Solo female travel in Iran, is it a good idea? Is it safe for women to travel to Iran?
I decided to plan my Iran trip together with my friend Madi, an Iranian woman traveller. Her family had no problems in letting her travel around Iran with the only company of another woman. So we set off to discover the wonders of modern Persia and to bust the myth of Iran as a dangerous travel destination for women.
Is Iran safe for solo female travellers?
I’ve often come across misleading articles stating that in Iran women don’t go anywhere alone, and are never seen alone in public but only accompanied by their families or in groups. If you travel to Iran you will quickly realize that this is not only inaccurate but downright false.
Not only are most women I know pretty independent, but solo female travel in Iran is a rather common reality.
During my two-week trip to Iran, in every city, I saw women alone, in groups of women only or with other men, either family or friends, students or professionals, relaxing in parks, shopping, going to work or school, and busy pretty much in all routine activities you can think of.
Of course, traveling alone especially as a woman has its own risks, but this doesn’t apply to Iran only. Check out this article for the pros and cons of solo travelling.
Travelling in Iran as a woman, my personal experience
In the span of two weeks, we have visited many Iranian cities, and most trips involved buses and trains, both day and night ones. I quickly noticed we were not the only women travelling alone. In fact, we met and chatted with many women travelling solo on night trains and buses because not only this is a very common practice in Iran, but it’s also very safe.
This trend of giving a bad image to Iran without any kind of knowledge is becoming truly boring and tiresome, as well as old and too much of a cliché.
We also travelled to more offbeat destinations, such as Lahijan and Talysh in northern Gilan province, as well as provinces like Khuzestan, Lorestan and Kermanshah.
My personal experience of female travel in Iran was richer than travelling solo. In fact, being with an Iranian woman, all our steps were filled with those insights only a local can give you.
Each of those extra pieces of information made me realize how close and similar Iranians are to Italians, both in the good aspects such as warmth and a genuine sense of hospitality and in the bad ones, such as confusion and delays. And also in the odd ones, like the overall carefree attitude and very personal interpretation of rules and laws. It was probably these constant and repeated comparisons that made of laughing and giggling the main features of our journey.
My southern Italian/Sardinian look made everybody mistake me for an Iranian, asking me for directions or just striking a conversation with me until they understood that, apart for some three words, I don’t speak Persian.
English is seldom spoken, this is why I would recommend booking a tour. All the places we’ve been to are rather laid-back, with Shiraz being probably the most relaxed. Maybe this is due to the fact that it’s considered the capital of poetry and romance rather than a business hub, so it needs to live up to the expectations.
How I prepared to travel to Iran – Practical tips
1. Learning about the dress code
The first thing you want to know as a woman travelling solo to Iran is what to wear. The Islamic dress code (hijab) is enforced, and tourists are not an exception. In Iran, it goes beyond the headscarf and involves tunics and manteau, so go prepared.
READ MORE: What to wear in Iran – a practical guide
2. Learning about Iranian culture and society
This should apply to any country you visit, especially for the first time. But in Iran is especially important as it’s likely to be different from most countries you visited. From a stiffer relation between men and women to places where men and women are separated, in Iran you need to know your place.
READ MORE: Things to know before travelling to Iran
3. Getting my visa in advance
I know getting a visa on arrival in Iran is pretty easy and doesn’t require much paper, but usually, my flights from Italy reached late at night and I didn’t really feel like spending more hours at the airport.
This is why I did it only once and I usually applied for my Iran visa beforehand from their consulate in Rome. Now you can easily do it online, and this is my recommendation as it’s fast and headache-free.
READ MORE: How to apply for Iran visa
4. Drawing my itinerary
To avoid surprises I couldn’t fix because I don’t speak Farsi, I prepared my Iran itinerary in advance before travelling. This included also hotels and flights. Now you can book hotels, domestic flights and local buses online using the website of the Iranian agency 1stQuest.
Tips for the solo female traveller in Iran
I have read several not-so-pleasant experiences from women travellers in Iran. Ranging from uncomfortable situations to downright sexual harassment, these things should never happen.
I admit that in all my Iran trips, I have never experienced any harassment, maybe because I can be easily mistaken for a local so men are warier? Whatever the reason, I feel compelled to give some tips to women travelling solo to Iran (that I usually follow wherever I go).
- Avoid walking alone at night. Out of my comfort zone, but also where I live, I avoid going out alone at night, especially in areas that are not busy or crowded.
- Prefer the women-only wagon in the metro. Those who embark on solo female travel in Iran should keep in mind that in the last wagon of each metro there are only women. So unless you are travelling with a male friend, jump on these wagons that are usually on the two edges of the train. On the bus, you can’t choose anyway, you have to get on the women part.
- Go to the police. In Iran, you will see police officers everywhere, especially in tourist areas. Don’t be afraid to go and tell them if someone is bothering you. Tell them a “mozahem” (harasser) is harassing you.
- Dress modestly. How can I not dress modestly in Iran, you might wonder. By this, I mean to be careful to cover your arms, to wear a long tunic especially if you have leggings and if you are in a more conservative city like Qom, Kashan, Khuzestan, etc.
- Choose your taxi wisely. When a driver insists on the ride, he’s probably a private providing lifts (darbast), so you might want to avoid it. Take either a licensed taxi, ajanse (I’m guessing from the French “agence”) or a shared one, khati. Khati does always the same road back and forth, usually the same street, and is very cheap. If you don’t want to feel uncomfortable on the khati, you can get on one where there is already a woman.
- Don’t get on the car with a stranger. This applies pretty much to any country, but in Iran, you can find men who stop near the sidewalk and offer you a ride. They stop with women alone or groups of only women, not if there are also men. Don’t accept.
My first Iran trip as a solo female traveller
Overall, my experience of female travel in Iran felt like a roller coaster, involving hectic jumping on and off buses, trains, taxis, and even one IranAir flight. We visited as much as we could, barely stopping for lunch and dinner, tucking into sweets and nuts, drinking fruit juices, detoxing with local Khakeshir. We hardly slept an average of four hours per night for two weeks and laughed all the way from day one.
This trip was exhausting and soothing at the same time, but most of all, it was inspiring, giving a new spark to my own passion for history, culture, and, not least, travel blogging. The tour was definitely one of a kind, and I’ll do my best to reproduce the same atmosphere and make you sense the same vibe we felt all along the way.
READ MORE: How to plan a perfect trip to Iran