The Middle East is one of the most underrated travel destinations in the world, and travellers are really starting to take notice. After the political unrest of 2011 left the tourism industry deflated, the numbers have steadily been increasing since 2012. Fast forward to 2018, when the World Tourism Organization Barometer reported a 5% increase in tourism to the Middle East, and it’s become clear many countries in the Middle East are ready to make their big comeback, and for reasons far beyond the stabilizing political climate.
Modern travellers are becoming more curious in the age of information, and they’re tired of chasing after cliches. So it only makes sense that the Middle East is popping up on the radar of a new generation of explorers. Ask yourself, where else in the world can you ride a camel through the desert to reach one of the oldest landmarks humankind has ever known? Where else can you spend hours exploring one of the oldest cities on earth but then let loose at a beachside cabana come nightfall? This region of the world is definitively charming but as all good travellers know, with a change of culture comes an adjustment to your travel style, and the Middle East is no exception.
How to travel safely in the Middle East
While the Middle East may have a reputation for being an unsafe place to travel, the political unrest has begun to settle and tourism is enjoying a rebirth. But just as you would with any destination, planning and research will help ensure your trip is safe and avoids situations that may be dangerous. For women, research and planning are absolutely essential, regardless of where you’re going. So here are some things to consider to ensure you travel safely throughout the Middle East.
Consult your government’s travel advisories
These resources are made for travellers to ensure safety while abroad. For women travelling to the Middle East, being aware of what these channels have to say can help inform your planning and help you make decisions before booking anything.
Travel with a reputable tour company
Tour companies are experts in their regions, meaning they know where it’s safe, what to avoid, and how to help you get the most out of your travels. Save the hassle and consider booking with a tour company. Their number one priority is ensuring you a safe adventure abroad.
Understand the culture
The Middle East is vastly different than most places you’ve likely travelled to. Their religions, cultures, norms, and attitudes are nothing like America, Europe, Asia or Australia. It’s important to understand the culture and even more important to respect it.
Best places to visit in the Middle East
The Middle East is a large region, covering multiple countries and dozens of famous cities. This diversity and the sheer volume of things to see makes deciding where to go a bit of a tricky decision. That being said, here’s a list of some of the most popular (and safest) countries for women visiting the Middle East.
1. The United Arab Emirates
Including iconic cities such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Ras Al Khaimah, this is a must-see country for any female adventure travellers out there. From sky diving to the longest zip line in the world, there’s so much to do and endless amounts of experiences to be enjoyed.
Want to experience the UAE? We recommend booking United Arab Emirates Expedition.
Jordan is perhaps one of the most beautiful and historically charged countries in the Middle East. Home to one of the UNESCO World Heritage site, Petra Archaeological Park, Jordan is ideal for ladies looking to connect with a history that’s as old as we are.
Experience Jordan on tour with Highlights of Jordan
Lebanon is home to some of the most lively nightlife, regardless of the more traditional standards of Middle Eastern countries. DJs from all over the world are constantly visiting Beirut, making it a great destination for women who like to spend their nights dancing away their worries. Plus during the day, the country is home to some iconic archaeological wonders guaranteed to spark your curiosity.
Experience the best of Lebanon on tour with Lebanon Explorer
No list of Middle Eastern destinations would be complete without Egypt. This country is for the history buffs, as most itineraries are jam-packed with days that celebrate ancient Egyptian culture, accomplishments, and world-famous architecture.
Don’t miss out on Egypt. Go touring with the Egypt Nile Jewel tour
Israel is one of the most famous countries in the world thanks to its rich religious history and complicated past. Thousands of tourists flock here each year to experience the specific wonders of Jerusalem, making it a great destination for any women looking to connect with their religious or spiritual roots.
Experience all of Israel on tour with Discover Israel & the Palestinian Territories
What to wear: Middle East dress code
How female travellers dress throughout these countries goes a long way in determining how they are treated, as well as the level of security and comfort they can expect. For the most part, expect to dress modestly wherever you go. Follow these simple clothing tips and you should expect your travels to be without trouble.
Dress as the locals do (mostly)
Looking around and seeing how the local women dress is a great indication of what the expectations are. If you notice that women are more covered, you should try to match their level of modesty.
Cover the big four: upper legs, arms, shoulders, and cleavage
As a general best practice, assume these four main areas should be covered. If where you’re visiting is hot, consider packing clothes that are breathable so you remain comfortable and covered.
Bring a scarf
It’s amazing what a scarf can do, whether it’s covering your neckline, hiding your shoulders, or slipping over your head while you’re visiting holy places. Bring one or two scarfs or shawls that will allow you to adapt on the move.
Avoid anything that fits too tight
You don’t want clothes that cling to your body, so opt for pants and tops that are flowy and not form-fitting. Tight jeans, tank tops, and yoga pants may spark unwanted attention.
Be respectful at the beach
Lots of the beach resorts and touristy destinations are more accepting of suggestive fashion, but why bother risking it? Bring a one-piece and a cover-up to remain respectful while exploring the beaches of the Middle East.
Shop on the go
If you arrive somewhere and you notice the women are all sporting a particular look, there’s no shame in buying something that will help you fit into the culture and routine. If anything, the locals will appreciate your commitment to following in their footsteps.
Ask your tour company beforehand
It makes packing a lot easier when you know what to bring and what not to bring, so have no shame in asking your tour operator for a packing list what do’s and dont’s for your specific destination.
You’ve probably realized that everything we’ve said so far is applicable to travellers, regardless of gender. But sometimes, there are wise words fit only to a woman’s ears. Read our last few pieces of advice below and you’ll be 100% ready for your trip.
Bring your own feminine hygiene products
It’s a lot easier to pack some extras just in case than it is trying to explain to a pharmacist that you’re in need. For any women who travel, menstrual cups have become the product of choice due to their adaptability, discreetness and reusability.
Don’t wander alone at night
This advice goes without saying for any woman anywhere. It’s not a good idea to put yourself in a situation that could become dangerous, so travel with others if you want to go out at night.
Avoid direct physical contact
It seems like a strange piece of advice, but even a friendly arm touch to say thank you could be misinterpreted. Don’t be afraid to be friendly with the locals, but do respect the “touch barrier” and keep physical contact to a minimum.
Don’t draw attention to yourself
Lots of women who travel are naturally outgoing and confident, but in the Middle East, women are reserved, “lady-like” in the traditional sense, and more or less quiet. Overly outgoing behaviour can make you seem aggressive, so try to remain at the same level of reservation as your local female counterparts.
Find the “Family Section” in restaurants
While you may not notice it at first, many Middle Eastern countries have family sections and a section only for men in restaurants and public transportation. To avoid the irritation of locals, opt for the family section whenever you can. They tend to be more comfortable anyway.
If you’re with a boyfriend, say he’s your husband
This is a suggestion that’s entirely up to each woman, but travelling or staying in the same hotel room as a boyfriend is not widely accepted in the Middle East. It’s a lot easier to say you’re married if you’re travelling with a boyfriend or even a male friend.
If you’re planning a trip somewhere to the Middle East, have no fear. With a tour company, your safety is always the biggest concern. And after a few days, the culture shock will be behind you and you’ll find yourself in the midst of an adventure, unlike anything you’ve experienced before!
Are you a woman who’s travelled in the Middle East and have tips worth sharing? Let us know in the comments.