Six years ago, I was given the opportunity to visit Istanbul along with the rest of my classmates during a spring semester abroad in Italy. Completely organized by our university, the 5-day trip in May was scheduled for the week before we had to return home to the States. I couldn’t wait to visit the Turkish city that was once the capital of three, powerful empires.
Then, life happened and I forego the “free” Istanbul trip to stay in Italy. (Read here to see why!)
Of course, for me, it was the most logical thing to do (…but logic obviously goes out the window when you think with your heart, and not your head!). At the time, I didn’t think much of the trip that I missed out on; I figured I’d get there eventually. However, the socio-political climate in Turkey has changed substantially since then, and I mistakenly allowed my own fears to prevent me from ever visiting.
…until about three weeks ago. I found myself searching for cheap flights (on, nonetheless, cheapflights.com!) after realizing I’d be alone for the entire weekend from April 6th until April 8th. Rocco, my boyfriend, was going away for the weekend, so I thought it’d be the perfect opportunity to visit a new city. It hadn’t hit me that I’d be traveling alone for the first time in my life. I had, obviously, taken train rides and flights by myself countless times before, but I always had someone waiting on the other side. This time, I’d arrive to my destination and spend three nights/four days with just me, myself and I.
I immediately started brainstorming, bursting with excitement and frantically researching nearby cities that I had never been to. (If you didn’t know this about me, I detest visiting the same foreign city twice!) I narrowed my choices down to three: Lisbon, Copenhagen and Istanbul. Lisbon was the top contender because I greatly admire the Portuguese culture, the weather was going to be fantastic and–most importantly–I had never been before. Unfortunately, flights were very expensive, so I decided to look north. Traveling to Copenhagen from Milano was surprisingly very affordable, and although I had never been to Denmark before, the snow in the forecast deterred me from booking.
That left Istanbul. I had only heard wonderful things about the city, and the weather in April looked extremely promising. I also had never traveled that far east before, so the rush of adrenaline that ensued as I clicked the ‘Purchase Ticket’ button was warranted.
When I told my loved ones about my trip, I was met with intense trepidation and many a “ARE YOU CRAZY?!”
Maybe I was (am).
Honestly, I have always admired people–especially women–who travel abroad alone. I had never considered myself one of ‘them’, especially because I am a planner to my core and usually don’t perform well under pressure. In fact, just thinking about something going wrong without anyone I know to assist me gives me severe agida. What if I missed my flight? What if I got lost? Got robbed? How can one manage without speaking the local language? Without knowing the social norms? Without knowing anyone?!
A little over a week before my departure date, even I started to let my nerves get the best of me. Although I tried so hard not to, I couldn’t help but think of some of the horrific events that occurred in Istanbul in 2016. Then, I came across this amazing photo diary by travel blogger, and total badass, Christina Guan. She departed alone for a weekend in Istanbul literally two days after the January 2016 suicide bombing in the heart of the old city. After reading about her candid experience as a solo female traveler in the city (and viewing her absolutely stunning photos), I felt so much more at ease and sincerely couldn’t wait to touch down in Turkey.
Now that I’m back in Milano, I am so, so, so happy that I was able to experience the magic of Istanbul first-hand. I’m proud of myself for facing my fears and silencing the cynical voices in my head urging me not to go. Traveling alone is scary, absolutely; but, it’s also incredibly exhilarating and liberating.
If I had not gone to Istanbul, I would have never dined at a widely famous restaurant that will be featured on the next season of Chef’s Table on Netflix. If I had not gone to Istanbul, I would have never had the opportunity to traverse two continents in one day. If I had not gone to Istanbul, I would have never met fellow travelers with the most extraordinary stories–a teenager fresh out of high school exploring Eastern Europe alone, a group of courageous Dutch guys biking from Istanbul to China, a wonderful family of four who had been trekking the world for a month.
I will forever cherish this trip; if not for the exquisite food, breathtaking sights and exceptional Turkish hospitality (which will all be discussed in Part II!), but for the memories that will last a lifetime, with some of the most inspirational people I’ve ever met.