I have traveled twice during this holy month. The first time on an adventure to Dubai and Malaysia, and this current trip to Turkey marks my second Ramadan voyage. Both have proven very difficult for me. Wanderers, if you are considering traveling to a Muslim country during this month then there are some things you should take into consideration.
1. If you are planning on going to clubs and bars (permitted there are any), don't. Most Muslim countries forbid alcohol anyways, but if it is permitted, more than likely it's banned during Ramadan. Turkey is very liberal and has been my only encounter where it is still available regularly.
2. Make sure you take into account that schedules usually change during this time. Shops, stores, and in some places, the whole city shuts down early. Those markets you intended on visiting might not be available, so do your research.
3. Dress modestly, as it is usually customary anyways, but specifically during this holy month.
4. Enjoy the beauty and relish in the fact that you have come during a time like no other. Soak up all the culture and participate if you can!
If you are fasting as you travel, as I did on both of my trips, then there are some things that might make it difficult for you to fulfill your travel journey and your spiritual Ramadan journey. Below I have highlighted some of the toughest parts for me.
On a basic level, you can't eat. As you know, from sunrise to sunset, no food or liquid is allowed. I have been accustomed to people eating in front of me as I fast since I was in middle school. I doesn't bother me. That is, until I am in a new country and yearning to try all the different variations of baklava in front of me. Food is a huge part of any culture. The types of food the natives eat and the way they do so help to portray their society and lifestyle. So as I walk by the numerous stalls selling everything from clams to fruits to shawarma, I suppress my curiosity. At the end of the day, it is all a matter of patience (which I am vehemently working on). Once nighttime falls, then you may curb your appetite with as much foreign fruit and grilled corn as you'd like.
While you are traveling, there are always many things you want to do, and never enough time to do them all. You are on a constant "go!" mindset, and it becomes very draining. This normally would be a small inconvenience as you can drink some water, eat a small snack and sit down for a bit before you're off again. This becomes increasingly difficult if you're fasting. What water? What snack? Sit down? You might not get back up. You barely have enough strength to complete a sentence let alone move from one place to another. I find myself needing naps constantly throughout the day to restore my energy. Not the best physical condition for sight-seeing.
On a deeper level, you miss out on Ramadan. Let's start with prayer. If you are in a Muslim country, it won't be difficult to find a mosque so as to perform your five required prayers on time. I have thankfully been in Muslim countries throughout my travels, but have found myself wondering about those who aren't. What do they do? Carry around a prayer rug or find a nice remote location? I'm sure it's much harder for them than it has been for myself.
There is also a constant worry of missing out. Instead of worrying about missing your prayer, you find yourself worrying about the site that you won't get to see. Instead of considering refreshing your Quran, you consider which spa to relax at. Instead of helping those around you, you worry about which tour guide can best help you.
Ramadan is much deeper than suppressing your hunger for the portion of the day when the sun is up. It is about volunteering, giving alms, and understanding your spiritual journey on a deeper level. I have found that my traveling journey of wonder, curiosity, and constant adventure can't be completely fulfilled when I am also commencing on a religious one, and my religious passage can not be accomplished when I am venturing off.
I am not discouraging travel during Ramadan, merely bringing to the light the difficulties that might come with such a trip. I love to travel and relish in the opportunity to do so, even during the holy month. I have not found the perfect recipe for completing both of my journeys concurrently. I am left feeling as though I have fully embarked on two trips and only experienced each partially.
What do you do during your Ramadan travels? And what tips do you have for me? Let me know in the comments below!