Have you ever felt drawn toward the unknown? Or seen that Instagram account with the handsome couple who travel to all these exotic places and you just die a bit inside every time you see them go on these epic adventures? Do you sometimes look at these people and wonder just how they do it? Like, I have to eat ramen noodles every night for dinner, but Becky, who seems to be my age, can afford an awesome trip to Asia? Life just doesn’t seem fair, yet you could be doing exactly that.
Even with travel restrictions set by a certain tangerine causing negative vibes between the United States and most of the Middle East, there are still some great travel opportunities lurking in plain sight. The more people I talk to in the East Tennessee area, the more I get the sense that some locals might be afraid to travel to Middle Eastern countries, for fear of how they will be treated once they get there. I can personally assure you that you’ll be fine.
Not all Muslims are terrorists, just like not all Americans think Africa is all one country – seriously, though, that’s not cool, if that’s you. Either way, you may have caught yourself looking at the gorgeous material of the hijab the girl in front of you is wearing and wondered where she’s from and what that piece of material represents.
I go to the Kingdom of Bahrain all the time. This 100 percent Islamic island nation is a great place to consider for your next vacation. With great traditional shopping centers to introduce you to the intricacies of Persian rugs and pashminas and the Al Fateh Grand Mosque, one of the largest mosques in the world, to introduce you to the traditions of the Islamic faith, you’ll be sure to fall in love with the country in no time.
The large American Navy base creates an American presence in this already super liberal Arabic country, so there are U.S. restaurants available for when the local food isn’t your cup of tea. The Juffair district of Bahrain also hosts a myriad of bars and nightclubs, so don’t think it’s all about the food and shopping.
Another all-out Muslim country that Americans could be skeptical of visiting, but is surprisingly lovely to visit, is The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
I stayed with a traditional Bedouin tribe in the Wadi Rum Desert, all by myself, and guess what? I was welcomed like a visiting family member! I wasn’t questioned for not participating in the prayers, I was not faced with unwanted sexual advances, I was simply accepted.
I went snorkeling in the Red Sea and I floated in the salty Dead Sea, all the while my old, Muslim taxi driver educated me on the traditions and beautiful history of the region. I even learned a lot about the Christian faith which I was raised in.
If you’re a fan of scuba diving, hiking or rock climbing, Jordan might be just right for you, just like the Sultanate of Oman. Oman has very strict laws against skyscrapers, so nature is highly respected there and should most definitely be enjoyed!
So, next time you’re faced with the decisions where to go on holiday, give the Middle East a try. If funds are an issue, try some volunteering agencies like I did. You might just end up being that person in the inspiring Instagram post that broadens some kid’s horizons one day.
Bianca Marais is an international student from South Africa majoring in mass communication with a concentration in journalism and a minor in creative writing. She is currently a junior and plans to graduate in December 2017. She has an intense passion for discovering the intricacies of different cultures and makes a goal of traveling to more than one country every year.