By Mohani Niza
A few years ago, Nada Al Nahdi, 25, from Saudi Arabia, was inspired by her friend to travel solo. Nada, who describes herself as a Yemeni national with Indonesian blood, had not travelled anywhere, much less alone.
“I started traveling solo after meeting a female friend of mine who had been traveling on her own for some time. Before that, I didn't even travel to begin with to even know the existence of solo travels. My curiosity triggered me,” she said via an email interview.
“My friend and I made a deal to travel together and that she would fly back few days earlier than me so I could experience being alone in a foreign country. Since then, I have not stopped traveling solo!” she said.
Nada archives her trips into informative posts on her travel website called Nada Al Nahdi: Breaking through the social norms.
Her entries include, ‘Things to do in Armenia’, ‘Georgia in Winter’; ‘3 Cities within 3 Days in Cambodia’ – among other trips.
Family support is important.
“Personally, I was raised with freedom of choice so I have always been left to make my own decisions and my family doesn't interfere,” Nada said, adding that her family was concerned for her safety at first, especially her sister who tried, unsuccessfully, to stop their father from letting Nada travel to Kenya alone.
“Over time, they learned and understood that I am capable and smart with my solo travels. I know what to do and maintain basic precautions. My friends have their moments where they think I am out of my mind but they have always been supportive,” she added.
It also helps that Saudi Arabia has seen a wave of moderation in recent years.
“The changes in women’s empowerment have been evident since the appointment of women in the Consultative Council. Women have been given the right to vote, and the biggest change of all was when they lifted the ban on female driving, and it does not end there. Women were recently allowed to watch sports games in a mixed environment in the stadium,” Nada said.
“Women have been making history and we continue to make greater changes and the list of things women in the Saudi community have accomplished is a great progress. If you look back, women’s employment was limited to a few job posts, but now there is almost no limitation and women can even climb up the ladder all the way to being a CEO in a company,” she added.
Nada describes one of her life goals as “to experience different cultures and way of life” and lists many benefits of traveling.
“I learned to find beauty and appreciate the smallest things,” she said, adding that she has also become more patient, tolerant and confident.
“I learned that there are so many things I don’t know about myself and I am slowly picking things up as I experience different things as I travel,” she added.
I asked her what advice she would give to young women who want to travel solo but are scared to.
“Being afraid of traveling solo is very normal and there are ways to overcome the fear bit by bit. You could start with visiting a neighboring country or any country that you are familiar with in terms of language, culture, and way of life,” Nada said.
“This way, it wouldn't be a complete shock. As you travel, it is important to meet other travelers to gain travel tips, bits of advice and inspiration. Also, talk to the locals! It helps you gain confidence and trust that there are many good people in this world that would help you”.
She recounts one such example, when she was in Cambodia: “I had only Saudi Riyals, Japanese Yen and a few Malaysian Ringgit to exchange. Turns out they only accept Malaysian Ringgit and none of the ATMs could withdraw cash. I did not know how I would go by the 3 days without any cash. Thankfully, a kind American local helped me out by buying my bus ticket, lunch and helped me to get in touch with my friend back home to get cash via PayPal. It was a bad incident that ended in the best way. I made a great friend and gained more faith in people and a heightened belief that there are good strangers that would help you out of pure kindness.”
But ultimately, she said: "Do what you want to do, be who you want to be. Whatever that is standing between you and your dream, break through it!"
“I understand that it can be difficult if you have a conservative family. Educate your community on the many positive outcomes you could get from traveling solo, help them understand the safety of traveling and show them real solo female travelers as a living proof that traveling solo is not dangerous. Most importantly, don't give up!”
Check out some of Nada’s favorite travel hacks:
1. Get free accommodation through Couchsurfing
It is my number one tool for travel planning. Here's what I do: I create a public trip on Couchsurfing with clear details of my dates, budget, and things I would like to do. Many locals would get back to me with every little details and many options to choose from. Plus, they have the insights that only locals would know! They also have a cool hangout feature and events in case you feel like meeting with people when traveling alone.
2. Collect all your mile points and get a free flight
I have had 3 free flights in the past 2 years and I still have unused miles. Also, sign up for airline offer notifications and grab them while it lasts.
3. If you want to travel to a destination that is far and does not have frequent flights, create your own route
A flight from Jeddah to Tokyo starts from US$1,000 but if you create your own route by choosing the most frequent flights that is close to your destination and then book another flight to your final destination, you will save a lot of money and time! I did this from Jeddah to Manila to Tokyo and paid only US$480 instead of US$1000
4. Another travel hack is to accidentally miss a flight
Yes, you read that right. Purchasing a connecting flight where the connection is your final destination can be a lot cheaper than booking a direct flight to your destination. Make sure the connection include flight change so you can actually get out of the plane and exit the airport. You can know this by checking the flight number or simply by contacting the airline before purchasing the ticket.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Muslim World Today.