Make packing light easy. Join the ultralight packing class waitlist.

Inspiring Books: Tales from the Expat Harem

tales of the expat harem book review

This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase using them, we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. It helps to keep this site running – thank you!

I remember the moment I added Istanbul to my travel wish list.

I was watching season 7 of The Amazing Race and was mesmerized when the teams found themselves in Turkey. It only took a few minutes of seeing the sights of Istanbul for me to tell my family, “I’m going there.”

A few years later, I decided to travel to Barcelona for two weeks with one of my best friends and I wondered where to go for the third week when I’d be traveling solo. A visit to the travel section of a nearby bookstore was all I needed for a little inspiration.

tales from the expat harem

Skipping the guidebooks, I headed straight for the personal travel tales and skimmed the rows of titles. Tales from the Expat Harem: Foreign Women in Modern Turkey practically leapt off of the shelf and into my hands. By the time I had read a few of the book’s short stories, I had easily decided that I’d take on Istanbul in what would be my second experience with solo female travel.

Tales from the Expat Harem

Tales from the Expat Harem is a collection of short, autobiographical stories from 29 women who are in the process of “reclassifying themselves” as foreign-born women now living as expats in Turkey.

Each woman shares an experience on her journey of learning about and understanding Turkish culture, comparing her previously held assumptions and traditions with those of her new home country.

Some of my favorite stories include:

  • A young independent woman struggling with her dependence on others due to the language barrier. When her mother comes for a visit, she decides the two should embark on a 3-week road trip around the country in an attempt to prove she can take care of herself and regain lost confidence.
  • The stories in the section dedicated to the hamam – the Turkish bath. Here, generations of women gather for shared experience, intimacy, socialization, and healing. One writer overcomes her shyness in the hamam while another recovers from a broken heart in the company of a trusted friend and throughout the cleansing process.
  • A young writer shares her thoughts on dating and the cultural differences in how American and Turkish men tend to initiate and pursue relationships. Her story introduced me to the strong, instant affection Turkish men may have and demonstrate after one, brief meeting – a cultural difference I later experienced during my trip to Istanbul.

Why It’s a Great Read

Tales from the Expat Harem has become one of my favorite books and is a perfect read for anyone wishing to visit Turkey or simply looking for a great female travel related read while on the road.

  • As a collection of short stories, it’s easy to pick up for a brief read on transportation days or as a quick read before bed.
  • You can start with any section you like as the stories do not build on one another.
  • Many of us like to learn about a country pre-trip aside from the traditional guide books.
  • These are REAL women’s stories. Fiction is great, but the real-life tales in this book encouraged me as a fledgling traveler.
  • It inspired an item on my bucket list – to visit a Turkish hamam. While I was too shy to go on my trip in 2008, I know I will go the next time I am in the country.

If you appreciate the transformational power of long-term travel and expat living or are looking for a little inspiration, Tales from the Expat Harem is a great addition to your packing list.

Tales from the Expat Harem

Written by Heather

Heather Rudd Palmer is a 30-something with a love for travel, food, and healthy living. After short trips to Europe in her 20s, Heather left her job at 30 to live, work, and travel in Australia for a year. She visited every state and territory, embarked on two road trips, worked at an organic food store, and ate her way through Sydney. She's now a career counselor for university students. You can find Heather at There's No Place Like Oz and Healthy Life Heather.

Add your voice & leave a comment!

Gear We Use

speakeasy hidden pocket travel scarf ad
Speakeasy Hidden Pocket Scarves


Splice Jaisalmer Reversible Tunic
Splice Reversible Jaisalmer Tunic


Eagle Creek Compression Packing Cubes
Eagle Creek Compression Packing Cubes


tom bihn 3d organizer toiletry bag
Tom Bihn 3D Organizer Cube


Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Daypack - Fits in the palm of your hand!
Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Daypack


Turkish Travel Towels


Travel Resources

HPL Learnables

Handbag Packing Masterclass – Learn to pack your lightest bag ever in this revolutionary packing class run by HPL founder, Brooke.

Creative Ways to Minimize Your Toiletry & Beauty Kit – Practical tips alongside DIY recipes designed to help you pack lighter, smaller & with fewer liquids. (Also included as a bonus to Handbag Packing Masterclass.)

Book Your Trip

Viator – Enhance your trip experience by booking from thousands of tours across the globe. – Search for hotels, hostels, and apartments using this one resource. Use it for flights, car rentals, and airport taxis as well.

Trusted Housesitters – Save money on travel accommodation by becoming a housesitter. Housesitters often have extra duties, like caring for pets and gardens.

Reader Interactions


  1. […] Tales from the Expat Harem: Foreign Women in Modern Turkey Foreign born women living in Turkey share their personal stories of love, loss, struggle, and friendship in this collection of short stories. The tales reveal each woman’s journey in learning about and embracing Turkish culture while navigating some of the challenges of being an expat. Read a review of Tales from the Expat Harem. […]

Leave A Reply