The view from here
"There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign." - Robert Louis Stevenson
So, you’ve read our article about staying safe while traveling alone. Now you’re thinking, okay, but what if I want to travel somewhere in Africa or the Middle East where safety precautions might not be as straight-forward?
Let’s keep it real - some countries in these regions come with their risks, but so does your hometown! Unless your dream destination really is a no-go zone (more on that later), there’s no need to strike it off your bucket list completely. You’ll most likely meet kind, generous, and interesting people on your journey and come back with memories you’ll cherish forever, as long as you plan well and pack a hearty dose of common sense along with your Malaria tablets.
We are working on in-depth tips for every country, but in the meantime here is an overview of what you should consider when traveling in Africa and the Middle East.
Don’t be crazy - choose your destinations wisely
Here at Travelher, we’re all about taking the path less traveled and facing our fears. At the same time, we don’t recommend booking flights into a warzone.
Use your common sense on this one and check your government’s travel advisories. A few countries currently labelled by New Zealand’s travel advisory as ‘Extreme Risk - Advise Against All Travel’ are the Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Iraq and Syria.
Some other government advisory sites are:
It can also get a bit more complicated than that. In many countries, whether it’s Nigeria or Oman, certain regions might be labelled as ‘extreme risk’ or ‘high risk’ while others are ‘some risk’. To put that into context, the United States of America and England are also listed as ‘some risk’ due to the threat of terrorism, civil unrest and crime.
To make it even more complicated, sometimes it is just certain areas within a country you must be worried about. Make sure you take heed of what advisories say about different regions as well as the different types of threats that may be present. In some destinations it might be crime, whereas in others it may be the potential for civil demonstrations to get out of hand.
Once you know what you’re dealing with, you can plan accordingly. Remember, we’re not trying to scare you, but unfortunately, places like Syria should remain firmly off your to-do list until peace can be achieved (our fingers are crossed!).
Travel in a group or on a tour
We’re all about solo travel if that’s your thing, but when you’re heading somewhere really unfamiliar, there’s nothing wrong with getting a group together or joining a reputable tour group.
Tour groups can be a great option for a number of reasons. There are different providers to choose from depending on your personal ‘travel style’ - whether you’re a budget backpacker, intrepid adventurer or lover of luxury. Plus, you’ll get to meet a bunch of like-minded travelers, some of whom might end up being lifelong friends.
Then there’s the bonus of not having to worry about the details such as how you’ll get from place to place or where you’re going to stay. Your guide should also be able to fill you in on the local customs and safety advice, too.
Always check out the reviews for each provider on a site like TripAdvisor, so you know it’s legitimate and the right type of tour for you.
Thoroughly research the specifics of your destination
Obviously, ‘Africa’ and ‘The Middle East’ are huge blanket terms for what are incredibly diverse places. Each nation within each region has its own cultures, traditions, ways of life, and of course, safety considerations.
Once you’ve read the relevant travel advisories, do a little research - it’s as simple as a Google search these days. Read up about traditions, customs, history and local issues, and learn a few key phrases in the local language.
There will always be some niche bits and bobs you need to know about each place you’re visiting. If you’re heading out on a safari in Kenya, for example, you’ll need to know about staying safe around animals and not wandering off by yourself. In Jordan, you might not need to worry about an angry hippopotamus, but you will need to dress appropriately. There are also countries where alcohol is prohibited and where bad language or insulting the local government or culture can land you in hot water, so get Googling.
See what other travelers have said about the destination, too - they’re your greatest resource.
Attitudes to women and respecting local differences
Following on from the above, some of the people you meet in various countries will likely live by some very different belief systems to your own. As a woman, you probably already have some experience of dealing with unwanted attention in your home country, but this may be amplified when you travel.
There are several things you can do to minimise this:
You will generally need to dress more modestly than usual. See what the locals wear and dress accordingly. Usually, you will need to at least cover your knees and shoulders, and avoid low-cut tops. In some countries, you will need to cover up almost completely.
It’s important to remember that many friendly people will just want to talk to you and learn about where you’re from and why you’re traveling because female travelers, especially those travelling by themselves, can be something of a fascination. Go in with an open mind but keep your wits about you, too - and you’ll soon become a pro at answering ‘Are you married? Where is your husband?’!
Dubai can serve as a good example of unexpected cultural differences. Many women travel to Dubai without any trouble, right? Of course, however, a lot of people don’t realise that there are still certain expectations around how women behave. For example, genders are segregated on public transport and men and women shouldn’t engage in public displays of affection (but if you’re traveling with a male companion and you are asked, it can help to pretend you’re married! Ah, the complexity).
Even if your own personal beliefs are quite different, respect the practices of the country you’re visiting.
Avoid taking unnecessary risks
Traveling in certain African and Middle Eastern regions poses inherent risks, but aside from avoiding the region altogether you can also take some reasonable precautions to avoid putting yourself in danger.
Pack and prepare
Always remember to pack any medication you need, as well as a few spares - what you normally get at home may not be readily available. Some doctors also recommend packing a general antibiotic, just in case you pick up an easily-treated infection such as a UTI while on the road.
There are a few other practical considerations. At home, you’re probably used to being able to walk to the nearest store and grab a pack of tampons. In some parts of Africa and the Middle East, especially outside of the cities, it’s not always that easy - so take your own supply.
You should also prepare for any diseases that may be present in your destination, such as Malaria or rabies. Visit a travel doctor well in advance of your trip, and they will be able to recommend precautions, vaccinations or medications to combat these risks. The World Health Organisation can also be a great source of information.
Always remember to purchase comprehensive travel insurance before you leave on your trip, and know the T&Cs. Depending on your policy, you might not be covered for injuries that occur participating in activities such as diving or riding on a scooter, so read that fine print.
Embrace the differences
In addition to everything we’ve talked about above, depending on where you travel to, there could be vast differences in everything from roads to healthcare and sanitation. In some countries in Africa, for example, it’s best to travel by road only in the daylight (potholes, roaming lions - the usual!). Take your common sense and a few safety precautions, and then surrender yourself to the crazy and beautiful differences around you. There’s no doubt you’ll have some life-changing encounters, make unforgettable memories, and meet lifelong friends.
Where have you traveled in Africa and the Middle East? Do you have any extra travel tips for these regions? Share them with your fellow Travelhers in the comments and you might see them in our in-depth country guides, coming soon.