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    Alone in Iran – What Was I Thinking?

    Iran - Alone in Iran – What Was I Thinking?


    I have never had people express so many opinions about my travels as when I decided to backpack Iran solo for two weeks. Everyone seemed to have something to say about it, with responses ranging from “That is amazing, I would totally join you if I didn’t have a U.S. passport,” to “You’re going there alone? What sort of death wish do you have?” and the blunt words of my extremely well-traveled great uncle, “Iran is not a nice place, go to Greece instead.”

    A friend of a friend even wrote a Facebook note (people still write those?) about my plans, saying that I was either incredibly brave, or incredibly naive and ignorant. In the end he applauded my willingness to put myself in harm’s way in order to experience a place with real sexism, which he took to be some sort of feminist statement about being a woman in America.

    What?! Sorry to disappoint, but really I just wanted to see Persia.

    I mean, Iran is home to one of the world’s oldest civilizations, hosts nineteen UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and boasts beautiful landscapes stretching from dense rain forests to snowcapped mountains to desert basins. Plus, so many backpackers whom I met in Central Asia absolutely raved about their time backpacking through Iran. The hospitable people, delicious food and historic sites – how could I not add backpacking Iran to my travel itinerary?

    So, was backpacking Iran solo a good decision?

    I’ve now been in Iran for a week and a half and, like most places, it’s not exactly what I had imagined. I’m writing this from my new friend Mina’s apartment, where we’re huddled together with hot mugs of tea listening to loud explosions coming from the street. Every few minutes a particularly large explosion will light up the apartment and we’ll look at each other with a mixture of fear and awe.

    You guys, it’s the Persian New Year!

    As part of the “Nowruz” New Year’s celebrations, which are Iran’s biggest of the year and include Zoroastrian rituals and traditions dating back 3,000 years, on the last Tuesday of the year, families gather together in celebration, building bonfires to run around and jump over, lighting off firecrackers, and sending fire lanterns into the sky, all with random outbursts of song and dance.


    New Year Tehran

    Backpacking Iran: Celebrating Nowruz in Tehran!


    Earlier in the evening while we were all on the apartment building’s rooftop, Mina’s brother joked that this is probably every American’s nightmare of Iran.

    “If your friends could see you now, in the middle of Tehran surrounded by fires and explosions, what would they think? Or maybe… this is what they think Iran is always like?”


    travel Iran alone

    backpacking Iran – scary stuff! (or not)


    He was joking of course, but there was a sad element of truth to his words.

    One of the first questions people here ask me is always, “What did you think of Iran before you came here?”

    My first Couchsurfing hosts in Tehran, a young Ph.D. student and her roommate, said they were so excited to be hosting an American girl, and that they hope more tourists will start to come to Iran. They were incredibly warm and welcoming hosts, cooking delicious Persian food and asking me countless questions about Norway and the U.S. and foreigners’ impressions of Iran. And unlike everyone at home, they seemed to think it was totally acceptable for a solo female traveler to backpack Iran. Just saying.

    I really wish that I could have told them all that of course Americans are interested in visiting Iran, but I would probably have been lying. Most people whom I talked with about my trip offered me strong words of caution, with some even trying to convince me not to go, especially alone (and especially as a solo female traveler, ugh).

    The thing is, I haven’t felt alone once since I landed in Iran.

    The receptionist at my first hotel took me in as her daughter, accompanying me to breakfast and lunch and suggesting sites for me to visit, my Couchsurfing hosts were like cool older sisters, chatting with me about religion and politics as well as the plot twists of Lost and J-Lo’s divorce (I’m so out of touch), and Mina truly has adopted me as her sister, with an invitation to lunch turning into a trip to visit Esfahan and then several days with her family in Tehran.


    New Year's celebration Tehran, backpacking Iranvisiting Esfahan, backpack Iranvisiting Esfahan, Iran

    Backpacking Iran: Esfahan


    Perhaps solo female travel in Iran could be dangerous, but for me it hasn’t been an issue. I mean, even the tap water here is safe!

    There have been times, as in any city, when I’ve been walking alone and noticed a man walking uncomfortably close to me. Whether the threat was in my imagination or not, all it ever took was for me to move close to another woman and the guy would quickly disappear. Scary stuff, Iran.

    So far my experience backpacking in Iran has only been one of warmth and hospitality, and really, really amazing food! I’m tempted to think all this hype over solo female travel in Iran has been blown way out of proportion. Though, in a few hours Mina and I are backpacking to Marivan, a small Kurdish city on the border to Iraq. So you know, maybe I’ll have some more eventful things to share from there! (Kidding, family, Kurdistan is of course totally safe.)

    I am a dual American and Norwegian citizen, and I traveled to Iran on my Norwegian passport.

    Some nationalities (including the US and UK at the time of writing) can only visit as part of a tour. And of course I know some people prefer to travel on organized tours anyway.

     What to pack as a female traveler in Iran

    You do have to dress conservatively as a woman in Iran, but you can still wear colorful, pretty clothes! Just make sure that your tops and/or jackets that you wear outside hit around your mid-thigh and aren’t low cut. And a normal scarf will work fine for covering your head – use a lightweight one in the summer and heavier scarf in the winter (and if, like me, you struggle with keeping it on your head, use bobby pins!).




    About Us

    The word Persia gives the image of a magical and mysterious land of far away and long ago, of ancient monuments and beautiful works of art – carpets, tiles, fine ceramics and miniatures. It also reminds us of legendary and tragic love stories and epic poems about great wars. And Persia is indeed a world ancient and contemporary, a bridge between heaven and earth. We want to show you around. Discover things to do on your next trip to Iran and plan a trip of your lifetime. Yes, it is that easy! This website gives you the tools to plan your trip to Iran: detailed information on destinations; inspiring ideas on what to see and do in each city; where to stay; where to eat; travel guides and let’s say everything you need so you can dream up a trip to Iran.


    This workshop is designed according to the UNESCO World Heritage Education Programme in order to give young people a chance to voice their concerns and to become involved in the protection of our common cultural and natural heritage. It seeks to encourage and enable tomorrow’s decision-makers to participate in heritage conservation and to respond to the continuing threats facing our World Heritage. The idea of involving young people in World Heritage preservation and promotion came as a response to Article 27 of the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (World Heritage Convention). Furthermore, Patrimonito means 'small heritage' in Spanish and the character represents a young heritage guardian. Patrimonito has been widely adopted as the international mascot of the World Heritage Education Programme.
    Date: 29th December
    Number of trainees: 7
    Duration: 3 hours

    The workshop of "Patrimonito" was held on 29th of December. Participants arrived around 10:30 and they were welcomed by hot chocolate and Persian cup cakes. After a little introduction by trainers and trainees, the process started by making two groups and letting them choose a name for their group, each group was accompanied by a mentor then each group was given some images of world heritage sites in Iran and some descriptions, each group was asked to match images and descriptions, the mentor was guiding them throughout the activity. All trainees were participating actively and trying to remember their experiences about their travels to these places. When they were done with the activity, the mentors started giving the answers and a brief explanation about each site; mentors were using trainees’ ideas and experiences to complete their tasks.

    Shortly after that, the second part started which was a presentation done by two of mentors. The aim of this presentation was to define the value of these world heritage sites and duties of each person as a "Patrimonito", and what happens if there is no "Patrimonito" and nobody cares about our tangible or intangible heritage. In this part trainees started questioning and understanding the whole concept of being a "Patrimonito", they also added their own suggestions on how to protect our heritage and by the end of this part, they were completely aware about their role as a "Patrimonito".
    Now it was a best time to have a short break, during the break trainees were introduced to some of intangible heritages as they were served by traditional food and snacks and even they way of serving was according to traditions and everyone had this opportunity to discuss about intangible heritage while enjoying some traditional food and snacks.
    When the break was done, everyone was asked to choose a heritage either tangible or intangible and they had to introduce their chosen heritage to a tourist by making a postcard using what they have learnt. They were given all of necessary tools such as color papers, color pencils, glue, scissors, images of heritage and a mentor was with them in order to help them completing the task.

    When they were done, they handed out their postcards and with the mentors they sat together and spent a few minutes asking and answering about what they have learnt. Then they were told to say their vows for protecting their heritage and caring about it, the mentor said the vow and the trainees repeated after her and they officially became a "Patrimonito".

    The last but the best part was when they were given the certificates, and they were told that since they are aware of the value of the heritage and they know how to protect it, they are chosen as "Patrimonito" and they should continue their mission by introducing the value of heritage to others. They were granted certificates and labels and the workshop of "Patrimonito" was finished by taking some memorial photos.