Saudi is a geographically diverse country. With the Red Sea to the west, Arabic Gulf to the east, mountains in the north and south, and deserts, oases and cities in between, there’s a lot to see. And one of the best ways to traverse Arabia is in a car.
Talal Abdulghani, founder of Barq Rescue Team, a volunteer organization offering roadside assistance to drivers, knows Saudi’s roads. In fact, he’s using his expertise to create road trip itineraries for routes.visitsaudi.com. “I have a large stock of new and difficult-to-reach places with very picturesque views that will greatly contribute to the enrichment of Saudi tourism,” says Abdulghani, who added that he’ll be writing about road trips from the Jeddah area.
A self-proclaimed specialist in adventure and exploration tourism since he was a kid, Abdulghani looks forward to educating visitors about rugged areas and providing them with information about safe roads to enjoy unforgettable trips. One of his top recommendations: Rent a four-wheel-drive car.
U.S. traveler Alex Reynolds, who embarked on a multiweek road trip through Saudi at the end of 2019, also recommends opting for four-wheel drive. But, says Reynolds, the author behind the travel blog Lost With Purpose, it all depends on exactly what you plan to do in Arabia. “You don’t really need a four-wheel drive if you’re just driving from city to city and checking stuff out,” she says. “But if you’re planning to go off-road, you would need a 4x4.”
While driving across the country, Reynolds got to interact with locals on the road and had several good experiences she shared. Since she was backpacking, she and her travel companion would occasionally car camp when they needed to sleep, and locals would pull over to see if they needed any help.
“Usually at least one or two people would show up,” she says. “They were just checking to make sure we were well.” On another occasion, Reynolds and her travel companion were camping in a park when other local campers started making conversation with them, soon inviting the travelers to dine with them. “They were like, ‘Come and eat with us,’” she says. “They gave us food and were making sure we were OK.”
Before Renting a Car
Do a little research about what documents you need to supply at the time of pickup and how much you can drive each day. Obtaining an International Driving Permit (IDP) before you travel to Saudi is highly recommended. Car rental companies require a driver’s license, but many also require that renters provide an IDP. Learn more about IDPs or apply to get your permit here.
Additionally, many rental cars have a daily kilometer driving limit. Before renting your car, determine how much and how far you will be driving, then look to see which rental car agreement best fits your needs. Don’t want to keep track of how many kilometers you’re driving? Some car rental companies like Yelo offer an open kilometers service. For more car rental choices, keep reading.
On the Road
● Out of respect, avoid playing music in your rental car during call to prayer times.
● Saudi is a large country, so make sure you frequently refuel to avoid running out of gas.
● When the cars in front of you turn on their emergency flashers, this generally indicates speed bumps or cameras are ahead. If you see these, slow down.
● Speed limit signs are often in Arabic, so it’s a good idea to memorize or learn 1 to 10 (or print out the chart below to keep in your car for reference).
● In addition to familiarizing yourself with the Arabic numerals, take a look at some of the common road signs before you go. Below are some you might not recognize.
Road Signage Colors and Shapes
● Red signs are generally meant to be prohibitory, indicating that you should stop, not enter, or that you’re going the wrong way.
● Green signs are used to note specific street information.
● Brown signs often point to religious, entertainment or cultural attractions.
● White boards are often used to note places of importance, like downtown or hospitals.
● Octagon-shaped signs mean “stop.”
● Diamond-shaped signs generally are used to indicate hazards or danger ahead.
—Lisa Zimmermann is a travel writer and editor who has previously written for Club Traveler, Boston magazine, New England Travel, American Airlines and Atlas Magazine.