Travelling in the Middle East

The Middle East is an amazing gap year destination, but many women won't travel there due to safety concerns. Let's address some of the issues female travellers to the Middle East most worry about.

Is the Middle East safe for lone women?

The short answer, yes, women can and do travel alone in the Middle East perfectly safely.

Are there any safety tips I should remember?

This can vary from country to country, but it is worth remembering that you are entering a different culture, and one that is not generally used to seeing women travel alone. Obviously, a lot of safety is common sense. Don't go to isolated places after dark. Be wary of ending up alone with strange men (but don't get paranoid). Trust your instincts. In addition, remember that what to us is simple politeness or friendliness can seem like an invitation: generally, avoiding eye contact and refraining from smiling at strangers is sensible, though obviously if you're talking to someone, make eye contact as usual! Simply be a little more restrained than you perhaps usually would.

What if I do get hassled/groped?

This honestly isn't very likely, but if you are feeling threatened, feel free to make a fuss - these guys will NOT want the attention, as they will be aware that their behaviour is definitely not acceptable in their society! In addition, do feel free to be rude. Don't feel that when someone starts talking to you, you have to respond. Certainly don't hesitate to get up and leave if someone is making you feel uncomfortable. I should probably mention though that I've not actually tested any of this, having so far had no trouble.

What about dress codes?

This varies a LOT between different countries. Generally, trousers (loose linen trousers are wonderful in the heat, as well as being suitably modest) and long sleeves (preferably a loose top) are a safe bet. Obviously, you can relax this a bit if you're in a Red Sea resort or similar! You don't need to wear a headscarf except when entering a mosque. There are some exceptions: Iran has a very strict dress code which MUST be observed, and involves covering everything except hands and face. Loose trousers and a knee-length tunic would be best (you need to cover the shape of your body, basically).

What are the toilets like?

Very variable in terms of cleanliness (always carry toilet paper as this is rarely supplied outside of hotels) and there's simply no avoiding the dreaded squat toilet. Bear in mind that the sewage system often isn't designed to take large amounts of waste - there will often be a bin provided which should definitely be used for sanitary wear but also often for toilet paper.

Can I get tampons? Pads?

Again, this will vary between countries, but tampons are generally likely to be hard to find. If you can take your own normal brand along with you, it's likely to make life easier!

About the Author: Deborah Barnard

I'm 23, female, and currently in Edinburgh. I still feel kinda like a student (I studied English Literature and hope to do postgrad) but am actually looking for "real" work at the moment. I just got back from a month in the Middle East (Turkey, Jordan and Egypt). I'm keen to travel more and try new places (next on my hit list are Southern India, Malaysia and Singapore, and Oman), but suspect I will also keep returning to the Middle East, as I love the region.

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