You’re Going to Jordan?? Don’t You Value Your Life?!?


Okay, so the response I got when I told people I was going to the heart of the Middle East in the midst of the Arab Spring wasn’t quite that severe, but it was close. My mom’s response? “Are your tickets refundable? Please tell me they’re refundable.”

Interestingly, safety wasn’t really a concern when my friend Molly approached me to say she wanted to plan a trip with me to Jordan. In fact, we didn’t even look into what the State Department had to say about travel to Jordan until after we had clicked the “Confirm” button on our plane tickets. (For the record, we would have changed them had there been any serious safety warnings, and I recommend that anyone check out the site for advisories before booking any international travel.) It just seemed exotic, specifically because I had been to some 30+ countries before and Jordan had never even popped up on my radar.

Doing things backwards, as I sometimes seem to do, I got together with Molly and quickly purchased our tickets, only then to ask “what is there to do in Jordan”? She had already told me about Petra, which only confirmed my ignorance of our planet, seeing as how it’s one of the Seven New Wonders of the World and yet I only knew it as the place at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where the old greedy dude drinks from the decoy Holy Grail and faces the usual face-melting fate of Indiana Jones movie villains.

Turns out there’s a ton to do in Jordan. In addition to Petra, we quickly filled up our itinerary with floating in the Dead Sea, riding through Wadi Rum (in the Arabian Desert) on camels with Bedouins, scuba diving in the Red Sea at Aqaba and just across the Israeli border in Eilat, and a visit to some beautifully preserved ancient Roman ruins at Jaresh, leaving us just an afternoon to scope out the capital city of Amman. The seven days we had allowed ourselves weren’t nearly enough.

Wadi Rum Desert - one of the most peaceful and serene places you can go

Wadi Rum Desert – one of the most peaceful and serene places you can go

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The Treasury at Petra

Shopping in Jordan

Practicing my snowboarding skills in the middle of the Arabian Desert

Practicing my snowboarding skills in the middle of the Arabian Desert

Aqaba on the Red Sea

Aqaba on the Red Sea

Ancient Roman ruins at Jaresh

Ancient Roman ruins at Jaresh

And yet despite all of these incredible activities and adventures in one of the most beautiful corners of the world, I felt like Jordan was one of the few remaining well-kept secrets in travel. On the trip I spoke to several Jordanians who were very happy to see us, but a bit dismayed by the fact that the situation just north of their border in Syria was scaring off scores of potential visitors. This desert country is – not surprisingly – lacking in agriculture and forestry and – very surprisingly – completely devoid of any oil resources. This means that tourism plays a massive role in supporting one of the West’s most valuable and still stable allies in the Middle East, and yet the instability of Jordan’s neighbors has hurt its tourism industry at a time when it needs those funds the most.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as of this writing the conflict in Syria has pushed half a million refugees over the border into Jordan. At one point the Zaa’tari Refugee Camp had enough inhabitants to make it Jordan’s fourth largest city. The country has received less than half of the some USD 1 billion in funding requested to deal with the influx, and this continues to cause an immense strain.

I can’t begin to tell you how friendly and hospitable the people of Jordan were to us when we visited. Random strangers stopped to help us when it was clear we needed it. (Apparently two blonds even just driving around in suburban Madaba is a clear indication of being lost.) We encountered no scams, at least that we were aware of. We did get a few long stares, but these were always more of a curious nature than a creepy one, and the second we smiled and waved at any of our gazers they promptly snapped out of their dazes, smiled and waved back. Most people were shocked that two out-of-place blond girls would opt for a rental car and independent itinerary as opposed to the usual tour bus gliding from tourist trap to tourist trap. Apart from the most common “Your first time in Jordan? Welcome, welcome!”, one of the more frequent questions we encountered was “Where’s your group?”.

Unlike other countries where the locals see tourists as a financial opportunity, we felt the Jordanians were more determined to show us what their country had to offer. We never felt unsafe or threatened in any way – unless you count the horses and camels that thought it a good idea to share the highway with us. Yeah, watch out for that.

OUT OF MY WAY, CAMEL!!

OUT OF MY WAY, CAMEL!!

In sum, go to Jordan. It may have a few scary neighbors, but I can assure you it is not Syria, Egypt or Iraq. You’ll help support a much needed industry in tough times and get a new perspective on the world in a place very few, if any, of your friends have seen.

Sunset over Wadi Rum

Sunset over Wadi Rum

Feel free to get in touch with me if you’d like tips or recommendations on travel in Jordan. And as always, do research on the safety and stability of the country before booking.

For better viewing, click on a photo.

Categories: Middle EastTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

6 comments

  1. Great description of a place that I’m wanting to visit. I think it’s gonna have to jump up my travel list now.

  2. I think Melissa and I would highly recommend renting a car and traveling outside a tour group when going to Jordan. It let us connect with the land and people. If you’re scared you’re going to get lost don’t worry because you will, it’s inevitable. How you react to being hopelessly lost is key. That is what I liked best about traveling with Melissa. Melissa is intelligent, resourceful, entertaining and had a real sense of adventure. To say we got lost is a bit of an understatement. I would say 1/10th of our driving was trying to figure out where we were vs. where we needed to be. “Hmm, I think you were supposed to make a left at squiggly line.” Driving in Jordan has been one of my favorite experiences in life. Not only did we get lost, we managed to make our way through several heavily armed check points speaking no Arabic (other than ‘thank you’) and managed to charm our way out of a speeding ticket after being pulled over. Finally, I’m grateful to Melissa for not allowing me to ask where Hammas was went I really needed hammam. That’s true friendship.

    • I couldn’t agree more. Forgoing the tour bus option may seem a bit scary, but everyone we encountered when lost seemed happy to help us out. I’ve always appreciated that travel gives me confidence, specifically because I’m forced to face challenges head-on and work my way out of them, which I always seem to accomplish one way or another. What a great trip we had, and I’m looking forward to all the challenges we’ll face in Africa next year!

  3. Not to be picky, but the Indian Jones villain who drank from the fake Holy Grail grew super-old and his face turned to dust. You have to open the Ark of the Covenant to get your face melted off 😉

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