I have traveled as a solo female to six of the seven continents, including throughout the Middle East. Countless people have asked me, is it safe to travel as a solo female in the Middle Eastern countries? What should a solo female traveler in the Middle East expect? And, why would you want to go there solo? Here I will break down everything about solo female travel in the Middle East. Hint – it can be wonderful!
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Solo Female Travel in the Middle East
It’s probably not a surprise, many travelers have concerns about visiting the Middle East, both men and women alike. And, frankly, I can understand that.
Particularly so when these concerns come from my fellow solo female travelers.
The entire region known as the Middle East gets a pretty bad rap in the Western Media. It is not a place known to be very politically stable, nor is it thought to be a place of equal rights between men and women. Westerners are bombarded with visuals of outright war in the region, as well as stories of women’s oppression.
And, I’m not going to lie – yes, these things do happen.
But, while your worries and hesitation are completely valid, I’m here to tell you that solo female travel in the Middle East is absolutely worth your while, and unlike any other part of the world. From religious and historical sites, to unbelievable landscapes, to the warm and welcoming culture – the Middle East is absolutely magical.
Keep reading and I will try to convince you why you should consider giving solo female travel in the Middle East a try!
The Middle East is Vast
First and foremost, it’s important to recognize that “The Middle East” spans more than 20 very different countries (depending on which map you are looking at).
According to good old Britannica, The Middle East is said to contain the following countries:
- Saudi Arabia
- United Arab Emirates
As you can see, the term “The Middle East” encompasses a pretty diverse group of countries, all with their own cultures, religions, languages, and landscapes. Consider how different a visit to Aleppo, Syria would be from a visit to Dubai, UAE. Or, Istanbul, Turkey compared to Fez, Morocco.
Night and Day.
It’s simply not accurate to lump every one of them together as a whole…. nor to assign a blanket label of “not safe” across the board.
Now, full disclosure – while I have spent significant time in this part of the world, I have not traveled to every single one of these countries (though I hope to!). At the time of writing, the countries that I have the most experience in are Jordan, Oman, Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, and United Arab Emirates.
So, yes, it is important to realize that I write this through the lens of a solo female traveler in these specific countries. I cannot personally comment (yet!) on solo female travel in, say, Afghanistan or Iraq.
Which leads me to…
Safety in the Middle East as a Solo Female Traveler
One of the most common questions I hear as a solo female traveler in the Middle East is, “Is it safe?” I completely understand why I get this question, but you might be surprised by my answer.
YES. For the vast majority, yes.
I have had small concerns here and there, and have had to keep my wits about me – but typically not more so than when I solo travel to countries outside of this region, also.
The trick to feeling safe as a solo female in the Middle East is to do your research.
As an American traveler, it’s always wise to take a quick glance at the US Department of State’s website for any major issues that I may be out of the loop on. (This happens from time to time as I haven’t had TV in years… whoops!).
It’s a great idea to download offline maps of your destination before you go, and/or know where you want your hotels to be located. Check what sites, shops, and transportation is nearby.
Do you feel comfortable renting a car? Are you allowed to rent a car? If not, some Middle Eastern countries offer women-only taxis. And, some countries have very reliable and easy-to-navigate subway systems.
Research what will be expected of you in your destination. What are the cultural expectations and customs? Do you need to wear a headscarf the entire time you are in the country, or only when visiting religious sites?
For example, while Dubai in the UAE is an extremely diverse place and locals *may* be a bit more lenient toward tourists, the nearby Emirate of Sharjah is a lot more traditional. This is extremely useful information to know if you plan to be out and about exploring. It’s never a good idea to offend the locals or to stand out in an unwanted way.
Which brings me to…
What to Wear as a Solo Female Traveler in the Middle East
Remember, as this region is vast, the specifics and leniency may differ from country to country (and even city to city). However, this is my general rule of thumb for travel to ALL Middle Eastern countries so far.
- Dress Conservatively. Clothing that covers your shoulders, midriff, and legs is ideal. Bonus points if it is loose and flowy. Since this region tends to be hot for at least part of the year, this is a comfortable wardrobe anyway.
- Absolutely bring multiple head scarves (or buy them while you’re there). These are required at mosques, first and foremost. But I tend to wear these daily, over my shoulders or covering my head, just to blend in and be respectful.
- Depending on the season, bring a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and yes – even a bathing suit. Many of these countries line the sea, and many hotels have swimming pools, and yes you are allowed to swim. Again be mindful of the country’s policies. If you are outside of a touristic area it is extremely smart to wear a one-piece and bring a coverup.
Headed to a different area in the Middle East? Or, just want a more extensive list? You may want to sign up to get my free, super-helpful, and downloadable Middle East packing list, below. Did I mention that it’s free?
Solo Female Travel – Where to Stay in the Middle East
So, this is an interesting one.
When I first started traveling the Middle East solo, hostels were absolutely not a thing in this region of the world. This is because of the strict laws in many countries about men and women sharing a room if they are unmarried.
Nowadays, I have seen a number of hostels start to spring up where they definitely did not exist before, making it easier (and cheaper!) for a solo traveler to get by.
Simply check the area you will be staying on a booking site like Booking.com or hostelworld.com. You will quickly know if this is the case for where you are going.
Alcohol in the Middle East
Each country has different rules and policies on consuming alcohol or bringing alcohol into the country. Absolutely do your research before attempting anything alcohol-related. You can potentially get in some serious trouble if you don’t.
For me, as a nature and outdoors enthusiast, as well as someone who likes to be entrenched in the local culture, this is not an issue for me.
If you are a traveler who loves nightlife, well – the Middle East is certainly not known for it’s party spots but there are a few places that you can find some. For example, I know there are parts of Dubai that have dance clubs, as well as in the more liberal Turkey or in Beirut.
But, the Middle East is probably not the first place you should go if you’re looking for wild nightlife (and I doubt that’s a surprise).
Benefits of Solo Female Travel in the Middle East
There are a few hidden and unexpected benefits of being a solo female traveler in the Middle East.
You may or may not know, in more traditional areas, it is unusual for any woman to speak to male strangers. Meaning, when men travel solo to these areas, they are typically unable to get a female perspective on life in that place.
As a solo female, you will not only be able to speak to local women, but you’ll often be invited into conversations and regarded with curiosity. You’ll get to see a side of local culture reserved for only women and children – no men allowed.
I also found that, while yes I was mindful of the men I interacted with, most of them were incredibly respectful as well. Oftentimes the men will leave you alone or send some curious glances your way. But due to the traditions and religious culture, it is much less common than you may think to have to fend off unwanted male attention.
Have I ever had to fend off unwanted male attention in the Middle East? Honest answer, yes. But have I ever had to fend off unwanted male attention in Europe? Central America? Asia? Yes, yes, and yes. It’s not fair to project that solely on this region.
Last But Not Least…
While I can only speak from my own experience, the Middle East is an incredible place to explore. Yes, it may require just a bit more research and planning than other vacations you may have taken, but I promise it is well worth it.
The ornate architecture and religious history is breathtaking. The Saharan and Arabian deserts are just magical. Have you read my post about The Empty Quarter? I’m in love with it!
And the culture is more welcoming than you would ever dream, if you’re basing it on the Western media’s representation.
Part of the reason I started this blog was to dispel a lot of the preconceived notions about travel safety in often-overlooked destinations, particularly for solo females. So I feel incredibly passionate about portraying the Middle East for the unique and vibrant place that it is.
Despite any initial hesitations you may have, traveling as a solo female in the Middle East is absolutely worthwhile. Your experience will be unique, and you are likely to come away with a newfound respect for the lovely people of this region.
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Have you visited the Middle East? Or are you planning to go? Let me know in the comments below!