“Is it safe to travel to Iran?” That was the single most asked question people managed to come up with when they heard I planned my 2 week trip to Iran. Now, I get it. Iran is a bit controversial. You cannot travel without a guided tour if you’re an American, Canadian or British passport holder, but fortunately for me: I have a passport from the Netherlands. So I planned to solo travel in Iran. And people worried about my safety. A lot.
So.. Is it safe for a woman to travel solo in Iran?
I can only answer that question with “YES”. Every time people asked me this, I wanted to respond with: “Duh! Of course not. I plan to put myself in danger and travel to an unsafe country willingly.” But I managed to keep the sarcasm deep within and just decided to go and see for myself.
Of course I was nervous. I am always nervous on every solo adventure. But I can honestly say: I have never felt unsafe on my solo travel in Iran. Not once during my 2 week travels in Iran did I feel unwelcome. I never encountered any hostile feelings and I did not see anyone get arrested or harmed in any way.
Examples of why I felt safe during my solo travel in Iran
Below are some examples that illustrate why I felt safe traveling solo in Iran.
All tour guides showed me their badge with their name and photo, showing they were official tour guides for Iran.
Most taxi drivers introduced themselves to me, showed me their registration number on their window. One taxi driver even called a friend who spoke English, to check if I was still ok during our taxi ride (ok, driving and mobile phone use is not safe, but hey, it is Iran!).
I noticed on a couple of occassions that the receptionist of the hotel would snap a picture of the license plate of the taxi picking up guests of the hotel.
These are just small examples of people showing that they have your best interest at heart. Overall it was a warm feeling to meet with Iranian people and answer their questions.
Read more: Solo but not single female traveller.
But what about ISIS and terrorism in Iran?
In all fairness, I keep myself far from any political issues. In everyday life and this is no different when I travel. I must confess I do not know exactly where ISIS is occupying any land (I know not in Iran) and I do not know where terrorism will strike next (does anyone ever know?).
At the moment, I feel wearier to travel to London or in the subways, than when I travelled in Iran as a solo female traveller.
But what about the negative travel advice from your local authorities?
I read the travel advice issued by our foreign affair offices. They state that the border areas with Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan are high risk areas. They also warm against criminal activities in the eastern provinces. As I wasn’t planning on going anywhere near them, I felt confident before my travels. I read about the problems, I was aware of the issues and until I would face them, there wasn’t much I could do about it, so why worry about them?
Always consult your local foreign affair offices for any travel advice.
So I wasn’t worried at all for my solo travel in Iran?
Yes I was worried. I was concerned to bring enough money, as foreigners cannot use Iranian ATM’s or banks.
Read more: My 2 weeks travel budget for Iran.
I worried about using squat toilets with my Crohn’s disease. And I felt a bit too tired before I left and I was worried that I didn’t learn enough Farsi. Those were my concerns.
My boyfriend worried a lot about me getting arrested for photographing something that isn’t allowed. I almost snapped a picture of an armed soldier in front of a gate with a sign next to it that showed it was forbidden to take photographs. Just to show him that things are fairly well indicated. Obviously, I didn’t take a photograph of it.
And nothing bad happened during my solo travel in Iran?
Actually: No! I know many people will not believe me. They want to hear the negative stories, but I do not have that much to share. At my last hostel, the Iranian girl that worked there asked me: “what is the worst thing that happened to you as a solo female traveller in Iran?” and I had to think long and hard. I did come up with a few answers (because I know you want to hear something), but I don’t think they are that bad and definitely didn’t feel unsafe, mainly uncomfortable.
#1. The traffic in Iran
The only thing dangerous in Iran is the traffic. Crossing the street as a pedestrian or even sitting in a bus or taxi demands nerves of steel. As it was out of my control when I sat in a taxi or bus, I stopped to worry about it. When I crossed the road I adopted the matrix-philosophy. There is no spoon. There is no traffic. Just cross the road and trust they will not hit you.
#2. Iranian people love me
Just arrived in Esfahan, I walked on the streets towards the bridge. A guy walked really close next to me and said (repeatedly) with a creepy voice: I love you. As it was a long street, he continued to follow my tracks. Slowed down when I slowed down, speed up when I walked faster etc. Because it was in the middle of the day, on a crowded street, I wasn’t scared he would do something to me; I was just very much annoyed by the unwanted attention.
#3. Unwanted photoshoot
While I sat on a bench in a park in Shiraz, I gathered my thoughts, trying to figure out where to go next, when a shabby looking man stood opposite me. He held up his phone to indicated that he wanted to take a picture. Thanks to Alex’s story about sexual harassment in Iran I was very vigilant about men wanted to take pictures of me and I definitely didn’t want this man to have any image of me. I gestured to him that I didn’t want this. I looked the other way, pushed my sunglasses higher up my nose and tried to cover as much as possible of myself with my headscarf, I heard that oh-so-familiar click of his phone snapping a picture. After this, he walked away and I was just very irked.
In my opinion, these 2 occurrences are really the only things remotely negative about my time in Iran. They were not unsafe situations; I didn’t feel at risk and didn’t feel anyone would harm me.
Read more: My love letter to Shiraz Iran
Over the years I have travelled around quite a bit, in a group and as a solo female traveller, and now I have gathered quite a few unpleasant experiences and potential dangerous situations. I do not count the above mentioned stories from Iran among them and I felt safe during time travelling in Iran.
What was it like to travel as a solo woman in Iran?
I heard stories Iran is not made for solo travel (male or female) and people will ask where your tour groups is. This didn’t happen to me once. Nobody asked where my group was. I felt welcome everywhere I went. Woman wanted to talk to me and men wanted to talk to me too. Vendors didn’t harrass me to buy carpets, drink tea or visit their uncle’s gift shop (yes I mean you Turkey). Iranian people didn’t stare at me. They didn’t avoid sitting next to me. Nothing like that.
Read more: Best places to see the desert in Iran.
Instead, they wanted to chat with me. Iranian people wanted to know where I was from and what I thought about Iran. They invited me to chat with them, eat with them and share experiences with them. Iran felt like a warm welcome. I consider Iran one of the easiest countries to travel around as a solo traveller.
During my trip as a solo female traveller in Iran, I felt things where easier for me. I got the last seat on the bus or in the shared taxi. It was easy for me to snatch the last bed in the hostels I stayed in. I felt I was more approachable for other travellers and Iranian people.
Was there a downside to solo travel in Iran?
I might have paid a wee- little bit more Rials than couples who travel or groups of friends travelling together in Iran. I used a lot of taxis (shared but also private ones) which cost the same for 1 person or 5 people. As it mostly was just me, I paid full price a lot. Other than that, I didn’t feel Iran was any different than any other country to travel solo in.
Disclaimer: These are only my personal experiences. I travelled solo in Iran for 2 weeks in February and March 2017. I am a Dutch citizen and travelled in touristic areas like Tehran, Shiraz, Yazd, Esfahan and Kashan. Everyone is always responsible for their own actions and wherever you travel to in the world you have to be careful and mindful of your surroundings. In no way, I want to abolish anyone else’s experiences with (negative) solo travel in Iran. These are just my own personal experiences and opinions.
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Do you consider to travel solo to Iran? What is holding you back? What are your worries and feelings about solo travel in Iran? Let me know in the comment section below.