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A First-Timer’s Guide to the Middle East

  • December 2, 2015
  • By 50 Shades
  • 19 Comments
A First-Timer’s Guide to the Middle East

The Middle East is a region of immense history, fascinating culture, delicious food and interesting people. Despite what you may hear in the news about certain parts of the region, plenty of people travel to this part of the world every year. Between visas and cultural adjustments though, traveling to the Middle East usually takes a bit more preparation than travel to other parts of the world. Here are some things to keep in mind:

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Visas and Regulations

Depending on where you choose to go in the Middle East, you may need to acquire a visa either prior to your arrival or upon arrival. Note too that certain countries will deny you entry if you’re traveling on an Israeli passport or have an Israeli stamp in your passport. The length of time that you’re allowed to stay in the country will vary (it’s usually between thirty to ninety days), so make sure you’re aware of how much time you’re allowed to be in the country and plan accordingly.

Money

Currencies will differ from country to country as you travel around the Middle East, so make sure you know the local currency and its exchange rate. You’ll find plenty of ATMs, especially in cities and at common tourist attractions, but it’s always good to have some cash on hand as well. Some ATMs won’t accept your Western credit cards, depending on the political situation. Remember not to exchange or take out too much cash at once. It can be difficult to exchange into different currencies, especially once you’re outside the country.

Don’t expect that all trips to the Middle East will work out cheaper than travel to someplace else. This will vary widely depending on which countries you visit and your personal spending habits (for example, if you buy alcohol in a predominantly-Muslim country, you’ll likely find that you’re blowing your budget there). But the Middle East can definitely be done for cheap if desired.

Technology

The countries that make up the Middle East are known to be some of the worst in the world in terms of government censorship of the internet. You’ll often find that webpages for social media sites or news sites are blocked, especially during times of unrest. Lots of people use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to hide their real IP address and lead the site they’re accessing to believe they’re located somewhere outside the Middle East (which also will allow you to circumvent geo-restrictions for sites such as Netflix or Hulu). But make sure you check into the local laws regarding VPN use. Using a VPN is illegal in the United Arab Emirates, for example.

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Religion and Rules

You’ll find that the predominant religion varies depending on where in the Middle East you are. Islam is the most widely-adhered to religion in the region, but in addition to Muslims, you’ll find many Jews, Christians and adherents to other religions too. That said, you should be sure to learn which religion is predominant in the areas in which you’ll be traveling, as this often affects laws and customs as well as culture in general. For example, certain countries may regulate who can buy and consume alcohol or what days a shop may be open based on religious doctrine. However, as long as you’re respectful of the local religion, you don’t need to worry if you personally have different beliefs.

How to Dress

Religion will often affect how locals dress as well. Despite the heat in many parts of the Middle East, women may need to wear full sleeves or headscarves in certain areas and men may feel awkward dressed in shorts or form-fitting shirts. You may find yourself dressing more conservatively than you’re used to. When in doubt, observe what the locals do and act accordingly. Dress codes are relaxing somewhat as local attitudes change over time, but this is still an ongoing process.

What was your favorite place you travelled to in the Middle East? Do you have any other tips for first-timers? Tell us all about them in the Comments section below!

Thanks to guest blogger Jess Signet from Tripelio for this very informative article for first-time visitors to the Middle East. Jess has been traveling since she was born. Her parents were expats and travelers and she has been on the road from a very young age. She enjoys writing about her travel experiences and is preparing to hit the road again in 2016 for more adventures. To keep up with Jess, you can find her on Twitter @JessTravels.

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By 50 Shades, December 2, 2015 Kathy was a 50 something year old when she started up this blog 6 years ago, but has since turned over another decade and is now in her early 60s. She is married with two adult children and lives on the Tweed Coast of New South Wales, Australia. Kathy enjoys living life to the fullest and loves to keep fit and active by maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Some of her interests include reading, photography, travelling, cooking and blogging! Kathy works part-time as a freelance writer but her real passion is travelling and photographing brilliant destinations both within Australia and overseas and writing about it.
  • 19

50 Shades

Kathy was a 50 something year old when she started up this blog 6 years ago, but has since turned over another decade and is now in her early 60s. She is married with two adult children and lives on the Tweed Coast of New South Wales, Australia. Kathy enjoys living life to the fullest and loves to keep fit and active by maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Some of her interests include reading, photography, travelling, cooking and blogging! Kathy works part-time as a freelance writer but her real passion is travelling and photographing brilliant destinations both within Australia and overseas and writing about it.

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19 Comments
  • Jan at retiringNotshy!
    December 2, 2015

    Useful tips, thank you. The Middle East is not on my radar for the moment but they are important questions for travel to many parts of the world. We could all do with a dose of cultural sensitivity from time to time.

    • Kathy
      December 3, 2015

      I haven’t as yet been to the Middle East but everyone that has travelled here absolutely loves it. We do take our own culture and customs for granted. I remember feeling awkward in Istanbul in Turkey when we travelled there a few years ago. I should have done my homework first. :)

  • Rae Hilhorst
    December 2, 2015

    Great tips, not on my radar either. but never say never x

    • Kathy
      December 3, 2015

      I’m sure I will do a stopover in one of the Middle East countries at some stage. I have heard really good things about both Abu Dhabi and Dubai as a tourist destination. :)

  • Johanna
    December 3, 2015

    Fabulous tips and lovely to welcome a young writer :) I’ve been to Dubai, but that’s about it. I’d love to go to Doha and Bahrain as well – not in summer though ;)

    • Kathy
      December 4, 2015

      Jess is a very well travelled and talented young writer. I am so lucky to host her on my blog. I’ve never been to the Middle East, but I think after learning so much about it I will certainly consider a trip here. Jess has definitely whetted my appetite. :)

    • Jess
      January 3, 2016

      I agree about the Summer time, goodness it’s like stepping into an oven outside!

  • budgettraveltalk
    December 3, 2015

    Some good information there for first time travellers to the area. I’ve not been outside of an airport in this area myself.

    • Kathy
      December 4, 2015

      Yes Jan it is excellent advice for first time travellers. I was a little caught unawares when we travelled to Turkey with dress codes and customs. I’m thinking the Middle East would be a very interesting place to visit. :)

  • InsideJourneys
    December 5, 2015

    Great tips, Jess & Kathy. The Middle East is on my list so I’ll keep these in mind. Thanks for sharing.

    • Kathy
      December 5, 2015

      Thank you. The Middle East is also on my list and Jess has done a brilliant job of explaining the practicalities of travelling to this exotic destination. :)

  • beatravelling
    December 5, 2015

    I’ve travelled to a few countries in the Middle East (I guess it depends on what’s considered the Middle East…): Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey and a short stop in Qatar. Didn’t run into any difficulties, and didn’t prepare more for these trips than any other trip. I guess my only advice would be to remember that you are the visitor… So much to see and experience!

    • Kathy
      December 6, 2015

      You sound like you are very well travelled. It is good to know that you never experienced any problems. I must say I haven’t had any either but I was made o feel uncomfortable (with my dress) in Istanbul on one occasion.:)

  • Corinne
    December 6, 2015

    I love traveling through the Middle East. I hope more people do it.

    • Kathy
      December 6, 2015

      That is good to know Corinne. Most people I know that have been have also found it to be an amazing travel experience. :)

  • seizetheday20
    December 7, 2015

    Thanks for sharing these wonderful tips Jess & Kathy. I’ve only had a brief stopover in Dubai and it is definitely a very difference culture to ours, so it’s good to know what is expected when you stay a little longer :-)

    • Kathy
      December 7, 2015

      I have been to Turkey which was a bit of a culture shock, so I can imagine some of the Middle East places would be similar. I would like to visit here one day. :)

  • Jess
    January 3, 2016

    Thank you for your kind feedback on the post and thanks for hosting me :)

    • Kathy
      January 4, 2016

      You are very welcome Jess. This post was very informative and a great tool for people like myself who have never travelled to the Middle East. It will come in handy for when I do. :)

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