This post is dedicated to women travelers who hit bumps in the road but keep going.
When I first began to write about Istanbul, I was livid. It was my second time in Istanbul, I thought I'd taken every precaution to be safe and knowledgeable, but we ended up getting scammed by taxis twice. Twice! I mean, it wasn't a lot of money, but the principle and fact that it happened was upsetting. The fact that it happened because we were tourists was maddening. The fact that it happened because we were women is enraging.
Prior to going to Turkey for my second visit, I wrote to a friend who'd lived in Istanbul and asked if he had any tips for avoiding and handling scammy (illegal) taxis. He said he'd never had any issues and so I thought maybe the issue had resolved itself since my visit six years prior. At the end of my trip it struck me-- Jamil is a tall, ethnic man. Of course he didn't have any issues. We, on the other hand, were foreign women.
Before I go on to my main point, here, here, and here are links to tips about what to look out for with taxis in Istanbul. My biggest takeaways are:
- only ride taxis with an affiliated business logo and phone number (avoid unmarked cars!!)
- avoid getting taxis in the tourist center (but if you do, have a business or hotel call one for you)
- make sure the meter is working
- have a general sense of what the ride should cost (ask a friend/local before you get in!)
- pay in small bills-- pay attention to what you give and know how much to expect back (they are known to swap bank notes when you pay)
last but most importantly: don't be afraid to speak or act up
- if you don't feel comfortable, insist they pull over and get out of the car
- if you think they've overcharging you, make a big deal. cause a scene. ask a local or business to call the police for you.
I felt like a failure for not doing these last things. I was so proud of myself for being a "seasoned" traveler. I thought I was looking for the right signs and knew what to expect. But when the moment came, I was paralyzed. I didn't know how to be forceful back when I knew we were being taken advantage of.
I won't let this stop me from traveling. The more I have negative experiences on the road, the more I'm determined to keep going. I hope you do, too. My hope is that with enough persistence and awareness, we can call them out on their bullshit when the time comes. While tourists scams are a reality of traveling, I really think that by sharing these experiences and being better prepared, things can change. Be knowledgeable, cautious, and brave on the road. Do your research and be an informed traveler. Trust your gut and call them out. This whole wild world is here for us to explore-- this is but a story from the road.
PS - Shout out to all the real Istanbul taxi drivers who aren't the scum of the earth, few and far between as you might seem.
PPS - As much as it pains me to use Uber back at home, it's a great option in large international cities.