Go to Iran
Don’t believe the sensational hype that says travel in Iran is dangerous – it’s not.
When I told people I was going to travel to Iran I had one of two reactions:
Reaction 1 – with wide eyed excitement “oh… you have to go here, here and here… and you’ll love it!”
Reaction 2 – with wide eyed horror … silence … a bit more silence … and then with a lot of trepidation “is it safe?”
I’m fairly certain some thought I was likely to be arrested and have my head cut off. Yes capital punishment is still on the books in Iran, the security service is brutal, and political activists don’t always fare very well. But political activism probably isn’t high on any tourist’s agenda I’m guessing (and I suggest you don’t get involved in).
The truth about Iran is that it is safe. In fact 98% of the time, I felt safer than I do walking around at home in Australia. (The other two per cent were moments that could have happened anywhere in the world, and I won’t attribute them to the notion that Iran is unsafe).
It is a place where people will say hello to you on the street, want to know where you are from and why you came to their country. They want to help, share their home, quite literally sometimes, and make sure you enjoy your stay.
As a journalist I understand the media tends to only share the bad stories. In the case of Iran, most recently that has been stories about former president Ahmadinejad and his nuclear posturing, his brutal crackdown on protesters during the Green Revolution in 2009, anything that is said against Israel and the plight of Iranian asylum seekers.
A curtain of sanctions have made trade and travel hard.
Look, I get it – none of these things make Iran look good. But keep in mind all of those stories relate to the actions of successive governments, and the people and the everyday life of a country isn’t the same as the government.
The colour, delicious food and life of Iran illustrate its history, and as for the people, they will go out of their way to make sure you have a good time.
The bus network is incredible, so easy to travel on with multiple buses a day running hundreds of routes, and they are cheap as chips, they’ll even feed you. There’s a train network and plenty of domestic flights, taxis galore and rental car companies if you decide you want to take your chances and drive yourself.
Cities resemble other cities around the world, roads, buildings, restaurants, cafes, parks, statues, art galleries, theatres, shops and transport systems (including super efficient underground trains in some of the big cities).
Modern, educated, active, forward thinking sum up Iranian society (even if the government isn’t); there is always good espresso coffee around the corner (a very important thing for a fussy caffeine addict like myself); and no one will hassle you to buy things, something other parts of the Middle East are infamous for.
You can find at least a handful of parks in every city and town, which are a great place to sit and watch the world go by, one of my favourite past times when I travel. Lovers can be found sneaking time together (unless they’re married, they could be arrested for immoral behaviour); children run around; and lots of people cycle through. It’s a lovely way to spend an evening, especially in summer.
Climate wise, Iran has deserts, humid sea, lush green forested mountains, which are covered in snow in winter (Iran apparently has some fantastic ski fields) and smoggy cities. It’s big, it’s diverse and you will surely find something there you’ll enjoy.
I’m not trying to ignore the less savoury things that happen – the beatings and whippings for dancing, not wearing the compulsory hijab, for interacting with the opposite sex, for drinking alcohol… and unfortunately the list does go on.
But remember, that it’s the government doing this. Yes, there are plenty of people in society who agree with the strict moral code, but I’d say the majority don’t.
Hijabs, long skirts or trousers, and long sleeved, loose fitting opaque shirts are compulsory for women in Iran. For me, this was the worst thing about Iran.
It is stifling, particularly in the heat of summer, and I was probably never more conscious of being female. There is a slow push back against it (check out My Stealthy Freedom), but it will be a long time, and probably another revolution before it disappears.
But don’t let any of that stop you from visiting Iran. It’s a place you won’t forget in a hurry.
Iran is safe and you won’t have your head cut off (as long you don’t do anything egregiously illegal).