By: Melissa Douglas of High Heels and a Backpack
(Follow Melissa’s solo female travel in the middle east on Instagram and Twitter)
A Non-Solo Female Journey to the Middle East Begins
My first trip to the Middle East was actually my first trip independent of my parents, but not middle east solo female travel. It was 2009 and my then boyfriend and I decided that we would backpack through Egypt and Morocco (Okay, not technically the Middle East in terms of geography, but they are still Arabic countries that make some people gasp with terror). I suppose being young and naïve at the time, we hadn’t heard of the terror concerns in the region or the political instability that put so many people off going.
We flew into Luxor and spent a few days in the city before taking the sleeper train northwards towards Cairo and Alexandria. From there we traveled across to Morocco and then did a loop from Casablanca, through Rabat, Meknes, Fes, Moulay Idriss, and Marrakech. We had a wonderful time, perhaps the only irritation being over zealous sales people trying to pressure us into buying their wares but certainly nothing sinister.
The advantage of our naivety was that we weren’t aware of the concerns that surround the region; we hadn’t been put off by the media depiction of these areas since we simply hadn’t seen it.
But as the threat of terror increases globally, people have become ever more wary about traveling in the Middle East. So when I announced to friends and family earlier in the year that I would be returning to do solo female travel through the Middle East (including Jordan, Israel, Palestine, and Egypt), they looked at me like I was insane. These countries were risky as it was, let alone as a single woman taking on Middle east solo female travel.
But since my Middle Eastern trip from all those years ago was such a fond memory, I could not identify with their concerns about my solo female travel in the Middle East. To me, the food had been incredible, the history was fascinating, and the people were warm and welcoming. So really, what was there not to love about Middle east solo female travel?
Something New: Middle East Solo Female Travel
As July approached and I started my trip through Israel (a country fairly liberal in comparison to its neighbors), I crossed the border into Palestine’s West Bank. As I explored Bethlehem, locals actually came out of their stores and homes to thank me for visiting their country. They even welcomed me during my middle east solo female travel and pointed me in the direction of interesting things to see. They were so happy to see me that when I walked into a locally adored falafel restaurant, the owner insisted that I eat for free. He even sat with me and told me about the life he led in his country. An incident that shows you exactly how solo travel changes you.
From here, my solo female travel in the middle east has me driving in Jordan, where I used a Jordan guide to explore crumbling ruins and ancient citadels and was often the only person at most of the sites. Of course, I dressed and acted respectfully, but I never felt unsafe because I was a woman or a westerner or because I was participating in middle east solo female travel. And even though a recent terrorist attack in Jordan drastically reduced the number of tourists to the country, the Jordanian people still continued to set up their stalls every day, at tourist sites, in the hope of encountering visitors like myself: something I found heartbreakingly positive and resilient in spite of the hardships they faced.
Media Portrayal of the Middle East and how it Impacts Middle East Solo Female Travel
The image that the media depicts certainly does not show the best side of the Middle East and more often than not, it does not accurately represent what the situation is like on the ground. Essentially, if it bleeds it leads meaning that stories of death, conflict, and scandal are those that make the headlines. In contrast, positive experiences of solo female travel in the middle east, where travelers are having a culturally rich experience and meeting inspiring locals, never make it to the press.
Instead, sensational news sells so unfortunately, one by-product of this is that people then deem these locations as off-limits: a mistaken perception that then damages the reputation of these countries. Sadly there is little that the local tourism boards can do to correct these images once people have them in their minds so many people avoid traveling to the region (Hence the large amount of dismay at the thought of middle east solo female travel).
Travel Tips and Realities of Solo Female Travel in the Middle East
There are of course some additional concerns that you need to take into consideration when doing middle east solo travel — dress is much more conservative, behaviors that are considered normal in the West are inappropriate here, and you may have to assert yourself more with over-friendly males, or people thinking that they can trick you out of some money while haggling. But overall, the middle east is one of my favorite travel regions (For Solo Female Travel Safety Tips click here).
Middle Eastern hospitality is a real thing, and now more than ever, locals love to see tourists in their countries. If you have an open mind, and a passion for history, exotic foods and culture, I am sure that you will love solo female travel in the middle east.
Since I received an Israel stamp in my passport while crossing the land border between Israel and Jordan, there are now several Arabic countries I’m banned from entering (ugh)! But I’m currently in the process of waiting for a new passport, and then an Iranian visa so that I can return to the Middle East and visit Iran and Lebanon at the end of the year.
Meet one of the many solo female travelers who inspire me, Melissa Douglas of High Heels and a Backpack. She is a British Travel Blogger who left her corporate job in the UK in the pursuit of adventure. Currently, she is traveling and working as a Digital Nomad, as she pushes the boundaries of solo female travel and explores an assortment of non-conventional destinations.
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