Traveler Postcard: Audrey and Daniel in Iran

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That’s why we’re launching a new series, Traveler Postcards, in which we profile a real trip – highlighting the best of a destination as seen by a particular person on a particular trip. They’ll share what they did, what they liked and disliked, and how much they spent, giving you a personal perspective and real tips to plan your trip. 

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Traveler Names: Audrey Scott & Daniel Noll of Uncornered Market
Destination: Iran. The first two weeks was on a G Adventures tour (Iran – Discover Persia) while the third week with a private guide (in Iran, a guide is required). Our G Adventures tour was sponsored, but we paid our transport to and from Iran plus the costs of the private tour.
Dates of your trip: 29 October – 17 November, 2011

Iran is an off the beaten trail destination and appeals to those who travel for adventure, or those who travel to explore, learn and challenge assumptions (e.g., who want to see an alternative view of a place than is presented in the media). Additionally, Iran is perfect for travelers with an interest in ancient civilizations, cultures, and Islamic architecture/design.

Why did you choose this destination?

We’ve been dreaming of traveling to Iran for around eight years, since we began learning about the country and became friends with Iranians living in Europe. We knew that there was more to Iran than is usually portrayed on the news; we wanted to see this for ourselves.  Here’s the full story on why we choose this destination: Iran: Why We’re Going

What was the biggest surprise of the destination?

The reaction to us when local people found out we were American. The response to foreign visitors is very warm, but when we stated our nationality people were often shocked and broke into huge smiles, hugs and over-the-top welcomes to their country. We were repeatedly invited to homes and meals, given gifts on the street and told how much Iranian people (to differentiate from Iranian government) loved the United States and its people.

Did anything about the trip disappoint you?

The attitude from some Iranian tourism businesses – it sometimes felt like we were dollar bills instead of people. This was a great contrast to the experience with ordinary people we met of the streets – we were often given gifts because we were considered “guests” in their country.

Were there any “must do” activities or attractions that you found overrated?

Iran really isn’t a country of “must do” activities, but fortunately the main site of the trip – Persepolis – was not a disappointment. It exceeded our expectations in terms of the feel of the place and carvings that are still so detailed and expressive 2,500 years later. You really felt like you could imagine the grandeur and influence of the Achaemenid Empire.

What was your best meal of the trip?

Some of our best meals on the trip were the cheapest and the least fancy of settings. One meal that comes to mind was in a tiny tea hut in the mountain village of Masuleh where we were served “ash”, a hearty traditional soup. It was so fresh, had great flavor from herbs and was without meat (a godsend after eating kebabs non-stop for weeks). Another fantastic (also meatless) meal was rice and lentil stuffed vegetables at the home of our guide in Tabriz, Iran.

What is one experience you would tell other travelers not to miss in this destination?

Finding time to wander the streets and the markets by yourself, especially if you’re American. And to do so in as many cities as possible. People’s reaction to you is often different (and more open) when you are on your own than with a guide. Interactions with ordinary Iranians are some of the best aspects of visiting.

What item, hotel, or experience is worth a splurge?

A Persian carpet. The high quality carpets are works of art. All are done by hand and some take years of work to complete. Americans are not allowed to bring in these carpets, but many of the shops have arrangements with places in Dubai to ship directly from there to work around various sanctions and customs issues.

What was the most unique cultural experience you had in the destination?

Eating in an Iranian home. Not only is the food better, but this is also where people open up and are really themselves. This is particularly relevant in a country like Iran where many people have a public and private face for survival.  It’s wonderful to see the private side of people and get a glimpse into their real lives.

What do you wish you had known before visiting?

A few more words of Farsi (local language). Although it was usually possible to find people who spoke some English, it would have been nice to be able to engage in simple conversations and ask more questions in Farsi.

What was the weather like when you were there? Would you recommend visiting at a different time for optimal weather?

During our trip we experienced all four seasons in one — desert heat to freezing snow-covered mountains. Snow came about a month early to Iran, so we weren’t expecting such winter weather. For hiking and doing other outdoor activities in the north around Tabriz, April-May or September-October are the best months.

What was the biggest hurdle you had to deal with in getting there or being there?

The visa process and navigating Iranian regulations regarding American tourists can be challenging. Fortunately, the Iranian tour companies take care of all the hard paperwork for you by applying on your behalf for approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We started the visa application process two months prior to the trip and received the visa at the last minute.

What was the most challenging aspect of the trip or of visiting this particular destination?

Iran is a big country, so if you choose a lot of destinations to visit in a short time be prepared for a lot of time on the road between cities. This can tire you out quickly; do your research on distances to be sure you don’t overplan your trip.

How easy or difficult was it to travel independently in the destination (in terms of getting around, cost, safety, language and culture shock)?

American citizens are not allowed to travel independently around the country – it is possible to join a group tour or arrange a private tour.

For non-American independent travelers it would be quite easy to travel around Iran. Public transport (buses and shared taxis) are cheap and plentiful. The CouchSurfing community is very active in Iran, so this would help with the cost of accommodation and put you in touch with real Iranians. Although English isn’t widely spoken, you can usually find someone who speaks some English after a few tries.

Would you recommend this destination to other independent travelers? Why or why not?

We’d definitely recommend Iran for independent travelers, even if you’re American and need a tour/guide. The country is not only home to some incredible archeological and architectural sites, but it’s a fascinating place full of contradictions, culture and incredibly hospitable people. Your head will be full each day with what you’ve seen, experienced, conversations with people and then trying to process it all.

How much did you spend?

The G Adventures tour (14 days) costs $2,199/person and we paid $600/person for the private tour (7 days) with budget accommodation, transport and guide.

We suggest bringing around $300-$400 for food and other expenses not covered. The average meal costs $4-$10 (with street food as cheap as $0.80 for falafel sandwiches).

Basic accommodation ranges from $30 to $60 if you were to plan your trip on your own.

Our flight to Iran from Istanbul, Turkey cost $200 (one-way) and the train from Tabriz, Iran to Istanbul, Turkey (2.5 days) costs $75/person for a comfortable sleeper compartment.

» Tours, including accommodation, transport and guide: $2199 pp for 14 days and $600 pp for 7 days
» Food and drink: $400 for 21 days

Middle East Travel ForumTop Middle Eastern ExperiencesIran AdventuresFlights to Tehran, Iran

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 All photos by Uncornered Market and may not be used without permission. 

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  • World Wide Adventurers - Wandering the World said at 2012-08-06T08:58:50+0000: Audrey and Daniel.. You have fascinating destinations under your belt, great insight here thank you.
  • Adam C. Dudley said at 2011-11-30T22:12:00+0000: Beautiful photos and inspiring story. I am definitely Iran to my list of places to visit.
  • Kyh de Constantinopolis said at 2011-12-08T19:54:46+0000: iran! what a beautiful country! :)
  • Lauren Moseley said at 2011-11-29T02:38:46+0000: What travel agency did you use to book the personal guide? $600pp for 7 days is much less expensive than I have been able to find through any of the Iranian agencies I have spoken with! Thanks for the inspiration.
  • Epiphanie Bloom said at 2011-11-29T07:57:21+0000: I love reading stories about people visiting Iran... maybe one day I'll do it myself. :o)
  • Ashley Nelsen said at 2011-11-28T16:21:54+0000: Very cool! Loved your pictures Audrey and Daniel!
  • Ehsan Kh said at 2011-11-28T22:31:37+0000: good photos specially one that I took ;).