Join the mailing list

Click here to read our privacy policy


Subscribe to emel's RSS Feed Subscribe to emel's RSS Feed


Journey of a lifetime - a travellers guide

Journey of a lifetime - a travellers guide

Everyone dreams of going on pilgrimage to the holy cities, but for many it can mean a nightmare when it comes to tour operators. Zinat Hassan provides a comprehensive guide on how to make the journey of your life go much more smoothly.


Featured in Issue 37, page 34 to 39 ; emel magazine

Photography by Noushad Ali, Madinah at Sunset

Planning your journey for Hajj and Umrah is not as easy as you might imagine. In an ideal world, we would like to think that pilgrimage would be straightforward and simple; that you would be able to trust everyone in the business and everything promised would be delivered and fulfilled. After all, it is all for the sake of Allah right?

Unfortunately, it is not all that simple. With 125,000 Muslims from the UK performing Hajj and Umrah each year, there are inevitably going to be countless nightmare experiences, like rogue travel companies selling visas up to a staggering £800 (when they actually are free) or forging them, and even offering counterfeit injection certificates. The Hajj and Umrah Roadshow, the UK’s first tailored travel and information event was set up to help make pilgrimage easy, leaving time to focus on worship, the sole purpose of the trip.

The key to a successful trip is plenty of planning, research and preparation. So, what must you do to plan your trip and where do you start? The best place to seek advice is from the experts – five influential figures and organisations who have provided the answers to prepare for the perfect pilgrimage.

Hajj Desk – The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)

The FCO has a dedicated team of consular officials and volunteer doctors who will provide advice and assistance to British Hajjis in Makkah and Mina during the pilgrimage, and who will offer initial treatment of illnesses and injuries as well as counselling support. Working with the British Consulate General in Jeddah, the Delegation will provide you with a full range of Consular services including advice on how to transfer money, provide contact details for local lawyers and hospitals and arrange for a next of kin to be told of an accident or a death and advice on procedures.

Please be aware that once pilgrims arrive at Jeddah’s Hajj Terminal, there will be a long wait as large numbers of Hajjis arrive. Hajjis should be prepared for delays during these times. On arrival at the terminal, the authorities will take your passports and give you a receipt. The travel operators/guide will hold it for you and will return it to you on your departure.


Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR)

Although many Hajj trips are trouble free, people may have heard of cases where pilgrims have been ripped off by disreputable tour operators. You should bear in mind the following essential points before and whilst booking your Hajj trip. All tour operators offering for sale “packaged” trips – including Hajj trips – must comply with the Package Travel Regulations (PTRs) 1992.

Under the PTRs any tour operator arranging packages with a flight element must hold a current Air Travel Organisers Licence (ATOL). You should therefore check with your tour operator that your complete trip, including flights and accommodation, is ATOL protected and that you receive an invoice confirming this once you’ve paid a deposit. An ATOL ensures that your pre-payments are protected in the event of the operator going bust and also provides for getting you back home if necessary.

The CAA holds details of all current licence holders and you can check whether this includes your tour operator on their website or by contacting them direct. In addition, your tour operator must ensure: that all descriptions on brochures and internet sites, including photographs are accurate; that you are given information either verbally, in writing or in any other form about passport, visa, health and security arrangements and also that you are informed about repatriation arrangements in the event of the operator going bust. If you have any special requests make sure they are specifically mentioned on the booking form.

Before you leave for the trip you must receive a written copy of the terms of the contract for the holiday; confirmation of your booking, details about the itinerary; transport connections; times and places; the name and address of a company representative or an appropriate contact for you to use while you are on your trip. Significant changes to your trip such as flight details or itinerary should be made known to you as quickly as possible in order for you to make appropriate decisions and if you wish to cancel your trip without incurring a penalty.

Keep your contractual documentation, booking invoices, letters or other documents in a safe place. There is no legal requirement that you take out personal travel insurance although it is strongly advised that you do so and shop around for the insurance best suited to your needs. Finally, if you are unhappy with your trip you should bring your concerns to the attention of the company representative as soon as you can. If the issues remain unresolved, you should, on returning, contact your local trading standards office.


Health and Medical Committee – Muslim Council of Britain (MCB)

Going for Hajj and Umrah is a strenuous and demanding experience, so we recommend that people go when they are in the best of health. Tell your GP in advance that you intend to go. If you have a pre-existing condition or if you are on any treatment, make sure you have sufficient prescription and medication to cover you throughout your trip.

Take plenty of exercise: you will be faced with a lot of walking with heavy crowds and the weather is likely to be hotter so it is important that you prepare physically.

Make sure you take the right immunisations, and grab this opportunity to update your vaccinations. Meningitis is mandatory for pilgrimage – without a valid certificate of this vaccination the Saudi Arabian Authorities will not issue you a visa. Your doctor will advise you if you need to be re-vaccinated if you have had the injection more than two years previously.

Take plenty of water and fluids to prevent dehydration, it is easy to obtain so get a supply. You will be walking large distances, water is readily available in every area so make the most of it. Heat strokes can be very serious, if you are perspiring heavily you are losing salt. In other situations, we encourage salt reduction however, if you are feeling tired and hot and perspiration is great then go in the shade and add a pinch of salt in your water. Although taking an umbrella is a good way to keep out of the sun, it can prove less practical, and in crowded areas, can be a hazard.

A programme called The Health at Hajj and Umrah (HAHU) is a research group giving individuals and those in the medical profession advice on going for pilgrimage. Clinics have been set up with the help of local groups and people. One of the aims is to research into respirtory infections such as coughs and colds and how they can be prevented or at least reducing the risks and bring deadly infections under control.  With the help of the local communities, HAHU is working to give advice to help educate future pilgrims allowing them to have a healthier Hajj and Umrah.

The Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service Safety is one of the most important factors to take into consideration when going on pilgrimage. The Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service found a gap with regards to this, so with the support of the management, they came up with a unique programme which was initially set up to help the Lancashire Muslims, but now aids all British Muslims to have a safe and trouble free Hajj and Umrah.

There are many organisations that can assist and support pilgrims if problematic issues occur. Before you go, find out about any safety programmes or courses running in your local community. Take the time to sit with your family members or friends who will be accompanying you on the trip to discuss safety issues. When you reach the hotel both in Makkah and in Madina make sure as a family that you have a fire escape plan. Find out where the fire escapes are and what to do in case of an emergency and where to meet if you are separated.

When pilgrims are in Mina, if you are self-catering, use designated areas to cook food. Do not use cooking facilities outside the kitchen area as fires can easily start. Do not overload electricity sockets, the Saudi Arabian electrical system is different to the system in the UK and this can cause an electrical fire. Keep fire exits clear and do not tamper with them. The local Civil Defence (Fire Service) number is 998. They have English-speaking operators.

When going from Mina to the Jamrah, use the designated tunnels. When you go for the stoning, follow the Saudi authority instructions. Do not carry your luggage with you, follow the one-way system and do not push. The most important point is to make sure your family and friends are accounted for and make sure everyone is safe.  If you have any safety concerns please notify your travel operator alternatively, if this is not possible then contact the Ministry of Hajj.


Advice from The Association of British Hujjaj (Pilgrims) UK

  • When booking for Hajj and Umrah talk to your friends and relatives who may have used the services of different tour operators and ask them for their recommendations.
  • Check all the details of the package with your tour operator regarding its suitability.
    There are many things you will need to know before you purchase your package.
  • What type of accommodation is your tour operator providing?
  • During your stay in Makkah and Madina, how far away will you be staying from the Haram both in Makkah and in Madina?
  • How many people will be sharing the room with you?
  • On which floor will you be and are there any lifts available?
  • Does the price of the package include meals?
  • What arrangements are on offer for your stay and will food be provided in Mina and Arafat?

A brief checklist for other important things to remember is below:


Pilgrim’s checklist according to the Association of British Hujjaj:

  • Buy your Ihram in advance and learn how to put it on.
  • Take your mobile phone with you, however do not use melodical ring tones.
  • Do not take excessive luggage with you, take the normal size suitcase.
  • Make sure you mark your luggage clearly inside and outside, write your full name, and contact address.
  • Keep valuables (documents, money, traveller’s cheques, credit cards etc) in the pouch around your waist at all times.
  • Be especially careful and wary in crowded places - unfortunately, there are thieves and pickpockets even inside the Haram.
  • There is a lost and found area near to the Baab as Safaa door (no.11), located at doors 12 & 13. This is for lost pilgrims as well as for lost children and lost articles and documents.


The traveller’s checklist according to the FCO:

  • Check that you have the correct tickets and ticket details.
  • Make sure that you book your tickets through an ATOL registered agency to avoid unnecessary difficulties.
  • Have contact details of your tour operator in the UK and their representatives in Makkah.
  • Get travel insurance for aspects of your journey.
  • Check that you have the required vaccinations for your pilgrimage and that you have your vaccination cards with you.
  • Ensure that your passports are in good condition and necessary visas are in place.
  • Make copies of your passport, emergency numbers and ticket details.
  • Leave these copies along with your itinerary with family and friends.
  • Existing medication should be clearly labelled for each individual.
  • Make sure that those on medication have adequate quantities to cover them through the Hajj period.
  • Ensure you have good quality footwear as you may have to walk long distances.
  • Make sure you have the contact details of the Hajj Delegation Clinic and Consular service available during the Hajj period.

You can find advice on the ‘Know before you go’ pages of the FCO website: where advice is available on how to prepare for the trip including the ‘Advice to British Hajjis leaflet’ which will be updated and available at in advance of the Hajj in December.


Check the FCO travel advice to make sure that you are up to date with the situation in Saudi Arabia at or call 0845 850 2829.

Useful websites:

Useful Numbers:

  • British Consulate-General, Jeddah (02) 622 5550
  • Ministry of Hajj, Jeddah (02) 665 5811

Emergencies in Saudi Arabia:

  • Police, 999
  • Ambulance, Telephone: 997
  • Fire services, 998
  • Traffic Accidents, 993
  • Airline Offices in Jeddah
  • Lufthansa, (02) 651 4000
  • KLM, (02) 667 0888
  • Air France, (02) 651 2000
  • Saudi Air (In Saudi only): 9200 22222

Phone Calls

To call the UK from Saudi Arabia dial 0044 before the next number (If the next digit is ‘0’, drop it and dial the next number) To call Saudi Arabia from the UK dial 00 966 before the next number

< Return to Hajj Special home page

Bookmark this

Add to DIGG
Add to
Stumble this
Share on Facebook

Share this

Send to a Friend
Link to this

Printer Friendly

Print in plain text




Leave a comment


Sign in or Register to leave a comment