Back in August 2008, in the Philippines, when I got my heart badly broken, I started my addiction with traveling. Experiencing a different place was my drug; somehow it eased my pains and my sorrows. It detached me from reality that time, the reality that I was actually torn apart.
All of those trips were mostly regional and undocumented, and I have yet to know Social Media (Facebook) during that time. So, traveling then was purely intended for my soul and finding the real meaning of life. And yes, it was a different me.
To cut my long dramatic story short, my broken heart brought me to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on December 2009. And I never regretted ever of making that decision. Yes, I am still single but I am wanderlust fulfilled!
Enough said and going back to the topic, what makes Middle East perfect for wanderlusters? Here’s my 6 reasons!
1. Geographical location
If you look at the map, the Middle East is not called “Middle East” for nothing. If you fold the world map in half, the area is almost near the middle and is just offset by an inch or two to the east, hence, giving birth to its name.
The tight relationship of these countries specially the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council), gives you easy access to most of its 6-country members (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman) if you hold a permanent resident identification card (or IQAMA for us living here in Saudi Arabia). As a Filipino passport holder it gives you an advantage to visit these countries that previously involves stricter visa requirements. The best part is that you can even drive your car to any of the GCC countries since most of them are connected by land borders (even for Bahrain which is connected by a bridge).
It is a strategic location to jumpstart travels. Europe is just up there, Africa downwards, Central and South Asia on one side while the Americas on the other. It’s like waiting for the compass to hit a direction.
2. Lots of flight options and cheaper fares
The region is home to two of the best airlines in the world. Apart from that, most of the flag-carrier airlines offer a wide range of options of going anywhere in the world. They cover the north, east, west and south parts of the globe. The close proximity to major tourist destinations means shorter travel times and cheaper fares. On top of that they even offer seasonal promos. So if you’re on a tight budget, you should always be on the watch for these discounted tickets! Honestly, I even make it my pastime to search and make my itineraries super ahead of time. Just like how I did with my South America trip.
Aside from the flag-carriers, there are budget airlines too; sometimes they could offer you better options; fare and accessibility wise. Like me, I always have to consider the fact that I’ll be coming from Riyadh, so I usually consider first direct flights before I move on to choosing connecting flights. Although these budget airlines don’t offer much specially long distance flights. Still you have your options.
Another perk of working in the Middle-East, is that most of the companies shoulder flight fares for annual vacations to your home country. I usually end up negotiating with our HR department to give me connecting flights with long stop overs before reaching Manila, so I could have the chance to enter and explore cities/countries. Like how I did on my first visit to Dubai, Bahrain, Hong Kong and Singapore. I even know a friend who tried Korean Air and was able to see Seoul for a short period of time.
3. Almost everything is TAX-FREE
Salary here is TAX-FREE! And the cost of living is not that high. Although you don’t earn that much compared to OECD countries, you get to save more because you get to spend less. I am a self-confessed shopaholic, but despite my sickness, I still get to save up for travels because everything I shop is TAX-FREE as well. From the latest gadgets, clothes, food, jewelries, cars and obviously oil products, all are relatively cheaper compared to the rest of the world.
That’s why coming from here, you could always get yourself prepared for whatever travel needs. And you don’t get tempted to shop more in countries you want to visit since it’s all here and with better prices. Therefore, more money is allotted for souvenirs and trinkets.
4. Easy access to Embassies
As a Filipino passport holder, obtaining a visa had always been one of the traveler’s hurdles. Good to know, that most of the countries which all require visas and are frequently visited by us have embassies or consulates spread all over the region. Here in Riyadh in the Middle-East, they even call it the “Diplomatic Area” wherein all the embassies are addressed, including that of our home country.
It inspires me a lot when I get to visit that area and see all the flags and names of the countries on the monoliths fronting their respective buildings. It’s as if I had a 30-minute world tour just by driving around.
Visa processing is faster and more efficient. Although I never tried applying for tourist/visit visas in the Philippines but, so far I never had a bad experience trying to get one here. Everything is done online, and your chance of obtaining a visa is increased by the fact that you are currently a resident of a GCC-country.
5. Long holidays
The key to obtain a balanced work and life relationship is time. All of us need more time and so with traveling. The region loves to celebrate their holidays in long durations. There are only two major Holidays here; one is after the RAMADAN month and the other is before the New Year (using the Arabic Calendar). Although I work as a nurse, I’m lucky to be part of the administrative side. So, I get to fully enjoy these 1-2 weeks of holidays depending on what day of the week it falls on. I can even easily make weekend getaways as well bound for neighboring GCC countries.
6. Way of Life
I have a friend who’s a fellow wanderlust here in the Middle-East, and we had one interesting conversation regarding our travels. The point was that we get to appreciate more the places we go to, since we come from a country where it is strict and has lot of limitations (applicable only to Saudi Arabia and some countries).
The irony is that we are somewhat freed when we travel outside of the Middle-East; we get to appreciate more simple things like going out in mixed crowds, talking with the opposite sex, and drinking alcohol. We find beauty on what we are deprived: deprivation that ignites more our passion to travel.
There you have it; these are the perks that I get living and working here in the Middle-East. I am not saying that I represent everyone who is here, but I am one those that choose to prioritize things differently in life and blessed to have a family supportive of my endeavors.
So far, I have been to (since I have been in the Middle-East):
And I am planning to go to:
About The Writer
Ralph Overt Zabala is a nurse by profession who is currently based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He loves watching movies and TV series during his spare time. He loves to read stuff that has something to do with geography and science. He loves to meet people, learn new cultures and languages. He is a daydreamer.
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