Packing for the Middle East

Packing for the Middle East

Packing for Israel, Jordan + the West Bank

Today marks the official two week countdown before we’re on our way to Tel Aviv. In honor of our upcoming trip, I thought I’d share my preliminary packing list for the region with others that have the same wardrobe questions that I’ve had. Before I put together my own list, I scoured other websites, blogs and books to see what expats and frequent travelers to the area suggested. The results were mixed and generally very practical (e.g. many websites said wear tennis shoes or Tevas). Now, there’s nothing wrong with tennis shoes or Tevas, but I’m not really a tennis shoe or Teva kinda girl. I found myself having a hard time relating to some of the lists. Where are the twenty and thirty-something travelers wanting to find a blend of practical and – dare I say – fashionable? So, after scouring a variety of websites and trying to find a wardrobe that blends function with a bit of fashion, I’ve come up with the following list. Keep in mind, we’re going in late October when the weather will be in the mid-70s to low-80s depending on our location. It’s not humid (it’s the desert, after all) so what we’ll be able to wear during this time of year is entirely different than what I may be able to wear in July when the heat is at its peak.

Packing for the Middle East

15 checklist items for your trip to the Middle East

  1. Tank Tops/Sleeveless Shirts // Sleeveless tops alone are a no-no when it comes to visiting holy sites, but when we’re walking around Tel Aviv, and sailing the Sea of Galilee, a well-chosen tank top is a staple. I’m packing a handful of lightweight tanks in a variety of colors, some dressier versions and some more athletic tanks for hikes.
  2. Shawls or Lightweight Cardigans // I have one shawl/wrap and one cardigan that I’ll be taking with me for this trip, and they’ll be serving two functions: firstly, they’re part of my ‘modesty kit’. Groups often recommend bringing lightweight accessories to ensure that shoulders and knees are covered in holy areas. Secondly, while days will be warm, nights can get cool (some night are slated to be in the low 60s). For going out at night, a shawl is easy to throw over a dress or tank top to stay warm.
  3. Lightweight Blouses // Living in the Caribbean where it’s always hot and somewhat humid, I swear by lightweight blouses to keep cool and still look somewhat professional and cleaned up. My go-tos are the Portofino shirts by Express and I can’t recommend them enough. I have them in about 10 different colors and each of them gets worn regularly!
  4. Maxi Skirts // I’m toting two maxi skirts with me – black and a satiny neutral like the one pictured above. On hotter days, I much prefer a maxi skirt to pants to stay cool, and they can easily go from walking around a city by day to dressed up for dinner at night.
  5. Pants // I’ll be honest: a girlfriend of mine who has just returned from Israel told me not to pack pants at all. During her trip in July she didn’t wear pants once during her 10 day stay and said her jeans (a go-to normally) were not comfortable in the heat. We’re going in late October with a different climate so I am taking pants – one pair of jeans and one pair of lightweight harem pants (an H&M steal at $10).
  6. Footwear // Friends who know me know that I am not a flats person.  I own one pair of flats out of pure necessity and a few pairs of flip flops (which I purchased after moving to the Caribbean). When someone tells me to put on flats, I put on my wedges which are my equivalent for comfortable walking shoes (otherwise you’ll see me in heels). That being said, I realize that walking around ancient cities with cobblestone roads becomes a bit more difficult when wearing heels. I’m bringing a few pairs of shoes: tennis shoes for hikes, flip flops for day-to-day walkings (my friend who just returned confirmed she wore flip flops regularly without any issues), a pair of nicer flat sandals for going out and… a pair of wedges. YES, I HAVE TO HAVE MY WEDGES. Even if I don’t wear them, it makes me feel much safer knowing that they’re there for a nicer night out.
  7. Athletic Wear // I don’t know that we’re going to do a ton of hiking on this particular trip, but photos from friends’ experiences (mainly on birthright), showed image after image of them hiking in the desert, stumbling upon waterfalls and enjoying all sorts of athletic pursuits. I don’t think that this particular trip will involve the same amount of outdoorsy activities but to be safe, I’ll be toting a pair of athletic shorts, yoga pants, a lightweight sports bra and a couple of easy tanks.
  8. Shorts // In addition to my pants and skirts, I’m bringing shorts for day time. I’ll probably tuck these away when we’re in Jerusalem, but there are other days and areas where shorts will be more appropriate. I typically opt for shorts that can be worn in the day and easily dressed up with a belt and accessories at night.
  9. Belts + Accessories // Especially when I have maxi dresses in tow (see bullet point 11), belts are a must. I find that the same breezy dress worn during the day without a belt can be dressed up with a cinched waist. The same can be said about accessories broadly – I always like to bring a simple set of silver and gold jewelry that I can wear together, plus a statement necklace to dress up simple clothes. Don’t forget sunglasses!
  10. Hat // On the accessory front – but deserving of its own section – hats are a godsend for protecting your face from the sun and – let’s be real – for hiding a really bad hair day. Dry shampoo can only go so far, amiright?
  11. Maxi Dresses and Jumpsuits // I have about 4 super lightweight maxi dresses selected for the trip, most of which are tank tops. I’ve come to discover that maxi dresses are the easiest wardrobe item – a single piece that you can throw on in the morning without concern about finding a matching counterpart. Plus, like maxi skirts, they transition super easily from day to night with the right accessories and footwear. I’m also throwing in a jumpsuit for good measure. I love jumpsuits… even though Scott thinks they make me look like a Mario Brother. You better believe I’ll be wearing it for a night out!
  12. Scarf // Okay, so along with the shawl that I mentioned (point 2), scarves are a super versatile must. I’m hoping to buy one in Israel that will be functional and a great keepsake from our journey. Scarves are easy to throw in your purse and can cover your shoulders in lieu of a shawl, cover your head when you’re entering more conservative areas, or can add a little warmth on a crisp night. Plus, they always have this way of making you look 1000 times more chic.
  13. Bathing Suit // If you’re headed to Israel, Palestine or Jordan, the Dead Sea is probably on your list of places to visit. Lest you miss out on coating yourself with mud (classic Dead Sea pic) or floating in the Dead Sea whilst reading a newspaper (the other classic Dead Sea pic), pack a bathing suit! A word of advice from my girlfriend who just returned from her trip: bring a suit that you don’t mind trashing. Between the mud and crazy amounts of salt and minerals, your suit won’t be looking as good as it once did after departing.
  14. Electronics // This will mean different things to different people. For me, it means laptop, laptop charger, Canon T2i and charger, iPad, iPhone and their respective chargers. In addition to those, grab a converter (their outlets are like the rest of Europe’s) so you can actually charge your stuff.
  15. Passport // This goes without saying – at least I think it does – but don’t forget your passport. Obviously you need it to travel internationally, but don’t forget to check and ensure that its good for up to 6 months after your date of arrival. Most places aren’t crazy strict on this, but some are so make sure your legal docs are in line. Worried about getting that Israeli stamp in your passport? Apparently there’s no more stamping to be concerned about as they now issue tourist visa cards on entry (read here for more). Also, don’t forget to call your credit card companies and your bank to let them know that you’ll be traveling out of the country! Trying to pay for something only to discover that your card has been frozen is terrible and dealing with it from overseas is equally awful.

I haven’t included the obvious – things like toiletries, socks, bras, etc. as I hope you’ll remember to pack those! Is there anything that I’m missing that others should include in their Middle East packing list?

Two weeks until liftoff!

Shannon Kircher, The Wanderlust Effect

Read about our time in Israel, the West Bank + Jordan.

More about Shannon Kircher

Shannon Kircher is the founder and editor of The Wanderlust Effect, formerly The Traveling Scholar. Founded in 2009, she has continued to document her international escapes as an expat in Europe and the Caribbean. She is a former resident of London and San Francisco and now calls the island of Anguilla home. In addition to The Wanderlust Effect, Shannon is the Director of Marketing for the Frangipani Beach Resort and is on the Board of Directors of the Omololu International School in Anguilla.

  • Co-muse Travels

    This is a good overview. However, having lived in the Middle East for three years, travelled in the area extensively, and studied it as well, I don’t recommend a bikini. It may be conducive for Tel Aviv or Eilat, Israel, but it is not generally appropriate throughout the region. From a Middle Eastern perspective, a bikini can seem as inappropriate as the average American might think of a nude person walking the beach in San Diego. So, it might suit (pun intended) this particular trip of yours, but it isn’t usually “Middle East” appropriate. 🙂

    • Hey there! Yeah, I actually thought a one piece for the Dead Sea would be more appropriate initially but since we’re coating ourselves in mud, it looked like all the ladies were opting for bikinis for this particular region. We’re not going anywhere that we’d wear a bathing suit beyond the Dead Sea, but I do see your point!

      • Co-muse Travels

        Yeah, I follow. Enjoy the mud! It really is luxurious!

  • Cindy Sternberg Key

    Leave room to bring home unexpected treasures! I bought olive wood candlestick holders for gifts, but not for myself. If you are a gum chewer, take it with you! The prices for a pack of gum are ridiculous. I like to separate from the group for short visits with local people. Not far away, and not without permission fro the tour leader! For instance, I’ve seen the pools of Bethesda a few times but no matter how many times I visit the Church of St. Anne, I never get my fill of the heavenly sound there! While the group explores the pools, as we pass the church I tell them that’s where I will be and they come back for me. No drama! Stay on the good side of your tour guide – don’t cause drama nor delay! Enjoy every minute of it!

    • Great point, Cindy! There were so many fabulous treasures there that I could have easily brought home another carry-on loaded up with locally-made jewelry, olive wood nativities, colorful scarves and great spices. Leaving space is a great tip!