Is Jordan Safe? What we Found When we traveled to the Middle East with our Kids
Before you even start reading about our experience in Jordan, let me preface it by saying that EVERYTHING I thought I knew about the small, Middle Eastern country, of Jordan was WRONG! Since this post was initially written in 2016 I have been back twice, staying once for 5 weeks and again in December 2017 for three weeks. As you read on, I hope that I can show you, through my initial apprehension and experiences before even arriving in Jordan and our short time there, that this country SHOULD be on your list to visit, whether you are an adventure traveller, a backpacker, or a family traveller like me! Is Jordan Safe? Absolutely!
A Leap of Faith: We are going to Jordan with Kids!
I was given 7 days notice that I had won a trip to Jordan to attend the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup. Only 48 hours before departure, did we receive our itinerary and confirmed plane tickets. Between juggling work, trying to pack for myself and two boys for a Muslim country I knew nothing about, listening to everyone’s concerns about visiting the Middle East, trying to figure out what I was getting myself into by going to Jordan with a 5 and 3 year old (you can read my post Holy S#!T We are going to Jordan) it was a busy and exciting few days to say the least.
But at 4pm on a Wednesday afternoon in September 2016 , we were eagerly sitting at our gate at Vancouver International Airport. Along with my mum, Mattias and Markus, we boarded our first leg to London’s Heathrow Airport! At this point I was not sure if I would survive the flight. 9 hours to London, 3 hours in London’s giant Heathrow airport in the middle of the night Vancouver time, and then 5 hours from London to Amman, finally reaching Jordan’s capital city at about 11pm local time (which was lunchtime Vancouver time). Jet lag is not a HUGE concern for me with the kids, but it is still a pain in the butt! My plan was to keep them up on the first leg as long as possible, then let them sleep on the second leg, and then try and get them back to sleep once we got in the Hotel in Amman.
Well, Markus slept about 4 hours on the Vancouver to London leg, it was after all the middle of the night in Vancouver. Mattias stayed up by watching movies, playing Chess and Reversi on the Air Canada Flight’s inflight entertainment, and only fell asleep on descent into Heathrow. Thankfully we had thrown in a small umbrella stroller as we knew we could not carry both kids and carry-ons through Heathrow.
It was a relatively smooth transfer from one terminal to the other. But it does take a LONG time. From Terminal 2 to Terminal 5 it requires a bus transfer and you have to line up and go through security again. So no liquids over 100ml (in case you bought a bottle of water or something else to drink. Also keep this in mind with your duty free). Heathrow did have a great play area for the kids and they played there for about 30 minutes while we waited to board our flight.
Our British Airways flight went smoothly, with both kids sleeping a bit. I think I even nodded off for 30 minutes or so. The only part of the flight that caused us some concern was when we watched the plane trajectory change from its smooth arc, to head south over Israel, we assume to avoid Syrian airspace. My mum and I exchanged glances as we both noticed the change in trajectory. About 5 minutes later, the flight attendant announced that we still had about 45 minutes before we were due to land in Amman’s Queen Alia Airport, but if anyone had to use the washroom they should do it now, as Israeli Airspace regulations required the seat belt signs to be turned on. I looked at my mum, she looked at me, I said to her, “So when they shoot us down, our seat-belts will save us?” A bad joke. I know. But coming from Canada, the only news we get out of the Middle East on mainstream media is that it is a place of chaos, of violence, of refugees.
I will tell you now, the last hour on that plane was the ONLY and yes I mean ONLY time, in our 7 days in Jordan that I felt any concern for my or my family’s safety.
Culture Shock in Jordan?
I have visited the developing world. I am no stranger to culture shock. Whether it be leaving Hong Kong’s western influence and entering China, where the sidewalks are wider than the streets to accommodate the immense numbers of pedestrians, cyclists, animals, motorcyclists or moped drivers. I have walked the streets of Mexico’s Puerto Vallarta, where machine-clad police will stop and attempt to intimidate tourists, well I can only assume that was their intent, my Spanish is limited to “cervasa pour favor.” I have sailed the rivers of Malaysia to visit children who live in huts over the water, who’s infectious smiles and waves and genuine happiness have no idea where Canada is, they have likely never left their local village.
But Jordan did not feel like culture shock. Our tour was put together by Sunny Land Tours, and as promised, were greeted on arrival at the beautiful Queen Alia airport and assisted through customs and the visa process. Honestly we did nothing at all except hand our passports to our tour representative, who took care of everything and gave us a paper visa, saying to keep it safe, we would need it when we left.
Our driver was waiting outside to pick us up, the 8 passenger van even had a car seat already installed for Markus. Along with Tara from Nova Scotia (on the East coast of Canada), who had also won the contest, we were driven the 30 or so minute drive to the Landmark Amman Hotel. Arriving after midnight the hotel was BUSY. I was surprised. We were travel weary and ready to climb into bed. But a Thursday night party awaited in the lobby (Jordanians get Fridays and Saturdays off work). Until I was writing this, I forgot that this was the only time in Jordan where we felt a bit unnerved. A party at the hotel which included government dignitaries. “Oh crap,” I thought to myself. “Well I guess this is the hotel I would bomb if I was a suicide-bomber.” Once we had our baggage scanned and passed through the metal detector outside the hotel’s front door, we entered the lobby to find it full of beautifully dressed people. Muslim women adorned in headscarves but also women in short sleeve or sleeveless dresses. I guess Jordan was not as conservative as I thought. But back to the suicide bomber thought, It was completely ridiculous, but since the only news we seem to get out of the Middle East and even other parts of the world, are the violent stories of ISIS attacks and suicide bombers taking innocent lives I could not help but think that way. But no one in the hotel seemed to have the same thought as I did. The hotel staff warmly greeted us with numerous “Welcome to Jordan” comments as we made our way to our room. Guest in the hotel were seen laughing and enjoying their evening. They were not thinking that they could possibly be in an un-safe situation. With our room keys in hand we headed up to bed, wondering what our tour of Amman would have in store for us.
Is Jordan Safe? Everything I Thought I Knew about Jordan, was WRONG!
From Day 1 to Day 7, every need we had was taken care of. We wandered literally empty historic sites, their acres of land, mostly empty for us to explore. Where I expected feral dogs on street corners, we found orange and brown kittens in shops, restaurants and even on the hotel pool decks, some eager for attention, while others afraid of two little boys who wanted nothing more than to pet them.
While driving the streets, where I expected to see homelessness there was none. Admittedly we did not go looking. (I am well aware of the 2 million Syrian refugees currently camped at Jordan’s northern border.) We were there to see the sights, but in many cities around the world, you come across the bad, whether you are looking for it or not. Only twice in the entire week did we come across people begging; once on the street at a traffic light, and once outside a restaurant. It was much different from the scruffy or drug-weary homeless people I encounter on a daily basis in the suburbs in Vancouver. Both of these women we came across were very well dressed and we were told that neither were local to the area. Jordanians do not approve of this type of behaviour, and the young girl who we encountered outside a restaurant, who was likely with her younger siblings (a baby and a small boy), would bring shame to her family’s reputation, if word spread to her hometown that she was begging for money. What put her there, we do not know, but begging was not something we encountered widespread in the country. Since the Jordanians do not support it, if they do not make money, it discourages the behaviour.
I expected bicycles and mopeds, but the traffic was largely cars, or pedestrians. While the rules of the road looked more like ants marching to their nest to a foreigner like me, I never once saw a fender bender, nor a pedestrian struck. Pedestrians walked. They did not have their noses in their cell phones as they weaved their way through the congested city traffic. Drivers drove. Constantly making assumptions on the traffic patterns in front of them. It was predictable amidst the congestion, with everyone getting to their destination. Im sure our driver laughed as we gasped, covered our eyes or held on to our seats on more than one occasion.
Military Presence in Jordan?
I honestly was not sure what I was going to encounter with regard to militarization in the country. Before we landed I did not know if our tour would require armed escort around Jordan. I was clueless. By the time we got to the hotel, I had thrown the armed escort idea out the window. I had yet to encounter any armed forces at all. We wandered the city of Amman with ease, there were traffic police armed wth a sidearm, and other police vehicles around. But not the massed artillery clad men I had been expecting. I actually only saw one automatic weapon the whole week we were in Jordan. This was strapped to the chest of one of the Gendarmarie outside the VIP entrance to the stadium during the opening ceremonies of the FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup. Even the security outside the stadium, while camo clad, were unarmed except for a small baton. The security inside was casually dressed in a golf shirt and slacks.
There was definitely a police presence in Jordan, but not an intimidating force, nor a protection force, just a general presence. We were stopped only twice at checkpoints, despite seeing them often along the King’s Highway and near military bases. Both times we were quickly told to continue, with only the driver providing ID. Our passenger manifest was never read. There was no suspicion, no intimidation by these officers, just polite exchanges and we were sent on our way.
What to Wear in Jordan: Clothing and Dress
Jordan is a muslim country. Over 90% of the population is Muslim. Christians make up approximately 6% of the country’s 9 million people. While conservative in dress compared to North American standards, women are not required to cover their head. Nor is it requested unless entering a mosque. Non-muslim travellers are not encouraged to wear a headscarf, as the Christians living in the country do not. Shirts with sleeves and pants are typical dress. You will not see locals wearing tank tops. On the occasion that I did wear one (I had a button up shirt with me), no one batted an eye. But dressing in typical summer clothing of shorts and tank tops, or even work out leggings when everyone else is dressed in pants and often long sleeves just looks silly and screams tourist. The boys largely wore t-shirts and shorts.
After visiting Jordan, I am often asked if we came across women wearing burqas. I probably saw 5. The whole week. I can see 5 women wearing the burqa at the local bus depot in the Vancouver suburbs in 5 minutes. The tradition of the burqa is not a common practice by Muslims in Jordan, but respected when women chose to wear it and also respected when they chose not to. They are more common in the smaller towns than in the major cities. You will see more veiled women in Wadi Musa or the outskirts of major cities.
So what to pack for Jordan?
We visited Jordan in the beginning of fall, the days were still hot, the evenings mild. Cotton is always recommended in these types of countries. I brought a mix when i packed for Jordan. I wore jeans a few days, as well as a pair of loose fitting pants. I packed t shirts, a few button up style shirts and a dress. I only wore the dress the day we visited the Dead Sea, as most of the time we were walking, climbing, camel riding, and getting in and out of the van quite a lot. Women in shorts would be acceptable, I was personally more comfortable in pants. The workout gear I brought went unused, despite the gym’s in the hotel’s we visited. While in Canada, it would be considered casual wear, no one in Jordan wore it out. Scarves are a great idea, but can also easily be bought in Jordan. whether to protect your head or neck from the sun in Wadi Rum, or to keep warm in the evening, I wore one almost every day. I packed a pair of comfortable shoes and a pair of sandals and wore both.
When you visit Jordan, you expect to be blown away by the history, the sights, the landscapes, but, the people of Jordan are what made me fall in love with this country. No where have I visited before with such a warm, genuine welcome from strangers. Yes I have been welcomed in many countries, but the Jordanians love for their country is instantly evident. It is as if they have no idea how “dangerous” Westerners view the Middle East due to the media coverage that the region covers. Jordan is and has been a safe-haven for the instability in the region, welcoming its neighbours in need of refuge. From our initial arrival and greeting from the tour representative, to our driver, our wonderful tour guide Awad, to our departure 7 days later, we experienced nothing but kindness and a genuine feeling of welcome from the people of Jordan.
Jordan is a small country. It has a small population. Its economy has been put under major pressure since 2011 with the initial influx of Syrian refugees into its cities to the current 2 million that are housed in the refugee camp in its northern border. Rents have increased, unemployment is high, food prices are increasing much faster than wages. While driving across the country, listening to the desperate situation so many young Jordanians are finding themselves in I feel compelled to help.
I am not a humanitarian, I am not made to do big things, to rally the troops, to lead change. But what I can do, is I can tell you to go, GO TO JORDAN. See for yourself the history, the landscape, the breathtaking sights. Feel the hospitality of the strangers you meet, the love for their country that can only be genuine, become captivated by the welcoming nature of Jordanian culture. Leave everything you think you might know at home, become immersed in what you actually see, feel and experience. And like me, share it. Dispel the mentality that us Westerners might think we know about Jordan.
Are you Planning a visit to Jordan? Check out our favourite website for the best hotel deals by clicking here.
Our Favourite Guides to Jordan. Click on the Photo to Check them out!
If you found this page helpful, i would love it if you would pin, share or tweet it on whatever social media platforms you use! Every little bit will help us fund our travels and continue to bring great content to our site! If you found this page helpful, i would love it if you would pin, share or tweet it on whatever social media platforms you use! Every little bit will help us fund our travels and continue to bring great content to our site!
Not Yet Convinced?
Check out this post on Safety in Jordan
Here are more of our posts on visiting Jordan!
You can hover over this pinnable image (or any image on my site) on “Is Jordan Safe? Visiting Jordan with Kids” to quickly pin it !