As I mentioned in my last post, we went to Jordan right after Christmas. I had been planning to go to Jerusalem, but things weren't coming together for a lot of different reasons, and we did have to go to Jordan because we were delivering a huge load of Legos there. So we changed our plans to a rather short trip to Jordan that included 30 hours of driving, celebrating the middle son's birthday, delivering the Legos, a tiny bit of sightseeing, and church in a branch in northern Jordan that we visited in 1997. Plus an accidental stay in a 3000-year-old town in Saudi.
First, the practicalities, since it's so hard to find this type of info about Saudi. I am fully aware that this may not be applicable to anyone else (my post about Mada'in Saleh from November is already partly out of date because the site has been closed), but maybe it will help someone a little.
We drove on the most direct route from Riyadh to Amman. If we'd had more time, I would rather have done a loop and gone through Tabuk and up and around, stopping in Wadi Rum, Petra, and Madaba. But this was a trip to get things done, not to wander about.
Again, the biggest drawback to driving around Saudi Arabia is that I can't help with the driving. The distances are long, and when you can't even find reliable information about the places you're visiting, you can't ask your husband to drive for 10 hours on a hope. One of my biggest regrets about living here is that we're leaving one week before I would be allowed to drive. This would be a completely different place to explore if I could drive.
There are a reasonable number of places to get gas and eat through Ha'il, of course, but after that there's nothing at all on the road till you're near where you turn off for Sakaka. Make sure you have gas for at least 350 kilometers when you leave Ha'il. At one point there was a sign that said there were no gas stations for 250 kilometers, but it was actually much longer than that. We had gotten gas in Buraidah and were fine until Qurayyat near the border. There are few options between Dumat al-Jandal and Qurayyat too, but not quite as sparse as between Ha'il and Dumat al-Jandal.
Also, there aren't convenient places to stay on this road. It's around 15 hours to Amman from Riyadh (a little less, but 15 hours is easier math) and there are places to stay every three hours- Buraidah, Ha'il, Dumat al-Jandal, and Qurayyat. If you drive past one town, you'll need to be committed to drive for another three hours. In Ha'il and Dumat al-Jandal, the hotels are off the road and you'll need to look for them. I was very glad I had checked on hotels before we started driving. Some friends of ours did this drive earlier this year and ended up sleeping on the side of the road with their four children because they couldn't find anything. Even the hotel we stayed at in Qurayyat right on the road wasn't labeled as a hotel in Arabic or English so we wouldn't have seen it on our own. After our two bad hotel experiences in Ta'if with overpriced, sorry rooms, we've had better luck in other places. We've now stayed in hotels in several towns where we get a two-bedroom place with a decent bathroom and at least a fridge for 200 riyals a night which I'm perfectly satisfied with.
I'd recommend staying in Dumat al-Jandal if you're driving this route. It's nine hours from Riyadh and six from Amman, which makes it about as close to the middle as you can get (unless you stay in Ha'il which is six from Riyadh and nine from Amman). It's a bit of a drive off the road, but the town is very interesting and has several hotel options.
I had no idea what to expect at the border, but it all worked out. The Saudi exit was easy, as expected, although the reentry was a little longer, but if you have a Saudi visa, it will be fine. The Jordan side was a little more exciting. To enter, you park (you don't ever need to get out on the Saudi side, except maybe for customs on entry) and start maneuvering between different buildings. First, get your visa. They cost 10 dinars each and you must pay in cash. There are exchange places available where they were happy to exchange our riyals to dinars at an exorbitant rate, but we didn't really have a lot of options for getting dinars elsewhere. But if you can, try exchanging money at a bank before you enter Jordan. There is also a Zain outlet near where the exchange people are and it's a good place to pick up a sim card and it's worth getting one right away. After you have your visa, you go to another line (although there never was a line, anywhere, at any point on either side of crossing the border, more than one car or one person) and they stamp your passport and verify your identity (this is the only part of entry where everyone in the car needs to do anything- the boys waited in the car for everything else). You also need to buy car insurance and then get the car insurance paper stamped and pay a fee for the car to enter. Things broke down a bit at this point and we arrived at the next check-in place without a stamped paper, but they cheerfully sent us back and we sorted it out. I never really saw anything that explained what we were supposed to do at any point (there were signs in English on the exit side though) but we figured it out. And everyone was more than happy to help, although if we didn't speak Arabic it would have been harder. In the end, everything was fine. Customs happened in there too at some point. If we'd known what we were doing and had dinars it probably wouldn't have taken more than 30-45 minutes, but I think it took us closer to 2 hours. But you gain an hour crossing which helps. And Jordanians are noticeably more cheerful than Saudis so you end up happy to be hanging out there for a while. And I have less than no expectations that a land crossing will go quickly. Also, if you have a pass (the Jordan pass, I think), I believe you don't have to pay the visa fee, but since we weren't being typical tourists, I don't know much about that.
Also, get gas once more in Saudi before exiting. It costs five times as much in Jordan.
Driving around Jordan was so much fun, especially further north where you're going up and down hills and the roads are interesting. Google maps took us on a unique route- sort of like the old days in the US when it would take you on the shortest route by miles even if it was not the best way to go if you're trying to get somewhere quickly. Jordan was very easy to deal with. I did get stopped randomly by the police once, but when I pulled over and he saw me driving, he just sent me on my way.
The exit from Jordan was less complicated than the entry. You do need to pay an exit fee of 10 dinars each, and you get out of the car for that, and they'll want to check any other stray papers they might have given you on the way on so save those. Everyone needs to get out of the car to get the exit officially stamped. But mostly it's just checking papers and not a big deal. The Saudi side was quick too and the whole process was a lot quicker than going the other way, although it will depend on customs on the Saudi side- that can be long.
And there you have it. I knew that driving there was a little crazy (the police man who stopped us on the road in Saudi near Dumat al-Jandal was incredulous that we were there and talked to us forever since he seemed to be happy to see us (random police stops are normal in a lot of the world and stopping people for doing something wrong is far less common)) but it was a neat experience in a lot of ways, and my husband survived. Especially with Saudi gas prices, it was much cheaper than flying too.