Hello Readers, I’ve just come back from Hajj, the yearly pilgrimage for Muslims and the following is a list of things that, should you ever go, you’ll be glad you brought along.
Extra Bed Sheets and Pillow Cases
The hotel we stayed at in Mecca was run-down, dirty and down right gross sometimes. I pray you don’t have the same experience that I do, but if you, you’ll be glad you brought extra bedsheets. I don’t know when the ones in my room were last washed and even the new “clean” ones they gave me smelled questionable to say the least. Using my own sheets at least gives me some peace of mind in that regard. If you don’t want the extra baggage, you could also probably buy some in the market. In addition to your hotel, they could prove useful at Mina and just praying in Jammat with a bunch of other people when prayer rugs aren’t available for everyone.
Acetaminophen is really a miracle drug. A pair of Tylenol tablets will treat a fever, muscle pains, tooth aches, you name it. I got a fever while I was on Hajj (the unsanitary conditions of the hotel definitely didn’t help that situation) and couple of Tylenol and some holy water and I was good to go, by the Grace of God. By the same token, bring pills for digestive distress (diarrhea, upset stomach, vomiting, etc.) like Pepto Bismol or Imodium. Whether it is the hotel food, the environment or even the other guests, it’s very likely that you’ll get sick during your stay. Be prepared for anything by packing lots of medicine. While not technically medicine, a thermometer would also greatly help if you suspect you have a fever. Adhesive bandages, antiseptic wipes and (unscented) hand sanitizers are also good.
Places to do laundry and few and far in between. You’ll most likely have to wash your clothes by hand and, if you’re lucky, dry them on the roof. The one laundry place I saw wasn’t like an American self-serve laundromat where you chuck your clothes in a machine and wait for it to stop spinning. From what I understood, you give your clothes and pay a guy at the counter to wash them for you.
Toilet Paper and (Unscented) Baby Wipes
This country is rolling in oil; why wouldn’t they have something as essential as toilet paper? You’d be surprised.
External Battery Packs
I was surprised that my plugs actually fit into the Saudi outlets and that there were adapters in practically every room. I guess we know that the human race prioritizes phone charge over all else when traveling abroad. Even so, at the air port where you will always be on the move, you won’t be able to hug the wall waiting for your phone to charge. I recommend an external battery with a large capacity (not one of those tiny lipstick packs). The bigger the better. Make sure to do the math by checking the capacity of your phone and tablet’s battery. For example, my phone has a capacity of just over 1500 mAh, and my battery pack was 10,000 mAh, meaning I could get a good 6 or 7 full charges out of it, before the battery pack itself had to be recharged. If you’re curious, the one I bought is here.
Your SIM from America will not work here. Period. Don’t waste your time trying. Now I could go into conspiracy theories about how the government is doing this on purpose to force you to buy cards from their shops, but let’s leave that aside for now. You need an unlocked phone to use their prepaid SIM cards (that need constant recharging). If you bought your phone from your carrier like I did, then it is almost guaranteed to be locked. I’d recommend buying a cheap unlocked phone on eBay or something.
If you find your phone is locked when you get here like I did, then fear not. There are other ways to reach the outside world. My hotel had WiFi, albeit from just a single router in the lobby, which I was able to use to make calls with Google Hangouts and Whatsapp. Viber doesn’t seem to work here (insert conspiracy theory here). Google Hangouts was particularly good because on iPhones, they can’t completely integrate with your phone service like they do on Android, so you can call any U.S. Phone number for free without cutting minutes from your card. To be extra careful that you don’t unnecessarily cut through your minutes, turn on airplane mode and turn on WiFi after that.
The Ability to Speak Arabic
Well okay, you can’t really get this a day or two before the trip. It might take a life time, but being able to speak Arabic will make things a lot easier for you. The Haraam police (the nickname I’ve given to the guards that manage the crowds at Masjid al-Haraam, the Grand Mosque), are extraordinarily aggressive and rude, but are noticeably nicer to Hajji’s that speak Arabic. You’ll also have an easier time dealing with shop keepers and the like and understanding signs along the way. English only appears on the most important signs (like water or directions and stuff like that), and virtually no one that lives/works in Mecca speaks it fluently.
The Grand Mosque doesn’t really have any place to put your shoes when you get in. Not that you’d want to since there are literally thousands upon thousands of people inside and you’d like get your shoes stolen. For that reason, a durable drawstring backpack is a good investment. One with two compartments can be used to keep your shoes and other things (water, prayer rug, etc.) separate. I recommend this one here.