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sep 02 2015

See What Happened When This American Couple Visited Iran

Persepolis in Iran

The stone-carved grandeur of 2,500-year old Persepolis, the capital of ancient Persia, pictured here, one of Iran's 19 UNESCO World Heritage sites, the most of any country in the Middle East.

(Courtesy irtouring/myBudgetTravel)

This article was written by Audrey Scott and Daniel Noll and originally appeared on Yahoo Travel.

Before we set off to Iran there was fear. Not so much from within us, but certainly from our family and friends, those usually unequivocal in their support of our travels. During our pre-trip round of phone calls the night before our departure, the tone of some of the goodbyes seemed to imply some thought it just might be for good.

Such was the response to us, an American couple, going to Iran.

With the recent nuclear deal, interest in travel to Iran is again on the rise. And with this, questions arise: “What did it feel like to travel in Iran as Americans? Is it safe? And why make the effort to visit Iran anyway?”

Traveling in Iran as Americans: Our experience, it surprises people—we sometimes think they don’t believe us when we tell them that Iran was the country where we felt most like rock stars. Truly. From the markets of Tehran, to the mosques of Shiraz, even in the dining car of a train across northern Iran to Turkey, we—the Americans—were the unwitting stars of the show. 

Iranians are a curious lot. When we revealed that we were American, their excitement level would rise noticeably. They wanted their photos taken with us, invited us for tea, and even showed us off to friends, as if to say, “Look what I found!” Others in our group, Europeans and Australians among them, were welcomed warmly, but their nationalities didn’t seem to carry quite the same draw. Honestly, we were flattered. And sometimes embarrassed by the attention.

Take, for example, our visit to the covered bazaar in Shiraz with another American woman in our group. An old man asked us where we were from and what we were looking for at the bazaar: “We’re Americans and are just curious.
We don’t have markets like this in our country,” we said.

He asked us to wait. After a few minutes, he returned with gift boxes of Iranian cookies and sweets for us to take home to our families. We were barely able to leave the bazaar for all the invitations—to tea and to people’s homes—in the city and halfway across the country.

Related: Hot Springs of Iran: the Next Spa Lover’s Fantasy

Only later, after returning to our hotel and turning on the television, did we learn the irony of our day: It happened to be the anniversary of Iran’s taking of the American hostages in 1979. International news channels were filled with scenes of demonstrations flush with dancing “Death to America” posters and flaming American flags.  

It reminded us of the repeated message from ordinary Iranians we’d met on the street: “People are people, governments are governments. Please tell your friends about the real Iran.”

So why travel to Iran? The country is culturally rich and visual varied. From the stone-carved grandeur of 2,500-year old Persepolis, the capital of ancient Persia and the setting of the first verbal expression of universal human rights, to the dizzying bits of Islamic tile work in mosques throughout the country, the place is a formidable mountain of history. It’s no surprise that Iran boasts 19 UNESCO World Heritage sites, the most of any country in the Middle East.

Then there are the covered bazaars, some of which are over 800 years old, where you can get lost in miles of alleys filled with spice piles and warrens clogged with old men haggling over the fiber count of locally woven carpets. Teahouses, where friends gather for conversation, sweet tea and hookah pipes filled with fruit tobacco, give a taste and glimpse of the social pulse.

Related: Solo + Woman + Iran = Insane? Our Writer Did It

At the moment, in order for Americans (as well as Canadian and U.K. citizens) to obtain an Iranian tourist visa, they must either book an organized tour or travel with an authorized private guide. During our trip to Iran, we did both—a small-group tour with tour company G Adventures followed by a one-week trip on our own with a local Iranian guide. Even if you are an ardent independent traveler as we both are, don’t let this requirement deter you. We enjoyed ample time on our own to explore and engage, so that we might come away with our own story of Iran and its people. 

WATCH: Avalanches, Death Threats, and No Lifts. Welcome to the World’s Most Dangerous Ski Race

sep 01 2015

How to do Florence on a Budget

Pointe Vecchia in Florence, Italy

Visit Ponte Vecchio, the city's famous medieval arched bridge, now home to an assortment of shops and restaurants, and a regular spot for free musical entertainment.

(Courtesy mcmillent/myBudgetTravel)

Florence is an Italian city best known for its art. Home to the Galleria degli Uffizi and the Galleria dell'Accademia (where Michelangelo's David masterpiece resides), visitors from around the world flock to see famous statues and paintings by Raphael, Botticelli, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci among others. The good news is you don't have to break the bank to get some world-class culture. You can view sculptures, paintings, and other works of art for less—or for free—if you know where to look.

aug 31 2015

How to Pick Your Perfect Machu Picchu Trek

Tourist and llama sitting in front of Machu Picchu

This article was written by Zoe Smith on behalf of Viator.com.

Few bucket lists are complete without a trip to the Inca Citadel of Machu Picchu, one of the world’s most famous archaeological sites and Peru’s number one tourist attraction. Built in the 15th century, the site is not only world-renowned as an architectural masterpiece but also known for its dramatic location, perched on a 2,430-meter high mountaintop high above the city of Cusco. Few travelers pass through Cusco without visiting the magnificent Lost City of the Incas, but for adventurous travelers, the ultimate challenge is hiking the legendary Inca trail, a high-altitude, multi-day hike through the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu.

aug 28 2015

4 Easy Ways To Maximize Your Travel Rewards

Paper airplane made of money
(Carlosphotos / Dreamstime.com)

While some people clip coupons all day to reduce their grocery bill by a few dollars, there is far more money to be saved by maximizing travel rewards programs. Airlines, hotels, and rental car agencies each offer customers their own points or miles, but it's up to travelers to leverage these programs to reap the most valuable rewards.

aug 27 2015

Great Getaways: Providence & Bristol

Waterfire in Providence, Rhode Island

Don't wait—there are only two more chances to see WaterFire Providence in 2014!

(Courtesy Nick Millard/GoProvidence)

Located about three hours from New York City, or about an hour south of Boston, lies Providence, Rhode Island, a city famous for it's food, tolerance, and WaterFire, a spectacle you truly have to see in order to fully understand its brilliance. A 30-minute drive from Providence, you'll find the lovely little seaside town of Bristol, a great getaway spot in its own right thanks to its quirky neighborhood shops, natural surroundings, and historic mansions you can visit. If you're looking for a great weekend getaway or a chance to explore a wonderful combination of foodie paradise, artsy city vibes, and historic seaside towns, Providence and Bristol are the perfect places to start.

Don't miss WaterFire in Providence

aug 26 2015

15 Incredible Things to Do in Iceland

The Blue Lagoon in Iceland

Don't miss a trip to Iceland's beautiful Blue Lagoon.

(Courtesy DWaiste/myBudgetTravel)

This article was written by Katie Hammel on behalf of Viator.com.

The average person probably knows one of three things about Iceland: it’s the home of Bjork, the country went bankrupt in 2008, and in 2010 its unpronounceable volcano disrupted air travel in Europe and North America for several days. For decades, Iceland remained off the radar of most travelers, but in recent years the country has amped up its tourism campaign, showcasing its beauty and culture to prospective visitors who are discovering that this seemingly-remote speck of land in the North Atlantic Ocean is much closer—and much more exciting—than they might have guessed.

aug 25 2015

How To Visit U.S. National Parks For Free

Capitol Reef National Park in Utah

Enjoy amazing views like this at Capitol Reef National Park in Southern Utah.

(Courtesy Wolfgang Staudt/Flickr)

Happy 99th Birthday, National Park Service. You Look Great!

In case you hadn't noticed, the U.S. is home to some of the greatest national parks in the world. The best part: if you do your homework, you can visit them for free. Here's how.

Enroll in the Every Kid In A Park program

aug 24 2015

Ready for a Day With No Cars in Paris?

traffic in Paris
(Lonely Planet)

Ever walked the streets of one of your favorite cities and thought, “I wish the cars would just disappear”? While we have nothing against the auto industry or the awesome road trips and scenic drives we take in our cars, the staggering burden of traffic in, say, Los Angeles, London, and New York can sometimes make finding your bliss nearly impossible.

aug 21 2015

7 Things to Do in Vernazza (Besides Hiking)

This article was written by Jessica Spiegel on behalf of Viator.com.

Most of the people who have been flocking to the pretty town of Vernazza in the Cinque Terre for decades do so because of the famous hike that connects Vernazza with other towns along the coast. Hiking remains the top thing to do in the Cinque Terre, but it’s by no means the only thing to do. Here are 7 other things worth checking out.

aug 20 2015

5 Things To Do In Seaside Park, NJ

Summer in New York City often means endless chatter about trips to the East End of Long Island and tooth-grinding preparation for an appearance in the Hamptons. But if your style is a bit more mid-century chill—when all a harried city-dweller needed was a tattered paperback, a low-slung beach chair and absolutely no one to impress—consider Seaside Park, NJ. Settled in 1874, this sleepy beach town along the Atlantic Ocean doesn't even fill one square mile on the map. And while it’s geographically close to Seaside Heights—made infamous by MTV’s “Jersey Shore” series—Seaside Park is worlds away from its fist-pumping frenzy.

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