Thinking of travelling to Iran? Just do it!

My husband and I have just spent a month in Iran and we’ve billed it as one of the most interesting countries we’ve visited. For too long now, our media has stereotyped Iran in a dark way, discouraging tourists by deliberately and consistently playing the fear card. I refused to buy into it.

What I did do was immerse myself in a whole lot of reading – Lonely Planet’s guide to Iran, travel blogs written by tourists who had recently travelled here and the excellent facebook site See You In Iran. I emerged confident that travelling independently around Iran would be an incredible experience and it was. Besides my blogs, I’ve cobbled together some bits and pieces of information that may also help.

  1. Visas for 30 days can now be completed online in Australia through the Iranian Embassy. Make sure you take the time to do it properly. They are expensive at $165 and a rejection due to incomplete answers means you’ll forfeit your money. If in doubt, email the embassy. I did this and they replied promptly and helpfully. A visa extension for another month can be granted in Iran.
  2. Take cash for your entire trip. Credit cards and ATMs do not work.
  3. Booking sites like booking.com are useless for accommodation in Iran. Find hotels/hostels from LP, See You in Iran and others’ blogs. Send emails to your preferred hotel/hostel. Their replies are always prompt. An honour system works whereby you will be expected to notify them 2 days ahead to confirm or cancel booking. No money is taken until you check out.
  4. There is a well trodden tourist track in Iran which includes Tehran, Kashan, Isfahan, Yazd and Shiraz. Expect to see lots of tourists (mainly Europeans) and tour buses at these places. If you wander off to other places, there are fewer tourists.
  5. Few Australians travel here. We heard Aussie accents twice!
  6. Women must wear a hejab at all times except in their hotel room. Long pants (skinny jeans are good!) and long sleeved shirts that cover the butt are essential. Iranian women wear a lot of make up.
  7. Men must wear long pants and a shirt (short sleeved is OK).
  8. The authorities are very tolerant of foreigners. You will not get into trouble if your hejab falls off.
  9. Photos of government buildings and other sites are prohibited. I took a photo of a government building, not realising it was a government building. I was whistled over by a military policeman and courteously told to delete the photo.
  10. There is no alcohol and we figured it wasn’t worth our while to search for any. We detoxed and drank a lot of chay (tea).
  11. There’s a lot of traffic in Tehran and lots of cars have lots of dents. Two lanes can quickly become 6 lanes. Close your eyes!
  12. There’s a lot of pollution in Tehran because of all the cars.
  13. Iran is an incredibly safe country. You can walk around easily without being harassed or pick pocketed. You will be nicely surprised.
  14. Exchange your money at currency exchange offices rather than banks for a better rate. Sometimes, you may have to change money on the street because the government has closed the money exchange offices. Insist on the same rate.
  15. When we were there, the euro was the dominant currency. Trump’s decision to exit the nuclear deal and the EU’s decision to support Iran mean the US dollar is not valued as highly as the euro.
  16. Foreigners travelling independently stand out like sore thumbs and Iranians go out of their way to talk to you and to help you. You are never left on your own to sort out a taxi or a bus or a train or accommodation or a place to eat. Iranians are very helpful.
  17. Lots of people (adults and children) want to talk to you and ask you if you like Iran. They also want to know about life in Australia.
  18. Buses are an easy way to get around. We used Hamsifar VIP buses which were frequent, reliable, comfortable and inexpensive.
  19. We also used private cars and drivers which were easy to tee up at the hotel or on the street.
  20. English is not widely spoken, but Iranians love to practise using Google translator.
  21. There are 22 UNESCO sites in Iran. What better reason to travel here?
  22. Iran’s bazaars are incredible places. They’re kms long and you can shop for pretty much everything – food, clothes, shoes, souvenirs. Inside, there’s also caravanserais and tea houses.
  23. The mosques are truly spectacular and the insight you get into the Islamic religion is interesting.
  24. There’s a lot of history on tap.
  25. Iran is cheap. We spent half of what we thought we would spend.
  26. Iranians are Football Fanatics. We copped some light hearted ribbing from a number of Iranians about Australia losing the World Cup qualifying game to Iran in …1998. Long memories!
  27. Internet is really, really slow and frustrating. We organised a VPN before arriving to help us access the internet in a restricted country.
  28. Squat toilets are everywhere. As a female, I bought a device called Go Girl from BCF (camping store) that eliminated squatting! When booking a hotel, ask for a room with a western toilet if you don’t want to squat.
  29. Iran is patriarchal and you will speak to more men than women. However, women drive, they walk unchaperoned; sometimes alone or with female friends, they’re educated and at night, they’re in cafes with their friends. Many do not wear chadors (long black coats).
  30. Economic sanctions for the last 40 years have taken their toll on Iranians. Cars and trucks are driven to their deaths. Parts are in short supply. The same may apply to planes. There is unemployment and a lot of Iranians are doing it tough.
  31. The rial has plummeted in value. Good for us, not good for them.
  32. It’s a completely different political scenario over here. Things are really serious in this part of the world. TV news and newspapers gave us the Iranian perspective.
  33. Iranians are critical of their government saying that it does not give them any responsibility, that it enforces strict laws regarding access to information, behaviour and dress. However, they are well aware that a shift to a democratic government will open the door to the US and that is something they do not want. The chaos in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria is an all too ugly reminder of US intervention.
  34. Some Iranians are not prepared to wait for change and are heading off to countries like South Africa and Germany. Word is very few can gain entry to Australia because of its extremely high IELTS demands.
  35. Iranians are aware that tourism is going to become big and many are already staking a claim on the industry by learning English, French, German and Dutch.
  36. It’s a really easy country to travel around and is set to become a desirable destination for travellers who want something a bit different.

4 thoughts on “Thinking of travelling to Iran? Just do it!

  1. Thank you for writing such a refreshingly honest article about Iran, which is somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit. As you say, media coverage of this fascinating country tends to be very negative (it’s the same here in the UK), so it’s wonderful to hear such positive views from someone who has spent time travelling around Iran, embracing its cultures and customs. I hope I will be able to get there myself, sometime soon.

    Liked by 1 person

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