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Saudi Arabia now allows Muslim women under 45 to do umrah without a mahram or male guardian. I was in need of a little Eat Pray Love moment so I decided to book my tickets. It turned out to be an amazing experience and I couldn’t recommend it more. Instead of booking an umrah package that costs almost $10,000 a person, book your own DIY umrah.
Although I love a good last minute trip, I think that your umrah experience will be better if you plan it in advance. Here are my tips for an enjoyable DIY umrah experience for solo women and families.
** Visiting Makkah & performing Umrah is only available to Muslims. Non-Muslims are not allowed to enter Makkah**
Mentally and Physically Prepare for Umrah
Umrah is a beautiful experience but it requires some preparation. I suggest trying to get into a more spiritual place before Umrah. Watch videos about the rituals of Umrah. Listen to lectures about Hajar so that you can truly understand the significance of running between the two hills of Safa and Marwa. Learn what you can about Prophet Muhammad’s swa life and his migration between Makkah and Madinah. Learn as much as you can but don’t get too overwhelmed.
Don’t expect to remember all the Umrah rituals off the top of your head. Bring an Umrah Guide book or use an app for step by step instructions. I love the al-Nusak Guide app because it helps you keep count during Tawaf and gives great directions. Start writing a list of duas to be made during Umrah.
The best way to physically prepare for Umrah to remain well rested and to make working out a regular part of your routine. The weather in Saudi Arabia is very hot and humid so stay hydrated before, during, and after Umrah. These hydration packs have all the electrolytes you’d need.
Tourist and Umrah Visas
Visa requirements vary by passport but if you are an American citizen, you may choose between a multiple entry tourist visa, umrah visa, or transit visa. The Umrah visa is only valid for 2 weeks. The multiple entry tourist visa is ideal if you plan on exploring Saudi Arabia for longer than two weeks or plan on doing Umrah multiple times. The Transit Visa is easily attained if flying with Saudi Airlines. I strongly recommend using their stopover program to stay 2-4 days in Saudi Arabia which allows you to do Umrah (you must still apply for an Umrah visa during or after you purchase).
Saudi Arabia does not play about visas. You need your visa to book an Umrah appointment, buy a SIM card, and check into a hotel so do not skip this part. You should usually hear back about your visa approval within 24 hours but it can take up to 5 days so try to do this in advance. Make sure to make an appointment for Umrah by the Nusak App. Sometimes they don’t enforce the Umrah appointment schedule but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Plan your itinerary for Umrah
If you’re flying more than 10 hours to get to Saudi Arabia you might as well use this time to explore multiple cities. I recommend visiting Jeddah, Madinah, Mecca, Taif, and al Ula if you have more than 10 days. If you only have enough time for Umrah then I recommend Mecca, Madinah, and possibly Jeddah.
Umrah is a bit tiring so I recommend saving Mecca for last. Jeddah – Madinah – Mecca would be an ideal journey. The nearest airport to Mecca is Jeddah but Madinah also has an international airport.
Read here for the main attractions in each city.
Getting into a state of Ihram
Before beginning Umrah or Hajj, we are required to get into the state of Ihram. It’s a state of purity that we must get into before crossing certain boundaries. This is why men heading to Hajj usually wear their Ihram on the plane. Men have specific dress code while women do not.
Ihram for women include:
- not wearing perfume or scented lotions
- no makeup or flashy jewelry
- no cursing, backbiting, or sexual relations
- conservative dress
- not being on your period
Most women wear black or white abayas. After completing the tawaf and sa’ee, women are required to cut off about a finger tip length amount of hair.
Transportation in Saudi Arabia
There are lots of public transportation options in Saudi Arabia. The easiest way to get from Madinah to Makkah is by the Haramain High Speed Railway. By train, it’s 2.5 hours on a clean and comfortable train. By road, the distance between Madinah and Makkah is about 6.5 hours. Business class is about $30 dollars more than economy ($17). It includes access to the Business lounge, an onboard meal, and drink. We were welcomed onboard with a date and Saudi coffee. The lunch was decent. It wasn’t super luxurious by any means. On the Haramain train, travelers are allowed 1 luggage piece each. If your luggage is considered oversize or if you have additional pieces you will have to go the counter and pay for your luggage to be shipped to your train destination. I was quoted $60 dollars for my oversized luggage and it was expected to reach Madinah at midnight. Plan accordingly. I would recommend sticking to one carry-on size luggage, one large purse/book bag, and a foldable duffle bag for gifts.
In major cities like Jeddah, Madinah, and Makkah you can use Uber. You can also use local taxi drivers but most do not speak a lot of English. Make sure to agree on a price before you get into the Uber. I noticed that some agree to a price but then say they don’t have change or beg for you to pay a small extra amount. Also note that Ubers are not able to pick up passengers close to the Kaaba so when leaving you will have to walk a few blocks or take a local taxi.
In Jeddah and Madinah, Uber is your best bet.
Niqab is quite popular throughout Saudi Arabia. In some places, like the airport or train station, the majority of women wore niqab. Almost 98% of women wear black abayas. I saw a few colorful abayas as well but it wasn’t the norm. I would pack at least 5 abayas and buy more in Madinah or Jeddah. Pack lightweight, breathable clothes to wear under your abaya. Comfortable shoes is a must. I suggest Tevas Hurricane Drift. It feels like walking on a cloud. A good hat is useful, although I tried to rest during the day and explored after Maghrib due to the heat.
Umrah is full of rewards and benefits. Try to pray in congregation when possible. Do dhikr daily. Give sadaqah daily. Seek forgiveness and really commit to breaking bad habits. Don’t forget to pray for yourself, your family, and the entire ummah. Don’t be shy with your prayers, you’re visiting the house of Allah! May Allah accept your Umrah and be pleased with you 🙂