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Paradise naught: the privilege of being a tourist

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Paradise naught: the privilege of being a tourist

Vacationer privilege couldn’t be clearer, but it’s one thing we vacationers usually overlook. Time to alter that.

“The kid could be very malnourished,” the previous physician mentioned matter-of-factly, inspecting a limp boy with a stethoscope for an apathetic half second. He surveyed him by means of dim gentle from a single bulb, flickering in his workplace inside a crumbling rural hospital in Bangladesh.

The affected person’s mom, swathed in a black abaya and yellow floral hijab, clutched the boy to her. A sq. of black fabric hid her face. Solely her eyes have been seen, glinting attentively as she watched the physician scratch names on a prescription pad. After a brief change of their native dialect, she stood and carried the boy out of the workplace, prescription in hand.

“What did you prescribe him, then?” I requested the physician as soon as she left. Dialog coated my awkward discomfort. Introduced there by my native host to satisfy the English-speaking physician—conversational English is uncommon in rural Bangladesh—I’d watched the scene play out from throughout his desk.

“A couple of issues.” His eyes, shielded by glasses, pointed ever so barely in two completely different instructions. “I say the boy must eat extra nutritious meals. He solely eats biscuits and sweets. However she simply needs medication, so I prescribe medication to make her comfortable.”

“Nutritious meals? Like what… fish or greens? There are various on this isla-”

“No, like extra oily meals,” he cuts me off impatiently, as if it’s the obvious factor on the planet.

Cycle rickshaw driver on Monpura island, Bangladesh

Welcome to Monpura, Bangladesh

Why are you right here?

Our change happened on Monpura, one in all many islands on the intersection of the Meghna River and the Bay of Bengal in Bangladesh.

One week earlier than, I had no inkling of the island’s existence. An article offhandedly mentioning Monpura’s lush pure magnificence and lack of vacationers was sufficient to attract me to its shores. As a lover of “off the overwhelmed monitor” locations, visiting Monpura was an apparent selection… however the locals I met as soon as there have been doubtful about my resolution.

“Why have you ever come to Monpura?” the physician requested me from behind his desk. As I gave a pageant-worthy spiel about pure magnificence and type individuals, he nodded slowly, leaning again.

“Sure. I suppose for you, a vacationer, it’s a very lovely place. However for the individuals of Monpura, life could be very exhausting.  There are not any services.

I need to depart, however I can not discover anybody to exchange me. Nobody needs to reside right here.”

Comprehensible. A devastating cyclone killed tens of hundreds of individuals and destroyed most of Monpura in 1970; the island remains to be recovering. Overwhelmingly poor and farmers and fishermen make up many of the island’s inhabitants. The literacy charge is around 35%.  Many reside in corrugated tin homes; even center class concrete homes I visited had grime flooring kitchens with holes within the floor for stoves.

But there I used to be, an ignorant overseas woman chirping fortunately in regards to the richness of fairly roads lined with banana bushes and pleasant locals.

Late that night time, after visiting the hospital, I lied unsleeping in mattress, staring up at mosquitoes whining and circling the netting over my mattress.

What was I doing there?

Men and boys riding a van in Monpura island, Bangladesh

For the file, Monpura is rattling lovely.

Voyeur voyage

The interplay haunted my ideas for weeks. Years later, I can nonetheless hear the physician asking his easy query.

Was I actually an harmless vacationer? Or was I some form of freakish voyeur, subconsciously feeding on the struggling of others? A dark tourist utilizing these much less lucky to stroke my journey ego and fulfill morbid curiosities?

I started to doubt my travels. My pursuits. My intentions. The life I’ve created for myself.

I started scrutinizing the whole lot I did, from the way in which I spoke to chai distributors to how I selected my subsequent locations. Vital ears dissected traveler conversations about international locations visited, paradises discovered, journeys undertaken. Questioning why was part of each course of, whether or not I used to be choosing comfort retailer ice cream or diving by means of seas of taxi hawkers.

Why am I pushed to journey as removed from dwelling as doable?

What attracts us privileged vacationers to creating international locations?

Is it fallacious for me to need to be right here?

I discovered no concrete solutions, solely extra questions.

Flower market in Kolkata, India

What’s it that pulls vacationers from developed international locations to all the time search out scenes like this flower market in Kolkata, India?

Twin views

A 12 months and a half later, I got here full-circle with a lady on the facet of a dusty street in Khorog, capital of Tajikistan’s Pamir area.

“Now you understand what it’s wish to reside in Tajikistan,” the younger girl mentioned. Lengthy auburn hair pulled right into a bun accentuated the pressure in her face as she surveyed the primary street, quiet on a Sunday morning. She wanted to go west, I wanted to go east, however we each stood ready for automobiles which may by no means come.

“I need to spend time with my mom in Bartang earlier than I have to return to my examine in Germany,” she mentioned, her voice trembling anxiously, “however I wouldn’t have a lot time. Just a few days. I must go at present.” She glanced up hopefully at a white van slowing to cease close to us. False alarm—only a passing native minibus.

Main bazaar street in Khorog, Tajikistan

Khorog’s major avenue on a busier weekday

“It is rather troublesome to reside in Tajikistan,” she continued. “There are not any schedules, not sufficient transport, not sufficient meals or work. It is rather lovely place to go to for individuals such as you, however for us it’s a very exhausting life.”

I nodded. “It’s true. We vacationers can go to and benefit from the mountains, however when issues get too troublesome or tiring for us, we are able to depart.” I used to be all too aware of the duality by then. “I perceive not everybody has that privilege.” I thought of including an apology, however it appeared condescending; I bit my tongue.

The Tajik girl sighed in defeat, searching on the sparsely populated street.

“Germany could be very completely different. From residing and learning there, I now perceive how exhausting life is right here in Tajikistan.”

Our dialog continued down this downhill path for a time, till it was interrupted by alternative: a driver on the lookout for passengers to my vacation spot.

Saying goodbye and wishing her luck, I went my method; the final I noticed of the girl was her floral black kurta, fluttering as she dashed towards a automotive which may have been heading in her course.

Shared taxi breaking down on Pamir Highway in Tajikistan

The shared taxi having a little bit of a breakdown—the primary of many—en route

Privilege within the Pamir

The shared taxi crawled alongside the dusty Pamir Freeway as I sifted by means of ideas. They transported me again to my Monpura mattress: pondering privilege as I sought journey in a distant area of the world. This time, the whine of hungry mosquitoes was changed with the drained taxi’s groan because it climbed mountain passes.

My mind conjured a picture of the Tajik woman sitting with the physician behind his desk, eyes boring into me as I gazed unseeingly at desolate excessive altitude landscapes. Why are you right here? Why did you come to this troublesome land?

My ideas flitted, reflecting on all of the “troublesome” locations I had visited and glamorized in my earlier three years of travels. All of the occasions my privilege as a overseas vacationer was painfully apparent, but unnoticed by me:

Sipping tea in Afghanistan as individuals shared tales of associates misplaced to bombings and monetary hardships from warfare, figuring out I’d fly away mere days later.

Haggling over prices of a bicycle so I might cycle round one other distant Bangladeshi island alone—one thing most native women wouldn’t be allowed to do.

Assuring villagers in Pakistan’s mountains they reside in paradise one sunny summer time afternoon, although I’d by no means lived by means of a harsh winter with restricted provides, restricted street entry, and scarce heating.

Hmm.

It’s simple to don rose-colored glasses and declare a spot paradise while you’re on vacation, unburdened by any of the realities of life there. However as I took my psychological step again and tried to take away my glasses, I discovered it disturbing that this had not actually occurred to me earlier.

Pretentious individuals spend numerous time attempting to distinguish between vacationers and vacationers. Usually I attempt to keep away from the semantic dialogue, however in that second, the controversy appeared extra absurd than ever earlier than. Traveler, vacationer, it doesn’t matter—what does matter is that each “vacationers” and “vacationers” alike have the liberty and means to maneuver just because we need to.

Foreign female traveler in Band-e-Amir, Afghanistan

Having fun with the placing Band-e Amir lakes in Afghanistan as a result of I selected to, not as a result of that’s all I can entry.

Apocalypse astounds me

Possibly it’s a stretch, however in Apocalypse 2020, I discover the dialogue extra related now than ever earlier than.

Within the span of some weeks, coronavirus utterly modified the world as we knew it. As international locations closed, and studies started to roll in in regards to the dangers of the virus and its potential risks to our societies, one other dialogue emerged: the ethics of touring in a pandemic period.

I watched as (usually) Western influencers continued travels in creating international locations, regardless of overwhelming quantities of data illustrating how irresponsible journey was on the time. Choices like this are simple when you understand if something actually unhealthy occurred to you, you could be whisked away to safer pastures and higher infrastructure, or afford in-country remedy… probably on the expense of a less-privileged native in want.

Different Western vacationers purposefully carried on with their deliberate holidays, getting aggressively defensive when others questioned their selections. They paid the cash, they made their plans—that they had a proper to their trip, regardless that they have been placing others in danger by touring and probably spreading the virus.

The entitlement was appalling. The ignorance or disregard for locals’ security, disturbing.

Lockdown has given me the house to sit down and suppose with out distractions… and eventually, greater than two years after my dialogue with the physician, I’ve discovered order for my ideas.

Vacationer privilege: the liberty to be curious

In my view, it’s not fallacious to journey to “far-flung” locations. To hunt a nuanced perspective in a rustic you solely know from information headlines. To search out magnificence in a slower tempo of life, even one burdened with hardships. To immerse your self in environments utterly overseas to you.

For (hopefully) many people vacationers, these needs stem from one thing harmless: curiosity. A need to expertise locations that problem our understanding of the way in which life works. An opportunity to broaden our perspective about our species, its myriad cultures, and the planet that hosts us.

The difficulty with this curiosity is that we frequently really feel entitled to train it. The liberty to satiate it’s taken as a right. These days, many vacationers view journey without any consideration, not a privilege.

In case you’re studying this, you’re privileged sufficient to be extremely educated and communicate English. You possibly can afford good units, information, and/or a WiFi connection. Your life is secure sufficient that you’ve time to sit down and browse some random woman’s weblog posts on-line. Even when your passport, funds, or circumstances limit your travels, chances are high you continue to have the privilege of selecting the place you reside or go to some extent.

Don’t really feel responsible about it. Foundations of privilege are out of our management, laid over centuries of discrimination and biased methods. The issue is after we don’t acknowledge its existence, or deny we profit from our personal. We are able to’t work towards equality if we’re embarrassed to confess inequality exists within the first place.

Female traveler at Lulusar Lake in Pakistan

Pondering place at Pakistan’s Lulusar Lake

Goals of paradise

I’m not attempting to wreck your bucket checklist or undermine your travels. By all means, proceed to dream of touring the Silk Street, or sequestering your self on distant islands, or discovering peace in village life. I’m proper there dreaming with you.

All I’m sayin’ is: examine yo’ self.

As (once more hopefully) aspiring accountable vacationers, all of us must look and suppose extra deeply in regards to the locations we go to. Why we need to go to? How ought to we act after we arrive? What can we do to make sure our influence is constructive?

A part of touring responsibly is recognizing that we’re privileged to have the ability to journey in any respect, and never abusing our privilege. As a substitute, we must always discover methods to make use of our privilege to empower those that are much less so. (No, giving handouts does not depend.)

Go forth and journey. Simply don’t overlook that you simply, the vacationer, have the privilege to go to a vacation spot, skim its floor, understand it as paradise… then depart when paradise will get previous or occasions get powerful. Locals usually can not.

Even in purported paradise, there’s all the time extra occurring below the floor than meets the attention. Particularly in desires.

Being a tourist is a privilege, not a right, but that's something many of us don't realize... or even think about. Click through to read about my process of coming to terms with my own tourist privilege. #ResponsibleTravel #Privilege #Tourism

Paradise naught: the privilege of being a vacationer

#Paradise #naught #privilege #vacationer

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India

The best places to go off the beaten track in India – Lost With Purpose

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The best places to go off the beaten track in India - Lost With Purpose

Up to date in 2020: An inventory of my favourite off the overwhelmed monitor” locations and experiences in India, chosen after greater than a 12 months of journey across the nation. Take a look at these locations in the event you actually wish to dive deep and go off the overwhelmed monitor in India.

Reality: India is very large.

Although some individuals make it appear as if India is a rustic that may be “finished” in a matter of weeks, the reality is that exploring India would take lifetimes. After greater than a 12 months—and hopefully extra to come back at some point—I’ve solely coated a tiny fraction of this majestic nation.

With a lot to see and do, it’s onerous to determine the place to journey in India! Though many individuals keep on with the tried and examined locations—suppose the Golden Triangle, Goa, and the Hummus Path—there’s a lot extra to see in India past textbook vacationer sights.

Extra importantly, India turns into way more rewarding (and far much less stuffed with rip-off artists) while you go away the well-beaten path and immerse your self within the myriad experiences it provides.

Under are just a few of my favourite locations to go off the overwhelmed monitor in India, that can assist you journey past the hordes of sketchy tour touts, selfie squads, and stoned overseas hippies.

After almost one year of travel in India, there are some destinations we just can't get out of our minds! These are some of our favorite off the beaten track destinations in India, from South India to Northeast India, including a map of destinations for your trip planning!

Index

Kannur, Kerala (South India)

Fire kutti theyyam ritual in Kannur, Kerala

Theyyam in Kannur: an otherworldy expertise!

This dusty market city in northern Kerala does nothing to impress. However within the villages surrounding Kannur, an historical ritual takes place for a number of months a 12 months: Theyyam.

Theyyam is likely one of the most spectacular rituals I’ve seen in India. Mentioned to predate Hinduism, chosen males channel historical deities by way of costume and dance. As soon as a dancer’s (elaborate) full make-up and costume is full, he loses consciousness, and turns into one with the god.

It’s an otherworldly ritual—one you positively don’t wish to miss.

Learn extra: Theyyam, a dance of gods

A night of fiery Theyyam dance in Kannur, Kerala is one of many top off the beaten track sights in India.

Bijapur and Bidar, Karnataka (South India)

Best destinations off the beaten track in India - Ibrahim Rauza mausoleum through an archway in Bijapur, Karnataka - Lost With Purpose travel blog

The Ibrahim Rauza mosque and mausoleum in Bijapur.

Most vacationers bus it to Hampi or the Konkan coast, giving little or no thought to the remainder of Karnataka. However within the northeast nook of the state are two cities that historical past fiends are certain to drool over: Bijapur and Bidar.

Massive onion domes dot their skylines, Islamic historical past comes alive within the multitudes of madrasas, mosques, and shrines tucked away all through each cities. Neither are notably fashionable with overseas vacationers, and locals are glad to have a chat or a cup of chai. By far a few of my favourite locations in Karnataka.

Learn extra: 7 off the overwhelmed monitor locations in Karnataka

Exploring crumbling arches in Bijapur, an epic off the beaten track destination in Karnataka state, India.

Kalna, West Bengal (East India)

108 Shiva temple in Kalna, West Bengal, India

The beautiful 108 Shiv Mandir in Kalna is made up of two concentric circles of 108 tiny temples. How cool is that?

There’s one million causes to like West Bengal—I’m admittedly a bit biased as Kolkata is my favourite massive Indian metropolis and Bengali meals is to die for—however past stuffing your self stuffed with fish and rice, riverside terracotta temples are one draw to the japanese state.

Although scores of temples dot the riverside, not all are simply accessible not simple to search out. Nevertheless, Kalna is a picturesque temple city on the banks of the Hooghly—the decrease Ganga river—and it’s packed to the brim with examples of Bengal’s well-known terracotta structure. About two hours’ drive from Kolkata, the city hosts an enormous temple complicated. The complicated consists of one of many extra distinctive temples I’ve seen in India: the round 108 Shiva Temple.

If you wish to begin branching out into West Bengal, Kalna is an efficient place to begin.

Lalji terracotta Hindu Temple in Kalna, West Bengal, India

Hyderabad, Telangana (East India)

Best off the beaten track destinations in India - Char Minar during nightly traffic in the old city of Hyderabad - Lost With Purpose travel blog

The well-known Char Minar in Hyderabad’s previous metropolis.

Though most of Hyderabad’s famed royal historical past is now misplaced to the ages, town is a heaven for foodies and historical past aficionados alike.

A separate kingdom till 1948—Hyderabad’s Nawab was the richest man alive throughout its glory days—a stroll round its previous metropolis will take you previous crumbling haveli mansions, palaces transformed into authorities buildings, and what’s fairly probably the tastiest non-veg meals you may sink your tooth into in India.

Learn extra: The place and what to eat within the Previous Metropolis of Hyderabad, India

A view of the buzzing market around Hyderabad, India's old city from the top of the Charminar monument.

Bundi, Rajasthan (West India)

View of blue houses from the palace in Bundi, Rajasthan, India

“Brahmin blue” homes, minus the effort

Positive, Bundi may be one of many extra “touristy” locations on this checklist… however in comparison with different vacationer spots in Rajasthan—suppose Jaipur, Udaipur, and so on.—Bundi sees hardly any vacationers.

And therein lies the nippiness. You’ll be able to weave your manner by way of tightly winding alleys, have chats with type Rajasthani individuals who aren’t simply out to promote you one thing, and revel in a quiet palace stuffed with a number of the most spectacular frescoes I noticed in Rajasthan. You’ll really be capable of take pleasure in them, because you received’t have two thousand individuals urgent up in opposition to you to share the views (I’m taking a look at you, Udaipur).

Don’t be afraid to make the trek as much as Taragarh fort for epic views over town… however do be cautious of the quite a few monkeys lurking on the prime. Protip: convey a stick. An enormous one.

Fresco paintings on the ceiling of a palace in Bundi, Rajasthan, India

Palitana, Gujarat (West India)

Our favorite off the beaten track destinations in India - Sunrise over Jain temple tops in Palitana, India - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Dawn over the 1,000+ Jain temples of Palitana.

Palitana is house to one among Jainism’s holiest of pilgrimage websites, and becoming a member of throngs of religious Jains on a part of their pilgrimage remains to be one of many highlights of my time in India.

There’s nothing fairly like zig-zagging your manner up a mountain earlier than the morning time with lots of of pilgrims, then watching the solar slowly rise over a mountaintop coated with greater than a thousand temples… actually!

Learn extra: 1% of a Jain pilgrimage in Palitana

Temple doors opening to sunrise over the Jain temples of Palitana, Gujarat state, India. The perfect off the beaten track destination for your India trip!

Rani Ki Vav, Gujarat (West India)

Our favorite off the beaten path destinations in India - Rani ki vav stepwell in Patan, Gujarat - Lost With Purpose travel blog

The insanely nicely preserved inside of Rani Ki Vav.

Rajasthan is known for its stepwells—broad wells constructed so individuals might extra simply entry water—however I discovered the stepwells of Gujarat much more spectacular. It helped that they’ve far much less Instagrammers posing on their stairways.

Rani Ki Vav, exterior of Patan city, is the nicely to finish all wells. Regardless of being 900 years previous, the stepwell is in wonderful situation; it was misplaced underneath a overlaying of sand for lots of of years. For sure one of the crucial spectacular artistic endeavors and structure I noticed in India.

On the lookout for extra stepwells? Take a look at Sid the Wanderer’s article on Adajal stepwell in Ahmedabad.

Carved details in Rani Ki Vav stepwell, one of India's most beautiful stepwells in Patan, Gujarat state.

Diu, Gujarat (West India)

Best off the beaten path destinations in India - Colorful haveli on the streets of Diu island - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Vivid havelis on the slim streets of Diu.

I’d be chill with mentioning each place I visited in Gujarat, from Laxmi Villas in Baroda to the Patola workshop in Patan. However Diu was one thing particular.

The small island, technically administered from Delhi, was a Portuguese colony. Portuguese identify plates grasp on homes the place Indian and Portuguese types intermingle seamlessly. And in contrast to the island’s extra well-known beachy and colonial cousin Goa, only a few vacationers make it to Diu.

Orderly streets, recent sea breeze, and a wholesome splash of shade—what extra do you have to calm down and recharge after extra hectic travels on the mainland? The truth that beer is tax-free helps, too 😉

Blue skies over a Portuguese church on Diu island, India. A great off the beaten track destination in India if you're looking for a bit of comfortable rest and relaxation, and the perfect Goa alternative.

Gangotri, Uttarakhand (North India)

Gomukh glacier, start of the Ganges/Ganga river in Uttarakhand, India

On the way in which to Gomukh glacier, begin of the Ganga (Ganges) river in Uttarakhand.

Everyone knows in regards to the well-known Ganges River—referred to as Ganga in India—however the place does the Ganges really start?

A number of tributaries feed in to what in the end turns into the Ganga, however there’s one particular supply that folks imagine is the beginning of the life-giving river: the Bhagirathi river. Trickling out from the bottom of Gomukh glacier in Uttarakhand’s mountains, the icy chilly water is crystal clear and clear sufficient to drink. All through the years, scientists and sailors alike have been fascinated by the water from this supply. Sailors favored it as a result of it was drinkable for months after assortment on the supply, whereas scientists are intrigued by its seemingly antibacterial properties.

Whether or not you wish to sip from the beginning of one of many world’s holiest rivers, or just take pleasure in a surprising however manageable mountain trek, you’d be onerous pressed to discover a extra appropriate journey in your travels in India.

Learn extra: Trekking to the beginning of the Ganges River

Female traveler trekking to the start of the Ganges (Ganga) river from Gangotri, Uttarakhand, India

Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh (North India)

Top off the beaten track destinations in India - A colorful temple in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Bursts of shade in Ayodhya.

Thought of the birthplace of Ram, and seared into historical past by the destruction of the Babri Masjid, Ayodhya holds a particular place in UP politics and Hindu nationalists’ hearts. Most vacationers skip Ayodhya in favor of its well-known neighbor Varanasi, however I loved Ayodhya way more.

Not solely is it the birthplace of Ram, it’s additionally the birthplace of a number of Jain holy males. As soon as a part of the Mughal Empire, the slim aspect streets of Ayodhya are a feast for the eyes, overflowing with temples, shrines, and complex latticework.

The ghats aren’t as spectacular as these alongside the river in Varanasi, however the calm and pleasant individuals greater than make up for it. It’s additionally nice to stroll round with out faux babas harassing you for images and blessings each few meters.

Need extra India inspiration? These are the 3 most beautiful states in India, in response to The World in My Pocket.

Loktak Lake, Manipur (Northeast India)

Our favorite off the beaten path destinations in India - Pastel pink sunrise over Loktak Lake in Manipur - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Pastel sunrises over Loktak Lake.

I struggled to slim down my favourite locations in Northeast India—all the things involves thoughts! However by way of the indecisiveness, Loktak Lake shortly rises to the highest.

Spending some peaceable days on the shore of Loktak Lake is a should for anybody wandering to the northeast. You’ll be able to sit and watch fishermen and -women navigate between the floating islands of crops—referred to as phumdi—of their picket boats. Learn a guide to the sound of buzzing dragonflies and recent fruit falling from the bushes. Admire the seemingly limitless number of flowers rising across the peninsula jutting into the lake.

The lake can be house to the world’s solely floating nationwide park: Keibul Lamjao.

Learn extra: Why you have to go to Loktak Lake

Sunrise over Loktak Lake, a peaceful offbeat destination in Manipur state, Northeast India.

Majuli, Assam (Northeast India)

Top off the beaten track destinations in India - A fisherman and boat in Majuli - Lost With Purpose travel blog

One in all many fishing boats (and fishermen!) discovered on Majuli.

Reality: I really like Majuli. I’ve been there a number of instances—it was my secure house after a complicated breakup on the highway—and I’m constructive I’ll be again once more at some point.

Majuli island, set amongst the flowing waters of the Brahmaputra river in Assam state, was as soon as the world’s largest river island. Sadly, it’s quickly eroding because of elevated floods from local weather change and different exterior components.

Regardless of its disappearance, the island remains to be wealthy in each tradition and nature. Its completely flat and luxurious community of filth paths are excellent for bicycles, and you may simply whereas away the times visiting the quite a few satras (Hindu monasteries) scattered throughout the island. Every satra makes a speciality of an artwork type—comparable to masks making or dance—so that you don’t have to fret about becoming bored.

Learn extra: Majuli, India’s disappearing island

A traditional hand painted mask at one of the many Vaishnavite satras, Hindu monasteries, on Majuli river island in Assam, Northeast India.

Mechuka, Arunachal Pradesh (Northeast India)

Top off the beaten path destinations in India - Mountain vistas in Mechuka, Arunachal Pradesh - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Regardless of the place you look in Mechuka, you’ll be greeted by views like this!

Mechuka was my ultimate cease in Arunachal Pradesh, and a extra becoming finish to my Arunachal journey couldn’t exist.

The Tibetan city is ready in an idyllic inexperienced valley on the base of the mountains dividing China and India. There are breathtaking views in actually each path, and loads of strolling paths moving into no matter path fits your fancy.

I by no means had plans in Mechuka. As an alternative, day by day I merely picked a path and saved on strolling by way of hill and dale till I used to be too drained to proceed… and the mountains by no means dissatisfied.

Learn extra: The final word information to backpacking Arunachal Pradesh

Running through the epic vistas of Mechuka, a mountain town in Arunachal Pradesh, Northeast India. One of the most beautiful and off the beaten track destinations we've visited to date!

Map of off the overwhelmed monitor locations in India

Satisfied to move out your door as soon as extra? Use this map to plan your off the overwhelmed monitor Indian journey! Click on on the map to view an interactive Google Map in a brand new window.

Did I miss something? Do you might have a favourite off the overwhelmed path vacation spot in India? Inform me within the feedback!

Feeling the love for India? Yo—me, too. Right here’s why I fell in love with India.

The most effective locations to go off the overwhelmed monitor in India – Misplaced With Function

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Travel in Saudi Arabia: the ultimate guide – Lost with Purpose travel blog

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Travel in Saudi Arabia: the ultimate guide - Lost with Purpose travel blog

Planning a trip to Saudi Arabia? Here’s what you need to know to travel to Saudi Arabia, from costs to what to wear to safety and cultural deets. Happy planning!

 

Saudi Arabia has long been closed off for most travelers. Restrictive visa policies meant only Muslims—or oil industry workers—could visit. Even then, they could only visit a few places in the country.

Then everything changed in 2019. *Cue Avatar: The Last Airbender theme*

Saudi Arabia is currently making a big push to rebrand itself as a premier holiday destination in the Middle East. Part of that push involves a more open e-visa policy. This new visa regime makes it significantly easier for many nationalities to visit the country. It also allows pilgrims on Hajj and Umrah to travel beyond Mecca and Medina.

Whether or not Saudi Arabia is a top travel destination is another matter, but if you plan on visiting Saudi Arabia, you definitely need to come prepared to avoid offense. Read on to learn all the things I wish I’d known before traveling to Saudi Arabia!

Want to travel to Saudi Arabia? One of the Middle East's least-traveled countries is now open to many nationalities. This Saudi Arabia travel guide has everything you need to plan your trip including cultural tips, food advice, female travel tips, costs of travel, and more! #SaudiArabia #MiddleEast #KSA #Travel

Quba mosque in Medina, Saudi Arabia

Quba mosque in Medina, said to be the first mosque ever built.

Saudi Arabia basics

  • Official name: Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA)
  • Capital: Riyadh
  • Population: 34 million

Saudi Arabia is the 12th largest country in the world by landmass. Its population is youthful; of the approximately 34 million people living in the country, 50% are younger than 25.

Expats (foreigners) make up a significant part of its population—more than 30% of people living in KSA are foreign nationals. Interestingly enough, this foreign minority makes up more than 70% of Saudi’s workforce. Interpret that how you will.

The kingdom in its current form was founded in 1932 as an absolute monarchy. This means most of the power in Saudi Arabia lies in the hands of the royal family, the House of Saud, who rule the kingdom to this day. The current monarch is King Salman… but his son, Mohammed bin Salman (also known as MBS), more or less runs the kingdom. MBS is also responsible for the Vision 2030 program that spurred the recent tourism developments.

The Arabian peninsula is the founding place of Islam, one of the world’s largest religions. Its two holiest cities, Medina and Mecca, are both in Saudi Arabia. They are the main destinations of the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages that millions of Muslims from around the world undertake every year. Religion is critical in Saudi Arabia; for more on religion in Saudi Arabia, see the religion section.

Sunrise and clouds in Fayfa, Saudi Arabia

Sunrise above the clouds in Fayfa. Not bad, eh?

When’s the best time to visit Saudi Arabia?

Definitely do not visit Saudi Arabia in summer.

Summers in Saudi can be boiling hot, with temperatures exceeding 40°C. Unless you’re a masochist, it’s best to avoid traveling to Saudi in summer. The mountains of Asir province are one notable exception to the summer rule; though temperatures can still be high, the cloudy, mountainous terrain is generally quite pleasant during summer.

The best time to visit Saudi Arabia is in winter, roughly between October and March. Temperatures are at their most pleasant between November and February. Temperatures typically begin rising from the end of February or beginning of March, though one can never be quite certain thanks to climate change. Winter temperatures hover around 25°C – 30°C, depending on where in the country you are.

Read: My one-month essential Saudi Arabia itinerary

Mosque in Ushaiger heritage village, Saudi Arabia

A historic sandstone mosque in Ushaiger village

Visas for Saudi Arabia

It used to be a real pain to get a Saudi Arabia visa. Unless you were a Muslim going on a pilgrimage or an exec visiting/working for business, it was nearly impossible to go to Saudi Arabia.

Before 2019, some travelers managed to get in via “business” trips booked by tour companies. Saudi Arabia began issuing tourist visas specifically for ticketed events in 2018. However, for the most part, Saudi Arabia was a non-option for the average tourist.

In 2019, everything changed with the introduction of the new e-visa system. The new Saudi Arabia e-visa system is surprisingly easy. I was legitimately taken aback when I applied—It took me less than 15 minutes to apply for my visa, I stood up to go to the bathroom after finishing the application, and by the time I returned to my computer 5 minutes later I had a Saudi Arabia e-visa PDF waiting in my Whatsapp inbox. Crazy, right?

Who’s eligible for a Saudi Arabia e-visa?

As of 2020, citizens of the following countries are eligible for a Saudi Arabia tourist e-visa:

Australia, Austria, Andorra, Belgium, Bulgaria, Brunei, Canada, China, Cyprus, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Ireland, Japan, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macau, Malaysia, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, United Kingdom.

For more detailed and up-to-date information on visa eligibility, how much the visa costs, and to apply for Saudi’s e-visa, check out the official Saudi Arabia e-visa website.

Important note: Several fake e-visa websites have popped up. Do not use any website except the official Saudi Arabia e-visa site to apply for your visa.

Female traveler in abaya running on rocks in Saudi Arabia

Scrambling around in the northern Tabuk region.

What to pack for travel in Saudi Arabia

Everyone has different needs, but there are a few items I strongly recommend you pack when traveling in Saudi Arabia:

  • Modest clothes. This one is a given—Saudi is an Islamic country, after all—but men and women alike need to make an effort to stay covered up.
  • Travel adapter. Saudi uses the same G-type plugs (3 rectangular holes) that you find in the UK. If you’re coming from Europe or the US, you’ll need a travel adapter for Saudi Arabia. I always travel with several of these adapters since they also have USB outlets.
  • Reusable water bottle. Plastic waste is a huge issue in Saudi Arabia, and people love to buy painfully tiny plastic bottles of water. Do your part for the planet—bring your own water bottle. Tap water is generally safe to drink, and water filters are common in metro areas. I love and recommend my Hydroflask insulated water bottle. It also kept water cold when it was boiling hot!
  • Reusable cup for coffee/tea/cold drinks. Same environmental logic applies. They’re seriously useful if you’re road tripping across Saudi Arabia—you’ll be drinking a lot of tea and coffee from rest stops along the highways! These travel mugs are great, and insulate both hot and cold drinks.
  • Good sunscreen. Saudi sun is fierce, and the dry heat combined with sun can be seriously hard on your skin. Plus you’re going to get some freaky tan lines from all your modest clothing! I always travel with this specific sunscreen because it doesn’t feel slimy or sticky in the slightest.
  • Arabic phrasebook. English isn’t very common, especially outside cities. I used Google Translate often… but no one understood me, and it was total crap at translating Saudi’s Arabic dialect. I highly recommend this Arabic phrasebook—it’s specific to one of the major dialects in KSA.
Roadside signs in Saudi Arabia

Typical roadside decor in Saudi.

Language in Saudi Arabia

The official language of Saudi Arabia is—yep, you guessed it—Arabic.

However, Arabic is more nuanced than non-Arabic speakers might realize. Arabic spoken in, say, Morocco, is far different from the Arabic you’ll hear in Saudi Arabia.

The three main variants of Arabic spoken in Saudi are:

  • Najdi Arabic
  • Hejazi Arabic
  • Gulf Arabic

It’s both useful and respectful to pick up some basic Arabic or have a phrasebook on hand for short interactions. Careful, as most Arabic phrasebooks are written for Moroccan or Egyptian Arabic; I specifically recommend using this Hejazi Arabic phrasebook, which covers one of the main dialects you’ll encounter in Saudi Arabia. Never fear, it doesn’t require any struggling with the Arabic alphabet—all the phrases are written in the Roman alphabet.

English in Saudi Arabia? English isn’t widely spoken in Saudi, though people in the tourism sector will often speak some English. More and more young Saudis speak English, as many study abroad for university. Most road signs on main roads are written with both Arabic and Roman alphabets, though speed limit signs are Arabic-only once you get away from Jeddah and Riyadh.

Due to the large number of foreigners living in Saudi—roughly 30% of Saudi’s population comes from abroad—it’s also common to hear people speak Tagalog, Urdu, and Hindi, among other languages. Many of the labor or customer service workers you’ll run into in Saudi are from India, Pakistan, and the Philippines; you can easily travel in many places without Arabic if you speak some Hindi/Urdu. Speaking from experience.

The Arabic alphabet

The Arabic alphabet is written from right to left, and, in my humble opinion, complicated AF. Many letters are drastically different depending on where in the word they fall (beginning/middle/end) and a single dot can change the entire sound of a letter.

Despite its complexity, learning just a handful of letters can be immensely helpful for figuring out signs and differentiating between options. I used the free app Duolingo to learn the Arabic alphabet while traveling in Saudi Arabia. And by learn, I mostly mean shouting exasperatedly at my phone as it asked me to make guttural noises and read incomprehensible squiggles, neither of which I could never dream of reproducing.

Even if you aren’t linguistically inclined, I recommend learning Arabic numerals. They are not as difficult (there are only 10 of them, after all) and you’ll need to know them to read things like prices and speed limit signs if traveling Saudi Arabia by car.

Men walking in the Al Baqi cemetery in the Haram of Medina, Saudi Arabia

Men walking through the Al Baqi cemetery in the Haram center of Medina, one of Saudi’s holiest cities. Some of the Prophet’s family are buried in this cemetery.

Religion in Saudi Arabia

Religion influences every part of Saudi life. Saudi citizens have to be Muslim, and publicly practicing any religion other than Islam is forbidden.

Everything shuts down during namaz, prayer times. In Sunni Islam, there are five prayer times every day: fajr, duhr, asr, maghrib, and isha. The timings change slightly each day—here are today’s prayer times.

Shops, restaurants, cafes—basically everything except for fancier places hidden from sight—will close for around 15 minutes to half an hour during prayer times. Previously, religious police would hound anyone seen not praying during prayer times, but those times are over.

The vast majority of Saudi’s Muslim population is Sunni. There is a Shia minority, which suffers from regular discrimination.

Though there are a few schools of Islamic thought in Saudi Arabia; Wahabis and Salafis make up a significant part of the Sunni population. Both involve relatively strict and traditional interpretations of the Quran.

Minority religions in Saudi Arabia

Because Saudi has such a large immigrant population, notably from places like the Philippines and the Indian Subcontinent, there are also pockets of Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists in Saudi. However, they are not allowed to openly worship or practice their faith.

Proselytizing is strictly forbidden, and can come in many forms—distributing non-Islamic materials such as Bibles is considered proselytizing and is highly illegal.

You are allowed to practice your religion in private as a non-Muslim traveling to Saudi. However, try to be discreet. Under no circumstances should you try to argue with Saudis about their religion.

Atheism in Saudi Arabia? As with any country, there are always outliers. Atheists do exist in Saudi Arabia, but they must be very secretive about their beliefs—atheism is not welcome in Saudi. Even if you don’t have religious beliefs, I recommend saying you have a religion when traveling in Saudi Arabia.

Ghutra head coverings on sale in a bazaar in Khamis Mushait, Saudi Arabia

A man selling Saudi ghutra (men’s head coverings) and swords in a bazaar in Khamis Mushait. Nothing like a good sword and robe set as a souvenir for your family back home, eh eh?

Culture in Saudi Arabia

Saudi culture is heavily influenced by several major pillars: Islam, its historic role as a major trade center, and Bedouin (nomadic desert tribes) roots. Generally, Saudi culture is deeply religious, family-oriented, protectively traditional, and socially conservative.

Clothes and what to wear in Saudi Arabia

One of the first things any visitor to Saudi will notice is how many people wear traditional clothes.

Even in major cities like Riyadh and Jeddah most men still wear thobe, the long, loose robes coming to the ankles. The vast majority of women in Saudi Arabia are completely covered in black abayas, long, loose robes for women, and hijab head coverings. Most women cover their faces when out in public.

As a tourist visiting Saudi Arabia, it’s required by law to dress modestly. You don’t have to go out and buy a thob ASAP, but there are some basic requirements to keep in mind.

Men: Men should avoid tank tops or walking around shirtless—t-shirts at the very minimum—and long pants are strongly recommended. Islam requires men’s knees to be covered, and you will stick out like a sore thumb if you walk around in shorts and a wife beater tank.

Women: Though foreign women are no longer required to wear abayas, I still strongly recommend female travelers wear them in public in cities and towns. Unless you’re hanging out with elites or in someone’s home, you will be the only woman not wearing one 99% of the time. You can wear whatever you’d like underneath—I often wore a t-shirt and jeans—but an abaya is ideal. Headscarves are not mandatory, though in many areas I wore one to avoid people’s stares.

Smells in Saudi: Scents and smelling good are highly prioritized in Saudi Arabia. Men and women alike wear scents, cars must smell good, and greeting guests with bukhoor (a sort of goblet-shaped incense holder, usually to burn oud wood) is common. You don’t have to smell like a perfume shop all the time, but know people will be very aware of how you smell. A bit of an embarrassing issue for me, an often-smelly backpacker.

Woman sitting in a coffee shop in Jazan, Saudi Arabia

Gender divides and how to act in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is heavily segregated by gender. Men operate in one sphere, women in another.

Even within families, it is common for women to stay out of sight or hidden from men. I met many men who do not know what their extended female family look like, and women who would cover themselves in front of their husband’s brothers. Just to give you an example of how extreme the segregation can be.

Practically, for travelers the gender divide is most noticeable when it comes to eating. It is no longer required by law, but many restaurants are still divided into men and women/family sections. Some restaurants do not allow women at all. Men cannot sit in the women’s section unless accompanied by women; women usually cannot sit in the men’s sections, though sometimes more progressive restaurant owners will be flexible about the rule if the restaurant is mostly empty.

The extremity of segregation varies around the country. In small towns, you likely won’t see women at all. In Jeddah and wealthy parts of Riyadh, you’ll see more men and women mixing these days.

How to act around the opposite gender is something that varies from person to person. Here are some general tips to keep in mind:

  • Do not touch the opposite gender. This includes handshakes; only shake hands if the local offers first, though they probably won’t.
  • Try to avoid making unnecessary eye contact with strangers of the opposite gender if you’re not interacting with them, especially as a man. Men can get defensive if you stare at their wives/sisters.
  • Don’t sit next to the opposite gender unless you’re with them or related to them.
  • No PDAs you traveling couples. Though you’ll see married couples holding hands sometimes, anything beyond that is inappropriate and a punishable offense.

Saudi man offering a bowl of fresh camel milk

Hospitality and gift giving in Saudi Arabia

Hospitality is another core element of culture in Saudi Arabia.

As in many Islamic societies, guests are seen as a gift from God. Taking care of guests is an opportunity to do good and win favor in the eyes of Allah. When traveling in Saudi Arabia, don’t be surprised if you’re given gifts, taken out to dinner, or shown around for an entire day “because you’re our guest.” Let it be noted that the whiter you are, the more likely this will occur.

You might be tempted to give your hosts a gift as thanks, but you probably shouldn’t. Though they’ll happily shower you with gifts, many Saudis will take offense to gifts given to them by new acquaintances/non-relations. Proper gifts are usually quite expensive—think fancy carpets or expensive scents—so unless you’re visiting a family or long-time friend, don’t feel pressured to bring gifts. Just appreciation.

Female traveler in abaya in Saudi Arabia

My daily outfit in Saudi: black abaya, headscarf, and whatever clothes were least dirty underneath.

Female travel in Saudi Arabia

Traveling as a woman in Saudi Arabia is worlds apart from traveling as a man.

Even if you’re a female traveler traveling with a man, people will treat you very differently from male travelers. Women are treated with great respect in Saudi Arabia, though “respect” in Saudi Arabia might be viewed as restriction by others.

The status of women in Saudi Arabia is complex—one I’m not exactly qualified to discuss—so let’s stick to practical travel matters. Because genders are so segregated in Saudi, it can be hard to find women to interact with outside of the big cities. You need to be far more attentive to your clothing than men. Finding places to eat that allow women can be a bit of a nightmare in small towns—you’ll have to get used to takeaway meals.

On the “bright” side, because the punishment for harassment is so severe—and official harassment can be something as simple as a man staring at you for too long—female travelers are generally not at risk of more severe assault. I encountered some verbal harassment and men following me, and a few solo female travelers I spoke to were propositioned for sex, but harassment should not be a major concern for female travelers.

In my personal experience, both solo and traveling with men, I often found traveling in Saudi Arabia as a woman to be isolating more than anything else. As a disclaimer, part of that could be attributed to my appearance—most people thought I was either Arab or Indian/Pakistani—as I heard more glowing stories from white women.

I could go on for a long while on female travel in Saudi Arabia, but I’ll stop here. For a more in-depth discussion, check out my guide to female travel in Saudi Arabia.

Jazani food in Saudi Arabia

The Yemeni-influenced food in Jazan was 100% my favorite in all of Saudi Arabia. I’m drooling just looking at this.

Food in Saudi Arabia

If you love food, prepare to put on a few pounds in Saudi Arabia. I know I did.

Saudi Arabia has long been a crossroads of cultures. Traders came in by horse and camel from the north, while others came by sea. Muslim pilgrims from all over the world have traveled to Mecca for centuries.

As a result, Saudi cuisine draws on many different influences, and many common dishes in Saudi Arabia actually have origins elsewhere. Fuul (beans), falafel, and shawarma are diet staples, though not traditionally Saudi.

Some traditional Saudi dishes to look out for include:

  • Kabsa – Roast chicken and rice found everywhere
  • Dates – Saudi Arabia has some of the best dates in the world, and they come in all different types and flavors. The Qassim region is considered to have the best dates in the country.
  • Jareesh – Crushed wheat porridge, topped with savory onions and dried limes
  • Murtabak – Stuffed pancake
  • Tharid – Spicy lamb stew served with bread
  • Laban – Creamy yogurt drink
  • Mamuul – Stuffed date cookies
  • Arabic coffee – Not at all like “normal” coffee, it’s yellow, bitter, and flavored with cardamom

Meals in Saudi Arabia are rich, spiced, and usually accompanied by a mound of rice or bread, as well as thick, creamy laban (a strained kind of yogurt that can also stand alone as a drink—it’s delicious!). Meat is an essential part of main meals, and sweet tea often follows.

Saudi men eating on the ground while camping.

Eating customs in Saudi Arabia

There is definitely a right and wrong way to eat in Saudi Arabia! Though you’ll probably be forgiven for any culinary cultural faux pas as a foreign visitor, it’s still good to respect norms.

Traditionally, meals are eaten on a mat on the ground, and everyone eats from a large, central plate. Usually, there are boxy pillows on the ground you can lean up against for support.

Food is eaten by hand. Don’t worry, washing hands before and after all meals is customary. Eat with your right hand only (left hands are for dirty business), unless doing something more complicated like picking a chicken bone apart. Only pass food with your right hand, even if it’s dirty.

When sitting on the ground, try to keep your legs crossed or knees bent. It’s considered rude to extend your feet in front of people you respect, especially if your feet are pointing towards them.

Saudis will usually press you to eat more, and refill your cup whenever your coffee or tea is finished. It’s expected to let them refill your cup at least once. As for eating, it’s best to start saying you’re full well before you’re stuffed to the brim… else you might be stuffed beyond the brim.

Confused about how to eat? Here’s a video on eating customs in the Middle East to give you an idea of how and why people eat the way they do. The vlogger isn’t Saudi, but the same principles apply.

Traveling as a vegetarian/vegan in Saudi Arabia

Though meat is a meal staple, there are plenty of vegetarian- and vegan-friendly foods to be found in Saudi Arabia if you look.

Some upmarket establishments have vegan options. Vegetarian restaurants exist in big cities. Though you might encounter some raised eyebrows, vegetarians and vegans are increasingly common in Saudi Arabia—one of Saudi’s princes is vegan. In general, people in cities understand what vegetarians are.

Some common foods you can rely on as a vegetarian or vegan (*) traveler include:

  • Falafel* (if no yogurt)
  • Fuul (beans)*
  • Vegetable murtabak (stuffed pancakes)*
  • Dal tamiz (lentils with bread)*
  • Hummus*
  • Moutabel (baba ghanoush)*
  • Masoub (Yemeni banana and bread pudding)

Here are more food options for vegetarians in Saudi Arabia.

Teenagers at a mall in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Teenagers hanging out at one of Riyadh’s fanciest malls.

Money and payments in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia uses the Saudi Riyal (SAR). One Riyal is divided into 100 halalas. Saudi has banknotes and coins, although the coins are mostly useless. However, don’t be surprised if you end up with a stack of one and two riyal coins (and a bunch of halalas to boot). At the time of writing, 1 riyal is $0.27 or €0.25. Check here for the current exchange rate.

Paying with credit card

It’s possible to pay by international credit card for most large transactions such as nice meals, car rentals, and hotels. Google Pay is also quite popular in Saudi Arabia—many people just use their phones to pay in cities.

Cash and ATMs

Banknotes come in 5, 10, 50, 100, and 500 riyals. Make sure to withdraw an amount from the ATM that isn’t easily divided into 500 notes; you don’t want to be stuck with a stack of large banknotes. Many places will have some change, but not always enough to break a 500.

Getting money from the ATM is straightforward (there are even drive-through ATMs), and there aren’t any hidden ATM fees to worry about.

Read: How much it costs to travel in Saudi Arabia

Car driving into Wadi Disah, Saudi Arabia

Road tripping into Wadi Disah, one of the most epic canyons in Saudi.

Transportation in Saudi Arabia

Saudi is absolutely massive; getting around takes time. Cities are spread out, and there’s hardly any public transport to speak of. Even between cities—which can easily be more than 500 km apart—public transport is limited.

By rental car

Saudi Arabia is made for cars, especially 4x4s. Saudi’s most memorable spots are all outside the cities; I highly recommend you rent a car to make the most of your trip to Saudi. My guide to road tripping in Saudi has all the information you need.

Note on cars: I’ve heard of unofficial shared taxis offering rides between cities, though I didn’t use any myself. A local told me you can sometimes find them lurking outside of major bus terminals.

By plane

If you’re short on time, or if you only want to visit a few main cities, planes are the most efficient (and often cost-effective) way of getting between cities. Most flights are less than two hours. Some are even cheaper than bus tickets.

By bus

SAPTCO runs an extensive bus network throughout Saudi Arabia. Buses are clean and comfortable, though on the pricey side. Expect to pay at least US$50 per person for a long distance bus ticket.

For more info on traveling by bus in Saudi Arabia, check out the Saudi Arabia Public Transport Company (SAPTCO) website.

Transport within cities

Ride sharing apps Uber and Careem are commonly used in big cities such as Riyadh and Jeddah.

Najran, a town on Saudi Arabia's border with Yemen

Najran, the Saudi city hardest hit by the war in neighboring Yemen.

Safety in Saudi Arabia

Saudi is generally a safe place to travel to. Although it’s had problems with violence and terrorism in the past, most areas in Saudi are perfectly safe for the average tourist.

The only area considered dangerous is the area along the Yemeni border around Najran. Tourists are allowed to visit, but most governments advise against travel there. Saudi is currently in talks with the Yemen rebels to negotiate a truce. However, some security experts are fearful the rebels might launch a ground offensive on Najran if their demands aren’t met. If you plan on traveling to the south, make sure to keep an eye on the current situation.

Dangers for travelers in Saudi Arabia

Drivers are the biggest safety hazard in Saudi Arabia. Many drivers drive like crazy, so be careful when crossing the street or driving around the country.

Openly talking about politics or the royal family with people you don’t know well is not wise. Saudi critics of the royal family have been jailed.

Criticizing Islam is absolutely to be avoided for a variety of reasons.

Drugs, including alcohol, are illegal in Saudi Arabia. They do exist—alcohol is common especially among elite and/or foreign circles and khat is a stimulant commonly consumed in the south—but possession is a punishable offense.

Boy on phone in Saudi Arabia

Probs checking his Snapchat; Saudis use Snapchat more than any other social media app for everything from messaging to promoting their business.

Mobiles and connectivity in Saudi Arabia

Saudi is fairly well connected. There’s 4G service almost everywhere, even on long stretches of highway in the middle of nowhere. Many cafes and hotels have decent wifi, though mobile signal is often better.

There are several mobile operators in Saudi Arabia. STC, Mobily, and Zain are the three main operators in the Kingdom. I used both STC and Mobily while in Saudi, and highly recommend using STC.

STC’s coverage is the best of the three; I had 4G practically everywhere, even out in nature. Price-wise, Mobily is slightly cheaper, but has poorer service outside of cities and towns. Zain is the cheapest option, but also has the worst coverage outside metro areas.

If you want to get a SIM card, I recommend getting one upon arrival in the airport (if you fly in). The main carriers all have small offices at arrivals, and it’s easy to get a card here as the workers all speak English. It’s possible to get SIM cards in cities, but only at official stores, and workers will be less likely to speak English.

The price for a SIM card with 10GB data is roughly 160 SAR. A 10GB top up is 100 SAR. For info on costs, check out my Saudi budget report.

Twilight in Abha, Saudi Arabia

A moody twilight in Abha, a city in the mountains.

More resources for travel in Saudi Arabia

 

Have more questions? Saudi Arabia travel tips for others? Leave them in the comments!

 

Want to travel to Saudi Arabia? One of the Middle East's least-traveled countries is now open to many nationalities. This Saudi Arabia travel guide has everything you need to plan, from budget travel tips to traveling as a vegetarian or vegan to the best ways to travel between cities... and more! #SaudiArabia #MiddleEast #KSA #Travel

Planning a trip to Saudi Arabia? This Saudi Arabia travel guide by a female traveler has everything you need to know: how to get a Saudi tourist visa, cultural tips, advice on what to wear, safety tips for traveling Saudi Arabia, and more. Click through for the ultimate Saudi Arabia travel guide! #SaudiArabia #KSA #MiddleEast #Travel

 

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Travel in Saudi Arabia: the ultimate guide – Lost with Purpose travel blog

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