* This is NOT a sponsored post, all opinions are my own.
So, with intentions made, the booking process began, application forms filled and deposits paid…now it was starting to feel a little more real.
Our Tour Group (Dome tours) started to send us all the relevant information of what we needed to prepare make this journey, a journey of a lifetime. From WhatsApp groups to Hajj guides, reading material and Umrah guides and much more, it seemed like information overload! We eventually were able to take a step back when we discovered our operator’s YouTube channel which had bite-size videos from the facilitators themselves making the preparation simple and digestible. We then started the packing list with lots of help and advice from friends, but it really all came together when we met our Hajj tour guide at a special seminar held for us here in Doha.
It seemed surreal going through the rituals of Hajj and asking what seems now like silly questions but our excitement grew and our nerves did too. Luckily for us, Al Jazeera News had followed our operator on Hajj a few years ago, so this was another useful video to see the pilgrims in action! It was now becoming very real. We asked loads of questions, some trivial, some with more far reaching consequences, our tour operator was very patient with us and answers from the group’s two Islamic scholars were very helpful too.
My packing list began to grow, we tried to keep in mind to try and keep it as minimal as possible; forgetting the extravagance of normal life whilst ensuring we had all the basics covered (and emergencies too!) However, preparation is more than what to pack, I had to prepare myself, my kids, and my family for what was to come….
There are many aspects you have to prepare when it comes to yourself, when we finally paid off the full amount owed for our Hajj trip in Ramadan, it hit me that we were actually doing this.
When I searched ‘Hajj preparation’ into google, it really overwhelmed, so much so, I didn’t know where to start, so I decided to take my own steps and prepared in my own way. The biggest challenge for me at the point of booking, was how I would leave my kids behind (which my husband didn’t really comprehend my emotional anxiety about), so my preliminary actions were for them. It would be the first time I would ever be away from the kids, so this was probably the most important thing for me early on.
Given I’m a bit of a control freak, it was very important for me to prepare everything from A-Z for my kids. When we left for Hajj my kids were 4 & 5.5 years old, we live in Qatar, so they are comfortable with family in the UK but have only ever did short stints with them and never unsupervised, I was concerned on how they would emotionally deal without mummy and daddy for 2 weeks! This is how I dealt with it all….
From the day we made our intention, we decided to start telling the kids about the upcoming journey, and what they should expect from it. I showed them images of where we would be going, what we would wear and what we would be doing. This was the first step we took into preparing the children.
The next step was to start settling them into where they would be staying whilst we were gone, this for us meant going back to the UK, and to my parent’s home. I set up their room, and got started to settle them into their routines, they started to spend more time with family members, as well as getting used to others doing things for them, and not just me.
To get my kids to actually be excited for us to go on Hajj (and to give myself a little peace of mind), I decided to adapt my Ramadan advent calendar into a Hajj countdown version, this time I gave the children a choice on what they would get. I set a sizeable budget and took the kids to the toy shop and allowed them to choose 14 toys (1 for each day we would be away) of their choice, we then went home and decided on what days they would get each toy. Each gift was wrapped and alongside this, I created a little timetable which counted down to the day we would be back home again. As you can imagine, this got the kids super excited and got them to actually start a countdown to when we would be leaving!
The week before leaving, I wrote up their schedules and stuck them in the appropriate rooms i.e. their bedtime routine went up in the bedroom, their bathroom one in the bathroom, in the kitchen: the fussy eaters menu etc. I typed up alternatives should they not want to eat their primary meal and stocked up on all the snacks they love from biscuits to marshmallows.
Lastly, the boys each have their own iPad, and I wanted them to feel like they could always be close to me, even though I wasn’t there. So I installed IMO onto each of them (similar to skype, but it works in the Middle East) and set up my number as a contact, and taught them the various ways I could be contacted (Voice note, video, call or text).
To be honest, nothing can truly prepare you or your kids, especially if like it’s your first time leaving them, but preparing little things like this, allowed me to put my mind to rest, and gave the kids a routine and something to look forward to on a daily basis.
*Side note: How did I feel during and post Hajj about leaving the boys behind, in all honesty, I cried driving to the airport, on the plane, and even when we landed in Jeddah. The point it all changed for me was during our Umrah and once it was completed, I was able to call my kids directly onto their Ipads, they left me messages and seemed happy. I then had a sudden realisation, that I was in the right place, and despite missing them, I didn’t actually want to go back.
When I got back to the Uk, my boys couldn’t believe how fast time had flown, and had we really been apart for 14 days, they were also slightly disappointed that the daily presents had to come to an end!
The next stage of preparation, was to start preparing myself physically. This was in two parts of me, what I would bring to Hajj physically myself as in my body, ready for the intense demands of Hajj alongside all the items I would be packing to support my journey.
We all know our own personal physical limits and Hajj will surprise you, but preparation is key, especially if like me, you don’t have a very outgoing lifestyle.
Walking – It’s absolutely critical you buy and get used to wearing a very comfortable pair of walking shoes (see my packing list for recommendations). Once you’ve decided on a pair, buy them and break them in. Men have to wear sandals so it’s as important for them too, especially if they don’t often wear sandals. Start practicing with 20 minute walks twice a week and then get yourself up to a 1 hour walk 3 times a week. If you can do this, you will be in good shape.
Skin Routine – If you have a serious affinity to a specific moisturising cream, find a Hajj-friendly version and get used to it (see my packing list) but more importantly I would highly recommend a foot balm! 40 days prior to Hajj, use a foot balm or simply Vaseline on the heels of your foot each morning and you will feel like you’re walking on clouds.
Note. I would advise to take a rest from the walks for the entire week of Hajj so you have maximum energy.
Sitting – this might sound strange but you will be sitting on the floor on hard marble in Makkah for hours at a time, there are no carpets during Hajj time as they are taken away to be cleaned and even with a yoga mat or prayer mat, it can be quite challenging just sitting on the floor. If you aren’t use to sitting, get used to it and find a position that works for you.
Hydration – Having lived in the Middle East for 8 years prior to this journey, and I’ve learnt how to stay hydrated especially when temperatures soar to 50 degrees! It takes more than water to actually survive extensive time in the heat. Within the packing list, I have included different items required to stay hydrated and to provide energy.
My hydration advice:
- Every morning (starting at least a week prior to Hajj) begin taking the Vitamin C tablets, once a day.
- Everyday from the first day you land in Jeddah, I advise to take one Diarolyte a few hours after the Vitamin C tablet. (If you’re going to be spending time in the heat, then I advise taking another towards the end of the day)
- During my Umrah and the days of Hajj where we doing a lot of walking, I packed enough Lucozade tablets, isotonic gels, protein bars, and Diarolytes in my backpack. I set myself a timer of taking one of the items every 30 mins, even if I didn’t feel like it, I ate/drank it.
- Our Hajj group doctors were also on hand with spares.
With all the above, I, as someone fairly unfit and non-sporty felt fine and full of energy!
Click here to see why we decided to go for Hajj