After receiving a bunch of emails last week with questions in response to my post about traveling in Iran, I decided to compile a list of my most useful tips for traveling in Iran. Because two weeks in the country obviously makes me an expert (read: I’m a total noob; you should probably just check Wikitravel instead).
Find a host on Couchsurfing for your first few nights in Iran, and then STOP planning your trip!
The two weeks I received on my visa on arrival were always going to be far too short to see all of Iran’s sites, so I decided to instead focus on getting to know Iranian people and their culture.
My experience with Couchsurfing in Iran made this incredibly easy, as once I knew a couple of locals I was receiving the best inside tips for places to go, along with many invitations to stay with their friends and families!
Budget $5 a day
Okay, you might want to bring more cash than that (I brought $400 for two weeks), but you probably won’t spend it all. I swear I tried my best to get myself on the right side of the hospitality dance that Iranians call t’aarof, but it’s incredibly difficult to convince Iranians not to pay for you. Good luck.
(Also keep in mind that you’re not going to be able to use ATMs, so make sure to avoid the poor rates at the banks and exchange at official money changers instead!)
Learn how to say and read numbers 1 – 10 in Parsi so you know how much things cost
So key! Plus, reciting numbers to every Iranian person I met made for a great ice breaker. I mean, what’s more adorable than a foreigner butchering Parsi? Wait, don’t answer that.
Opening with a political prisoner giving birth inside Tehran’s Evin Prison in 1983 and then tracing its characters’ lives to present-day Iran, this beautifully written book taught me everything I didn’t already know about the Iranian Revolution. Months after reading the novel, I still find myself thinking about some of the characters.
If you’re a woman, bring two sets of clothes
You’ll need a headscarf and modest top that covers your arms and bottom for when you’re outside, but once in a private home many women quickly change into tight shirts and skirts. I felt pretty uncool wearing my conservative clothes all the time.
But if you’re wondering what to wear outside: bring long-sleeved tops that hit mid-thigh (and aren’t low cut!) and a scarf for your head. You can wear whatever shoes and trousers you want. Here are some favorites I packed as a female traveler to Iran:
Bring pins for your headscarf
Because your scarf will fall down on windy days, and you will get scolded. With the constant stress of checking your scarf, you’ll even start waking up in the middle of the night clutching your head in a panic that your scarf has fallen down. Seriously.
If the police hassle you about your foreign passport a. have your Iranian friend yell at them for ten minutes while you talk to an officer’s wife on the phone or b. puke in the officer’s waste bin
Both methods worked equally well for me!
Drink the yoghurt!
If your friend’s boyfriend asks if you’re a Communist, say yes!
And say that you hate Heidegger. Yes, you definitely need to hate Heidegger.
Okay maybe this tip only applies to this particular friend’s boyfriend. But in all seriousness, when people found out that I had studied philosophy at university they bombarded me with questions about my favorite thinkers.
I soon learned that the Iranians I spoke with weren’t interested in philosophy for purely academic reasons – they were looking for real answers to their country’s problems. Way to pop my pretentious philosophy major bubble, Iran.
Prepare to have your heart stolen away
Luckily when you’re sobbing after saying goodbye to your new Iranian friends, your bus driver will give you two pineapple juice boxes, a bowl of sugar cubes and a cup of tea to comfort you. And then of course you’ll start weeping all over again, because Iranians are just SO impossibly nice.
Zarivar Lake in Marivan, Kurdistan
I traveled to Iran independently on my Norwegian passport. Some nationalities (including the US and UK at the time of writing) can only visit as part of a tour. And of course I know some people prefer to travel on organized tours anyway.
My top tour recommendation for Iran would be the Discover Persia 14-day G Adventures tour, which I’ve heard nothing but good things about (the itinerary looks amazing!). Check here for the latest Discover Persia tour prices and itinerary.