With summer fast approaching, the time has come to book your holiday plans. Emily Sheahan believes you should not be shy when it comes to The Middle East, and shares her tips for staying there.
Many people have an ingrained sense of negativity, and even fear, regarding The Middle East. For many westerners, a lot of caution lies in traveling there for the first time. While this is not completely without reason, this scary caricature of unfamiliar accents and dress, veils and beards, is built up by Western media. The Middle East is a region everyone should have on, and check off, their bucket list.
The vast majority of people in the Middle East are Muslim. In the tradition of Islam, they will greet you openly and share their culture and values with you. They will do so while ensuring you are made to feel safe in their home. Hospitality is an important value in their culture and religion, and this should not be repaid in fear. Take the time to understand that.
If you are travelling to one of the more modern areas such as Dubai or Qatar, do not dedicate all your time to the skyscrapers, beaches, and malls. Enjoy them, but remember these are not what makes The Middle East special. Spend time in the older areas -the markets and souks- eat the street food, and haggle for scarves and knock-off bags. Visit a mosque, a Bedouin camp, interact with a local family. Only then will you truly have a chance at understanding what Middle Eastern culture is really about.
Sensitivity is important to consider when travelling. If you are travelling to Saudi Arabia, for example, you will have to be willing to cover up. In public women have to wear abayas and men are expected to dress modestly, meaning shoulders and knees are to be covered. If you are a woman, take into consideration you will not be able to drive. Make sure to research the laws of whichever country you are visiting, as they are likely to differ from those here. Make sure not to assume what is considered acceptable in Ireland is equally acceptable everywhere else.
While there are many countries in the Middle East that are safe to travel to, in the current state of things unfortunately there are some you would be wise to avoid. Research the country you plan to visit thoroughly. You can be adventurous, but do not land yourself in the middle of the Libyan crisis.
Wherever in The Middle East you choose to visit, make sure to embrace every aspect of the unique culture. Do not disregard it because of fear.