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After publishing my last post about tips for traveling to Muslim countries during Ramadan, someone reached out to me and asked, what about for Muslims? What’s it like traveling while fasting Ramadan, and what tips do I have for doing so?
Well, I’m going to be honest here. Travel during Ramadan is challenging. I’ve done it multiple times in my life: once while traveling for two weeks through Southeast Asia and twice (as in, two separate Ramadans) while traveling in Spain. I also purposefully spent Ramadan in Egypt a few years ago, but wasn’t actively traveling like a tourist, so that only half-counts. So can you travel during Ramadan? The answer is yes. Would you want to? I personally don’t recommend it, unless absolutely necessary.
The first time I traveled while fasting was back in 2012 when I was interning in Jakarta, Indonesia. Ramadan started near the end of July, so I had the fortune of starting the month in Indonesia, a mostly Muslim country. Since I was working at the time and a lot of my coworkers were fasting, I found there was a sense of camaraderie both at work and throughout the city that I quite enjoyed. Unfortunately, I was nearing the end of my internship in Jakarta and had a full 2.5 weeks of travel planned through Bali, Kuala Lumpur, Phuket and Bangkok with my sister and another friend. These travel plans included lots of early morning flights and I’m going to be honest here: we struggled.
So as someone who took on the challenge of fast-paced travel in the summer heat of Southeast Asia while fasting, I have plenty of suggestions on how to make your travels enjoyable without having a hangry breakdown. These are my tips for traveling while fasting Ramadan.
Table of Contents
12 Tips for Muslims Traveling While Fasting Ramadan
Avoid if it you can
I obviously love traveling and will do so at any chance I get even if it means fasting during travel. However, having traveled during Ramadan several times now, I’ve come to realize that part of what makes this month enjoyable is the sense of community that I get from being at home and connecting with friends, family, and faith. This is incredibly challenging to do while out exploring on the road, especially if you aren’t planning to travel to a Muslim-majority country. Plus, it’s difficult to go visit tourist sites, walk around all day, and do a bunch of activities when you’re lethargic, hungry, and thirsty. So my recommendation is this: if you don’t have a real reason for traveling during Ramadan, then spend this month at home and take your vacation another time.
Time your flights carefully
There a few different strategies to flying during Ramadan. For short distance flights, I find that it works best if you fly while you’re fasting, ensuring that you’re landing at least a couple of hours before iftar. This gives you plenty of time to arrive to your final destination without delaying iftar and you’ll get to spend the time you’re fasting resting on the flight.
For long-haul flights, I personally don’t fast. I know this is different for everyone but between the time zone differences, attempts to stay hydrated and trying to figure out when exactly when I’m supposed to be breaking my fast, I figure that it’s a day that I can make up at the end of Ramadan, given that Islam allows travelers a reprieve from fasting. I’m not a religious scholar so I don’t claim that what I do is what everyone should do. It’s best to consult with one if you’re intent on fasting while flying on an airplane.
Visit a Muslim-majority country
This one is a given. I’ve fasted in a Muslim-majority country twice: the first time was for a few short days in Indonesia and the second time was the full month of Ramadan in Egypt. I enjoyed both experiences a lot more than I usually do fasting Ramadan at home. The sense of camaraderie and understanding that comes from fasting with an entire city or country is unrivaled. It’s a true “we’re all in this together” feeling. Plus, countries often adjust their restaurant and store hours according to fasting, which makes it easier to enjoy activities in the evening. Lastly, you have the added bonus of witnessing Ramadan traditions in a different country – I loved seeing the decorated streets and public iftar tables while I was fasting in Cairo. If you do decide to travel during Ramadan, I highly recommend visiting another Muslim-majority country.
Go somewhere with shorter fasting days and good weather
My hometown of Los Angeles has been on summer time during Ramadan for years now, with iftar hovering between 7:30 PM and 8:30 PM. We don’t have it as tough as our fellow Muslims in Europe (where 9 PM is often the earliest time they can break their fast) but we still do have longer fasting days. Although I benefitted from a slightly shorter fasting day in Southeast Asia and in Cairo compared to that of Los Angeles, I certainly didn’t have the upper hand when it came to the weather. Southeast Asia is hot and humid all year round, but especially so during its dry season, which is when I was traveling. Cairo has notoriously hot summers as well, often starting from May. Heat doesn’t exactly get you pumped up to get outside and be a tourist. I learned this the hard way. So, if you’re planning on traveling while fasting, choose a destination with shorter fasting days, decent weather or both.
Find the local mosque and Muslims
Many people think that it’s really hard to make friends while traveling, but trust me – it’s not as difficult as you think! Most Muslims traveling while fasting Ramadan are likely looking for Muslims in particular and there are a few ways you can find the Muslim community wherever you travel.
Firstly, go to the local mosque during iftar. Many mosques around the world host community iftars / potlucks, which is an awesome way to meet fellow Muslims and avoid eating alone (especially if you’re traveling solo), which can be particularly lonely during Ramadan. Secondly, use Facebook groups to find the local Muslim community. I co-run a group called Muslimahs Who Travel, which has Muslim women from around the world. However, if that doesn’t suit you, you can always search for “Muslims in [name of city]” and see if you can find some travel friends there.
Given that Ramadan is all about the community feel, I find that breaking your fast with other Muslims allows you to replicate the feeling of a temporary home away from home.
Duh, right? This is so easy to do when I’m at home since I have an endless supply of drinkable water at my disposal. I essentially turn nocturnal and drink as much water as humanly possible between fitur and suhoor. While traveling while fasting, however, it’s easy to become dehydrated when you’re not fasting, and even easier to do so while fasting. I strongly recommend bring a filtering water bottle with you and committing to drinking a certain amount of water every evening. I aim for about 2 liters or so between iftar and suhoor. This is important even when fasting while at home but arguably more important if you’re going to be traveling while fasting.
Keep snacks around
Once you arrive to a new destination, I strongly recommend heading to the grocery store and purchasing plenty of healthy, filling snacks (and also water if you don’t have a filtering water bottle handy). Think granola bars, yogurt or unsalted nuts. That way, if for some reason your iftar is delayed for any reason, you have something to snack on to break your fast. These snacks are also handy for suhoor as well. I don’t know about you, but I oftentimes skip suhoor in favor of sleeping during Ramadan. Although I can get away with that at home since I typically sleep in and don’t expend much energy during the day, it’s a totally different scenario if I’m traveling while fasting Ramadan. Travelers will definitely be walking around and exploring tourist sites and will need as much energy as possible. Which leads me to my next point.
Don’t skip Suhoor
More often than not, if someone isn’t around to make sure I eat during suhoor, I tend to skip it. I (unfortunately) don’t have the drive to wake up in the middle of the night and eat, especially if that means I’m losing out on precious sleep. But don’t do that if you’re fasting and traveling. You’ll need all the energy you can get to get you through a day of exploring and walking. Having snacks on hand in your hotel room or Airbnb will ensure that suhoor doesn’t require too much effort on your part.
This may seem counterintuitive to what I’ve written, but hear me out. One reason I had a hard time enjoying my Southeast Asia trip while I was fasting was because I was desperately attempting to travel like I normally do. At the time, “normal” travel was a packed schedule that started early and ended late so I could take full advantage of my 3 days in each city. Needless to say, this wasn’t sustainable and didn’t pan out so well for my crankiness. I recommended adding an extra day or two to your itinerary to factor in the fact that you will be traveling slower whether you like it or not.
Plan your meal(s)
Research where you’re planning to break your fast and get pumped about it! Nothing is more disappointing than a bad meal after a long day of fasting or having to frantically search for a restaurant ten minutes before it’s time to break your fast. I’m a huge fan of trying local cuisine during my travels, so if I’m limited to one meal per day, it better be good. Plus, it’s kind of fun to get excited about what you’re going to eat later. Check out my tips for finding the best food while traveling.
Incorporate breaks in your itinerary
If you’re going to insist on keeping a fast-paced travel schedule, then be prepared to take plenty of breaks. I have a terrible habit when I travel which is the tendency to go non-stop then collapse into bed at night (I’m working on it), but without the power of caffeine, this was close to impossible to do while fasting. Besides, you’re on vacation so breaks should be a necessity anyhow.
Don’t fast (last resort)
“(Fasting) for a fixed number of days; but if any of you is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed number (should be made up) from days later.” – [Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:185]
As a last resort – there are rules in Islam that say that you aren’t obligated to fast while traveling so don’t force yourself to do so if you feel like you’re struggling particularly hard. I ended up not fasting on days where I had early morning flights because the combination of flying and early wake up calls made it a particular struggle for me. However, I did fast the rest of the time when I was in a destination. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide if you’re up to fasting while traveling during Ramadan. I’m not a religious scholar and can’t offer any further advice about this. Just be sure to remember to make up any days you missed before the next Ramadan rolls around.
Last but not least – have fun! While traveling while fasting Ramadan is certainly challenging, it can still be enjoyable. I always find that many cities around the world come alive at night, especially during the summer. Since Ramadan will take place in the summer for the next few years, you’ll get the chance to enjoy plenty of cool local events in the evenings – and what better time to explore the city than when you get a burst of energy? Happy travels!
Have you ever traveled while fasting Ramadan? What was your experience like? Share in the comments below!
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