Exploring the Middle East from the Eyes of a World Traveler

travel Middle East

Every generation has that place you shouldn’t travel to for a variety of perceived reasons. There is and always has been a place you shouldn’t go to at night, a city you shouldn’t visit, and a country you shouldn’t see.

And while for a long period of time it seems these destinations were deemed politically unsafe or too far off the beaten path, lately our do-not-go’s say a little more about who we are as travelers than they do the destination.

I was in second grade the first time I went to the Middle East, somehow confusing Europe and Egypt amidst my bilingual brain when excitedly telling strangers I would be traveling soon and missing school! Between Mrs. Robinson’s Penguin lesson plans, to this day I still remember whispering to my classmates that I would be leaving soon on a grand adventure.

This adventure I was about to embark on would be one that would forever change me and how I see the world, allowing me to travel for years to come seeking out cultures, food, and history.

An adventure that would introduce me to clashing religions in a region so misunderstood by many. When I was ten years old, I spent my summer vacation in Tel Aviv, Israel, which turned out to be just the beginning of my love affair with the region!

Children, in all of their naivety and innocence, are blessed with an unknown that doesn’t taint their views or jades them to the world. My biggest concerns as a traveling child that summer were quite simple:

  1. Would I be able to score the highly coveted Britannia beanie baby while we had a short stay in London?
  2. Would all the other kids be jealous of my lime green sneakers that so brightly matched 98% of the outfits my mom packed?

Almost twenty years later, dozens of destinations under my belt, and having traveled to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region numerous times, I am happy to report that my thoughts to this day still somewhat resemble that of ten-year-old me.

Middle East carpet

The difference today is that instead of beanie babies I covet beautiful rugs, handmade crafts, culture, rich history, food, and experiences. Instead of wondering if people will be jealous of my sneakers, I instead worry what stigma I carry with myself as an American traveler; will they think I suspect them all of terrorism? If I go into a mosque will they think it’s rude?

I am a really conscious. You could say that my two concerns haven’t so much changed as they have grown up with me. I have to attribute that 100% to two major factors in my life.

The first being incredibly supportive parents who never poisoned my dreams with fear, though I am sure they would be the first to admit that when I didn’t call for a few days they worried.

I instead worry what stigma I carry with myself as an American traveler; will they think I suspect them all of terrorism? If I go into a mosque will they think it’s rude?

They never said “no” to any destination I threw out as I spoke of future travel no matter how outlandish (like the time I told them I wanted to go to Jupiter and they said “I’m sure the view will be stunning”).

Secondly, an early exposure to the Middle East pre-9/11. What comes to my mind when someone mentions the Middle East are always positive experiences that I wish I could beam into other people’s dreams at night so they could see what I have seen. Each country I have been to, has given me memories to last a lifetime.

Each and every time I have been to the Middle East I have been more surprised than the previous trip with how welcoming the people are and how happy they are to see an American tourist in their country.

Middle East travel

From Morocco as a day trip to studying abroad in Istanbul, the locals have always embraced my visit with friendly suggestions of where to go and what to see. I’ve made it a habit that when I travel I ask locals where I should go so that I can see their country from a different perspective, and my MENA friends have never disappointed.

I’ve learned through my travels that while we may all come from different backgrounds on a basic human level, as cliché as it sounds, we are all just people trying to survive in a world that isn’t always as forgiving.

Each and every time I have been to the Middle East I have been more surprised than the previous trip with how welcoming the people are and how happy they are to see an American tourist in their country.

The fish vender by the Bosphorus who gave me the broken English nickname of “sweet angle, Turkish face” is no different than the farmers market fruit vender in Brooklyn; they are both men trying to make a living and cracking jokes to make a tourist smile on her vacation.

I think that knowing this, knowing that fundamentally we are all the same: mothers, sisters, fathers, sons, brothers… people, has shown me that while borders might exist at the end of the day we are all just citizens of the world.

With each trip I have shared amazing meals with strangers who have opened up to me about their culture and their history, leaving me a better person than when I arrived because of their sharing of knowledge and our great conversations.

I’ve learned through my travels that while we may all come from different backgrounds on a basic human level, as cliché as it sounds, we are all just people trying to survive in a world that isn’t always as forgiving.

Yes, the Middle East has socio-economic issues and violence, but what country doesn’t? As a traveler you have a choice, you can let the details of a country define it or you can move past it and let someone show you what it’s really like on the inside.

For what it is worth, the only time I have ever been pick-pocketed or had my purse stolen was in Canada (with five continents under my belt), while I was visiting a friend in Toronto for spring break. I’ve had nothing but wonderful experiences in the Middle East and if you are willing to give it a chance, I promise you, it won’t let you down!

 

Ess Mckn

Ess Mckn

Ess Mckn is the co-founder (along with her husband Tim) of Circa Wanderlust, a blog for history loving travel junkies with a penchant for old brick buildings and adventures as well as travel advice and tips. Ess and her husband often take their two dogs on their one-weekend- at-a- time explorations and can be found on cross country road trips in search of the best hole in the wall BBQ joints and scenic backroads when they aren’t travel abroad. Her hope is to inspire others to travel in their own back yard and abroad through stories and pictures that chronicle their travels. You can follow their adventures at @circawanderlust on IG!

No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

*