Traveling solo as a female can admittedly be scary, but certain activities push you out of your comfort zone. For me, that moment was on a marble table at a traditional hammam in coastal Turkey. I’d heard friends talk about their experiences and while I certainly had my hang ups about being scantily clad in front of a complete stranger in a foreign country, there are some things you have to try, if not just for the story.
I avoided the overpriced hammams of Istanbul, which run from 60 lira ($30 USD), and instead went to one in Fethiye in the Mediterranean.
My overland tour through the ancient sites had just ended and I needed to kill two days before my blue cruise left. A couple I had met on my trip said they were going to check out a Turkish bath in town that cost only 35 lira ($17 USD), so I tagged along. We entered the aptly named “Old Turkish Bath,” where we were greeted by the male staff. Surely there would be a woman to actually perform the bath, right? Apparently not. The hammam had only one woman on staff, so most times people were washed by men.
I decided to keep my swimsuit on after all.
We were brought to a room with marble floors and walls, which turned out to be over three hundred years old. I had no idea what the man was saying to me, but we sat in the steam room for what felt like an hour. Just as I was about to go searching for a member of the staff, he and another man, wearing towels on their bottom halves, came out and laid us on a marble slab in the center of the room. We were scrubbed from head to toe with a mitt, 25 layers of skin coming off with it. And while there were moments where hands were close to parts of my body I don’t typically yield to strangers, I never felt threatened.
After being scrubbed and rinsed, it was time for the soap cycle. One man took what looked like a pillowcase and filled it with bubbles before running it over my body. I can’t relate it to any feeling I’ve ever had, but I liked it. Then came more water, still hot, before I was led to the sink. Finally I was cooled down, with cold water poured over me and my hair washed. We were tightly wrapped up in towels on our bodies and heads, making us look like mummies.
My skin had never felt fresher, a feeling I wanted to last forever.
>>Read about solo female travel in Istanbul.
What to Expect
1. Shop around for prices. Once you get outside of the tourist areas of Istanbul, or even to any of the other towns in the country, you will find the prices to be much more reasonable.
2. Know the price ahead of time. Your masseuse may offer you extra services like a foot scrub or massage that cost more, so be aware of what you get before you undress.
3. Find out whether your person will be male or female. If you aren’t comfortable being rubbed down by a man, say so. Either wait until a woman is available or go elsewhere. With that said, the male staff at my hammam were nothing but complete professionals.
4. Clothing is optional. Go with what you’re comfortable with. Some people will be fully naked while others will be in swimsuits, so pack a swimsuit if you prefer. If your masseuse protests, just give them a firm “no.”
5. Give in to the awkwardness. Yes, it will be awkward at first, particularly if you’re like me and ticklish, but you will feel fantastic afterwards.
Have you partaken in a Turkish bath? What was your experience like?