Ricks Middle East (no outside Europe forum)

I really enjoyed Rick's Iran special and did some checking on the rules for Americans who wish to visit Iran. Apparently, you need to be "accompanied". Does anyone know what Iranian government approved agencies offer an appropriate chaperone or other means to travel independently, or would I be forced to take a tour? If you can travel independently, how does it work? I also really enjoyed Rick's Egypt special and was wondering, given the current political climate, whether I could feasibly go there, again as an independent traveller? Sorry for posting this in "general Europe" but I didn't see an "outside Europe" board, so hope this is ok.

Posted by Terry kathryn
Ann Arbor, Mi
2612 posts

I have a friend who was in Egypt a few weeks ago. She is a photographer and I don't think it was any different from her first trip a few years earlier when she traveled independently.

Posted by Annie
Virginia
2 posts

Thanks! One other question - I read Iran has a strictly cash economy - no credit cards, debit cards. Anyone have any good ideas on how to safeguard that much cash? I guess paying in advance for as much as possible would help but still seems like a lot of cash.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7978 posts

I was in Egypt back in the fall, my wife in about January. My daughter-in-law just about commutes. Do whatever you want. For Iran you need to arrange an escort in advance. Herself took care of that, but she's nowhere close to ask. You need cash, you get it on arrival, you can convert more, the exchange rate sucks. The whole trip was a pain in the butt, except for the people.

Posted by Dina
Fontainebleau, France
893 posts

My family toured in Egypt last year. It was the only time we've ever done a large group tour anywhere. I can't imagine doing Egypt on your own - especially if you are a female traveling alone. Egypt is fascinating and we're glad we visited. We never felt threatened as far as being in the middle of a revolution, but that doesn't mean we always felt safe. What you have to understand is that the reduction in tourists has caused many people who rely on tourism to become desperate. My husband was shaken down by a caleche driver and two of his buddies when they decided the tip he gave wasn't enough. Because there was a limit on how many could be on one caleche, I was with another couple and we tipped less and didn't have a problem. My kids actually cried while telling me about what happened - they were that scared. And we had another problem that resulted in having to file a police report and an attempt to press charges against an individual. All the guy had to do was hide from police for 24 hours until we were out of the city and he got away with a crime against a tourist. I won't go into details, but our tour guide talked to the witness and we got the impression this was not an isolated incident. There was also the continual harassment (yes, harassment - including grabbing and touching) by vendors. It got to the point where we would exit a temple as a group and practically run to the tour bus together. Even had a discussion with the tour guide about how the vendors are making it worse for themselves because no one was doing any souvenir shopping even though they wanted to. Sometimes our guide would negotiated with a vendor on our behalf. Paying admission to a site didn't seem to make a difference. Some of the most aggressive vendors were inside the Valley of the Kings and also in the Aswan Botanical Gardens. So go if you want, but be prepared.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7978 posts

In view of the James Jibe I'd better back myself up. I was thinking only of the ease of coming, going, and getting around. It's been a couple of decades since I've been anywhere near the tourist spots. I've known the two broads for fifteen years and I'll bet, that except for maybe the museum, they haven't either in the time I've known them. Since Dina ain't a known liar, her scoop is bound to be current in that regard.

Posted by Dina
Fontainebleau, France
893 posts

At the risk of getting slightly off topic... The RS email about his travels in Egypt prompted a discussion in our house. I don't doubt that he had a great time and found friendly people who welcomed him with open arms. We wondered how much having a cameraman following you around changes your experience. We also wondered if he wasn't compensated in any way - or at least comped - for any of his visits. We doubted any videos he made would show a female tourist trying to walk past a gift shop hearing a constant "Madame, madame, madame...." while vendors pulled at her sleeve or caleche drivers trying to block you from walking down the street. And we weren't sure whether he would even see things like that since he isn't there with his famiy on vacation. Really, Egypt is fascinating and we are glad we went. We had one wonderful interaction with a group of young girls in a Nubian village in upper Egypt that we'll always remember. We saw jaw-dropping "ruins" and our son got a special prize from our tour guide because of how many questions he was able to answer about Egyptian mythology. All positive things to remember. I wouldn't tell anyone not to go to Egypt, but to read up (TripAdvisor forums) and be prepared.

Posted by Michael Schneider
New Paltz, NY
6840 posts

There was also the continual harassment (yes, harassment - including grabbing and touching) by vendors. It got to the point where we would exit a temple as a group and practically run to the tour bus together. The last time I was in Cairo was 1992, and I had the same exact experience. So that's business as usual;) I know lots of people visit Cairo and enjoy it, but in all my travels their have been only two places I really hated and have no desire to go back: Cairo and Brussels. If one really wants to see pyramids head to the Teotihuacan complex outside of Mexico City. IMO it's more impressive....also cheaper to get to.

Posted by Christina
New York, NY, 10025
365 posts

Dina, Rick was in Egypt recently with his girlfriend (at least I think she is) who also blogged about it. I don't think he had camera people following him he, though he was scouting to make new shows there. But whether he was comped or treated better or whatever, I can't say, though it's certainly possible. His girlfriend's blog didn't have anything that indicated she was unduly harassed. Not saying it doesn't happen, though; maybe she was lest alone because she was with him. On FB he did post a funny video of himself trying to avoid vendors calling out to him. FWIW.

Posted by Agnes
Alexandria, VA, USA
616 posts

@Christina - Yes, I think Rick did have camera men around him at least some of the time because he's filming footage for a new show on PBS. I think a single female traveling alone may have a different experience or perception of safety than a couple (like Rick & Trish). Personally, I don't have any issues with touts trying to get your attention - at worst it's an annoyance. I am surprised by the comments about physical contact though (specifically men grabbing women) - somehow I didn't expect that to be the case (maybe I was naive about Egypt..and by the way that very thing happened to me in Italy). I wouldn't be surprised if men touch/grab other men to get their attention because personal space and cultural norms differ there.

Posted by Christina
New York, NY, 10025
365 posts

I think it's hard for a guy to understand how women traveling alone may be treated in some places. OTOH, my husband felt very harassed in Bangkok by touk-touk drivers, and felt just plain stared at in India, so maybe it all depends on the sensitivity of the man and the destination. But in general I wouldn't turn to a man, even Rick, for advice on this aspect female solo travel in the Middle East.

Posted by Kathy
Germany, Germany
800 posts

As for practical information, you should check with your Department of State equivalent for the country of which you are a resident. If you're a US citizen, check with the US Dept State Travel Advisories department. What this means is that if you chose to travel in a country for which there is a travel restriction or where there is no diplomatic representation (Iran) and there is a problem, you are on your own in trying to leave the country or resolve issues with their local/state government.

Posted by Sherry
San Jose, CA
1139 posts

Annie, I've been to Egypt a number of times, alone and with a group. What Dina describes makes me sad, but I've had similar experiences over the years. When alone in crowded areas of Cairo, I've grabbed a number of times, most often by teenage boys passing by; it was startling but not overtly threatening. Adult men were more likely to call out commentary and invitations. And I've been grabbed/restrained by vendors during times of low tourism. One option you might consider... it's the way I plan to return next. There's a very good tour company, Archaeological Tours (offices in Manhatten); I used them once before and will again. The groups are very small and are led by an Egyptologist with a strong academic reputation. There's also an Egyptian tour guide (required by govt regulation) and they've also been very good. Focus is on archeology/history/culture; not a lot of shopping or tourist "event". I would not hesitate to go back; I'd just be a little more careful in planning.

Posted by Jim
Dallas, Texas, USA
495 posts

Annie, we've traveled more than some and less than others, but Eygpt, including Cairo is the ONLY location where I'm glad we were part of a tour, in fact, only tour we've ever done. For us, Eygpt is one of the only places we've been that we would not return to. We enjoyed the pyramids and the Nile, and were able to cross off a location on our bucket list. If I were to go into the Middle East, I would pay more to do trip in cooler months such as Dec.,Jan., or Feb.

Posted by Maryam
Washington, DC
562 posts

You'd be surprised how many Americans travel to Iran (and quite safely). If you have no Iranian birth rights (i.e., only have a US passport), then you need to travel with a tour (hence your "escort"). I know that Geographic Expeditions has a good one, as well as some others. I know someone who did a bike tour of Iran and thought it was great. It will be very difficult for you to travel independently unless you have family there or are a recognized citizen of Iran. Generally speaking, you will be very safe with the tour, and Iranians will love you. It's a shame that the political climate is so horrendous because it is an absolutely beautiful place to visit, and I wish more people did, but I suppose that is true for lots and lots of places around the world.