Tips for Traveling During Ramadan

If you're traveling to a Muslim-majority country during Ramadan, CLICK to read these tips to learn more about the Muslim holy month and make the most of your visit! | http://passportandplates.com

Although I subconsciously knew that Ramadan was around the corner, my mom just reminded me I have less than a week to wean off my unruly caffeine addiction. Easier said than done – I’m fully expecting to sleep in during my first few days of fasting. Thank goodness I don’t wake up for work at 5 am anymore huh? Anyway, I digress…

 

What is Ramadan?

For those of you who don’t know, every year on the 9th month of the lunar calendar, millions of Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset for 30 days. Yes, this means no food or water even if you’re really, really thirsty (seriously, people ask me that). To us, it’s not just about fasting from food and water, but about spiritual reflection as well. It’s a month of increased prayer, charity and hospitality. It’s also a time to refrain from bad behavior and thoughts – think cursing, gossiping, and all the other habits that you promised yourself you’d break on January 1st ;). Ramadan starts on June 5th this year. For a basic breakdown on FAQs, you can read this link, but feel free to ask me questions as well!

For all intents and purpose of this being a travel site and all, I’m sharing with you some tips on what to expect when traveling to a Muslim-majority country during Ramadan, as well as a few rules to follow in order to be respectful of local cultures during this time.

 

Who observes Ramadan?

Well, there are Muslim communities pretty much everywhere, but the only places where Ramadan may affect your travels are in Muslim-majority countries. The Middle-East and North Africa, parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia, and a couple of countries is Southeast Asia more or less cover it. Note that intensity of practice varies widely depending on the country. This list offers some good country-specific tips.

 

Know your terminology:

  • Ramadan: The Muslim holy month when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset for 30 days.
  • Iftar: This translates directly to breakfast and refers to sunset when people break their fast.
  • Suhoor: This refers to the meal that people oftentimes eat before the sun rises to try to keep the morning hunger at bay. Many hotels and restaurants open for suhoor.
  • Eid-al-Fitr: Translating directly to “breakfast celebration,” this refers to the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan and fasting.

 

Tips for Traveling During Ramadan:

1. Don’t eat or drink publicly during the day

If you're traveling to a Muslim-majority country during Ramadan, CLICK to read these tips to learn more about the Muslim holy month and make the most of your visit! | http://passportandplates.com

Moroccan “snack”

While nobody will chide you for eating and it certainly isn’t against the law, it’s a tad disrespectful when everyone is you know, starving. Some countries are stricter than others, but as a general rule, try to be discreet and bring lots of snacks and water. Also, note that in many places, restaurants will be closed to the public in preparation for breakfast at sundown and it may be harder to find local food in general. Prepare accordingly!

 

2. Avoid alcohol

Alcohol is forbidden for Muslims, although this a rule that many people and countries follow quite loosely except during Ramadan. Many countries (including the oh-so-popular Morocco) actually go dry for Ramadan: sales of alcohol are forbidden for the entire month. If you’re staying at a beach resort or upscale hotel somewhere, you should still have access to drinks, but either way, Ramadan certainly isn’t the best time for a boozy holiday. As Aretha Franklin once sang, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T!”

 

3. Dress appropriately

If you're traveling to a Muslim-majority country during Ramadan, CLICK to read these tips to learn more about the Muslim holy month and make the most of your visit! | http://passportandplates.com

You can even look cute doing it 😀

In all honesty, I’ve found that it’s important to dress modestly in many Muslim countries year-round, but it’s especially important during Ramadan. Locals can spot the tourists so just try not to be too skimpy or revealing. Also, no PDA. This can get you in trouble on a normal day in some places, so better safe than sorry.

 

4. Plan ahead

Normally bustling cities tend to slow down during Ramadan and many office and store hours are shortened. While many places come alive at night and can stay open until the wee hours of the morning, don’t expect shops to be opening bright and early. If you’re one of those people who travels on a tight schedule, be sure to do extra research for opening times of attractions, tours, and restaurants.

 

5. Become a night owl

If you're traveling to a Muslim-majority country during Ramadan, CLICK to read these tips to learn more about the Muslim holy month and make the most of your visit! | http://passportandplates.com

Djemma el Fna in Marrakesh comes alive at night.

The nightclubs and bars don’t turn around and open after sunset, but the streets come alive after everyone has broken their fast. Many shops sell special Ramadan treats, and cafes and public spaces are open late to accommodate socializing, family time, and suhoor. Don’t hesitate to join in on the local festivities! If you can join a family for iftar or walk by the local mosque at sunset, do it. You get to observe the local culture in action and really get a taste for the special time that is Ramadan – a time for hospitality and generosity.

 

Final thoughts:

At the end of the day, Ramadan isn’t just about not eating or drinking. It’s a month when millions of people join their family and friends to eat, celebrate, and reflect. It’s a time of charity and appreciation and despite the hanger pains, a time that the whole community really comes together. While it certainly isn’t the most convenient time to travel, it is by far one of the most interesting. If you can get past the pain points and the occasional hangry person like me, you’ll gain a little more insight on a religion that the whole world should certainly learn more about. Happy travels – and to my fellow Muslims out there – Ramadan Kareem!

 

Have you ever traveled to a Muslim-majority country during Ramadan? What was your experience like? Share in the comments below!

If you're traveling to a Muslim-majority country during Ramadan, CLICK to read these tips to learn more about the Muslim holy month and make the most of your visit! | http://passportandplates.com

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  • Great tips! Any thoughts on how Muslim travelers could cope while traveling abroad during Ramadan?

  • I have never traveled to a Muslim country, but these are all great tips if and when I do. I don’t know if I could fast for that long! Have you been able to do it for 30 days? I always wondered if restaurants would be open during ramadan. Now I know 🙂

    • Thanks for reading! Yes, I’ve fasted the full 30 days of Ramadan since I was 11 or so! The first few days are always challenging (especially with my caffeine addiction haha) but it gets easier. It definitely depends on the country regarding restaurants and hours but it’s always worth checking beforehand and planning accordingly! No need for people to fast by force 🙂

  • Ferna

    I grew up in the southernmost part of the Philippines, surrounded by Muslims.. and these are the best tips during ramadan. this is a good read.

    • I haven’t been yet but I didn’t realize there are so many Muslims in the Philippines! Thanks – I’m glad you found them useful 🙂

  • I was in Indonesia for 11 months (Which included 1 month of Ramadan). I am not a big fan of fasting and I was staying with Christians who didn’t celebrate Ramadan so it was quite different experience for me. Yes we didn’t get a lot of food options during day which was a downside but overall it didn’t affect me much. Thanks for the tips though, I was planning to visit Dubai during ramadan but cancelled as I wasn’t sure of how it would be.

    • That must have been an interesting time to be in Indonesia! I happened to be there for a week or so during Ramadan as well, and it didn’t seem too difficult for non-Muslims to get access to food? Luckily non-Muslims don’t have to fast or anything but it is always good to be respectful! I imagine it would be difficult to enjoy Dubai during the daytime during Ramadan, although I’ve heard that it really comes alive at night. Either way, I hope you enjoy your visit whenever you do go 🙂

  • A very helpful post for anyone traveling during Ramadan. I always try to be respectful of cultures and religions when I travel, but it’s not always easy. Such a great post!

  • Ivy

    Thanks for the informative post! I’ve never traveled to a Muslim-majority country (Bali’s Indonesia’s exception I suppose) but this is really good to know for future reference!… in that I might just avoid traveling there during Ramadan haha. I don’t think I can fast for that long (extremely hangry person!) and I wouldn’t want to disrespect anybody. It sounds like an amazing experience though!

    • I’m glad you found it useful!
      Bali is an exception but since that island is primarily Buddhist, I don’t think they typically observe Ramadan like Java. I’m not sure on that one! Luckily, non-Muslims aren’t obligated to fast anywhere :). It’s just about being respectful to the locals who are.

  • This couldn’t come at a better time! I’m heading to Malaysia and didn’t realize it was Ramadan until after I booked my trip. Thanks for the fantastic tips 🙂

    Best,
    Sarah

    • You’re welcome, Sarah! I’m glad you found the post useful and enjoy Malaysia!

    • Great to know you’re coming to Malaysia, Sarah! As a Malaysian, I do recommend you check out the evening Ramadan pop-up street bazaars as they tend to serve the best street food this time of the year!

  • Ria

    Yes, last year I was in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. It was amazing experience. To see how the daily life changes as well needed to adapt new habbits for 1 month 🙂 I’m curious how will be this year, like I will stay in Bali (not Muslim island) but for Idul-Fitri will go to Jakarta 🙂

    • That’s awesome that you were able to experience it in Yogyakarta! I was fasting while there for a couple of days during Ramadan in 2012 and enjoyed the experience of the city coming alive at night. I’ve heard that you don’t feel much of a difference in Bali but Eid al FItr in Jakarta sounds like it will be so much fun! Enjoy!

  • Ohh, I was in Morocco 2 years ago during Ramadan! I completely agree with most of your points, however I cannot totally agree with the 1st one (to not eat and drink during daytime). As foreigners, it was impossible for us to get through the summer heat with no water and at least some waffles to keep us going on the long walks and roadtrips. So yes, snacks and water should always be on you, especially if you’re more sensitive 🙂 And always be respectful.

    • Yes, you’re totally right! I just updated the headline to say “publicly” because in the description I said “be discreet about eating” but the headline made it unclear haha. Thanks for catching that! But I agree with you – as long as you’re respectful, that’s the most important part!

  • Thank you very much for this insightful post. I have many muslim friends and always admire how they manage fasting during Ramadan. Never travelled to muslim countries during Ramadan but I will definitely refer back to your post if I do.

    • Thanks Miriam, I’m glad you found it useful! It’s definitely challenging at first but it gets better over time! 🙂

  • A useful post! We’re in Pakistan right now, and we’ll be here for all of Ramadan. We’re a little worried about the heat + no water, as eating and drinking in public is actually illegal here during the holiday. But, at least now we know a but more about breaking fasts at the end of the day!

    • Oh yikes! That’s unfortunate that it’s illegal. Sounds like you’ll have to stock up on lots of groceries and such before the start of Ramadan. But I imagine that when it’s time for iftar, the cities will come alive and it’ll be magical. I’d love to hear about your experiences 🙂

  • Top tips and enlightening explanations, thank you!

  • Great tips, and loved your way of putting them together – crisp and impactful!

  • Rica Lewis

    Very interesting! It’s always fascinating to read about traditions and cultures outside of my own. Thanks for sharing ?

  • Courtney Cross-Johnson

    Great post. I am debating whether or not I would be able to include Morocco in my summer trip. I want to be sure I am visiting at an ideal time for -me- but to be respectful. I’m glad other people are observing customs!

    Cheers.
    -thirty30courtney.com

    • Thanks Courtney! I’ve heard of lots of travelers visiting Morocco during Ramadan and absolutely loving it, but it definitely has its challenges for non Muslims! I think doing some research beforehand always makes a world of difference for both your experience and the locals as well! Whichever you decide, Morocco is AMAZING and I hope you enjoy your visit 🙂

      • Hi Sally – we just chatted on Twitter. So pleased to have discovered your lovely site today and your other post on travelling during Ramadan for Muslims. I’ve linked to it here from our post on travel during Ramadan (for non-Muslims): http://grantourismotravels.com/2012/08/10/ramadan-around-the-world/

        My husband and I lived in the UAE for 8 years as I mentioned and during that time and for a few years after we left Dubai we travelled frequently throughout the Middle East on assignments for guidebooks, magazines and newspapers. Every country is so very different in how they observe Ramadan, which is why we broke down the experience by country, but then even within the country it varies enormously depending upon whether it’s a city or small town, whether it’s touristy or not. I personally love travelling during Ramadan and think if non Muslims can semi-fast during the day and abstain from drinking wine with meals, it’s a wonderful experience.

        • Hi Lara! Thanks for linking to my site! I really appreciate it :). I just saw your post and it’s SO comprehensive – definitely updating the link I initially included. I’m quite jealous that you were able to experience Ramadan in so many countries – it really is one of the most beautiful times to travel in Muslim countries if people are willing to be a bit more flexible with eating / drinking. I hope I get a chance to visit more Muslim countries during Ramadan over the next few years as well. Thanks for sending your post!