Exploring Iran as a Solo Female Traveler: Safety Tips and Cultural Etiquettes
Deciding to go on a solo journey as a woman can be intimidating. We’ve been raised with a lot of limitations, telling us to be careful never to take risks and leave the sense of adventure to men, who are not supposed to get easily scared. Solo travel is precisely a way to get rid of these false beliefs. In one word, solo travel is empowering: it allows women to realize they are able to achieve what they want, by themselves.
Guide to Solo Female Travel in Iran
Indeed, when on a solo trip, it doesn’t matter whether you think you are shy, introverted, or even intimidated. When you have to do something, you will do it. And once you did it, you realize with satisfaction it was actually quite simple; or even that it wasn’t, but you were damn brave!
From Nellie Bly to Sheryl Strayed (“Wild”), there have always been women travelers. But it is as if their voice finally found a resonance nowadays, in the last decades. Solo women’s travel has become extremely popular, with dedicated podcasts and forums about it, talking about the benefits of it: no more compromise with a travel mate, the ability to meet new people on the road, the chance to create new opportunities… In short: freedom and serendipity.
Is Iran a safe destination for solo women travelers?
One of the first concerns of women traveling alone is safety. It’s usually on this criterion that they choose their destination for solo travel, and at a first glance, Iran would not have a lot of chance to rank high. For decades, the image depicted by the media is rather dark, with a lot of misconceptions that are either completely false or out dated. Indeed, Iran is a country that changes very fast, due to its creative and young population.
Solo travel is empowering: it allows women to realize they are able to achieve what they want, by themselves. Photo by: Amirhossein Soltani
Most foreign women travelers share the same experience: as a solo woman traveling in Iran, people tend to take extra care of you. That can be seen through several angles, one of them being the quite patriarchal culture that gives men the responsibility to look after women. What does it mean concretely? That if you are lost in the middle of the bus station, with all signs in Persian around you and no idea where to go, you’re soon going to have someone coming to offer to guide you.
Furthermore, the fact that men and women are separated in public transportation also offers some safety to women traveler. In the women’s section of a crowded metro in Tehran, you don’t have the fear of being assaulted like it can unfortunately happen in many other metros. When you travel alone by bus, you’ll also be attributed a seat next to another woman.
Tips for solo women travelers to Iran
That being said, even if Iran is overall a safe destination to travel, women should still be careful during their trip, as we are unfortunately used to in our daily lives. Here are a few recommendations we’d like to share to make sure you have a safe solo trip to Iran.
1. Trust your instinct
That’s the first rule of the solo women traveler. Always listen to this little voice inside you that tells you to go, or not to go. If you don’t feel like going out with someone, even if you can’t explain it, there may be something in that person’s behavior that is sending red flag alerts. Or it’s simply that you don’t feel like it, and that’s also fine, because you’re not here to please others, but to enjoy your trip. In Iran, you’re going to be invited all the time to people’s houses, for dinner or to stay over… So, take your time before giving an answer to see how you feel about it, and don’t be afraid to reject the invitation if that’s what your instinct is telling you.
When traveling solo as a woman in Iran, it is important to keep a safe distance from unknown men and trust in the sorority of fellow female travelers. While most Iranians are friendly and hospitable, it is still important to exercise caution and avoid potentially risky situations.
2. Keep your distance with unknown men, and trust the sorority
I’m not saying you shouldn’t talk to men in Iran, or even hang out with them. But always keep some distance before you get to know each other. Most Iranian men have good behavior with women, and street harassment is not something common for instance. They are generally polite and kind, but sometimes on top of this, they may also be too pushy to spend time with you.
Unfortunately, lots of young Iranian men have a false conception of western women, from what they see in movies mostly, that let them think they are “easy”. In my first years living in Iran, I had many times very straightforward and rude sex offers from perfect strangers, who seemed to believe that because I was a westerner that was something totally fine to ask me.
That’s why, generally speaking, when you’re looking for help or you need to ask something to someone: go toward other women. Because we are stronger together, and that’s the beauty of sorority!
3. Respect the dress code to blend into the environment
Of course, your clothes are probably going to say from afar that you are a foreigner. It takes some time to get accustomed to the clothes restrictions in place in Iran like Iranian women do. Yet, it doesn’t matter whether you dress like an Iranian or not, simply try to respect the fact of dressing “modestly”. It means wearing loose clothes, that cover the shapes of the body and don’t let too much skin visible. That will help you attract fewer eyes on you and bring you more peace, especially in conservative cities such as Isfahan, Kashan, or Yazd.
Iran is a conservative and religious country, and it is important to dress modestly to respect local customs and traditions. Women should cover their heads, wear long-sleeved shirts, and long pants or skirts that cover their ankles.
4. Plan your arrival when taking a night bus
Taking a night bus is perfectly fine for solo women travelers in Iran. It is safe, and it’s a convenient way to make long-distance trips without losing time. But, plan carefully your arrival! Otherwise you may be like me, and arrive in an unknown city at 5 A.M. in the morning with nowhere to go! Usually, the arrival time is not given when buying a bus ticket. But you can estimate it with Google Maps, and make sure to arrive in the morning.
5. Prefer hostels and homestays to meet other travelers
One of the great joys of solo travel is the precious encounters we make on the way. And a good way to meet other people is to stay in hostels or homestays, where people usually share time together in the common area and get to know each other. There you may meet other travelers and decide to spend some time together in the city.
A good way to meet other people is to stay in hostels or homestays, where people usually share time together.
Daisy Lorenzi is a French writer and traveler who felt in love with Iran after visiting the country. In 2018, she decided to settle in Tehran and has been living in Iran since. She currently lives on Qeshm island, in the Persian Gulf.
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