The Top 7 Tourism Trends for 2016

Just as in other industries, travel and tourism experiences trends: a certain type of trip becomes incredibly popular, or a previously unknown location becomes a must-see destination. While some trends stick around from previous years, others seem to come from nowhere, reaching critical mass in no time. As 2016 gets underway, we take a look at 7 of tourism trends, both old and new, that are likely to be big for the year ahead.

7. Crowdsourcing Luxury Hotels

Traditionally, the construction of hotels has been financed by banks and investments, but the luxury hotel segment has been increasingly turning away from these sources of financing toward a new option: crowdsourcing. With a potentially long lead time on funding, individual luxury hotels with unique features are finding that appealing directly to the people interested in what they have to offer enables them to secure financing that might be denied by more traditional routes. Through crowdfunding, individuals interested in different hotel concepts can directly invest in the development of these new properties. One example is the Prodigy Network crowdfunding real estate firm, which is currently planning to construct a 194-unit space in downtown New York. The hotel will offer space for both short- and long-term stays.

lobby

6. Smart Travel

The advent of wearable tech is ushering in a new era of travel and tourism, according to some industry reports. While apps have provided some customization and reviews from individual travelers have offered tourists more and more information about the best places to see, eat and sleep, apps like TripAdvisor for the Apple Watch can send push notifications to users, with information about nearby attractions, highly rated restaurants in the user’s vicinity and more. Google Now also offers suggestions, using geo-localization to keep its suggestions relevant to the user, while also taking note of the user’s past behavior. The result will be an increase in customization that makes travel suited to your individual preferences—which, in theory, should make your trips all the more enjoyable.

smart watch

5. Growing the Sharing Economy in China

Sharing-economy companies like Uber and Airbnb have become popular with travelers in the West (although they’re not without controversy). In China, there’s also growing interest in the sharing economy styled by such Western companies, although there’s a definite preference for the home-grown; 2014 saw a rise in the number of Chinese companies following the sharing-economy model, a trend that continued in 2015. Local media sites like Weibo and WeChat are used for reviews, while Tujia offers short-term rentals of luxury apartments. Ride-sharing and private rental companies are also on the rise in the country. That said, these start-ups have faced challenges and a shaky start, but it seems as though 2016 will be a year of exponential growth for the sharing economy. Travelers to China can expect to find more of these services and to hear more about them as well.

pane hong kong

4. Iran Opens Up

Since the revolution in the late 1970s, Iran has been fairly closed to the rest of the world. The country has been especially hostile toward the West, meaning that tourism has been limited for nearly 40 years. Global relations with Iran have been improving over the past couple of years, in part due to a call for increased cooperation among Middle Eastern countries. Although Iran receives millions of visitors each year, foreign travel companies are now ready to enter the market, thus opening it up to increasing external tourism and potentially making the country one of the must-see locations for 2016. With 19 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, there’s plenty of reason for tourists to head to Iran, the seat of the former Persian Empire. Other attractions include over a dozen ski resorts and important pilgrimage sites for Muslims.

Iran UNESCO

3. Solo Travel

Traveling alone is nothing new. What’s new is that more and more people are interested in traveling alone—and that the people most interested in going solo are millennials. An MMGY Global Survey of American adults found that 37% of millennial respondents planned to travel by themselves in July 2015, an increase of 5% from 2014. Some suggest that millennials travel more than their parents and grandparents, simply because travel is more affordable and accessible than it was in the past. While it’s certainly true that travel is almost a way of life among younger generations, partially because of affordability and access, that doesn’t explain why so many go it alone. The leading reason for solo travel is that it’s quite simply easier to plan a trip for 1 than for 2 or more.

euro traveler

2. Americans Take More Time Off

Many U.S. corporations have long held the idea that working harder is a good thing. Growing evidence, however, suggests that not only are vacations important for workers, they’re also beneficial for companies from a financial standpoint. Unused vacation days create a financial burden should an employee (or a bunch of employees) suddenly decide to “cash” in on their paid days off. Many companies are also finding that workers who have paid time off are more motivated and loyal—which means better productivity and creativity while they are in the office. The result is that more companies are encouraging their employees to ensure they take all of their vacation days, and to take time off with some regularity. Some companies, like Netflix and Virgin Group, even offer unlimited paid holidays to their employees.

leaving work behind

1. Hipster Holidays

While some of us might be jaded by hipster culture, the tourism industry is looking at an increase in the number of so-called hipster holidays. Today’s travelers are growing increasingly tired of the largely commercialized and over-frequented centers in Europe’s major cities. Visitors to Berlin and Budapest, for example, are now looking beyond the traditional tourist areas, inquiring more about local hotspots where they’re more likely to be able to interact with locals, enjoy traditional food and find local handicrafts. Travelers are also looking beyond the cities that are usually considered must-sees on a European tour and are heading to centers like Riga, the capital of Latvia, instead. The hipster holiday is all about getting off the beaten path, doing something different and discovering authenticity—something many tourists feel is missing during trips to London, Paris and Rome.

Riga TV tower

10 Must-See Churches Around the World

While churches are regarded primarily as places of worship, they have also been long treated throughout history as the centers of cultural and social activity within a community.  This especially rings true of the hundreds of centuries-old parishes, cathedrals and basilicas  scattered around the world that today stand testament to not only the religious commitment of worshipers, but also to the social and artistic progression of our civilization.  Ranging from medieval Gothic Cathedrals to rare Expressionist Parishes, and whether with religious or artistic inclination, here are 10 churches worth checking out (and gawking over!) on your next international adventure.

10. St. Augustine Church, Philippines

This active parish was built of coral stone and bricks in 1717 and can be found in Paoay, Ilocos Norte in the Philippines. Commonly known as Paoay Church, the building is also an example of “Earthquake Baroque,” which, exactly as it sounds, is an architectural term coined to describe the modified Baroque-style rebuilding in places that experienced destructive earthquakes in the 17th and 18th centuries. The most noticeable characteristic of this style is the use of large buttresses on the back and sides of the building (which can be seen at Paoay Church at about 5.5 ft thick) to guard against future earthquake destruction. Also making this site unique is the adjacent coral bell tower, built in 1793 and rising 3-storeys above ground level, used historically as an observation post in several conflicts.

St. Augustine Church, Philippines

9. Salzburg Cathedral, Austria

The site of this Roman Catholic Cathedral in Salzburg, Austria has endured centuries of fires, reconstructions and consecrations (774, 1628 and 1959) with the current building displaying a stunning example of early Baroque architecture designed by Santino Solari. The majestic exterior is quite a sight to behold as it rises above the Old Town cityscape, but it is the interior that is truly awe-inspiring, with the sepia-and white walls adorned by murals, a 4,000-pipe main organ and cathedral portals made my Scheider-Manzell, Mataré and Manzu. Also to be found here are Mozart’s baptismal font, and an exhibition of the excavation of the old, Romanesque cathedral.

Salzburg Cathedral, Austria

8. Bedkhem Church, Iran

Also known as Bethlehem Church and Beyt Lahm Church, this Armenian Apostolic Church was built in 1627 in the Isfahani architectural style (traditional Persian-Iranian). Located in the Julfa quarter of Ishafan, Iran, it was built by Armenian merchant Khaje Petros, to whom an inscription is now found on the south portal of the structure. Though famous for its gilded domes and historic architecture, it is the 72 paintings found within that account for the exquisite beauty of the church, depicting the life of Christ in two rows of masterpieces by notable Armenian artists.

Bethlehem Church, Iran

7. Kizhi Pogost, Russia

Located on a narrow island strip on Lake Onega, Kizhi Pogost, known alternatively as the Church of Transfiguration, is a 37 meter tall structure made entirely of wood, using scribe-fitted horizontal logs joined with interlocking corners (no nails!). The alter was laid in 1714, after the previous church here was struck by lightning, with the updated design providing more efficient ventilation and contributing to its preservation till this day. There is also an aura of legend around the site, with rumor stating that the head builder used only one axe for the entire project, and upon completion chucked it into the lake, exclaiming, “there was not and will not be another one to match it.”

Ilona5555 / Shutterstock.com
Ilona5555 / Shutterstock.com

6. Grundtvig’s Church, Denmark

This amazing example of Expressionist architecture created by chief architect Peder Vilhelm Jensen-Klint and completed by his son, Kaare Klint in 1940 is a Lutheran Church built to commemorate the Danish priest, poet and reformer N.F.S. Grundtvig. Located in the Bispebjerg district in Copenhagen, the most notable exterior feature is the west façade, standing 49 meters tall and resembling the exterior of a church organ. Also quite famous is the interior, which with high, vaulted ceilings and simplistic décor, evokes an atmosphere of tranquility despite the size of the space and the imposing design of the outer façade.

Grundtvig’s Church, Denmark

5. St. Stephen’s Basilica, Hungary

As Budapest’s largest church, St. Stephen’s Basilica can hold up to 8,500 people simultaneously, and provides a panoramic view of the city from the Cupola. A prime example of Neoclassical architecture, the building took over 5 decades to complete, (due primarily to political conflict and structural issues) and changed builders several times before being completed in 1906 by Jozsef Krauser. The ornate interior is truly a site to behold with stained glass windows designed by Miksa Roth and a considerable amount of frescoes, statues and mosaics throughout.  Also to be seen here is the “most precious treasure of Hungary,” the mummified right fist of King Stephen, for whom the Basilica is named.

St. Stephen’s Basilica, Hungary

4. Sagrada Familia, Spain

This “Expiatory Temple of the Holy Family” occupying a 12,800 square meter plot of land in the center of Barcelona remains incomplete till this day. Initial construction began on St. Joseph’s day (March 19) in 1882 under architect Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano who later resigned due to disagreements and passed the project to Antoni Gaudi. Gaudi’s vision for the Temple, besides being a place of worship was to “artistically represent the truths of religion and the Glorification of God and His Saints” a concept clearly explored when he abandoned the previously drafted Neo-Gothic design in favor of a more “monumental” design of his own innovation. We see it today in the symbolism of the structure, with each of the 18 towers specifically representing Christ, the Gospels, the Virgin Mary and the 12 Apostles, and the verticality of the structure itself representing elevation towards God.

Sagrada Familia, Spain
Byelikova Oksana / Shutterstock.com

3. Milan Cathedral, Italy

This spectacular architectural feat standing 108.5 meters tall took over 500 years to complete, and was the life work of many architects, master builders and financial backers. Originally commissioned by bishop Antonio da Saluzzo in 1385 and funded by 1st Duke of Milan, Glan Galeazzo Visconti, who had visions of creating the largest church in the world (he wasn’t far off, it is currently the 2nd largest Gothic cathedral in the world), the cathedral was consecrated in 1418 when the nave was undergoing just the beginnings of construction. Today, after several restorations and final additions, the structure is amazingly uniform in its Gothic design, with nave columns reaching 24.5 meters in height and the some 135 spires linked with flying buttresses. The Cathedral is adorned with about 3,400 statues, progressing in style from Gothic to Art Deco, and public access is available to the rooftop providing unparalleled views of the surrounding city.

Milan Cathedral, Italy

2. Westminster Abbey, England

While this is undoubtedly one of Europe’s most famous historical attractions, it is also one of the world’s best examples of Medieval Gothic architecture, albeit with an English twist. This is most evident in the intricacies of the northern façade (tourist entrance) and in the extremely expansive vaulted ceilings of the interior (the highest Gothic vault in England, at 102 ft) made to look even taller by narrow single aisles.  Today, the Abbey is neither a Cathedral nor a parish church (as it had been throughout history) but rather a “Royal Peculiar” subject only to the Sovereign, and is the site of every British coronation since 1066 as well as the final resting place of a number of notable historical figures.

Westminster Abbey, England

1. Las Lajas Sanctuary, Colombia

Rising 100 meters above the bottom of the Guaitara River Canyon, near Nariño, Ipiales in Colombia, the Gothic revival basilica—which is built in-to the rocky cliff on one side, and connects via bridge to the opposite side—looks more like the inspiration for a Disney castle than a Sanctuary. The present day structure was built from 1916-1949, with a history dating back to 1754 when, during a storm, Maria Muences’ deaf-mute daughter exclaimed that she saw a vision of the Virgin Mary over the “laja” (name for flat sedimentary rock similar to shale) after-which she was cured of her afflictions. The first shrine to the “Lady of Las Lajas” was built at this site in the 18th Century and has since been upgraded to what we see today. The sanctuary was authorized by the Roman Catholic Church in 1951 and declared a minor basilica 3 years later.

Las Lajas Sanctuary, Colombia

The 24 Newest UNESCO World Heritage Sites

The ancient city of Ephesus in Turkey and the Blue and John Crow Mountains in Jamaica are just two of the 24 newly inscribed World Heritage sites approved by the 39th UNESCO committee in Bonn, Germany recently.  From ancient, archaeological sites to complex industrial systems and cultural landscapes, the 2015 list provides no shortage of exciting and intriguing travel ideas for the year, sure to peak even the most veteran travelers’ interests.

1. Aqueduct of Padre Tembleque Hydraulic System – Mexico

Constructed in the 16th century and located on the Central Mexican Plateau, this aqueduct was built with support from local indigenous communities.  Along with tanks, bridges and a water catchment area, this heritage canal system has the “highest single-level arcade ever built in an aqueduct”.

Photo by: UNESCO/Espacio de la Imagen/Edgar Valtiago
Photo by: UNESCO/Espacio de la Imagen/Edgar Valtiago

2. Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of Cefalú and Monreale – Italy

The nine structures included in this Arab-Norman Palermo are comprised of two palaces, three churches, a cathedral, a bridge, the Cefalù cathedral and the Monreale cathedral.  Located on the northern coast of Sicily, this heritage site, dating from the 12th century, depicts the relationships between the Western, Islamic and Byzantine cultures that eventually led to new spatial, structural and decorative concepts.

Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of Cefalú and Monreale

3. Baekje Historic Areas – Republic of Korea

The Busosanseong Fortress and the royal palace at Wanggung-ri are among the eight archaeological sites that make up the Baekje Historic Areas.  Found in the mid-west region of the Republic of Korea, these sites, dating from 475 to 660 CE, are an accurate representation of the Baekje Kingdom, a time when the ancient kingdoms in Korea, China and Japan were sharing and exchanging thoughts and ideas on contemporary issues such as artistry, religion and technology.

Gongsanseong fortress Korea

4. Baptism Site “Bethany Beyond the Jordan” (Al-Maghtas) – Jordan

This heritage site, located on the eastern bank of the River Jordan, is believed to be the spot where Jesus of Nazareth was baptized by John the Baptist.  With multiple church and monastery remains, this archaeological site is a place of Christian pilgrimage and a testament to the Roman and Byzantine religious influence in the area.

Bethany Beyond the Jordan

5. Champagne Hillsides, Houses and Cellars – France

Already one of the most popular wine regions in the world, the Champagne Hillsides were given World Heritage designation due to its historical importance in the production of sparkling wines.  Since the early 17th century, these historic vineyards have understood the value of illustrating the process of champagne production and have become a household name in the wine and tourism industry.

Champagne hillsides france

6. Christiansfeld, a Moravian Church Settlement – Denmark

This town, a planned settlement of the Moravian Church, was intended to represent the Protestant urban ideal and so was constructed in its entirety around a central Church square.  Founded in 1773 and still used today by a community of the Moravian Church, this town is complete with simple and homogenous architecture, such as its yellow brick buildings with red tile roofs.

Christiansfeld denmark

7. Climats, terroirs of Burgundy – France

These delimited vineyard parcels, found south of Dijon, are an excellent representation of the ancient cultivation and production methods in place since the High Middle Ages.  Due to human cultivation and natural conditions, these parcels, located on the slopes of the Côte de Nuits and the Côte de Beaune, are now identified by the wine they produced.

Château du Clos de Vougeot Burgundy France

8. Cultural Landscape of Maymand – Iran (Islamic Republic of)

This heritage site of Maymand is a self-contained area located in the southern part of Iran’s central mountains.  UNESCO designated this area a heritage site because of the semi-nomadic pastoralists who live with their animals on mountain pastures, and relocate depending on the seasons.  The nomads live low in the valley during the winter months in unique cave dwellings, and live in temporary settlements higher up on the mountain during the spring and autumn months.

Photo by: Ngjyra
Photo by: Ngjyra

9. Diyarbakir Fortress and Hevsel Gardens Cultural Landscape – Turkey

Situated in the aptly-named Fertile Crescent, this city and its surrounding landscape has been given an World Heritage designation due to it being an important center throughout different time periods, from the Hellenistic period, to the Ottoman times and into the present.  The fortified city of Diyarbakir, along with the Hevsel Gardens, is comprised of an inner castle,  a 5.8 kilometer long wall, towers, gates, 63 inscriptions all from different periods and is located on the Upper Tigres River Basin.

Diyarbakir Fortress Turkey

10. Ephesus – Turkey

This World Heritage Site has long since drawn Pilgrims from all around the Mediterranean.  The ancient city of Ephesus, featuring successive Hellenistic and Roman settlements, is comprised of many excavated monuments and historical sites, and is a great example of a Roman port city.

Ephesus Turkey

11. Fray Bentos Cultural-Industrial Landscape – Uruguay

West of the town of Fray Bentos and situated on the Uruguay River, this site was built in order to process the meat that was produced on the nearby prairies.  This was given World Heritage status due to its excellent illustration on the process of meat production; its crucial location, industrial and residential buildings and social institutions ensure that this site of meat production was known on a global scale.

Matyas Rehak / Shutterstock.com
Matyas Rehak / Shutterstock.com

12. Great Burkhan Khaldun Mountain and its surrounding sacred landscape – Mongolia

Having long been a site of ancient shamanic and Buddhist practices, the Burkhan Khaldun, situated in the central part of the Khentii mountain chain in the north-east part of the country, has been a place of worship of the sacred mountains, rivers and ovoo-s (shamanic rock cairns) that make up the landscape.  Believed to be the place of Genghis Khan’s birth and burial, this site is crucial to the unification of the Mongol people and to the mountain worship prevalent in their culture.

mountain mongolia

13. Necropolis of Beth She’arim: A Landmark of Jewish Renewal – Israel

The series of catacombs that make up this heritage site are an important collection of Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew artworks and inscriptions.  Southeast of the city of Haifa, Beth She’arim was the primary Jewish burial place outside of Jerusalem and is an important testimony to ancient Judaism and to the Jewish renewal after 135 CE.

Beth She’arim Israel

14. Rjukan–Notodden Industrial Heritage Site – Norway

Using the natural mountainous landscape to its advantage, the Norsk-Hydro Company manufactured artificial fertilizer from nitrogen in the air and became an example of a new global industry in the early 20th century. The hydroelectric power plants and transport systems and towns included at the Rjukan-Notodden site show how this company used its industry, in combination with nature, to meet the Western world’s increasing demand for agricultural production.

Rjukan-Notodden Norway

15. Rock Art in the Hail Region of Saudi Arabia – Saudi Arabia

Petroglyphs and inscriptions on the rock face of this heritage site offer a glimpse into the passages of the ancient Arab populations across the Great Narfoud Desert.  These preserved depictions of human and animal figures show 10,000 years of history found in this great desert landscape in Saudi Arabia.

Photo by: saudi-archaeology
Photo by: saudi-archaeology

16. San Antonio Missions – United States of America

A great source of pride for Texans now and past are the five frontier mission complexes that make up this newly designated World Heritage site located in southern Texas.  Built by Franciscan missionaries in the 18th century, the San Antonio Missions are symbols of Spain’s colonization of the region and are the site of the historic 1836 Battle of the Alamo.

San Antonio Missions Conception

17. Singapore Botanical Gardens – Singapore

Used for both conservation and education, the Singapore Botanical Gardens, built in 1859, include many historical features that illustrate the development of the garden and its importance as a site for science and research.

Singapore Botanical Gardens

18. Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution: Iron and Steel, Shipbuilding and Coal Mining – Japan

Eleven properties make up this heritage site, situated in the southwest of Japan.  This site depicts the time in Japanese history when the country actively sought technology from both Europe and America and is considered the first successful transfer of Western industrialization to a non-Western nation.

Nirayama Reverbatory Furnaces Japan

19. Speicherstadt and Kontorhaus District with Chilehaus – Germany

Built on a narrow island in the Elbe River from 1885 to 1927 and partially rebuilt from 1949 to 1967, these two urban areas, centrally located in the port city of Hamburg, are examples of the effects of rapid international trade in the 19th and 20th centuries.  These two areas together are one of the largest historic ensembles of port warehouses in the world.

Speicherstadt Germany

20. Susa – Iran (Islamic Republic of)

These architectural monuments, depicting the nearly extinct Elamite, Persian and Parthian cultural traditions, are comprised of administrative, residential and palatial structures excavated in the south-west of Iran.  These archaeological sites illustrate settlements found in the area from the late 5th millennium BCE to the 13th century CE, successively.

Susa Iran

21. The Forth Bridge – United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

The largest multi-span cantilever bridge, located across the estuary of the Forth River in Scotland, has earned World Heritage designation from UNESCO due to its innovative use of bridge design and construction.

The Forth Bridge UK

22. The Par Force Hunting Landscape in North Zealand – Denmark

The two hunting forests of Store Dyrehave and Gribskov, along with the hunting park of Jaegersborg Hegn/Jaegersborg Dyrehave, where Danish kings hunted with hounds until the end of the 16th century, have reached World Heritage status due to its demonstration of Baroque landscaping principles.

Photo by: .bastian (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: .bastian (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

23. Tusi Sites- China

From the Yuan and Ming periods of Chinese civilization, the Tusi Sites depict the tribal domains whose chiefs were elected based on the Tusi system.  This system, in place from the 13th to the 20th century, rose in prominence due to its unification of national administration and its allowance of customs and culture from ethnic minorities.

Photo by: photo.navi
Photo by: photo.navi

24. Blue and John Crow Mountains – Jamaica

Jamaica’s first World Heritage designation is the unique and historically important mountainous region situated in the south-east of Jamaica.  Not only does this site contain many of the endemic plant species present in the Caribbean Islands, but it also provided refuge for both the indigenous Tainos and escaped African slaves known as Maroons.  Due to the isolated nature of these mountains, the refugees managed to resist the European colonial system, and in doing so, developed spiritual connections with the mountains that are still felt today.

Blue Mountains Jamaica

8 Things to Know Before Visiting the Middle East

For many people who live outside the region, the Middle East can seem like a somewhat confusing and chaotic place. Nonetheless, many are compelled to visit for any number of reasons, ranging from business to family ties and heritage to religion. Some people just want to visit the area; others still go to teach or even relocate to the region after a single visit proves too little time in this amazing part of the world. While many feel daunted by the thought of a visit to the Middle East—by stories of political turmoil, religious strife, human rights grievances, harsh climates, and sheer cultural difference—the many countries of the Middle East are wonderful destinations, full of warm and welcoming people, many of them happy to showcase their homelands to those who are willing to visit and learn. Learning, of course, can start before you land at the airport and anyone who plans to visit the Middle East—whether now or in the future—can benefit from knowing a few things before they take-off for the great unknown. And even if you have no plans to visit the Middle East, take heed—because you never know where your travels will take you.

Each Country is Unique

Anybody who is familiar with the Middle East probably knows that the first thing anyone needs to know is that the region is composed of a multitude of countries, each with their own unique history and culture, and often, with their own religious practices and languages as well. While it’s easy for outsiders to talk about the region as one big, monolithic whole where everyone shares in the same culture, language, religion and ethnicity, nothing could be further from the truth. Much like a visitor to Europe can’t research the customs of Norway and expect things to be exactly the same in France, so too should visitors to the Middle East do research on the customs and norms of the particular country they’re going to visit. While some things might not vary a lot from country to country, other things will be quite different depending on where in the Middle East you are! One of the best things you can do before booking your ticket is to actually stop thinking about the region as a whole or as we generally call it “the Middle East.”

middle east life

Dress Conservatively/Respectfully

To immediately contradict that, there are some generalizations that you can make about areas of the Middle East. These “rules of thumb” should serve you well in your travels, but always keep in mind that each country is unique and should never be treated as though it is “exactly the same” as one of its neighbors. One thing you can usually assume in Middle Eastern countries, however, is that you’re going to need to show respect to the local culture. One of the best ways to do this is to dress conservatively. This doesn’t necessarily mean donning a hijab or abaya or any other specific type of clothing for men or women, but it does mean covering up. Both men and women should engage in conservative dress. Low-riding jeans that slide down when you bend over are a huge social faux pas and sleeveless tops are considered rude for both sexes. Shorts (especially short-shorts, ladies) are generally frowned upon, as are crop tops. It might be hot, but most of these clothing items violate social expectations for dress. Although people in the Middle East are often too polite to say anything about how you choose to dress, “letting it all hang out” is actually incredibly rude and shows disrespect and insensitivity toward the cultures of these countries.

ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com
ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com

Most Women Aren’t Forced to Cover Up

Speaking of clothing and cultural norms, you might be asking about veiling. Above, it was indicated that you might not need to don a headscarf in most places, and, in some areas, putting one on might even be considered a little bit disrespectful. In other countries, like Iran and Saudi Arabia, women will need to wear a headscarf in order to be respectful. As they say, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do,” and nothing could be more true in this case; following local customs is a sign of awareness and respect for the culture. That doesn’t mean that you should assume that a headscarf or any other form of veiling has been forced on a woman; in most Middle Eastern countries, the decision to wear a hijab or another covering is entirely up to a woman and insinuating otherwise is insulting to her! The decision to wear a headscarf or not, in most places, is part of a woman’s identity, much the way wardrobes in the West are used to showcase individual identities. The exceptions to the rule are Iran and northern Pakistan, as well as Afghanistan under the Taliban. Even in Saudi Arabia, no one is exactly forcing women to wear head-coverings, although it is frowned upon to do otherwise.

muslin women

Don’t Refuse Coffee

Another custom that might seem strange to visitors is that it is considered incredibly rude, almost forbidden, to refuse an offer of coffee at a store. While you’re out and about, you might decide to do some shopping. If you’re offered a coffee while you’re in a shop, don’t refuse, especially if you plan to make a purchase or if you’re already at the register putting the transaction through. The offer is simple hospitality throughout much of the Middle East and rarely refused.

Turkish Coffee

Bye Bye Bacon/Alcohol

If you happen to eat out—and you’re likely to visit at least one restaurant on your trip—don’t be surprised if you can’t find any pork dishes on the menu. The tenants of Islam forbid the preparation and eating of pork, so it most definitely won’t be found on the menus of any eateries serving up traditional dishes and, because much of the Middle East is Muslim, most chain restaurants won’t serve it either—even if their counterparts in other countries do. This has to do with strictures about the preparation of food, particularly meat; food must be halal and if there is pork being prepared in the same area, the food would be considered tainted. Another notable absence might be a lack of alcohol; Islam similarly has strictures against the ingestion of alcohol by followers of the faith. While there are certain local spirits or similar beverages that may be served, you shouldn’t expect your Muslim hosts, family, friends or business partners to hit the bar or to have a glass of wine with dinner. The increasing number of foreign businesspersons and international visitors has led to more alcohol being readily available, but it’s still not an embedded part of cuisine and culture like it is in, say, France. You might be invited to partake in hookah, however, which is a Middle Eastern custom in which flavored tobacco, called shishah, is smoked. Nonetheless, don’t assume that your hosts enjoy shishah; it is very much up to individual preference and the customs of the area you’re in.

Kebabs

Haggling is Usually Expected

Customs around money and the exchange of money can also be baffling to someone visiting the Middle East for the very first time. Although customs vary from place to place, haggling is very much the norm in many Middle Eastern stores. While Westerners expect to see set prices when they walk into a store, and to pay those prices when they cash out, most Middle Easterners expect to do a bit of bartering. For that reason, prices in shops may be set high on the assumption that the customer won’t pay that price, but will haggle a bit with the shopkeeper to get a better deal. This is more common in marketplaces and bazaars where individual proprietors can set their prices as they see fit than it is in chain shops, especially those that have parent companies in the West. Nonetheless, you should always be prepared to see if you can get a better deal—especially on things like cab fares—and be prepared to take a bit of extra time to do business. The culture isn’t focused on in-and-out shopping like the West is; in fact, “doing business” is often seen as a way to build social relations and thus it should take time.

Rostislav Glinsky / Shutterstock.com
Rostislav Glinsky / Shutterstock.com

Baksheesh is Everywhere

Baksheesh is another Middle Eastern custom around money that, at first glance, might seem familiar to an outsider. Upon closer examination, however, you’ll quickly find that it can seem a little bit strange. Baksheesh is what is known as “tips” in the English-speaking world. The difference is that anyone can ask for a tip for just about any service, whether it’s a necessary service or not. And many people are not shy about asking for a tip. In most Middle Eastern countries, the customer is allowed to decide whether or not they want to tip, depending on how satisfied they were with the service, but it is almost expected that workers in the hospitality industry, including hotel maids, bellhops, valets and restaurant wait staff, should be tipped. This is because these jobs are low-paying and it’s assumed that baksheesh will make up a large portion of the worker’s income. For other “services,” the cultural push to tip is less pressing—you don’t need to tip everyone, even if they ask for a tip, and you especially don’t need to tip if you didn’t like the service!

middle east currency

Everyone is Unique –Treat Them That Way

Not liking a service or being asked for a tip, however, doesn’t give you free reign to be rude to people and you shouldn’t condone or partake in rude behavior others might engage in, even if it seems to be “culturally acceptable,” such as young men being insolent toward women in Egypt. Leaving those incidents—which aren’t approved or accepted by everyone—aside, Middle Easterners are some of the warmest and most welcoming people on the planet and visitors need to reciprocate that hospitality, while also respecting that every country is different and, beyond that, every person they encounter is a different person. In Lebanon, you’re likely to meet a mix of people from different backgrounds, each of them with a different story. Not every person in a Middle Eastern country is Arab, and not everyone is Muslim—assuming this is like saying that everyone in the United States is white and Christian. It’s simply not true. You will meet Muslims and Arabs, but you will also meet Jews and Christians, Kurds and so many, many others. Even the Muslims you meet will be different in every country, every city and every place you visit. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that everyone in the Middle East is exactly the same! Experienced travelers know that some people—perhaps a small minority—will fit into the stereotypes they have of a particular population, but the vast majority of people will likely defy all your expectations—and often in the most pleasant of ways. That’s one of the most compelling reasons to travel anywhere in the world, and meeting new people and sharing in what they have to teach you is one of the best reasons you can have for traveling to a Middle Eastern country.

ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com
ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com

The 13 Best Sports Stadiums Outside of North America

Even though North America is home to some great sports venues, a number of countries throughout the world have very unique and original designs that home some of their most cherished sports teams. Some are nearly brand new, some are bordering on holy sites to team fans, and some are just plain cool to see, but each stadium provides the spectator with a truly one-of-a-kind experience.  Here are some of the best stadiums that given the chance, you should definitely check out on your travels:

13. The Float@Marina Bay (Singapore)

Located in Singapore, The Float@Marina Bay is the largest floating stage in the world. Made entirely of steel, the platform can sustain a total weight the equivalent of: 9,000 people, 200 tons of stage equipment and three 30-ton military vehicles. The stadium has a capacity of 30,000 and hosts a number of events including soccer, concerts and exhibitions. Try to get there soon, though. The Float@Marina Bay will see a decrease in use once the new National Stadium is finished construction.

joyfull / Shutterstock.com
joyfull / Shutterstock.com

12. Stadio Giuseppe Meazza (Italy)

The stadium known as the “San Siro” is located in the San Siro district of Milan, Italy and is the home of famous soccer clubs A.C. Milan and F.C. Internazionale Milano. Though the capacity is somewhat less than its peak, the San Siro still boasts a capacity of over 80,000. The stadium is set to host the final of the 2016 UEFA Champion’s League, and has seen a number of renovations over the years after first opening in 1926. However, the stadium is set to see a decline in use in the near future, as Internazionale have plans to move out of the stadium into their own venue.

Photo by: Bjørn Giesenbauer
Photo by: Bjørn Giesenbauer

11. First National Bank Stadium (Johannesburg)

Host to the 2010 World Cup final, the stadium is officially named the First National Bank Stadium, or FNB Stadium but is more effectively nicknamed “The Calabash” (in reference to an African pot, similar in appearance) or simply “Soccer City”. The stadium saw a number of major renovations take place in the buildup to the World Cup final. With a capacity over 90,000 Soccer City is the largest stadium in the continent of Africa. The venue was also the site of the first speech given by Nelson Mandela upon his release from prison in 1990, and was where his memorial service was held. Currently, the stadium is the home of the South African national soccer and rugby teams, as well as club soccer team Kaizer Chiefs.

Photo by: Rebecca Gill
Photo by: Rebecca Gill

10. Ericsson Globe (Sweden)

Stockholm’s Ericsson Globe Arena is the largest hemispherical building in the world, and required more than 2 years worth of construction before it was finished. Shaped like a giant golf ball, the stadium has a diameter of 361 feet, and a height of 279 feet. Seating capacity is just over 16,000 for concerts and shows, and just under 14,000 for ice hockey. The Ericsson Globe is one of the most instantly identifiable stadiums in the world due to its unique shape, and even provides visitors with the chance to travel up an inclined elevator to the top of the arena, providing a great view overlooking all of Stockholm.

Nadezhda1906 / Shutterstock.com
Nadezhda1906 / Shutterstock.com

9. Azadi Stadium (Iran)

Officially ranked as the fifth largest soccer stadium in the world, Azadi Stadium in Tehran, Iran has had a record attendance of 128,000 for a match between the Iranian and Australian national soccer teams. Located in the west of Tehran, the stadium provides easy access for the majority of the cities inhabitants. Though it has a simple concrete bowl style design, the sheer size of this behemoth is amazing. The stadium is home to a pair of soccer clubs, and remains the home for the national squad.

almonfoto / Shutterstock.com
almonfoto / Shutterstock.com

8. AAMI Park (Australia)

More casually referred to as, Melbourne Rectangular Stadium is certainly one of the most unique design concepts for a stadium. Having just opened in 2010, the stadium still has a new feel in comparison to most. Boasting a capacity that is just over a modest 30,000 the stadium is home to a number of Melbourne’s soccer and rugby clubs. The “Bioframe” design features a geodesic dome roof that provides cover to most of the seats, but still allows for natural light to shrine onto the pitch.

Photo by: AsianFC
Photo by: AsianFC

7. Stade Roland Garros (France)

Roland Garros is arguably the most identifiable tennis venue in the world. The famous complex hosts the French Open that is played annually around the end of May or beginning of June. The stadium is named after French hero Roland Garros, inventor of the forward-firing aircraft machine gun, and first pilot referred to as an “ace” during World War I. The complex contains 20 courts, and even a Tenniseum, a museum dedicated to the history of tennis. The Court Phillipe Chatrier is the largest court, and is instantly identifiable to sports fans for its distinct red-clay playing surface.

Olga Besnard / Shutterstock.com
Olga Besnard / Shutterstock.com

6. Old Trafford (England)

Nicknamed by English soccer legend Sir Bobby Charlton the “Theatre of Dreams” is the second largest soccer stadium in the United Kingdom after Wembley Stadium. Old Trafford has been home to one of the most famous teams in the world, Manchester United F.C. and has served as the team’s home ground since 1910. Current capacity at Old Trafford is north of 75,000 and is expected to see some further renovations in the coming years as the stadium continues to be refurbished to keep up-to-date with the most modern of venues.

mrmichaelangelo / Shutterstock.com
mrmichaelangelo / Shutterstock.com

5. Allianz Arena (Germany)

Home to one of the world’s finest soccer clubs FC Bayern Munich, the Allianz Arena was the first in the world to feature a color-changeable exterior, as the stadium also hosts a second Munich soccer club as well as the 2014 World Cup Champion German national team. The stadium was constructed to host the 2006 World Cup final and is one of the most instantly recognizable in all of Europe. Around 70,000 soccer-mad German fans pack the venue every time Bayern Munich or the German national team takes the pitch, providing for a fantastic atmosphere.

Photo by: Stewart
Photo by: Stewart

4. National Stadium (Taiwan)

The largest stadium in Taiwan, this venue is truly of world-class design. Completed in 2009, the National Stadium is used mostly for soccer matches with a capacity of 55,000 spectators. Not only is the stadium defined by its dragon-like design, but also the exterior is covered in solar panels that provide nearly 100% of the power for the facility, the first in the world to do so.

Sean Hsu / Shutterstock.com
Sean Hsu / Shutterstock.com

3. Santiago Bernabeu Stadium (Spain)

The Santiago Bernabeu Stadium is a very special place in sports. Even the most casual of soccer fan across the globe has heard of Real Madrid, the giant club that calls the Bernabeu home. Not only does the team feature some of the finest talent in the world, but more than 80,000 screaming fans routinely take in matches in the capital of soccer obsessed Spain. Plans for a redevelopment are underway to increase that capacity up to 88,000 in the near future as the stadium, which opened in 1944 looks to bring in some more modern additions to enhance the spectating experience.

Santiago Bernabeu Stadium

2. Estádio Alberto J. Armando (Argentina)

Situated in the La Boca district of the Argentinian capital of Buenos Aires, this stadium is nicknamed “La Bombonera” or the “Chocolate Box” in English, because of its unique “flat” stand on one side, surrounded by three steep stands on the other sides. This very unusual shape allows for 49,000 fans to fill the stadium for home games for famous Argentinian soccer club Boca Juniors. The shape allows the venue to have excellent acoustics, which makes the stadium an extremely intimidating place to play for visitors. More work is being done on the stadium, taking the atmosphere to the next level while providing more features to supporters.

Jess Kraft / Shutterstock.com
Jess Kraft / Shutterstock.com

1. Estádio Municipal de Braga (Portugal)

Though it only has a capacity just over 30,000 the Estádio Municipal de Braga is unforgettable. Opened in 2003 and home to Portuguese soccer club Sporting Clube de Braga, the stadium was carved from a quarry overlooking the city. Behind the goal at one end, spectators and players alike get a magnificent view of the rock walls surrounding the stadium with the city sprawling in the distance. To get around the stadium, fans travel through a plaza built beneath the surface. The stadium has received critical acclaim for its architectural design, and is approved by UEFA for use at the highest levels of club soccer.

Photo by: Leon
Photo by: Leon