchase a few items. This will help you blend in and provide unique mementos to bring back from Turkey.
2. Mosque etiquette: Time to rock that head scarf
Istanbul’s famous Sultan Ahmed Mosque is also called the Blue Mosque for its blue tiled walls.
When visiting a mosque, you will be required to cover your hair, shoulders, and knees, and to take off your shoes. A long skirt or a pair of loose, knee-length capris will both work great. And don’t worry about going barefoot; the floors are carpeted. Some mosques will give you little slippers for your feet. Visiting Turkey’s dramatic and magnificent mosques can be a great excuse to purchase a beautiful large scarf from the Grand Bazaar. Or pack your favourite one from home.
3. Carry yourself like a local
At home you may be the gregarious friend who loves parties, people and giving hugs to everyone – even to random strangers. In Turkey, I recommend toning it down and acting more socially reserved. Refrain from hugging new acquaintances, try not to smile at men on the street, and only shake hands with men if they initiate it. A hug or seemingly harmless touch of the arm may be taken the wrong way since being so overt is a cultural sign of romantic interest and flirtation in Turkey. I’m not recommending not being yourself, merely the more reserved version of you. This will help avoid unwanted attention and show respect to locals.
4. Meeting locals: The ultimate ice breakers
Pretty soon you’ll be sharing stories of your families over sweet mint tea.
A great way to meet locals and expats is to reach out to groups you naturally associate with before you depart from home. If you are into photography, Google a local photography club or group. If you love cooking, look for a local cooking class or club. Many of these groups have regular monthly activities and can be a great addition to your itinerary. They can also help provide on-the-ground information, tips, people to meet for coffee, and invitations to homes for a meal with people you’ve already vetted and established trust with.
When meeting locals, talking about your family and friends back home and asking about their family can be a great way to break down the culture barrier. Our love for our families and friends is a common theme across all cultures. Have a few photos of your loved ones or have them easily accessible.It’s a great conversation starter and soon you’ll be swapping family stories over a cup of mint tea with a shopkeeper or student you meet at a local cafe.
5. Etiquette in the home
Visiting a friend or family can be a great cultural experience in Turkey. Turks love to entertain and have guests over for meal. Bring a small gift; sweets from a local pastry shop are always appreciated. Be sure also to pack your appetite. There will be many courses and your hosts will want to be sure you are well fed. To thank the cook at the end of the meal say elinize saglik, meaning “health to your hands.” It is an expression that conveys enjoyment of the meal.
When entering the home, remember to take your shoes off. You’ll likely be give you a pair of slippers to wear, as shoes are not permitted in the home. When arriving before the meal, join the women in the kitchen to help them prepare the food. This is a great opportunity get to know each other and to to learn how Turkish food is prepared.
6. Toilet paper is traveller’s gold
Oil is often referred to as black gold. Travelling through Turkey, oil may not seem like gold, but toilet paper will. Toilet paper is becoming more common, but don’t expect to find it everywhere. We can thank them for saving a few trees, but trying to get the hang of the small hose in stalls is an art. Most places tourists frequent have TP, though whether it’s stocked is another matter. Always pack a small roll with you.
7. Grab that hotel business card
A few hours’ drive from Istanbul, Turkey’s Cappadocia region is dramatic and otherworldly.
Addresses and locations can sometimes be hard to convey when travelling in a new city or town. Grab a business card from your hotel or have them write down the name, address and phone number. This is handy in case a taxi driver gets lost and can’t find your hotel or you need directions on how to get back to your accommodations. Also note if you are staying near any famous landmarks, these can be great points of reference.
8.Learn a few words of Turkish
Enjoying shisha in Istanbul.
A few words of Turkish is often met with a smile and pretty soon an invite for coffee. Turks take great pride in their country and language. Learning simple phrases, such as hello, goodbye and thank you, can help you build a connection with locals, smooth interactions, and help drive down the price when bargaining at the Grand Bazaar. Teşekkür ederim (thank you), selam (hello), and İyi günler (goodbye or have a nice day), are all good starting points for connecting with locals in conversation.
9. Timing at the hammam
No trip to Turkey is complete without a visit to the famous baths, called hammams. Experiencing a few hours at these bathhouses, many of which date back hundreds of years, is a relaxing, rejuvenating and rich cultural experience. Check the times before you go. Certain hours in the day are for men only, and certain times are for women only.
10. Pack your sense of adventure, humour and a big smile
Like travelling to any new place, experiencing Turkey is an adventure. A sense of humour, willingness to be flexible, and a thoughtfully used smile will help make your time more enjoyable. Most people you meet will genuinely want you to have a great time in their country and usually be helpful. Travel with the mindset that you will meet good people and have wonderful experiences, and you usually will.
G Adventures runs a number of departures to Turkey encompassing a wide range of departure dates and activities to cater for different tastes. We’re thrilled at the prospect of showing you this big blue planet of ours — check out our small group trips here.