“But that’s right next to Syria!”
“Won’t you have to cover your head all the time?”
“Turkey? Never heard of it.”
This is just a sample of the types of reactions I got when people first learned that my husband and I were moving to Turkey. Turkey is not really the kind of place most Americans talk about or think about, so to many people, it just seemed kind of strange that we would want to go there. A lot of it comes down to a simple lack of awareness of any place that is not along the beaten path of “approved” vacation destinations (you know, like Italy or France). This alone puts Turkey at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to attracting Western tourists. On top of that, whatever reputation Turkey might have had before is being further damaged by its media, which has recently caused tourism to plummet dramatically.
I can’t necessarily blame anyone completely. If the only sources of information I had about Turkey were media outlets, I would be scared, too. Bombings. Terrorism. Censorship. Honor killings. On the brink of dictatorship. Anymore, these are the kinds of headings one might find in the average news feed about Turkey.
I’m not here to say that there isn’t truth to those headlines. Turkey – like any other country – has its problems. What I am here to say is that the media tends to exaggerate issues to make them seem a lot more widespread than the are. Much like news coverage of Africa would have you think the entire continent is nothing but starving people living in squalor, you should not come to Turkey thinking you are going to be attacked by terrorists or arrested by the government. The reality is that Turkey is an incredibly beautiful and diverse country with some of the kindest and most welcoming people I have ever crossed paths with. I have been here for almost a year, traveled through many cities, and have never once felt like I was in danger. In fact, I have felt more uncomfortable in American cities than I ever have in a Turkish city.
Here’s why you should take those news stories with a grain of salt and give Turkey a chance:
1. It’s freaking beautiful
Mountains, beaches, sea, forests, and all kinds of geographical wonders in between: Turkey has it all. There are SO many beautiful places and Turkey and there is seriously something for everyone. Do you want a beach holiday? Check out one of the coastal cities, like Bodrum or Antalya. Do you want to go hiking? Try out the Black Sea region. Are you looking for something unlike anything else? Go to Cappadocia or Pamukkale. There is also, of course, Istanbul for those who prefer a city break.
2. It’s affordable
If you’re coming from the dollar, euro, or pound, you will have it made in Turkey. Hotels, transportation, and tourist sites in particular have been cheaper than usual lately to try to encourage more people to visit after all the negative press. You can eat like a king for less than $15 a person and you can snag a room at a five star hotel for the same price as a fleabag motel in the States. There is also cheap and excellent public transportation; by train, boat, bus, plane, and ferry. Right now is the perfect time to take advantage of the downturn.
3. The hospitality is inspiring
One fear I think many people have about traveling abroad is how they will be received by locals; some places don’t have the best reputation for being friendly to tourists. Because of that, I was honestly pretty blown away by how kind and welcoming Turks are when I first came, even when I was making a complete idiot of myself because I had no clue what I was doing. Anytime I have looked lost, a stranger will come up to help me find my way. If I’m within earshot of someone who speaks English (and I’m stumbling my way through a conversation in Turkish), they will come help me translate. I’ve very rarely felt unwelcome or unwanted for being a foreigner here. Turkish people are very proud of their culture and are usually eager to share it. I certainly hope to take a leaf out of their book and make extra effort help anybody who looks “lost” in the States this summer. It really makes such a difference.
4. It’s a historical treasure trove
If history is your thing, I can’t think of many better places to go. What is now known as Turkey has been home to many ancient civilizations since prehistoric times. From the Hittites to the Romans to the Ottomans, Turkey has seen a lot of change, the evidence of which is still scattered all about the country in the form of ruins that date back thousands of years. I will never forget walking around the old colosseum in Perge or seeing the Library of Celsus against the bright blue sky. It is amazing to imagine the lives of all of the different people who once called this place home, both from the East and the West.
This one speaks for itself. There is tons of delicious and affordable food all over Turkey and each region has its specialties. There are even people who come to Turkey simply because of the food. There is nothing to fear; you will not go hungry here!
I could list a million more things that I love about this place, but I think this should suffice. As I’ve been traveling around the last couple of months, I’ve talked to a lot of business owners who have been struggling due to the lack of tourists…and they don’t really understand why (and neither do I!). In what would normally be a time when hotels would be packed and flights would be fully booked, cities are often meeting less than half of the expected quota. It’s sad that a lot of this has basically been caused by fear-mongering.
Please, please, please do not let fear cheat you out of amazing experiences. Be cautious, yes, but also remember that news is biased; especially on the internet. If you’ve been considering Turkey, now is a great time to go. The weather has been warming up, the exchange rate is favorable, and the prices are at rock bottom in most places. Trust me – you’ll thank yourself later.