In August 2016, I visited Iran for four weeks. People often ask whether it was dangerous for me to travel as a solo woman in Iran. I noticed that there a lot of prejudices and misunderstandings about Iran. Many are holding their themselves back from traveling to Iran because they think it is too dangerous. This post will include my experience and facts about traveling alone in Iran as a woman.
I wasn’t an experienced traveler when I went to Iran. In fact, it was my second solo trip at the age of 19. I only had been to Turkey in 2015 for three months where I had a pre-taste of the Middle East. In the end, it worked out well for me.
Is traveling alone in Iran a crazy idea?
When I was backpacking in Iran, I didn’t meet other women who were traveling in Iran on their own. However, I met plenty of tourists in the startup hostels. Traveling alone in Iran as a woman is not a common thing (yet). So, was it a stupid decision? No, it wasn’t. But, obviously, there are differences between traveling alone in Iran and traveling alone in Europe or Southeast Asia.
First of all, it is a fact that Iran doesn’t have the best ranking when it comes to women’s rights. But it doesn’t mean that women face with oppressing every day. I could move freely everywhere. Furthermore, women are allowed to drive a car in Iran, and I met women who finished their university degree (some even a master) and are active in the working field.
Secondly, men are staring. They are staring all the time or saying: “Hello, how are you? Where are you from?” Many men would love to marry a blond European woman. I will be honest with you, at a certain point, it gets annoying. Iranians are very curious people which you can be too much sometimes. But this doesn’t mean that all men are rapists. In general, I found people to be kind and hospitable. If you don’t fancy attention of men, keep your distance but be polite. I never accepted offers from a single man when they asked me to go to their home. But let’s face it, Iranian men are very handsome, and sometimes you wouldn’t mind going with them.
A fun fact: when it is about traveling, women have more rights than men in Iran. While men need to finish their military duty first before be able to obtain a pasport, women can get a pasport anytime.
Is Iran Dangerous?
Iran is often associated with IS. “Are you a member of IS now?” Let’s make this clear, Iran has nothing to do with IS. Iran is a Shia country. They hate Arab countries like Sunni Saudi-Arabia or Iraq. IS claims to be Sunni and kills Shia people. There is nothing but hate against IS in Iran. However, it is true that the Iran government supports Assad. At the time of writing, there has been an attack out of terrorism in the capital city Tehran three days ago. It is the first terrorist act on Iran by IS. Before this event, I would have told you that there are no terrorist attacks in Iran. But now, things will be uncertain in Iran as well. I, however, would still recommend you to go to Iran but to be more careful.
Furthermore, Iran is a country of many controversial rules. Alcohol and drugs are illegal. You will risk going to prison or even risk death penalty when you are publicly gay. Lastly, there are dress-code rules for women like wearing a hijab (headscarf). But one thing I learned is: ‘Nothing is allowed in Iran but everything is possible’. Alcohol and drugs are consumed behind closed doors or at secret parties. And I heard about two romantic stories of foreigners with a gay Iranian man. If you don’t want to take any risk, live according to the country’s rules and nothing will happen.
What about the dress code?
To attract less attention than you probably already have, wearing the right clothes is a good one when you are traveling alone in Iran as a woman. Progressive dressed Iranian women often wear sleeves till their elbows, a dress covering the bum and long tight pants underneath. A hijab (headscarf) is mandatory but can be worn at the back of your head. The most used color is black. A Burqa (everything covered except the eyes) is not common in Iran.
The dress code, however, is less strict for foreigners as for Iranian women. Showing a bit more than your elbows or showing a bit bare neck is okay. Wearing harem pants are also fine, and comfortable when temperatures rise. Iranian people just think these kind of pants is weird. I received comments from women who didn’t like my pants. Wearing the same clothes as the locals is a good way to merge in Iranian society. However, as I can recall, and especially during the summer, those clothes can be hot. You feel the sweat on your face, and when you are finally in a place with air-conditioning, you can’t take off your scarf. It frustrated me sometimes, and I just wanted to take off all my clothes.
In the end, I had a good time and met many great people in Iran. Traveling alone in Iran as a woman was a challenge but overall a great experience. Even though solo female traveling in Iran is relatively rare, it is getting more popular. Pack your bag, don’t forget to bring a scarf and don’t let anything hold you back from having a good time traveling alone in Iran.
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