Haj: Make it convenient by better preparation
Since Haj is once-in-a-lifetime experience for most people, the importance of early and adequate preparation cannot be over-emphasized. In this concluding section of a three-part series, some guidelines have been given to get you started in the right direction. Since individual needs and preferences vary widely you may add to the list as you prepare for the journey:
Saudi Arabia is a very hot part of the world most of the year. The presence of 2-3 million pilgrims during Haj is definitely a daunting task to perform Haj in convenient manner. Even after Haj, visiting places of religious or historical importance, shopping, etc. require considerable walking and physical exertion. Consequently, light and airy clothes for street wear are most advisable.
Take enough changes of clothes to make your stay comfortable, but be careful not to overburden yourself with unnecessary clothes. In the hot weather, one set of clothes lasts only a day. Professional laundry facilities are available in the country, though coin-operated laundries are a rarity. Getting your clothes cleaned professionally is quite expensive, particularly as the prices tend to sky-rocket during the Haj season.
Some do-it-yourself light laundry may be necessary and is, indeed, highly recommended. It is a good idea to pack some laundry detergent and wash your Ihram and other light items yourself. You will have a considerable amount of spare time before and after Haj. Use it for “housekeeping.”
For street wear, loose garments like shalwar-qamees or kurta-pajama, which is worn in some Asian countries like India and Pakistan as well as the Saudi thobe (a one-piece head-to-toe garment) are ideal and are recommended. Thobes are easily available everywhere in the Kingdom.
There is no real need for you to carry food items. Everything is readily available in Saudi Arabia at a reasonable cost. Saudi authorities do not allow perishable food items to be brought into the country in significant quantities anyway. Packaged and canned products in limited quantities, however, may be brought in by tourists and pilgrims. For emergencies and during periods of long waiting (e.g. at Jeddah airport) carry-on food may come in useful and handy. All kinds of food are available at Jeddah airport also. Some people may, however, prefer to use their own food immediately upon arrival in a foreign land. Some general guidelines are given below:
a. A couple of packs of cookies and crackers are helpful and provide a good snack. Remove them from their boxes; they occupy much less space as individual rolls. Granola bars, packaged dates, fig newtons and similar items are recommended also.
b. All varieties of fruits are easily obtainable everywhere in Saudi Arabia and provide much needed flavor and nutrition. Peelable fruits (bananas, oranges etc.) are recommended to minimize exposure to infection from insanitary handling. Wash all fruits carefully before use, and avoid fruits and food exposed to the elements.
c. Soft drinks of all kinds are obtainable in Saudi Arabia at all major and minor shopping establishments, and are entirely safe to drink. Bottled water is cheap, and should be the only water you drink. Tap water or water from any other source (except, of course, the Zamzam water) should not be used for drinking purposes.
d. Milk, yogurt, buttermilk, ice cream, and other dairy products are widely available, and should be liberally used to supplement your diet.
The following is a list of items of daily use you should carry with you. They will make things easier, and your stay in Saudi Arabia more comfortable.
a. Multi-blade pocket knife, can opener, nail clipper, small scissors.
b. Tooth brush, tooth paste, disposable razors, shaving cream, small mirror, comb, toilet paper (2 rolls), napkins, soap (2 cakes), plastic soap dish, small shampoo bottle, deodorant, chapstick, small vaseline, tooth picks.
c. Pocket-size version of Qur’an, tasbeeh, pen, pencil, notebook.
d. Slippers (flip-flops, thongs, chappals), sneakers, folding umbrella, sunglasses (or clip-on sunshades), small flash light with extra batteries, travel alarm clock, elastic eye-glass holder, baseball cap, 10 zippered sandwich bags, 4 garbage bags, plastic spoons, laundry detergent, 6 plastic grocery bags.
e. Towels (2 large, 2 small), musalla (i.e. prayer rug), one heavy sheet, inflatable pillow.
Take sufficient amount of currency to cover your projected expenses. It is difficult to recommend an amount since individual needs, travel and living arrangements, shopping plans etc. vary widely. Only you can decide on the amount to carry. In any event,do not advertise to others either the amount of money you possess or its place of safekeeping. You can never be too careful. The following are some useful guidelines in this area:
a. Have most of your money in the form of travelers’ checks. They are safe to carry, can be cashed almost anywhere, and are easily replaced in case of theft or loss. Since your passport will have been taken from you for the duration of your stay by the Saudi authorities in Jeddah, the ID card issued by your muallim will most probably be used for check cashing purposes. The importance of this card cannot be overemphasized. Take good care of it! Besides the Saudi banks, the travelers’ checks can also be cashed at the numerous “sarrafs” (money changers) located in the market in Makkah and Madinah.
b. Carry a small amount of Saudi riyals with you. A minimum of 1,000 riyals (1 dollar=3.75 riyals) is recommended. You can purchase them at almost all currency exchanges located in major American airports. This Saudi currency will help you take care of your immediate expenses upon your arrival until you become familiar with the local system. You will also save time and aggravation associated with making trips to the banks to cash your checks. All banks tend to be crowded during the Haj season and may also be closed at certain times of the day and certain days of the week.
c. Take only one credit card with you to minimize problems in case of its loss. Make sure that you can use it to charge telephone calls also. Do not forget to carry the information required to contact the credit card issuing institution in case of its theft or misplacement.
d. Take some local currency also with you. You can exchange it for Saudi currency everywhere in emergencies.
— Courtesy of Islamic Foundation UK