One week as a solo female traveller in Saudi Arabia

I’ve done it; spent a week in Saudi Arabia for research, and took the opportunity of this business to come a few days earlier to take the time and explore a little.

In an attempt to overhaul its oil-dependent economy, Saudi Arabia has launched an ambitious 2030 Vision that heralds changes in all spheres of life and will imply deep transformation of society.

For the General Entertainment Authority, the objective is simple: make Saudi citizens spend at home what they currently spend when travelling abroad.

And what’s incredible in this ultraconservative country is that social change will also be promoted to fuel the economic transition.

Women will be allowed to drive after Ramadan this year, which as shown by the infographic on this page, is one measure from the wider package amid at modernising the kingdom and making it ready for new economic growth.

The needs of the 15 million Saudi women are evolving fast. More and more of them work now (they represent 14% of the workforce now), whilst they are still expected to fulfil their demanding role as a housekeeper and a caregiver. This is a huge ask, and the opportunity is there for brands who will engaged with them and support their new lifestyle whilst nurturing their more traditional aspirations.

Several brands have already started to capitalise on the buzz around women sliding into the driver’s seat, such as Coca-Cola with the Change has a Taste campaign

What I’ve found equally exciting during my stay is the potential for tourism, beyond the traditional opportunity that religious tourism in Mecca represents.

The legendary Arab hospitality is true and I’ve been feeling very welcome in Saudi Arabia. I’ve noticed that well educated Saudi men make a point of treating a Western, non-Muslim woman with a very diligent sense of respect. I’ve made friends and exchanged laughs with many expat Arabs such as this randomly met Yemeni young man who insisted to drive me and show me around in Jeddah.

And in Riyadh’s Al Masmak fort, converted into a museum that glorifies the history of Kind Abdulaziz, founder of Saudi Arabia, I was offered a beautiful brochure in French, my native tongue, about all the treasures that Saudi tourism has to offer.

In true TVE fashion, I’ve kept my eyes opened to find the latest trends in Saudi:

  • Protein and fitness supplements are everywhere. They cater for men exclusively; the number of female-only gyms is growing but still only allowed to focus on weight loss
  • The dish of the moment is dipping! The typical recipe is to use labneh (local yoghurt), sometimes mixed with mayonnaise, to dip fries. Starbucks has a yummy and healthier alternative!
  • And if you want to look like a fashionable Saudi, you absolutely need an in-hand ring holder for your smartphone! This new fashionable accessory from Korea is absolutely everywhere.

My visa runs until July. Shall I go back after Ramadan for a proper road trip?


By: Emeline Mettavant

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