What Female Travelers Need to Know Before Traveling to the Middle East2 min read
The Middle East may seem off limits to some female travelers – there are vast cultural differences in attitudes toward women and women aren’t usually seen traveling alone in these countries. However, women don’t have to miss out on visiting these fascinating countries. You can still safely travel to the Middle East with some research, common sense and respect for cultural and religious differences.
Research what clothing will be considered appropriate in the country you’re traveling to. Most Middle Eastern countries’ codes of dress reflect their Islamic traditions and are much more conservative than those of the U.S. and other western countries. You should be respectful of this conservative heritage.
When deciding where to travel in the Middle East, no place is off limits for women, but you may be more comfortable in countries that employ a less-strict version of Sharia Law. Saudi Arabia follows one of the strictest interpretations of Sharia Law – women aren’t allowed to drive, are under the guardianship of male relatives, and must be completely covered in public.
Women must also be completely covered in Iran, Yemen and Kuwait.
If you’re traveling to the United Arab Emirates, the code of dress is a bit more relaxed than in other Middle East countries – women traveling in the UAE aren’t expected to cover their heads or wear traditional Muslim dress. However, women are expected to dress modestly here – that means keeping your shoulders and knees covered and not showing any cleavage, midriff or leg.
The exception to this rule is at private beaches in Dubai – on private beaches, which are often owned by hotels and apartment buildings, and at hotel pools, bathing suits are acceptable. The same rules do not apply on public beaches.
In UAE, women are asked to cover their heads and wear an abaya (a full-length cloak that covers from neck to ankle) when visiting a mosque.
The dress code for women in Israel is even more relaxed, especially in large cities like Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa. You should dress conservatively if you’re visiting religious sites.
Across the board, women are encouraged to wear loose-fitting clothing in all Middle Eastern countries to avoid any unwanted attention.
Men and women alike need to be mindful of their behavior while traveling throughout the Middle East – many countries have public decency and morality laws that are much stricter than in the U.S. and may carry severe penalties. In general, avoid any displays of public affection, even if you’re married. Travelers have been sentenced to jail for kissing in public in the UAE. Sexual relations outside of marriage and adultery are illegal in many Middle Eastern countries as well.
You may want to leave any women’s magazines at home – some of the text and photos in these magazines can be considered indecent in the Middle East.
Due to the threat of terrorism and conflict in many Middle Eastern countries, you should check the U.S. Department of State’s travel alerts and warnings before booking your trip or traveling.
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