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Is it safe to travel to Iran as a solo female traveler?

Anna Karsten

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Before I started reading more into Iran, all I heard about this country were stories about its politics. In the media, Iran seemed like a place where no one would ever want to visit. Can you imagine solo female travel in Iran?

After my trip to Iran, I can tell you now that Iran has the most hospitable people and great architecture. Traveling to Iran as a solo female traveler has been safe, rewarding and fun.

Iran is safe, accessible and totally easy to navigate as a solo female traveler. Sure, you might experience some inconveniences, but for every annoying man you get 3 nice ones, just like anywhere else. Iran is a destination you must see for yourself to see what I mean.

While organized tours are still dominating Iran’s tourism, it’s not uncommon to find another person traveling solo. Backpackers and hostels can be found anywhere on a tourist route from Tehran to Shiraz and Yazd.

Plus, if you can’t find a hostel, a cheap guesthouse is also an option. No matter which way you travel in Iran, you can always find an affordable place to stay for less than $30 a night for a double room.

Iran in Western media

Traveling to Iran or anywhere in the Middle East independently, especially as a woman, isn’t perceived well these days. Some time ago an article about a woman cycling through the Middle East alone went viral. People were wondering whether it’s safe for a woman to cycle alone across the Middle East? The comments weren’t pleasant:

‘It’s foolish and she was very lucky not to get herself raped or killed or both. I hope this article won’t encourage other solo female travelers to visit these countries alone’ – 400 upvotes

‘Not impressed. Putting oneself in harm’s way, which then puts potential rescuers in harm’s way makes little sense.’ – 170 upvotes

But how can we talk about media coverage of safety in Iran when BBC, that published the article, doesn’t even bother to check the facts. The article states: ‘In Iran, I was given more freedom. Yet foreigners are not permitted to stay with locals without permission, and several of my hosts endured an intense grilling by police.’ None of the above is true.

Staying with locals is only forbidden for British, Canadian and American citizens. Anyone else can stay with locals wherever whenever and no police will come and check on you.

U.S. government currently warns against travel to Iran for obvious reasons, these two countries don’t get along. It says that U.S. citizens may be subject to harassment or arrest while traveling in the country.

Again, I’d say that this statement is very exaggerated. Especially after Argo – the film exaggerating the seizure of the American Embassy in Tehran won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

My Advice is: don’t believe what you hear on the news. Explore the place, talk to locals and come to your own conclusions. Come to Iran with an open mind and I guarantee you’ll make many great friends in Iran.

Is it safe to travel to Iran in 2020?

Many travelers, including myself, describe it as one of the ‘safest countries I’ve ever been to’. You’ll be much more likely to get mugged in Europe than in Iran.

Violent crimes against foreigners are extremely rare and, indeed, if you do your best to fit in with local customs (read more on the dress code and how local women fight it), you are unlikely to be treated with anything.

In fact, I’ll be returning to Iran in 2020 to explore even more of its natural beauty.

My experience of traveling solo in Iran

I traveled to Iran solo and later teamed up with another girl whom I met at the hostel. I traveled around the country, in the same way, I would anywhere else in the world.

Wandering around in the evening, taking the metro, using local taxis and buses, going to markets etc.

I met many women whose lives didn’t seem very different from the women I know at home. At the birthday party, it was actually men who had to clean after, not women.

Young girls told me they date the same way people date in the Western world, they just don’t announce it anywhere and keep it to themselves.

I only felt uncomfortable twice in Iran – once in Esfahan (Isfahan) and once in Kashan. In Esfahan a man in a car started driving next to me and my friend in the evening. Every time we moved, he moved. It scared my friend and me for a bit, but the moment we approached another traveler the car left.

Another unpleasant situation I encountered was while walking around the narrow streets of Kashan. I was filming with my DJI gimbal with my iPhone attached to it when I fell someone approaching me on a scooter.

To me, being uncomfortable once or twice doesn’t mean that the place is dangerous. I never once felt physically threatened, unsafe, or at risk, even when I was wandering the streets of Iran.

I felt safer in Iran than if I was walking around in NYC. Even the tap water was safe in Iran!

People believe that Iran is full of moral police watching your every step, ready to arrest Westerners at the slightest provocation. In my experience, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

While cases or reporting and arrests occur, it’s not as common as it’s being portrayed outside of the country.

Everyone I met was extremely helpful and treated me like I was an expensive piece of jewelry. Escorting from one place to the other, while feeling responsible for me. And that’s the people I met on the street for 5 minutes! So unless you’re planning on running around naked with a bottle of smuggled vodka in hand, don’t be afraid.

From our partner Tehran Times

Anna Karsten (born 1988 in Warsaw) is a travel blogger, traveler, and social media personality. She and her writing and photography have been featured in the New York Times, Forbes, CNN, National Geographic and Travel Channel.

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Shivya Nath: A bold solo traveler who is breaking gender stereotypes

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Image source: the-shooting-star.com

In a majorly patriarchal Indian society, Shivya Nath found it in her to be a bold solo traveller. She leads a nomadic lifestyle, travelling across the world with her backpack. Shivya is the author of a best selling book, “The shooting star”, in which she highlights more about her life and experiences travelling. The book is an inspiration to women who are staying at home, craving a free lifestyle, and want to travel the world solo.

In this interview with Modern Diplomacy, Shivya tells us more about her life experiences journeying the world. She tells us what it takes to travel the world as a solo woman and narrates her experiences both bitter and sweet.

You have travelled so much and seen the world so intricately that you might as well be a nomad. The most obvious question – what convinced you to travel the world?

I grew up in a protective Indian family in Dehradun, a valley at the base of the Himalayas, and spent my childhood wondering what lay beyond the mountains I could see from my rooftop. Upon finishing high school, I went to Singapore to study, with big dreams and a big student loan. As luck would have it, I graduated in the middle of the financial recession of 2009, when most companies I wanted to work with had ceased hiring. I landed a job with the Singapore Tourism Board, where my experiments with social media began, and I first began following the journey of travel writers / bloggers around the world. It was impossible to tame my restless cubicle-bound soul, so in 2011, I took a 2 month unpaid sabbatical from work. I went flash-packing across Western Europe with a friend, and volunteer-travelled by myself in the high Himalayas of India. In those two months, I saw, experienced and lived more than I ever had before. Within a week of my return to work, I decided to quit my first and only corporate job with a dream of travelling the world on my own terms.

Your new project, Voices of Rural India is picking up steam and picking accolades for telling the most unlikeliest of stories. How do you envision it forward?

Voices of Rural India is an effort to turn this unprecedented pandemic into an opportunity to create alternate livelihoods by upgrading digital skills in rural India, while also preserving grassroots knowledge that is slowly disappearing. Voices of Rural India is a not-for-profit digital initiative that hopes to revolutionize storytelling, by hosting curated stories by rural storytellers – in written, photo or video format. Unlike most existing online platforms, the stories of rural India are told directly by local storytellers. In the short-term, Voices of Rural India is creating a revenue stream for affected communities through digital journalism. In the long run, it aims to develop digital storytelling skills at the grassroots level, along with becoming a repository of local culture and knowledge, documented in local voices. We are currently working with rural communities in Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Kerala, Maharashtra and Gujarat, through on-ground community-based tourism organisations like Global Himalayan Expedition, Himalayan Ecotourism, Himalayan Ark, Spiti Ecosphere and Grassroutes Journeys. The initiative is supported by the Digital Empowerment Foundation. We’re eagerly looking forward to a post-Covid world, where we can physically travel to visit the communities we’re virtually working with, conduct digital storytelling workshops, identify local talent and hopefully bridge some of the gaping urban-rural digital divide.

Your favourite place so far? You can give multiple answers of course.

There’s so much to love about so many places! I love my home country India, because despite its challenges, nowhere comes close to the diversity of natural beauty, food and culture it offers. It’s perhaps one of the few places in the world where strangers are the quickest to become friends. Other than that, I feel a deep connection to Guatemala, Bhutan, Georgia and Iran.

Your passion for environmental protection and climate change issues is also noteworthy. What do you think should be the biggest change that can make mankind save itself?

Unlearning.

The more I slow travel around the world, the more I unlearn conventional ways of doing things. And that’s exactly what we need on a massive scale – politically, economically and individually.

We need to unlearn our reliance on fossil fuels, the issues based on which we elect our leaders, the way we treat some animals as friends and others as food (speciesism), the way we measure development and so on.

A deep unlearning will (hopefully) allow us to re-establish a world driven by mindfulness and compassion, rather than money.

Your book ‘A Shooting Star’ is a bestseller. Along with the travelogue, it is also about a spiritual journey one undertakes. Do you thus agree with the phrase that humans can better understand oneself and another with more communication and a better experience of diversity?

The Shooting Star charts my battles and adventures from the cubicle to the road, and from small-town India to remote corners of the globe. I write candidly about my struggles of transitioning from an average Indian girl to a free soul, who wanted to live on her own terms, explore the world meaningfully and smash stereotypes along the way. I write about my relationships, battles, triumphs and life-changing encounters, and how I tried to conquer my deepest fears.

There’s no doubt that travelling is as much an inner journey as a physical one.

Tell us about a time when you were travelling alone and felt challenged?

After traveling safely and adventurously through some of Central America’s more notorious countries (like Honduras, labelled ‘the most violent place on earth’),  I had pretty much let my guard down in Costa Rica. On a hurriedly hailed cab ride to the airport to impulsively catch a flight to the Pacific Coast, the cabbie and I chatted like long lost friends. Closer to the airport, he told me we’d get stuck in traffic so it’s better to drop off a street before and walk; I agreed without thinking twice. When we arrived, I paid him and got off the cab, only to see him grabbing my small bag – the one with my passport, laptop and everything precious – asking for more money or he’d take off with it. I had the equivalent of 50$ in my pocket and gave it to him, shivering at the idea of being left alone without my valuables. In retrospect, there were a lot of hints I didn’t catch; he asked me if I had family in the country, or if I had a local SIM card – pointed questions that should have made me wary. I felt shaken up for days, refused to trust anyone else I met along the way, and found solace in places crowded with other tourists, much unlike my usual travel style. It really wasn’t about the money I lost, but the trust I lost, and it took me months to rebuild it.

What has been your biggest achievement till date? The most satisfying moment in your career?

There have been many satisfying moments on this journey: Publishing my first book and seeing it become a national bestseller in just over a month of release; recognition, awards and international features for my work to promote responsible, immersive travel; launching a clothing collection inspired by The Shooting Star that raises funds to grow forests in my home state Uttarakhand; and most recently, co-founding Voices of Rural India to challenge the way digital storytelling is typically done in India. But I think I feel the deepest satisfaction when a reader reaches out to me to share how my work has played a role in inspiring them to make different life or travel choices.

Travelling, that too alone is still considered a taboo for women in large parts of India. What do you think will change that?

As more of us choose to travel solo and share our stories online or offline, change is bound to happen. While female solo travellers are still considered an anomaly in some parts of India and the world, there’s a lot more chatter, acceptance and encouragement online now.

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Turkish sojourns

Ankit Malhotra

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Neatly tucked away on the sparkling Turkish Riviera, the utterly luxurious Dalyan Resort is a dreamy coastal cocoon that one never wishes to leave. Once a sleepy fishing village, the seaside town of Dalyanon Turkey’s glittering coastline has, in recent years, become something of a playground for the jet-setters seeking respite from city life and her pernicious tendencies. The unique medley of beautiful red bricked cottages and ancient ruins run into an alluring elegance.

With its status as a burgeoning tourist hotspot there has been a slew of luxury hotels and resorts, all jostling for the patronage of beautifully bronzed, well-heeled holidaymakers. Establishing itself as one of the area’s most comforting boltholes, Dalyan Hotels run by the utterly charming, Yucel Okutur and his wife, Fulia. The seaside property promises a blend of style, serenity and comfort. Oh and how well it delivers. The magnificence is made clear from the very second one steps into the resort’s cosy lobby. A sweeping look from the sleek marble-panelled arrival deck across the sea and towards the property’s pristine private deck begs no question as to why this corner of the world is a secret so well kept. One cannot help but saunter around corners past slivers of glittering sea interspersed with bursts of pink oleander. A private sun-drenched armchair from which can embrace the nature enjoy the nourishment whilst flipping through the fables of Marco Polo, an apt companion an inspiration for and of travels.

The clever integration of spaces indoor and outdoor extends throughout the property inspiring a sense of oneness with nature. The classic yet contemporary interiors are best illustrated in the spa. Gazing at the marbled paintings, one reminds one of the four seasons, much like Vivaldi. The use of light, domes, marble tiling, high ceilings and open plan spaces generates a refreshing airiness and palatial spaciousness- a very special Turkish delight. Locally crafted fabrics, furniture and art are tastefully displayed alongside modern décor. No stuffiness or over-the-top excessiveness provides a veritable feeling of ease and comfort abounds, giving the sense that these are spaces designed to be lived in and moved through.

Moreover, travel brings out the best in men like myself who get dressed every evening feeling a bit like Napoleon: ready to conquer the world. There is a spring in our step and a smile on our faces. When we reach to our pre-booked table near the Riviera, we tend to soak in the ambience. There is a romance to every evening. We tend to find ourselves in the laps of fine company and an eclectic state of mind. Just like most things, travel for men like myself is not a liberator, rather, is the elixir of our being. After feasting well into the night with Kebabs and what not, one may feel inclined to forgo breakfast, but the extensive buffet is too enticing to refuse. One sets up for the day with freshly-baked bread and Turkish pastries, organic juices, a huge array of cooked dishes and plenty of fresh fruits and cereals. There is an overwhelming sense of calm in the entire hotel, which is more like home. Unbridled bliss is the name of the game it becomes impossible not to leave feeling utterly rejuvenated. The bespoke service of its staff, who are friendly and attentive without being bother some.I am inclined to believe, this’ true luxury.

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Gift Giving Traditions Around the World

Newsroom

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Giving gifts is a tradition as old as mankind itself. It has always been a part of our society. When you give a gift to someone, it tells them that they are special in some way to you. We give and receive gifts for many occasions, like birthdays, mothers days, Christmases, on our anniversary, etc. In fact, gift-giving is so integral to our world that many nations developed interesting traditions around it. Here are some of the most interesting ones.

Japan

When giving a gift in Japan you should be very careful. The Japanese people attach great importance to gifts and consider them something that is mandatory, not just a kind gesture. It is not desirable to surprise them, as they will be embarrassed if they cannot immediately return something to the gift giver. Therefore, it is a good idea to discreetly advise them that you will give them a small memento of your meeting. The gift is given exclusively in private, and it is not common to open it immediately.

South Korea

In Korea, it is extremely rude to give or receive a gift using only one hand, especially if it is the left hand. You must always use both hands at once if doing so. Korean New Years greeting cards or gifts are never with a predominantly red color, as it is used for announcing funerals. Also, avoid gifts that come in sets of four as they symbolize death in Korea.

India

When giving a gift in India, you should always use your right hand. Using the left hand can cause offense as that hand is considered unclean. If giving money in India, try to give a sum that ends with 1. Odd numbers are considered very lucky in India. The number 1 is especially lucky as it signifies a new beginning. Because of this, giving a sum that ends with 1 is believed to grant prosperity to the gift recipient.

Arabs

Gifts are not as important to the Arabs as to other people. They represent something that “gives hospitality a wider dimension”. When someone comes to dinner, small gifts such as flowers and candy are common, and as a sign of special affection, silver, crystals, porcelain, and famous brand items are very appreciated. Handkerchiefs of any kind associate them with parting and tears and should be avoided.

Europe

As far as Europeans are concerned, every nation is a story for itself. The French are quite reserved with gift-giving, the Germans are especially rigid and formal, and the Dutch are a little bit more relaxed. For Italians or Spaniards, the exchange of appropriate gifts is quite acceptable. Russians and people from Eastern European countries appreciate something from your own culture, for example, a CD with your national music or some other kind of token from your country.  Also, in Russia, you should never give someone yellow tulips as they are the symbol of ending a relationship or betrayal.

Ireland

Don’t be surprised if your gift is refused a couple of times in Ireland. This tradition comes from a time when they had the potato famine, and because of this, the recipients are making sure that you can really part from the item that you are offering. It will also show great humility if you refuse the gift they are offering you a couple of times. The standard reply in Ireland when someone receives a gift is “you shouldn’t have gone through all that trouble.”

Kenya

In Kenya, the Maasai people spit on a gift before giving it to someone. This is considered a sign of blessing and with this, they wish the recipient great fortune. Spiting is a very important tradition in Kenya. It is customary to spit on the head of a newborn child and on a hand before shaking it with someone.

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