Although you may prefer to travel frugally, your backpacking style may be better replaced by something a little more expensive. Sometimes, spending a little extra money will maximize your travel experience. That happened to us in Jordan when we decided to rent a car for a few days. Jordan might be a small country, but it is not well-equipped with good public transportation – the public buses only connect the major cities. That leaves out a whole swath of the country. Having your own rental car helps you explore these gems on your own schedule.

So what are the pros and cons of renting a car in Jordan?

It is presented with a typical strong Jordanian cardamom coffee.
Your rental process begins with a strong Jordanian cardamom coffee.

Pros

Flexibility

This is definitely the greatest benefit. Without it, we probably couldn’t get to the Dead Sea and float in a spot where the locals hang out. We couldn’t have visited the nearby hot spring across the street to rinse off. – all for free.  The increase in tourism from people wanting to experience The Dead Sea means many resorts (both in Jordan and Israel) have privatized the coastline. They charge a hefty price to use it and prevent non-guests form using their facilities.  Without a car to give us flexibility, we would have missed this local experience – and perhaps the Dead Sea all together.  We took our time in the super salty water and rinsed off with local families in the super hot mineral water across the street.

Just watch out for any open wounds, including small cuts. Even any nick on your skin would hurt!
Do you have open wounds, including small cuts? Even small scrapes hurt when the salt gets in!
A Car is Easy

For me, one deterrent from driving in a foreign country is the *thought* of how to deal with other drivers on the road.  Other than in Amman, where driving is definitely a challenge, the rest of Jordan is quite manageable.  We spent most of our time cruising along the King’s Highway that connects the southernmost city of Aqaba to Irbid in the north and eventually passes Damascus in Syria and beyond.

Karak, Jordan. Any traffic in big cities are bad.
Traffic in Karak, Jordan.

All road signs are bilingual – both Arabic and English.  And a soft horn is expected to warn others that you are around.

You’re the Boss

In Wadi Musa, we used Couchsurfing to connect with Taha, our gracious host. Like the rest of the Bedouin in his small village, Taha lives pretty modestly in a cement house with his tiny horse and no car.  Our car allows him to take us to some of his favorite spots: a welcoming mint tea ‘ceremony’ in Little Petra, a 500 year old tree in the middle of the desert, and a desert dinner party with his friends while smoking hookah and singing and clapping in Arabic.  A very memorable experience.

Bedouin Dinner at the Desert
A blurry late-night picture of our desert dinner experience

Cons

Unfamiliar conditions

Luckily, we didn’t experience anything too serious.  Some eye-openers from reading the official warning website: driving in Jordan is generally safe; however, there is a probability of finding landmines (!!) surrounding military bases, border crossings, and the popular Dead Sea.

Do not meandering off beaten path in Jordan, as landmines are sometimes installed especially around military compounds.
When going off the beaten path in Jordan, beware of landmines around military compounds. (Did you hear that, Michael?)

In Wadi Musa, we came upon a horse crossing the asphalt road. Although we Slammed on our brakes, our car hit her.  The horse fell, quickly stood up and ran into the desert.  We certainly spook her, but didn’t hurt her.  But it did freak us out. An older Bedouin man witnessed the whole thing.  “It is not your fault” he shrugs, kindly. “It was the fault of the horse. She is fine”

We inspected the damage to the car, nothing more than a broken license plate frame. Nothing that prompted any questions from the rental car inspector when we return the car.

Intimidating Check Points

Most foreign travelers in Jordan would approach their first Check Point with high caution.  It is simply because we are not used to this highly level of security, and it is intimidating.  But as soon as you realize that the Jordanian soldiers are more interested in welcoming you to their country instead of suspiciously interrogating you, you become completely comfortable approaching one.  Most of the time, the soldiers just wave you through.

For most foreign travelers, any Check Point in Jordan is an intimidating stop. But as soon as you experience one, you learn that Jordanian soldiers are extremely friendly and helpful. Most of the time, they would waive us through.
A Jordanian checkpoint.
Liability

So many things can go wrong.  So in addition to your regular traveler’s insurance, protect yourself by having the proper insurance for your rental! If you have a major credit card, it might even cover rentals, so be sure to check with your credit card company before you go.

Expense

Sure, compared to riding a bus, the cost of renting a car can be pretty expensive.  This is especially true for Jordan, where bus service, when available, are extremely cheap. But the benefits far outweigh the costs. And if you are older than 25 years old, this rental car costs even less.

For comparison, one of the main routes from Aqaba to Amman, a four hour bus ride costs JOD 8.80 (about USD 13).  Our car rental costs JOD 30 (about USD 45) per day, with a JOD 350 (about USD 520) refundable deposit up front.

Conclusion
Michael & Halef in Petra, Jordan
The monastery of Petra.

If you go to Jordan and want to see it all, rent a car. It will make your travel there much more efficient. If you’re there for a couple weeks and on a budget, at least consider a car for a few days. It will be worth it and will help you check a few insanely beautiful places off your bucket list, assuming that Petra, Wadi Rum, and The Dead Sea are on it!

We made it to the very end of Petra!
We made it to the very end of Petra!

More about Jordan:

Is Jordan Safe? Yes – even with the whole family!

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Halef moved from Indonesia to the US nearly two decades ago to go to college here. He hasn't looked back. He's been to over forty countries and doesn't plan on stopping anytime soon. He's a Landscape Architect in Atlanta, GA.

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