Let’s start with this: traveling to the Middle East is a profound and life-altering experience that everyone should do at least once — but ideally many times. Forget what you think you know about the Middle East based on awful movie stereotypes and extreme media bias. The Middle East is not just another region: it is like another world.
And you don’t have to take my word for it. Each year hundreds of millions of people a year visit the Middle East, and their only regret is that they didn’t make the journey sooner. Like I said, there is nothing and nowhere like it, and I could write a book and fail to capture all that the Middle East is about. You simply have to immerse yourself to truly understand it (and trust me, you will!).
However, just like heading to any other part of the world, there are some basic — and important — dos and don’ts when it comes to visiting to the Middle East. Here are some key things to keep in mind to ensure that your trek is rewarding instead of regrettable:
- Dress modestly and conservatively.
No, this doesn’t mean that you need to be covered from head to toe, or wear formal attire. After all, you’re on vacation — not back at the car wrap shop, insurance company, or wherever you happen to work. However, generally speaking, it’s important to dress modestly and conservatively. Exceptions to this might be if you’re staying in certain private resorts.
- Men: physical contact with women is frowned upon.
In many parts of Europe and North America, it is common for men to have appropriate physical contact with women, such as helping them get on a bus, handshakes, and so on. However, in the Middle East, physical contact between men (especially strangers) and women is frowned upon.
And while we’re on the subject: in places like New York, Los Angeles, London and of course Paris, public displays of affection — PDA — are very common (maybe even too common sometimes!). However, this is not something that you’ll see in the Middle East. As such, if you’re traveling with your significant other, then save your PDAs for the hotel or other private places.
- Be respectful of all holy and sacred spaces.
This is a no-brainer, but worth mentioning because some tourists can get carried away — especially if they’re in a group and having fun (which is what vacations are about, right?). Behaving respectfully in and around holy and sacred spaces is a must. Voices should be lowered (or better yet, silenced), shoes should be removed, and the camera should be nowhere in sight.
- Be careful with praise.
This is an eye opener for many tourists: it’s not a good idea to praise something that is owned by a local — like a beautiful rug or elegant table — because they may feel obligated to give it to you!
- Use common sense!
Because of endlessly negative news coverage, many people are surprised to discover that life in the Middle East is very peaceful. However, it’s also true to acknowledge that there are some trouble areas where protests, demonstrations and violence or the threat of violence can erupt (which of course is not unique to the Middle East — even suburban America with its white-picket fences, lawn trolls, and minivans as far as the eye can see isn’t immune to problems).
The advice here is simple: don’t leave your common sense back at home when you’re on vacation in the Middle East. If you find yourself in a troubling situation, then obey the authorities. Better yet, avoid certain areas if you know that trouble could arise. Remember: you’re a tourist looking to enrich your life and have fun. Not a journalist looking for a scoop. Don’t get carried away!
The Bottom Line
What — you’re still reading? Stop wasting time, contact your travel agent (or head to your favorite travel website), and start planning your magnificent journey to the Middle East. Just make sure that you keep the above in mind. Happy travels!