Travel truth: No-frills often makes for the greatest thrills.
One of the best experiences I had on a recent trip through the Middle East was one that set me back the least. My boyfriend, Adam, and I spent our first night in the ancient (and breathtaking) red-rock city of Petra, Jordan, in a traditional hotel. After we'd slept off the jet lag—and gotten engaged atop one of Petra's highest peaks—we decided to spend a night at the Ammarin Bedouin Camp, a quick drive away through the desert. As we pulled up to the bare-bones campground, which was little more than the low table you see pictured and a few rows of traditional bedouin tents, we found our unsuspecting welcomer, Mohammad, sound asleep on the cushions in the photo.
Yet, without missing a beat, he sprang up from his nap, poured us hot tea, and began gleefully teaching us Arabic words out of my phrase book. We whiled away the morning with Miriam, a lively eyed shepherdess from the next village over, and spent the afternoon riding camels (my advice: Start with a half-day trek, or you'll walk bowlegged for a while) and lamenting the high price of wives in the region with our guide, Faisal. In fact, while I was off in hot pursuit of a baby camel I wanted to photograph, the men gathered around to congratulate Adam—and wasted no time asking how much he'd paid for me.
Later that evening, we were joined by two dozen Jordanian police officers on a retreat, a gaggle of French tourists, and a group of American dads, former grad school roommates now touring the world with their families. We took turns trading stories, tips, and future travel plans: Alex, one of their sons, was off the next day to study abroad in Turkey. I hope he enjoys his stay just as much as we enjoyed our time around the campfire, which helped us get to know our hosts and fellow guests in a way we never would have otherwise. But that's often the case when you, literally, take the road less traveled.