Posing with traditional local women in UAE. Always good to get their permission first.

Tips to traveling in conservative countries

At some point or the other, we end up traveling through countries that are not as “open” as some others we have been in. And finding ourselves suddenly “boxed” in is not a pretty experience nor easy. In fact, we may even have heard some “horror” stories as well – of women being harassed, assaulted, tourist scams etc. But really, that shouldn’t of course be a deterrent to traveling – instead a little extra care (or caution) may work well for all concerned. Traveling in conservative countries can be great too!

Fact is that knowing how to behave, esp in the conservative Middle Eastern countries could work to your advantage.

Egypt – by and large a fairly touristy and hence “open” country, although there are more stories of harassment here than in any other place. Women especially need to be careful with pimps disguising as touts (and they are everywhere) – and generally covering up when visiting market places helps. Avoid talking to too many “strangers” who are most anxious to befriend you and invite you to dinner. It helps to keep your head and humour about you. Dressing the part really becomes important and never mind how open or friendly the locals may seem, they will not take kindly to revealing clothes and mistaking your intentions for sexual interests may get aggressive if not getting downright harassing. Being seen drunk or drugged in public isn’t going to get you many friends either – and is only going to subject you to further ‘interest’ . If you want to do drugs, go to Amsterdam or even South America.

UAE: A very modern country, with Dubai taking modern to a new level. Although it pays to remember that while it is modern, it is also strongly rooted in tradition.  The local residents maintain a strict guideline on manners, behavior and dress code which the visitors are also expected to acknowledge while they are visiting the country. Rule of thumb – keep yourself covered, especially shoulders and knees. You could still get away with some of this in Dubai, but the neighbouring emirates of Sharjah (UAE is made up of 7 emirates or states that function independently) takes its dress code very seriously.

Alcohol is a complete NO in Sharjah. It is however possible to get alcohol in the other 6 emirates but there is a strict rule about not being seen drunk in public. Drugs are strictly discouraged.

Enthusiastic travelers excited at the sight of locals in their traditional dresses, beware. It is not polite to simply photograph them without their permission, especially the women. This could land you in serious trouble.

On the other hand, if you feel you are being subjected to harassment, you can always say no. While being friendly may be the norm in some countries, in the middle eastern countries it could be mistaken for your ‘interest.’ Hence there is no need to be nice all the time.

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