Several months ago, I sat at my desk just blogging away as a blogger does. My to-do list was the longest it had been all year long. I needed to complete a few hotel reviews, finalize details for Keep Austin Warm, and hit several critical deadlines. And then I got an email. An email inviting me to visit Saudi Arabia and experience its culture, beautiful nature, and Formula E. Within two minutes I got a call from my husband saying, “Did you just get that email?!?!” Yes, he’s linked onto my email because he is a very supportive husband who loves to remind me when I’m behind on my emails LOL. My initial reaction was ‘okay this is spam.’ I continued with my workday not thinking about that email. However, my other half got that email and started researching like he was getting his Ph.D. By the time he came home from work, he was READY to chat.
His thorough research concluded in saying, “We need to go.” I responded something like, “This is a complete scam… we’re obviously not going to go to Saudi Arabia. They’ve never even had tourists before. We are not going.” He told me that the Formula E website was legitimate and it didn’t hurt to email back with questions. So, I started responding to these emails and trying to discern the legitimacy of this opportunity. After numerous emails it did seem like this was a real thing. The only reason why I was still doubtful was that there just weren’t many articles or pieces of content out there talking about Americans going to Saudi Arabia for tourism.
I had so many questions. Could I take photographs in public places? Did I always have to have my hair covered? What was the current status of the religious police? Could I hold Hank’s hand in public? Would I get in trouble if I laughed too hard? Was it okay to be a vegetarian in Saudi Arabia? Could I pray? The list was endless and the lack of information out there left me feeling helpless.
When we told our families that we accepted this opportunity, although excited for us, they also urged extreme caution. With something as unknown as Saudi Arabian tourism, it made sense to me that people reacted this way. It also compelled me to visit so I could genuinely experience this culture and let people know what it is like. I’m excited to create so much of the content that is missing. Did I mention that my charity event Keep Austin warm was on Sunday, and our Saudi Arabia stay ranged from Tuesday through Saturday? Yup. I’m crazy. Somehow, we did it all.
I quickly hopped on Amazon and bought myself a hijab headscarf and an abaya (black gown from neck to feet).
I also packed outfits that were very loose-fitting, dark in color and modest.
Here’s my exact packing list for Saudi Arabia:
- Black abaya from Amazon
- Black hijab from Amazon
- Raven and Lily felt hat
- White sleeveless jumpsuit
- Black short-sleeved jumpsuit
- Linen knee-length button up
- Navy linen pants
- Green long polyester cardigan
- Three plain white tees
- Pair of black suede boots
- Pair of brown leather boots
- Floor length dark green dress from salt and light co
- Undergarments and socks for every day +2
- Camera bag
- A little purse I took everywhere
- Two silk neck scarves (bougieeeeeeee lol jk)
- One cotton scarf
- Pair of black leggings
- Black turtleneck
- Toiletries (Makeup, hair straightener, face products, contact solution, hair brush)
- 4 pairs of earrings
Our hosts flew us out business class. Yo. I’ve never flown internationally on British Airways business class, and that was one heck of a treat. My husband was milking it.
He had a glass of scotch in one and a glass of champagne in the other! He doesn’t even really like champagne ha! Those lie-flat seats on British Airways were terrific.
After a brief stop in London, we flew to Riyadh. Our flight journey from Austin to Saudi Arabia was 19 hours.
I noticed that many Arabic women on the flight in London decked out in western wear, changed into head covers and robes the second we landed.
The western women didn’t change so I stood there, highly anxious, asking myself, do I do this do I not do this.
I decided to wear the loose pants and top I was wearing already and carry the robes and headscarf with me in my hands.
Oops, I wish I had put on those pieces on the plane!
When we got off of the flight, there were 20 men holding signs with names on them.
Perhaps it was the fact that they were looking for the people on their signs or maybe it was the fact that I was already self-conscious about not being covered head to toe,
but I felt awkward. I immediately threw on my scarf and robe, and we found the guy who had our names on a sign. He didn’t say much to us besides, “Come.”
We followed him through the airport into this little line where they took our fingerprints and passports, and then seated us in a nice waiting room.
We still didn’t have our passports with us.
Keep in mind we’ve been traveling for more than 24 hours, we were jetlagged, I was already highly self-aware of standing out, and at this point, I didn’t have my passport.
However, the waiting room had Arabic tea, juice, food, and comfy seats. What can’t food ameliorate?
An hour later, they came by and gave us our passports and then escorted us to our drivers with our luggage.
Our driver, Mohammed, didn’t speak English but he smiled when we saw him and that little smile is all that I needed to tell myself to calm down.
When we got to our hotel, my husband and I noticed a beautiful water fixture outside.
Right next to it, was an army tank. The juxtaposition of the tank and installation again reminded me of where I was.
We walked through a metal detector and bag scanner to get into the hotel, and then went to the reception to check in.
There was this gorgeous light fixture in the lobby of the hotel, and everything looked spotless!
Side note: I noticed that eye contact with me wasn’t made nearly as often as eye contact with my husband. After we got the key to our room, we saw our suite.
You guys. This room had the bathroom of my dreams. Everything was pink marble, and gorgeous.
The bed was comfortable, the living area was great with big windows, and I enjoyed our view very much! We ordered tea and hummus right away!
Again, I noticed that the butler didn’t make eye contact with me and so after that first night, I just let my husband open the hotel room door for room service.
We finally got to bed around 3 AM and set our alarms for 6 AM. Day two was going to be one of the most memorable days of my life!