I felt like I was visiting the wild wild west, or in this case the wild wild east during my travels in Iraq. Travelling from city, to city through the desert with nothing around except dusty roads brings out the feeling of adventure like no other place I have been. Iraq is still undiscovered and waiting to be explored.

If you love off the beaten path and adventure as much as I do, then Iraq travel may be just the place you are looking for. I wouldn’t suggest hopping on the next plane to Baghdad. In fact the only safe area to travel in Iraq is the region of Kurdistan. While I was casually passing through, I had an amazing time and was able to do some fantastic charity work as well with some refugees. If you have Iraq travel on the brain then check out these 7 reasons why you MUST travel to Iraq before everyone else does, in no particular order of course.

 

Reason #1: The people

If I had to choose just one reason to visit Iraq then this would be it. Travel in Iraq is all about the people. I have been to my fair share of countries and experienced surprising amounts of hospitality, but nothing will ever compare to my time spent in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Anyone you approach will be friendly and happy to speak to you. English is surprisingly widely spoken, and the Iraqis will jump at the chance to practice. I can’t even begin to list all the individual acts of kindness from strangers I experienced during my Iraqi travels.

Everyone will want to know why you are there and what you think of the country. The people of Kurdistan are proud and they represent their country well with the way the welcome outsiders. While you travel through Iraq, have dinner with a local and try to pay; see what happens!

I was lucky enough to make friends with a random Iraqi businessman who I ended up hanging out with everyday I was there. He took me to lunch, we hung out in his gold store, and I am happy to say that I walked away with a new favourite facebook friend 😉

Reason #2: The price of Iraq travel will shock you (in a good way)

You may ask yourself “how much does it cost to travel to Iraq?”. The answer: not a whole hell of a lot! When I travelled to Iraq I used an even exchange rate of 1000 Dinar equals 1 Dollar,  to keep it simple. For exact exchange rates check out XE.com.

Food is the biggest bargain. You will often be offered free food as you walk through the streets. This happened to me when I was checking out some Iraqi street food and ended up having a very strange experience. The man running the truck invited me inside, and we had a somewhat of a strange photo shoot. For must see pictures have a look at the link above.

When you do have to pay for a meal you can expect the bill to be under 2000 Dinar, and the food is delicious. Surprisingly, alcohol (if you can find it), is also remarkably inexpensive. As an example a 1L bottle of Jack Daniels is about 8000 Dinar. The markets are cheap for items ranging from sneakers to gold watches. You don’t even need to bargain as the people are honest and are not looking to rip you off. But it never hurts to try and shave a few Dinar off the asking price! Travelling in Iraq will not leave you broke by any means. But remember there are no ATM’s, so bring cash!

Reason #3: If you like smoking cigarettes you will love Iraq, you can smoke anywhere.. literally anywhere.

I am not a smoker. But my friend who I was travelling in Iraq with was. When you travel in Iraq, no where is off limits to light a up a cigarette. It actually became a running joke to see where it was acceptable to smoke. Here are just a few examples of where smoking is acceptable; in elevators, hotel lobbies, children’s toy stores, any kind of taxi, and in the corner store while you buy more cigarettes. If you work as a cook, it’s ok to smoke while you cook the food. Also, in the gold shop with my Iraqi business man friend, and, well you get the idea. I will also mention a pack of cigarettes cost less then $1. This is a smoker’s paradise, and it almost made me want to start just to fit in. Or maybe not.

Reason #4: Iraq travel is perfect for those who love undiscovered countries

So you love off the beaten path you say… Well this is about as far off the track as you can get. While I was in Iraq, I never saw another tourist. From the time I made the overland trip from Turkey to Iraq using local transport, until I was flying out with Atlasjet, my travel buddy and I were the only foreigners around. Travelling in Iraq will bring you well off the beaten path and into the land of the unknown.

This is shown with the people, the honesty, the fair prices, and the non existent harassment. Unfortunately with tourists often come problems, and as there are little to no tourists in Kurdistan Iraq it is untainted and the people are happy to have you there.

Reason #5: Do some good and help out the disadvantaged people

Travelling in Iraq can be a selfless act. Like anywhere, there are those who have and those who need. When you look at a country like Iraq, the gap between these two groups widen and those who need, really need. While I was in the border town of Zakho, I was lucky enough to be able to team up with my travel buddy Paul and help out some refugees. We brought a bunch of toys with us from Turkey and handed them out to refugee children. You can read about us handing out toys to refugee children here if you’d like. There are endless opportunities while travelling through Iraq where you can help out the less fortunate; and let me tell you first hand, it’s a rewarding experience.

Reason #6: Iraq has some very interesting cites to explore

People have inhabited this region for thousands of years, and have left behind proof of this with old buildings and the like. Beyond the history aspect, the cities are fantastic just wander around in. When you travel in Iraq, don’t just focus on what you are told to see by a guide book. Get out into the city and just cruise. Walk through the mazes of markets, the narrow old streets, all the while saying to yourself “wow, I am actually walking around the streets of Iraq!” While I stayed in Erbil I put together a little list of 4 unusual ideas (this also includes the story of my lunch with the Iraqi businessman) that I personally experienced, have a look and see for yourself.

Reason #7: To say that you have travelled to Iraq!

This, straight up, is your claim to fame. When people ask what the most interesting country you have been to, you can casually answer “oh, well, I was just in Iraq not too long ago”, as you take a sip of your drink and look away as if it’s no big deal. This may sound a bit pompous, and it is. But hey, you just went to Iraq! You deserve a little praise for your bravery. You might as well let everyone know, like I just did by writing this article!

If Iraq travel is something you are on the fence about, I hope this will help you decide. Just remember that it is still Iraq and there is always a war going on of some kind it seems. Check the news. If you go and get kidnapped, it’s not my fault 😉

How many people have Iraq travel on their bucket list? Leave a comment and let me know what you think or if I have missed anything!

18 Responses

    • Alex

      From my personal experience I would say yes it is safe, but in the end it a decision you need to make. I know of other solo females that have done this just fine. From what I saw they are polite people and I really wouldn’t expect any harassment

    • Fizza

      I’m going to Iraq from Pakistan and wanted to see who else has traveled to Iraq! I’m so glad to see how great you thought it was! I’m totally looking forward to it now 😀

  1. Paul

    I love reason 3!!!!

    Alex: I am still in Iran, but my iPhone is dead. So no whatsapp and also no FB (is blocked here). My aim is to arrive in Yerevan late next week, get my Indian visa and get my iPhone fixed. 18th is still a date.

    Take care and enjoy Berlin & Amsterdam

    • Alex

      Sounds goods man! Im thinking I will go straight to Goa via Mumbai. Message me when you get your phone fixed. Safe travels

  2. Norman

    I find it kind of sad that the current state of events made countries like iraq, iran or higher up the cacasus quite undesirable!

    There is such a rich culture and the food, like you already pointed out, is just so exquiste. So it’s a real delight to read from that place – and not another “how i traveled thailand on a budget” report!
    Norman recently posted…Jūnihitoe – My outstanding kimono fashion experience in JapanMy Profile

    • Alex

      Hi Norman!

      You wont find any how to travel to Thailand on a budget posts here! I loved Iraq and hope to make it to Iran if they ever ease the visa restrictions for Canadians.

      • Ciaran

        Hi Alex,

        I’m currently in Iran and planning to go to Kurdistan in a few days. Like Iraq the people in Iran are amazing too. Its hard to do anything on your own here, everybody wants to help. Really looking forward to Kurdistan after reading this.

        Ciarán

      • Alex

        Thanks, I’m sure you will love it. I wish I was able to travel to Iran but can’t on my Canadian passport. One day! Have fun

  3. Abdul

    Hi Alex,

    Found your blog in NOMAD fb group. I enjoy read your experience in iraq. Was thinking of crossing the country before for my future overland asia to Europe plans, but then the news of isis doing harm in northern iraq made me rethink my plan. Btw, is it still unsafe to leave kurdistan region to Baghdad?

    • Alex

      Hi Abdul,

      Not sure about Bagdad as Iv never been. Im not even sure they would let you through the check point to be honest!

  4. diana

    I think that girls have no travel solo there. I have never been to Iraq, just to Kurdistan (Turkey) and on the border with Syria some truck drivers wanted to sell me to a prostitution (as there are still lots of girls trying to escape from different countries and crossing the borders in hope of better future and being too naive). So after such experience I prefer to have company being around.
    For sure Alex, you are not alone traveling where nobody wants to go, I am like you, need to discover, need to proof that it’s not like media says….. . Maybe one day in not touristic place we will meet by accident. So enjoy and super nice future trips !

  5. Ryan

    I went to Iraqi Kurdistan almost exactly two years ago. Although I hate to be pompous, Reason #7 certainly does ring true! Being able to answer the “weirdest country” question with “Iraq” is always a great way to keep a conversation flowing in an interesting direction.

    I’m very happy that I had the chance to go before this whole ISIS debacle. Even now, I don’t think I’d hesitate to make a return trip. Thanks for the pictures – my biggest regret is not having taken more in Erbil. The market area around the citadel and fountains is amazing!

  6. Diako

    If u ever came back to kurdistan i will guide you to place’s that blow your mind and i will do it for free so you don’t have to use a taxi because I am travelling alot just like you and i will be glad to travel with you..

  7. Mdf

    Is there any travel agency to make tours from Erbil to the border of Iran on the same day?Is there any travel agency to make tours from Erbil to the border of Iran on the same day? Visas processed for a European citizen?
    Thanks, beautiful journey and good gesture with kids refugees

    • Alex

      Im sorry but I actually dont know the answers to your questions. I just go with the flow usually. A good google search may help. Good luck!