Rick Steves and other thoughts about Touring Iran

Jameh Mosque of Isfahan

Rick Steves managed to get himself and a film crew journalist visas to Iran back in 2008.  He too seemed apprehensive about the trip even with his travel resume and years of teaching others how to travel.  They were allowed to film 10 short days  and brought PBS viewer a very thoughtful piece about travelling to Iran.  It was a very bold move on his part since his target audience is made up of those who think European travel is exotic and a trip to Iran is not included in many of there bucket lists.  This show was all about going  in the front door of Iran with the promise that he would shed some positive light on country who can not escape its past thanks to western media.

The U.S. does it’s best to discourage its citizens from travelling to Iran.   The U.S. State Department Consumer Affairs site at least informing its citizens of the risks involved with travelling to that region and where the hot spots are.  It’s words should of course be taken seriously.

Taking risks is a part of everyday life and where you travel to may increase the likelihood of being harmed or taken advantage of.  Being well-informed and confident helps prevent such things happening.  Of course, personal safety is a concern for most travelers who venture away from home and into the unknown.  U.S. official warnings made me question what motivates me to travel to areas where there are potential dangers for me as a U.S. citizen.  The U.S. does it’s best to discourage its citizens from travelling to Iran.   The U.S. State Department Consumer Affairs site at least informing its citizens of the risks involved with travelling to that region and where the hot spots are.  It’s words should of course be taken seriously.

Is traveling to Iran was the smartest thing to do right now if ever?   The answer is yes there’s never going to be a good time it seems.   Researching the h@#ll out of it.  What else are you going to do while awaiting for the Fed-ex delivery person to come?

Thanks Rick Steves

Breaking the news to my family that a trip to Iran was going to happen was another thing.  Rick Steves  made it look so tempting since it’s been on our minds for years and guess what – my husband and I are going.   Couldn’t think of any reasons not to go – unlike family and friends who have lots of opinions on the subject.

The application process was underway and the journey itinerary with Pars Tour Agency in Shiraz on May 22nd.  I have to thank many including Rick Steves, a few supportive friends and family, and the large amount of positive trip reports made by others who had done the same journey for giving me the push to go.   I soon be relaxing in tea houses, getting lost in the alleyways of the souks and visiting Zoroastrian caravanserais and fire temples.

Surprisingly, many say that it’s common for US citizens to get rejected but this chart displayed on Iranvisa.com says otherwise.   We were well aware that we could get our visa within days of our scheduled departure.  A Persian-American friend of mine confirmed that we could be getting our visa one day and boarding a plane the next.  There’s nothing like watching airfares go up and down and not being able to take advantage of any deals.  No visa – No sense in buying tickets.

13 weeks later, our passports are back in our hands.  It’s late August and we leave in 2 weeks.  The scramble begins. We promptly booked tickets to Shiraz via Istanbul just in case we got rejected at upon arrival.  If we thought it would be wise to put Istanbul in the plan just as a back up.  It’s a pessimistic move but I’m getting practical in my old age.

The problems between the U.S. and Iran will unfortunately not be resolved anytime soon since some old wounds seems to take a very long time to heal.  History shows that there’s not good chance of the two countries will not be buddies anytime soon.  The most recent media circus involving a used Persian car salesman nicknamed “Scarface”, members of a Mexican drug cartel and an attempt to kill a Saudi Prince baffles me and many others.  I’m not sure what to make of it all.  Now, there’s even more travel warnings posted on the U.S. Travel site, the media and U.S. politicians are having a field day as the war of words resumes we have seen since the 70’s resumes.

Make sure and check out the travel warnings listed by the U.S. and even Great Britain but remember to also balance these warnings with some current information from those who have traveled to such areas.   Blogs and travel information boards found on the Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor sites are a great source for new and experienced travelers.   They are full of current information,  allow travelers to hopefully get answers to specific questions  and it’s a great place to contribute and help others in need of information.  Remember,  information is your friend.

Inspiration to travel to new regions, like Iran, sometimes comes from unexpected places like travel shows by Rick Steves and posts made by like-minded strangers on travel boards and blogs.    Do yourself a favor and diversify the information sources as much as possible before taking off.  You may even discover some “back doors” Rick is always going on about or make time to go off the beaten path and view the lesser known sites others usually miss.

Americans in Iran 2011: Planning, applying and waiting…

It’s May 2011 and our next trip will be to Iran. Ignoring the propaganda and the fact that it could take months to get a visa we begin the visa application process and the trip research. It was now or never and we’re going for it. The trip will be at least 14 days which isn’t a whole lot but enough to get a feel for the country.  The itinerary will need shortening and compose a realistic travel budget and itinerary.   Some amazing things will unfortunately be put back on the wish list. This fairly quick trip will be more a best of Iran opposed to a full tour with no limits and a loose vicarious plan which is usually how we roll.  The classic central Iran itinerary that takes us from Shiraz to Tehran is perfect for 14 days by land.

Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque
Morning in the center of Esfahan

Traveling with a U.S. passport to Iran requires a guided tour.  Americans have a history in the area so it’s understandable that the government wants to keep tabs on us and we have to do it.  Finding a knowledgable local guide who will not make us feel as if we were on a short leash and hopefully compatible in personality is first on the to do list.   Reading other travelers blog posts, checking out Thorntree posts and Google searches lead me to finding Pars Tourist Agency which is a small but well-known tour agency based in Shiraz.  Zehra is very organized, patient and good at getting back to me despite the time change and how the weekends start on Thursday and end on Saturday.   They ended up putting together a customized tour which included all the attractions we wanted to see and within our budget.

The Somewhat Short List of why we decided to go to Iran:

1. UNESCO sites Iran full of them and we’ll be able to see a good chunk of them in two weeks – plus the flight isn’t that long – just 13 hours.

2. Politics aside The middle east has always a political hotbed so stayed informed, avoid any political discussion and enjoy the scenery

3. Low hustler level It’s not like Egypt, Turkey or Morocco where many rely on baksheesh to supplement their low wages (which is actually a Persian word) .

4. The US Dollar Woes For Americans, the dollar is still going down and the required tour and it’s prices just always go up and never down

5. Angry Israel It has been pretty trigger-happy recently and who knows when they will put their threats to action and each day there is something new like today (Nov 2) on Al-Jazeera

Travelling to Iran was always in our thoughts especially when we went to other areas of Asia and the Middle East.  Ancient history, architecture and modern culture is usually the draw to the places my husband and I visit.  The most influential were visits to the Persian designed Taj Mahal, Xian, Jordan and Syria. They are all connected to the former Silk Road and Iran has links to them all. We wanted to see and experience a different side of the region and dig deeper into how the traders along the Silk Road influenced and  shaped the lands they once journeyed through. I wanted to see where were the great battles were fought, learn more about the area’s history and see in person what in terms of physical structures (caravanserai, forts, and ancient cities to name a few) and various forms of art still remain today.   Additionally, I like to find answers to questions like did the travelers and warriors of those periods still have a place in present Iranian society?  How did the past influence today’s society?

If Rick Steves did it then why can’t we? He said himself that he regretted not travelling to neighboring Iraq when he had the chance. I personally want to see what goes on  in Iran – politics aside? How do people live and how will the receive me even after they find out where I’m from.   There are many questions that I hope to find answers to and some will have to remain unanswered until I return in the future.