Tips for visiting the Middle East

Tips for visiting the Middle East

The Middle East region might still be unknown to a lot of people in the West especially with the negative media that it’s getting, so if you followed the first post of the series about favourite cities in the Middle East then you are probably wondering about the things you should be aware of once you actually arrive. This post is rich with tips from expert travel bloggers, who have visited various areas of the Middle East, for you to navigate your Middle Eastern adventure safely and happily.

  1. Common sense is key.

  2. Dressing respectfully.

  3. Travelling during Ramadan (The month of fast).

  4. Five prayers and how to navigate your time.

  5. Weekend timings might be different.

  6. Same rules don’t apply everywhere.

  7. Tourism boards might have some offers!

  8. Transportation Options.

  9. Internet might be limited, so get a VPN!

Common sense is key

Pack your common sense. And never forget your smile!

Tip by: Marysia Maciocha from My Travel Affairs

Common sense is essential for every traveller! It is a basic ability to perceive, understand, and judge things and surroundings. Dress appropriately, respect religion, traditions and customs. Respect and try to understand different mentalities and mindsets. Do not impose your believes, life choices and political opinions on others. It goes a long way in the Middle Eastern countries. I'm not saying you should totally change your behaviour and be afraid to talk to people, quite opposite, I just think that trying shows respect. The smile! Smile always helps me. I think it is all about attitude. When you approach other people no matter where you are with a smile, they always smile back, are helpful and friendly.

How should women dress in Iran

Dress respectfully

Even during water activities and sports

Tip by: Jennifer from Luxe Adventure Traveler

When it comes to how to dress when visiting Oman, selecting conservative clothing is the most respectful choice. Conservative, however, doesn't mean you need to swelter under layers and be covered up from head to toe. Especially when visiting attractions like Wadi Shab, a series of incredible pools where locals and tourists alike love to escape the often punishing desert temperatures with a refreshing swim. Reaching Wadi Shab requires a short, but hot hike in to the remote oasis. While shorts and swimwear are more acceptable for male visitors in this situation, women should and will feel more comfortable covering up. Choose longer knee-length shorts and a loose fitting t-shirt to hike in. Wear your swimsuit underneath since there's no where to change once really the wadi and consider wearing a loose-fitting swim shirt. Avoid wearing revealing bikinis in order to respect the locals and the culture.


Travelling during Ramadan (The month of fast)

Tip by: Keri Hedrick from Our Globetrotters

Whilst many are aware of the general etiquettes and courtesies that must be shown when travelling to a Muslim country, they may not be aware that rules can change again during the Holy Month of Ramadan. The dates for Ramadan change each year too, as they are based on the Hijri Calendar, not the Gregorian calendar – you can check the dates here (exact dates are subject to the sighting of the moon).  

If you are visiting the popular tourist cities of Dubai or Abu Dhabi during this time (and this applies in other parts of the Middle East region), the most important rule for visitors to know is that eating in public during daylight hours is prohibited – punishable by fine, or even jail.  From sun up to sun down, tourists are requested to only eat in designated areas while Muslims are observing their daylight fast.  If you are staying in a hotel, this usually means restaurants are curtained off so non-Muslims can eat without causing offense.  In shopping mall food courts, the rules have somewhat laxed in recent years; many food courts and restaurants will remain open during Ramadan, but with partitions or curtains.    

Some of the Emirates are relaxing their rules in this regard so it pays to check with your hotel in advance what eating areas will be open if you think this will impact on your travels.  As soon as you leave your accommodation though, public eating rules are strictly enforced – this includes drinking water, chewing gum and smoking.  There are fasting exceptions for those who are travelling (hence airport food courts remain open) as well as the elderly, sick, children and those who are pregnant, breastfeeding or menstruating.  Even if you fall into one of these categories, it’s still polite to be as discreet as possible.

The great thing about visiting during Ramadan though, is being able to join in with Iftar.  This is the evening breaking of the fast.  At sundown, a cannon is fired, indicating that people may now break their fast.  It is a time of great charity and devotion for Muslims and the strict rules should not be seen as a negative, but a chance for reflection. As tourists, your job is only to create a culture whereby they can do this undisturbed.

The Grand Mosque. Image credit Keri Hedrick – Our Globetrotters

The Grand Mosque. Image credit Keri Hedrick – Our Globetrotters

Keep regular religious practices in mind

Tip by: Anwar from Beyond my Front Door

Prayer is a daily practice in a lot of Muslim countries. Although most countries will go on about their days with the prayer without that affecting timings, but in countries like Saudi, it’s important to keep that in mind and here is a tip to help you navigate your time when it comes to prayer:

Downloading a prayer time app even for non-Muslims is essential for travel or stays within the country of Saudi Arabia. Prayer times basically dictate life in Saudi Arabia. So knowing the timing of prayers is essential for any visitors or locals in the country. During the times of prayer business and restaurants are shut down for about 30 minutes from the start of the time prayer starts. Given that Muslims observe prayer 5 times a day this will affect how you go about your day or shop 
or eat outside. Essentially a visitor will have to plan when they eat out at a restaurant based on when prayer times are for that day. As of note if you have already been seated in a restaurant before the start of prayer the restaurants will allow you to stay but won't generally allow 
new patrons to enter during those times. You can find many in the app store, but Muslim Pro is probably the most used of the options.

Ps1. This probably only applies to Saudi. The rest of the Middle Eastern countries are more flexible and the opening and closing remains an individual’s choice.

Ps2. Some countries close Friday mornings for the noon Friday prayers.

Prayer Times in Saudi

Weekends might be a different

Tip from: Nitha Thomas The Trailing Mom

I had stayed in Saudi Arabia, Al Khobar city for a couple of months. During my stay, one of the things that really surprised me was the difference in the week days. I think most part of the Middle East countries have this different arrangement for weekdays and weekends. The weekend days are now Friday and Saturday (from 2013 onwards) in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Earlier on, it was Thursday and Friday. It mainly affected my Sunday video calls with family and friends who were in the other end of the world. Sunday was just a usual weekday there, where it’s a rest day in other parts of the world. So all our weekend routines, grocery shopping and other errands were adapted to fit in the new schedule. It’s good to know this beforehand and plan accordingly, just so you are aware of the office timings and shopping center open hours as well.

Weekend in Saudi Arabia - Expat in Saudi

Same rules don’t apply everywhere

Tip by: Arzo from Arzo Travels 

If you visit a country for the first time you probably read about the rules/laws and do’s and don’ts - however, please keep in mind that laws can change drastically from city to city, too. In the case of the United Arab Emirates, laws regarding alcohol are different.While it is allowed to drink alcohol in cities (emirates) like Dubai or Abu Dhabi it is forbidden in Sharjah, which borders Dubai to the north.

Yes, Sharjah and Dubai are both parts of the United Arab Emirates but rules differ - drastically. Also, the dress code is stricter. Many Dubai visitors, who plan a day trip to Sharjah, should familiarize with rules for different emirates. What is allowed in Dubai might be forbidden in Sharjah.

Sharhjah, UAE Travel Tips with Arzo Travels.jpg

Tourism boards might have some offers!

Not all tourism boards are active in the Middle East, but some have a few things on offer. For example, the Jordan pass.

Tip by: Manon van Schagen from Visiting The Dutch Countryside

The best tip I can give you when you're going to travel to Jordan is to buy the Jordan Pass. The Jordan Pass was a lifesaver when I travelled through Jordan. The country was more expensive than I expected. But did you know that when you buy the Jordan Pass you won't have to pay for your visa at arrival? Besides that, you will get free entrance at most of the sites within the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, including Petra, Wadi Rum and Jerash. The price of the ticket depends on the number of days you are planning to spend in Petra. This doesn't only save you money, but time as well. Instead of having to wait in line to buy a ticket, you can walk straight on. You can let the guards or employees scan your pass and you're settled. 

Tourism boards in the Middle East

Transportation Options

Every city in the Middle East has its own style of transportation, so it’s very important for you to research the transportation options before you go. For example, Istanbul has a great system (information below) where Saudi is still dependent on taxis.

Tip by: Jan Robinson from Budget Travel Talk

Using public transport in any strange city can be daunting. Istanbul has a comprehensive public transport system and the Istanbul Kart, an electronic card the size of a normal credit card works for payment on them all - Ferry, Bus, Metro, Funicular and Tram – including the historic tram on Istiklal Caddesi. Istanbul Kart, is pre-paid and rechargeable and available from the metro station at Istanbul Ataturk Airport (IST) and Sabiha Gokcen Airport (SAW), also at the popular Istanbul transport hubs of Eminonu and Sultanahmet.

Why Use Istanbul Kart?

It gives 40% reduction in fare up front plus further reductions when switching to other forms of transport within two hours. The one card can be used by up to five people with it simply being passed back down the line, or the previous person swiping again for the person behind them. (Subsequent reductions are not given when doing this.) The card only costs 6TL (2018) plus whatever amount you wish to add for transport, keeping in mind that most fares are around 2.30 TL.

Cash is not accepted on public transport in Istanbul so grab an Istanbul Kart and save time and money. The alternative is queuing to purchase individual electronic tickets from machines and possibly missing your ride.


Internet might be limited, so get a VPN!

By: Sarah Carter of ASocialNomad

While most of us travel with a great sense of awareness when it comes to physical awareness, we

tend to let our guard down when it comes to digital security. I always travel with and use a Virtual

Private Network when I’m connecting to public Wi-Fi networks. This is especially important in

countries when the government not only monitors, but restricts your access to certain sites.

China is famous for blocking Facebook for instance, but did you know that is blocked in Turkey? And Wikipedia too? So if you’re going to want to access everyone’s favorite

accommodation booking site you’ll need to fire up a VPN to get online.

Use a VPN to spoof your location and you’ll not only get access to these sites, but also potentially

save money when booking accommodation, flights and more. There’s the added bonus that your

data will be much more secure when you’re connected to your hotel or hostel Wi-Fi. More on how

we use a VPN to travel more safely and cheaper here.

screen shot of what happens if you try to book..

screen shot of what happens if you try to book..

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