Middle East - Traveler's Checklist
While you can never prepare 100% for any trip, this checklist is a list of essential advice for anyone preparing to travel to the Middle East.
Packing Your Bags
Always pack your own bags and never take anything that anyone else has packed (gifts, mail, etc.) unless you are absolutely sure of their contents. Customs can be tricky, especially in the Middle East, where everything in your suitcase is open for inspection. Be especially sure to check restrictions on what you can and cannot bring into the country (alcohol, prescription medication, some kinds of literature including religious or political, pornographic material, etc.). Always pack an extra change of clothes in your carry-on bag, as anyone who has flown can tell you, your luggage may decide it wants to go to Pakistan while you are in your hotel room in Dubai.
Always talk to your doctor before you travel outside the country. Don't rely solely on private vaccination clinics to tell you what you need to get (they are in business to make money and will often tell you to get unnecessary shots). Also don't rely only on the country's Embassies for advice either, as they will probably downplay any diseases that may be in the area. If your doctor doesn't know, then ask him/her for a personal referral. Check The Center For Disease Control's comprehensive traveler's tips on diseases and health safety at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/.
It might be wise to see your doctor before you travel and get a supply of anti-biotics to bring with you in case you get ill. An anti-diarrhea "kit" will probably be useful as well, ask your doctor and/or pharmacist and bring with you some essential medication to avoid this very common illness.
Although it is not essential to give your home embassy your entire itinerary, it is a wise idea to let them know if you are traveling to any remote or unsafe areas. If you come into any problems with the local authorities, contact your home embassy immediately. Visit http://www.travel.state.gov/, the US State Department's Embassy listing of overseas American Embassies. If you are not a US citizen, be sure and check with your local State Department office regarding restrictions on travel to the areas you are interested in.
It's not wise to engage in political discussions that may be provacative or to engage in any political activity that might seem controversial. Depending on which country you are visiting you could spend a long time in a local jail for saying or doing something that might seem normal to you back home.
I have found that most travel agents are more than willing and happy to discuss your plans even if you are not buying your trip through them. Be sure and ask about visa regulations (how far in advance do you need one, what are the contact numbers for the Embassies, etc.). They can also help set up possible itineraries catered to your style of travel, whether you like to plan every minute of your trip, or you like to throw caution to the wind and see what happens. Your travel agents are also a wealth of information about other travel agents throughout the world, and they can set up things like rental cars, drivers, visas, hotels, tours, and more. Search for a travel agent near you (if you don't have one already) with www.superpages.com if you are in the United States, or check your local yellow pages/business listings if you are not.
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