Is it safe to travel in Turkey? Good question.
The longer I live in Turkey, the more of my foreign friends toss around the idea of coming for a visit and thus the more I hear this question. I find it fitting to respond to this question now because this summer, I am getting married (eeek!) and foreign friends will be attending. As of spring of 2019, I will take time to answer this question of safety in Turkey openly, honestly and directly.
First of all, I am not a security expert and I do not claim to know every political position of the Turkish government. However, I am an American who has lived in Turkey for nearly three years, first in Istanbul and now in Izmir. I have hosted large groups, helped coordinate travel, planned itineraries and taught about the cultural climate of the country.
Since my first trip to Turkey in 2010, the country has undergone a lot of change politically and socially. However, I find that travel in most parts of the country is still very accessible and friendly. Tourism is vital to the Turkish economy so making the country desirable to foreigners is a main objective.
It is important to note that at this time, staying in central and western Turkey is best. The further east you travel in Turkey (especially Southeast), the more likely you are to experience difficulties. Personally I have not been further east than Adana, Turkey. All that being said, I believe that currently Turkey is a safe place to travel.
Travel and Personal Safety
Dress appropriately however you do not need to be ultra conservative. There is no need for westerners to wear long skirts, head coverings or turtlenecks, unless that's your desired fashion choice. However, there is a balance and a way to respect the fact that Turkey is a Muslim country. Avoiding short skirts and plunging necklines might be in your best interest even though you will find many locals wearing these styles. If you are planning to visit a historic mosque, tie a scarf onto your bag so that you can cover your head and shoulders before entering.
I would be careful not to walk around alone late at night, especially as a female. This can draw the wrong kind of attention. If you are not familiar with the language or the city, this could possibly leave you in a vulnerable position. But this is true for almost everywhere in the world.
Visiting as a tourist, I would avoid political congregation spots. Culturally, Turkish people are quick to gather and protest in response to government decisions. I would avoid government buildings or large city centers. Conveniently, these wouldn't be main touristic attractions anyway. The exception to this would be Taksim square in Istanbul because it is both a tourist attraction and political gathering place. Be aware and move away from large groups.
Avoid criticism of the Turkish government and stay away from political conversations. There is no need to enter into this territory as a tourist.
Respect is important: when you hear the call-to-prayer, turn down music. Additionally, during Ramadan, try to not to openly eat in public: in the street, on the bus, etc.
Keep your hotel information and address with you - this will help if you get lost or need to give directions to a taxi driver.
Bring a pack of tissue paper with you in your purse - this will be useful because most public toilets do not supply toilet paper.
Public displays of affection are not widely accepted - it's best to wait until you're in private.
Watch the news and stay on top of current events in the country - make adjustments accordingly.
Turkey serves some of the most delicious food - fresh fruits, vegetables, cheese, olive oil, etc. However, every time I travel back and forth from America to Turkey, my stomach needs to adjust its internal gut biome. Sometimes is takes a few days to settle - this is normal.
Turkish people do not drink water from the faucet. However, using the water to brush your teeth, cook or make tea is very normal. Drinking some of the faucet water is NOT going to make you sick, like you may experience in Mexico, but generally it should be boiled first before ingesting.
Turkey is still catching up on allergies including nut, dairy, gluten, etc. Accommodations can definitely be made by restaurants but you may want to learn some Turkish phrases and words to help communicate your needs.
Before indulging in street foods, make sure that meats, fish, mussels, etc. are cooked through and not left sitting in the sun. This combination can lead to a major stomach ache.
Wash your hands. This is also true for everywhere in the world.
Pick pockets used to be a problem in Turkey however, in the past 10 years, this has been a main focus of the Turkish police. Therefore, this is less of a problem than ever before. That being said, keep an eye on your personal items and do not be careless with your wallet or purse.
Don't flash large sums of cash, jewels, etc. This is an obvious target.
Excessively friendly people might be up to something - listen to your gut. Scams are real.
Safety is relative. One time, my sister and I were robbed in Paris and another time my friends camera was stolen in Sevilla, Spain. Being aware of your surroundings is important no matter where you travel. Odds are, you won't blend in with the general population as easily in Turkey due to clothing style, skin color, hair style, etc. This can make you stick out so extra diligence and preparation can serve you well.
However, many of these tips can be applied generally to traveling abroad. Turkey is an incredible destination with wonderful people who are proud to show off their unique cultural history and stunning landscape. And truthfully, I would travel anywhere to experience the deliciousness of Turkish cuisine - don't miss out!
The first image used in the article is called "Carpet shop" and this print is copyright protected.©victoria semykina 2015
To purchase this print on her Etsy shop, click here.