Why Middle East Travel – See the Cradle of Civilization or Not?
My work took me to the Middle East, friendships and antiquities kept me coming back. When people learn I travel solo to the Middle East and for that matter to a lot of countries alone, People ask, ‘A Middle East trip — Why?’ Starting with ‘why’ is a good place to begin. The reasons behind my Middle East travel is that I am fascinated with the region, antiquities, ancient ruins, and history.
The Middle East is the cradle of civilization. It’s where Jesus was born, so that is good enough for me.
How do I travel to this destination? It isn’t as hard to do as you might think. Is it safe? I feel sometimes it’s safer than others and in today’s world the Middle East and the world is much less safe than it used to be.
Middle East Travel – Really Why?
I started by taking advice from people who lived in the region. At that, time, I made a lot of inquiries before I left home. Now, I rarely have a definitive plan, so to speak, so if I made changes, as I went. Now, I know that I can handle most things. Keeping my itinerary open saves me money. I was able to find the best travel deals and negotiate with local people for the best prices. That’s how I travel so much.
Work and the Middle East Travel
Here is how it all started. My journey began with my job.
I used to be a full-time employee on the Microsoft Office team here in Washington state. Microsoft went through a round of RIFs (reduction in force), meaning they laid off several hundred people.
At the time, I was offered the opportunity to stay on and look for another role. Before the RIFs, I had arranged a vacation. I had bought a non-refundable airplane ticket to London and Valencia, Spain, to cover the America’s Cup for a local magazine.
So I was asked, “Do you want to look for a job for the next six weeks or go on your trip?”
My answer was, “Hum, Microsoft or America’s Cup?” Pause. “America’s Cup or Microsoft?” I THINK I AM going to the America’s Cup.”
That is, honestly, how the whole thing got started.
Why Travel Solo?
That was how I began to travel solo. The truth is I would rather travel with someone. But, since I don’t have that someone I would rather travel than not travel. I travel solo rather than not travel. Sometimes, when I find someone to travel with, I do travel.
Special Events Travel
My trip to the America’s Cup was to try and locate the happiness I had lost. My happiness is due to the people I met and continued to meet. I didn’t find the joy I lost. I made new happiness. Equally as important, that trip started my adventure and love of travel.
As a result of the time at the America’s Cup, I made a lot of lifelong friends, such as Jason Holtom from London, UK, Jean Francoise Fournier from Cannes, France, Sandy Pierce from Florida, USA, Aurora Noble from Rome, Italy, and Maria Abadjieva from Sophia, Bulgaria. I am still in touch with all but one.
It’s funny. I have found that many of the people I have meet traveling have turned into lifelong friends. My traveling has altered my friendships at home as well. Most of my high-maintenance friendships have faded away. We just seemed to lose touch.
My Friends and the Middle East Travel
My friends that I made during my Middle East travel kept me interested in going back to the region.
At home support me by helping with my kitty cat, and they are incredibly accepting of me. Special thanks to my friends Marina, Val, and Kathy.
When I came back home, instead of going to work as a full-time permanent employee, I worked as a consultant. My company provided work for several other consultants as well. Consulting provided me flexibility and the ability to travel more. Most of my contracts allowed me to work remotely or were short enough that I could work and then traveled.
One of the most important projects was with ‘Dave’ (not his real name). Dave and I became friends after working together on several projects. He asked me to provide technical readiness and to support for his EMEA (Europe Middle East and Africa) partners as a consultant.
My extensive travel and this part of the story began because of a little drama at the office. Dave was going through one of the world’s worst divorces. Things got mean, ugly and scary. I either needed to quit or work from another location. Dangerously harassed by manger’s soon-to-be-former wife, I decide to work remotely to get away from the drama.
During one of our one-on-one meetings, I asked Dave about working remotely. He asked me where I was going. At that point, I wanted to work from the dark side of the moon.
“Ok, since my area is EMEA, is it ok if I work from EMEA?”
“You are going to work from Europe, Africa or the Middle East?” he said.
Before I could speak Dave sighed.
“I am not going to pay for you to travel,” my manager added.
“We can have our one-on-ones in a video conference,” A little pause. “My deployment numbers and satisfaction rating won’t go down and could go up,”
Then I said, “We have all been getting some very strange emails from your soon-to-be-ex-wife. Several of you have restraining orders on her.”
“That’s right,” he said. “Ok, go. But if this doesn’t work…” He had a funny look on his face.
How I Picked Turkey – the Near East
Our partners in Greece and Turkey invited me to come and visit. Both of the company leads in the area asked me to come and stay there. They wanted me and were excited I was coming to their region. These two regions were growing quickly. Furthermore, the partners were engaged and excited I would come for a visit.
Istanbul was my home base. Perhaps, I thought it was about as far away from Seattle as I could get. We had a large partner community there so I wouldn’t be alone, I knew people there. Off to Istanbul I went, hoping to go to the Middle East and, of course, Greece.
Living in Istanbul made travel inexpensive because it’s cheaper to fly from there to other places such as Egypt, Lebanon, and Jordan. Airline fares, fees, and taxes are lower when you buy your ticket in Europe.
Once I got to Istanbul, I met a guy. Honestly, I thought I cared about that guy. But the relationship was very short-lived. The man turned out to be entirely wrong, completely dishonest and not able to tell me the truth about anything, not even his age. Those things happen. Be careful some men overseas try to hook up and become boyfriend to women from America to get to America or to get money. So just be aware if – it’s too good to be true it probably is!
Be cautious about foreign boyfriends.
The good news is I made a lot of great friends traveling, especially in Istanbul. Istanbul was very social. I met lots of new people, many of whom are still my friends today.
Egypt, Lebanon, and Jordan
My trips to Egypt, Lebanon, and Jordan were exceptional also because the business partners showed me the real Middle East travel. It was primarily the people that kept me coming back to this area. I found I felt safe at my hotels which were fabulous and with my friends. But, never rely on anyone please check out the USA’s S.T.E.P. report for guidance on any country you are visiting.
My business partners showed me the best local restaurants, and I got to meet their families. We went to local spots that tourists don’t get to see. My new friends took me sightseeing. I got comfortable in the region. If I called anyone of my friends over there today, it would be as we were only apart for a moment.
Routinely, I use online language and culture resource because they help me learn a few key words and the local customs. Now, you can find these resources online for free. You can use Google translator for language help from any device or phone.
Local Customs and Drinking
I think what kept me coming back was that I quickly fit in with the people. The one rule I never broke was that I didn’t drink alcohol when I traveled there. Drinking in a Muslim country didn’t feel safe to me.
People do drink there. It just didn’t make sense to me to drink because I was traveling alone. My dress was always modest. I made my hair a little darker to blend in better.
It’s funny how I seem to collect friends from everywhere. I got a lot of help from my friends at home and abroad. They aren’t contacts; they are friends. My belief once a person is a friend, it’s a friendship forever.
Do I Plan to Travel Now?
Perhaps, I will continue traveling to Europe, the Near East, and the Middle East. I think the fear that ISIS is trying to instill in all of us is part of their plan to conquer the region. Not going there or changing travel plans is letting them win. They want tourists to stay away and for us to fear the area and its people.
The businesses in the region that depend on tourism need US tourists to keep visiting. The worst thing we all can do is to stay away. I am not alone. A lot of famous bloggers give the same advice.
A friend in Istanbul, who is a policeman, tells me that the police currently have 70 to 80 police officers out among the tourists every day, in both plain clothes and uniforms. But, unfortunately, I don’t feel anyone feels safer now because of the recent terribly unfortunate events.
Continue Middle East Travel
More importantly, the bad guys want us to stay away from Middle East travel, specifically the tourist regions in Turkey, Jordan and Egypt. They want to crush tourism. Personally, I don’t think they are going to win.
We should keep supporting tourism and travel in areas like Cairo, Egypt, or Istanbul, Turkey. (Please excuse my rant). I hope your choice is to travel to these fantastic locations.
I’ve been to Egypt once, Lebanon once, Jordan three times, and twelve times now to Istanbul. Money is the only thing that limits my trips.
Someplace in Jordan. Taxi, Anyone?
The Middle East In September
One of my trips to the Middle East was in September 2014, at the end of the 2014 Israel-Palestinian War. My trip was for the Episcopal Church, the Diocese of Olympia, Washington. The Church provided funding and encouraged me to go to Palestine to understand the conflict there.
On my third trip to Jordan, the first time traveling there as a volunteer. After Jordan, I went on to Israel and Palestine. In Jordan, I had the privilege to visit Syrian refugees outside of the refugee camp, and I also volunteered at the UN Syrian refugee camp. I took photos of the tremendous work the volunteer organizations did.
For the church, I photographed the Israel-Palestinian situation. St Mark’s Bishop’s Committee asked that I take photos of the refugee camps in Hebron and Ramallah, and NGOs (non-government organizations) in Jericho, Bethlehem, and Hebron Palestine. Thankfully, The Board members of my church used my photos.
So that is the ‘why’ and ‘how’ I began taking these trips.
My Middle East travel included working with the Syrian refugees and observing the Palestine situation. Tensions have grown more extreme since escalations in 2012 and 2014. Now in 2016, it’s reached a crisis point. Now we have learned that people are getting lost over there. The sad truth is that the children have become the lost generation.
If you want to help but don’t want to travel, here are two ways you can assist. Sponsor a volunteer to help in Greece through an American organization like the Salaam Cultural Museum programs. If you can’t travel, you can make a donation. Donations help a lot. The second way to help is to donate supplies that are needed.
If you do want to travel there, I suggest joining a small group as a volunteer or a tour company. Several of my favorite tour businesses that go to the Middle East, Istanbul and Greece are:
- Elder Treks goes to Turkey, Oman, Iran, and Jordan
- Overseas Adventure Travel OAT goes to Israel
- National Geographic Expeditions
These tours are outstanding and immerse travelers into the culture with local guides. My hope is that you and I will travel more this year than ever before, so I focus on the positive. Maybe I will go to the Middle East, most likely I won’t be going there because of the current climate. It is fun there but, given today’s climate, I question if it’s wise to do this when there are some much anger and violence in the world.
Happy, safe travels don’t take unnecessary risks!
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