Woman traveler in a Muslim country

Written by Maria Erica Jensen on . Posted in Article, Blog, Travel Tips

The Muslim countries around the world offer fantastic travel experiences, and most places there are only few obstacles for women travelers.

There are many options for women on how to travel. You can go with a group of other backpackers. You can go traveling with a girlfriend, with your boyfriend or husband and you can choose to go alone.

Planning
Before and while you are traveling, it is always a good idea to familiarize yourself with the local culture and customs, both for your own, but also for the local people’s sake. Read the local culture section of your guidebook and browse the web for more information.

Clothing and clothing style
The best thing you can do, if you do not want to attract to much unwanted attention, is to look at the local women by trying to imitate their style of dressing. Doing this, you have a better chance of not being harassed.

This can be easily done, for example taking a small scarf around your hair.

In my experience this also helps you get in contact with local women. You are no longer “the indifferent female tourist”. You will encounter more openness and get more smiles, if you show that you do care about them by dressing in local clothing style and following the local culture.

There are big differences in how women dress in urban and rural areas. But often, many women in Muslim countries are much more modernly dressed than many western women think.

I was for example very surprised when I visited Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku, where few young women wore headscarves, but instead wore short skirts and T-shirts – they were very modern. But in rural areas and smaller towns, women are generally much more conservatively dressed than their counterparts in big cities.

If you are fond of beautiful scarves, the Muslim countries are a true shopping mecca. You will find scarves in all colors and shades and often for very good prices. You easily buy scarves for yourself and your friends, and still be able to afford many other souvenirs.

My own experiences
I have never experienced anything serious problems by traveling as a woman in a Muslim country. Many men look or glance at me, but no one has been too intrusive. Some men have shouted at me (mostly street vendors, who really just want to sell you something) or looked curiously at me.

If you walk with your boyfriend / husband, you will most certainly not be disturbed/harassed.

Remember though never to hold hands or kiss in public.

You can get a little tired of always following local customs, for example not holding hands or always avoiding looking men in the eyes.

It can be annoying to be asked if you want to buy a fake Rolex watch, as soon as you walk out of your hotel, just because you are not local. And not being able to shop calmly without the seller pushing his product to you.

But these things are thus just one part of the journey in a Muslim country. Vendors really need the money, most likely the men do not mean you any harm. And regardless this, it normally not overshadows the great experiences that you get when you travel in these countries.

Advantages
There are some clear benefits of traveling as a woman in a Muslim country. You can get into places where men can´t, for example, in the women’s sections of mosques.

While visiting a hamam, the women’s sections are usually very nice to be in, because you feel equal with everyone here and there is a very cozy atmosphere. Inside the men´s section, I have heard that it can be antisocial.

Advice
Whatever happens – try to pretend like you’re in control of every situation, even if you are not. If you seem naive and insecure, you will attract much more attention.

If you feel unsafe in a place you should not go in there. Listen to recommendations from other backpackers.
Remember always to bring small scarf in your daytrip bag, in some Mosques and other attractions you need to cover your hair to enter.

Always bargain about the price. In my experience most vendors can lower the price by 50% and still make a profit on the sale.

Do not look men directly in their eyes. Firstly, you’re not going to provoke or give them a reason to contact you. Secondly – if you do not see their glances and it won´t make you feel uncomfortable.

Always be in your happy travel mood, be confident and approach traveling with an open mind.

Happy traveling from Maria

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