Is Turkey safe? 9 tips to make sure you have a great trip
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As you tell your friends and family that you’re headed to Turkey they will likely ask, “But is Turkey safe for travel?”
Safety in Turkish is often a hot question. Most people think it is similar to middle east countries. Often, people have pictures of a war torn landscape but it is quite different here actually.
Depending on where you are within Turkey, you will experience different experiences. You will have different experiences. You will even see different things.
For instance, if you’re in a very touristy area, you may encounter more scams than you ever would out in the rural parts. Perhaps out in the rural area in some places you may overpay what my mom always called a “stupid tax” for not knowing better.
Regardless of what country you are in, no place is perfect. Every country has people who will try to take advantage of others. It is important to note that on the whole, however, Turkish people are so helpful and they love visitors.
And what will make you even more welcomed is if you speak even a little Turkish. If you try to embrace their culture.
Also so much of “safety” is determined by your comfort level. Each of us are comfortable with different experiences. If you have done extensive traveling, you may be more comfortable with things simply because of experience.
If this is your first trip abroad or you are still learning, there are definitely things that you can do to make sure that you have a safe and happy trip. In this blog, we will talk about nine things that are helpful in staying safe when you do come to Turkey, however.
1. Smart Travel Program
America has a program called Smart Travel Program. When you sign up, it notifies you of potential safety issues or changes in policy in the country you’re traveling to. If you’re not an American, I recommend you check with your government’s State Department to see if they have a smart travel program. If you’re an American, you can sign up here and can use it for traveling anywhere, not just Turkey.
- I am signed up to receive notices from the American Embassy in case of a serious event. During COVID, they notified us of the rules that we needed to follow and their recommendations for how to do life here.
- As long as I have been here, the State Department has had Turkey set to “do not go” status but mostly because of the tensions between Turkey and Syria. There has been turmoil down along the border. Make sure you check the status. When the Embassy mentions “terrorist attack threats” it is talking about this region.
2. Be prepared
Whether it is an earthquake or a terrorist attack or a car accident, have a plan. You can take even a few minutes and preprogram a few numbers into your phone so that when you land you’re ready to go.
Of course I recommend getting a Turkish phone number while in country, more on that in another blog, but these numbers can still be used if you change your sim card.
- Have local emergency numbers both written and in your phone.
- 112 – All emergencies. This recently changed but now one number will be used for Ambulance, Fire Department, Police, Forest Fire, Coast Guard, Search and Rescue or Gendarme (Police in more rural areas).
- 170 – This is the number for tourism information. If you have an issue or find that you have been involved in a scam, contact them first.
- Have your ICE (In case of emergency) set up in your phone
- If you have an iphone, make sure you set up your “in case of emergency” as well as the rest of your medical ID. This will give medical personnel important information such as allergies, who to contact, etc.
- If you have an android, I have no experience but here is one article that may be helpful to you in setting up an ICE.
- Have a plan for next steps in an emergency
- Know where you will go and how you will meet up with someone post incident.
- Know how you will let someone know you’re safe if something happens.
- For earthquakes I recommend “I am Safe” app. Make sure it is set up before you go though. You will be able to send out one SMS to let someone know that you’re safe.
3. Know a few phrases
Turks are always impressed when someone even tries to speak Turkish. Being able to say a few things will carry you along way! Make sure you check out my other language posts, especially this one about Turkish for tourists. I will also have a survival Turkish course coming soon!
While I’ll cover emergency phrases and Turkish language in a couple different blogs, here are a few phrases that will be helpful while you’re out and about and come across trouble.
|Yardım ihtiyacım var.||I need help.|
|İmdat!||Help or emergency!|
|Polis nerede?||Where are the police?|
|Ambulansa ihtiyacım var.||I need an ambulance.|
|Yakınlarda eczane var mı?||Is there a pharmacy close?|
|Gıda alerjim var.||I have a food allergy.|
4. Keep your items close
Make sure that you don’t leave your bags unattended and that you can see them if you’re standing still or in a crowd. Pick-pocketing, like most other countries, can easily happen in crowded areas.
- Don’t leave your stuff alone in a coffee shop/cafe, or any other place for that matter. Trust me, I get it. Sometimes you’re by yourself at a super cute coffee shop and you just want to run to the bathroom really quick. Don’t do it without grabbing your stuff first. Just make sure that you go to the bathroom before you sit down.
- If you’re traveling on public transportation and you’re wearing a backpack, I recommend that you pull it around to the front of you. Firstly, it keeps your stuff where you can see it. Secondly, it keeps you from accidentally unknowingly whacking someone else with it.
- I also recommend a bag especially for travel like this day backpack or this Travelon purse.
- Make sure you keep your passport and insurance coverage with you at all times. This should either be in a money wallet or well secured in your travel bag. Also have a copy of your passport back at your place your staying in a safe if possible.
5. Know when to act like a local and when not to
Typically when traveling it is best to blend in and look like the locals. I highly recommend this. There are, however, a couple of instances I would recommend that you don’t do so.
- Firstly, if you see a protest or a fight or anything of the like, it would behoove you to walk away. Turkish people are very curious and inquisitive. They will walk up and look around and try to find out what’s going on. As a foreigner it just isn’t safe to do so.
- Secondly, you may find yourself in a group of Turks talking about their political opinions. It is important to realize that the same American Freedom of Speech is not a worldwide held standard. While I can’t tell you want to do, it is better to avoid such conversations and just avoid trouble all together.
6. Be aware of potential scams
This is more taking advantage of the naive that actual safety concerns. That being said there are some things that it is better to just avoid and be aware about so you can avoid that “stupid tax”. I have an entire blog on scams coming out. Check back soon!
That being said, an overarching rule is be careful about who you hang out with and always make sure you check your bill and amounts being charged if you’re using a card. Being aware of your surroundings will protect you most of the time.
7. Don’t Drink and Drive
While in the states, you can have a drink then drive as long as your blood alcohol content is below .08 percent. But in Turkey if there is any alcohol in your system it is illegal.
It would be better to just hop in a taxi and get home safe. Make sure you don’t drink with strangers and that your Taxi meter is running for safety (see more on the potential scams post).
If something does happen, make sure you work with a lawyer you can communicate with. I have a friend who only works with foreigners. You can get a hold of her here. Make sure you tell her Kimberly sent you. I say that not only for you but for me. Turkey is all about relationships. If you can have a recommendation from someone who knows the person you’re recommending, you will not only get better service but it will also build in accountability.
8. Drinking water
While the water in Turkey has come a long way and no longer has viruses and bacteria it is still not recommended to drink daily. Because the pipes are so old, the water has a high heavy metal content. Heavy metals can greatly negatively impact our bodies.
So what should you do? I have two recommendations.
- If you’re staying at a house with a 5 gallon water dispenser (you know like the ones you would see in an office) then you can use a regular water bottle and fill it up before you head out for the day. Make sure you have a good size water bottle with you like this Nalgene beauty or Contigo if you’re a fan of straws.
- The other is to purchase a water bottle that specifically targets heavy metals and other harmful elements that might be in tap water. There are two great options though I am preferential to the first.
- Epic Nalgene OG – This filter removes 70+ contaminates (such as cysts, heavy metals, chemicals & pharmaceuticals), has a recycle rewards program and even has a filter life of 75 gallons, more than double the standard 20-30 gallons. They also have a glass version for the filter with a different bottle.
- Epic Vostok – This bottle removes only 20+ contaminates, has a 30 gallon life span and comes in a nice steel bottle. Beware this one is recommend to not tip.
9. Watch how you interact
For Americans, at least in the south where I am from, it is almost considered rude if you don’t smile at people or ever make eye contact. While standing in a grocery store line I am usually the person who is chatting with the next person or telling them how cute their baby is.
Here, however, the culture is much different.
I have learned to be much more aware of with whom and how I am interacting. It is especially important when engaging with the opposite sex. Because there isn’t a lot of cross gender interaction, if you pay someone of the opposite sex direct attention, it will often be misunderstood as interest.
If that is what you’re looking for, well kolay gelsin (take it easy). But, if that isn’t what you’re looking for, be careful especially when you’re alone or only with one other friend. Hanging out in groups is much safer.
Also that is not to say you shouldn’t engage. Again the main thing I would drive home is BE AWARE of your surroundings, interactions and body language. They may send message you don’t intend if you’re not aware.
Make sure you read about the potential scams blog for a little more insight on this topic.
Turkey is a beautiful country. The people are incredibly kind and generally quite hospitable. While there are certain parts of the country that are more dangerous than others, it is a pretty safe country. In the years I have lived here, I have never felt unsafe.
As an American, there have been times I have been more afraid while back in my home country than while being here. You may find yourself uncomfortable at times but I bet you will enjoy your visit or move to this incredible country.
Make sure you check out the Packing Travel Hacks so you don’t miss anything!
Is Turkey safe? Well that is a question that only you can answer.
Do you have any specific questions? Let me know and I’ll try my best to help you find an answer. Catch ya on the next post!