Getting ready for my trip to Istanbul - top tips
Around a month ago I had my first trip to Istanbul, Turkey. I'd never been before to Turkey so I didn't know too well what to expect, how I should prepare myself for the trip. I talked to some of my friends and family about this idea, and most of them were worried about safety and were definitely not too encouraging. Regardless, I bought my ticket, booked a hostel and ordered a guide to Istanbul (I was just interested in this city) and countdown to my trip started. I wanted to share a few tips that I think are helpful and I would definitely benefit from before my trip.
Turkey is a huge country and there are definitely lots of interesting places to see. I spent over 2 weeks in Turkey and after I came back I was asked often, where else did you go? Did you just stay in Istanbul? Why?
When I was a teenager I read a book "Snow" by Orhan Pamuk. It was the first book that I read about modern Turkey. I totally got hooked on this culture and Pamuk's books. But it was only until I read "Istanbul" that I decided that I absolutely needed to explore that city. However, this happened long time ago, when I was still at school so had no money to travel so as time passed I forgot how much I wanted to visit this city. All came back when in search of some new music I came across a short documentary on YouTube Vinyl Culture: Istanbul. That was it. I booked my flight to Istanbul.
BEFORE YOU ARRIVE
Airlines and Hostel
I don't have any favourite airline. Let's say - the cheapest one becomes my favourite. Because I flew from Lisbon, I didn't have too much choice so went with Turkish Airlines as it was the cheapest at the time. I loved it, crew super nice, food on a plane delicious, everything on time.
To book a hostel I used Booking.com and made a reservation with Sultan Hostel. Overall I would recommend this hostel, I was just not happy with one thing, or lack of it.
Pluses: price (around 6 EUR in a dorm!!!), location (it's situated in Sultanahmet, old city where all main touristic places are withing walking distance - Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Basilica Cistern; Grand Bazaar is just 20 min walk), clean, super friendly staff, good internet, dorms with private bathrooms, delicious breakfast.
The only thing I didn't like - lack of kitchen. It was the first time I arrive to a hostel with no kitchen so it didn't even cross my mind to ask about it before booking. If you travel on a budget, spend more time in Istanbul, eat more than once per day (meaning a huge breakfast doesn't make up for other meals) then be prepared for spending more money on eating out, and in my case ending up soon with a stomach ache (I have a sensitive gut so can't handle too much eating out).
To enter Turkey you need a visa. You can easily buy it online (here) or at the airport. Given huge lines at the airport, I would recommend arriving prepared and having the e-visa with you.
Luggage & what to pack as a solo woman travelling
I hate heavy luggage. To be honest I hate any luggage, but well, when you travel you need at least something. I'd love to be that girl with beautiful pictures and outfits but I know that if I want to be that girl, that means - a huge luggage, not comfortable, heavy and me being annoyed. So as a result I opt for a backpack and absolute minimum of clothes - priority is comfort not how I look. My favourite backpack is Osprey Ariel AG 55. Apparently it is designed to fit women's figure, anti gravity etc. No idea, but what I can tell is that it's super comfortable and seriously I didn't feel it was that heavy. I loved it so much and would recommend it to anyone who hates suitcases and likes backpacking or simply travelling light. It is super pricey but in my opinion worth every cent. It's seriously transformed my traveling.
In terms of clothes I would strongly recommend comfortable shoes. You are going to walk a lot and cobblestone is not the easiest to walk on. I arrived in September and it was super hot (around 30 degrees) so I opted for sandals - and these are my absolute favorite. I walked kilometres in Lisbon and they never gave me any blisters, discomfort so I knew I could trust them in Istanbul too. For colder days I packed snickers and in terms of shoes that was all I needed. When it comes to other clothes I would recommend packing longer skirts/dresses and t-shirts that cover a little more. I'm a European girl, blond - definitely stand out so I really didn't want to attract any more attention. I always had a scarf with me just in case I didn't feel comfortable. It's the best way to cover your body even more without getting too hot. Also, bear in mind that weather in Istanbul is changeable and rain happens often. Also, you spend a lot of time on a boat and where can get chilly too, so a light wind proof/waterproof jacket will be helpful for sure!
Cosmetics ? Everyone is individual, if you'd like to know what exactly I packed, please let me know. Here I will just mention SPF that absolutely everyone should take. Even though the autumn sets in, the sun is still there and you certainly don't want to get burnt and be in pain on your holidays. Protect your skin!
Lots of places accept Euro/USD but the best thing to do is simply exchange your money to Turkish Lira after you arrive and just use Lira. Prices in Lira are always much lower. Also, when you happen to have other currency in your wallet too, make sure you use separate pockets for each. I wish I'd done it and didn't confuse Lira with EUR when I reached for a 50 EUR note :(.
Buying and prices
When you arrive in Turkey you need to totally switch your mind when thinking about prices. What you see or hear a price is - it's not. Always haggle. At first I was a little shy and thought it was rude etc, but this is Turkey and you haggle here. This is how you buy stuff, it's part of the culture and once you start feeling comfortable - great fun too!
Istanbul has incredible public transport and so cheap. I never used taxi, uber etc. I just walked or used public transport. Make sure you buy Istanbulkart with which tickets are even cheaper. You simply load the card with money and pay as you go. There are boats to Asian side of Istanbul, Princes Islands and up and down the river that belong to public transport too, so make sure you pick the right boat! (lots of privates ones too and of course more expensive).
I'm not the biggest fan of museums, however there have been some that I really wanted to see and would strongly recommend doing that too (will do a separate post about it). To save money, make sure you buy Museum Pass. It costs 85 lira and covers almost all of the most important museums and give discounts to others. For a full list of places that are covered by this pass, have a look here.
Supplements & Probiotics
When you travel you usually eat a little worse than at home. Trying out all the traditional dishes, not eating enough vegetables, drinking tap water when you are definitely not supposed to (stupid me) can leave you with a stomach ache and simply feeling not at your best. I didn't take any probiotics and my stomach was not at it's best during my stay in Istanbul, and last two days I spent in bed. Lesson for the future - take care of your gut always, but especially when you travel.