Being from North America, the only time you ever hear mention of the Middle East is usually with a negative connotation; wars, bombings, terrorism etc. You would never travel there for tourism (unless doing a pilgrimage) and you most definitely wouldn’t go there alone, especially as a Western girl with a North American accent. However, since moving to Europe, everything seems so much different. People travel to Israel and Jordan for incredible spa services, 5* diving experiences, culinary holidays and of course, for the historical sites, some of the oldest in the world.
When I was scrolling through SkyScanner one day in May 2014, I noticed a flight to Tel Aviv, Israel for £120 return really close to Christmas. How cool would spending Christmas in the birthplace of Christmas be?! I don’t consider myself to be overly religious, I had never even thought about travelling to Israel before, but out of curiosity I began Googling what it offers. I was completely blown away by the depth of the history, religious or not, the complexities of the region and the mysteriousness of the people. I was so intrigued by the thought of going there, but was also very aware that there’s reasons people are told to stay away.
I pitched the idea to my parents to judge their reactions. Naturally, and unsurprisingly, they freaked. ‘A Canadian girl travelling to the war-torn Middle East, ALONE?! Absolutely not!’ I get it, I do, I’m not ignorant to current affairs but, the more they protested, the more I wanted to go. To me, travelling is about discovering that everyone is wrong about other countries. I’ve always been the type of person who needs to learn lessons for themselves; seeing is believing.
So. I booked the flight.
I didn’t tell any of my family for 5 months but was secretly planning my first Middle Eastern adventure – 8 months in advance (as you can probably tell by now, I’m a bit obsessive with booking excessively far in advance). The plan was to depart on December 5th from London Gatwick to Tel Aviv, spend a few days there, travel to Jerusalem, tour around the West Bank and Palestine and then spend 3 days in Jordan, flying back December 15th. In total, I’d be in the region for 10 days.
I had been monitoring the situation over there closely and decided if anything was kicking off, I wouldn’t put myself in harms way and I’d stay at home. I was really hoping that wouldn’t be the case as I was so ready to shake up my travels. Over the eight months before take off, there were some instances of unrest but for the most part it was fine.
I began slowly showing good news stories to my parents, trying to warm them up to the thought before I told them. In September, I did break it to them and they didn’t have a heart attack! I like to think that they didn’t see it coming, but I’m pretty sure they saw right through me.
When more of my family found out, they tried every excuse under the sun to try and convince me not to go. I listened to their reasoning’s but at that point, I was dead set on going. This would be the trip of a lifetime.
I was very sure to provide my family with my full schedule of events including hostel and tour reservations – I was even able to convince my parents to buy me a few as Christmas presents!
Without any reservations I can honestly say, I personally didn’t experience any harassment, never once felt uncomfortable or unsafe, and didn’t witness any unrest. I don’t want to give off a rose-coloured-glasses experience, because I’m very aware that, especially between Israel and Palestine, there is ongoing and constant conflict. I’ve visited both and was welcomed graciously by the locals, listened to their stories and tried to find one side that was ‘right vs wrong.’ I honestly thought I’d leave there with a fully developed understanding of the mess that’s going on. I left even more confused.
All I can say with certainty is that it is definitely a place worth visiting. Don’t let the media scare you, yes stuff is happening there, but it’s not at all how its portrayed. Experience it for yourself, form your own opinions, hear all sides of the argument and leave with new understandings of the oldest place in the world.
This is not meant to be a political post, but one that I feel is important to touch on. I’ve been asked several times about my experience there, and I would go back again, alone, without hesitation. If anything, this trip only ignited the spark for my desire to visit more Middle Eastern countries.
If you have any questions on visiting, looking for recommendations on tours, accommodation, locations or other, post them in the comments below and I’d be happy to answer!