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Trip Report Iran Trip Report: What I did over my Thanksgiving Vacation

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The following is a recap of my 9 day trip to Iran over Thanksgiving. Since many people (including airport security when getting on my flight back to the US) seem to have the same questions, I’ll try to answer a few questions about logistics first:


Why Iran? Is it safe if you are an American? Ever since getting about two chapters into “Reading Lolita in Tehran,” I’ve wanted to go to Iran. Comments from other tourists who had travelled in Iran assured me that I’d be welcomed warmly as an American. I tried for almost two years to find a way to secure a visa without a guide and travel independently…I finally gave up on this, and convinced my parents to join me over Thanksgiving for what would turn out to be one of the most memorable trips we have ever had. If you are just a run of the mill tourist, yes, Iran is safe (we weren’t engaging in any political demonstrations while there or trying to infiltrate the nuclear facilities, so I can’t speak to that ;)). As I found in my travels in Syria, once people find out you are American, you will be especially well taken care of, as most people really do seem to make a distinction between the US government and the American people. Quite often, the first thing someone would say in response to finding out we were American was “We love Americans!” Although I find any anti-US propaganda disgusting, I never once felt that any of it was directed at me on an individual level. Also, everyone seemed to have at least one family member living in the US – someone told us this early on in our trip so we started doing our own informal poll, and sure enough, everyone seemed to be related to someone living in the US. My parents have travelled to many parts of the world independently over the past 20 years, and they said they have never felt so warmly received.

Visa:

Currently, if you are an American tourist, you must have a guide in order to get a visa. The tour company will secure a visa reference number for you from the Iranian government, who will then notify the Iranian Interests Section of the Embassy of Pakistan in DC of your visa reference number. You then mail in your passport to get the actual visa just like with any other country that requires a visa in advance of travel. I had serious problems getting through to a live person in DC, and once I did, the number of “inshallahs” (“God Willing”) I got in response to my question as to whether they’d mail our passports back to us in time made me quite nervous, so I ended up using Passport Express at the recommendation of thit cho (thanks Michael!) and we all had our passports back within three weeks.

Costs:

Tickets from the east coast generally hover around $1,000, and KLM and Air France each have flights into Tehran a few times a week. I booked our trip through Gashttours (http://www.gashttour.com), a company based in Shiraz, Iran that I found through welltravelledbrit’s recommendation here on Fodors. Cost was the driving factor in booking through them – they priced our private 9 day trip lower than the other operators I contacted. Overall I was satisfied – there were some hiccups in planning (lost emails; I had to straighten out our hotels with them several times), but the extra leg work was worth saving money to me, and we were very well taken care of on the ground. Most of our issues with the tour were the result of being a family of independent travelers and having a guide with a schedule, but more on this later.

Attire:

Yes, if you are a woman you must cover your hair, and you are supposed to wear a mid-thigh length coat or long shirt. (Julia, I should have listened to you --) I picked up some inexpensive silk scarves in Istanbul a few months ago, and these drove me absolutely insane. They were constantly sliding off my head and I resorted to using hair clips to pin the thing to my head (thus removing all doubt I was a tourist, since no other woman had visible hair pins.) I bought a cotton scarf along the way and was much more comfortable. The weather was absolutely beautiful while we were there – clear, crisp days with lots of sun. That being said, I still became overheated in my coat and really regretted not bringing a long tunic top to wear while touring ruins. I did see a number of flagrant dress code violations (which will be making an appearance in my photos!), primarily from tourists from the Philippines and Japan. The guide said no one would say anything to them since they were tourists, but I wouldn’t have felt comfortable walking around without a coat or long shirt on.

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