Let’s just clear something up right away: Traveling safely through the Middle East is completely possible. And you can do it by yourself, if you so choose.
The Middle East is an incredibly exciting region to visit, which is often unfairly treated with trepidation by the travel community. There are naturally some areas which should be avoided, particularly for women travelers, but this is not to say that you should steer clear completely.
First-timers to the Middle East should try Dubai, any of the other Emirate states for a more Westernized environment. For an ancient Berber-inspired adventure, consider last minute holidays to Egypt, Morocco or Tunisia. And nothing beats seeing the glorious sandstone of Jordan’s Red City of Petra for the first time.
With the right precautions, women travelers can enjoy the best of the whole region, and relax in relative obscurity. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when traveling in the Middle East.
Learn Some Arabic Phrases
Knowing how to say ‘no thank you’, ‘how much is it?’ and ‘can you speak any English?’ will really help with daily interactions. Your trump card is ‘As-salaam alaykum’ or ‘peace be upon you’. This greeting is likely to get a positive response from whoever you say it to.
Wear a Wedding Ring
Pretending to be married and wearing a wedding ring may sound odd, but it may save a whole lot of extra bother in the Middle East. By putting on a wedding ring, you signify that you’re taken and avoid unwanted attention from men and also questions and queries into your marital status, something that’s of big importance in this part of the world.
Buddying up as two women traveling together allows you to be invited into family homes, something that you couldn’t do if you were by yourself. Having someone by your side to experience all of the new sights, foods and customs can also be a blessing for company.
It’s incredibly bright and hot in this part of the world, so sunglasses are essential for practical reasons. More than that though, they allow you to look upon your environment without direct eye contact with members of the opposite sex, avoiding confrontation or misunderstanding.
Head Towards the Family Section
On public transport and in public spaces such as shopping centres, food courts and restaurants, there’s generally a section for families to sit, or women and children, separate from the men’s seating. You don’t need to be a part of a family to sit there, but it’s good etiquette and will make you feel more comfortable.
Dress to the Trends of the Country
In the Gulf areas, there’s a tendency to wear all black attire. However in other parts of the Middle East, such as the Levant, there’s a trend towards colourful, vibrant and playful burqas. In big cities the attire is more westernised but still conservative, and in most cases, dressing with arms, shoulders and legs covered is advisable. You may need to cover your hair in some destinations. The best advice is to research what’s appropriate when crossing any borders.
Of course, it definitely pays to seek out country-specific information before you go. There are general tips which will help you to travel safely through the middle east, but this is a region of diverse and exciting nations, each one with its own customs, people and unique sights.
Have you traveled through the Middle East? What were your experiences like?
Abour the author: Olivia Hellingsworth is a travel writer for whom no place should be left unexplored. She is currently on her 56thcountry and still counting.