Safety

DESTINATIONS turkey safety-6

TRAVEL TIPS

Safety

Distribute your cash, credit cards, IDs, and other valuables between a deep front pocket, an inside jacket or vest pocket, and a hidden money pouch. Don't reach for the money pouch once you're in public.

Violent crime against strangers in Turkey has increased in recent years but, when compared with Western Europe or North America, is still relatively rare. You should, nevertheless, watch your valuables, as professional pickpockets do operate in the major cities and tourist areas. Women should be careful of the prospect of bag snatching both when walking and when sitting at open-air cafés and restaurants. Bear in mind that organized gangs often use children to snatch bags.

Though the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has waged an armed campaign in southeastern Turkey, cities and major highways are relatively safe. You should be cautious about visiting more out-of-the-way villages in the region and using unpaved roads or traveling after nightfall, especially in the border areas near Syria and Iraq, where ongoing violence is increasingly rattling nerves in Turkey (and occasionally spilling over into the country). Many U.S. actions in the Middle East have been deeply unpopular in Turkey, and Turks will often have little hesitation in letting you know how they feel. However, they will invariably distinguish between the actions of the U.S. government and individual Americans. For an up-to-date report on the situation, check with the State Department website.

Government Advisories

As different countries have different worldviews, look at travel advisories from a range of governments to get more of a sense of what's going on out there. And be sure to parse the language carefully. For example, a warning to "avoid all travel" carries more weight than one urging you to "avoid nonessential travel," and both are much stronger than a plea to "exercise caution." A U.S. government travel warning is more permanent (though not necessarily more serious) than a so-called public announcement, which carries an expiration date.

The U.S. Department of State's website has more than just travel warnings and advisories. The consular information sheets issued for every country have general safety tips, entry requirements (though be sure to verify these with the country's embassy), and other useful details.

Consider registering online with the State Department (step.state.gov/step), so the government will know to look for you should a crisis occur in the country you're visiting.

General Information and Warnings

Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. www.smartraveller.gov.au.

Canadian Goverment Portal on Travel and Tourism. travel.gc.ca.

U.K. Government Foreign Travel Advice. www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.

U.S. Department of State. www.travel.state.gov.

Local Scams

You should keep your credit cards within sight at all times to prevent them from being copied. In many restaurants waiters will swipe your card at the table. If a waiter takes the card away, you should either ensure that it remains within eyesight or ask to accompany the waiter to the POS terminal (you can manufacture an excuse, such as telling the waiter that your bank sometimes asks for a PIN).

There have been a few cases of tourists traveling alone being given drugged drinks and then being robbed. The doctored drinks are usually soft drinks such as sodas. Turks are naturally anxious to ply guests with food and drink, and in the vast majority of cases, there should be no cause for alarm. However, if, for example, you are traveling alone and someone is particularly insistent on you having a cold soft drink and comes back with one already poured into a glass, treat it with extreme caution. If the drink is drugged, the person giving it to you will probably be suspiciously insistent that you drink it. If you have any doubts, do not consume it. Someone who is being genuinely hospitable will probably be confused and maybe a little hurt; but both are better than your being robbed.

In crowded areas be aware of a common scam in which two men stage a fight or similar distraction while an accomplice picks the tourist's pocket. Single male travelers in particular should also be aware of another popular scam that starts with an innocent-seeming conversation on the street (sometimes initiated by being asked the time: "Saat kaç?"), continues with an invitation to go grab a beer, and ends with a preposterously large bill being presented to the unsuspecting foreigner. In extreme cases, the hapless visitor has been brought by force or threat to an ATM to withdraw enough money to pay the tab.

Less intimidating, but annoying, is the "shoe shine trick": an itinerant shoe shiner "accidentally" drops his brush as he walks past a foreigner, who helpfully calls out to him and picks up the brush. The shoeshine man feigns effusive gratitude, and insists on shining the shoes of the visitor—then overcharging, and sometimes refusing to clean the polish off until the price is paid.

Before taking a private taxi, it can be useful to ask the information desk at your hotel what route (i.e., past what landmarks) the driver will likely drive, how many minutes the ride usually is, and what the average cost is: this way you will avoid an unwanted, and often lengthy, tour of the city. Note that Turkish hospitality is such that if you need directions, someone will often insist on accompanying you part or all the way to your destination.

Women in Turkey

Turkey is a generally safe destination for women traveling alone, though in heavily touristed areas such as Istanbul's Sultanahmet, Antalya, and Marmaris, women unaccompanied by men are likely to be approached and sometimes followed. In rural towns, where visits from foreigners are less frequent, men are typically more respectful toward women traveling on their own. In the far east of the country, though, you should be particularly careful; women traveling alone have been known to be harassed in this region. As in any other country in the world, the best course of action is simply to walk on if approached, and avoid potentially troublesome situations, such as walking in deserted neighborhoods at night.

Some Turkish men are genuinely curious about women from other lands and really do want only to "practice their English." Still, be forewarned that the willingness to converse can easily be misconstrued as something more meaningful. If you are uncomfortable, seek assistance from a Turkish woman or move to a place where other women are present; when it comes to harassment by males, there really is safety in female solidarity. If a man is acting inappropriately toward you, it is acceptable to be forward and tell him to go away. The phrase çok ayıp ("shame on you") will come in handy, as it will also attract attention from passersby. Another phrase, defol ("get lost") is more severe and should dispel any persistent men you may encounter. Women who are pregnant or have small children with them are generally treated with such respect as to be virtually immune from harassment.

Turkey, especially outside tourist areas and major cities, is not the place to sport clothing that is short, tight, or revealing. Longer skirts, and shirts and blouses with sleeves, are less likely to attract unwanted attention. Women are expected to cover their heads with scarves when entering mosques.

Many hotels, restaurants, and other eating spots identify themselves as being for an aile (family) clientele, and many restaurants have special sections for women and children. How comfortable you are with being alone will affect whether you like these areas, which are often away from the action—and you may prefer to take your chances in the main room (though some establishments will resist seating you there).

When traveling alone by intercity bus, you will almost certainly be seated next to another woman (and often refused a ticket if such a seat is not available). If a man sees that you are traveling alone, he will probably offer his own seat so that you may sit next to a woman.

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