Packing the appropriate travel clothing and accessories can make or break a trip to the Middle East.
Though theft isn’t generally a big problem in the Middle East, tourist sites and hotels can attract unscrupulous people. To encourage pickpockets and scam artists to choose another target, tourists should act and dress like experienced travelers.
Travelers who are learning the ropes can still appear confident by reading travel advice from people who’ve been there. Here are some packing tips from an American woman who has lived in the Middle East.
Choosing Travel Clothing for the Middle East
Modest clothes. Every country has its own standards of dress, but almost everyone in the Middle East dresses modestly, Christians as well as Muslims. These guidelines apply to men as well as women. Men shouldn’t wear shorts or tank tops, no matter how hot it gets.
Women should cover their shoulders and their legs to below the knee. Women will also get a lot of mileage out of a large scarf such as a pashmina, for covering up in mosques and conservative areas.
Accessories (and makeup, for women). Americans are known around the world for their casual style of dress, whereas folks in the Middle East tend to dress up if they can. To show respect for local styles, it’s a good idea to wear a couple pieces of costume jewelry (for women) or a nice-looking watch (for men). Something from a dime-store will work. Travelers shouldn’t carry anything valuable!
Many women in the Middle East wear make-up, so women might want to bring make-up if they wear it at home. Cosmetics are actually a good conversation topic for getting to know local women.
To Travel Safe and Healthy Overseas, Don’t Forget these Basics
A watch. People in the habit of using a cell-phone to tell the time will run into difficulties! Most American cell-phones won’t pick up a signal in the Middle East, where phone companies use a different system. It’s recommended to bring a watch and alarm clock!
Light-weight rain-gear. Believe it or not, it can rain in the Middle East. Find out before you go when the rainy season will occur. Even in Cairo, Egypt, where it only rains a couple times each winter, the rain is a torrential, umbrella-destroying monsoon when it comes. If there’s any risk of running into rain, a traveler should bring a light-weight rain jacket. A jacket can also serve double-duty as a wind-breaker on chilly desert evenings.
Toiletries. Most American toiletry products are hard to find and expensive in the Middle East. It’s best for travelers to bring all the toiletries they’ll need, especially on short trips. The following items can sometimes be hard to find, even at tourist resorts: sunscreen, insect repellent, contact lens supplies and tampons.
A phrasebook. Even in an organized tour with professional guides, a phrasebook gives travelers invaluable emergency assistance. Lonely Planet publishes a phrasebook to Egyptian Arabic, a dialect that is generally understood (though not necessarily spoken) in Arabic-speaking countries. For Turkey, you’ll need a Turkish phrasebook, and for Iran, a Farsi (or Persian) phrasebook (Lonely Planet publishes phrasebooks for them as well).
Keep Middle East Travel Comfortable with these Lightweight Luxuries
Comfortable ear-plugs and eye-mask for sleeping. In some towns the dawn prayer call is loud enough to wake travelers out of a sound sleep. It’s possible to avoid the dawn wake-up call by using ear-plugs. An eye-mask also comes in handy, as even the most expensive hotels in the Middle East aren’t guaranteed to have good blackout curtains.
A small LED reading light. Even the fanciest hotels in the Middle East don’t always have table lamps. Trains, airplanes and long-distance buses also can’t guarantee reading lights. Travelers can save their eyesight by bringing a small, battery-powered reading light that clips to a book or magazine.
Something to read in English. Even for travelers who want to immerse themselves completely in local culture, there are moments when they need a break. Depending on the destination, it may be hard to find English-language reading material–and the options will probably be limited to a few best-sellers. Experienced travelers know that an absorbing novel can be a sanity-saver.
Packing for Travel to the Middle East: Prepare for the Worst and Expect the Best
Whether a traveler is preparing for a package tour to the Pyramids or a solo adventure to the souks of Sana’a or Damascus, thinking ahead while packing will make for a safe, comfortable and memorable trip.