20 Things You Must Know Before Travelling to Middle East

If your travels will be taking you to the Middle East for the first time, it’s time to do your research. While some tips might seem like common sense, others might surprise you!

20 Things You Must Know Before Travelling to Middle East, Number One: Consider Your Options.
If you’re in the beginning stages of planning a trip to the middle east, weigh your options. What draws you to the Middle East? The Middle East is so diverse, with so many different nations, languages, religions and cultures. Narrow down your choices by learning a little bit about what makes each country unique, and go from there.

20 Things You Must Know Before Travelling to Middle East, Number Two: Know the Language.
When travelling to some of the major cities, you can get by on English alone but it’s certainly beneficial to learn important words and key phrases. If you’re planning on staying for an extended period of time, or travelling off the beaten path, you will need to know at least the basics of the language spoken there.

Women in Tehran

Women in Tehran

20 Things You Must Know Before Travelling to Middle East, Number Three: Know the Dress Code.
Some cities in the Middle East will be more relaxed than others – that goes double for resort towns. But in other places in the Middle East, when you’re going about your day in public you’ll need to be appropriately dressed for the situation from the moment you step off your plane. If you’re a woman, prepare for your arrival into the Middle East with a scarf to cover your hair. Clothing that is modest and loose is a respectful choice for men and women. There will be plenty of places where covering yourself is unnecessary, so find out what the expectations are in your destination before you go.

20 Things You Must Know Before Travelling to Middle East, Number Four: Rules of Affection.
Depending on where you’ll be, it can be a huge faux pas to show any affection to your partner in public such as hugging and kissing, and same sex relationships can even land you in legal trouble. In some cities, unwed couples aren’t allowed to walk together, and men and women will have segregated areas. Do your research, and know exactly how you are expected to behave with your partner before making a social blunder or worse.

20 Things You Must Know Before Travelling to Middle East, Number Five: Other Social Behaviour.
You may be traveling solo, or with friends, and therefore aren’t worried about public displays of affection being a problem. However, it’s still important to understand acceptable social behaviour. In Iran, for example, it’s strange and suspicious to see a woman on her own. As always, it all boils down to the region you’re travelling to – another example of how diverse the Middle East actually is.

20 Things You Must Know Before Travelling to Middle East, Number Six: The More You Understand About Gender Roles, the Better.
The role that each gender plays can be deeply rooted in religion in the majority of the Middle East, so it’s not surprising that it comes up several times in this list! Respecting local culture is key, and this might mean that you will be seated at a different table from your partner when eating in someone’s home. Women might find that their male companions are the only ones addressed in public. In other regions of the Middle East, you’ll find gender roles aren’t quite so structured.

20 Things You Must Know Before Travelling to Middle East, Number Seven: Plan for the Climate.
Know the times of year your destination will be the hottest or coolest, and plan your activities accordingly. A summer in the city of Muscat, Oman will have you seeking out the closest air conditioned building instead of seizing the opportunity to see the sights – but a beautiful fall day in Jerusalem is comfortable and perfect for stepping outdoors.

20 Things You Must Know Before Travelling to Middle East, Number Eight: Research the Local Food.
Even if you aren’t a foodie, take it upon yourself to try something new. You might never again get the opportunity to savour a delicious authentic dish in the city you’re traveling to, so it’s worth checking out what the local cuisine has to offer that you can’t get back home. It’s all part of the adventure!

20 Things You Must Know Before Travelling to Middle East, Number Nine: Know What You’ll Need.
Some countries require a visa before you can enter, some require an authorization code as well as a visa. If you’re planning on driving, you might need an international driver’s license. If you’re a woman planning on driving in Saudi Arabia, make other plans altogether! The bottom line is to check with authorities in the beginning stages of your vacation planning to make sure you won’t be left scrambling for some last minute paperwork.

20 Things You Must Know Before Travelling to Middle East, Number Ten: Know Which Countries Are Off Limits.
If you’re travelling through Israel, don’t expect to make your merry way to Iran without hassles. For one thing, you won’t even be able to get into Iran from Israel, as the two countries aren’t exactly buddies, and if you have any passport documentation of your visit to Israel you’ll hopefully just get sent back the way you came instead of being detained and questioned. A good number of countries, America and Canada included, must enter Iran as a part of an organized tour group.

20 Things You Must Know Before Travelling to Middle East, Number Eleven: Know Which Cities Are Off Limits.
To put it bluntly, unless you are of Muslim faith, you’re not going to Mecca any time soon. You won’t be able to see inner Medina, either.

20 Things You Must Know Before Travelling to Middle East, Number Twelve: Be Open-Minded.
Cultural practices that differ from your own can be tough to swallow sometimes, especially if they fly in the face of everything you believe to be right and just.

Diverse landscapes - Jordan

Diverse landscapes – Jordan

Travelling to the Middle East can be an extreme culture shock to many, but make it a good experience by being open-minded to the cultural practices, religions and social expectations you encounter. For example, some seasoned female travelers through the Middle East have expressed gratitude in being able to get to know local women so personally and bonding through social expectations such as being segregated together in daily activities. In other countries you might not even have a single real conversation with a local while going about your travels in your own little tourist bubble.

20 Things You Must Know Before Travelling to Middle East, Number Thirteen: Educate Yourself About Religion.
It’s crucial to know a thing or two about the faith(s) where you’ll be travelling, as these religious beliefs will affect the world around you more than you might realize.  Sharia law is strictly adhered to in some countries, and more loosely followed in others. Respect for the religion wherever you are travelling is key, and remember to behave and dress appropriately and respectfully when visiting any holy and religious sites.

20 Things You Must Know Before Travelling to Middle East, Number Fourteen: Alcohol Consumption.
Again, depending on where you’re travelling to in the Middle East, you might find that the alcohol pours freely – resort towns where many Europeans relax on the beach will be very different from Tehran. Of course many people in places where alcohol is prohibited actually still drink, it’s just not a socially acceptable way to spend your time publicly – if it’s done, it’s done behind closed doors at home. Understand where and when it’s okay to enjoy a drink – and why not learn how to socialize the way the locals do while you’re there.

20 Things You Must Know Before Travelling to Middle East, Number Fifteen: Understand Transportation.
Before you set off on your Middle East adventures, know how you’re going to be getting from point A to point B. Even if you already know you’ll be hiring a taxi, find out the best places to get one. Know where the taxis are cheaper – this tends to be in areas farther away from tourist hot spots. Settle on a cost of the trip before you go anywhere. Have a clear understanding of any other methods of transportation you’ll be relying on, whether it’s train, bus or tram, and be safe. In some regions it’s not considered safe for females to take a taxi alone.

20 Things You Must Know Before Travelling to Middle East, Number Sixteen: Know the Hot Spots.
This might be a given for anyone planning a vacation, but make a list of the country’s top attractions and read up on them. The more you understand about a hot spot, the more you’ll get out of it once you see it in person. A trip to the ancient city of Petra will be much more rewarding if you’ve educated yourself about the history of the region beforehand.

Sand castles in Israel

Sand castles in Israel

20 Things You Must Know Before Travelling to Middle East, Number Seventeen: Every Country in the Middle East is Different.
It’s common for many who have never traveled to the Middle East before to think of the entire region as one big homogeneous blob on the map. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Not only are the countries themselves very different from each other, but regions and cities within the countries can vary drastically in terms of cultures, geography, history, and leisure activities.

20 Things You Must Know Before Travelling to Middle East, Number Eighteen: The Middle East is Generally Safe, But Take Warnings Seriously.
You’re probably not going to run into any troubles that are different from anywhere else in the world, especially in countries such as Turkey, Jordan, and Israel. Be mindful of your activities, just as you would anywhere else in the world, and pay attention to travel advisories from your government. Heed any warnings locally, and keep away from areas of civil unrest. Follow the laws, keep yourself safe as you would in your own country, and you’ll find that travel in the Middle East can be a safe way to spend a holiday.

20 Things You Must Know Before Travelling to Middle East, Number Nineteen: Know What to Shop For.
Traditional clothing, ceramics, jewelry, textiles and rugs – these are just some of the quintessential Middle Eastern souvenirs to take home from your travels. Look into what kinds of locally made crafts are produced in the places you’re planning to visit, so you can support the local economy and take home an authentic piece of the country you’ve visited.

20 Things You Must Know Before Travelling to Middle East, Number Twenty: Ask, and Explore.
Understand that the majority of people you encounter on your travels through the Middle East will be genuinely happy to help you out, point you in the right direction, share knowledge about their country, and have a friendly chat. Be sure to tell them what you love about their home land – after spending a few days or weeks in the Middle East you’re sure to be compiling a list of the interesting sights you’ve seen, food you have tasted, music you have heard, and celebrations you’ve encountered. Follow your instincts, get to know the many different people and their diverse cultures, immerse yourself into the traditions and don’t be afraid to enjoy yourself and explore the exciting and beautiful cities and landscapes the Middle East has to offer.

For more ways to prepare your vacation, visit Travel Planning category.