Istanbul, and Letting Go of Travel Anxiety


At the end of a three month backpacking trip, my friends and family all asked me which city was the most interesting that I had seen. I have never hesitated in my answer -- Istanbul. 

On its own, Istanbul is an incredible and beautiful city, but it sticks out for me in particular because it did not meet any of my preconceived notions. I traveled to Turkey in the summer of 2014 -- just a year after the Gezi Park protests and less than a year before terrorism spiked across the nation. It was an incredibly politically tense time, and I had a great number of worries before stepping off the plane in Istanbul.

By this time I had been backpacking for two months throughout Europe, and Turkey marked my passage into Asia where I would spend another month backpacking. I was nervous that the cultural, language, and religious differences between the places I had already seen and the areas I had yet to explore would be overwhelming, and that I would have a harder time making friends. My parents and friends back home worried that there would be violence, and that I would be swept up in it or targeted by it as an outsider. My fears raced through my mind as I navigated the streets of Istanbul on my first day, laden down by my heavy backpack and thoughts.

But what waited for me was entirely different than anything I could imagine. The people were friendlier and more welcoming than most I had met in Europe. They were excited to share their culture, their history, and their religion with me. What’s more, I felt safer in Istanbul than I had in most of Europe due largely to the deep respect that Muslims here have for women. My Turkish teachers and friends showed me their country and taught me their traditions, and I was consistently pleasantly surprised.

Istanbul has an energy and a beauty that is unlike any other place I have been. Its long history of global importance and prominence has made it a deeply proud and illustrious city. The architecture alone is breathtaking with huge, orate mosques and homes. I was flooded by a sense of my own smallness standing outside sites like the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. I found myself overwhelmed thinking of the the millions of people throughout history who had walked along the shores of the Bosphorus Strait, and the many times that this waterway had changed history. As the only city in the world that is split between two continents (Europe and Asia), Istanbul has been influenced for hundreds of years by both Eastern and Western tradition. The people, the food, and the culture are an intense and wonderful combination of both, and it left me craving to be a part of it all.

For these reasons, and so many more, Istanbul stole my heart and constantly has my mind racing back to the things I saw, did, and learned there.

Read more about my time in Istanbul here

CultureKatie WatsonComment