If you tell friends and family you are planning a vacation to the Middle East, they will probably question your sanity. Daily the news is filled with stories about active military conflicts, brutally oppressive governments, and outright revolution across the Middle East. With even international embassies closing their doors and fleeing, planning your average vacation to the region can seem like a death wish.
Too often though we forget that the Middle East is not just one country, but many and while the region is home to much conflict, many areas remain peaceful and safe. Yes, you can travel to the Middle East, even as a solo female traveler, as long as you pick the right spots.
Egypt is a bit too unstable for many travelers right now but that doesn’t mean you can’t still see some of the most incredible archaeological sites in the Middle East. Petra in Jordan is a an incredible site, an ancient city with buildings carved right into the sandstone cliffs. The Treasury of Petra has been featured in dozens of movies and has become the iconic symbol of the country. With a fantastic range of holidays throughout Petra to choose from you’ll be spoilt for choice.
Besides all the great archaeological highlights, Jordan is also well known for its unique culture, traditions, and food. The local Bedouin tribes are especially welcoming and female travelers can often book group tours and homestays to experience a bit more of the local culture. Again, this is a Middle Eastern country so women should dress conservatively, though if you stick to the main tourist trail and don’t wander too far from Petra’s main sites, you shouldn’t have any issues as a solo traveler.
One of the Middle East’s most diverse cities, Dubai is a great option for solo female travelers who want a taste of Middle Eastern culture. The city has many Western-style hotels, malls, and beaches where a solo female traveler will feel quite comfortable.
While the city is quite Western in ways, it is important to remember that this is a Muslim country. Women should dress conservatively, though in the city head scarves are not required. In the historic sections of the city and the more local neighborhoods, women might attract a bit more unwanted attention but just ignoring any advances is your best option. A fake wedding ring can do wonders to cut down on the unwanted male attention.
A very large portion of Dubai’s residents are actually foreigners, coming from countries all around the world to work in the rich oil capital. If you are interested in getting an insiders perspective on the city, it is often easier to connect with expats from your own country working in the city, rather than more conservative locals who might see a solo female traveler’s visit as a bit too scandalous.
If you are still hesitant about planning a solo trip to the Middle East, a visit to Turkey might be a great way to ease your way into it. Sitting on both the edges of Europe and the Middle East, the Turkish capital of Istanbul is a city of contrasts. Here you can find a rich mix of history ranging from the Roman to Byzantine to Ottoman empires. Modern day Turkey is just as mixed. You’ll pass conservative Muslim families on the street, head to the Mosques, and in the next block a group of rowdy European travelers in t-shirts and shorts.
For a solo female traveler, it is better to dress and act on the conservative side but in general, Istanbul often feels more European than Middle Eastern. That is not to say it doesn’t have a unique culture with rich Middle Eastern traditions; they just happen to sit among a modern international city.