Traveling to a foreign country is difficult enough. The last thing you want is to be heavily pursued by the local men. Unfortunately, for Western women, this is something that is very common with the men in Turkey. Turkey is a beautiful country and definitely worth visiting, but if you are a solo female traveler, you should be aware of the culture and know what to expect!
5 Times Turkish Men Pursued Me While Traveling Solo in Istanbul
1. Arriving in Istanbul
The journey from the Istanbul airport to the tram stop by my hostel was an ordeal in itself, taking several hours. After getting off the tram at a plaza by the Blue Mosque, I immediately felt the stares. As a tall, blonde, western looking girl traveling alone with a huge blue travel pack, I definitely stood out.
I was trying to get my bearings and figure out which direction to walk in to get to my hostel…. but I really had no idea. Within a couple of minutes of staring at the offline map on my phone, a tall Turkish man in his 30s, who had been sitting on the bench nearby, came up to me and offered to help me find my way. I was a little taken aback because in most of the countries in Europe, it’s not very common for people to just come up to you and offer their help before you ask for it. However, we were in a very public place, and I was just so grateful for the help because I was totally lost. He told me he knew the hostel I was looking for, and he would happily walk with me there.
Now, this is not something I would usually ever agree too. However, Turkish men are fantastic salesmen. They are very friendly, and don’t exactly take “No, thank you” for an answer. In this case, the guy just kept talking and talking, and before I knew it we were walking and talking… and I was following him. He told me how he was studying and trying to improve his English, so it was great to have an English speaker to talk to. He told me that his family owned a carpet shop nearby to my hostel (it was a small area), and that I was invited to come have Turkish tea with him in his shop. I politely declined, of course. I was exhausted from traveling, sweating from the heat, my travel pack was starting to kill my back, this guy was a complete stranger, and all I wanted to do was get to my hostel ASAP.
Well, before I knew it, we were standing right outside his “carpet shop”, and he was inviting me up the steps to a dark room to have Turkish tea with him. Like I said, they don’t exactly seem to hear you when you say you’re not interested. It may have very well been a carpet shop, and I could have had a fantastic time drinking Turkish tea with him and his family, but as a solo female traveler, I just wasn’t willing to risk it. So, at that point, I again declined, and rushed away before he could try to sell me more on the idea. Luckily, he had actually been taking me in the right direction to my hostel.
2. Almost to my Hostel…
I was only a few minutes away from my hostel, walking through a cute, cobble-stone street with shops and restaurants on each side, when a Turkish guy shouted at me. He had been sitting down eating at an outside table in front of a restaurant, until he saw me passing through. He then decided to stand up, holler at me, and invite me to join him for lunch. After just getting away from the previous guy, I couldn’t help but think, “Okay, this is just too much”. He was smiling from ear to ear, seemed very friendly, and continued motioning for me to come join him. I thanked him, but continued walking. He started to walk after me, but I didn’t hang around to chat. Luckily, he got the message. I eventually reached my hostel.
3. Sightseeing at the Mosques
I set out to see the beautiful Turkish Mosques late one afternoon. The mosques from the movie “Taken 2” had actually inspired my trip to Istanbul, so I was really looking forward to seeing them. Within minutes of arriving at the plaza near the Blue Mosque, I was approached by two Turkish guys probably in their late 20s. They were very nice, and offered to tour me around the area. I just didn’t feel comfortable with it, and declined. They continued talking, so I again declined and just walked away. With in seconds, another guy came up offering the same thing. I said “No, thank you”, and kept walking. When the third guy came up, I didn’t even bother to stop or reply.
The fourth guy that came up – this was all within 5-10 minutes of being in the plaza – was a short Turkish guy in his mid 20s, and he continued walking and talking along side me after I brushed past him. He was an excellent salesman. He was, of course, very friendly and likable. He explained how he really enjoyed talking to English speakers and to travelers. He told me I had to watch out for some of the local people in the area because they will offer to tour you around, but then charge money in the end. He said he didn’t want any money. He just wanted to be nice, show me the tourist places, and take pictures for me in front of the iconic landmarks. Umm, right…
What really sold me, was that he mentioned that as soon as he left, some other guy would just come up to me, and it would be an endless cycle. If I stayed with him, they wouldn’t bother me. I knew he was right, and maybe because of the fact that he was much shorter than I am, I didn’t feel completely threatened by him. I was hoping he would leave quickly, but before I knew it he was taking me to this mosque and to that mosque, and taking picture after picture of me with my camera. (I was afraid he was going to run off with it, but luckily he didn’t.) He also showed me how to enter a mosque by taking off my shoes and putting on these little bootie shoes, and helped me wrap a borrowed scarf around my head. He was actually pretty helpful and gave me a lot of good information only a local would know.
I ended up spending about an hour with him, frankly because I was too nice to just walk away. I kept hoping he would just get the hint and leave, but nope. Somehow, after I told him “No”, we ended up right nearby his house where he invited me up for beers, and that’s when I had about all I could take. We got into a bit of an argument because he wouldn’t accept that I wanted to leave after he had just spent so much time being nice to me. Eventually, I literally just walked away while he was mid sentence. I hate being rude, but I realized I didn’t need his permission to leave, and I finally got up the courage to do so.
3. Exploring Istanbul
On my last night in Istanbul, I had already seen a lot of the main sights, and just decided to go out and wander around one evening. While walking through the streets, I received tons of cat-calls by the workers of the shops and the restaurants. I just ignored them and continued walking. There was one guy who was a bit more persistent than the others, but eventually he gave up his pursuit.
About 20 minutes later, I was near a temple when a black sudan drove by on the street. A guy was shouting out through his window in my direction, then stopped the car in the middle of the street. He got out, smiling, and waving his hands… at me. It took me a second to recognize him, but it was the same guy who had been pretty persistent 20 minutes early. Whether or not it was a coincidence that he showed up right where I was walking, I’ll never know. I immidiately turned around and quickly walked the other way, where cars weren’t allowed, and headed back to my hostel. So much for a nice, evening stroll around the city.
Why Does this Happen?
I came to Turkey knowing it was a Muslim country, and that the culture would be different. I knew not to wear shorts or tank tops, for this reason. Instead, I made sure to cover up by wearing jeans and sleeved-shirts, even though the heat was almost unbearable. Yet, the above still happened!
I asked the young, male Turkish receptionist at my hostel why Turkish men seem to treat Western women this way. He explained to me that it’s almost as if we (the Westerners) have stepped out of a magazine. The locals are so used to seeing people dressed in conservative, neutral clothing that anything different from that is almost seen as a sexual object in a way. He also said that it’s not all the Turkish men’s fault. Young Western women have been known to travel to Turkey and hook up with Turkish guys quite easily. He said that maybe those women didn’t have much luck with guys back home, but found the Turkish guys very interested in them. That led to most Turkish guys viewing all young Western women as very easy to get with. Hmm… I guess that makes sense.
Don’t Let It Scare You Off!
Yes, this actually does happen, and it’s quite common. Should it be a reason not to go to Turkey?
The hostel I stayed at, Bahaus Hostel, was amazing! The international travelers there were so fun. We went sightseeing a bit together and enjoyed hanging out on the hostel rooftop deck at night smoking shisha and talking. We all even coordinated taxis to a club area one night, which was a lot of fun!
Besides that, Turkey is a beautiful country that is worth exploring! Not all Turkish men will be like the above. If they are, who knows? Maybe I missed out on a great experience having Turkish tea with a local carpet shop worker and his family or having dinner with a local. The guys I met could have been genuine guys. You just never really know what there true intentions are, and as a solo female traveler, safety is number one!
If you’re going to Turkey as a female, definitely cover up your arms and legs, preferably in neutral tones to avoid more unwanted attention. If you’re blonde, you may want to consider wearing a head scarf, as you’ll stand out no matter what. I’ll definitely be doing that next time. Bring loose fitting clothes that breath well, if you’re going in the summer. Wearing jeans in the heat is no fun!
If you’re headed to Istanbul, try to make it to Cappadocia for a hot air balloon ride – it’s incredible!
Are you planning a trip to Turkey? How would you handle the unwanted attention?
(The above experience was during my backpacking trip in the summer of 2014.)