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A Middle East Packing List: What To Pack For & Wear For Travel In Middle Eastern Countries
There are some parts of the world that hold a particular fascination, and for me, parts of the Middle East are definitely on that list. Travel to this part of the world can be incredibly rewarding, but if you’re coming from a very Western point of view (like the U.S.), understanding cultural nuances and climate are important for a great trip.
So I wanted to share a Middle East packing list with guidance on how to dress for comfort, style, and cultural-sensitivity, particularly in desert climates and balancing both Muslim-majority and secular countries.
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This travel packing guide covers overall Middle East packing tips (particularly for Muslim countries), and then deep-dives into a few countries including Jordan, Israel, and Turkey. And in particularly we’re talking a lot of desert climates. So our key words here are going to be cool, conservative, and comfy.
Here’s what we’ll cover in this Middle East packing list, both types of clothing & specific items/brands:
- Some overarching tips for desert climates & the Middle East in particular
- What type of shoes to bring (including brands), & what socks are best
- Long flowy dresses & skirts (or jumpsuits)
- Shorter regular sundresses
- Lightweight breathable pants
- Lightweight shirts, camisoles for layering, etc.
- Activewear for hiking & other more strenuous activities
- Cardigans, jackets, & other outerwear
- Scarves (for head/chest coverings)
- Undergarments & sleep clothes
- Sun protection
- Specific country considerations (Turkey, Israel, Jordan)
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A few packing tips for desert climates & the Middle East specifically
- The key for extreme heat is to cover yourself as much as possible with loose clothing and breathable fabrics. It’s a bit counterintuitive. Light colors reflect the sun and keep your body temperature cooler as well.
- Lightweight natural fabrics, like 100% cotton, silk or linen, and then synthetic fabrics that breathe well. I am a SWEATER! I sweat a lot, which is great in some ways because it’s nature’s air conditioning system, but you have to be wearing breathable fabrics for that to work.
- In the desert, temperatures can drop quite a bit at night, and because the humidity is very low it can feel cool. Having a light jacket or sweater for evenings can be a good idea.
- Obviously when we’re talking about Muslim-majority countries, we have to take cultural norms into account. While they vary (and I’ll cover some of the specifics below, because it depends on the country and also whether you’re going to religious sites), you’ll want to cover up more and often avoid tight, clingy clothing.
- For religious sites and in more conservative Muslim-majority countries, you’ll need to cover your shoulders, chest/cleavage, and knees, in addition to not having tight, clingy clothing.
- There’s a lot of variance between Middle Eastern countries and what to expect. Israel is not Muslim-majority, and most of the country does not have super conservative dress, outside of religious sites. Turkey is much less conservative outside of religious sites (they are a secular Muslim-majority country), Jordan and Egypt are somewhere in the middle (and touristy sites are more permissive), and countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran will be much stricter.
- In full transparency, I have not visited the much more strict countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Qatar, or Muslim-majority countries outside the Middle East, so can’t provide specific recommendations on those. The desert-focused tips here will still apply, but you should also seek out country-specific packing tips for those.
- Sunscreen will be a critical travel companion in this part of the world! I’ve shared my favorite overall sunscreens for travel, and some specific ones for your face (that don’t look greasy).
A Middle East packing list for travel
I’m going to go into some key items first, that broadly apply to the less conservative countries (including many of those tourists visit often), and also to desert travel in general.
For almost any type of travel, comfortable footwear is absolutely key. And that’s especially true here, where you’re facing heat, dust (friction), and likely lots of walking.
Your feet will probably swell in the heat, so you need to take that into account on sizing as well. And support and good grip are important for walking around cities with old cobblestones or other stone surfaces.
For sandals, my constant companions are these Rockport ones, which balance comfort/cushioning and cuteness (party in the front, biz in the back). These have taken me up and down cities throughout the world, in rain, on dirt paths, at the beach…they’re truly the best.
If that’s not your style as much, check out a brand like Olukai (like these and these) or even traditional hiking sandals like Tevas or Chacos. They’re not my own personal style, but many people swear by them.
Whatever you choose, I’d strongly recommend sandals with a back strap vs. a flip flop or slide style (to prevent sliding, blisters, plantar issues), I strongly prefer a toe post for the same reason, and you need ones that can be easily rinsed or cleaned—they’ll get dusty!
Depending on what type of touring you’re doing and where you are, you may also want either some tennis shoes or cuter sandals. My TOMS sneakers have been my go-to for the past couple years, and I’m sad they discontinued them.
A similar style and good, comfy brand would be these Sketchers or these Vionics sneakers. Normally I’d say Allbirds as well, but the one thing they’re not good for (in my experience) is really dusty/gritty situations. If you’ll be dealing with lots of sand and dirt, stay away, but for just walking around a city they’re great.
I’ve also recently fallen in love with Olukai sneakers, specifically these Pehuea Li ones. I wore them brand new for a 5-day, 50+ hour photoshoot in one week and they were so comfy! Definitely headed on my next trip.
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If you’ll be doing hiking, you’ll want either good hiking sandals or (my preference) good lightweight sneakers. I love the older styles of the Nike Pegasus, though am less enamored of the more recent versions (with a chunkier sole), and their Free or Infinity Run has been a solid option too.
Assuming I’ll be doing some shorter city explorations (like walking to dinner), I usually throw in a pair of cuter sandals, because they don’t take up much space in my luggage. You’re still looking for something with good cushioning and ideally some arch support as well.
For me, Aerosoles are my #1 go-to, though they annoyingly discontinue the specific styles constantly…a style like this or this for instance. Other great brands I’ve found are Naturalizers (like these) and Vionics (like these or these), and these Aerothotics are a really good (& also very affordable) option.
Whether for your lighter-weight or regular running sneakers, you’ll want good socks, particularly in sand…and here I HIGHLY recommend these thin merino wool blend ones. They’re no-show and so comfy, rarely ever get smelly and de-stinkify quickly when they do (merino wool is a natural anti-bacterial). Plus the merino wool makes them very breathable and quick-drying.
And for when I’m wearing my athletic tennis shoes and doing more active hiking, I use these Balega socks that are so soft and comfy.
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Flowy (lightweight) midi or maxi dresses & long skirts
You definitely want lightweight and flowy things, not the kind of thicker cotton maxi dress/skirt that holds in heat and sweat and creates a sweaty leg burrito.
Right now, “midi” length dresses and skirts (come down to mid-calf) are really popular, and while I don’t love their look on ME quite as much, they’re more practical because you’re not stepping on them constantly.
You might get lucky at TJ Maxx too (I haven’t been in a while, and am a challenging body type/size to find things for). I’ve occasionally had good luck with StitchFix (their “freestyle” version, I don’t use the personal shopper option anymore), though I’ve found more short sundresses vs. the maxi dresses that work for me. The pic of me below in the brightly-colored maxi dress is a StitchFix one.
Here are examples of more conservative flowy dresses (here, here, and here) and then a couple tank top flowy dresses here and here (which are more appropriate to fully secular countries like Israel, & could cover your shoulders/chest for religious sites).
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My friend here in the first photo had a really cute printed skirt that was vented (had slits) on the side to the knees, giving her air flow (the second link above is similar). Then the second photo is me in Jerusalem in a flowy maxi skirt I got at TJ Maxx a billion years ago.
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Or, a long looser jumpsuit
If it’s more your style (it’s not my personal one, they stump-ify me), a flowy jumpsuit can be a good option as well (this one looks nice).
However, take into account the bathroom situation wherever you’ll be going, to make sure you don’t have to wrestle a jumpsuit while peeing into a hole in the ground.
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Regular shorter sundresses
For some places like most of Israel, or even in Istanbul, you’ll be fine with a shorter sundress, though not for religious sites. Just make sure they’re not *too* short. I’ve had excellent luck with StitchFix in the past few years, though prefer to pick my own out vs. use the personal shopper option.
Amazon is a great option for all sorts of styles, and a really good return process (which is KEY!). Some good styles would be a t-shirt dress, a tank dress, or something flowy with fluttery cap sleeves. Depending on your size and shape, Old Navy can be a great option too.
I’ve tried a few of those cute Facebook ad companies like BeachSissi, but the main problem is they don’t do returns…so you need to be really sure that the sizes and styles and fabrics work for you. For me, they didn’t.
In a few places, like in the seaside resort towns of southern Turkey, or in more modern, secular Tel Aviv (Israel), you can get away with a less conservative sundress (though with the intense sun you may still want to cover up). The brightly-colored one in the second photo below is a fave from Amazon, and I use it for both dress and swimsuit coverup.
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Lightweight, breathable pants
These are going to be a big help if you find the right ones! You can go a few different directions here, depending on your personal style and also how active you’ll be, though I do cover actual athletic/active clothes further below.
My absolute go-to travel pants are from Athleta, and the exact style that works for me is their Brooklyn Ankle Pant, specifically these ones…I have multiple pairs in black, navy, and rust red. They’re lightweight and breathable, dry very quickly, and are stretchy so can do active things while still looking super cute.
A style you’ll see frequently here and is very comfortable are baggy linen or cotton pants, like a lightweight palazzo or harem pant—basically something flowy and breathable.
Depending on your itinerary, it can be helpful to have some more active, breathable, yet still cute pants. Some of Athleta’s city pants or joggers are a good choice here…I recently got these ones which are a similar style to the older Atheta ones in the pic below (which I still use today).
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Generally speaking you want to avoid tight, thicker fabrics that don’t breathe well or dry easily (like jeans), though in cities such as Tel Aviv or Istanbul during a temperate time of year you could get away with it. I get all my skinny jeans from StitchFix.
In winter in Turkey or in higher altitudes, you might benefit from fleece-lined leggings, which are one of my favorite, most versatile pieces of clothing. I definitely recommend them over jeans in most cases for Middle East travel, and they take up far less space in a suitcase.
I had jeans with my on my most recent trip to Turkey, and only wore them once (waiting for sunrise in Cappadocia on a freezing morning in late September). And my fleece-lined leggings (had I had them with me) would have worked just as well.
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One good option for desert climates is a lightweight white linen (or similar fabric) button-down shirt, as it reflects off sunlight to keep you cool and protect you from the sun. Something like this one. While true linen is nice, it will wrinkle terribly, which is tough with travel. A synthetic material like this can be helpful.
Depending on time of year and exactly where you’re going, some combination of t-shirts, tank tops, and/or light sweaters will be good to pair with your pants of choice. For simple v-neck t-shirts I’ve long worn American Eagle’s soft and flattering ones (their styles change occasionally, but this gives you everything they have right now). Amazon has a ton of options as well, like this one.
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Camisoles for layering & cooling
Camisoles are a major role player on this type of trip—and quite frankly travel in general. It’s taken me a long time to get there because I am fairly large-chested (a bottom-heavy C/D) and need a good built-in bra if I’m going to be wearing a camisole—otherwise, what’s the point??
My favorites right now are Pact’s organic cotton camisoles (I LIVE in these, if you can’t find a color or size you like, try their website directly). I truly wear these 24/7 at home, having ones for around the house and then one I sleep in for some comfortable support.
And then I frequently use this True & Co one (with molded cups that don’t shift around constantly) and a few different models of UNIQLO’s built-in shelf bra camis (I’m obsessed with their Airism tanks). The UNIQLO ones are probably the highest-support out of all of them.
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Active clothes for hiking
Depending on what you’re planning and where you’re going, there’s a high likelihood that you’ll need more active “workout-y” clothes. Particularly in the more touristy areas of Jordan or Turkey (and certainly Israel), yoga pants are a great option as they still cover you but usually breathe well.
I have several different styles of Athleta’s 7/8 leggings (yoga pants), and I highly recommend their yoga pants overall (whichever style you like best), as they’ve very well-made and cute. I’m wearing the 7/8 leggings in the first photo below, and a cropped version in the second photo.
I also recently picked up these really nice yoga leggings from Amazon based on a reco from my sister, if you’re looking for something a little more budget-friendly. They come in great colors, and nice and thick so don’t show pantylines badly (though don’t breathe quite as well as Athleta in my opinion).
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In most parts of Israel or (if you strongly prefer, more touristy or less conservative places like Petra, or the southern coast of Turkey), you could get away with athletic shorts. Generally speaking though I would avoid shorts in the Middle East just to be sensitive to cultural norms.
Additionally, those more active but cute Athleta pants work well without looking like *only* workout clothes. The light t-shirts I mention above are the perfect pairing here. And depending on time of year, covering up with a thin, breathable zip-up like this one may be useful.
This photo shows how those type of pants, t-shirt, and lightweight sneakers pair. I wore this in Wadi Rum, Jordan, on our full-day jeep tour that included hiking, scrambling up rocks, sand dune surfing, and more.
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Cardigans & other outerwear
As I mentioned at the outset, in the desert sometimes it can get chilly at night once you lose the sun (due to lower humidity). A lightweight cardigan or jacket can be helpful.
I tend to be a Loft girl for cardigans, and used to have good luck with TJMaxx (just haven’t looked there in a while. I’ve also fallen in love with some of the Torrid cardigans lately. And StitchFix has given me some of my go-to choices over the years as well.
For winter in parts of the Middle East (like Turkey), you might need a bit more, and nights in particular will get chilly. In late September in Cappadocia, Turkey, it weirdly got into the low 40s Fahrenheit overnight, so I was glad I’d packed this jacket (it’s this North Face jacket), or a lighter one.
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At least a scarf or two
In this case, your scarves aren’t for staying warm but rather for covering your head/hair, as well as for covering up shoulders/chest when visiting religious sites. There are a few different types you should consider.
This is a really nice gauzy lightweight one, and this one is really cute (it comes in multiple colors)…it’s what I travel with regularly. You may want to consider a larger more traditional pashmina shawl/scarf if you want something that easily covers your shoulders and chest as well.
If you’re traveling in cities first (like Jerusalem, Amman, Istanbul, etc.), you can shop at stalls there and find a scarf you love that will make a great souvenir too.
When you’re out in the desert, such as Wadi Rum or in Egypt or Morocco, you may want to consider a shemagh, or military tactical scarf. They’re used in the armed forces for desert deployments, and are a great way to stay cool and also protect your face and breathing from sand.
I got mine in Jordan from the bedouins in Wadi Rum, and they showed me how to wrap it around my head and face for both sun and sand protection.
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Generally I would definitely go more modest with swimwear in the Middle East, even for the less conservative (or more secular) countries. While I’m not a one-piece swimsuit person typically, it’s definitely the more respectful choice here.
This Cupshe one from Amazon is a similar style to what I’m wearing in the photo below, and is pretty but still quite modest (the model’s boobs notwithstanding). I’ve also used this beautiful retro bombshell style for trips in the past. Athleta also has a variety of really nice one-pieces.
If you’re in a Turkish resort town or somewhere like Tel Aviv, you can probably get away with a bikini. I love Athleta ones for combining support, cuteness, and athletic options (e.g. if you’re going snorkeling or hiking). And again, I always pair them with Athleta bottoms, which give my butt the coverage I prefer.
I’ve found cute bikini top options (that are super affordable) at SHEIN. When I was out on the boat for a few days, I used a more traditional triangle string bikini top. On a more private beach in turkey or Tel Aviv this would feel appropriate too, but not much elsewhere in the Middle East from what I’ve found.
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Undergarments / things to sleep in
Obviously you’ll want stuff to sleep in, underwear, etc. Again, breathable materials that are lightweight and dry easily are good.
A camisole can do double-duty with sleeping as well. This one from Pact (made from organic free-trade cotton) is my absolute fave, both for sleeping and wearing around all day. I get a lot of my sleepwear from Old Navy as well.
I like satin-y breathable bikini-style underwear, so it dries quickly when I sweat (or when I need to wash it in the sink overnight. These are my daily go-to, and these ExOfficio underwear are considered excellent for travel (I just snagged a pair to try on my next trip).
And for sports bras (especially higher-impact, like for strenuous activities), I’ve been a big fan lately of these Under Armor front-zip ones, and ThirdLove’s kinetic one. Old Navy is another staple for sports bras (and activewear in general).
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In particular that means really good sunscreens, and probably a hat. I have a whole post about my favorite sunscreens for travel (including for your lips!!), and a different post focused on face moisturizers and sunscreens that don’t look greasy.
A sun hat is a really good idea, and something I’m terrible at because I hate hats and always wear my head in a bun. You want wide-brimmed and breathable, ideally (the panama hats that are really popular aren’t quite as good since the brim is fairly narrow).
Something like this hat works well on the cuter side of things, or this more traditional sun hat (with handy ponytail hole). For certain types of trips (like touring through Egypt or even some kinds of Israel trips), you could even consider a sun umbrella if you’ll be spending long stretches walking outdoors exposed to the sun.
The glare is real!! I have expensive prescription sunglasses with polarized lenses, but if you don’t, make sure you protect your eyes from the harsh desert sun. Yes, polarization is critical, not just any old sunglasses you pick up at the gas station. Affordable polarized sunglasses are a great thing to bring.
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Other non-clothing items you’ll need:
- External battery charger – this Anker one is my fave!
- An anti-theft purse or money belt – I talk more about the type I use here
- A good small bluetooth selfie stick and/or tripod for your phone – I have this selfie stick that is great & lightweight, or this selfie stick/tripod combo which is just a bit bigger and perfect for solo travel or low light
- The appropriate electric plug adapters for where you’re going – I always have this universal adapter with me
- A water bottle – Hydration is so important in desert climates. Personally I don’t like traveling with a big bottle as it takes up tons of space. Two good options are this type of flexible water bottle that takes up no space when empty, and then a Lifestraw straw so that even in when you’re uncertain of water quality (or out hiking), it can keep you safe.
- Cooling towels – can be a gamechanger in real heat and sun exposure
- Body glide or anti-chafe for your thighs (or under your boobs) – I’ve tried a couple brands but this is my fave
- Hydrocortisone cream, for heat rash, eczema flare-ups (hot/sweaty conditions)
- I find having some cute and comfy headbands can be helpful
- I pack a carry-on rollaboard suitcase (my standby TravelPro) (here on Amazon) and brought my Osprey Celeste backpack as my personal item (it’s discontinued but this one is similar).
- A “real” camera for any nighttime or low-light photography – Generally I rely heavily on my iPhone 11 Pro, but for long exposure shots like the stars in Wadi Rum, you’ll need a “real” camera. I’ve had the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 (bought in 2014) and the the LX100 (bought in 2018), which I used for our Northern Lights tours.
- And I switched gears in 2020 and am trying out the Sony a6400, and am re-learning how to shoot manual (the camera can be fully automatic, I just wanted more manual options and different lens capabilities).
- You’ll want a regular tripod for this camera if you plan to do nighttime photography (I use this one).
- An extra couple camera batteries would be smart as well.
What NOT to pack
- Jewelry (especially anything valuable); be careful about valuables in general
- Jeans – they will never dry and you’ll be hot and uncomfortable the whole time
- Very revealing, tight, clingy clothing (both culturally, and less comfortable in the heat)
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Okay, now we’ll talk a little more about specific countries, just to add some nuance.
What to wear in Turkey
Turkey is definitely one of the most secular Muslim-majority Middle East countries, and you’ll see a wide variety of dress. For my most recent trip (in late September), I relied heavily on my Athleta lightweight pants and my TOMS sneakers (both of which I show above).
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For beach I still wore a bikini on the coast, and in the major resort areas (like on the Turquoise Coast) you’ll see plenty of this.
But in most places it’s generally still a good idea to err on the side of more modest, and particularly outside of the biggest tourist areas (Istanbul, Cappadocia, Pamukkale, Turquoise Coast beach towns).
When thinking about what to wear in Istanbul, of course here and anywhere else you’re planning to visit a mosque (that includes Hagia Sofia now), you’ll need to always have your scarf with you to cover your head and shoulders, and have a long skirt covering your knees as well.
I always wore a maxi dress or skirt on days when I was planning mosque visits in Istanbul. It’s easier to group these types of visits together on your itinerary, to give yourself the freedom to wear other clothes on other days.
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What to wear in Jordan
We went to the most tourist-visited areas of Jordan, so that’s all I can speak to (and didn’t visit Amman). Generally I’d go with a similar approach to Jordan as I do to most of Turkey (outside of the coast), but definitely err a bit conservative.
We visited Petra and Wadi Rum, so more outdoor/active locations. Because of this, I wore Athleta active pants and yoga pants, with looser t-shirts and tennis shoes, all of which I mention above.
And then I lived in the head scarf I got there, which they showed me how to tie to cover my face as a mask against the sand blowing (and to cover the back of my neck to protect from sun).
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If you’re only visiting Petra and Wadi Rum, you shouldn’t need a scarf for covering your head in mosques (though certainly the shemagh could do double duty), but if you’re visiting religious sites in Amman or elsewhere, you’ll need one as well as covering your legs, arms, and shoulders.
If you’re visiting the Dead Sea, see my notes below in Israel on what to pack and wear, but I do recommend doing it in Jordan if you have the option, and ideally in a resort vs. a public beach.
I have a super deep-dive post on how to plan an amazing Israel and Jordan itinerary that gives more info on both countries as well.
What to wear in Israel
Israel is not a Muslim-dominant country so modesty isn’t as huge of a concern overall, but it IS something you should consider when spending time in more Arab-majority areas (such as Akko) or certainly when visiting mosques.
For the sites at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, you’ll definitely need to make sure you cover up appropriately. I got into trouble at the Dome of the Rock because they weren’t happy with how my neck/chest/cleavage was covered up, I ended up having to button my cardigan right at my collarbone (my scarf was already on my head). I talk more about visiting these sites here.
Israel is definitely a more casual country overall. Tel Aviv has more of a beach feel and is definitely less conservative, so shorter sun dresses are fine here. Jerusalem is more conservative, and I found longer skirts and dresses helpful and they fit in better in the Old City.
We traveled up in the north (Sea of Galilee area and Akko) as well as throughout the Negev Desert, and you’ll be very exposed to the sun in both of these places (but especially the south).
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For hiking, such as up Masada or in En Gedi, normal activewear like yoga pants, tank tops, tennis shoes, and lots of sunscreen and water are critical. The military tactical scarf I show above could be helpful for protecting your head and neck from the sun.
If you’re visiting the Dead Sea, first of all I recommend doing it in Jordan, but regardless, I’d cover up if it’s a public beach. Even in my one-piece I felt uncomfortable with the intense stares and attention I was receiving.
Also, the mud and maybe the water will almost certainly ruin what you wear. So I brought a super old one-piece that I could barely still fit in, and then threw it away as soon as I was done…one less thing to pack home! Also, I recommend water shoes with a back strap on them to protect your feet. Flip flops will just pop off and you’ll lose them.
So hopefully this has given you a ton of ideas for what to pack for the Middle East and what to wear for Middle Eastern travel (as well as a solid desert travel packing list). I hope to visit even more countries in this region in the future, and will add to here as applicable.
And as always, please leave me any additional thoughts or ideas on a Middle East packing list in the comments!
Other helpful travel packing lists & gear you’ll love:
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