Traveling Solo as a Saudi Female
While looking around a cafe I visited for the first time, I asked the waiter “Hi, can I have one Mocha, please.”
“Coming right up! You’re new here, right?” Said the waiter while preparing my Mocha.
“Yes, I am” I replied.
“Where are you from?”
While trying to answer him “I’m from …..” The waiter interrupted me and said, “ From Spain?”
“No, actually I’m …..”
He stopped me again and said “Oh, Italy, then?
“No, I’m …..”
He finally gave up and asked, “Where are you from, then??!!”
And I answered “Saudi Arabia!”
He looked at me surprised and said “Oh! You’re the first Saudi woman I meet! You’re a student?”
“Coming for vacation?”
“No, I’m a traveler. I stay for a few months in each country then I leave”
He gave me the Mocha while shocked and said “WOW!!”
Then, he pulled a chair, sat next to me and continued “So, tell me how…..” Which was followed by a set of questions about Saudi, women, how I’m traveling solo and why?
I encounter this very same situation in every country I visit. I answer the exact same questions wherever I go. Sometimes it’s a waiter or a neighbor. Other times it’s a host or a taxi driver. It’s interesting to see how people are trying to know as much as they can about Saudi women.
However, recently I’ve been receiving emails from Saudi women and men, asking me almost the same questions I usually get when I travel. I never thought that I would receive such emails, especially from Saudi women saying they also want to do the same but they can’t because of either family, money or safety.
Reading those emails made me feel like I was talking to the old me before I started doing any of this. Lost, desperate, scared and hopeless. I thought it was impossible but kept hoping anyway. I had so many questions to ask and many doubts but no one to go to. Eventually, though, I did travel and still do. I’m in Egypt with my best friend at the time of writing this post. Before that, I was in Morocco volunteering as an Arabic teacher. Before that, I was in Saudi celebrating my first year of traveling the world with family and friends.
Since I can’t go back to my old self and assure her that it is possible to travel solo and answer all her questions, I’ll answer the questions I’ve been asked from people like me. Whether you’re a Saudi woman or someone who desperately wants to be free and travel the world, I hope this blog post will help you in a way or another.
How did you manage to get out and actually do this knowing that you need your legal guardian’s permission to travel?
Well, it’s complicated.
It really is.
Sadly, I can’t share all the details of how I managed to do that, yet. However, I’ll share what I can. I grew up in a very conservative household. Going outside without a permission and without a man to "protect" me was impossible. Sometimes, going out, in general, was impossible.
To get to this point, there were lots of fights and conflicts. Fortunately, I have the greatest mother on Earth who tried her best to give me and my sisters the freedom to pursue whatever we want. Which is why I can’t say I did this alone. Her love and support gave us the courage to fight back and become completely independent. It wasn’t easy but eventually, we did it.
What I want to say here is that you should stop saying “It’s impossible”, “I have to get married to be free” or “I’m not brave enough to do this”
Fear is an illusion. Start by believing that you can actually do it. I was obsessed with the idea of traveling solo that I carried a folded world map in my purse for 3 years to remind myself that I will travel when I’m 25. Every night, I used to imagine how I want my life to be with great details. So, don’t underestimate the power of imagination.
Actually, now is a great time to start fighting for your freedom because Saudi is finally supporting women and giving them the rights they deserve. We can finally drive and the only permission you need from your legal guardian is the permission to travel which will be removed very soon, I believe. Saudi is changing which means the impossible is already happening.
Always remember that your life is your choices. Choose the life you want.
Is traveling solo as a Saudi woman safe?
Yes and no.
Confusing I know but that’s the truth.
Yes, it’s safe if you have common sense. If you do your research about the country, city, and area you’re visiting. If you trust your gut and never do anything crazy without taking precautions.
And no, it’s not safe at all if you don’t do what I just mentioned above!
It’s that simple and you would be surprised to see that the world is safer than we think. However, that doesn’t mean you should be naive and trust everyone.
Now, I’ll share with you my ways of keeping myself safe:
- I make sure my accommodation is safe. Whether it’s Airbnb, Couchsurfing or Workaway, I read reviews very carefully and I never choose people with zero reviews (unless there’s an exception). I also go to reviewers profiles and check their reviews. The number of reviews is very important as well. I choose people with at least 8 good reviews or more. I guess you can see that I take this very seriously and so should you.
An important thing to note here is that I don’t focus on choosing female hosts which means I don’t mind male hosts single or with their partner. I never had issues and you won't, as long as you choose carefully.
Get $25 off your first stay on Airbnb here!
- I always share my current location and share the names and/or pictures of the people I’m with to my best friend or my sisters. Especially when I’m going to a new place or meeting new people. I highly recommend doing that because if something happens to you, someone will know who you were with and where was your last location. I do that every day! Maybe it’s crazy but as long as I’m traveling solo I’ll keep on doing it.
- I never get drunk. NEVER! I don't enjoy alcohol and I rarely drink but regardless I never let myself get drunk. When we’re drunk we lose our common sense and when I travel solo I like to be in total control over my body and mind.
- I met a few female travelers who told me to be careful when I go out with people I just met, to never leave my drink alone and to get it myself.
- I try my best to not leave my electronics anywhere and I always carry a backpack or a crossbody purse to keep my stuff safe from theft.
- I trust my gut. If I’m uncomfortable for whatever reason (sometimes I don’t know why!) I pack my things and leave. Whether it’s accommodation, party, date, or hanging out with friends, I leave if I feel something is wrong. And usually, my feelings are very right!
- I do some research about the city/area I’m going to live in. Sometimes I have to go immediately, so I ask people instead. But that doesn’t mean I never go to poor or unsafe areas. It all depends on the reason why I’m going there. For example, if I’m going to volunteer and help the community there, then I go without thinking. Because I’ll be living with people from this community who will help me and guide me on how to be safe.
- I rarely live alone. This is a very personal choice, though. I prefer to live with people because I love to share meals, share stories, connect with locals and it keeps me safe. Also, it really helps to have people around in case of an emergency or if I get sick.
- Lastly, common sense, common sense and common sense.
I should also mention here that throughout my traveling I’ve met amazing people who opened their homes to me. Taught me new things. Helped me when I was sick or lost. The world is full of great people you just have to look out for them and be grateful for finding them.
So, keeping yourself safe is not hard, it’s not like you’re fighting zombies! So, don’t be scared of everything, instead, be careful. And always have a sense of adventure.
How often do you talk to your family?
Almost every day. Both family and friends. I’m very close to my family (Mother and sisters) and my amazing best friends. Wherever I go and wherever I am they will always be the people I run too for help or advice. No one knows me better than them.
Does your family give you full support?
Let’s say the most important members of the family do!
My mother is still hoping I will stop going around the world and settle in one place. Our phone calls usually starts with my mom saying “Sara, honey, when will you settle?!”. And I go on and explain to her why I’m doing this and that this is my lifestyle. She pretends she agrees and in the next call she repeats the same question.
Best experience & worst experience while traveling as a Saudi female?
I’ll start with the worst.
My worst experience traveling as a Saudi female had to do with Arab men. Sadly, most of the Arab guys I met tend to judge me because I’m Saudi and I’m not as conservative. Most of them, usually make annoying comments or very stupid jokes about how come a Saudi woman is not covered AND has a shaved hair. It’s like they’re saying a Saudi woman should always be covered and follow the rules silently! In these situations, I choose to be honest and tell them that what they said was a stupid joke and they should stop talking to me again!
These are one of the things I truly hate and I try my best to show the other person what an ignorant mistake they have done!
With that said, I also met amazing Arab men who have been kind and respectful. I’m not saying everyone does that but sadly I experienced this only from Arab guys!
Now, let's go to the best one. It's extremely difficult to choose one best experience because in all of my travels I had great time, met amazing people and learned valuable lessons. If I had to choose one or two, though I would say teaching kids with learning disabilities in Morocco and connecting with the locals in Pembroke Dock, Wales.
The lessons I learned from these two experiences were extraordinary. Some lessons were fun and simple like learning how to bake and cook in the Cwtch Coffee Shop, Pembroke Dock with the lovely owners. Or having long deep conversations with the 80 year old history teacher. Other lessons were tough and sometimes heart breaking like connecting with the kids from one of the poorest areas in Casablanca, Morocco.
How do you spend your time?
It’s different in every country. That’s why I love traveling because I keep changing my routine every few months. However, there are few things that I usually do in each country. For example, volunteering (using WorkAway), dancing, working out, traveling to different cities, hiking or outdoor adventures and going to different types of meet-ups and meet new people. I do the same activities everywhere I go but they feel totally new and different. I also push myself to do crazy things every now and then.
But that doesn’t mean I spend most of the time outside having fun. I do stay at home to work online on my projects because I still need to make money!
The money topic is for another blog post, I promise!
What’s next for you? And when Will you stop?
I don’t know what’s next! That’s the beauty of how I live. I keep on traveling and living the unknown.
As for when I’ll stop, I don't think I will. Traveling is my lifestyle. It’s not a vacation. However, after traveling for 2 or 3 years, I want to build my own Tiny House and travel the world with it.
What advise you wish you could give to your old self before starting this journey?
Be brave, you’re stronger than you think.
Let go of the past and move on.
Believe in yourself.
Also, please learn more about living on a low budget before you jump into it -.-“
There are many more questions I still haven’t answered but I didn’t ignore. I’ll write a different blog post for the ones I didn’t add here, like money and budgeting. So, subscribe for updates!
You can ask me any question regarding traveling in general or as a Saudi woman in the comment section bellow.