Taking the family – or just yourself – to places the neighbors consider wildly unusual calls for a little extra prep. You want  to be sure your experiences open up new ideas and understandings. The Kingdom of Jordan overflows with charm, safety, adventure and fine foods when you know where to look. Cultural Heritage TMOM has the tips.

Jordan bread baking

Women bake the bread in Bedouin communities; men brew the coffee. Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts Cultural Heritage TravelingMom

Journey Itself Enriches Jordan Visit

Petra is the famous spot in Jordan, but not the only astonishing adventure. Someday National Geographic and National Public Television will catch up with documentaries about all the rest.

Meanwhile, you could go. In the spring of 2016 Jordan struck me as the ideal location to experience the Middle East, to immerse in Muslim culture, to rely on safety and security in a kingdom with longtime and well-loved royal rulers and to walk in the places featured in the Old Testament stories.

Way before adjusting myself into camel-riding posture, I could tell this experience had potential for new travel richness. Start with the airplane; I flew Royal Jordanian Airlines out of Chicago.

Flight Starts Cultural Immersion

Do you watch the maps when you take long-haul flights, the ones indicating what’s underneath your plane? Greater impact than usual for me flying over Damascus, Syria, and considering the events ongoing in the lives of people below.

How can neighboring countries experience vastly different situations: Syria traumatic, dangerous, unending disarray and misunderstanding, while Jordan is calm, peaceful and caring, with people on the same page?

Even the letters on the airplane maps heralded the newness of impending adventures—a graceful cursive so unfamiliar to a westerner. International travel always launches a desire to learn new languages, but this alphabet speaks to mystery and artistry too.

Do you take your ear buds or headphones and plug in to the plane’s entertainment system? Books on tape maybe? This flight offers the Koran too. Immersion starts early when you’re looking for it.

Do you strike up a conversation with your seatmates? Mine were two sisters from Palestine. That’s a possibility I hadn’t even considered. What an opportunity to get a little insight beyond the 24-hour news cycles.

They live in America now and were heading home to visit their mom who had a stroke. Calm, normal people with hearts aching for their mother, and their homeland.

Prayer valued in Jordan

Airport signs indicate cultural values. Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts Cultural Heritage TravelingMom

Even the arrival airport in Jordan’s capital city Amman reminded me to be especially observant to enrich my journey.

Of course signs pointing the way to the bathroom are vital. Same sign also told me whether I needed to turn left or right to find the prayer room. Equally vital information, apparently, among people in a nation embracing their faith.

Fashion Versus Respect

My western attitudes compelled me to stare at the women on the plane and in the airport wearing their abayas and hijabs, their chadors and some of them in a burqa with only an eye opening and that covered with crocheted mesh.

Silly, isn’t it, a judgment from afar? They didn’t seem to stare at me in my jeans and short-sleeved T-shirt.

Cultural Heritage TravelingMom Tip: Dedicate the 12-hour flight to Jordan to getting past the need for opinions, and settle in to the environment that dominates.

Spices are still commerce in Jordan.

Understand ancient camel caravans seeing their spice loads in Rosemary Petra. Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts Cultural Heritage TravelingMom

Sharing Bedouin lifestyle

Camels can cost $150,000. Each.

That’s the kind of fact to be learned traversing this Kingdom and it changed my notion about the shepherds seen on the sides of the roads. Poor, struggling folks you might think?

After all, they appear to live in tents, almost always with camels grazing nearby.

Bedouin are wealthy people, reportedly preferring a nomadic way of life to a structured existence in the houses they have built. They’ve tried both and prefer the culture of their grandparents, and the connections to their ancestors.

Camels and wealth go hand-in-hand in Jordan, a cultural gem in the Middle East..

The writer climbs aboard a camel on her 68th birthday. Camels provide practical transportation in the ancient carved stone city of Petra. Photo credit: Bedouin camel guide

A civilization so secure in its roots opens doors to visitors to share Bedouin hospitality. Some of the ideas to get used to before planning a detailed journey in Jordan are these:

  • Call for a camel as you would hail a taxi. Save some steps exploring the ancient city of Petra, massive artistic buildings carved into the stones where cave-dwelling people conducted global commerce a century before the birth of Christ. A cheerful Bedouin boy will help you up onto the camel, then walk in front to help guide it.
  • Smell the fragrances of the spices camel caravans transported from Arabia (now called Yemen), to the Port at Gaza. Find them in Rosemary Petra, nestled among huge carved stones of purple, yellow and the dominant rose color and ask spice trader Mazen Assre to steep you a cup of tea with ancient roots.
  • Spend the night in a Bedouin goat-hair tent, feasting on lamb and chicken, a multitude of vegetables, all cooked in a fire pit by your hosts.
  • Sip coffee – beans toasted over a fire by the Bedouin family elder, cardamom added, nuances of the cooking process and its related etiquette taught through a translator.
  • Join a camel caravan in the Wadi Rum desert. Think Lawrence of Arabia. Fifteen minutes might be right for young children; tweens and teens could readily participate in a longer trek.

Experience Entire Kingdom

Metropolitan Amman and Biblical Mount Nebo also figure in a Jordan vacation. So does the Dead Sea tradition of reading while floating and healing with mineral-rich mud slathered over the body from the Sea.

Jordan shares Old Testament sites.

Stand where Moses did, gazing at the Promised Land. Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts Cultural Heritage TravelingMom

Ancient cities and civilizations beckon Jordan visitors in extensive and handsome archaeological sites. Jerash struck me as more engaging than Rome for the ruins. No Sistine Chapel here, but abundance of mosaics, and fascinating structures and stories.

Cultural Heritage TravelingMom lodging tip: Pack light and change hotels often because the Bedouin tent isn’t the only adventure. Luxury resorts, a sustainable-focused ecolodge and city hotels with easy access to sites to see are all accessible.

Jordan is the site of much mosaic history.

Mosaics support theories to establish history in Jordanian archaeological sites. Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts Cultural Heritage TravelingMom

See what Frequent Flyer TravelingMom Leslie Harvey knows about currency conversion and then apply the 29 tips Teaching TraveingMom Kirsten Maxwell shares for first-time travelers to a strange land.

Have you visited Jordan? Elsewhere in the Middle East? Share your cultural discoveries in the comment section below.

Why you should visit Jordan.