My solo travel adventure in Turkey is one of the craziest but most amazing things I have ever done. A Muslim culture that I didn’t understand, a language that I didn’t speak and a place that everyone made sound terrifying.
But I shouted YOLO to the wind and lived to tell the tale of ten days traveling in Turkey… solo. It was perhaps one of the most outrageous and potentially dangerous decisions I made in my life. I’d packed up my life in Australia to move to London and my first trip away from my new home was to Gallipoli. I had to pay my respects to the fallen and stop in at Istanbul mostly because all the tours left from there but also because it’s Istanbul and I had to see it.
The plan was the Gallipoli tour and a night in Istanbul either side. But guess who never booked a return flight? Yup me. Walking around Istanbul I passed a tour guide shop with photos in the window of places that I just had to go. I walked in and having recently got the all clear from a cancer scare nothing was going to stop me from seeing what I wanted.
So, within 10 minutes I spent half my money pointed at every pretty picture and I was booked to go. Sometimes I look back and think it may have been a little foolish. But I would not change it. It was an experience that changed me. Hopefully for the better. But my outlook on life was renewed. I guess I better start my journey with my first tour: Gallipoli or Gelibolu as the locals call it.
I still get tingles thinking about sitting on that beach where so many heroes fell 99 years ago (at the time of my visit). It was freezing and overcrowded. It was a long night sleeping on a plastic stadium chair and the bathroom conditions were horrendous. But all of that was worth it. When the first ray of sunlight peeked over the hills and the bugler played those haunting notes. I knew that my lifelong need to pay respect had been fulfilled.
The service was incredible. I haven’t missed an Anzac service in the last 20 years and nothing will ever compare to being there where it happened. My heart ached over all the soldiers and walking past graves where so many of the fallen were 20 or under was torture but to look around and see the thousands of people gathered that had endured the same night as me. That 99 years on people were still remembering made my heart soar that little bit.
The group was split up then into Australians who were taken up to Lone Pine and New Zealanders who were off to Chunuk Bair. We walked up the hillside. The walk that took us 20 minutes took our soldiers 8 months to advance to that point and over the course of the war our men did not get any further. Many more graves were here including the grave of the unknown soldier. His was facing the opposite direction. A man who fought and gave his life for us and no-one claimed him or knew who he was.
I got on my tour bus back to Istanbul with my newly made friends that I had made overnight. I was sure I was going to be friends forever with these people but have never seen or heard from again. But they kept me warm and awake when they saw I was traveling solo among all the couples that were doing the tour too. The tour driver was a local and it was very interesting for me to hear their side of how Gallipoli happened.
My childhood had always painted the Turkish as the bad guys. I would have thought they would have done the same. After hearing how much more they lost than us on their own homeland was heartbreaking. The words of their leader at the time Ataturk were so touching:
“You, the mothers who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”
We made it back to Istanbul and unlike my first night that was a total disaster I managed to find the place that I was supposed to be couch surfing at instead of walking all around random streets late at night asking for directions from people who I did not speak the same language as. I had ended up getting a cab back to the main part of town and found a backpacker hostel where the staff helped me out with everything while I stood in the lobby sobbing.
Second time was luckier the lady I was staying with met me at an easy to find place and took me to her home where I stayed the night with the family, and I was fed. Their traditional breakfast is so different to ours which I discovered throughout my tour. As a vegan my options mostly consisted of sliced cucumber and tomatoes. And flavored Turkish teas became a new favorite of mine.
I spent that day while waiting for her to finish work, checking out a few places to eat and a local mosque. Another thing that was very culturally different for me was that I had to buy appropriate clothing and cover my hair before I was allowed in. There were sections only men were allowed in and I had to put my shoes in a bag. I sat in a quiet corner for almost an hour as I took in everything around me and the sheer calm that washed over the place. I befriended a local who walked me around the city as a guide. I paid a crazy amount for his guidebook and then after getting photos of me at everything I pointed at he took me to his store and tried to sell me rugs which I had no use for as a solo traveler.
With Gallipoli ticked off my Turkey bucket list it was time to continue my solo travel adventure in Turkey, through Ephesus and Pamukkale.
Trending Istanbul Tours
You might also like: Top 25 Europe Travel Adventures
Traveling to Turkey? Check out these Turkey Travel Tips
Disclosure: When you click on a link we may receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you).