If you want to prepare your travels, read about the experiences of the many famous travel writers that the Arab world has attracted over the years. Unsurprisingly, many of these authors and travellers were British. Particularly fascinating are the books by the British women explorers Freya Stark (1893 – 1993), Gertrude Bell (1868 – 1926) and Lesley Blanch (1904 – 2007), whose achievements were remarkable by any standards.

Freya Stark travelled very widely until almost the age of 100, especially in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula. She was the first Western woman to travel through the Arabian deserts, visiting Yemen, Oman, Syria, and Iraq. She travelled alone into areas, some very dangerous, where few Europeans, and certainly no women, had travelled before.

Her books are particularly interesting as she describes the Middle East before the days of oil wealth.

In her books we see how she always used the simplest forms of transport so as to understand better the way of life of the ordinary Arab person.

Recommended book titles are:

Lesley Blanch, The Wilder Shores of Love, 1954

Freya Stark, Southern Gates of Arabia, 1936

Freya Stark Seen in the Hadhramaut, 1938

Freya Stark The Coast of Incense: autobiography 1933 -1939, 1953

Jalāl Āl-e Ahmad A straw in Mecca, 1962


Useful phrases for travelling

Have a safe journey, God willing!

ta3uduun bi-s-salaama in shaa’ allah

Praise be to God for your safety!

al-Hamdu-li-llah 3ala as-salaama

These phrases show that God and the belief in Him play an important role in Arab society, both for Muslims and also for Christians. – In English, too, people sometimes still say, ‘God be with you’.

Here is a current article about women travelling alone in Arab countries.

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