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Saudi Arabia

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Saudi Arabia is a Middle Eastern country that occupies most of the Arabian peninsula and has coastlines on the Persian Gulf and Red Sea. Neighbouring countries include Jordan to the northwest, Iraq and Kuwait to the northeast, Bahrain and Qatar to the east, the United Arab Emirates to the southeast, and Oman and Yemen to the south.

Saudi Arabia contains the Muslim holy cities of Mecca (Makkah) and Medina (Madinah), to which all physically and financially able Muslims are required to make a pilgrimage at least once if possible (see Hajj). Non-Muslims are prohibited from entering these two cities per sharia law.

Regions

Saudi Arabia is administratively divided into 13 provinces (mintaqah), but the traditional divisions of the country are more useful for making sense of it.

Cities

  • Riyadh - the capital and "dead center" of the Kingdom
  • Abha - a summer tourist mountain resort city in the southwest near the Yemeni border
  • Dhahran - the home of Saudi Aramco, the world's largest petroleum company
  • Jeddah (Jiddah) - a large metropolitan city on the Red Sea, and the gateway to Makkah and Madinah
  • Jubail - the largest industrial city in the kingdom
  • Mecca (Makkah) - the holiest city of Islam
  • Medina (Madinah) - the site of the Prophet's Mosque
  • Najran - a Yemeni-influenced city with a remarkable fortress
  • Taif - a moderate-sized mountain town and popular resort area

Expect significant variations in the English spellings of place names in schedules and even road signs: Al Wajh and Wedjh are the same place. In particular, Q/G, E/I, and E/A are interchanged freely (Qassim/Gassim, Mecca/Makkah, Jeddah/Jiddah), H/A sometimes swap places (Al-Ahsa/Al-Hasa) and the definite article al- can be left on or off (Medina/Almadinah, Riyadh/Arriyadh).

Other destinations

  • Empty Quarter (Rub' al Khali) - one of the largest sand deserts on earth
  • Hajj - the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca
  • Madain Saleh - Ruined Nabataean city similar to Petra

Understand

History

Saudi Arabia is one of two countries named after their royal families, along with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The family were sheikhs of Nejd, the area around Riyadh, but were driven out by a neighbouring dynasty, hiding with their relatives, the emirs of Kuwait. Then in 1902, young Abd al-Aziz Ibn Saud and a few dozen lads rode out to raid their home territory. As it turned out, the invaders had been ruling badly, so many locals joined them. They not only re-captured Riyadh, but much of the surrounding territory.

After that, Abdul Aziz set out on a 30-year campaign to unify the Arabian Peninsula. The area united under him became known as Saudi Arabia.

In the 1930s, the discovery of oil transformed the country. Following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Saudi Arabia accepted the Kuwaiti royal family and 400,000 refugees while allowing Western and Arab troops to deploy on its sand for the liberation of Kuwait the following year. A burgeoning population, unemployment, aquifer depletion, and an economy largely dependent on petroleum output and prices are all major governmental concerns.

Economy

Saudi Arabia is an oil-based economy with strong government controls over major economic activities. Saudi Arabia has the largest reserves of petroleum in the world (26% of the proven reserves), ranks as the largest exporter of petroleum, and plays a leading role in OPEC. The petroleum sector accounts for roughly 75% of budget revenues, 45% of GDP, and 90% of export earnings. About 25% of GDP comes from the private sector.

Roughly 4 million foreign workers play an important role in the Saudi economy - for example, in the oil and service sectors.

In 1999 the government announced plans to begin privatizing the electricity companies, which follows the ongoing privatization of the telecommunications company. The government is expected to continue calling for private sector growth to lessen the kingdom's dependence on oil and increase employment opportunities for the swelling Saudi population. Shortages of water and rapid population growth will constrain government efforts to increase self-sufficiency in agricultural products.

Unemployment among young Saudis is a serious problem. While part of this can be explained by Saudi reluctance to take many types of work, it is also true that Saudi citizens are forced to compete with multitudes of imported labor, which is often much cheaper than that of the locals.

Geography

Terrain 

Saudi Arabia covers approximately four fifths of the area of the Arabian Peninsula, which can be described as a rectangular plateau gradually sloping eastwards till reaching sea level at the Persian Gulf.

The main topographical features are as follows:

The Sarawat or Sarat mountain range runs parallel to the Red Sea coast beginning near the Jordanian border until the southern coast of Yemen, gradually increasing in height southwards. It is largely made up of barren volcanic rock, especially in the south, and sandstone in the north, but it is also interspersed with ancient lava fields and fertile valleys. As one moves further south towards Yemen, the barren landscape gradually gives way to green mountains and even woodlands, the result of being in the range of the monsoons. In Saudi Arabia, the range is commonly known as the Hejaz, though the southernmost part of the range is known as 'Aseer. In the foothills of the Hejaz lies the holy city of Makkah, and approximately 400 km north of Makkah in an oasis between two large lava fields lies the other holy city of Madinah.

West of the Sarawat or Hejaz mountain range is a narrow coastal plain known as Tihama, in which the country's second largest city, Jidda, is located.

East of the Hejaz lies the elevated plateau known as Najd, a sparsely populated area of desert steppe dotted with small volcanic mountains. To the east of Najd-proper lies the Tuwaig escarpment, a narrow platau running 800 km from north to south. Its top layer is made of limestone and bottom layer of sandstone. Historically rich in fresh groundwater and criscrossed with numerous dry riverbeds (wadis), the Tuwaig range and its immediate vicinity are dotted with a constellation of towns and villages. In the middle, nestled between a group of wadis, is the capital city, Ar-Riyadh.

Further east from the Tuwaig plataeu and parallel to it is a narrow (20-100 km) corridor of red sand dunes known as the Dahana desert, which separates the "Central Region" or "Najd" from the Eastern Province. The heavy presence of iron oxides gives the sand its distinctive red appearance. The Dahana desert connects two large "seas" of sand dunes. The northern one is known as the Nufuud, approximately the size of Lake Superior, and the southern is known as "the Empty Quarter," so-called because it covers a quarter of the area of the Peninsula. Though essentially uninhabitable, the edges of these three "seas of sand" make for excellent pastures in the spring season, but even the bedouin almost never attempted to cross the Empty Quarter.

North of the Nufud desert lies a vaste desert steppe, traditionally populated mainly by nomadic bedouins with the exception of a few oasis such as Al-Jof. This region is an extension of the Iraqi and Syrian deserts (or vice versa). After a rainy season, these barren, rocky steppes can yield lush meadows and rich pastures.

The eastern province is largely barren except that it contains two oases resulting from springs of ancient fossil water. These are the oases of Al-Qateef on the Gulf coast and Al-Hasa (or Al-Ahsa) further inland. Next to Qatif lies the modern metropolitan area of DammamDhahran and Al-Khobar.

Elevation extremes  lowest point: Persian Gulf (locally called "Arabian Gulf") 0 m (0 ft)highest point: Jabal Sawda' 3,133 m (10,279 ft) Natural resources  petroleum, natural gas, iron ore, gold, copper Land use  arable land: 1.72%permanent crops: 0.06%other: 98.22% (1998 est.)

Climate

People tend to think of Saudi Arabia as an expanse of scorchingly hot desert punctuated with oil wells, and for most of the time in most of the country, they would be absolutely right. From May to September, the country (basically everything except the southwestern mountains) bakes in temperatures that average 42°C and regularly exceed 50°C in the shade. In July and August, in particular, all who can flee the country and work slows down to a crawl. The coasts are only slightly moderated by the sea, which usually keeps temperatures below 38°C — but at the price of extreme humidity (85-100%), which many find even more uncomfortable than the dry heat of the interior, especially at night. Only the elevated mountainous regions stay cool(er), with the summer resort city of Taif rarely topping 35°C and the mountainous Asir region cooler yet.

In winter, though, it's a surprisingly different story. Daytime highs in Riyadh in December average only 21°C, and temperatures can easily fall below zero at night, occasionally even resulting in a sprinkling of snow in the southern mountains. The winter can also bring rains to all or most of the country, although in many years this is limited to one or two torrential outbursts. The end of spring (April and May) is also a rainy season for much of the country. In the south, though, this pattern is reversed, with most rain falling during the Indian Ocean's monsoon season between May and October.

Religion

Islam is the state religion of Saudi Arabia. Although no law specifically requires Saudi citizens or passport holders to be Muslim, public observance and proselytism of religions other than Islam are forbidden, and it is illegal to display non-Quranic forms of scripture in public.

There are no official churches in Saudi Arabia of any kind. However, some Filipino workers report the presence of churches inside some gated communities. The small number of Saudi Arabian Christians meet in Internet chat rooms, and foreign Christians may meet at church meetings held at one of several embassies after registering and showing their passport, to prove foreign nationality, or by private assemblies in school gyms located in gated communities on Aramco grounds. They can also hold services in each other's houses. Although the niqab is the norm for Saudi women, Muslim women from outside the country are allowed to wear a hijab.

Prayer times

Everything in Saudi Arabia is regulated by the five daily prayers. All shops and offices close during each prayer for a period of at least 20-30 minutes, and the religious police patrol some streets and pack loiterers off to the mosque. However, shopping malls, hospitals and airports do stay open (but with all shops inside the shopping malls closed) and taxis and other public transport continue to run normally.

The first prayer is fajr, early in the morning before the first glint of light at dawn, and the call to prayer for fajr will be your wake-up call in the Kingdom. After fajr, some people eat breakfast and head to work, with shops opening up.

The second prayer is dhuhr, held after true noon in the middle of the day. The Friday noon prayer (jummah) is the most important one of the week, when even less observant Muslims usually make the effort to go to the mosque. After dhuhr, people head for lunch, while many shops choose to stay closed and snooze away the heat of the day.

Asr prayers are in the late afternoon (one and a half to two hours before sunset), with many shops opening again afterwards. Maghrib prayers are held at sunset and mark the end of the work day in much of the private sector. The last prayer is isha'a, held around 45min-1h after sunset, after which locals head for dinner. Expats refer to the time between maghrib and isha'a as the "prayer window", during which you can hit the supermarket and buy your groceries if you time it right.

Prayer times change daily according to the seasons and your exact location in the Kingdom. You can find the day's times in any newspaper, and the Ministry of Islamic Affairs maintains a handy on-line prayer time service.

Holidays

Like most of the Middle East, the weekend in Saudi Arabia is Friday and Saturday, with Sunday a normal working day. (Until 2013, it was Thursday & Friday.)

The Saudi interpretation of Islam tends to view non-Muslim holidays as sacrilegious, and the public observance of Christmas, New Years, Valentine's Day, Halloween etc. is prohibited. Public holidays are granted only for Eid ul-Fitr, the feast at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, Eid al-Adha, commemorating Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son, some 70 days after Ramadan.

There is also one secular holiday: Unification of the Kingdom Day, on September 23rd. Strictly speaking, it's not a public holiday or a festival, although it's treated like one anyway. In fact, many local youths celebrate it more zealously than either Islamic Eid.

During Ramadan, visitors are required to abide by the restrictions of the fasting month, at least in public: no eating, drinking or smoking during the daylight hours. Some better hotels will be able to quietly supply room service during the day, but otherwise you'll have to do your preparations. All restaurants in the Kingdom are closed during the day, and while some offices stay open with limited hours, the pace of business slows down to a torpor. After evening prayer, though, all the restaurants in the bazaar open up and do a roaring trade until the small hours of the morning. Most of the shops are open as well, and the cool of the evening makes it a pleasant time to shop. A visitor can have a fine time joining in on these evenings, though having a stash in your hotel room for a quiet breakfast around ten will suit most visitors better than rising at four for a big pre-dawn Saudi breakfast.

Get in

My Kingdom will survive only insofar as it remains a country difficult to access, where the foreigner will have no other aim, with his task fulfilled, but to get out. -- King Abdul Aziz bin Saud, c. 1930

Saudi Arabia has some of the most restrictive travel policies in the world, and advance visas are required for all foreigners desiring to enter. The only significant exception is citizens of the Gulf Cooperation Council nations. Also exempt from visa requirements are foreigners transiting through airports for less than eighteen hours, but many other entry requirements, such as the dress code and restrictions on unaccompanied women, still apply. Nationals of Israel and those with evidence of visiting Israel will be denied visas, although merely being Jewish in and of itself is not a disqualifying factor. (There are, however, anecdotal reports of would-be visitors who tick the "Jewish" or "Atheist" boxes on their visa application having trouble.) Saudis prefer not to grant visas to unaccompanied women, but work permits are common in some fields—esp. nurses, teachers, maids—and possible for anyone if your sponsor has enough connections.

Tourist visas, previously available for groups of at least four on guided tours, were "suspended" in late 2010 with vague promises of being reinstated at an unspecified later date; check with a tour company for the latest scoop. Transit visas are limited to some long-distance truck drivers and for plane trips, but are generally issued free of charge. However, it is relatively easy to obtain a transit visa to drive through Saudi if you are legally physically present in an adjacent country and demonstrate the need to drive through Saudi to another adjacent country. Hajj (pilgrimage) visas are issued by the Saudi government through Saudi embassies around the world in cooperation with local mosques. Hajjis and those on transit visas are prohibited from traveling freely throughout the kingdom, and during Hajj season getting a visa of any kind tends to be more difficult. Most short-term Western visitors to Saudi arrive on business visas, which require an invitation from a local sponsor which has been approved by the Saudi Chamber of Commerce. Once this invitation is secured and certified, the actual process of issuing the visa is relatively fast and painless, taking anything from one day to two weeks. Word has it that the "new visas" (electronically generated) are only available through agencies within your country of residence. Getting a work visa is considerably more complex, but usually your employer will handle most of the paperwork.

The fun doesn't end when you get the visa, since visas do not state their exact expiry date. While the validity is noted in months, these are not Western months but lunar months, and you need to use the Islamic calendar to figure out the length: a three-month visa issued on "29/02/22" (22 Safar 1429, 1 March 2008) is valid until 29/05/22 (22 Jumada al-Awwal 1429, 28 May 2008), not until 1 June 2008! Depending on visa type, the validity can start from the date of issue or the date of first entry, and multiple-entry visas may also have restrictions regarding how many days at a time are allowed (usually 28 days per visit) and/or how many days total are allowed during the validity period. This all results in fantastic confusion, and it's not uncommon to get different answers from an embassy, from your employer and from Immigration!

If you have a work visa, exit visas are required to leave the country. (Business, tourism, transit, or Hajj visas do not require exit permits.) You cannot get an exit visa without a signature from your employer, and there have been cases of people unable to leave because of controversy with employers or even customers. For example, if a foreign company is sued in Saudi for non-payment of debts and you are considered its representative, an exit visa may be denied until the court case is sorted out.

Saudi Arabia has very strict rules for what may be imported: alcoholic beverages, pork, non- Sunni Islamic religious materials and pornography (very widely defined) are all prohibited. Computers, VCR tapes and DVDs have all been seized from time to time for inspection by the authorities. If you are unsure if the movie you watch or the video game you play is deemed un-Islamic, assume that it is: it would probably be best not to bring them with you to the kingdom. In general, though, inspections aren't quite as thorough as they used to be and while bags are still x-rayed, minute searches are the exception rather than the rule. Note that Western families driving through on a valid transit visa are generally waved through the customs inspection with a cursory glance.

By plane

Saudi Arabia has 4 international airports at RiyadhJeddah, Madinah, and Dammam . The airport at Dhahran is now closed to civil traffic, so passengers to the Eastern Region now fly into Dammam, or into nearby Bahrain (which is much better connected) and then cross into Saudi Arabia by car.

Saudi Arabia is served by the national airline Saudia. Saudia has a reasonable safety record, but many of their planes are on the old side and the quality of service, inflight entertainment, etc., tends to be low. Virtually all Gulf airlines and most major European airlines fly into Saudi.

During the Hajj, numerous charter flights supplement the scheduled airlines. Foreigners living in Saudi Arabia can often get sensational discounts on outbound flights during the Hajj. Airlines from Muslim countries are flying in many loads of pilgrims, and do not want to go back empty.

By bus

SAPTCO operates cross-border bus services to most of Saudi Arabia's neighbors and even beyond to e.g., Cairo.

Probably the most popular service is between Dammam/Khobar and Bahrain, operated by the separate Saudi-Bahraini Transport Company (SABTCO). There are five services daily at a cost of SR50/5 Bahraini dinars and the trip across the King Fahd Causeway takes around two hours on a good day; see Bahrain for details.

By car

Automobile crossings exist on nearly all the borders, although those into Iraq are closed. The eastern crossings to Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE are heavily used, all others rather less so. There were plans to open a land border crossing with Oman by the end of 2012.

By train

There are no railroads connecting Saudi Arabia with other countries, although in the North, you can still find bits and pieces of the Hejaz Railway that once led to Damascus.

By boat

Infrequent passenger ferries run once a week or less from Egypt and Sudan to ports in western Saudi Arabia. (The service to Eritrea has stopped running.) Slow, uncomfortable and not particularly cheap, these are of interest primarily if you absolutely need to take your car across. An unofficial ban on Western travellers may still apply.

Get around

Internal travel permits are a thing of the past, so once you've gotten into Saudi, the country is your oyster. There are, however, three exceptions:

  • Many archaeological sites around the country, e.g. Madain Saleh, require permits. The National Museum in Riyadh issues these free of charge, but you should apply at least a week in advance.
  • The area around Makkah and Madinah is off-limits to non-Muslims; conversely, those on Hajj visas are prohibited from leaving the area (and transit points like Jeddah). The exclusion zone is well signposted.
  • Some remote areas, notably around the Iraqi and Yemeni borders, are restricted military zones. You're exceedingly unlikely to stumble into them by accident.

By plane

Saudi Arabia is a large country, which makes flying the only comfortable means of long-distance travel. State carrier Saudia has the best schedules, with near-hourly flights on the busy Riyadh-Jeddah sector (90 min) and walk-up one-way fares costing a reasonable 280 Saudi riyals (SR) (or about US$75). Low-cost competitor Nas can be even cheaper if you book in advance, but their schedules are sparser, changes will cost you money and there's no meal on board.

By bus

The Saudi Arabian Public Transport Company (SAPTCO) [1] operates long-distance buses linking together all corners of the country. Buses are modern, air-conditioned and comfortable, but often slow, and the bus stations are more often than not located several kilometers away from the city center. The Riyadh-Dammam service, for example, costs SR60 and takes around 6 hours.

Special "VIP" services operate on the Riyadh-Dammam and Riyadh-Bahrain sectors. For a surcharge of about 50%, you get a direct, non-stop city center-to-city center services, plush seating and a meal on-board -- all in all, quite good value, if the sparse schedules match your plans.

By train

The railway network in Saudi Arabia is seriously underdeveloped, with only one line running between Riyadh, Al-Hofuf and Dammam, but it's still the only passenger train service in the entire Gulf. There are plans to extend the network to Jeddah and build a Makkah-Madinah link during the next few years.

The trains are operated by Saudi Railways Organization and have 3 classes: Second, First and the delightfully named Rehab. First and Second classes are very similar, with aircon and two-by-two seating, but First has a few inches of extra legroom. Rehab (VIP) class, on the other hand, has plush leather seats, roof-mounted flat-panel TVs showing Arabic entertainment, and slick waiting lounges at stations. There are no reserved seats, so show up early to claim yours, and beware that most carriages reserve the forward-facing seats at the front of each carriage for families. Trains have a cafeteria car serving up drinks and snacks, as well as push-trolley service.

A ticket from Riyadh to Dammam costs SR60/75/120 in Second/First/Rehab. There are four trains each day in both directions, and the trip takes 4-5 hours. (Note that, as of May 2008, the timetables on SRO website are outdated.) It is advisable to buy tickets in advance as the trains are often sold out. You can reserve tickets by calling their service center in Dammam (+966 3 827 4000) and then pick up the tickets from the nearest railway station 24 hours before departure.

By car

Car rental is available and gasoline is some of the cheapest in the world. Highway quality is highly variable, except highways that connect major cities, which are generally excellent. However, there are important reasons to think twice about car rental. The country has some of the highest accident rates in the world. Accidents are common, and if a visitor is involved in one, they would be exposed to the extremely punitive Saudi legal system; see elsewhere on this page for the warnings about that. Also be aware that any accident involving a foreigner and a Saudi citizen is automatically regarded to be the foreigner's fault under Saudi law, regardless of whose fault it actually is.

If you are involved in a car accident all parties are required to stay where they are and wait for the Traffic Police (call 993) to turn up, which can take up to four hours. English is unlikely to be spoken by the police, even in big cities, so try to use the waiting time to arrange a translator. The police will issue an accident report, which you have to take to the traffic police station and get it stamped a few times in different queues (this takes most of a morning). Only then can any damage to the car be repaired, as insurance companies will not pay for any body work without this report.

It is not uncommon for the traffic police to resolve the incident there and then by determining the guilty party and deciding compensation. So, should it be your fault the Police will ask you to pay an amount to the other party - but you are not obligated to do so.

At the present time, access to car rentals is limited to males 21 and older. Women cannot drive on public roads or ride bicycles.

By taxi

Within cities, taxis are the only practical means of transportation. Standardized throughout the country, metered fares start at SR5 and tick up at SR1.60/km, but outside Riyadh you'll often have to haggle the price in advance. Solo passengers are expected to sit up front next to the driver: this has the advantages of being next to the full blast of the air-con and making it easier to wave your hands to show the way.

Talk

Arabic is the official language of the Kingdom. There are numerous dialects spoken around the country, but the most important are Hejazi Arabic, originating from the Hejaz around Jeddah and the effective lingua franca, and Najdi Arabic, spoken in the Nejd around Riyadh.

Many people understand and speak some English, although markedly less well than in, say, the UAE or Qatar. Hindi, Urdu, and Bengali are extensively used in the marketplaces and by sub-continent expatriates. All major languages are spoken in the markets of Makkah. There is a significant Tagalog-speaking expatriate minority as well.

Nearly all road signs are in English as well as Arabic, although the vast majority of speed limit signs use only Arabian numerals.

See

  • The best known sites in Saudi Arabia are likely the two holy cities of Islam; Mecca and Medina. However it's prohibited for non-Muslims to enter these cities.
  • There are two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country, both inscribed in 2008. These are the Al-Hijr Archaeological Site (Madâin Sâlih) in Hejaz and the At-Turaif District in Diriyah.
  • The old town of Jeddah.
  • Old and ultra-modern architecture in the capital of Riyadh.
  • A whole lot of desert - the Arabian Desert makes up most of the country.

Buy

The Saudi currency is the Saudi riyal, denoted by the symbol "????" or "SR" (ISO code: SAR) It is a fixed at 3.75 riyals to the US dollar. The riyal is divided into 100 halalas, which are used to mark some prices, but, in practice, all payments are rounded to the nearest riyal and odds are you probably will never see any halala coins. Bills come in values of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500 riyals, with two different series in circulation.

The riyal is effectively also pegged to the Bahraini dinar at a 10:1 ratio. If you are considering travelling to Bahrain, virtually all businesses in Bahrain will accept riyals, but the dinar is not as easily convertible in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is still largely a cash society, and credit card acceptance is surprisingly poor outside luxury hotels and malls. ATMs are ubiquitous, although those of many smaller banks do not accept foreign cards; Samba, SABB and ANB are probably your best bets. Money changers can be found in souks, but are rare elsewhere. Foreign currencies are generally not accepted by merchants.

Costs

Prices are generally fairly expensive: figure on US$50/100/200 for budget, midrange and splurge-level daily travel costs.

Tipping is generally not expected, although service staff are always happy to receive them and taxi fares are often rounded up (or, not uncommonly, down). Expensive restaurants often slap on a 10% service charge, although due to lax regulation many employers simply usurp it (ask your waiters if they receive any of it or not if you would like to tip them). There are no sales taxes in Saudi, and for that matter, there aren't any income taxes either!

What to buy

Few local products are of interest to tourists. Locally grown dates are of high quality, and religious paraphernalia is widely available, but almost exclusively imported. Copies of the Qur'an are produced in a wide range of editions and sold at very low prices. Zam zam water is available throughout the Western Region and at all airports.

Carpets are a favorite purchase, most of these coming from nearby IranJeddah in particular has lots of carpets, many brought by pilgrims who sell them there to help finance their trip to Makkah.

Large gold and jewelry markets are prominent in all major cities. Bargaining is a norm in most small to medium sized stores. Makkah and Madinah offer a lot of variety in terms of luggage, clothing, jewelry, knick-knacks, souvenirs, toys, food, perfume, incense, and religious literature, audio, and paraphernalia.

Large, well maintained air-conditioned malls and grocery stores (eg Safeway, Geant, Carrefour) are scattered throughout the kingdom.

Do

Entertainment in Saudi Arabia is very family-oriented. There are few activities for just couples or singles. Single men are not allowed in family areas: family beaches are partitioned from the bachelor beaches, for example. Women are expected to be accompanied by a male relative in public, although single women may be admitted into family areas.

Desert excursions are particularly popular with the native Arabs. There are few desert dune bashing tour operators, if any, but ATV rentals are often found along the roadside on the outskirts of major cities and expats often arrange convoy trips into the desert. The Empty Quarter has the most awesome scenery — and requires the most preparation.

Scuba diving is popular on Saudi Arabia's Red Sea coast. Jeddah has a number of dive operators.

Amusement parks (many of them indoor) are often found near malls or beaches. Many large cities have public parks and small zoos. Horseback riding, camel riding, etc. are also available at horse-racing tracks and some popular beaches. Many upscale hotels provide light activities (especially hotels located along the beaches).

Movie theatres are banned in the Kingdom, but DVD shops abound, although the selections are often tame and/or censored. DVDs in Saudi Arabia are invariably Region 2, though bootleg DVDs (which are widely available in smaller video shops) are usually region-free, and often uncensored as well. Satellite TV and downloading entertainment from the Internet is thus very popular.

Video games are an eternal obsession of Saudi youth, and one which is capitalized upon rather well by local retailers. Video game shops are ubiquitous in all of the major cities. Authentic games are offered by most of the larger stores, as US or European imports for an average of ~SR270 (~US$70), while the smaller ones usually only offer bootlegs (which are illegal, but still lucrative enough that almost all sell them) at very low prices of SR10-15 ($2.5-$4). Wii and Xbox 360 bootlegs reign supreme, but certain stores offer Nintendo DS and PSP games as well, downloaded to a customer's removable media on request.

Eat

Eating is one of the few pleasures permitted in Saudi Arabia, and the obesity statistics show that most Saudis indulge as much as they can. Unlike other businesses which kick out their customers at prayer time, most restaurants will let diners hang around and eat behind closed doors through the prayer period. New customers are generally not allowed to enter until after prayer is over.

Fast food

Fast food is a huge business in Saudi Arabia, with all the usual suspects (McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Subway) and not a few chains that rarely venture outside America elsewhere (e.g. Hardee's, Little Caesars). Meals invariably served with fries and Coke cost SR10-20. Some local imitators worth checking out include:

  • Al-Baik - fried chicken- in JeddahMeccaMedina and Taif but not Riyadh
  • Baak - Pizza (thin crust and quite good), fried chicken, lasagna, sandwiches
  • Kudu. Saudi sandwich chain
  • Herfy Burger. Biggest fast food chain in the country, 100% Saudi owned
  • House of Donuts - "The Finest American Pastries" - a chain started by Saudi students who studied in America

Cheaper yet are the countless curry shops run by and for Saudi Arabia's large Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi community, which serve up large thali platters of subcontinental fare for under SR10. Just don't expect frills like air-conditioning.

Local cuisine

See also: Middle Eastern cuisine

The Middle Eastern staple of shwarma (doner kebab) is widely available in dedicated little joints, with SR 3-4 being the standard price for a sandwich. The Egyptian mashed fava bean stew foul is another cheap staple, and these shops usually also offer felafel (chickpea balls) and a range of salads and dips like hummus (chickpea paste) and tabbouleh (parsley salad).

Finding restaurants that serve actual Saudi cuisine is surprisingly difficult, although many larger hotels have Arabic restaurants. Your local Saudi or expatriate host may be able to show you some places or, if you're really lucky, an invitation to dinner at home.

  • Mandi — Chicken or mutton cooked with rice in a pot suspended above a fire.

Drink

With alcohol, nightclubs, playing music in public and mingling with unrelated people of the opposite sex all banned, it's fair to say that nobody comes to Saudi Arabia for the nightlife.

Coffee shops

Pretty much the only form of entertainment for bachelors is the ubiquitous coffee shop, which serve not only coffee and tea, but water pipes (shisha) with flavoured tobacco. These are strictly a male domain. In a government effort to minimize smoking in major cities like Jeddah and Riyadh, establishments that offer shisha are either banished to the outskirts of town, or offer exclusive outdoor seating arrangements.

If, on the other hand, you're looking for a hazelnut frappucino, Starbucks and its legion competitors have established a firm foothold in the Kingdom's malls. These usually welcome women, although 2008 saw several arrests of unmarried couples "mingling".

As for the coffee (kahwa) itself, try mirra, made in the Bedouin style. Sometimes spiced with cardamom, it's strong and tastes great, particularly drunk with fresh dates. Tea (chai) usually comes with dollops of sugar and perhaps a few mint leaves (na'ana).

Alcohol

Alcoholic beverages are strictly forbidden throughout the country, although the police generally turn a blind eye to goings-on inside compounds for foreign expats, where homebrew wine is common. However, if they catch people involved in smuggling or distilling booze in quantity, then expat or not, Saudi law applies. A foreigner may not get the sentence a local would, but can expect a few days or weeks jail, public flogging, and deportation.

There is a local white lightning known among foreigners as "siddiqui" (Arabic for friend) or just as "sid". This is generally horrible-tasting and very potent. In addition to the obvious legal risk, there is a risk of inexpert distilling making it downright poisonous. The stuff is emphatically to be avoided.

Do not drink and drive! is good advice anywhere, but especially in Saudi Arabia. If you have an accident, or otherwise attract police attention, the consequences might be serious indeed.

Soft drinks

As elsewhere in the Gulf, Saudis are big fans of various fruit juices, ranging from the ordinary (apple, orange) to the downright bizarre (banana-lemon-milk-walnut, anyone?).

Non-alcoholic versions of alcoholic drinks are popular. Two of the most common are Saudi champagne, basically apple juice and Sprite or soda water, and malt beverages, i.e. non-alcoholic beer, always sweet and often strongly flavored with mango, strawberry, apple, lemon etc. essences. You can even get apple-flavored Budweiser!

Tap water

Tap water in the major cities is generally considered safe, although it's not always particularly tasty, and in the summer can be very hot. That said, in winter floodwater can seep into tanks, with an estimated 70% of storage in Jeddah affected by major flooding in January 2011 and some cases of dysentery reported.

Bottled water is readily available and cheap at SR2 or less for a 1.5L bottle, so many visitors and residents choose to play it safe. Many residents prefer to buy drinking water from purification stations.

Sleep

Hotels of all types are available throughout the Kingdom. Most tourist cities (i.e. Makkah, Madinah, Taif, Al Abha) will also have very affordable and spacious shigka-maafroosha (short-term furnished rental apartments). Shigka-maafroosha owners generally loiter in hotel lobbies. Often, they will approach civilized-looking people (generally families) and make an offer. Prices for shigka-mafrooshas and small hotels are always negotiable to a great degree. Smaller hotels will only accept cash, normally in advance.

Larger, more expensive hotels are abundant in all major cities. After the lull caused by the insurgency in 2003, prices have been rising again, and you can expect to pay north of US$200 for a weekday night at a good hotel in any of the big Saudi cities. In exchange, you usually get excellent service and the ability to work around some restrictions (e.g. restaurants that stay open through prayer hours and daytime room service during Ramadan).

Stay healthy

There are no major health risks for traveling in Saudi Arabia: water is generally drinkable and food is usually, but not always, hygienic. No vaccinations are required for general travel to the Kingdom, but for pilgrims joining the Hajj and its extraordinary concentrations of pilgrims from all corners of the globe, a comprehensive series of vaccinations is required as a condition for entry. See the Hajj article for details.

Smoking is the one sin that the mullahs haven't gotten around to banning yet, and consequently everybody smokes everywhere: hotel lobbies, airport lounges, shopping mall food courts, drivers in their taxis, etc. If this is a problem, be sure to request non-smoking rooms in hotels.

The Kingdom has a wide-reaching national health-care system, but the services provided by this program are quite basic. Private hospitals are often run with the participation of foreign partners. These facilities range from fairly rudimentary to very advanced and very expensive. Pharmacies are widely available and prescriptions are not required for most medications. Psychoactive medications are tightly controlled and available only through government pharmacies.

Bottled water is easily available, and as they say, is more expensive than gasoline.

Work

There are quite a few jobs for expatriates in Saudi Arabia. While the pay is good, foreigners often find that the strictly Muslim society and the near-total lack of employees' rights makes the country a most difficult place to work and live.

To get a working visa, you must have a Saudi sponsor. Then to get an exit visa, you need your sponsor's signature. This can lead to major problems. ESL teachers can find work in Saudi Arabia with a Bachelor`s Degree and a TESOL certification. ESL teachers in Saudi Arabia can expect to earn 8,000 - 13,000 SR (monthly) and will usually teach 20 – 30 hours in a week. Contracts will usually include accommodations, airfare, and health care. Preference is usually given to male teachers, and previous ESL work experience may be required.

Stay safe

Realistically speaking, the biggest danger a visitor to Saudi Arabia faces is the lethal driving — drive or pick your drivers carefully and buckle up your seatbelt.

A low-level insurgency which targets foreigners in general and Westerners in particular continues to bubble. The wave of violence in 2003-2004 has been squashed by a brutal crackdown by Saudi security forces and there have been no major attacks in the cities for several years, security remains tight and it is prudent not to draw too much attention to yourself. Foreigners should register their presence with their embassy or consulate. Emergency alert systems using e-mail and cell phone messages are maintained by many governments for their guest workers.

Four French tourists, part of a larger group that had been camping in the desert, were shot and killed by terrorists near Madain Saleh in early 2007. Due to this, mandatory police escorts — which can be an interesting experience, but can also be annoying, restrictive hassles — are sometimes provided for travel outside major cities, in areas like AbhaNajran and Madain Saleh.

While Saudi Arabia has one of the lowest crime rates in the world, a certain background level of non-violent opportunistic theft like pickpocketing and purse snatching does exist. Lock doors and keep valuables on your person.

Saudi society endeavours to keep men and women separate, but sexual harassment — leers, jeers and even being followed — is depressingly common. Raising a ruckus or simply loudly asking the harasser anta Muslim? ("are you Muslim?") will usually suffice to scare them off.

Violations of Saudi law can bring a visitor into contact with the local police and justice systems. The Saudi justice system is notoriously harsh and gives no leeway to non-Saudis, and embassies can provide only limited help in these situations. See Respect for how to stay out of trouble.

Homosexuals should note that they are in high danger in Saudi Arabia if attempting sexual activities or express love in public (for example kissing), for homosexuality is a crime in Saudi Arabia which carries a sentence of death by stoning. See also the paragraph 'Respect' below.

Respect

Visitors to Saudi Arabia are required to respect local conventions, in particular regarding Islam. While first-timers in Saudi Arabia are often regaled with tales of beheadings, amputations and whippings, the full harshness of Saudi law is reserved for true criminals like drug smugglers. With a modicum of common sense you'll be just fine, and should a visitor accidentally cause some minor offense, the reaction will generally be amusement rather than anger.

Law and morality

The really important rules to beware of are enshrined in written Saudi law, with criminals subject to the full strength of the infamous Saudi penal system. In addition to obvious crimes like murder (punishable by beheading) and theft (amputation of the hand for repeat offenders), acts considered serious crimes include adultery, homosexual activity and possession of alcohol or drugs.

In practice, though, most visitors will be primarily concerned with the code of morality, involving things like women not covering up properly, not observing prayer or (during Ramadan) fasting times, etc. These rules are enforced by the infamous muttawa (pl. mutawain), the zealous volunteers of the religious police formally known as the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. Confusingly, the exact rules and their enforcement vary greatly both with time and from region to region, with the Nejd region around Riyadh being the most strict, the Eastern Province being the least strict, and the Hejaz around Jeddah being somewhere in the middle. However, 99% of the time, encounters with the muttawa (especially for non-Muslims) simply result in verbal warnings. The muttawa do have the power to detain those suspected of un-Islamic conduct, but — in theory — must hand them over to the police before interrogation, and neither can they apply judicial punishments like whipping without a trial. Reports of abuse and even deaths in muttawa custody are still alarmingly common.

Areas Off-limits to the Mutawwas

Surprisingly, certain areas are known to be "off-limits" to the mutawwas. These include the following:

  1. the Diplomatic Quarter (in Riyadh)
  2. the beach resort compounds north of Jeddah
  3. the premises of Saudi Aramco (in the eastern province)
  4. the city of Qatif in the eastern province
  5. expat compounds generally

Generally, the Mutawwa rarely enter hotels, if ever. This does not mean that one should flout Saudi social mores with impunity in such places, but the restrictions on mixing of genders and, in some areas, the dress-code are much looser.

Sex segregation

Many (perhaps most) areas of life in Saudi Arabia are segregated by sex to ensure that unrelated men and women have no possibility of "mingling" (khulwa, a punishable crime). Under the rules of segregation, all people are divided into three groups:

  • Families. The basic unit of Saudi life, families consist of women accompanied by their mahrams (legal male guardians) — father, brother, husband, uncle, nephew — and children.
  • Single men (bachelors). Men not accompanied by their families. Despite common use of the word "bachelor", it is irrelevant whether the man is married or not; a husband will dine in the bachelor section at lunch when he is alone and in the family section at dinner when he is with his wife. It is against the law to be accompanied anywhere by a woman who is not your wife or a family member, and religious police pay particular attention to interracial couples.
  • Single women. Women not accompanied by their families. This is by far the most restricted group. Most of the facilities for families will admit single women, but they are never supposed to be allowed in the men's section, and are subject to uncomfortable stares when they are: it is against the law to be accompanied anywhere by a man who is not your husband or a family member (except a hired driver or a taxi driver). The punishment will be worse for the man than for the woman. While the man is forced to sign a written oath not to repeat the offense and may be subject to lashing or prison, women are generally "returned" to their families, with a male family member signing on her behalf. The cultural value placed on "modesty" and "honor" makes the religious police reluctant to openly "out" an offending female and they will try to sweep the problem under the carpet, unless in more "egregious" cases.

Typical examples of segregation include:

Men

Locals almost universally wear a thobe (white robe with sleeves) with a ghutra (headdress), but the standard dress code for foreign men in Saudi Arabia is long trousers and a long-sleeved shirt. Short-sleeved shirts are unusual, although T-shirts are increasingly common among rebellious youth, while shorts are rarely seen outside the gym or beach.

Men with long hair might want to consider a cut before entering the kingdom; although shoulder-length locks can be considered reasonable, anything longer can be considered as grounds for ejection from shopping malls and public places by the muttawa.

Homosexuality is (in theory) punishable by death, but in practice this is almost never applied, except in cases of rape or child abuse. It is common for Saudi men to walk hand in hand as a sign of friendship (or more), but it would be unwise for Western men to attempt the same. Sharing a hotel room as a way of cutting costs is normal, but don't even think about asking for one bed for two. That said, homosexuality still happens, only discreetly, and it's not uncommon for a foreign man to be approached by an amorous, young unmarried Saudi.

Women

Women, be they local or foreign, are all required to wear an abaya, a long and loose black robe. While a headscarf is optional for non-Saudi women (particularly in Jeddah and Dammam), one should at least be brought along in order to avoid possible harassment from the religious police or to be used as a means of deflecting attention from potentially aggravating men.

Saudi law prohibits women from mingling with unrelated men. Some family restaurants will go further and will not (knowingly) allow a married couple to dine together with a single man. Women may not drive cars. In theory, women may not even be driven by unrelated people (e.g. taxi drivers), although this is widely ignored and rarely enforced.

A woman may travel alone. They may also stay alone in hotels, although hotels may require written permission on check-in unless the woman holds an official form of ID.

While all this legally applies to foreign women as well, in practice foreign women are not restrained by their families in the way that Saudi women are, and can have considerable leeway if they choose to take it. For example, a foreign woman and her boyfriend (or even male coworker) can simply claim to be husband and wife, and thus mingle freely — although, if caught doing so, they could sometimes be subject to a short stay in jail.

A single woman accosted by the police or the muttawa and requested to come with them does not have to (and, for their own safety, should not) go with them alone: you have the right to call your mahram and have them arrive, and you should use it. However, you may be required to surrender your ID, and you may not leave until the police/muttawa allow you to.

Other

Photography is probably the easiest way for a visitor to inadvertently get into trouble. Do not take pictures of any government-related building (ministries, airports, military facilities etc.) or any building that could possibly be one, or you risk being hauled off to jail for espionage. As strict Wahhabi belief prohibits making images of any living creature and Saudis place a high value on privacy, do not photograph any Saudi men without permission and do not even point your camera in the general direction of women, period. Even government publications avoid pictures of people and often resort to mosaicing out faces if they have to use one! However, photography in public places was declared legal by royal decree in 2006 unless posted otherwise or violating an individual's desire not to be photographed.

Playing music in public is also prohibited (though this does not include playing music at a picnic in the desert for example). However, personal music players and listening to music in private is fine, and there are plenty of music shops in the country's shopping malls if you don't mind permanent marker over Britney's hemline on the cover. It is not uncommon to hear young Saudis blasting the latest hip-hop music in their vehicles, at least when the muttawa are not around.

Religious items for religions other than Islam, including Bibles, crucifixes and any religious literature, are technically forbidden, although these days items for personal use are generally ignored. However, anything that hints of proselytism is treated very harshly, and the muttawa often bust illicit church assemblies and the like. Public observance of religions other than Islam is technically a crime in Saudi Arabia.

The flag of Saudi Arabia bears the Islamic declaration of faith, and desecration or any other inappropriate use of the flag is considered insulting. Public criticism of the King, the royal family or Saudi Arabia's government in general is not tolerated.

Connect

By phone

The four mobile operators in Saudi, incumbent Al Jawal, Emirati rival Mobily , Kuwaiti Zain (Vodafone Network) and STC newcomer Jawwy are fiercely competitive, with good coverage (in populated areas) and good pricing. A starter pack with prepaid SIM and talktime starts from about SR75, and you can sign up in most any larger mobile shop (bring your passport). Local calls are under SR0.5/minute, while calls overseas are around or less than SR2/min.

And yes, you can bring in your own phone: despite grumblings from the clerics, camera phones and multimedia messaging (MMS) are now legal.

By net

Internet cafes abound in major Saudi cities, and many shopping malls feature a gaming parlor or two. Rates are around SR5/hour.

While Internet in Saudi Arabia is cordoned off by a filter, it aims primarily at pornography, non-Islamic religious and domestic political sites in Arabic, and (from the traveller's point of view) is nowhere near as strict as, say, China's. Google, Skype, Wikipedia, and all major webmail providers are accessible.

Internet censorship in Saudi Arabia might not be as strict as other countries in the Middle East. This is because social sites such as Facebook and Twitter are not banned in the country. Although Skype is also allowed, the Saudi government has banned smartphone app Viber. Prohibited sites of course include pornographic websites, and sites that contain homosexuality, illegal gambling, and criticisms against their religion and government.

By mail

Saudi Post has a good network of post offices around the country, but offices are closed Thursday and Friday. Stamps for postcards to anywhere in the world cost SR4. The bigger problem is actually finding postcards, as the mutawwa periodically crack down on the celebration of non-Islamic holidays like Valentine's Day, Christmas or even birthdays, causing all cards of any sort to disappear from bookstores! Your best bet is thus gift shops in major hotels. Mail coming in to the country from overseas is notoriously unreliable. Stories abound of things arriving months after they were sent or never arriving at all. There are branches of DHL, FedEx and UPS operating throughout the kingdom, so a good rule of thumb is to have anything important sent through those channels.

As you might have guessed, I’m a strong proponent of independent travel. Yep, that’s where the “indie” in “Indie Travel Podcast” comes from. But travelling independently isn’t for everyone. In this article, I want to discuss the pros and cons of going it alone versus going with an organisation.

That said, independent travel doesn’t have to be done alone. Craig and I travel independently all the time, but rarely go solo. In this sense, independent travel really means organising all aspects of your trip yourself, rather than choosing an all-inclusive package or letting the travel agent sort it all out for you. I wouldn’t include a cruise, a Contiki trip or most volunteering holidays as independent travel, but neither would I relegate these experiences to the realms of wasted time. In fact, one of these packages might be exactly what you need in a vacation. So how do you choose how to travel?

Indie travel

First, consider travelling independently. There are a multitude of benefits to travelling on your own bat, which can be summarised as follows: you get a more genuine experience and it costs you a lot less.

Most tour companies charge you an umbrella price for a variety of services, and you rarely know the individual charges for each aspect of your trip. This makes it easier for them to inflate the prices of each item, or just to add a large percentage on to the real cost. And fair enough really, that’s where they make their money. But if you travel by local bus instead of by flash air-conditioned coach, you’re not only probably paying one-tenth of the price you would on a tour, but you’re travelling the way the locals travel, giving you an experience of daily life wherever you are. However, while you won’t have to wait while Mrs Beasley finishes her cup of tea in a rest stop, you might get caught trying to catch a bus that’s finished its round for the day or doesn’t run on Sundays. It’s happened to me, it’ll happen to you – we got out of it by sticking out our thumbs (though I’m not usually a supporter of this form of transport), which was a great way to meet a couple of cool locals.

Travelling independently allows you to call the shots. You can change your plans at the last minute, stay longer somewhere you like or get out of somewhere you don’t quickly. You can see the places you want to see and avoid the tourist traps that many tour companies corral you into. You can find your own restaurant for dinner and discover niches not mentioned anywhere in any guidebook. But perhaps best of all, you never feel like a sheep.

Markers and path-1

Tours

However, there are a lot of situations where choosing an organised tour is a better option than travelling independently:

1. You’re short on time.

You’ve got one week in Europe and you want to see the Colosseum, the Eiffel tower, the Berlin wall and the Tower of London. Since these are all quite major attractions, you might be able to find a tour that would accommodate you, and you’d have to do very little preparation.

2. You feel a bit unsafe in the area you’re travelling in.

Quite a lot of paid-up indie travellers choose a tour when they are going somewhere where they feel a little unsafe. Solo women travellers especially might book a tour when going somewhere like Morocco or Saudi Arabia, but shun a tour in France or Australia.

3. You’re going to be travelling somewhere for a while and want to get a handle on it.

If you are completely unfamiliar with a region, starting a longer trip with a short organised tour to see the main sights might be worth considering. Your guide could give you some tips about local life to ease you gently into the culture.

4. You want the experience of travelling with a group of like-minded people.

There are tours for all sorts of people out there, and if you want to meet some people like you, a tour aimed at your demographic could be just what you’re after. This could be as vague as “young people” or as specific as “Shakespeare enthusiasts” or “professional singles aged between 25-30.” You usually travel with the same people for the duration of your trip, so it’s great for shared experiences. Can be difficult if there’s someone you don’t like much though!

The Stray crew, LaosSometimes travelling as a group is a good option.

5. It’s ridiculously difficult to get around!

Probably my favourite reason for choosing a tour. Some places are just impossible to travel in – the bus schedules are erratic or non-existent, there are no hostels and you don’t know a word of the language. If you can find a tour to take you around a place like this, you might be on to a winner.

Remember, it’s your trip. Choose the best option for you, whether that’s an organised tour, or off-the-cuff independent travel. Whatever you do, spend a bit of time looking into the options available, and be prepared to use different strategies for different destinations. Travel well!

This article was originally published in June, 2008.

Photo by DonkeyHotey.

The problem

President Trump has replaced both the existing Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of National Intelligence with the highly underqualified and morally questionable Steve Bannon, his Chief Strategist. Bannon is best known for being a top person at Breitbart News, an anti-Semitic, white supremacist, conspiracy theory, fake news-hocking site that peddles ideas like: “Planned Parenthood has Nazi ties” and “Huma Abedin is a spy for Saudi Arabia.” (Both of these claims are false, by the way. Check here and here, respectively, if you don’t believe me.)

Bannon is now President Trump’s senior counselor, signifying that White Nationalists, such as himself, are now going to have a lot of pull in the White House. Bannon’s appointment in Trump’s Cabinet is perhaps the most important — he’s meant to help the president filter out the best possible advice from the military, the Cabinet and the intelligence community before making the major decisions that affect all Americans’ lives. When he was appointed by Trump last Sunday, Bannon pretty much became the most powerful person in the White House.

A photo posted by Tracy Johnson (@brainboxcoach) on Feb 2, 2017 at 12:23am PST

Steve Bannon has been appointed to the National Security Committee, but you can still do something about it. It’ll take less than 10 minutes.

First, look into Breitbart News if you haven’t already.

As Matador writer and social media expert, Kae Lani Kennedy, states in this essay, independent research is the most important thing you can do as a reader and consumer of the news. If you don’t believe what we’re saying here, look into it for yourself. Kae also explains how you can read Breitbart without giving it ad revenue here.

Call your senators and congress people.

If you’ve been following our action alerts, you know the drill. Call 202-225-3121 and you’ll reach an operator. Tell them who you’d like to speak to first.

All you have to say is:

“I reject the appointment of Steve Bannon to the National Security Committee. I expect you to take an immediate stand against it.”

But if you want to do some freestyling, here are some other points you could bring up.

Steve Bannon is clearly a manipulator. His work for Breitbart News has convinced a large portion of the American population that they should be afraid — afraid of other cultures and religions, afraid of the advancement of women and people of color, afraid of the Obama Administration and Hillary Clinton. Do you think we should be afraid of these things?

Please don’t remain silent or vote in support of a man who has been praised by the KKK and the American Nazi Party.

The United States has come too far in its efforts for gender equality and civil rights for a White Nationalist and misogynist to control all of the power in the White House.

That’s all you have to do. Time estimate: less than 10 minutes.

If you completed this action, or have other thoughts, leave your comments below. Matador Network is committed to providing you with easy ways to speak out against the issues that impact us all. If you have an Action Alert suggestion from your community, state, or country, contact Emma at emma@matadornetwork.com.

Read more like this: Action alert: reject Trump's border wall

Image credit: Darren Garrett

A 17-year-old boy of Bengali immigrant parents once told me how much he loved riding a bicycle—but that he would drive a car when he was an adult.

We were cycling from London to the coastal city of Brighton at the time. His mind was clearly infused with cultural notions of car ownership as a form of status and wealth — but more than that, it seemed to hinge on an idea that cycling belonged to a time of childhood, youth, and, broadly, of innocence. His image was in harmony with futurist author H.G. Wells, who wrote in 1905: “Cycle tracks will abound in utopia.”

In an age of politics proud to knock the vulnerable, where many fear for society’s loss of innocence, the way bicycles are creating a place for themselves on the world’s car-filled roads offers both a beacon and guide. It shows how a fringe and fragile, but rational idea can survive a political climate that prides itself on the ability to be firm, tough, and even mean.

Physics alone makes a compelling case for the value of the bicycle. Designed to human proportions, bicycles are recognized as the most energy-efficient means of transport available — better even than walking. A bicycle requires around 50 calories per passenger mile, and while cars vary greatly in efficiency rates, the equivalent figure starts at around 1,500. The bicycle is to transportation what pulleys and winches are to lifting; in their very essence, and even quite literally, bicycles give power to the powerless.

Over history, this quality has made them ever-present in both social change and protest. In 1896, American suffragette Susan B. Anthony famously pronounced of the bicycle, ‘’I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.’’ In the grainy footage of Chinese protesters clearing the wounded from Tiananmen Square in 1989, bicycles are visible bearing stretchers and helping protesters get around. In Saudi Arabia, as religious leaders prop up a conservative nation reliant on oil prices, the country’s first domestically produced film, Wadjda, features a young girl determined to resist the forces that try to stop her from riding the green bicycle she dreams of owning. The bicycle toes a delicate cultural line, along which it is powerful enough to inspire, but innocent enough not to offend censors.

In many examples, the bicycle plays both practical and emotional roles. Kimberly Coats, a cycling advocate who’s worked across Africa, has seen bicycles allow health workers to cover otherwise-impossible distances. Coats now runs women’s cycling club Team Rwanda Cycling, and explains how women have been slower to take up riding in Rwanda than in Ethiopia, Eritrea, and other places she has worked. “It’s been an uphill battle to find women interested in learning to cycle and then having the fortitude to stand up to the cultural stigma placed on them for riding,” she says. “It’s a slow process, but it is a process, and we are witnessing change. It’s not just freedom; bicycles are essential to a better quality of life in Africa.”

Una publicación compartida de Team Rwanda (@teamrwanda) el 31 de Dic de 2016 a la(s) 10:04 PST

Coats’ partner organization, Qhubeka, runs a number of projects across Africa that reward community work with bicycles. In the informal settlement of Kayamandi, in South Africa’s Western Cape province, 18-year-old Olwethu is now able to cycle to school and pursue ambitions of studying medicine. “Riding my bicycle has brought me closer to myself. It has taught me to be brave. The bicycle has changed my life,” she says. “I’m standing proud to show that I can ride my bicycle as a female and that not only men can ride. We also can do this.”

Those qualities are well-summarized in a 2012 message, encouraging riders to join a bicycle phalanx as it made its way to New York’s Union Square and Occupy Wall Street protests: “Bike Blocs at street protests have the advantage of being able to break up and reform. The spontaneity of a Bike Bloc means that participants are able to easily move through the streets without needing leaders or a decided route … In the past, Bike Blocs have provided a tremendous amount of solidarity and logistical support to demonstrators who are on foot.”

In both Western and non-Western settings, the low barriers to obtaining and using a bicycle, which requires little maintenance and is largely resilient against most kinds of mechanic failure, predisposes the technology toward inclusivity.

Although it’s hard to plot a single, accurate timeline in such a global trend, 2009 might usefully be seen as a tipping point in the cultural renaissance of the bicycle — a moment when its marginal, grassroots appeal started to go mainstream. With a greater number of people living in cities than the world’s rural areas for the first time, a pendulum tipped — bringing with it the need for efficient transport in settings that now define most of the human presence on Earth.

In the manicured spaces of the modern Western city, the bicycle offers a safe, healthy means of rebellion, perfectly attuned to the new vogue. Financial institutions in London and New York, which flocked eagerly to sponsor cycle hire schemes, have led the clamor around buying a slice of H.G. Wells’ prophesied utopia.

Nonetheless, the bicycle now has an almost existential appeal. In Paris, Mayor Anne Hidalgo has begun closing stretches of urban expressway so that the banks of the River Seine can see a “reconquest” by bikes and pedestrians. Back in London, Mayor Sadiq Khan has pledged to double cycling investment, build more bike lanes, and “make London a byword for cycling.” Campaigners are determinedly holding his feet to the fire on those promises, but the way politicians are now expected to come to the table with positive sound bites on bicycles demonstrates how central they are in the creation of modern, livable spaces.

This growing political popularity of cycling is not only the prevail of public-spirited leftists. In New York, it was finance-billionaire-turned-mayor Michael Bloomberg who first insisted Manhattan streets must accommodate bicycles. Some of the most impressive cycle infrastructure in London was signed-off by Boris Johnson; a man educated at Eton and Oxford, belonging to the highest walks of the British class system. To traditional conservatives, cycling seems to have a life-affirming appeal that draws resilience, thanks to the diversity of its gene pool.

The notion that bicycles form part of the architecture of a healthy city is also growing outside the West. Clarisse Linke is Brazil’s country director for the global Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, through which she has successfully pushed for the implementation of bicycle infrastructure in sprawling, gridlocked São Paulo. A well-integrated network of bike lanes has boosted the popularity of cycling on key routes by 116 percent, while also delivering large reductions in fatal accidents.

“The bike lane program came with a broader movement for reclaiming public spaces in São Paulo,” explains Linke. “There’s also an important mindset change in the population, which started to discover the need and joy of being ‘out in the streets.’ Bikes play an important role in that, as citizens have the possibility to interact with other citizens while outside a car.”

A city-centric view of the unstoppable roll of the bicycles, however, is perhaps wishful thinking. In thriving urban areas, we see bicycles in a glorified role as an avatar for metropolitan liberty. Cycling is celebrated in a city’s culture, media, and politics; cycling fashion is championed, each fatality is given broad coverage, condemned by campaign groups, and commemorated by protesters willing to close junctions by lying down in the street — an action that channels the idea of a sit-in into a “die-in.”

Una publicación compartida de karen ball (@didyoumakethat) el 29 de Jun de 2015 a la(s) 10:16 PDT

It isn’t only a question of urban areas, however. Different cities have different characteristics. Activists in the concrete sprawl of Houston, Texas, have been moved to begin a “ghost bike” project in which painted bicycles are left at those places where cyclists have been killed by drivers; their deaths treated by police as if such events were an obvious cost of using the road network on two wheels. Despite the existence of a grassroots cycling community to condemn the injustice, its presence has not yet permeated the minds of public servants.

Outside major metropolitan areas, the rights of cyclists are even more easily flouted. The statistics bear this out. In the U.K., rural roads host just 32 percent of every billion miles cycled, but are home to 58 percent of cycling fatalities. When the League of American Bicyclists ranked state policy on cycling (measuring a mix of state spending on bikes, long-term planning, and enforcement against driving offenses), it was Washington that topped the table, with West Coast companionship from Oregon and California also inside the top 10. States with lower urban density, like Alabama, Kentucky, Kansas, and Nebraska, propped up the bottom of the list.

Then there’s the curious phenomenon of the extreme anger that the mere presence of cyclists on our streets seems to evoke in some. Despite cyclists frequently suffering as the victims of roads, allowances for bicycles attract an ire that seems to go well beyond mere infrastructure. In New York, Bloomberg’s pro-bike changes saw a rival politician remark that, if elected, he would “tear out his fucking bike lanes.” Cycling communities are full of stories of unwarranted road rage. Even London’s former mayor, Boris Johnson, mercurial in his love of cycling, criticized fellow riders in 2012 for thinking of themselves as “morally superior.”

Julian Huppert, who served as MP for the U.K.’s top cycling city, Cambridge, tells similar stories about Eric Pickles, a minister with a bruising reputation for dismissing bikes. “He attacked Cambridge for focusing on cycling, describing it as the choice of the ‘elite,’” Huppert tells me. “In Cambridge, over a third of trips for work or education are done by bike; imagine the gridlock if we stopped cycling!”

These incidents aren’t isolated. In an era of Brexit and Trump, bicycles can be readily found in the basket of goods used to typify supposedly out-of-touch city types. The same nostalgic politics that harkens back to a glorious, unfettered past sees the curtailment of car use, imposition of speed limits, and affordance of greater rights to cyclists as an arrogant imposition of the future, a world of “political correctness gone mad.”

One common view of bicycles, rational and human-scale, is as a vehicle of liberalism, while cars become the prevail of those with an affinity for libertarian power. On roads dominated by heavy traffic, the cyclist quickly learns what it is to feel a minority, vulnerable, and structurally and systematically discriminated against. What happens in a culture that diminishes the value of rules, or scoffs at those that protect the vulnerable, is an increasingly central question of modern politics—but a familiar one in cycling.

Una publicación compartida de Qualitytraining (@quality__training) el 10 de Feb de 2017 a la(s) 6:08 PST

Looking at the road through this political lens, the value of bicycle campaigning takes on broader resonance for how vulnerable ideas can protect and advance themselves in judgmental times. A number of characteristics have, in this regard, always worked in the bicycle’s favor. For starters, cycling is an active, physical activity with a real-world manifestation that is at odds with the sometimes cerebral disposition of liberal thought. To cycle is to vote with your bike, and in a network built around cars, it’s a de facto public protest.

While liberal politics can struggle to offer symbols that enforce abstract ideas with semiotics that evoke feeling, the bicycle as a visual icon — instantly recognizable and unifying — has a galvanizing, rallying role in campaigns. Despite efforts — both positive and critical — to typecast cyclists, bicycles have broad appeal across a political spectrum; adherents are as likely to be proponents of conscientious living as they are to believe in a free-market world of survival of the fittest.

Many of those who campaign for cycling provisions genuinely see it as an answer to their perceptions of the world’s ills: climate change, pocketbook politics, self-reliant transport, taxpayer value for money, improved public health, emotional well-being. The belief that the bicycle really could fix all of our problems, whatever they are, creates an absolute vision that serves bicycle campaigning with both a practical roadmap and a religious zeal. It’s easier to build a utopia if you can imagine what it looks like, even if the only detail in that image is plenty of bikes.

The necessity of walking the talk is also paramount, and international cycling groups have exemplified much of what is required in smart, successful campaigning: Point to positive examples elsewhere, create healthy competition between nations and cities, get media visibility, don’t indulge rivalry between groups in the same movement, share knowledge, make politicians aware, hound them where they do not acknowledge you and praise them where they do, reply to consultations, write letters, propose visions. In short — be busy. Cycling has the added bonus of creating its own tribe — cyclists — and a value system is always at its strongest where it resides in the shared form of a community, rather than in potentially atomized, isolated individuals.

This inclusivity and action has had a tendency to filter upwards, making it possible to put ideals into practice. Female politicians have been instrumental in pushing through transport changes to the good of cycling: Anne Hidalgo has made Paris a leading light of the movement, Janette Sadik-Khan (no relation to London’s mayor) bossed Bloomberg’s transport policy, and Val Shawcross has been stalwart in London’s pro-bike changes.

The consistent thread in all of this is one of bicycles as a solution; an idea that can open those ghettos that form when busy roads segregate public space. It is not a combative form of transportation, but rather one that is well suited to pulling down the walls between groups and breathing air into the places where hostile politics fester.

Much of this can help in forming templates for how the politically vulnerable ideas and minorities of this world can now fortify themselves — designing transport to relegate motor traffic and prioritize humans and human interaction is only a metaphor for a broader struggle getting underway. Coats, though talking of bicycles in Rwanda, has words that are global in their relevance: “What I love about cycling is that it’s a sport that can cut through ethnic divisions, country conflict, and help overcome social and cultural stigma.”

In sympathy with this, the bicycle offers a pace of travel that is itself an incitation to patience. Change happens slowly, and you will more likely win a war by converting an opponent than defeating them. Huppert recalls how campaigners once struggled to get cycling issues into Parliament, but after a debate was scheduled and attracted a packed house in September 2013, it became easier to secure funding and changes further down the line.

Una publicación compartida de Colleen Lidz (@klidz) el 21 de Sep de 2014 a la(s) 11:09 PDT

Linke describes São Paulo’s eventual embrace of its bicycle infrastructure as evidence for the same gradual acceptance. “Public opinion changed significantly since the start, when the media voiced several criticisms, amplifying problems and making the population go against the program,” she says. “In the beginning, critics simply denied the possibility of bikes in São Paulo — saying that ‘bikes are good for Amsterdam, but they don’t fit in São Paulo.’”

Clear in Linke’s reflection, however, is a desire to welcome rather than punish those slow to come around to her way of thinking. “As the network moved forward and started to show new cyclists on the road, the main criticisms moved their focus from, ‘We don’t want bike lanes’ to ‘These bike lanes are not so good, we want better ones,’” she explains. “The media support changed along with the population’s support towards the bike lane program.”

Against a backdrop of social media burnout, and the unsettling capacity of the internet to create multiple realities, the fake-news furor of the 2016 U.S. presidential election seemed a high watermark for the feeling that the delicate bonds that secure human empathy are under threat.

As Donald Trump makes and unmakes both his promises and insults, playing fast and loose with facts along the way, the concept of gaslighting has been popularized as a term used to describe a process of taking control of a subject by making targets question their own memories, perceptions, and even sanity. Gaslighting is done through chicanery and contradiction, conjecture and non sequitur, rather than outright opposition.

But if gaslighting’s purpose is to unhinge people from their sense of self, cycling as a form of transport is the opposite, an antidote. It offers space to think. To ride is a small act of self-affirmation. I cycle, therefore I am; I am pedaling, I move forward, I feel the wind on my skin.

The word “transport,” unpacked to its etymology, means literally “across doors.” It represents the gray area between home and work, lived realities that we strive constantly to control. Transport is very often the thing that happens while we are making other plans.

As concern for the state of our public discourse begins to mount, as we rue our inability to communicate across divides that seem very new and needlessly wide, perhaps the humble bicycle, a transportation mode that puts people in contact with one another and gives them back that control they seem to crave, offers a unique opportunity to remake those realities for the better.

This piece was originally published at How We Get To Next and is reposted here with permission.

Some rights reserved Licence Creative Commons

TODAY IS THE UN International Day of Human Space Flight. It’s also the 56th anniversary of the first human going into space. On April 12, 1961, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gargarin launched into space, becoming the first human to leave our atmosphere. Since then, hundreds of people have been in space, but it still remains mostly untouched by humans.

That seems to be on the brink of changing: next year, SpaceX will take paying tourists around the dark side of the moon, a place no one has been since Apollo 13. And there’s an okay chance that, in the not-too-far-off future, humans will land on Mars.

In honor of the day, we plunged into the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Flickr account. It is one of the coolest photo pages on the internet, so we’ve selected a handful to share in honor of space flight. With any luck, we’ll get to see these sights for ourselves someday. 1

Mergui Archipelago

In the southernmost reaches of Burma (Myanmar), along the border with Thailand, lies the Mergui Archipelago. The archipelago in the Andaman Sea is made up of more than 800 islands surrounded by extensive coral reefs. All photos and captions by The NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

2

Hubble reveals heart of Lagoon Nebula

A spectacular new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image reveals the heart of the Lagoon Nebula. Seen as a massive cloud of glowing dust and gas, bombarded by the energetic radiation of new stars, this placid name hides a dramatic reality. The Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) on the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has captured a dramatic view of gas and dust sculpted by intense radiation from hot young stars deep in the heart of the Lagoon Nebula (Messier 8). This spectacular object is named after the wide, lagoon-shaped dust lane that crosses the glowing gas of the nebula.

3

Fires on Madeira Island

Smoke from several large fires burning on Portugal's Madeira Island were seen blowing over the Atlantic Ocean on Aug. 10 when NASA's Terra satellite passed overhead. Madeira is an archipelago of four islands located off the northwest coast of Africa. They are an autonomous region of Portugal. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this natural-color image at 8:25 a.m. EDT (12:05 UTC). Places where MODIS detected active fire are located in red.

Intermission

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Sponsored 4

Cyclones across the Pacific

This GOES-West satellite image shows four tropical cyclones in the North Western, Central and Eastern Pacific Ocean on September 1, 2015. In the Western Pacific (far left) is Typhoon Kilo. Moving east (to the right) into the Central Pacific is Hurricane Ignacio (just east of Hawaii), and Hurricane Jimena. The eastern-most storm is Tropical Depression 14E in the Eastern Pacific.

5

A cosmic megamaser

This galaxy has a far more exciting and futuristic classification than most — it hosts a megamaser. Megamasers are intensely bright, around 100 million times brighter than the masers found in galaxies like the Milky Way. The entire galaxy essentially acts as an astronomical laser that beams out microwave emission rather than visible light (hence the ‘m’ replacing the ‘l’).

6

Hurricane Joaquin

Major Hurricane Joaquin is shown at the far eastern periphery of the GOES West satellite's full disk extent, taken at 1200Z on October 1, 2015.

7

Seaweed

Though the above image may resemble a new age painting straight out of an art gallery in Venice Beach, California, it is in fact a satellite image of the sands and seaweed in the Bahamas. The image was taken by the Enhanced Thematic Mapper plus (ETM+) instrument aboard the Landsat 7 satellite. Tides and ocean currents in the Bahamas sculpted the sand and seaweed beds into these multicolored, fluted patterns in much the same way that winds sculpted the vast sand dunes in the Sahara Desert.

8

Sea Ice in Greenland

The MODIS instrument on NASA's Aqua satellite captured this visible image of Sea Ice off eastern Greenland on October 16, 2012.

9

The US covered in snow

NOAA's GOES-East satellite provided a look at the frigid eastern two-thirds of the U.S. on Jan. 7, 2015, that shows a blanket of northern snow, lake-effect snow from the Great Lakes and clouds behind the Arctic cold front.

Intermission

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10

Liege, Belgium

A nighttime view of Liege, Belgium is featured in this image photographed by an Expedition 34 crew member on the International Space Station.

11

Jupiter up close

At about 89,000 miles in diameter, Jupiter could swallow 1,000 Earths. It is the largest planet in the solar system and perhaps the most majestic. Vibrant bands of clouds carried by winds that can exceed 400 mph continuously circle the planet's atmosphere. Such winds sustain spinning anticyclones like the Great Red Spot—a raging storm three and a half times the size of Earth located in Jupiter’s southern hemisphere. In January and February 1979, NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft zoomed toward Jupiter, capturing hundreds of images during its approach. The observations revealed many unique features of the planet that are still being explored to this day.

12

Earthrise

View of the crescent Earth rising above the lunar horizon over the Ritz Crater. Image taken during the Apollo 17 mission on Revolution 66.

13

Bubble Nebula

“As Hubble makes its 26th revolution around our home star, the sun, we celebrate the event with a spectacular image of a dynamic and exciting interaction of a young star with its environment. The view of the Bubble Nebula, crafted from WFC-3 images, reminds us that Hubble gives us a front row seat to the awe inspiring universe we live in,” said John Grunsfeld, Hubble astronaut and associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, in Washington, D.C. The Bubble Nebula is seven light-years across—about one-and-a-half times the distance from our sun to its nearest stellar neighbor, Alpha Centauri, and resides 7,100 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cassiopeia.

14

Volcanic plumes over Mt. Etna

Twin volcanic plumes—one of ash, one of gas—rose from Sicily’ Mount Etna on the morning of October 26, 2013.

15

Canyonlands

The desert southwest US is a showcase of geology. Canyonlands National Park in SE Utah is one such example. In this image, the Colorado River in the upper left corner forms the border of an area of outcrops of Permian (~280 million years old) Cedar Mesa Sandstone. Nearest the river, a series of arcuate faults has created a landscape of extremely narrow valleys. Further east a tributary of the Colorado has eroded the landscape into intricate feather-like drainage patterns.

16

Typhoon Haiyan

Typhoon Haiyan approaching the Philippines

17

Greece

Earth observation views taken from the space shuttle orbiter Atlantis during STS-84 mission.

18

The Orion Nebula

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has helped astronomers find the final piece of a celestial puzzle by nabbing a third runaway star. As British royal families fought the War of the Roses in the 1400s for control of England's throne, a grouping of stars was waging its own contentious skirmish — a star war far away in the Orion Nebula. The stars were battling each other in a gravitational tussle, which ended with the system breaking apart and at least three stars being ejected in different directions. The speedy, wayward stars went unnoticed for hundreds of years until, over the past few decades, two of them were spotted in infrared and radio observations, which could penetrate the thick dust in the Orion Nebula.

19

Van Gogh from space

In the style of Van Gogh's painting "Starry Night," massive congregations of greenish phytoplankton swirl in the dark water around Gotland, a Swedish island in the Baltic Sea. Phytoplankton are microscopic marine plants that form the first link in nearly all ocean food chains. Population explosions, or blooms, of phytoplankton, like the one shown here, occur when deep currents bring nutrients up to sunlit surface waters, fueling the growth and reproduction of these tiny plants.

20

Empty Quarter

White pinpricks of cloud cast ebony shadows on the Rub' al Khali, or Empty Quarter, near the border between Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The lines of wind-sculpted sand are characteristic of immense sand deserts, or sand seas, and the Rub' al Khali is the largest desert of this type in the world. A highland ridge is just high enough to disturb the flow of the lines. In the center of that interruption lies the Saudi Arabian town of Sharurah.

21

The Mississippi

Small, blocky shapes of towns, fields, and pastures surround the graceful swirls and whorls of the Mississippi River. Countless oxbow lakes and cutoffs accompany the meandering river south of Memphis, Tennessee, on the border between Arkansas and Mississippi, USA. The "mighty Mississippi" is the largest river system in North America.

22

Cloud vortices

Cloud vortices off Heard Island, south Indian Ocean.

23

Hubble Sees Monstrous Cloud Boomerang Back to our Galaxy

Hubble Space Telescope astronomers are finding that the old adage “what goes up must come down” even applies to an immense cloud of hydrogen gas outside our Milky Way galaxy. The invisible cloud is plummeting toward our galaxy at nearly 700,000 miles per hour. Though hundreds of enormous, high-velocity gas clouds whiz around the outskirts of our galaxy, this so-called “Smith Cloud” is unique because its trajectory is well known. New Hubble observations suggest it was launched from the outer regions of the galactic disk, around 70 million years ago. The cloud was discovered in the early 1960s by doctoral astronomy student Gail Smith, who detected the radio waves emitted by its hydrogen. This composite image shows the size and location of the Smith Cloud on the sky. The cloud appears in false-color, radio wavelengths as observed by the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia. The visible-light image of the background star field shows the cloud's location in the direction of the constellation Aquila.

You can follow the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center for more pics on Facebook here or on Twitter here

ALTHOUGH LGBTQ+ rights have progressed tremendously in the past few years with the legalization of same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption in many countries, there is still a lot to be done to achieve complete equality and erase discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals around the world.

Equaldex, a collaborative LGBT knowledge base, has put together these maps about the state of LGBTQ+ rights and the improvements or retrogressions some countries are going through.

Homosexual activity

It is uplifting to see that the map below is predominantly green, but it is also incredibly disturbing to think that there are still countries that punish homosexual activity by death (Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, Mauritania) or imprisonment.

LGBTQ+ rights

Map: Equaldex

Marriage

Please note that since the map has last been updated, Finland has legalized same-sex marriage (on March 1st, 2017).

LGBTQ+ rights

Map: Equaldex

Changing gender

For some transgender individuals, the legal recognition of sex reassignment on their birth certificate is an important step in their transition and their acceptance. In some countries, it is legal without the need for surgery, while in others it is legal only after surgery to feminize or masculinize the body. Changing gender is completely illegal in some countries such as Peru, Namibia, the Philippines, etc.

LGBTQ+ rights

Map: Equaldex

Adoption

Please note that since the map has last been updated, Finland has legalized same-sex adoption (on March 1st, 2017).

LGBTQ+ rights

Map: Equaldex

Discrimination

We’d like to see this map entirely covered in green but, alas, we’re still far from a global prohibition of discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

LGBTQ+ rights

Map: Equaldex

Conversion therapy

Conversion therapy is a dangerous practice that falsely claims to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity using psychological treatment, spiritual counselling, and sometimes electroshock therapy and other forms of mental and physical torture. Conversion therapy has been proven ineffective and often drives people to depression, anxiety, drug use, or suicide. LGBTQ+ rights

Map: Equaldex

For more details about each nation’s laws regarding LGBTQ+ rights, please click on the country you are interested in here.

More like this: Being gay is still illegal in 76 countries, but that doesn’t stop us from traveling

THERE’S NO TYPE OF TRAVEL more liberating than the road trip. When you go on a road trip, you can stop anywhere. You can take unlimited detours, you can discover new things, and you can intentionally get lost. But which countries are the most affordable for road trippers? Insurance 4 Car Hire did the math: including gas and a daily car rental, Norway is the most expensive country to road trip in. Saudi Arabia is the cheapest. Check it out. road-tripping

Infographic by Insurance 4 Car Hire

The World Economic Forum (WEF) Travel and Tourism and Competitiveness Report was recently published. It shows the most expensive and cheapest places to travel in the world. The report covers the role travel and tourism plays in economies, an analysis of the industry’s sustained growth, work being done to preserve and protect local communities and the environment, and more. One of the most interesting sections of the report was the information on the top countries in the world for price competitiveness.

Here are the 20 cheapest places to travel to right now, according to the WEF Report.

Editor’s note: These spots are all taken directly from travelstoke®, a new app from Matador that connects you with fellow travelers and locals, and helps you build trip itineraries with spots that integrate seamlessly into Google Maps and Uber. Download the app to add any of the spots below directly to your future trips.

1. Iran

 Zoroastrian Towers of SilenceYazd, Iran#Zoroastrian #dakhma or Tower of Silence on the outskirts of #Yazd in #Iran. Believing a dead body was unclean and would pollute the soil, the Zoroastrians placed bodies at the top of this tower and exposed to the sun and vultures instead of being buried in the ground.

2. Egypt

 Cairo EgyptAl Fagalah, EgyptOne of Thé most unforgetable times having an hour long trip on camel at desert near Pyramids was excellent #history#ancienttimes

3. Malaysia

 Perdana Botanical GardensKuala Lumpur, MalaysiaPetrona Towers, impressive skyscraper.

4. Algeria

Sahara Desert, Tassili N

Photo: Dmitry Pichugin

5. Indonesia

 Dusun BambuCihanjuang Rahayu, IndonesiaWonderful nature

6. Bhutan

 Uma ParoParo, BhutanThey will take a little rice to clean their eating hand and put it on the ground . Then will proceed to eat . All ending eating at the same time . Great to watch . Ceremony like ! # lunch time # Bhutan # outdoors # travel photography

7. Yemen

Rock Palace de Csilla Zelko en 500px.com

Photo: Csilla Zelko

8. Kazakhstan

Big Almaty lake on december. Water, ice, mountains and snow. de Roman Barelko en 500px.com

Photo: Roman Barelko

9. Tunisia

Shades of White. Sidi Bou Saïd. de Bérenger Zyla en 500px.com

Photo: Berenger Zyla

10. India

 CHANDNI CHOWKGhaziabad, IndiaThis is my favorite #market . So life you can get all you need. This market design by Jahannara, princesses of mugal empire, daughter of shah Jahan . #clothes #souvenirs #bargins #cheap-eats #coffee

11. Russia

 Moscow MetroMoskva, RussiaCheck out some metro stations of 1930s – 1950s for the bronze statues, mosaics and marble colonnades.

12. Qatar

City Center de Jurics Caba en 500px.com

Photo: Jurics Caba

13. Botswana

Elephant Herd close-up on Chobe river de Vincent Andrews en 500px.com

Photo: Vincent Andrews

14. Laos

 Patuxay MonumentVientiane, LaosCool war monument dedicated to the people who fought for independence from France. You can go to the top and have a great view of the city. #history

15. Mongolia

the Camel Centipede de Coolbiere. A. en 500px.com

Photo: Coolbiere

16. Guatemala

 AntiguaAntigua Guatemala, GuatemalaStreet vendors on their way to set up at the Market

17. Saudi Arabia

Infinite de Kareem Alahdab en 500px.com

Photo: Kareem Alahdad

18. Thailand

 Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn)Bangkok, ThailandThis #temple build by porselen. Beautiful and shine temple. Must visit

19. Nepal

 BouddhatanathKathmandu, Nepal#temple #buddhism

20. Sri Lanka

 Seema MalakaColombo, Sri Lanka

A ban implemented by the United States on laptops and tablets being carried in cabins on flights from certain countries may soon be extended to include services from the UK and Europe to the US.

European and American officials are preparing to discuss the new rules, which apply to electronic gadgets larger than a smartphone.

Which devices are banned

Security concerns led to the US banning the devices from cabins on flights from a number of Middle Eastern countries in March.

A similar British ban that followed applies to flights to the UK from six countries: Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Tunisia.

International airports affected by electronics ban

Here are 10 reasons why banishing laptops to the hold is a bad idea.

1. Lithium batteries can ignite and cause a fire

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), which is responsible for safe flying in 32 countries, states that personal electronic devices (PED) carry a fire risk due to their lithium batteries.

E-cigarettes are also powered by lithium batteries and are already prohibited from checked baggage by both the US Department of Transportation and the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority due to their volatility.

"As the range of products using batteries grows, the potential for in-flight issues increases," said the Australian Transport Safety Bureau recently, following an incident where the batteries in a woman’s headphones caught fire.

secrets of air travel

2. There is a greater risk of a fire going unnoticed in the hold

"If laptops do pose a threat, they shouldn’t be anywhere on aircraft, not just in the hold," security expert Philip Baum told Telegraph Travel.

The EASA has recommended that personal electronic devices should preferably be carried inside passenger cabins so that any problems could be identified and dealt with. It warned: "When the carriage of PEDs in the cabin is not allowed, it leads to a significant increase of the number of PEDs in the cargo compartment. Certain precautions should therefore be observed to mitigate the risk of accidental fire in the cargo hold."

"Even if lithium-ion batteries are put in checked luggage, there is still a fire risk associated with them," agreed Mike Zimmerman, CEO and Founder of Ionic Materials, a company that develops battery materials. "In fact, having people pack electronic devices in checked bags could prove to be more harmful than allowing passengers to carry them on the plane, since there would be no way to extinguish a fire in the cargo hold."

Laurie Price, former Aviation Advisor to the Transport Select Committee and a private pilot, told the Independent: "We have had numerous incidents of devices with lithium batteries suddenly bursting into flames. If that is in the aircraft cabin, it can be dealt with. If in the aircraft hold, the fire-suppression systems are unlikely to be able to contain it and there is a lot of material to exacerbate such fires including other baggage, the aircraft structure, fuel and systems in an area which is inaccessible in flight. The consequences could be catastrophic."

3. Switching devices off won’t help either

Terrorists - or in fact anyone - can very simply programme their laptop to "wake up" at a certain time, making attempts by security staff to ensure that devices are switched off when put in the hold pointless.

worlds best airports

4. Queues at airports might grow

Heathrow Airport in particular is likely to be affected by increased security checks, as it’s here that many flights to the US depart from, with New York being one of the airport's most popular destinations. If every US-bound flight ends up requiring extra checks, passengers appear likely to spend longer queuing at the airport.

Top 10 | UK’s busiest airports

5. The ban could spark a rise in air rage

Baum believes the additional security restrictions could increase the number of unruly passengers on flights. He added: "What we should be doing is concentrating more on people’s behaviour and negative intent rather than just adding more and more items to prohibitive lists, especially if they pose no threat."

While he does not support the ban, he warned that the measures now need to be followed through. "If you don’t implement the security controls, it’s even more ridiculous. The only people who will suffer will be law-abiding citizens," he said. "Traditionally it’s very hard to retract measures that are put in place, but God forbid this should become the international standard."

The ban could spark a rise in air rageThe ban could spark a rise in air rageCredit:Kurganov Aleksandr +79033161409/Aleksandr Kurganov

6. Insurance cover for gadgets might be invalidated

Thousands of travellers face having insurance cover for their expensive gadgets invalidated by the ban, though many companies have now rushed to update the policies they offer to include damage to, or the loss of, items placed in the hold.

Air passengers are advised to check with their insurance company before they travel and ask specifically whether their current policy covers them for items carried in the hold. If not, they can ask about an “extension, or a policy that does.

7. Business travellers might be dissuaded from flying

If they can’t work on a flight, business travellers - whose fares are mostly paid for by their employers - may end up flying less.

This in turn might have a serious negative impact on transatlantic travel, suggested a spokeswoman for travel booking company Travelzoo.

"This time last year, nearly 20 per cent of all visits in May from the UK to the US were business related," she added. "According to reports business travellers spent $293 billion dollars in the US last year, $47 billion more than was contributed by tourists visiting the country."

Business travellers might be dissuaded from flyingBusiness travellers might be dissuaded from flyingCredit:Getty/Jason Dewey

8. Others might also be put off travelling

A recent poll from Holiday Extras suggested that more than a third of Britons questioned would reconsider their flight plans if they were forced to be without their devices during the journey. Almost a fifth of those surveyed (18 per cent) said that concerns about the safety of their devices would stop them from flying.

9. Falling income might make airlines put up fares

"If fewer people - especially business people - travelled as a result of a laptop ban, then it is possible that it might eventually lead to higher fares or a reduction in services," said Nick Trend, our consumer advice expert.

"But obviously, it would entirely depend on the extent of the fall in passenger numbers. And it's worth remembering that the impact on airlines and fares would be far greater if an aircraft was actually brought down by a laptop bomb operated by a passenger."

Could higher airfares be the final result?Could higher airfares be the final result?Credit:www.alamy.com/Shih-Hao Liao / Alamy Stock Photo

10. Free airline laptops carry their own risks

Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways have found a way around the ban, for business-class passengers at least, and have been lending them laptops for free as they board. Both also reduced the cost of their Wi-Fi on board.

However, as a Travelzoo spokeswoman noted: "This is not a long term solution and poses many issues for travellers, and their businesses, around data protection and security."

There is some doubt also as to whether carriers affected by the UK restrictions will follow suit and offer devices to passengers.

We contacted several carriers, including British Airways and Thomas Cook, but none could confirm whether free iPads or laptops were on the cards.

Best of | Travel Truths

There is one airline in the world set to quintuple the size of its fleet, ordering more aircraft in one go than any other carrier on the planet - but up until last year it was forbidden from flying over Europe.

Lion Air, a budget Indonesian operation that flies predominantly in and around South-east Asia, has 443 aircraft on order, to add to its current stock of 113. American Airlines, the world’s largest airline, has just 285 on order.

This week, Boeing will deliver its first ever 737 Max to Lion Air, the largest single buyer of the manufacturer’s new super efficient jetliner, as the low-cost carrier looks to expand at an aggressive pace. In November 2011, Lion Air placed a record order with Boeing, worth $22billion, surpassing Emirates’ previous high, for some 29 737-900s and 201 new 737 Maxs. It also has orders placed with Airbus for A330-300s.

In numbers | Who's ordering the most planes?

Previous to this however, in July 2007, the airline had been banned - along with a number of other Indonesian airlines - from operating in European airspace because of concerns over a lack of regulation from the country’s aviation authority. The restriction was only lifted in June last year.

Lion Air, which flies to 126 destinations in Indonesia, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and China, is Asia’s second largest airline, behind Tony Fernandes’ AirAsia, but the carrier is working hard to take the top spot.

Lion Air has taken order of its first Boeing Max 737Lion Air has taken order of its first Boeing Max 737Credit:Credit: Niall Ferguson / Alamy Stock Photo/Niall Ferguson / Alamy Stock Photo

“Most [of its] services are domestic, operating to over 100 destinations in Indonesia alone, but they are expanding into international markets,” said John Grant, a senior analyst at OAG, which produced a report on the orders of the world’s top carriers.

“What is perhaps most interesting is that, generally, outside of Indonesia there is little awareness of how large Lion Air is and the impressive growth they’ve had over the last seven years.

The world's safest - and least safe - airlines revealed

“This is a large aircraft order, but follows the trend we’ve seen in other emerging markets in the last few years, as carriers seek to ensure that they have capacity coming into the market to accommodate growth.

“For Lion Air, this order reflects the fact that Indonesia is one of the fastest growing markets in air travel. Both the B737 and A320 are very popular aircrafts, so securing places on the production schedule and placing such large orders is consistent with their ambition, the market growth and the aircraft demand.”

Founded in 1999, in the last seven years Lion Air has nearly doubled the number of seats it operates on its routes, from 25.1million to 48.7million. The average flying time between its destinations is just over an hour and a half.

Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, is one of Lion Air's basesJakarta, the Indonesian capital, is one of Lion Air's basesCredit:Credit: RooM the Agency / Alamy Stock Photo/RooM the Agency / Alamy Stock Photo

Though it has no plans to launch long-haul operations into Europe - unlike AirAsia - Lion Air still has grand ambitions. In an interview with the FT in 2015, owner Rusdi Kirana said that he had acquired 5,500 hectares of land outside Jakarta to build his own airport, as the city’s Soekarno-Hatta was running over capacity.

“The market is huge in Indonesia but we don’t have enough airport capacity,” he said. “We will face some delays from the bureaucracy but I’m quite optimistic the president will get involved if we have problems getting licences. That’s why I bought the land.”

Further evidence of Kirana’s slightly idiosyncratic approach to growing an airline is the township he had built outside of Jakarta to house his workforce. Dubbed Lion City, it boasts more than 150 dormitories and 1,500 housing units.

Best of | Travel Truths

SAUDI ARABIA Country Studies: A brief, comprehensive study of Saudi Arabia

CIA

A brief yet detailed report on the country of Saudi Arabia with updated information on the map, flag, history, people, economics, political conditions in government, foreign affairs, and U.S. relations.

Paramedic to the Prince: An American Paramedic's Account of Life Inside the Mysterious World of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Patrick (Tom) Notestine

A Californian paramedic answers an advertisement for contract work at a military hospital in Saudi Arabia. So his adventure begins. This is a riveting, factual account of his ten years inside a country seldom seen by the outside world. Working on the private medical staff of King Abdullah, no western writer has ever been this close to the "House of Saud". The author takes you on a journey from the desert camps of the Bedouin to the highest echelons of the Saudi royal family. From meetings between King Abdullah and Yasser Arafat to the death of Edi Amin the author documents it all. Themes explored include the contrast of cultures and the rise of terrorism in a post 9/11 world. The author's unique and often humorous perspective provides a view of Saudi society that has never before been documented by any other book in this genre. The author gives an important insight to events that continue to affect the world today.

Saudi Arabia - Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture

Nicolas Buchele

Culture Smart! provides essential information on attitudes, beliefs and behavior in different countries, ensuring that you arrive at your destination aware of basic manners, common courtesies, and sensitive issues. These concise guides tell you what to expect, how to behave, and how to establish a rapport with your hosts. This inside knowledge will enable you to steer clear of embarrassing gaffes and mistakes, feel confident in unfamiliar situations, and develop trust, friendships, and successful business relationships. Culture Smart! offers illuminating insights into the culture and society of a particular country. It will help you to turn your visit-whether on business or for pleasure-into a memorable and enriching experience. Contents include: * customs, values, and traditions * historical, religious, and political background * life at home * leisure, social, and cultural life * eating and drinking * do's, don'ts, and taboos * business practices * communication, spoken and unspoken

Secrets Behind the Veil: Memoirs of an Expatriate Woman in Saudi Arabia

Ludmilla

Since the first coalition war with Iraq in 1990, the Middle East, specifically the largely inaccessible country of Saudi Arabia, has been the focus of intense media exposure and public interest. As an expatriate western woman working as director of nursing for a major hospital in Riyadh from 1995 through 2001, Ludmilla captures the reality of surviving as a woman in Saudi Arabia, where women’s rights are not a high priority or even a consideration You may have heard about the plight of women in this Kingdom, but now you can experience the reality through the words of someone who lived it day to day. Secrets Behind the Veil takes an uncompromising look at the realities of life in a strictly Islamic society, delving into every aspect of daily life while managing the restrictions imposed by Saudi society. From women spending time in jail for riding in the front seat of a taxi or the constant risk of getting blown up by a car bomb, life in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia involves a great deal of culture shock for westerners, in particular western women. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of the major oil producing countries in the world. The King and his brothers, along with a large number of extended family members, rule the country in such a manner that allows the average person a relatively affluent lifestyle.By most definitions Saudi is a “man’s country” where women are not allowed to drive a vehicle or ride a bicycle, must wear a full length black body covering, a scarf and full or partial veil covering the face. Men and women are discouraged from socializing together in any way unless they are related to each other. Most homes have two separate living rooms for this purpose.We hear generalized, global information about the Saudi culture, religion and traditions, while at the same time not internalizing the actual impact this has on the women who live there and the misfortunes born upon them through this ultra-restrictive culture. Should the Western World care about their plight or any forms of mental or physical torture they must endure?Many expatriates (people living in the kingdom for the purposes of work, but not Saudi citizens themselves) of different nationalities and religions were required to live and work together in a Kingdom where the belief in only Islam was accepted. The Religious Enlightenment Officers (Mutawa) were intolerant of and persecuted any person who was not following the laws, rules and customs of the Kingdom. Secrets Behind the Veil takes not a glance, but rather an uncompromising and persistent gaze behind the veil, exposing beauty, hypocrisy, misogynistic behavior, and vast cultural differences present for those who chose to live and work in Saudi Arabia.

The Bro Code of Saudi Culture: 300 Rules on how the Human Body should Act Inside Arabia

Abdul Al Lily

Every culture is governed by an internal code of conduct, and this publication offers the first written code of Saudi culture. The Saudi way of being has long been an oral tradition passed merely verbally from one generation to the next, despite its power to regulate every aspect of public and private lives. Most Saudi norms and values have long been unwritten and only orally communicated among Saudis. As a result, visitors to Saudi Arabia have been unable to read about Saudi norms and values. For this reason, this book spells out Saudi norms and values in bold print, recording the Saudi code of conduct and displaying it in a published format. It displays 2222 tweet-sized (often previously unrecorded) explanations of how the human body acts inside Saudi Arabia. It covers everything from top to bottom; the face, eyes, ears, mouth, waist, genitals and extremities. It is the product of close observations of everyday activities and around 2,000 interviews with nationals and residents, over the past five years. This book is the first to talk about Saudi culture in a purely descriptive (and thus non-judgemental and unbiased) manner. It is the first to present Saudi values and norms in the form of a bullet-pointed list and in tweet-sized explanations. It is the first to be written by a male Saudi who was born and raised in Saudi Arabia, who is still based in this country, who is a former officially-recognised imam and who comes from a working-class family—yet he is a backpacker, is married to a non-Saudi, non-Arab and non-Muslim European, studied in Oxford, published with the largest international academic publishers and hence has the ability to communicate with foreign mentalities. Books about Saudi culture tend to be too serious; however, this book is not meant to be taken too seriously. The book is intended to be entertaining and humorous (and surely informative). It avoids the use of the words ‘religion’ and ‘politics’ because of two main reasons. First, these two words are sensitive (and serious). Second, the book is purely cultural and written entirely for the sake of cultural exchange (not for religious or political matters). This book is unbiased, exposing both negative and positive practices in Saudi society. Many Saudi readers of the book have criticised the author for not trying to invite (through and in the book) non-Muslim readers to Islam. Yet, this book is written purely for the sake of cultural exchange (not for religious reasons), with no religious or political agendas.

Saudi Arabia (Lonely Planet Saudi Arabia)

Anthony Ham

This Lonely Planet guidebook takes an in-depth look at Saudi culture, history and politics, and includes a special section for expatriate workers as well as detailed information for pilgrims on the Hajj.

Culture Shock! Saudi Arabia: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette (Culture Shock! Guides)

Peter North

Culture Shock! Saudi Arabia: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette (Culture Shock! Guides)

Working and Living in Saudi Arabia

Grace Edwards

‘Working and Living in Saudi Arabia’ provides valuable cultural and practical business information necessary for all professionals working and travelling to Saudi Arabia, including those who may be working and living in other Middle East countries. It also addresses the many changes and opportunities of particular interest to businesswomen and for men who will be working with women, both Saudi and expatriate.

Essential reading for all business executives working in Saudi Arabia.

Exercise a high degree of caution

The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The purpose of this Travel Advice is to provide up-to-date information to enable you to make well-informed decisions.

Terrorism

There is a terrorist threat throughout Saudi Arabia. Although no attacks have occurred since 2009, reports emerge periodically that terrorists plan to attack specific locations. These are typically accompanied by a visible increase in the presence of security forces. Targets could include government buildings, public areas, areas frequented by tourists and Western interests. Heightened security measures are currently in place and may be reinforced on short notice.

Security incidents occur in the southern province of Jizan, near the Yemeni border.

Maintain a high level of vigilance and personal security awareness at all times. Register with and carefully follow messages issued through the Registration of Canadians Abroad service.

Kidnapping

There is a general threat of kidnapping in Saudi Arabia. Maintain a high level of vigilance at all times.

Demonstrations

Demonstrations, although illegal in Saudi Arabia, have been occurring more frequently since 2011 and have the potential to suddenly turn violent. They can also lead to significant disruptions to traffic and public transportation. Avoid all demonstrations and large gatherings, follow the advice of local authorities and monitor local media.

Crime

The crime rate is low. Petty crime, such as pickpocketing and purse snatching, occurs, especially in crowded areas and at holy sites. To reduce the likelihood of becoming a victim, do not show signs of affluence and ensure that your personal belongings and passports and other travel documents are secure at all times.

Women’s safety

Assaults against foreign women have occurred recently. Consult our publication entitled Her Own Way: A Woman’s Safe-Travel Guide for travel safety information for Canadian women.

Consult Laws & Culture for more information.

Road travel

Saudi Arabia is one of the most dangerous places to drive because of poor driving habits, a complete disregard for traffic laws and road markings, and excessive speed—which are all common causes of accidents. Only use pre-arranged, licensed taxis. Avoid shared or service taxis.

If you are involved in an accident, do not disturb the scene until the traffic patrol arrives, do not make any financial arrangement with the other drivers and immediately contact your visa sponsor and the Canadian Embassy in Riyadh or the Consulate of Canada in Jeddah. In a traffic accident resulting in personal injury, regardless of fault, drivers may be held for several days until responsibility is determined and restitution is made. If severe injuries or death occur, compensation must be paid to the family for the injuries or loss of life.

Some Saudi cities have implemented an automated traffic ticketing system. All fines issued through this system must be paid before leaving the country. Payment can be made at the airport during regular Saudi office hours.

Do not drive off-road unless you are in a convoy of four-wheel-drive vehicles and with an experienced guide. Ensure you are well prepared with a sufficient supply of gasoline, water and food, and a cell phone. Leave your travel itinerary with a relative or friend.

Sea travel

Exercise caution if travelling by sea, including for recreational purposes, in the Persian Gulf, particularly around the disputed islands of Abu Musa and Tunbs. Iran and the United Arab Emirates each claim sovereignty over the islands.

Pirate attacks occur in coastal waters and, in some cases, farther out at sea. Mariners should take appropriate precautions. For additional information, consult the Live Piracy Report published by the International Chamber of Commerce.

Air travel

Consult our Transportation Safety page in order to verify if national airlines meet safety standards.

General safety information

Carry identification documents, including your residency permit (iqama), at all times. Leave your passport in a safe place and carry a photocopy for identification purposes.

If you are stopped by the Mutawa (Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice); consult the Laws & Culture tab for more information), offer to accompany them to the nearest police station and do not hand over identification documents. Inform your sponsors if the police retain your documents.

Emergency services

Dial 999 for police, 998 for firefighters and 997 for an ambulance.

Health

Related Travel Health Notices
Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.
Vaccines

Routine Vaccines

Be sure that your routine vaccines are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.

Vaccines to Consider

You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health provider about which ones are right for you.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver spread by contaminated food or water. All those travelling to regions with a risk of hepatitis A infection should get vaccinated.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.

Influenza

Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or through personal contact with unwashed hands. Get the flu shot.

Measles

Measles occurs worldwide but is a common disease in developing countries, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. Measles is a highly contagious disease. Be sure your vaccination against measles is up-to-date regardless of the travel destination.
 

Meningitis, Hajj and Umrah requirement

Meningococcal disease (meningitis) is a serious and sometimes fatal infection of the tissue around the brain and the spinal cord. Crowded events or mass gatherings increase risk of transmission. Vaccination against four strains of bacteria that cause meningococcal disease is required by the Saudi Arabian government to participate in the Hajj and Umrah.

Polio, Hajj requirement

Travellers must be vaccinated against polio to participate in the Hajj. (Proof of vaccination is required for all those attending the Hajj when entering Saudi Arabia.)

Rabies

Rabies is a disease that attacks the central nervous system spread to humans through a bite, scratch or lick from a rabid animal. Vaccination should be considered for travellers going to areas where rabies exists and who have a high risk of exposure (i.e., close contact with animals, occupational risk, and children).

Typhoid

Typhoid is a bacterial infection spread by contaminated food or water. Risk is higher among travellers going to rural areas, visiting friends and relatives, or with weakened immune systems. Travellers visiting regions with typhoid risk, especially those exposed to places with poor sanitation should consider getting vaccinated.

Yellow Fever Vaccination

Yellow fever is a disease caused by the bite of an infected mosquito.

Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.

* It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.
Risk
  • There is no risk of yellow fever in this country.
Country Entry Requirement*
  • Proof of yellow fever vaccination is required if you are coming from a country where yellow fever occurs.
Recommendation
  • Vaccination is not recommended.
  • Discuss travel plans, activities, and destinations with a health care provider.
Food/Water

Food and Water-borne Diseases

Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers' diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.

In some areas in Western Asia, food and water can also carry diseases like cholera, hepatitis A, schistosomiasis and typhoid. Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in Western Asia. Remember: Boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!

Schistosomiasis

Schistosomiasis is caused by blood flukes (tiny worms) spread to humans through contaminated water. The eggs of the worms can cause stomach illnesses like diarrhea and cramps or urinary problems. Risk is generally low for most travellers. Avoid swimming in contaminated water. There is no vaccine available for schistosomiasis.


Insects

Insects and Illness

In some areas in Western Asia, certain insects carry and spread diseases like chikungunya, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, dengue fever, leishmaniasis, malaria, Rift Valley fever, and West Nile virus.

Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.

Dengue fever
  • Dengue fever occurs in this country. Dengue fever is a viral disease that can cause severe flu-like symptoms. In some cases it leads to dengue haemorrhagic fever, which can be fatal.  
  • Mosquitoes carrying dengue bite during the daytime. They breed in standing water and are often found in urban areas.
  • Protect yourself from mosquito bites. There is no vaccine available for dengue fever.
Leishmaniasis, cutaneous and mucosal

Cutaneous and mucosal leishmaniasis causes skin sores and ulcers. It is caused by a parasite spread through the bite of a female sandfly. Risk is generally low for most travellers. Protect yourself from sandfly bites, which typically occur after sunset in rural and forested areas and in some urban centres. There is no vaccine available for leishmaniasis.


Malaria

Malaria

  • There is a risk of malaria in certain areas and/or during a certain time of year in this country.
  • Malaria is a serious and occasionally fatal disease that is spread by mosquitoes. There is no vaccine against malaria.
  • Protect yourself from mosquito bites. This includes covering up, using insect repellent and staying in well-screened, air-conditioned accommodations. You may also consider sleeping under an insecticide-treated bed net or pre-treating travel gear with insecticides.
  • Antimalarial medication may be recommended depending on your itinerary and the time of year you are travelling. See a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic, preferably six weeks before you travel to discuss your options.

Animals

Animals and Illness

Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, monkeys, snakes, rodents, birds, and bats. Certain infections found in some areas in Western Asia, like avian influenza and rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.


Person-to-Person

Person-to-Person Infections

Crowded conditions can increase your risk of certain illnesses. Remember to wash your hands often and practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette to avoid colds, the flu and other illnesses.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV are spread through blood and bodily fluids; practise safer sex.


Medical services and facilities

Medical services and facilities

Modern medical care is available in main cities. Adequate medical services are available in smaller cities. Immediate cash payment may be required.

Keep in Mind...

The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.

Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a travel health kit, especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.

You are subject to local laws. Consult our Arrest and Detention page for more information.

The work week is from Sunday to Thursday.

An International Driving Permit is required.

Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Mutawa)

The Mutawa, also known as the Religious Police, have been known to harass, pursue and assault foreigners who they perceive are disregarding strict Saudi standards of conduct and dress. Often, they will simply instruct women to cover their hair. The Mutawa carry special identification and are typically accompanied by a uniformed police officer. If you are stopped by the Mutawa, cooperate and ask them to verify their credentials.

Dress and behaviour

The country’s customs, laws and regulations adhere closely to Islamic practices and beliefs. Dress conservatively, behave discreetly and respect religious and social traditions in order to avoid offending local sensitivities, especially in holy cities (Mecca and Medina) and mosques.

Women should observe the strict Saudi dress code and wear conservative and loose-fitting clothes, including a full-length cloak (abbaya) and a head scarf. Men should not wear shorts in public or go without a shirt. Seek guidance concerning acceptable clothing before your arrival.

Women are not permitted to drive cars or ride bicycles. Women and men are not allowed to mingle in public unless the women are accompanied by other family members. A woman can be charged with prostitution if she is found associating with a man who is not a relative. Restaurants have two sections, one for men only and the family section where families, accompanied females and unaccompanied females are served. Consult our publication entitled Her Own Way: A Woman’s Safe-Travel Guide for travel safety information for Canadian women.

Illegal or restricted activities

Do not criticize the royal family or Islam.

Do not discuss political or religious issues.

Religious proselytizing is not permitted.

Common-law relationships, homosexual relations, adultery and prostitution are illegal and are subject to severe punishment, including the death penalty.

Avoid physical contact, such as holding hands, in public.

Dancing, music and movies are prohibited.

Imported and domestic audio-visual media and reading materials are censored.

Penalties for the import, manufacture, possession and consumption of alcohol, pork, illegal drugs or products containing their ingredients are severe. Saudi authorities practise zero tolerance and make no distinction with respect to soft or hard drugs, or between using and trafficking. Drug offenders are regularly sentenced to death.

It is forbidden to photograph official buildings (government, military institutions, etc.) and holy sites. Seek permission prior to photographing individuals.

Dual citizenship

Dual citizenship is not legally recognized, which may limit the ability of Canadian officials to provide consular services. You should travel using your Canadian passport and present yourself as Canadian to foreign authorities at all times. Consult our publication entitled Dual Citizenship: What You Need to Know for more information.

Family

Canadian women married to Saudi men and Canadians under 21 years of age with a Saudi father need the permission of the Saudi male head of the household to leave the country. Married women, no matter their husband’s citizenship, require their husband’s permission to leave the country, while all unmarried women, regardless of age, and unmarried men under the age of 21 require the permission of their father or male guardian to leave the country, irrespective of the father’s or guardian’s nationality.

A Saudi man who wishes to marry a foreign woman is required by law to seek the permission of Saudi authorities. He must also sign a document that gives irrevocable permission to his foreign wife and the children born of their union to travel in and out of the country without restrictions. This law has been in effect since February 20, 2008, and is not retroactive. Regardless of this law, the foreign spouse and their children may still have difficulty leaving Saudi Arabia whenever they wish.

Legal process

The Saudi judicial system is based on Sharia law. The legal process may be slow and cumbersome. Those suspected of and witnesses to offences may be held for lengthy periods without access to legal counsel or consular officials. If access is granted, it may be severely limited by Saudi authorities.

Business

Arabic is the only officially recognized language for business transactions.

Examine all conditions carefully and ensure that you fully understand them prior to accepting a job offer or signing a contract. Include oral understandings in the contract.

Obtain the services of an independent Saudi-based lawyer and ensure translation of all documents, especially the contract, in order to be fully aware of all conditions, limits and terms.

Seek legal advice from a Canadian or Saudi lawyer before signing any contract. If in doubt, seek advice from a lawyer in Canada. A list of local lawyers is available from the Embassy of Canada in Riyadh.

In case of a dispute, a Saudi complainant may prevent a foreigner from leaving the country until the dispute is settled.

Money

The currency is the Saudi riyal (SAR). Credit cards and traveller’s cheques are widely accepted, especially in main cities.

Climate

Although Saudi Arabia is one of the driest countries in the world, heavy rains occur from time to time and can result in major flooding. This can severely affect overland travel and reduce the provision of essential services. Exercise caution, monitor local news and weather reports, and follow the advice of local authorities.

Shamals, sand-laden winds from the northern deserts, occur most frequent in early summer and can blow at 40-48 kilometres per hour for days, creating difficult driving conditions.