Top 10 Misconceptions About Travelling in the Middle East

by Keri Foley

Let’s admit it; we all stereotype. Not deliberately, but we do. If someone told you today that you can have an all expense paid vacation to the Middle East, what would be your first thought? Would it be that you could see amazing skylines over the most incredible beaches? Shop in some of the world’s most luxurious malls?  The fact you can learn about one of the largest cultures in the world?

Petra, Jordan

No, probably not. And that’s ok. There are tons of misconceptions about travelling throughout this exotic and somewhat forbidden land. However, it’s time to move forward, open our minds, and put these stereotypes to rest.

10. They Don’t Sell Lip Chap

Actually, yes they do! And you can buy sunscreen, bathing suits, and snacks for the beach too! Sarcasm aside, truth is that all of those little conveniences you buy at home; you can almost always buy in the Middle East. It’s not just deserts and barren land for miles and miles, there are shopping centers, grocery stores (both traditional and foreign) souks, which are traditional markets and pharmacies that will sell those amenities that we are used to having with us. Therefore, no need to stockpile the Chap Stick before your trip.

9. It’s Not Safe

Guess what? It’s not safe anywhere. As sad and scary as that is to say, it’s true. Crime is everywhere; no part of the world is void of it. Now, there are some parts of the Middle East that have higher crime rates, or are involved in neighbouring disputes with other countries, you just need to take extra caution when travelling to these specific areas. It is a good idea to do some research prior to your trip to determine what customs, practices and policies apply to the specific countries you are visiting.

8. You Don’t Like Hummus?

No problem! There are loads of other amazing foods to try. If you want to be daring, try mansaf, a Jordanian and Palestinian dish which looks like a pizza, topped with a lamb carcass covered in yogurt sauce and sprinkled with almonds and pine nuts. Not that daring? How about a shish tawook; a chicken dish which is hugely popular in Lebanon, Syria and the Gulf region. Skewered chicken is brushed with garlic paste and spices and served with fries and freshly baked pita bread. Still not convinced? No worries – you’ll always find your favourite fast food places in the larger cities as well as some familiar family style dining restaurants.

Hummus
Hummus

7. There’s Nothing to Do

There is always something to do – especially in the Middle East! If you aren’t into visiting the Jumeirah Beach in Dubai, perhaps you would like to go dune bashing through the deserts on a guided tour? Or attend a local festival like the Palestine Festival of Literature? What about going hiking through an Omani wadi, which is a valley, sometimes containing natural fresh water pools. The possibilities are truly endless!

6. Women Have to Hide Their Personal Style

Not true at all. Firstly, even women who choose to wear an abaya, a long black dress worn over clothes, and a hijab, a traditional black headscarf, still have their own personal fashion sense. They show their style the same way we do, with makeup, jewellery and through their actions. Not all women choose to wear the abaya and hijab, but every woman must wear these traditional garments when entering a mosque, which is a place of worship for followers of Islam.

5. It’s Too Hot

Well, yes. You may be correct on that one. If you are someone who detests any amount of heat (and really, does anyone?) you should probably not visit the Middle East (and plan to ONLY visit Iceland and Alaska!) The summer months, June – September can be very hot, on average 102 degrees in the United Arab Emirates. However, if you go anytime between November – May, you can expect temperatures that range between 75 degrees to 86 degrees – perfect beach weather!

4. Pardon Me? Sorry, I Don’t Speak Arabic

That’s ok – you don’t have to make a mad dash to find an Arabic tutor before you take your vacation. English is widely spoken in most areas of the Middle East, and commonly used as a second language to Arabic in countries like Iran, Qatar, Egypt, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait. 

3. Not Accepting of Other Cultures/Religions

False. The Middle East is a blending pot of various cultures and religions. Take Jerusalem for example – the ancient city is a sacred place for Christianity, Judaism and Islam. People from various religions and ethnicities come together in the ancient city of Jerusalem to pay respects, visit various historical and religious sites and attend a mass, visit a synagogue or worship at a mosque.

Camels

2. I’m Allergic to Camels

That’s too bad (and how exactly did you find that out?) Anyway, don’t sweat it. Riding a camel is not the only mode of transportation throughout the Middle East. They have luxury cars, trucks, and SUV’s just like North America. If flying is more your style, the Middle East has many lavish airlines to choose from, and all offer competitive options for short trips. However, you can still choose a guided camel ride if you are adventurous.

1. The People Aren’t Like Me 

In some ways, yes they are, and secondly, no one anywhere is exactly like you. Be thankful for that. Open your mind and accept others for who they are. No matter where you go, people will always be different than you but that doesn’t meant they don’t want the exact same things out of life – love, health and happiness.