The Middle East Experience blog contained a useful article with travel tips for women are traveling in the Middle East. I think the article gave good advice so I’ve chosen to share it with American Bedu readers. The majority of the tips would apply for female travelers in Saudi Arabia but with some refinements based on the unique customs and traditions.
Before discussing the various tips cited in the article, it is important to point out that Saudi Arabia is not the typical Middle Eastern country where a foreign woman is going to travel to alone. Anyone who enters in to the Kingdom must have a sponsor whether the purpose is work, business or family. As a result, there are fewer single women who travel to Saudi Arabia by themselves and for a short duration. However, exceptions to these rules can be business women who have been invited to the Kingdom for business consultations or to participate in an international conference or symposium. Therefore, in this post of discussing travel tips for women in Saudi Arabia, the answers are oriented more for the woman who is traveling by herself to Saudi Arabia for a short duration rather than one is who traveling to relocate to the Kingdom for employment.
Tip number one of the article focuses on the recommendation to dress modestly. This certainly applies to Saudi Arabia but with a slight twist. Any women traveling in the Kingdom would be expected to wear an abaya when she is out in public places. While a woman can wear virtually whatever she pleases underneath the abaya, I think the recommendations of loose and modest clothing as suggested in the article is good advice for a woman traveling alone in Saudi Arabia.
Tip number two to ignore harassment from men definitely applies to Saudi Arabia. Since segregation of sexes is publicly enforced some men can become overly aggressive in attempts to make contact with a female. A woman should ignore and not pick up any pieces of paper which may get thrown at her as she passes by. These will likely contain name and phone number of men seeking encounters with women. A woman should be careful if by herself in a crowded and traditional market place (souk) as these can be places where a man may attempt an opportunity to “cop a feel.” While there are religious police (muttawa) whose job is to help prevent unpleasant encounters, if a woman does not speak good Arabic, it may not be to her advantage to seek out a muttawa for help against an aggressive man. The best advice is to ignore him and leave the area.
Tip number three would not apply to Saudi Arabia. Due to the segregation one will rarely see any attempts at public displays of affection (PDA). However, this tip should serve as a reminder that it is prohibited for an unrelated male and female to be out together in a public venue. An exception for the single woman is that some conferences and symposiums will organize private events which are not segregated. While such an event allows for mixing of the sexes, PDA’s remain prohibited.
Tip number four to steer clear of men only hubs is absolutely correct. A woman venturing into a men only domain is unlikely to receive a warm or positive welcome. Men only domain include men only sections of restaurants, fast food joints, banks, medical centers and barber shops (advertised as salons or saloons).
Tip number five suggests check out women only venues. This is a good suggestion for Saudi Arabia. There are always multiple women only activities taking place each and every day in the Kingdom which offer shopping, entertaining and networking opportunities. Some of the women only venues allow a woman to remove her abaya after arrival inside of the venue.
Tip number six pertains to shopping. It is a general rule of thumb across the entire Middle East that bargaining is expected and especially if from a small or outdoor souk (market). One can find a multitude of unique items perfect for gifts and souvenirs in Saudi Arabia. With bargaining,it may be possible to get the asking price reduced by 50 per cent!
Don’t be afraid or hesitant to travel alone to Saudi Arabia if given the opportunity. Just ensure to read up on the culture, customs and traditions prior to travel and to register your presence with the local embassy.
Filed under: abbya, culture, Dress, expat, expatriates, Freedoms, gender, islam, safety, Saudi Arabia, Saudi culture, Saudi customs, shopping, travel, Uncategorized Tagged: | abaya, culture, culture shock, customs, gender issues, Saudi Arabia, travel