Picking a Route
The Middle East is a region that is in constant flux. Periods of stability are interspersed with rising tension and then times of peace. If you're planning to spend a substantial amount of time in the region, it's a good idea to follow the news in the area. Pick a route, but keep it flexible. Depending on what countries you're hoping to visit, you may have to make some last minute adjustments. Elections can also be a time of uncertainty in some countries. It's best to avoid the election times when you plan you trip. That being said, the Middle East can be one of the most rewarding regions to visit. The people are overwhelmingly friendly, the food is delicious, and the history is unlike anywhere else in the world.
Egypt, Israel and Jordan:
This is probably one of the most popular routes in the Middle East. Egypt has a lot to offer visitors and you can easily spend several weeks or a month in the country, if not more. It's possible to cross from Egypt into Israel through the Sinai Peninsula. You can spend a couple of days near the Red Sea in Dahab or Sharm el Sheikh before heading into Eilat in Israel. After explore the amazing country of Israel, it's possible to cross into Jordan and visit Petra before flying home from Amman.
Access to Iran can be very limited. It can be very challenging to obtain a visa, but if you do, you will be able to visited one of the most interesting countries on Earth. The people are warm and welcoming, the culture is rich in history, and the daily life gives travelers a unique perspective on the world. If you have the chance to visit this country, do not pass it up, because it truly can be a once in a lifetime experience.
United Arab Emirates:
This is one of the most wealthy countries in the Middle East. You can easily fly into Dubai, and many flights to Africa or Asia connect through Dubai, so you may find yourself with a layover in the area. If you do, make the most of your time here, as it is truly one of the more fascinating cities and countries in the world.
Opening Your Mind
The Middle East is an absolutely fascinating and welcoming region and it is a great place to visit as it is rich in history, culture and religion. It is the founding location of many major religions, and as such it is also the source of much tension among these groups. While the Middle East is often in the news as a dangerous area, the people you meet during your daily travels are likely to be some of the most friendly and kind people you will encounter while on the road. If you open your mind, you are likely to have some incredibly memorable and life changing experiences.
The Middle East is a conservative area, and it is best to dress appropriately and respect the culture and customs while you're in the area. Don't be surprised if people invite you into their home to enjoy a meal with their family. Social gatherings are important here, and most people will go out of their way to make you feel welcome. People meet in public places and they enjoy their free time in much the same way you would at home. Although alcohol is usually not available, sweets are the addiction of choice in many Middle Eastern countries. Ice cream shops are everywhere, and baklava is sold on every street corner.
Although most people immediately association the Middle East with its religious routes, there is so much more to this culture. From shopping to beaches and even outdoor sports, there are any number activities you can enjoy. That being said, the historical sites in the area will surpass any you find outside of the region.
The Middle East is one giant historical site. Many major religions were founded in this area and some of the oldest cities in the world can be found here. Damascus, Syria holds the title of the oldest capital city in the world, and there you will find countless mosques, temples, and fortresses that date back thousands of years. In Jerusalem's
Old Town you can't go anywhere without seeing a spot of significance. Petra, in Jordan has been immortalized in literature and movies alike. Elsewhere, throughout the Middle East's cities and countryside you will find a living museum dating back to the start of civilization and the rise of modern religions.
Shopping in the Middle East is an experience in and of itself. The main "shopping centers" are souqs, which are narrow, interweaving aisles filled with compact and dense booths that sell anything from produce to odds and ins. Almost any large city or town has a souq, and they're a wonderful way to check out daily life in the Middle East. Some of the largest and most intricate souqs in the Middle East are in places like Aleppo, Syria, and Dubai, UAE.
One of the most fascinating and enlightening experiences in the Middle East is to visit some of the larger and more historic Mosques. Mosques usually have a larger courtyard out front which serve not only as a religious space for the community, but also a place to socialize and relax. Visit the courtyards near these mosques and you'll get a unique insight into the community you're visiting and the social aspect of Arabic life.
On a Shoestring or In Style
The Middle East can be one of the most expensive, or most affordable regions in the world. Countries like Syria and Iran are known for their affordability. You can get decent quality accommodation for a very reasonable cost. In other areas, like Dubai, you can find some of the most expensive accommodation in the world. In Tel Aviv, Israel, accommodation, and food in particular can be quite expensive. If you hope to stick to a backpacker's budget, research the countries you plan to visit. Choosing the right destination can make or break your budget.
Most people in the Middle East are incredibly welcoming and thrilled to have you in their country. You are likely to be invited to their homes for meals, and in restaurants you may even be offered complimentary fruit or dessert. In some countries bartering is a way of life, while in others it is less common to negotiate a price. Egypt in particular is a country where you want brush up on your haggling skills. You should pay less than half of the original asking price, and sometimes a fraction of that. In other countries like Israel or the UAE, negotiating is less important. Still, in outdoor markets or souqs you can almost always negotiate a price down.
Street food in the Middle East is generally excellent. Almost every country has its own version of felafel, which you can buy at almost any street stand for a cheap price. Hummus is available everywhere as well. If you're looking to cut down on your food budget then consider eating the street food. Many of the items are fresh and deep fried so you don't have to worry about hygiene as much as you would in other parts of the world. Souqs are also great places to pick up a quick snack at an affordable cost. There are small, simple restaurants available in most souqs and they offer a great environment where you can enjoy a good meal for a low price.
Throughout the Middle East, transportation is relatively easy and affordable. You can find buses, minibuses, and in a few places trains that generally travel on schedule with efficiency. One thing to consider in the Middle East is the Friday schedule. Friday is the Islamic holy day, and as such, much of the transportation shuts down completely. Definitely plan for this in your travel schedule, as it is best not to travel on these days.
Border crossings are something else you should consider prior to visiting the Middle East. Make sure the borders are open and secure prior to your trip. Also, an Israeli stamp in your passport will limit or prevent your access to several Middle Eastern countries such as Syria or Iran. If you have a Syrian stamp in your passport you will likely be questioned at the Israeli border, but it likely won't effect your admittance to the country.
If you're hoping to visit Dubai, one great way to efficiently access this city is to stop off during a flight layover. Many international flights in the area pass through Dubai, and it is easy to lengthen your stay to a few days so that you can spend some time exploring the city. Without taking a flight, access to Dubai is very limited, so if you can work your trip in to an already planned flight, you will save yourself a lot of money.