8 Tips for Women Traveling to the Middle East

Featured, Middle East, Travel Philosophy — By on May 25, 2012 at 6:00 am
By Ashleen Williams 

Special to Lost Girls 

Traveling through the Middle East is an awesome yet intimidating endeavor. Before you leave you’ll probably hear a range of opinions on the matter, especially if you’re a young woman willing to backpack the Levant, North Africa or the conservative Gulf region. Having spent some time in each of these regions, and having lived to tell the tale, here are some tips for women traveling in the largely mysterious Middle East.

Know the language

Yes, I know Arabic seems difficult, but you only need to remember a few basic phrases to guide you to a successful travel experience in the Middle East. “Assalaam alaykum” is the trump card of all greetings and it will serve you well.

 Travel in pairs

Traveling with friends can be challenging, but extremely rewarding. Throughout your travel you’ll experience new foods, smells, and cultural customs, and having someone there is a must. It’s also safer for women to travel in pairs throughout the Middle East – you’ll probably draw some unwanted attention. Families will invite you into their homes, and you’ll be able to accept the offer without hesitation, knowing you’re in the company of a travel companion.

Wear dark sunglasses

First and foremost, you’re in a desert and the sunglasses will protect your eyes. But perhaps more importantly than that, dark glasses will enable you to look around your environment without drawing unnecessary attention. Avoid eye contact, especially with members of the opposite sex.

Get “engaged”

The fake wedding ring is another invaluable resource when traveling throughout the Middle East. The ring (real or not) will protect you from unwanted and inappropriate advances by men, and unyielding questions from women about why “a woman your age isn’t married yet.”

Woman in Levant Dress modestly

This might seem like an obvious tip, but I promise that even when you think you’ve dressed conservatively, navigating through a sea of black abayas will remind you that you’re not.

Know the neighborhood

Spend a few minutes searching for images on Google, and dress accordingly. Black on Black on Black attire might be appropriate in the Gulf, but in the more colorful Levant, people will ask you “Yani, Who died?” In some countries, the capitals tend to be more “western” than the outer cities and villages. Layers will allow you to adapt, and look like a local.

Let the locals take the lead

This can help you in experiences from picking a good local restaurant to navigating cultural sensitivities like shaking hands.

The ever-valuable “Family Section”

One of the unfortunate aspects of traveling through the Middle East is the amount of unwanted attention by men. In many restaurants or public spaces there will be a special “Family section.” You don’t need to have a family to seek refuge in this section. Grab a book and some time to reflect without harassment.


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