Here’s the next in my series of advice for how to make the most of certain areas of the world, and this time, it is essential tips for women traveling in the Middle East. As always, I have taken the advice from the most reliable sources, as well as from personal experience and it is general, non-country specific advice. Although some of the region is best avoided completely at times (at the time of writing Syria and Egypt should not be on your travel list) with these tips for women traveling in the Middle East, you can enjoy an amazing experience in a beautiful, culturally rich and fascinating area of the world.
1. Tone down Your Personality a Little
You may be the life of the party at home, but one of the essential tips for girl travelers in the Middle East is to tone is down a little to avoid unwanted attention! This is not to say that you can’t be yourself, but do your best to be more reserved. If this doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, then perhaps the Middle East isn’t the holiday destination for you.
2. Don’t Travel Alone
One of the most commonly ignored tips for female travelers in the Middle East is to not travel alone. This is important as Middle Eastern men are generally not comfortable speaking to and dealing with western women, and it is also considered strange in most areas for a woman to go places alone, which may result in you drawing unwanted interest. Your best bet if you have to travel alone however is to make a male friend back at your accommodation and drag him along with you during your Middle Eastern excursions and shopping adventures.
3. Have a Fake Husband
Although this may sound like a strange piece of advice for girls traveling in the Middle East, it’s not a bad idea to mention your “husband” if you get into a sticky or uncomfortable situation – even if you’re not married. If you are travelling with a male friend or boyfriend, it’s also not a bad idea to be “married” whilst you’re in the Middle East, as according to Sharia Law, women should not be alone with a man that they’re not related to.
4. Avoid Public Displays of Affection
One of the most important tips for females travelling in the Middle East is to avoid public displays of affection. What may seem like something completely harmless to you and the man in question, could potentially offend the locals, and in some cases even end you up in seriously hot water. Places like Dubai are really severe about enforcing this, which in some cases has resulted in “offenders” being jailed, so be respectful and keep it behind closed doors!
5. Dress Conservatively
A great way for females travelling in the Middle East to show that they respect the local culture is to dress in an appropriate manner, even if covering up in hot weather can often be rather challenging. Generally women are expected to be covered from their shoulders to their knees, meaning that three quarter pants or trousers and a non-revealing t-shirt are ok. If you plan on visiting a mosque however, you will be also required to wear a head scarf, and long gown (although these are often available on site).
6. Avoid Alcohol
Alcohol is strictly controlled in the Middle East, with people in many areas requiring a special alcohol license to drink at home. It is consequently prudent for girl travelers in the Middle East to limit their alcohol consumption, or better yet, not drink at all. The number of drink spikings, date rape cases and people going to jail for being drunk in public, should however, be enough to put most people off over indulging whilst abroad.
7. Pack Hand Sanitizer
Hand sanitizer is an absolute must for female travelers in the Middle East, as toilet paper is generally not available in restrooms located outside of major hotels. You may therefore find yourself reaching for your hand sanitizer on a rather regular basis while you’re out and about! Having a pack of tissues in your bag at all times is sensible. Also, it is a very good idea to pack enough personal sanitary products if your period is due to happen on your trip. Some places even advise that you pack nappy disposal bags for soiled product.
8. Choose Your Destinations Carefully
Girl travelers in the Middle East will find their trip a lot more pleasant if they choose their holiday destinations carefully. For example, if you would prefer not to have to deal with the extremely strict Muslim cultures of regions such as Saudi Arabia or Iran, you may like to head to countries such as the Lebanon or the touristy areas of the United Arab Emirates. While you still need to be respectful of Sharia Law in these regions, the locals are certainly a little more forgiving.
9. Respect Local Customs
Female travelers in the Middle East will find that respecting local customs such as gender segregation on public transport, or not importing and reading women’s magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Vogue and US Weekly, is a great way to keep themselves out of trouble. Although these requirements may seem a little alien to most western holiday makers, they are strictly enforced, so when in Rome….
Females should not feel discouraged about traveling to the Middle East. Like with most places that are a different culture to your own, it is a case of understanding what you should and shouldn’t do and adjust accordingly. Where have you been in the Middle East? What was your experience like?