Travel in the Middle East During the Arab Spring Era
ArchaeoAdventures• This slideshow can be found at:http://www.archaeoadventures.com/
Ode to the Icons
Arab Spring• Dec 17, 2010 Mohamed Bouazizi self-immolation, Tunisia. Arab Spring begins.• Jan 14, 2011 Tunisian president resigns.• Throughout 2011 protests arose in Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq Kurdistan, Baharain, Libya, Kuwait, Oman, Yemen, Egypt, Syria, Sudan, Algeria, & Morocco.Key Events• Feb 11, 2011 Egyptian President Mubarak resigns.• Feb 15, 2011 Libyan civil war begins. Oct 20, Gaddafi is killed.• New government is formed in Lebanon.• Jordan, Oman, Kuwait – prime ministers resign.• Yemen’s President and ministers step down.• Saudi Arabia - women get right to vote in municipal elections in 2015.• Syria – ongoing civil war.• 2012 – protests continue across Arab world; violent protests in Baharain & Egypt
What’s Changed?• Regimes have fallen, but not has changed much for travelers…..Except the number of tourists.
Is It Safe?• The US State Department thinks the whole world is unsafe for YOU. “The Department of State has issued this Worldwide Caution to update information on the continuing threat of terrorist actions and violence against U.S. citizens and interests throughout the world….The Department of State remains concerned about the continued threat of terrorist attacks, demonstrations, and other violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests overseas.” Skip the State Department – fear mentality.• Australia’s Smartraveller.gov.au – About Jordan “Exercise a high degree of caution. Pay close attention to your personal security at all times and monitor the media about possible new safety or security risks.” Yet, Jordan is one of the safest places you can travel. Confusion? Be cautious of what you read here – they operate on the nervous nellie mentality.
Researching Safety – Do Your Homework• Ask fellow travelers:1. http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree2. http://www.fodors.com/community/3. http://www.tripadvisor.com/ForumHome4. http://www.travellerspoint.com/forum.cfm/• Ask locals: couchsurfing.org• Use your network.• Email reputable travel companies.• Don’t go off one source – build a profile by talking to many different kinds of sources.
Genevieve’s Safety Rules• It’s ALMOST NEVER as dangerous as the State Department makes it out to be. Parts of Chicago and New York are more dangerous than all of Cairo.• Do your homework. The best way to be safe is stay informed.• Build a profile on safety by talking to people – locals, fellow travelers, tour companies, guides, websites, guidebooks.• When new to a place, judge safety off women and families until you can get a better picture. (Same goes for protests. Women and families there, it’s probably safe – yet stay away of your surroundings. All guys – too much testosterone.)• Do the things you would do at home – don’t walk down dark alleys at night by yourself. Listen to those hairs on the back of your neck.• Be smart about pickpockets.• Don’t act like a tourist, act like and expat.• Theft is about targets of opportunity.
Heightened Security• Be mindful of what you are taking photos of. Don’t take photos like this one.
Understand Where You Are Going• Even though countries in the Middle East are smaller than the United States safety can greatly vary as close as 3 hours away.• When researching a country, research exactly where you are going not just the country as a whole.• Ex: Beirut, Lebanon is very safe. Bint Jubayl is unsafe because it’s on the border with Israel and Hezbollah operates there. Drive time – 1.5 - 2 hours. What happens in one part of a country does not necessarily affect other parts.
Money• Leave those travelers checks at home.• Call your credit card and debit card companies to let them know where you will be traveling.• All countries have ATMS, whether they always work is another matter.• Credits Cards accepted varies. Egypt about 30% of the time, Jordan about 80% of the time. Also depends on how you travel – high end v. budget.• Best exchange rate with credit cards. #2 atms, #3 cash.• Bring about $300 US Dollars that you keep in your money belt just in case. Leave your money belt in your suitcase when not traveling (have a small lock for your suitcase.• Banks are usually not open on their holy day, weekends and random holidays. Weekends vary between Thurs/Fri and Fri/Sat. Always good to have extra cash.• Yemen and Syria – during unrest all atms and banks shut down.• Have some cash with you when you enter for purchasing your visa, don’t count on airport ATMs to work.• ATMs v. Changing Cash – atms give better exchange rates.• Bring a spare atm card to a 2nd bank account. Leave this card in your suitcase.
Best Foreign Credit Cards• Captial One Rewards Venture Visa Card – No foreign transaction fees, double points on all purchases. Very easy to use the points for airline miles, hotels, etc. Great customer service.• Charles Schwab debit card. No atm or foreign transaction fees.
Internet• Varies from country to country.• It’s terrible in Lebanon. Decent in Jordan. Fantastic in Egypt.• Egypt: buy a mobile hotspot for your phone or computer for around 150 Egyptian Pound (cheapest plan). You can purchase a one device hotspot or a 5 device wireless hotspot. As long as you don’t watch videos with it it will easily last for a few months. Etisalat has the best service. These devices work everywhere – including the desert and are very fast.• Many high-end hotels charge a lot for internet.
Calling• Smartphones – turn off your data before you leave home. Most smartphones will let you use the internet function if you are at a free wireless hotspot. Great for traveling.• If you are traveling in a country for many weeks or think you’ll make phone calls it can often be a good idea to get a local sim card.• Some countries, like Egypt and the UAE, it’s dirt cheap for sim cards and to make basic calls or text. About $10 for the sim card and then you can purchase credit in $5, $10, etc increments. They also have data plans for data phones.• Skype. Download skype to your phone or computer and get family and friends to do the same. Makes calling home free and easy.• Remind family and friends you are traveling in the developing world and internet and phones will not always work.
Housing• Ultimate budget: couchsurfing.org. Be smart about this option.• AirBnB.com• Hostelworld and Hostelbookers• Hotels.com – every 11th night is free.• Hosteling International (after AirBnB, this is the cheapest housing in Dubai)• The Middle East is the developing world, 5 star does not always equate to 5 star (except Dubai). Do your homework before shelling out hundreds of dollars for a subpar hotel.• Ask fellow travelers for recommendations.• Ladies – research budget hotels, you need to be careful, some can double as brothels. Trust your gut on hotel staff. Make sure the doors have good working locks. Though there are also plenty of great budget hotels in the region.• Be adventurous and flexible. There are lots of housing options with character (safari style camps on top of a huge sand, sultans palaces).
Cost• Egypt, Yemen, Turkey, Syria – Cheapest• Oman, Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar, Israel, Lebanon UAE – on par with traveling in the US
Tips and Tricks to Save $$• If there’s two or more traveling together it can often be cost effective to rent a car. Renting a car is not an option for all countries. (Countries such as Jordan and Oman are easy to drive in).• Buy food at the grocery store or local market.• Stay in hostel or budget hotels.• Bargain.
Women• Don’t rush out and by that burka or hijab.• In most countries you don’t need to cover your hair.• Do bring a scarf for visiting mosques.• Do dress conservative. Cover shoulders, knees, no cleavage. Don’t wear a bikini unless at a private beach or your hotel. (even in Dubai)• Wear large sunglasses and don’t make eye contact with men on the street.• If you are followed or harassed it’s best to ignore it, engaging will only get more of a reaction from men.• If harassment gets bad yell Im-shee (Go Away) or Aayb (shame on you). Use these phrases as a last resort.• Do walk around by yourself. It’s a great way to meet people.• Use basic common-sense safety. No dark alleys. Don’t go off with strangers.• If you feel threatened get help from an senior man or woman. Age is respected.• Look for cafes and restaurants that are serving a mix of women and men.
Solo Travel• It’s a great way to meet people.• Hostels and hostel-esque hotels are where the backpackers congregate.• Couchsurfing.org – couchsurfing communities will offer events, daytrips, and multi-day trips.• Meet-up – Groups that are doing things.• Special interest – look for a group in that country.• Jordan: Amman - Wild Jordan runs weekend day and overnight hiking, biking and camping trips. http://www.rscn.org.jo/orgsite/RSCN/NewsandEvents/EventsCalendar/tabid/130/ Default.aspx; Petra – Mosleh, owner of the Cleopetra Hotel, will pair solo travelers with other travelers for cheaper, yet top-notch tours around Petra and Wadi Rum. firstname.lastname@example.org• Lebanon: Couchsurfing.org and Meet-up both very active in planning outtings. Couchsurfing runs a weekly language night in Beirut.• Egypt: Couchsurfing.org and Meet-up both very active in planning outtings. On The Run Tours (http://www.ontheruntours.net) offers a sort of design it yourself style trip.
What You Don’t See in the News
Additional Resources: Transportation• Harder to connect up countries by bus because tensions on borders.• Flying Between countries – how to get best deals1. www.skyscanner.net2. www.kayak.com3. www.vayama.com4. www.orbitz.com5. Check the airlines’ website.6. Check multiple times – prices can fluctuate from week to week.