Alhamdulillah, a few days ago I got back home from an 11-day trip to the Holy land of Makkah and Madinah. It is true what they say, it truly is a magical place and you'll have to experience it for yourself to know what it feels like. It was the most unmaterialistic, spiritual and productive trip I've had in my entire life. Just wished I had more time.
I'm writing these hacks as a guide for those who are planning to go, will go and to my future self, insyaAllah, if I ever get invited to go there again.
Pre-Flight (Hand Luggage)
As per usual and what people tell you to do, shower and clean yourself well. So what do you pack for your hand luggage? It really depends on how much do you care for your personal hygiene or if you're the kind of person who can stand not cleaning yourself up for the next 12+ hours. I would suggest that before you enter the border for ihram (miqat), do bring these essentials and use them:
2) tooth brush + tooth paste
4) facial wash
You can transfer your personal hygiene goods such as facial wash and moisturiser into one of those miniature travel tubs.
I also swear by this product:
It can be used on any part of your body, and best part is that it dries quickly and gives an instant boost to the way you feel about your skin. I emphasise on moisturising because plane rides can be dehydrating to your skin and body and can cause total irritation and discomfort while you are up in the air. Also, just like any other middle eastern country, Saudi has dry climate and can cause breakouts which are quite painful (happened to me) so it's really important to bring skin hydrating products.
Depending on the number of days you'll be there, I would suggest wearing one jubah for every 2 days, and just to be safe, bring an extra jubah if you don't plan to buy anything there.
As for hand socks, I've tried plenty but the ones I felt most comfortable and breathable are the ones from Siti Khadijah.
As for hijab, it's really up to you, but an instant hijab makes your life so much easier. You can opt for more stylish ones such as Bokitta or any other instant hijabs out there.
As for foot socks, bring lots and lots and lots of socks as the floor in Masjidil Haram can be quite dirty due to the construction going on. If you'd like you can wear 2 layers of socks and take the outer one off when you pray.
In Masjidil Haram
If you have tile-proof feet, I don't think this advice applies to you. But if you're like me, you might need an extra layer of support while doing tawaf and sa'ie. I would suggest wearing black socks with a pair of clean black sandals. I say black so as to not make it obvious that you're wearing shoes and have random arabs say "no no no" while pointing to your feet.
This hack will help A LOT and makes it less painful for you, so that you can perform your prayers more efficiently later on.
Whether you like it or not, there are times when you'll have to pray outside of the mosque, by the side of the road or on pedestrian walkways because the guards at the mosque will close the doors once it is full, and you may not be able to make it on time.
And praying outside means it may not be completely clean. Because you have limited amounts of clothing, I would highly suggest bringing ONE sejadah for EACH person so as to keep your garments clean, and to also set a territory for yourself since you'll have to fight with arabs since they like to "selamba badak" take your space. Happened to me.
Time to go to Mosque
Depending on the prayer times, people always want to pray inside the mosque to chase after the pahala rewards. For Subuh, do leave at least one hour before prayer time to pray inside, and if you'd like to go to the Kaabah, make that three hours before. As for Maghrib, people usually combine both Maghrib and Isya' together, so make sure to leave your hotel at least one hour before.
As for Zohor and Asar, same thing, but if you get lucky you can still go in 30 to 45 minutes before azan as there are lesser people.
Bring your supply of panadols, pain killers, all sorts of ubats and vitamins that you can cos your body might get the shock from all the hustle with the arabs and the weather. Medicine from the local pharmacy can be really expensive there, double or triple from the price we can get here in Guardian.
Although our currencies are almost equivalent in value, food is relatively more expensive here. Usually umrah packages include breakfast, but not for lunch and dinner.
I totally forgot to take photos of food while I was there, cos most days we'd combine lunch and dinner together cos we're too lazy liddat (and busy praying) so yeah, nampak makanan terus baham sebab lapar hahaha. Depending on where you're staying, if you stay at As-Safwah towers and Clock Tower, then yes food will be double the price of what you can get outside of these areas.
|Super sedap soft serve ice-cream. Highly recommended.|
We didn't bother exploring because every short break time that we had was spent in the hotel room to get some rest before going to the mosque again. But if you have extra time (and energy), do check out other places as well for cheaper food.
In Madinah, it is quite hard to find food there cos IDK why haha. Unlike Mekah where there are food shops everywhere, you can barely find any in the area. Usually travel agents would provide Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner in Madinah.
As for me I got bored of arab food as there weren't much variety, so there were times that we resorted to buying food from D' Saji. Do bring cili sos if you're the type of person who can't live without any spicy-ness.
There are some umrah packages that offer B,L,D with a choice of Malay food so that would be awesome.
It is quite difficult to take wudhu' in Masjidil Haram as the ablution area for women is open and men usually and enter and leave as they please. Ablution areas and toilets are like little to none there so it's really important to get a good hotel location so that you can go to and fro as and when you need to go. If you don't get a good hotel location, you can use air zamzam to take your wudhu' but you'll have to limit your liquid consumption so that you don't have to go to the bathroom.
Masjid Nabawi has better facilities in terms of toilets and ablution areas so you don't really have to worry about anything.
If you are planning to shop, don't shop in Mekah. Shop in Madinah. I've been told by everyone that I met that the stuff in Madinah are cheaper and has more variety. Madinah is filled with lots and lots and lots of jubah, sejadah, minyak attar and all those stuffs kinda shop. And most importantly, don't forget to haggle!
Madinah also has instant pasar malam after prayer times where sellers would bring their carts outside the gates and turn the place into an instant pasar haha.
Where to Stay
Your one and only purpose is to pray pray pray and to do some charity work on the side. If you have the financial means do splurge on staying at 5 star hotels. Not because they're 5 star, but because of their location. If you can, in Makkah do stay in the Clock Tower or the As-Safwah towers cos they're the nearest to the entrance.
In Madinah, do get the hotels nearest to the gates of the mosque. If possible, get the one nearest to the gate that is nearby the female prayer area. Masjid Nabawi unlike Masjidil Haram has limited space for females as they separate the doors for men and women and you really have to compete with everyone to be able to enter the mosque. And the distance from one female prayer area to the next is quite far (at least 500m).
The travel agent that we went with was terrible. From the moment we booked our spots, to the time we were in KLIA all the way to the time we were in Madinah for our flight back home. Everything was disorganised, inconsistent and made us waste a lot of time. I highly do not recommend the travel agent that we went with, and since I am not sure whether or not I should put it's name here, the best way is if you'd like to know which one before booking your spot, is to email me directly so that you won't meet the same fate as we did.
But the big travel agents that I saw that were properly organised and maintained were Rayhar, Andalusia and Tabung Haji Travel (from my point of view). So go for these ones.
I am unsure of Madinah airport, but the time taken to pass the immigration gate at Jeddah's airport is really long. So you have to be patient and be prepared to sit on the floor. You will not instantly leave the airport as you arrive, as before going to the immigration gate you'll have to wait in the waiting area for a long time. We were lucky cos we only waited for less than an hour but I've heard stories that some people got stranded for hours there. And the queuing line at the immigration is really long cos they still use the old conventional way and what I found was that they like to play with their phones while working. -____-" The officer that I met with was watching Youtube. Haha
In my opinion it would be easier if you wear solat ready outfits and hijab that is easy to take off and put on. Cos then after prayers you can linger around freely or have meals without your big white telekung to bug you. As long as they are prayer compliant, it should be okay.
Other than that, if you insist on wearing telekung, as for me I used 2 telekung tops while I was there and only one bottom for when I pray inside the hotel room (tak sempat/tak larat nak pergi masjid). But other times I just wore the top half of the telekung.
Forget your LV's and Chanels, just bring a lightweight bag to use. Bring minimal cash enough for food and keep the rest in the safety deposit box in your hotel room. Bring your phone, sejadah, socks, the plastic bag to keep your shoes, and wet tissue! Wet tissue is important just in case if you go and eat after praying or if you go for ziarah and that you need to use the bathroom.
Almost all parts of Makkah and Madinah are wheelchair friendly so you don't really need to worry. I've heard that the price of a wheelchair in Makkah is cheaper than the ones sold here in Malaysia, so if you're going with an elderly or anyone who needs one, do get it there instead (can be found at pharmacies), unless they really need to use it all the way from the airport, then don't bother buying it in Makkah.
I think that's about what I can think of right now, if you have any other suggestions or hacks that would be of benefit to others, do leave a comment down below! :) FYI, these hacks are based on my experience of going for umrah during peak season (end of December) as most parts of the world are on holiday. So you might have varied experiences based on what time of the year do you go there.