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Money and costs

If we had to choose our preferred way of carrying our money to the Middle East, it would be a combination of withdrawing money from ATMs and carrying a supply of US dollars or euro cash, although remember that cash is king if you're travelling to Iran and Iraq.

Tipping

Tipping is expected to varying degrees in all Middle Eastern countries. Called baksheesh, it’s more than just a reward for having rendered a service. Salaries and wages are much lower than in Western countries, so baksheesh is often regarded as an essential means of supplementing income. To a cleaner in a one- or two-star hotel, who may earn the equivalent of US$50 per month, the accumulated daily dollar tips given by guests can constitute the mainstay of his or her salary.

For Western travellers who aren’t used to continual tipping, demands for baksheesh for doing anything from opening doors to pointing out the obvious in museums can be quite irritating. But it is the accepted way. Don’t be intimidated into paying baksheesh when you don’t think the service warrants it, but remember that more things warrant baksheesh here than anywhere in the West. One hint: carry lots of small change with you, but keep it separate from bigger bills, so that baksheesh demands don’t increase when they see that you can afford more.

Tipping is increasingly expected in midrange and top-end restaurants in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Lebanon and Turkey. Check your bill closely, however, as many such restaurants include an additional charge for service, in which case a further tip is not necessary. One country where baksheesh or tipping isn’t as prevalent is Jordan, where many locals feel irritated when tourists throw their money around, not least because some employers are known to deduct anticipated tips from their employees, resulting in even lower wages!

Other circumstances in which a tip is expected is where you’ve taken a tour either with a guide or a taxi driver or both. How much to leave depends on the length of the expedition and the helpfulness of the guide.