Many females traveling alone think twice about visiting the Middle East. The concerns are not totally unfounded. There is political unrest, highly conservative politics, and most of all, some laws that restrict women from having the same liberties as men. That being said, if you’re a girl traveling solo and have taken interest in the Middle East, it can be a truly worthwhile and fulfilling experience. The amount of history, culture, and gorgeous nature make it worth any bit of extra effort you might have to put in. Of course, simple common sense is a must in terms of safety and comfort for anyone traveling, especially for those traveling alone. The following tips for solo female travelers in the Middle East are good pieces of advice to add on top of common sense to make your adventure as seamless as possible.
Choose your clothing wisely
An important way to stay safe and not attract extra attention to yourself while traveling in the Middle East is to blend in. In the Middle East, blending in means dressing conservatively regardless of if it is blistering hot out. Generally speaking, this means wearing clothes that cover your shoulders, have a high neckline, and that fall at least to your knees. This will keep much of the unwanted remarks or glares you might get at bay, particularly if you go off the beaten path. It’s also a smart plan to always keep a scarf (pashmina) with you if you need to cover up your shoulders or hair to enter a mosque. Many mosques frequented by tourists don’t necessarily require covered hair and shoulders for tourists, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. You won’t want to miss checking out the insides of many of the stunning and historical mosques the Middle East boasts.
Be your socially-reserved self
Just as with dressing in revealing clothing, eye contact with a male stranger in the Middle East can easily send him the wrong signal. While you might not agree with the politics of this, this simple tip will help to keep you safe and comfortable as a woman traveling alone in the Middle East. Wearing dark sunglasses can be particularly useful in this regard. Along the same lines, just being socially conservative in general is a good idea. This means keeping touching to a minimum with locals, especially men. Shaking hands is acceptable, but hugs not so much. It means keeping your voice down in public places, even if you’re out on the town having a grand old time. It means understanding that alcohol is not treated the same way in the Middle East as other parts of the world, and abiding by the laws and social norms of where you are. In some places, alcohol is entirely illegal. In others, you can get it at a bar or even a supermarket. By being reserved in your public behavior, you are both showing respect to the local culture and keeping unnecessary attention off of you.
Connect with women
Connecting with other women while traveling solo is always a good idea no matter where you are. This might mean finding other female travelers to spend your days with or even connecting with local women if possible. These days, through social media, you might even be able to find specific local women or women’s groups to connect with, and that is almost a surefire way to enhance your experience of the place. If you ever find yourself needing help, whether it’s because you’re lost, confused, or feeling uncomfortable or unsafe, reaching out to women around is your best bet for getting back on track.
Pay attention to areas separated by gender
Many Middle Eastern public transit vehicles (like trains and metros) and restaurants have areas that are reserved for women. These make it an easy and convenient way to keep yourself comfortable and safe while solo exploring. Lots of restaurants also have female-only sections. These gendered areas are meant to keep women safe and prevent unwanted male attention coming their way. You won’t have to worry about a man approaching you in these areas and can simply relax.
Bring your own toilet paper
The use of toilet paper is not that common in the Middle East, regardless of whether or not you’re sticking to touristy areas. Hotels will often have toilet paper, but lots of other places will not. Public restrooms will often have a small hose which is meant to replace toilet paper, but if you’re not used to it, it might just be best to keep toilet paper with you at all times. You can get it at a local supermarket and carry it in your purse. While you’re at it, it might be wise to also keep a small hand sanitizer with you as well.
Keep an open mind
The media is probably the main reason why women traveling alone are afraid to go to the Middle East in the first place. You’ve likely heard stories about women getting harassed, touched inappropriately, or being treated unfairly in general. Perhaps you view this as a signal that the Middle East might not be the most pleasant place for female travelers. However, while it is possible that something unpleasant like this might happen, it’s very unlikely. The reality is, you never know what a place is going to be like until you experience it for yourself. Keep your wits about you, of course, but keep your mind open as well. After all, learning about a new culture and place is often what it’s all about.