Putting some truth and context behind the world’s misunderstood region
Have you ever been put off a trip to the Middle East because of your friends and families reactions? Do you believe everything you see and hear on TV?
Wherever you travel in the world, with kids or without, you must make educated decisions on the safety of the country, taking into account many factors including:
- Political and civil unrest
- Health warnings
- General crime
- Natural disasters
On this page we will share with you links to external sources we have used to help plan our regional travels.
We are not safety experts! Please use this information only to form your own opinions.
But what about terrorists?
Let’s be clear. Terrorists are belligerent individuals with their own agenda. They could just as easily be in London, New York or any city in the world.
Are there unsafe parts of the Middle East?
Yes. Years of conflict have unfortunately tainted vast parts of the region. But let’s not forget they are a minority. The vast majority of Muslims and Middle East citizens are compassionate, caring individuals who welcome visitors. Based on current international government advisories we would advise you to avoid:
- The Gaza Strip
- Areas of Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and Turkey that immediately border Syria
- Parts of northern Sinai, Egypt.
As with travelling to ANY part of the world these days, ALWAYS check the current government advisory warnings.
Middle East Government advisories from
Now we’ve got that big one out of the way, here are some of the key things we actually think you need to be aware of when travelling to the Middle East with kids.
It can be really, really hot
Not just a little scorching, I’m talking months of the year where it doesn’t drop below 30c, daytime temperatures can top 50c and the humidity goes through the roof. The further south you are, the hotter it gets. Some parts of the region experience a very dry heat whilst others get the heat and humidity. Generally speaking from mid-April through to mid-October, it’s HOT!
Be careful to avoid things like heat exhaustion, sunstroke and sunburn.
It is not this hot all year though, and for the most part, you can look to avoid it by not being outside at peak times of the day or planning your travels in the cooler winter months. You will notice that many parts of the region have a thriving nightlife as the lifestyle naturally is an evening culture.
If you do come to the likes of the UAE say on a bargain summer package, just be mindful no you won’t be spending all day on your sun lounger or at the beach, it’s just too hot. You will need to drink a lot of water and keep yourself protected from the sun’s rays.
We have more specific advice for dealing with babies and toddlers in the heat here.
Can I breastfeed in public?
Of course! But we will make provisos. Whilst it is a perfectly natural thing to do and is encouraged by the health authorities, discretion and modesty are key. Look to find your self a very quiet corner in a cafe and use a nursing cover. Showing your flesh or bearing your nipples to all and sundry will not be well received and may result in stares and comments. Ladies prayer rooms make a perfect spot if you are feeling uncomfortable in public, and certainly, in the big city malls, you will increasingly find feeding rooms in public toilets.
(NB for the record our Editor Keri happily breastfed two babies in the UAE without any issue feeding in public).
Do women need to be covered?
This depends on each individual country. You will generally find that both Muslim men and women dress quite conservatively.
Head covering for women differs for women by country and is by no means compulsory in places such as the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan. You may, however, feel more comfortable wearing something that covers shoulders and knees and taking a headscarf with you if need be.
If you are entering a religious or government building, the standard is often much higher with full-length clothing covering all skin on arms and legs required and a head cover.
Public displays of affection
Laws may differ to your home country so please be mindful that some countries view signs of affection differently to what you may.
In our experience holding hands, a kiss on the cheek is fine, and certainly, affection towards your children is acceptable. Anything that could be constructed more as fondling, intimacy should definitely be kept behind closed doors.
Food safety in the Middle East
This will vary vastly by country and where you are. We’d suggest to any visitor to always drink bottled water in a region where your body is unfamiliar with the local water supply, and especially for babies also boil the water before giving in bottles. Otherwise, food can range from five-star hotels to bushfire camps. You will need to make your judgement call based on the circumstances what little stomachs can handle.
Those with food allergies may find the packaging a little difficult to interpret. Often even if a product is imported, labels with Arabic are fixed over the important information! Taking a card with you that has your allergy written in Arabic or the local language/dialect may be helpful in more remote areas where English is not widely spoken.
Health and vaccines needed for the Middle East
Get yourself adequate travel health insurance. If something does go wrong, you want to know you have access to private healthcare and if applicable, air evacuation. Even on short stopovers, there have been horror stories of not being covered and racking up thousands in bills.
If you are worried about language barriers working with the health system, do note a lot of hospitals are actually staffed by foreign workers and English is likely to be spoken. It won’t hurt you though to make sure you are aimed with a phrasebook to help with any language barriers.
Vaccines: Make sure your children’s inoculations are up to date on your current program. Not all programs, however, cover TB and Hepatitis A/B which are still prevalent in the region. If you are only stopping in the major cities, these are likely to be of little concern but do talk to your GP about what is necessary.
We take the NHS Fit for Travel site as an authoritative source of health information when travelling – do check it out if you have any concerns.
Prescription medication: Please check the legality of any prescription medications in your country of travel. The UAE particularly has hefty penalties for importing any sort of opiate-containing medicines – you can read a full list of permissible prescription medications here.
MERS-CoV: Far less prevalent than it used to be, but MERS – Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus does still exist in minute proportions, particularly in Saudi Arabia. You can read more official advice from WHO here.
Religious observances in the Middle East
Things like the ability to drink alcohol and eat pork, both forbidden under Islam vary by country. Popular expatriate locations like Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Qatar have special arrangements in place where non-muslims can still enjoy these things from designated sale points, but other countries forbid their existence completely.
One religious observance to take special notice of if you are unfamiliar with Islamic culture and tradition is the holy month of Ramadan. The 9th month in the Hijri calendar the exact dates move forward about 10 days a year on the Gregorian calendar, you can check estimated timings here. The main observance that impacts visitors though is the daytime fasting. In many Middle East countries, it is illegal to eat during the day in public.
Do pop over and check out our Visitors Guide to Ramadan in the UAE for a much more detailed synopsis on what families should expect during this important time and subsequent Eid celebrations – the breaking of the fast.
(We will be expanding this post to include how Ramadan impacts travel in all Middle East countries – if you have any observances or experiences we would love you to contribute these. Please contact us to share your story)
Saying what you think
Each country has their own laws on decency, freedom of speech, defamation and human rights. This article’s purpose is not to discuss whether these laws are right or wrong or start a political debate, but to flag that these laws exist and may be very different to the country you are from. Privacy rules may differ too. I would say NEVER make public mention of anything that may be considered defamatory to your host nation or the Islam religion.
Honestly, do you want to know what one of the biggest fears I have every day living in the Middle East with children?
My biggest fear is the driving
If you do want a genuine concern, it’s road safety. Whilst certainly in the UAE this has vastly improved over the past decade, other countries not so much. Speeding seems to be fairly habitual and use of signals optional. Lane markings are frequently not observed – nor are safety gaps or seat belts.
Am I allowed to drive as a woman?
On the whole, yes. The only country that women were banned from driving in was Saudi Arabia. This ban was lifted from June 2018.
If you are not currently living in the Middle East and familiar with the driving style, you may feel more comfortable with a taxi or local driver who is more familiar with road conditions.
Car Safety for Children
Even if car seat belt and safety laws exist, it’s fair to say on the whole this is loosely enforced. If, however, like the majority of sensible parents in this world you realise that these devices are designed to save lives, absolutely come prepared with your own safety gear.
Do you have any further safety concerns or questions about visiting the Middle East with children? Let us know in the comments below and we will do our best to answer these concerns and dispel myths