There is something magical about the Middle East. I’m talking flying carpet, talking lamp magical.
You taste it in sweet sips of mint tea, hear it in the call to prayer, and feel it in the beating heat of the desert. Before your first visit to the region, the famed Middle Eastern romanticism may be the initial draw; camel rides through barren desert, the Treasury of Petra swathed in a golden, dusty glow. These attractions are spectacular, of course, but the Middle East has much more to offer than that.
That said, the same romanticism that has drawn you in may be deterring you from visiting too. It certainly was for me. I recall worrying that I knew too little of the language, the people, and the culture to travel there comfortably and safely. I’d done my research and brushed up on some basic phrases, but was that really enough?
The Middle East has a certain mysticism about it. An aura of unfamiliarity and the unknown. As a female traveler, you may have extra concerns. What should you wear? Are there any cultural considerations to be aware of? And what about safety? However I quickly found out that those pre-departure worries were completely unfounded. Once I’d arrived, I immediately fell in love.
The first country I ticked off my list? Jordan, home to a Mars-esque red desert, warm seas and some of the most hospitable people I’ve ever met.
Here is some of what I learned in my travels throughout the country (as a woman), and my tips on how to prepare yourself for a visit.
Be conscious of your attire.
As is the case anywhere, you should consider your itinerary, the weather, and planned stops and tailor your wardrobe accordingly. It’s a good idea to pack layers. Know when a more revealing bathing suit is OK (and especially when it’s not), or when you can get away with wearing a tank top.
Pack scarves to cover your head and shoulders when entering mosques (and to protect your skin from an unrelenting sun), cardigans to cover tank tops when it gets chilly, and sweaters when you’re camping in the desert. This isn’t just about being cognizant of more acceptable attire amongst locals in your host country; it’s also about being comfortable and prepared for the activities you plan to partake in, and the weather you’re likely to encounter on your trip.
Bring feminine hygiene products with you.
There may be few instances in which to purchase them while you’re traveling, especially in more remote areas, and it is possible they’ll differ from what you’re accustomed to at home. They can also be quite expensive. So far as this topic is concerned, it’s best to come prepared.
Research your accommodations (thoroughly).
While you generally don’t spend a ton of time in hotels while traveling (you’re out exploring for most of each day), it’s worthwhile to spend some time researching accommodation options prior to your trip (I stayed in some seriously stomach-churning rooms before my tour started, all just to save a buck). In retrospect, I wish I had heeded other travelers’ advice and sought out more comfortable accommodations, even if that meant shelling out a little extra cash. By doing your research, reading reviews, and connecting with travelers on the ground, you are likely to avoid any dodgy lodgings.
Think about joining a small tour group to acclimate to the region before venturing out on your own.
When I visited Jordan, I took Intrepid’s 8-day Jordan Discovery tour and learned so much more than I would have had I gone on my own. I was also accompanied by group members and a trip leader who became very dear friends. Ultimately, having spent a week on this tour before venturing out on my own made for a much smoother transition. I was significantly more comfortable, I acclimatized quickly, and learned a lot about women in society there; the challenges they faced, false assumptions made, as well as the unique opportunities afforded them. This provided better context for understanding my role as a female traveler in the country and what things I should avoid, engage in, or simply be more cognizant of.
Another bonus I found is that if you’re both a female traveler and photographer, there is the added security you’re afforded when traveling in a group. It makes capturing your host country so much more about the people and the place than the anxiety and stress of traveling alone with all your gear. It was a huge selling point for me.
All these tips aside, what I believe is most essential for female travelers to take with them on any trip to Jordan – and the Middle East in general – is a sense of confidence, an ability to be flexible, and a penchant for adventure. Be open to all experiences that come your way. Whether that is being invited into the home of a Jordanian family to share a meal (the best meal, I might add), going to an all-female gym to take a belly dancing class, or enjoying a traditional hammam with local women, just do it! You will discover so much more about the country and its people than you could have ever dreamed in doing so.
Lastly, don’t let any self-doubt fog your experience. You’re in for some truly once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Jordan’s grip on you will be all-consuming. You’ll see.
Interested in Jordan? Explore our range of small group adventures in the region now.
All images by Shaylyn Berntson.