I enjoy traveling alone. I find I am more open to meeting new people and learning about their culture, I feel more adventurous and get a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction from exploring a new part of the world by myself. The Middle East was relatively popular for Westerners to visit until security concerns became more prominent than interest in the region. The Middle East still offers incredible food, cultural experiences and amazing sites to see and I have found that with a few precautions, I feel very comfortable traveling alone to the Middle East. Women traveling alone to the Middle East can feel secure with a few precautions and common sense measures.
Women Traveling Alone to the Middle East: Location Matters
The location you travel to will dictate specific measures that you need to take. This isn’t just true for the Middle East, but for any location you wander off to. Women traveling alone to the Middle East should thoroughly research customs, precautions and expectations of women for a specific country (and even city) before traveling. For example, when I was in Dubai I hung out on the beach in a bikini without worry. I would not do that in Saudi Arabia!
Don’t push your luck. Try to blend in and live within the cultural norms. Women traveling alone to the middle east will learn more about the people and the customs and region by doing as locals do, anyway.
This pic was taken by a driver at the Coliseum in Amman, Jordan!
I found that the less conservative countries and those with a reliance Western and European tourism have a less strict dress code. That being said, dressing modestly allowed me to 1. blend in as much as I could, which afforded more opportunities to chat with locals; 2. worry less about drawing attention; 3. show respect for customs in the country and 4. stay out of the hot sun! I wore long dresses (maxi dresses were my go-to outfit), a scarf or cardigan over the dress if I wasn’t too hot, pants and tee’s. I skipped the shorts and tight clothes with the exception of the beach in Dubai.
In this photo below, I was riding a horse around Petra with gym pants, a tank top with a scarf, and a headscarf (to keep the sun off of my head, not because I “had to”).
This was my go-to dress in Amman, Jordan and a photo taken at the Dead Sea. With a scarf, I was set for just about anything.
The headscarf and shawl helped prevent sunburn (even with SPF 80) while roaming out in the hot desert
Get to Know People
One thing I learned a couple of years back was that most foreigners rely heavily on Whatsapp. I have been using it on trips ever since. I have “groups” I have created in the app with folks from cruises, other travelers on Arabian Safari’s and fellow wanderers. When I meet new people (sometimes couples that seem well intentioned), I try to exchange contact info (and possibly meet up some other time and a few times, in their home country!). Not only have we stayed in touch, but it provided some comfort and feeling of security to know I could reach someone I established rapport with abroad if I needed to.
Many of us on this Arabian Safari exchanged contact information and we maintain occasional texts to this day!
Be Aware of Your Surroundings
This is so cliche, but really holds true. Pay attention to what other women (the locals in particular) are dressing like and behaving like – and mirror them. When in doubt, add a bit more “conservativeness”. Bring a one-piece swimsuit for some beaches. Consider “woman only” taxi’s in the Emirates. I also relied heavily on paid drivers in Jordan (and most were willing to “loan me” their car, which while not suggested, was a lot of fun!). The drivers were accustomed to driving women from other countries around (and.. one can hope…are background checked!).
Other Tips for Traveling Alone in the Middle East
A friend who grew up in Jordan (but lives in the US) was there for part of my trip two years ago Fall. He suggested that I speak to the drivers as drivers and not as friends. I didn’t heed his advice, but I can see why that would be wise. They did become very “friendly” in short order, but it wasn’t difficult to manage.
One driver I worked with was super kind, in his 60s and wanted to introduce me to his daughters. After three days traveling around together, he took me to his home where his wife and daughters made food for us. He shared his concerns about the educational system and issues with the economy in Jordan.
I did wear a fake wedding ring sometimes, particularly through the desert meeting random shop owners. There was an assumption that perhaps my “husband” was back at the hotel room, and far less male interaction then.
I did run into one “issue” in Petra which taught me a lesson or two. After buying a scarf in a hotel shop, the shop owner knocked on my hotel room door at 2am. I didn’t answer and I phoned the front desk to find out what the heck was going on. He (and at least one other I could see through the hotel door peephole) left pretty quickly. He could have obtained my room number from charging a scarf to my room or from asking the front desk. That has happened in the US too. I don’t consider it a Middle East problem, more like a “man problem”. 🙂
Overall, openness created some of my best memories …. and some lessons.
Remember: I am not an expert on the Middle East, customs or norms! I am just sharing what worked for me and what I did to feel comfortable traveling there alone. Always rely on experienced sources, not on someone’s travel blog! Be sure to check out my middle east travel advice for women post.