How is Solo Female traveler in Iran? In a morning, while having breakfast with your family, you tell them about your decision for a solo trip. Hearing that might not be a surprise for your family as you have done solo trips before. They glimpse at you and then keep eating their breakfast. After a silence, you tell them that you wanna go to an Eastern country! They raise their heads while looking inquisitively at each other and shortly, they start eating again. You say “I’m gonna go to Iran”, louder this time. They might get a mild choking! after a few coughs, while having their eyes wide open, they say with a loud voice “Have you gone insane?! That’s so dangerous and you don’t even know what is expecting you there.”
Telling your friends about your decision may end up in the same situation as with your family. The only difference would be that they will also make fun of you and after a few jokes will suggest you to have a look at your ‘trip list’ to make sure there are still too many places to see rather than Iran!
As an Iranian woman who is living in Iran, I will tell you that your friends and family don’t know anything about my country. The impact of media is not something I can abolish by an open letter; but as a solo female traveller, I can have a small role in reducing your worries for travelling to Iran alone.
The first thing you will probably face is that Iran, as an Islamic country, has a term called ‘Hijab’ which is an obligation determined by law and people observe it regarding the rules and customs. So, that’s where you should ask ‘what to wear?’.
Chador, scarf, long dress and trousers are normal clothing in public places in Iran. However, hijab is more flexible in larger cities and you can see more women wearing shorter dresses, tights trousers, colourful scarves and not all their hairs covered.
Hijab in Iran
Although there are few women who has written about their trips to Iran, their number is not high enough to change the public opinions. So, I suggest keep reading this text and go for a trip to Iran.
The plane has landed; you wear your scarf, take your backpack and getting out of the hall looking for ‘exit’ sign. You just need to get out of the airport to see that people in Iran do not commute by camel and you can get to your destination by taking a taxi, bus or subway! You probably knew that Iran is totally different from Arabic countries, especially Iraq, which are usually mistaken as each other. So, in Iran, riding camel is considered as an expensive and luxury activity which is not so accessible as well. Therefore, you can arrive your destination by using airport taxies with fixed rates or ordering a taxi online if you have the app on your phone.
For searching cities or traveling between cities, you can drive or cycle by a rented car or bicycle. Or you can travel around Iran by taking a taxi, bus or train. Just some points to remember; for inner city buses you should know that there is two separate sections for ladies and gentlemen and it is better if you observe that. For intercity buses and longer distances, it is also usual that women sit next to women to feel more comfortable but it’s not a rule and you don’t have to do so; hence, you can decide to stay at your seat next to a guy if you are happy and definitely you won’t feel bad.
But something that you really need to be worried about is people’s driving in Iran! It doesn’t make any difference if you’re a pedestrian or a driver yourself. You need to watch out carefully for cars and particularly motorcycles while you’re on the streets. Although we’ve been told that ‘Red Light’ means ‘Stop’, there are so many other things that can affect this rule here! Such as hastiness for not being late! Well, it seems that punctuality maters more than our lives to us!
Moreover, if you get to an amber light in a traffic light, it’s better to run away at least 2 meters from the street! because it can be the most dangerous traffic light in Iran. If the green light changes to amber, drivers accelerate as harsh as possible to pass the light before getting red. In case of red light changing to amber, you can imagine the beginning of a road racing with many ‘ready to go’ cars and sounds of revving engines incredibly up.
There are a few cities in Iran having international airports which you easily can find more about by a quick search. These are mainly tourist cities and people are used to seeing tourist around the town; however, this doesn’t mean that when you’re walking on the street people don’t ask you ‘where are you from?!’. Yeah, in every part of Iran anyone who has only a smattering of English will try to ask you ‘where are you from? Do you like Iran?’. So, try not to get tired of answering these questions because that’s your only choice!
Everybody in Iran likes to communicate with you with that little English they know. On the street, it might regularly happen that people stare at you; that’s more probably because of being a foreigner and less probably for being a solo female traveler. After a few second starring at you, they will probably come closer and say a number of repetitive sentences! Some of them may ask ‘where are you staying?’ , ‘What Persian dishes have you tried?’ and ‘which cities of Iran have you visited?’
Airports in Iran
As eager as they are for asking these questions, they also would like to suggest you places to visit and, in their opinion, if you leave Iran without visiting their suggested place, it seems like you haven’t been to Iran. Many of these are places that you can find and read info about by a simple search on reliable websites, however, among them you might hear about places which sounds amazing and adventurous and for local people might be as simple as a weekend picnic, but I recommend you not to go to such places unless you make sure about how you’ll get there, how long it might take to return, does it have any residents and if you’re going for camping does it have a suitable and safe place to stay? Does your phone have service there, etc. And finally, it’s recommended not to travel alone to these places.
There are travel agencies selling one day or more tours which you can use or you can ask guide from The Cultural Heritage and Tourism organisation. That’s a cheaper and also safer way and you can contact local people more easily to learn about their customs and traditions. It also gives you the chance to investigate about unknown things which you may not find in books and websites.
Solo Female traveler in Iran
Another thing that can make your journey memorable is your accommodation during your trip. You can stay at a hotel, hostel or ecolodge by reserving them through online websites. The ‘Couchsurfing’ website is another option you can rely on for accommodation. We Iranian are well-known for our hospitality and in my opinion that’s a right characteristic for us. So, you can find a suitable place to stay in each city while considering the general safety basics mentioned on Couchsurfing. You may also be able to camp in some cities and nature but if your chosen place is too outlaying, make sure that you’ve gathered enough info from local people about the safety of that place and preferably choose a destination which your phone has service there. Just remember to notice the police about your camping destination and then enjoy there!
Iran has several delicious traditional cuisines so you don’t need make your backpack heavy by taking food. You can have famous Persian dishes such Fesenjoon, Ghorme-sabzi, rice croquette, Kebab, Abgoosht and also try the traditional cousins of each city you travel to. Well, that’s making my mouth water!
Foods in Iran
I suggest before travelling to Iran, while you’re searching the web to gather more info for your trip, make sure you take notes of all Persian dishes you can taste here. So, take an A4 paper and list all the dishes. I recommend to write in small size font as you might run out of paper! There are also different local dishes in each city which mainly seem yummy to me as a gluttonous! Try to reconcile with meaty and oily foods so that you can try more dishes in Iran. If you have food limitation such as being vegetarian, don’t worry, you will still have so many choices such as Kashk-bademjan, Aash, Felafel, Potatto-kookoo and vegetable kookoo. Moreover, if you’re a fan of street food, you can find so many places with different qualities to try. Just a quick suggestion; if you’re on a diet and you’re travelling to Iran, I recommend you to forget about your diet while you’re staying here, or at least take it easy!
There are also various types of drinks to try such as tea(Chai), herbal teas, fruit juice, Airan (Doogh), alcohol-free beers and so on. But remember that producing or trading any kind of alcoholic drinks is illegal in Iran. So, I highly recommend you to avoid that if someone invites you to an alcoholic drink in Iran.
Drinks in Iran
Some Iranians spend nights out with friends and nightlife is prevalent in Iran, although in a different way compared to western counties. You can find stores open late midnight and also restaurants, cafés and parks full of peoples who are enjoying their time out after a long day work. There are also groups of people who gather in one’s house to have dinner, chat and play games. However, if you like to be part of these groups, you need to have a close friend or a host to take you to these congregations (parties). If you’re invited to such parties or dinners by a friend found on the street after a short chat or through online websites, please be more cautious.
There are other places such as swimming pools, gyms, mosques, barbershops and even some of the universities which have different sections for ladies and gentlemen and you should pay more attention to go to the right place for ladies’, it’s similar to what has been mentioned about bus earlier.
Although after eye contact and smile shaking hand might be the best way for greeting, I recommend you to use the first two ways more, as shaking hand can have some limitations in Iran. As a woman you can simply handshake with other women or even hug them, but it’s not usual for a lady to shake hand with men. However, in larger cities, people might not be that strict about this issue and you may meet men who extend their hands towards you to shake hands.
Solo Female traveler in Iran
If you are in your home country and someone offer you that the dinner is on their treat, you will probably thank them and let them pay the restaurant bill. But if in Iran someone offers you such a thing, you should first thank them and then refuse and say you’ll pay for it yourself. If they insist again to be on their treat, you should refuse again and pay it yourself. But if you see they’re still insisting to pay for your dinner bill, then you can be sure that they really mean that and that’s not a courtesy. In Iran there is a subculture called ‘Taarof’ which people say things that they don’t really mean it, like insisting to pay your bill or inviting you to their homes. So, for example if someone tell you not to pay for the taxi while you on the same cab and it will be on their treat, please don’t trust! pay your fare yourself because that person is doing ‘Taarof’ and they don’t mean it really. when you get off the cab without paying the rate and the taxi driver call you back to pay for it, then this will remind you of my words! Or if you meet someone on the street and they invite you to their house just after a short greeting, don’t wonder as they’re doing Taarof; So if you tell them ‘Okay, let’s go’, then you can easily see wonderment on their face. Then they might get embarrassed and take you home or they might leave you and go their own way! Anyway, ‘Taarof’ is a complicated issue that we Iranian are still struggling to distinguish it ourselves!