I'm a female traveler who spent 3 weeks backpacking around Saudi Arabia - and discovered it's not for the casual vacationer. Here's where I went and what I experienced.
Courtesy of Alex Reynolds
- Alex Reynolds has been traveling the world full time for the past four years.
- In November, she took a three-week trip to Saudi Arabia, prompted by the newly available tourist visa and the relaxed restrictions on solo female travelers.
- Reynolds went everywhere, from the capital of Riyadh to the lesser populated Tabuk region neighboring Jordan, and experienced firsthand the country's evolving culture.
- While Reynolds said she would love to return, she advised that more casual travelers may find certain social norms difficult to adapt to.
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For me, a solo, female, non-Muslim traveler allergic to guided tours, Saudi Arabia was a non-option for years.
In recent decades, non-Muslims could enter only on business or transit visas. Muslim pilgrims could transit only through major cities to Mecca and Medina. Women had to be accompanied by male guardians.
Then everything changed in 2019.
Years-old rumors of tourist e-visas became reality for 49 nationalities. Traveling women no longer needed male guardians, and women could drive cars as of 2018. Suddenly, the idea of women traveling in Saudi Arabia went from laughable to very, very plausible. My time had come.
I was on the e-visa portal in a hot second and received my e-visa via WhatsApp 15 minutes later. No exaggeration.
In November, I began my three-week journey, both solo and with friends, through Saudi Arabia. Here's what it was actually like.
Why did I want to travel to Saudi Arabia in the first place, and was it ethical?
I'm a 20-something American solo traveler and blogger passionate about traveling to countries most tourists overlook. Too many people form opinions about countries and their citizens based on exaggerated news; I prefer to come to my own conclusions.
There are ways to support people over governments. I traveled independently (not on a government-sponsored trip, like many others), stayed with locals and at local hotels, and spent my money at small businesses. Governments and people are separate entities - especially in a totalitarian monarchy like Saudi Arabia - and I don't believe in holding an entire population accountable for the acts of a corrupt few.
Whether or not you agree, here's a glimpse of what I saw.