Our trip to the Middle East started in Athens, as we embarked on a 19 day cruise before ending in Dubai. We visited Turkey, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. The rules and customs varied greatly during our trip and these are some of the most important tips I learned.
American dollars and Euros are accepted throughout many areas of the Middle East. Be sure to take plenty of dollar bills if you’ll be traveling in Egypt – as it’s expected in using restrooms and numerous other scenarios (you’ll get used to it 😉 ).
I recommend downloading the XE (or similar) app so you can keep up on the exchange rates of the countries you’ll be visiting.
During our trip to the Middle East – I knew we’d be taking numerous organized tours so I also packed more cash to use for our tour guides’ tips. They are happy to accept American dollars and this was easier than exchanging money – as we had a busy schedule.
Most places also accept credit cards and we used ours with no issues. I suggest setting up alerts for when you make a foreign transaction. I received those instantaneously via text/email and it was handy to check right away as we made a purchase.
Make sure to check the details and costs associated with your cell provider for international coverage. During our multi country trip throughout the Middle East, we had excellent service with T-Mobile. I highly recommend them if you’re a frequent traveler, as there’s no extra daily fee for unlimited data/texting in over 200 countries (phone calls are extra).
Planning ahead with your clothing is essential for a trip to the Middle East. The rules are different for each country and site. For instance – camoflouge isn’t allowed to be worn in Oman and some places women aren’t allowed entry if wearing white.
We found entry to mosques varies greatly on the strictness. General rules for women are to be covered ankles to wrists (open shoes are ok) and a head covering. Short sleeve shirts for men seemed acceptable, but full length pants are required. Don’t forget tattoos must be hidden as well.
I recommend both men and women carry an extra scarf in case needed. A nice souvenir is a traditional headdress that can also be used to cover your legs if needed. We found Egypt, Israel and Abu Dhabi to not be quite as strict on dress codes as Oman. In Oman I wasn’t allowed in the mosque as my long dress had small slits on the sides (even though my arms and head were entirely covered).
Be prepared for checkpoints and more security traveling in the Middle East. In Israel you will go through numerous scans and questioning. If you visit Bethlehem… which is located in the West Bank, you’ll also have a change of tour guide. In Egypt; we encountered numerous stops for “tourist counting”. Also, mainly in Egypt and Israel – guards will board tourist buses requesting id’s be shown and questions answered.
Before you embark on your trip; know what countries require visas and if you need them ahead of time. If traveling via cruise – the cruise line will provide information regarding each country you’re visiting… as some countries issue a “blanket” visa (or passes to carry) if you’re visiting via ship. If you’ll be traveling on your own – be aware of the countries/rules that don’t allow entry if you have certain passport stamps.
Yes, there are a few extra steps and patience required for traveling in the Middle East. This shouldn’t stop you from visiting these unique cultures! The entire trip was fascinating, we felt safe, and the people were so welcoming, friendly and excited to share their countries with us.
Until the next adventure – bon voyage!