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Prior to jetting off to Jordan, hours and hours were spent meticulously trawling the internet for ways to make the whole experience more fulfilling but less costly. Having just completed a Year Abroad studying in Italy and Spain, then almost a month interrailing through Europe (and let me tell you, Europe is expensive), my bank account was looking a little worse for wear.
So much so that a friend and I decided we would try and get the whole trip to cost less than £800, flights included, and unless my calculations are massively wrong, we almost did it! Eventually I’ll get around to posting about my budget and expenditure, but in the meantime, here are three of the most important pieces of advice I can give, which will help lower the costs without impeding on the overall experience of such a magnificent country
Sleep anywhere and everywhere.
When it comes to saving money on accommodation anywhere in the world, the first thing people will say is avoid single rooms and go for dorms. Basic budget travel 101.
Jordan has more to offer the budget traveller than just dorm rooms, though; you can sleep on a roof bang in the middle of the hustle and bustle of downtown Amman, spend the night in an authentic Bedouin cave in the middle of Petra, camp in the desert or even just grab your sleeping bag and lay down under the stars.
One of the perks about visiting a country that is basically a built-up desert is the fact that even when it’s cold, it’s still kind of warm (at least it is if you’re born and raised in a country where 14C is considered “summer”). Which is why all of the above are completely viable options.
My first night in Jordan was spent with a friend in a “two bed tent” on the roof of The Boutique Hotel, downtown Amman. At £2.59 (approx. $4) each per night, it was an absolute steal! The ‘tent’ was a simple rectangular structure – a bunch of metal poles welded together and then covered with a thick, burlap-like fabric. The ‘door’ closed by tying it into a latch on the inside. We were provided with basic mattresses and a bunch of blankets. The wind relentlessly attacked us all night. The noise of the downtown traffic seemed to be never-ending. It was simple, it was basic and it was so damn noisy! But there was something peaceful about going ‘back to basics’, something comforting about falling asleep listening to life going on outside – hearing the muezzin’s call to prayer at the crack of dawn, waking up to the smell of freshly baked bread from all the local cafes and restaurants.
To be honest, if I had spent that first night in the comfort of a hotel room, with an actual concrete roof over my head and a bunch of other Western holidaymakers by my side, I doubt it would have been half as memorable.
Avoid organised tours.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with organised tours. Particularly when you’re alone, and especially if you don’t feel 100% safe. However, in this situation I wasn’t alone and not once throughout my whole trip did I feel uneasy.
With organised tours more often than not you get everything you go to a site to get.
Take Petra, for example. You pay for a tour with a company in Amman or online, and you’ll probably get an all-inclusive deal: entry ticket to Petra, a knowledgeable tour guide, perhaps a night in one of the Bedouin caves, maybe one or two meals and some water, a horse ride and transport there and back from Amman. I’ve seen these tours advertised online (and in Amman) for anywhere between $150-300 per person.
Our DIY visit ended up costing little more than $90 . We still ended up with a personal tour of the site, thanks to some friendly locals we met inside. We still got to spend a night in a cave with some of the nicest, most welcoming people I’ve ever met. We even made it up to see the Monastery – a part of Petra which isn’t always included in these organised tours. And the best part is, we were able to do it in our own time. We weren’t confined to the timetable of an organised tour. We didn’t need to rush through some parts in order to catch up with the rest of our tour group. Many, many people choose to take Petra in at their own pace, and I would whole-heartedly recommend it to anybody.
Don’t be a stranger.
Prior to visiting the country, I’d already been ‘warned’ by a few friends that the Middle East, and Jordan in particular, can be full of very curious people when it comes to tourists. But not necessarily in a bad way. I was told that in some cities the older generation might give us disapproving looks, depending on how we dressed. We may get some unwanted attention from people – particularly men – in the lesser-visited areas of the country. The same can be said about any country, though, Britain included.
The people of Jordan, however, proved themselves to be the most kind-hearted, welcoming and generous people I’ve ever met.
One in particular – his name was Ahmed. He saw us (myself and three friends) walking towards the main part of town from our hostel just on the outskirts of Aqaba. He pulled over in his decked-out taxi and said that he was going there anyway, and would happily drop us off. There was already a bewildered looking tourist in the car so we thought nothing of it – he was just a taxi driver being nice. So we got in and off we went.
Ahmed practiced what little English he had with us – we told him about our lives, where we were from and he, in turn, told us about his. He showed us photos and videos of his sister’s wedding. Then he gave us his phone number and said if we need a ride back to call him. Fair enough, he was just trying to garner some more business for himself.
But he didn’t want to accept our money. When we asked him to drive us to Wadi Rum, he didn’t accept our money. It was only when he offered to drive us the whole four-hour journey from Aqaba to Amman, stopping off at the Dead Sea along the way, that we insisted he take our money. Even then he took just enough to cover the cost of the petrol.
He told us he didn’t drive a taxi because he needed to make money – his family was rich enough, apparently. He drove his taxi because he wanted to meet people, he wanted to help people and he wanted to leave a lasting impression on the visitors of his country.
Ahmed was not the only person to have astounded us with his generosity and goodwill. In fact, he wasn’t even the only Ahmed we encountered – there were two more, each with their own stories.
We didn’t actively get in his taxi looking to save a bit of money. But when we left his taxi for the last time, four days after meeting him, I walked away knowing that if you open your heart and your mind to a person, to a country, they will most certainly surprise you.
*Bonus tip: make sure you like falafel and hummus. If you do, you’ll have breakfast, lunch and dinner sorted every day for less than the cost of a bottle of cheap wine!