“Keys to the Kingdom, Mysterious Saudi”

September 18 – 26, 2023           Small Group

Price listed below the daily itinerary

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“What we see will violate what we know – but what we know dictates what we see.” ― Lysa TerKeurst

Mysterious and unknown, Saudi is an unimaginable land shrouded in ancient traditions where history blends with uber contemporary luxury. If you are a culture-vulture and a wonder seeker to places not like home, this is your vacation destination! For centuries, it was closed off to any form of tourism until 2019 when it first opened its doors to visitors. A cultural shift and great reforms are now underway to welcome you with heart felt hospitality.
Here is raw tourism, untouched and pure with no crowds or waiting in lines. It’s like launching yourself into another dimension. We will experience colorful souks, World Heritage Sites, ancient monuments and archaeological sites dating back 20,000 years. Wrapped in 1660 miles of the Arabian Sea coastline, Saudi is as much an ocean kingdom, as it is a desert kingdom. But it’s the curious local people so eager to meet you with genuine warmth that makes it all so special. Like visiting another planet, my visit in May served me so well, it changed me.

Discover the essence of KAS (Kingdom of Saudi) as we tour 3 of the county’s best and most diverse regions. The cultural hub of Jeddah on the breezy coast of the Red Sea will WOW you with entertaining delights. Our tours in Saudi’s capital, Riyadh covers palaces, museums, forts and bazaars. Then we journey into the mountains for a marvelous day at “the Edge of the World” for incredible photos.

The highlight is is historic Al Ula, “World’s Largest Living Museum”, set in stunning desert scapes. This bucket-list topping place makes you feel like a true explore beyond Indiana Jones. See the UNESCO ancient tombs and monuments that look otherworldly! (Petra in Jordan is cool. But sites like Hegra here are off the charts and you’ll have it all to yourself). Al Ula also provides the fun with camels, hiking, cutting edge art installations, adventure sports, stargazing and more. You’ll love our deluxe tented resort here set in a an illuminated canyon that looks surreal. But even more, “Caravans by Habitat” as we slumber in sleek silver Airstreams. Care for popcorn with your outdoor cinema projected onto ancient mammoth rocks? Here’s an immersive Glamping experience that focuses on human connections and adventurous surprises beyond your imagination! Check www.experiencealula.com.

Now is the time to explore enigmatic KAS on the road less traveled before mass tourism hits. September is the best month to visit and we guide you every step of the way. Need a nudge? Read my Saudi blog and visit www.visitsaudi.com. Come discover the undiscovered on our most unique and first ever AFS journey ever into 1001 Arabian nights, it’s beyond extraordinary.

 

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Our Glorious AFS Itinerary

Click for printable PDF itinerary (SAUDI)

18 September  –  Depart USA to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.  Air details to come in trip tips later.

19 September – Welcome to Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or KSA Kingdom of Saudi !  (Land portion officially begins)

Welcome to Jeddah, the largest city in Saudi Arabia. A major port, a historical Red Sea trading point, and a gateway for the thousands of yearly pilgrims heading to Mecca or Medina, the city has a bustling atmosphere with enticing entertainment venues.

On arrival, airport transfer to our hotel. We’ll be free to explore the city – the Islamic Museum is one of our options, a veritable showcase of Arab history and tradition. Later you may wish to go for a walk along the beautiful Corniche, which is a key spot for locals to socialise, stroll and enjoy the sea breeze.

 Overnight at Hyatt House, Jeddah  (2 nights)  3023 Sari Street West, Al Salamah District, Jeddah

20 September  – Exploring Jeddah Tour

After breakfast we’ll explore Jeddah today, beginning with a visit to the enormous fish market. Seafood is essential to the economy of Jeddah, and a visit to this thriving fish market puts this into perspective. We’ll also explore Jeddah’s Corniche, which extends many miles along the Red Sea coast – this long sea front incorporates parks, mosques and playgrounds, and is lined with sculptures that culminate at the small open-air sculpture ‘museum’ in the north of the city. We’ll walk a section of it, aiming to see the amazing ‘Floating Mosque’ along the way.

After lunch we had to the UNESCO-listed old town of Al Balad this afternoon. A quirk of Saudi culture is that many places only come alive after 4pm, with souks, shops and cafes opening late into the night. This is no different in Al Balad. Founded in the 7th Century, Al Balad was once the city centre of Jeddah and an essential Red Sea port. This wonder of architecture is famous for its wooden and coral carved ‘roshans’ (intricately carved facades), or Ottoman townhouses which provide fascinating photos. During our guided tour of Al Balad we’ll enter some of the houses for a perspective on how people lived and worked in old Arabia. See the 300 year old mosque still active and vendors selling traditional delicacies of fresh bread, Arabian coffees and smoothies.  We’ll also have some free time to explore the maze of narrow streets that lead into the Souk Al Alawi section of Balad – in the late afternoon this area is transformed into a busy network of shops selling rugs, art, herbs, silver and perfume, as well as a lively street market with everything from okra and rice to meat and chilli peppers.

Our Welcome Dinner this evening will give us the opportunity to sample what Jeddah is really known for – fish! We will go to one of the cities popular fish restaurants for the catch of the day. Normally the menu includes a creamy fish together with hummus, vine leaves, rice and trimmings. It’s a fitting start to our Saudi Arabian journey.

Overnight at Hyatt House, Jeddah.     B, D

21 September –  Fly to Al Ula for full day Tour

After breakfast we head to the airport for our flight into another world of glorious Al Ula. On arrival at 1PM, we check into our stunningly located desert resort which will be our base for the next two nights. During our time in Alula we will certainly discover why this area is becoming a must-visit location for anyone interested in the scenery and rich cultural heritage of Arabia.

Al Ula is located in the Wadi Al-Qura, a valley oriented north-south between the lava fields of the Harrat ‘Uwayrid, and the sandstone massif of the Jibal Ath-Thumayid. Its’ underground water resources and its’ strategic location along the frankincense road meant this valley played a major role in the history of the Arabian Peninsula.

The birthplace of two ancient Arabian kingdoms: During the 1st millennium BCE, Al-Ula saw the rise of the ancient city of Dedan that became the capital of two successive kingdoms, Dedan and Lihyan, that ruled over the northwest of the Arabian Peninsula. At the end of the 1st millennium BCE a new power coming from the north, the Nabateans, installed their southernmost outpost and second most important city 20 kilometers to the north of Al-Ula, in Madain Saleh. North of this is the Nabateans city of Petra.

This afternoon, we will explore various archaeological sites and the UNESCO World Heritage site of Hegra (aka Mada’in Saleh). Second, only in size to Petra (in neighboring Jordan), this strategically sited Nabatean city has over one hundred ornately decorated royal tombs, including the striking Qasr Farid, dating back to the 1st century CE.

At sunset, we board our 4 x 4 Jeeps again to head for a visit to the iconic Elephant Rock. Set in golden desert sands and climbing at a height of 52 meters into the Saudi Arabian sky, the awe-inspiring Elephant rock is one of Al Ula’s many geological marvels.  Unlike the ornate, hand-carved facades of nearby Hegra’s Nabataean tombs, the “trunk” and “body” of this monolithic red sandstone beast were shaped by natural forces over millions of years of wind and water erosion. The beauty of the unrefined structure is enhanced by a landscape of golden sands and studded with rocky outcrops of interesting shapes and figures. Time for refreshments at the café here and for photographs as magical lights make this site dramatically impressive.

(Please note that many of the activities in and around AlUla are controlled by the Royal Commission for AlUla which includes the times and durations allowed for visiting the sites. Google Condé Nast Traveler magazine, October 2022 for a great historical story featured on Alula.)

Overnight at Shaden Resort, Al ula (2 nights)             B/D

22 September  .  Al Ula Mountains & Tombs

After breakfast, morning to relax by the beautiful swimming pool or hike the surrounding canyons.

Later we visit by Jeep the Lion Tombs of Dadan. In the ancient oasis Dadan, close to today’s city of Al-Ula in Madinah Province, a kingdom flourished from at least the 6th century until the 2nd century BCE. There, the kings of Dadan and later Lihyan reigned over a territory that spread from the city of Iathrib (today’s Madinah) to the Levant. In their capital Dadan, remains of these brilliant kingdoms have been excavated, including an impressive necropolis whose tombs were dug into the side of Jebel Dadan that overlooks the city on the east. These tombs are square-shaped holes, cut at different heights out of the side of the mountain, their cavities being about two meters deep. They are approximately dated to the 5th century BCE, the probable period of the Lihyanite takeover of the region. About 1 kilometer south of the main excavation site of Dadan are two exceptional tombs located some 50 meters above the wadi where the ancient oasis was centered. Those are the only tombs that are decorated with two carved lions each, showing the importance of their owners, being governors or influential people. These sculptures of lions are an outstanding example of the Mesopotamian influence and are the proud iconic figures of this ancient oasis.

Don your sneakers, for a wonderful canyon hike as we continue to Jabal Ikmah (mountain). In a beautiful desert landscape, the world’s largest “Open Library” is tucked away in a remote canyon.  Dadan was a caravan way station for many peoples, and one of the clues that Al Ula was truly a crossroads of civilizations is Jabal Ikmah. It was visited by those wishing to leave their inscriptions and offerings en-route through Al Ula. It’s like a giant message board for pilgrims to communicate.  Records kept here are in the form of hundreds of inscriptions and carvings lining the cliff faces and rocks and ensured that Jabal Ikmah would be remembered throughout the ages. The inscriptions are thought to date as far back as the 1st millennium BCE. Gazing at its rock art of humans, musical instruments and animals, you can discover what was important in the daily lives of people in the “Dadanite,” “Lihyanite” and other civilizations of Al Ula. Long after Al Ula’s ancient people walked this site, researchers and historians visited Jabal Ikmah to study its centuries-old imprints. You will feel the historic power of this magnificent site.

Farm visit – Enjoy a unique lunch at a local farm.  I love this special farm with miles of date and fruit trees. Ali and his dogs greet us with juice and coffees before we walk the orchards that supply produce from here around the world.  Pick what you like and then we head to his Bedouin camp.  His mother prepares us a feast of delicious local dishes.  Our visit here supports the local community with jobs and sustainability of this huge plantation.

Harra View Point at sunset – embarking on a 4WD ride scaling the black lava stone terrain of Harrat Uwayrid, to be rewarded with views over Dadan, Ula oldtown, AlUla Fort and the AlUla Oasis.

Our day ends with a stroll through the outdoor Old Town Market featuring local artisans, entrepreneurs, handicraft stores, local specialty foods, cafes and more. AlUla Old Town is still being renovated for tourism.  T.E. Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia) lived here in 1916.  Travelers stayed here for the 12th to 20th centuries.  Learn more at  www.experiencealula.com

Overnight at Shaden Resort, Al ula  (2 nights) B/D

23 September   Caravans at Habitas!  https://www.ourhabitas.com/caravan-alula/

 Today we will check in to Caravan Habitas.  So much buzz on this place for upscale hipsters seeking a wilderness adventure like no other.   Caravan by Habitas is a one-of-a-kind glamping experience set among the majestic sandstone cliffs in AlUla designed to set free the inner child in all of us!… 22 silver Airstreams, infinity pool, 4 food trucks, huge community tented area, scattered art installations and unique adult play stations for fun, like swings to trampolines.

The Mirage-  Optional visit by jeeps to the famous new Maraya.  See the enormous cubed-shaped sculpture of mirrors that is an award-winning, state-of-the-art structure.   Time to get your best Instagram photos ever!

Later in the evening, enjoy s’mores by the fire and popcorn with movies set against a mountain wall.

Overnight at  Caravan by Habitas  (1 night) B

https://www.ourhabitas.com/caravan-alula/

24 September   Flight to Riyadh, Desert Journey to Edge of the World. 

Early morning yoga session at Caravan Resort.  Wellness is woven into the fabric of everything here.

Later transfer to airport for flight to Riyadh 11:40AM-1:15PM and head straight to our hotel to check in.  The capital of Riyadh is a sprawling city, where ancient palaces and palm trees are found just a few traffic-laden streets away from bright, modern architecture. We’ll get a feeling of both the old and new today.

In the late afternoon, we drive in 4WD vehicles into the Tuwalq Mountains and Jebel Fihrayn, also known as the Edge of the World! This dramatic set of cliffs, just one hour outside of Riyadh, rises vertically from the desert floor. Walk the towering clear cut rock riffs formed 150 million years ago by the Red Sea in this part of the Arabian Peninsula.  Like Jurassic Park, keep an eye out for fossils.  The horizon dances before us yet is somehow unobtainable – this visual illusion gives the wonder its name. We aim to be there for sunset, before driving back to the city.

Overnight at Crowne Plaza Minhal         B

https://www.ihg.com/crowneplaza/hotels/gb/en/riyadh/ruhsa/hoteldetail

Riyadh Must See – The Diplomatic Quarter offers natural and cultural attractions within a self-contained recreational landscape. You can walk or cycle to the beautiful Wadi Hanifa, take a stroll around manicured parks and gardens and shop or dine in upmarket international plazas.

What’s New – Riyadh’s modern skyline is the perfect showcase for an architectural marvel. New skyscrapers are rising as the city continues to grow. While staying true to its rich cultural heritage, Riyadh continues to adapt a more contemporary feel attracting millions of travel enthusiasts travelers with city-wide events and entertainment festivals throughout the year.

Must Do – Riyadh is a shopper’s paradise. From luxury brands in the modern Sahara, Hayat and Al Qasr malls, to the traditional souks of Deira and Al Owais, you can find all the latest designer goods and negotiate over truly unique and antique local artifacts.  For adventure explore the desert. You can race across the dunes of the Thumama in a quad bike or find endless calm in its sublimely desolate vastness. Hike the rust-red Sha’ib Luha valley, where the sweetly fragrant acacia trees bow above glass-green pools.

25 September   Exploring Riyadh – Historic City Tour & Dune Bashing

Before the 1930s, Riyadh was a small, walled oasis town in what was then known as the Second Saudi State. After Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud conquered the state in the late 1920s he retook his family’s ancient seat and brought together most of the Arabian Peninsula in what he went on to name ‘Saudi Arabia’. We’ll learn some of this history on a trip to the National Museum this morning – the museum is enormous so we will pick and choose some of the key exhibits. If you are staying longer in Riyadh it’s well worth spending more time here.

Saudi Arabia’s capital and main financial hub is on a desert plateau in the country’s center. Landmarks include the 302m-high Kingdom Centre, with a sky bridge connecting 2 towers, and 267m-high Al Faisaliah Centre, with a glass-globe summit. In the historical Deira district, Masmak Fort marks the site of the 1902 raid that gave the Al Sauds control of Riyadh.  We continue to visit Masmak Fortress, the most prominent remnant of the old walled oasis town of Riyadh. From here, we will visit the modern part of the city, taking the lift up the Kingdom Tower skyscraper for impressive views.

Red sand dunes –  Later we’ll continue to an adventure in the Red Sand Dunes!   Located in northeastern Riyadh, Red Sand is an area of red desert dunes where you can enjoy numerous thrilling activities including sand-boarding, dune-bashing and buggy-riding.

Overnight at Crowne Plaza Riyadh Minhal  (2 nights)           B

26 September   Riyadh onwards flight back to USA

Today here we say goodbye to beautiful and memorable Saudi, with flights back to the U.S.   B

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Land Price $3595 plus internal domestic flights Jeddah – AlUla – Riyadh  $220

(Price based on a minimum of 20 participants per person twin share. Single supplement $1195.)

 Deposit $500

 Includes:  6 nights’ accommodation at listed hotels and overnight at Caravan, Breakfast daily and meals as stated (B= breakfast, L = lunch, D = dinner), Farm experience at Al Ula.  Transportation using the services of a deluxe air-conditioned coach for all transfers, sightseeing and excursions as per itinerary.  Accompanied Tour director in entire tour.  Entrance fees to the monuments as mentioned in the itinerary.  Mineral water will be provided daily.  All  applicable taxes, Regional Flights – Jeddah – AlUla/ Al Ula – Riyadh

 Not included:  International air USA into Jeddah and out of Riyadh.  Pre- and post- land arrangements. Passport and visa expenses.  Travel Insurance.  Gratuites TBA

We will detail all rules and customs.  Regulations are becoming more relaxed making visiting easy.  Saudi Arabia is a dry country. Alcohol is absolutely forbidden (as are narcotics and pornographic materials). Dress is modest and women do not need to cover their heads. You will be fingerprinted and undergo a retinal scan upon arrival in the country.  Be aware that most places in the Kingdom shut down between noon and 3 pm every day as well as several other times during prayers and often the group will be returned to the hotel for some free time during these periods.  In addition, sometimes sites can be closed for no foreseen reasons or authorities can also deny visit of certain places without prior notice. AFS nor our partners are responsible for any such events/acts.

 

TRIP TIPS.  Coming soon.  Until then here is a great article about this destination.

What it’s like to travel as a woman in Saudi Arabia

A conservative kingdom with deeply rooted beliefs and cultural traditions, some experiences can be off-putting
Saudi Arabia is the largest country in the Middle East — and one of the most mysterious. After all, most travelers were not allowed to visit for decades until 2019, the year the Kingdom opened its doors to tourists from 49 countries, including the United States.

This richly diverse country has also endured its share of controversies, as well as a reputation for treating women as second-class citizens who must cover their bodies (including their faces) from head to toe…Continue

 

 

Thank you for booking our most unique adventure ever into remarkable Saudi Arabia, largest country in the Middle East and most mysterious of all. Closed to visitors until 2019, the Kingdom is open for all! Traveling off the tourist – trodden path, you’ll discover some of the best ”undiscovered” landmarks in the world. This place oozes history but soon it will explode with “giga-projects” the world has never imagined. It will transform global tourism and you’ll be here to witness the birth before masses arrive. Before my visit, I had plenty of preconceived notions, but every experience here exceeded my expectations. The joy of this vacation is found in its friendly people who embrace visitors with a warm hospitality like no other place. 

At present, we have a wonderful group of extraordinary travel lovers who seek places most unlike home. Connect now on your private group Facebook page to get to know each other. A link was sent when you booked. Start a Saudi file. Bookmark and print the itinerary, trip, tips, and all updates to come to you by email.

Trip Tips are designed to answer trip-related questions. It’s your responsibility to read this information.  Updates and addendums will be posted here.  Check back from time to time.

  • FINAL PAYMENT DUE May 20    Wetravel is our data management company, it allows you to pay by check electronically without a fee. Simply follow the instructions. Credit cards will be assessed a processing fee at time of purchase.  As a small business, this helps mitigate costs and allows us to give you the very best price.   If you prefer to use the mail, make your payment to AFS or Adventures For Solo Travelers, 1907 Daniel Green Ct., Smyrna GA 30080

Your fearless GTL (Gracious Trip Leader, not a guide but liaison between our guides and group to ensure things run smoothly.). Deanna Purdie.  You’ll love her.  She’s amazing!

Based in Atlanta, making her way around the globe with over 60 countries visited…mostly solo until finding out about AFS in 2017.  With degrees in Photography and Graphic Design from SCAD, she enjoys helping others capture and create interesting posts for Social Media that your friends are sure to envy. Also, with a background in IT/Communications, she is able to help solve any tech issues you may have with your devices or apps.  She enjoys a healthy active lifestyle of working out, skiing, snorkeling and hiking.  Always researching and learning…she has been studying and speaking French for the past 8+ years and will be sure to have at least 2-3 new Travel Hacks and tips for you each trip!

Deanna is a great asset to AFS, not just because of her capable skills in leadership and her wisdom, but it’s her joyous enthusiasm in guiding others in exploration!

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Trip Prep:

  • Read the revised Heading Abroad with AFS, especially if you are new to AFS.
  • Ensure your passport is valid 6 months after return date with two blank pages.  We recommend renewing your passport well ahead of any planned international travel. Take a photo of your passport to store in the cloud or bring a copy. If you lose your passport, US embassies now except a digital copy from your email.  Also good to scan any docs, Covid test, trip tips, etc.
  • To speed through US Customs download Mobile Passport.  Look in your App Store for details.
  • Notify bank and cc company of travel dates so they don’t block charges.
  • Vaccines – Bring your vaccine card.  Don’t laminate vaccine card as some countries won’t accept it.  You can take photo of both sides and store on phone.
  • All airline rules differ.  It is imperative to read your airline rules on their website to ensure a smooth departure!  Airlines are in the process of making routing and scheduling changes now. Always check your flight before departure.
  • VISA – you need a visa. Do nothing until we advise you a month out. Easy evisa online just dropped to 35SAR or $9 with approval in an hour! (Visa on airport arrival is $127.) Use only the link visit saudi.com.

Fitness level – 2   (No trouble walking.)

Saudi Notes – “Marhabtain!” means welcome. SA is on the path toward rapid change, but it’s still a conservative place deeply rooted in centuries of cultural traditions. It feels like flying back in time with old world beliefs blended with uber modern conveniences. At times it may feel challenging, like “what planet am I on?”. But there lies the draw. Let the foreign role off you and embrace the privilege of being here!

Luxury is everywhere with incredible opulence from hotels to malls.

Food is taken seriously here and dining is amazing with the purest fresh cuisines – all sans booze. (Alcohol is forbidden, but with the potential to change. With extensive drink lists, they take mocktails to an art form.)

Gender segregation is real, but still evolving. This is the biggest thing you will notice – separate entrances, security lines, Spa’s, pools, and more between men and women.

Five calls to prayer daily. Festivals always on.

Ladies – SA has its share of controversies, such as how they treat women. This is changing at warp speed. Women are highly respected. Most choose to wear the abaya and prefer black. Abaya is a long robe. You’ll see some in stunning colors with bling. (I bought three on Amazon to wear with jeans and it cut my packing in half. I wanted comfort and to feel like a local in another universe.) These are not required for female tourists! The simple dress code for you is modesty. This means being covered to elbows and to knees. No head scarf required, but bring one for some sites. Our guides will advise you of all you want to know on arrival.

Rules – It’s very important to abide by Code of Conduct here. No alcohol or CBD products. Keep meds in prescribed bottles that are labeled. No photos of any person unless permission. See all rules at visitsaudia.com but most are pretty lax now.

General Air –  Many route changes now on domestic flights to get to your international flights. If any flight problems, airlines are now required to protect you.  Always download and use your airlines app! Use app to track your booking, delays, bags, to show boarding pass and to contact them. If you have a flight problem go to the airline’s website “contact us” page or reach them by text, social media, Skype or call their international number.  Also, premium credit cards often offer many air perks, assistance, insurance, lounge passes, global entry and more. Read more at www.tpg.com for best cards.

Group Air – We are now awaiting quotes for group air. If good schedule and price, will advise soon. It’s easy and hassle free to fly together and transfers provided when all arrive at once.

Doing Own Air– You can start looking now. Air dates are September 17-26. This is into Jeddah and out of Riyadh. Prices are good now averaging $900-$1300 from JFK.  This provides you better flexibility to go early or extend at trip end.   (We recommend you now book flexible air tickets that can be refunded or changed.   We like Google Flights, Kayak or Momondo.  3rd-party booking engines like Expedia, make it near impossible to handle air problems.  Buy direct from airline or pay a travel agent to ticket you. )

Airlines include; Turkish, Qatar, Emirates, Etihad, British Airways, Lufthansa, KLM, Royal Jordanian. Most direct route is on Saudia, a totally different experience. Land begins on September 19. You may want to go in a day early or even at a stopover en route home.

For all classes of tickets, email flights@diversedestination.com your exact air dates, destination, passport name and details with birthdate.

Airport Transfers–  If we have group air and reach minimum of 14 passengers, we’ll have a common airport arrival and departure pick up times. 

With travelers arriving and departing on different days and times, it is insurmountable to manage. Group air airport transfers are based on set time. Without group air, there can no longer be any pick-up or drop-offs without group air.  Unfortunately now like other tour companies, transfers are your responsibility. (We’ve spent weeks each trip making spreadsheets of each persons air to send to the supplier and then flights change. We then hire a guide, driver and pay parking fees. 2022 groups, only half showed up as guides waited hours looking for others. Sometimes no AFSers showed up without informing us.) Transfers are not expensive. First google your arrival airport website to see transfer tab. Suggestions to appear like airport bus, taxi details, Uber and more. Then connect on group Facebook page to set up sharing transfer cost if you like.  If you go early and check-in AFS hotel before group arrives, it’s your responsibility to change rooms with your roommate if necessary day one when trip begins.

Meet Up With Group- On Sep 19 Hyatt lobby…time TBD.

Baggage– Think light to ease your burden, not like you’re fleeing your homeland.  You change hotel properties several times. 1 carry-on bag& 1 medium suitcase not to exceed 45lb checked bag – weigh on a bathroom scale.  If you overpack by adding pre-or post-trip luggage, make prior plans as to where to stow the excess luggage. You may be responsible for any overage charges. Apple AirTags works great to track checked bags when the airline cannot, also good for carry-on.    The new hard cases are difficult to fit in safari vehicles. Leave space for great souvenirs. Be sure to attach ID to carry-on and bag to assure your bag never gets left behind.

Packing – Check Google Weather a week prior to departure. September is a great month to visit and outside of Ramadan. High temps in the day can drop quickly at night in the desert from 99 to 70°

This trip is so easy.  Pack casual clothing with a light jacket for nights and long flights. Think daypack, wide-brim hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, swimsuit, comfy walking shoes or sneakers, loose yoga type set.   Dress conservative in the cities on tour. Wear whatever you like at our resorts.

Electric– Bring Europe two prong plug, and type G three prong plug.   Don’t forget a portable backup charger, cords, gadgets, etc. Cell phones and tablets do not need a converter; you only need an adapter plug.  AFSers often leave charger cords in room, so be sure to double-check your room before check out. All properties have hairdryers.

See https://www.power-plugs-sockets.com

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Money Matters – Always bring some cash!  You will need some cash for personal tipping, meals, and shopping. $300 to $500 cash should suffice.    Change currency arrival at airport, bank, or hotels or withdraw local currency from an ATM.  Note -independent ATMs are risky due to skimmer scams. Safest ATMs are at airport and banks. Always shield your pin number when entering. Avoid using unless it’s an emergency.  Master Card and Visa widely accepted.  Amex rarely accepted.  Be sure you bring New Bills (dates after 2016) as countries may not accept older bills when changing money.  Credit cards are far safer than using your debit card. I convert half of it upon entry. I use my credit card for most purchases.  Many cards now offer no foreign transaction fees. (Some countries in Africa and Asia require new bills dated after 2016. Older bills not accepted when changing money.)

Gratuities – (Prepaid)  It’s protocol to tip our local guides, jeep drivers, assistants, porters, wait staff, drivers and ground staff. Guidelines have increased globally, but around $10 to $15 per day should cover all for the trip.  A $80 total will be added to your invoice. Please understand this is only the bare minimum.  For ease of distribution, your GTL will tip the different ground services for the entire group each day.

Tipping on own – If service is stellar, feel free to give more directly.  All we tourists leave behind is our reputation. I carry a stash of US ones in an envelope to draw from as needed. Porters – AFSers roll bags to their room.  If you use a porter, please tip.  For group lunches or dinners included, please leave $2 for waitstaff!

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Communication– Internet is available. With smartphones, be sure to check with your provider for rates and coverage for international phone plans before departure. Data Roaming rates can be expensive. To reach home – Texting, iMessage, WhatsApp, and Facebook messaging when using WIFI. Be cautious using public Wi-Fi without using VPN. Without VPN never open attachments or view financial or personal accounts on the Internet while abroad.  Phone calls, text messages, and data usage of all kinds, it is crucial to understand that, unless you are connected to Wi-Fi, every use of your phone incurs a data toll. That means that viewing and downloading email, browsing the web, viewing social media, and mapping all incur data charges, as do applications that we sometimes assume to be “free,” such as Skype and WhatsApp. Unless you are connected to Wi-Fi, however, WhatsApp is using cellular data, so you are getting charged at your provider’s international roaming data rate.  Facebook Messenger Phone is an easy free way to make calls.

Get Smart: Avoiding Hackers on Vacation.  Thieves not only want your money but also your data.    Change passwords often. Check device security settings before you leave for your trip. Back up, update, and encrypt your devices and data using a virtual VPN.  Bottled water is always best abroad, as our gut isn’t accustomed to local tap water. It’s wise to grab a business card from the desk before heading out on own.  To get back just show the card to a taxi driver- no memory or English needed.

Photography – Before taking pictures of locals, know it is polite to ask.  Your AFS Private Facebook Group Page is a great way to share your best shots with each other. AFS loves photos with group participants (not typical churches, monuments, or any shot that looks like you pulled it off of the net, etc.) for our website. The best photos are ones that include a group member with a local, children, animals, or at iconic sites in the same frame!

Websites of Interest:  I want you to please google our incredible resorts, like Shaden resort in Alula and our Caravans at Habitats! Links in our daily itinerary of each.

Go to www.visitsaudi.com to read all our sites including Jeddah and Riyadh. Also, good stuff at www.experiencealula.com.

Roommates –  Single supplements have significantly increased in price– if available at all.  Save money and buy yourself an awesome local gift. We all live alone, but save money when traveling by rooming together. Suzy spends a lot of time on roommate matching.  99% of our clients are wonderful and you’re only in your room to sleep at night.   (The best option is to invite a friend.  We be able to give you a $100 discount.). Note, kindness begets kindness.  How many of our season travelers bring headsets to drown out any excess noise.  We share rooms only to sleep at night.  If AFS room list ends up with unbalance gender, and forces a single room we will offer it to all in group or share in the added cost. If none want it, if you were the last to book we may have to remove you from the trip.

Leisure Time –  For your free time, it’s best to arrive and ask our local expert guides for suggestions.  We notice many newer clients pre-plan many activities on the AFS trip well before they arrive, often with disappointing results.  Our daily itineraries are pretty full, but there will be some free time. Expert travelers revel in the element of surprise in a new destination and allow the wind to blow them where it will. Use Google Maps on your phone to find everything nearby.

Amending tour pre-or post-trip. We honor your independent spirit, but encourage you to extend more days at the trip’s end when you’re acclimated well to the destination.   Arranging private tours during free time.  We often see many AFSers on Facebook urging others to join them to countries before/after our trip. Stopovers are great to add, but understand AFS has no responsibility for the quality of your trip.

Private Facebook Group Page  –  The benefit of the Private FB Group Page is that you have an opportunity to introduce yourself to your fellow travelers before departure and share trip photos during and after the tour.  The link can be found in your Wetravel welcome letter after your initial deposit.  (We found that some never read the Trip Tips jumping right to the Private FB Group Page assuming they will get all trip info needed. Often, they only receive rumors or misinformation. All important information is ALWAYS emailed to each participant and posted in Trip Tips under UPDATES. Nobody misses a thing.)

Emergency Contact – AFS phone or text 770-432-8225, or email us at https://www.afstravelers.com/contact-us/    More contacts will be provided with your Final Docs email 2 to 3 weeks before departure. Your guide can handle a call home for a true emergency. Do not expect to use your trip leader’s cell phone; you’ll need to use your own.

Cancellation Penalty –  At booking, we sent you our terms and conditions. Click here for our Terms & Conditions   Briefly, on land packages we’ll refund your deposit less 50% until 5 weeks prior trip’s final payment due date.   Any cancellation after this date will result in full forfeiture of your deposit. AFS reserves the right to resell or otherwise use the canceled space at our discretion.

Travel Insurance– While travel insurance is optional, in today’s world we highly encourage you to get standard coverage to cover trip interruption and cancellation.  Best source for all is www.insuremytrip.com.   CFAR or cancel for any reason covers Covid but is expensive.  Note that no company covers for fear.

Preexisting conditions – If you would like the security of travel insurance and have a pre-existing condition (elderly parent, medical, etc.), you must purchase insurance within 15 days from your initial trip deposit in order to assure full coverage.  The trip cost can be amended or adjusted as needed after your initial purchase (eg. like adding an air ticket cost later). You can buy travel insurance at any time, just know that there may be some possible limitations if purchased outside the 15 day period.  We like TravelSafe, Allianz or Seven Corners.

Travel Psychology 101  – Prepare for your departure joyfully with no contempt before investigation upon arrival. Please understand that with travel, things are not like at home and changes may occur. Great trips work best for those with an open mind, flexible attitude and adventuresome spirit.  If changes occur, embrace them with serendipity. Who knows?… The unexpected may prove to be a better experience.  Adapt and go with the flow with a laid-back attitude.  Be spontaneous. Be tolerant of foreign cultures in respecting their centuries of traditions. Embrace the differences. Be curious, not shy. Smile – locals will sense your energy of kindness and kindness always begets kindness.  Our common goal is to experience different cultures, make new friends, get great photos, have large fun, and return home safely with memories worthy of recollection.

The best spirit of an Explorer requires the openness of a child – Suzy

“When traveling, remember that a foreign country isn’t designed to make you comfortable.  It’s designed to make its own people comfortable.” – Clinton Fadiman

Please note that AFS is non-partisan – With our homogeneous groups, we all want to focus on the common denominator – our love of travel.  In today’s divisive world, we suggest members not discuss politics and if you must, please practice my rule of TOK:  Tolerance, Open-mindedness and Kindness.

Please be advised that the operation of some tours may need to be rearranged or modified to suit local conditions, but all activities stated will be included.  We are here for you to address any questions about your trip. In time, we believe travel will begin to normalize with less rules and we appreciate your cooperation until then.  Now more than ever before, travelers value the privilege of travel to explore our world. You’ve been waiting so long, it’s time for recess!

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