Around this time of the year, an estimated two million pilgrims around the world will be preparing to make their spiritual journey to the holy sites of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.
Taking care of details such as travel arrangements, hotels and transportation for you and your family can be stressful and expensive – but don’t let this take you away from the spirituality of the experience. Our tips can help prevent you breaking the bank and safeguard you during your journey.
Preparing for the journey
Your Hajj pilgrimage is a unique experience and is given high importance in Islam. The preparations to perform the Hajj can take a long time, so it’s a good idea to plan well in advance how you plan to travel, who you will be traveling with and where you plan to stay.
First of all, make sure you check with the necessary authorities on the regulations and quotas for performing the Hajj. As a general rule, Saudi nationals can perform the Hajj once every five years but there are exceptions such as if you have to accompany someone else.
If you are travelling from the UAE, you can check with registered Haj operators which are monitored by the General Authority for Islamic Affairs and Endowments.
Budget for your journey properly
Find out about the potential costs involved in performing the Hajj. Most people travel in groups and expenses such as accommodation and transportation is paid for upfront and included as part of the group package.
On top of package costs, consider other expenses such as meals, calls, and souvenirs. If your group package doesn’t include the cost for the trip between Mecca and Medina, you might need set some extra cash aside. If meals are not included in your Hajj package, then your daily meals may cost you on average less than SR 50 a day.
Besides living and transportation expenses, the Hajj is marked by a very important event, the sacrifice of the animal near the end of the pilgrimage. This can cost you approximately SR 400.
Talk to friends and family who have previously gone for Hajj. Take their advice on what to buy before travelling and affordable places to live and eat at in Saudi Arabia. It will prevent you from buying and carrying unnecessary items and keep you within your budget.
During your stay
Through, there are ways to make sure you don’t t go over-budget. Calls to your family in different cities can be expensive so use calling cards instead of phones in hotel rooms. You can even subscribe to pre-paid mobile plans offered by telecom providers especially designed for visitors. STC mobile plan for visitors is called Sawa Ziyara, and Zain plan is called Visitors Package. Mobily offers a specific plan for Hajj visitors called Mobily Hajj & Umrah plan with discounted rates for international calls.
If you are shopping for souvenirs and gifts, always bargain and check out multiple stores for the same item as prices may vary. Remember that acceptance of bank cards in both the holy cities is limited and you will have to pay mostly in cash for your meals, transport and gifts.
If walking around with a lump sum of cash makes you nervous, carry a thousand riyals with you and convert the rest into travelers cheques. These can be exchanged in case of theft or loss and can be cashed in for money at multiple money exchanges in Saudi Arabia. Being in Saudi Arabia will give you a better idea of how much money you need to spend daily, then you can convert your cheques accordingly. If you still want to carry a credit card, get all the card details such as numbers you may need to call in case of loss.
If you are flying into Saudi Arabia, get travel and health insurance. Research travel insurances which can cover you during instances such as loss of luggage.
Having health insurance is also important as you want to make sure you are covered in case of any medical emergencies. Enjoy the experience with peace of mind knowing that help is at hand if ever you needed it.
Plan in advance, consider your safety and stick to your budget.