In 2008 I boarded a plane by myself to move to Turkey, a country I had never been to before, for at least two years.
Even though I was a well-traveled college graduate, I see now my innocence in making such a big move just one year out of university.
And you know what?
The solo move to Turkey was one of the best decisions I have ever made, and it's one of the reasons I now live here again today.
I love this country, what I know and what I have yet to discover. But if it's your first time and you're on your own, here are seven wonderful Turkish cities that would make a great starting point for your travels.
I may be a little partial since I live in Izmir, but this city of 4 million is filled with worthwhile sights. Climb a castle to see the vast city, shop the scaled down 'Grand Bazaar' in Kemeraltı district or ride a ferry across the bay to explore local residential areas.
Izmir is your ideal stop if you're a lover of history and archaeology. Founded by the Trojans and known as the birthplace of Homer, the city was governed by many rulers until it finally came under the dominion of the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century. Today it is a city whose vibe is positively Mediterranean, with plenty to do or to use as a base to travel to the ancient cities of Ephesus and the salt deposit of Pamukkale.
The 'salt pools' of Pamukkale are made of limestone and are rich with calcium, their waters dripping down to collect in pools. There's nothing new here - people have been flocking to these thermal waters for over 2000 years.
Want to experience a city of 20 million people?
The city of Istanbul is the only trans-continental city in the world!
Once the old city of Constantinople, prowl the neighborhood of Sultanahmet and its Grand Bazaar, Hagia Sophia, the city cisterns, Topkapı Palace, the Archeological Museum, the Blue Mosque...
But my favorite places to explore are outside the area. Enjoy a cruise up the Bosphorus while keeping an eye on both Asian and European sides of the city.
Eat a sweet waffle and kumpir (stuffed potato) in Örtaköy, and tour the ancient lookout tower of Rumeli Hisar. Better yet, grab a food tour and eat your way across two continents.
Having been here three times, I think it is a perfect destination any time of year. This former area of Galatia is home to underground cities where Christians used to hide from Ottoman invaders, and to above-ground rock formations with cave churches. Choose from the many cave hotels and restaurants and enjoy a hot air balloon ride to see the sights from above.
Although some will tell me the warmer weather is better, I think it is great location even during the winter.
Ankara is the political heart of Turkey and its capital, having taken over from Istanbul/Constantinople when modern Turkey was founded in 1923. If you are a historian, choose from several museums, Ankara Castle (over 1000 years old) and most of all, the remarkable mausoleum commemorating the life of Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey.
Every August this city has a special summer festival. Usually, five different mountain villages open their home to visitors, feed everyone, and then enjoy a relaxing evening dancing and visiting. While the logistics are somewhat difficult to figure out for the festival, it is well worth it if you can. (This article can give you a bit of a feel.) The area is in northeastern Turkey near Georgia and the landscape consists of forested cliffs that drop off into the sea. Visit the Rize tea fields and factories, see the Sumela Monastery, and stay in a beautiful summer villa in an area that reminds me of Austria and Switzerland.
For sea lovers, Fethiye is a wonderful resort area. Options range from sun-bathing at the beach, sailing the sea, or explore the nearby deserted Greek village of Karakoy - hopping a boat is easy here.
If you want to venture outside Turkey for a day trip, a short ferry ride will take you to the Greek island of Rhodes, hugely popular among both Europeans and Turks in summer. That said, Fethiye won't be your first choice if you're looking for a more local, cultural experience.
Bodrum, known in Antiquity as Halicarnassus, sits right across from the Greek island of Kos, which you can visit by ferry or hydrofoil for the day. It is popular for its beaches and resorts but also has major cultural and historical sights. These include Bodrum Castle, Bodrum Amphitheater and the Mausoleum, one of the original seven wonders of the world. Spend your day strolling around the small downtown area, filled with lovely shops and restaurants.
So yes, Turkey has long been a second home to me, the place I learned to be a single female adult. These cities are only a starting point... please come, and discover the rest for yourself!
The news surrounding Turkey saddens me.
There are definitely major problems here (as there are in many other countries), but the people are strong and sensitive. Most Turks I have come to know are generous and welcoming to any guest. Countless times I have found myself sitting in a shop enjoying a local çay (or tea) with someone I'd just met earlier that day, or getting invited into someone's home for dinner.
Plus, the foreign currency exchange rate has never been better. As Turkish is the national language, I would suggest sticking with the larger, well-traveled cities where English is more widely known. If you would like to explore the remote areas, consider booking a tour with a Turkish tour group (it's what the Turks do too).
With the right amount of research and thoughtfulness, you can enjoy traveling solo and safely through almost all areas of Turkey. As a foreigner it is even more safe for you.
These safety tips will see you through a lot more than seven cities - the entire country, in fact. Just remember that not all of Turkey is accessible, especially in the eastern border area because of the war in Syria. As for the rest of the country, it's open for business, and just waiting for yours.
Catie Funk is an American expat who lives with her husband in Izmir, Turkey. She is a travel writer, part-time language learner and co-host of The FunkTravels Podcast. Before moving to Turkey, Catie coordinated university study abroad programs to multiple international locations, and spent the last five years living in Istanbul and Afghanistan. split the last five years living in, and she has lived five years between Turkey (Istanbul) and Afghanistan. Visit Funk Travels to listen to her podcast and read up on her expat lifestyle, local events and travels.