Traveling abroad is a brave decision even for the globe trotting adventurer. Language barriers, cultural differences, and social standards, are all challenges for each traveler to face. Conversely there are so many rewards of experiences, some even life altering, if you’re willing to try. Let’s debunk some of the fears about wandering around in a middle eastern city.
Istanbul is an ancient seductress with a rich, diverse history and each Turkish citizen knows of it. There are venerable buildings, like the Anadolu Hisari from the 14th Century, that were built during the Bayezid dynasty. As this city has evolved and shifted over the centuries it’s conceivable to find a modern upscale eatery abreast an ancient marble fountain daintily clad with wild fresh wisteria vines in bloom. Narrow and windy roads are characteristic in this city of the seven hills. With a boastful roster of tourist attractions like the Hagia Sophia, Sultan Ahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque), Basilica Cistern, Galata Tower, and ancient fortress, this city is a historical dynamo!
So how can you be a tourist, soaking up the glorious scenery, without looking completely vulnerable like one?
Know where you are going in Istanbul and how to get there…
Plan ahead, even a little bit. It’s safer to sightsee along a planned route with a destination.
Every city has it’s “areas”. The places no one should ever go, you should only go during the day, and the places that are safe nearly always. Stick to more crowded areas, keep personal items close to your body, and carry your phone in your hand. It’s actually less common to see phone snatchers than pickpockets.
So this is a given for any traveler though essential in Istanbul. Even locals know trying to navigate the city poses more challenges than ease. The reason is that Istanbul is a modern ancient city. It’s grown over many centuries and certain areas are narrow for car travel and prevent access by any other means than walking (or scooter). Let’s not even get started talking about the lack of parking. Though many of us are now familiar with Google Maps, another user friendly app for navigating the big city is Citymapper. There are tabs for different ways of getting around ie. boat, bike, or walking. Just tap the desired mode of navigation and follow the prompts to set forth on your Istanbul journey with ease.
International Cell Towers can cause roaming delays to maps and service. Utilize inexpensive local cellular service for more reliable and real time updates.
Get a local Number/sim card – Dijital operator or turkcell are the easiest companies to purchase an inexpensive data package with local number sim card. For around $23USD (for initial set up and approx $8/month prepaid) you can purchase a local number with data package and prevent roaming charges with international services. The service is reliable and will last the duration of your Visa. Get the app for Dijital Operator and register your number. Creating an account offers freebies like extra data or more minutes with their promotional games that circulate every Friday.
If saving money isn’t a benefit enough then consider that public routes are well lit, mapped, and traveled by locals. With the addition of supportive apps getting around the city is a cinch.
The city offers multiple ways to get where you need to go. Instead of taking cumbersome, expensive, or limited tours of the touristic places don’t be afraid to venture out on your own. Get the app Moovit and enter the address for all the bus numbers or Metro route to that destination. There are easy to use tabs for Metro stations and the lines available from those stations. Bus, train, metro, and tram routes and schedules are all included with real time updates and include construction or running time delays. There’s even alternative routes suggested by the app if there’s a problem or closure. Great resource to keep your tour of the city going smoothly. Don’t stand near transportation exits while transiting. Only stand in doorways when ready to exit and keep your phone in sight at all times.
Sometimes it’s nice to dress up and get dropped off.
Take a taxi – Don’t speak Turkish. Don’t worry. BiTaksi has your back. There’s a well known fact that Taxi drivers can be a bit misleading with the cost of a taxi ride especially for foreign passengers that are unfamiliar with the area. Turkish locals will tell you that “Taxi’s are Tricksy”. Get the app BiTaksi and enter your destination to confirm price as well as turn by turn directions to ensure a fair and safe ride. Securely pay through the app and you can even keep your cash in a safe place.
Hire a Travel photographer – Want to capture candid moments of a special destination instead of selfies? There are local talented photographers that are available for an entire day to follow you around the city and capture moments you can’t. With packages starting around 700 Lira for an hour with a photo package included is a steal for Instagram worthy photos. We have a trustworthy and reliable reputation among travelers from all over the world. Shoot My Journey is a local photography and videography service for travelers in Istanbul to immortalise great moments of your travel. You can follow us on instagram and facebook to see our works with travelers in Istanbul. Instagram Facebook or check our homepage to get more details.
A little effort to connect with the locals can actually go a long way. Making an attempt, even an abysmal one, to speak the native language melts hearts. Think back to the first time you heard your native language in a foreign accent. Ahhhh. La’more.
Try a little Turkish – Turks are tough. There’s a hard outer shell but a softer inside as with many city dwellers. It’s well known that Turkish people are proud of their heritage and the city of Istanbul with its rich history. They love to share about events that make the city so special (and will jump at the chance to practice their English if you invite them to). Each Turk knows a little different piece of that history and the historical buildings or monuments that represent those events.
Get the app Duolingo to learn basic phrases and watch the delight as they soften to your attempt to speak Turkish. Also get the App Tureng Dictionary to help with slang terms and other words that are not exact word for word translation. Google Translate is great for on the spot picture translation. Just tap the camera option tab and act like you’re taking a picture for a real time translation of the words on the label or sign.
Not sure about you, but once I sit down after a full day of walking the city, getting up seems less and less likely part of my vacation evening plans. Ordering food delivery without speaking the language can be tricky. We’ve put together a little “Order Up” section just for the weary legged avid take-out enthusiast.
Turkish food is absolutely delicious! Blended seasonings, a bit of spice, fresh made dough, and farm-to-table ingredients make it easy to find a favorite on any menu. Pide (pee-dahy), tavuk sish (tah-vook sheesh), lahmacun (lah-mah-joon) are easily considered local favorites. Though every Turk will agree, you have to taste the Iskender kebap (ihs-can-der kah-bap). It’s famous! Get the app Yemeksepeti for delivery/take out options in your area. You can pay securely through the app or use the cash option upon delivery. It’s not customary to tip in Turkey though every delivery person will be delighted to receive foreign currency.
Article by Sibuna Ahsenag – Copyright 202