The excitement of discovering new places and the possibilities of meeting new people cannot be compared with anything else. Travel has always been a constant in my life; but things changed when I made the decision to revert to Islam and wear the hijab. People around me changed so much after that — both at home in the United Kingdom and abroad.
Jet setting around the globe has not always been easy as a Muslim woman. The immediate image of a Muslim woman is currently not very positive and that can cause a little bit of a hassle. It took some time for me to adapt to this new image and I am happy to say that I go through security checks much faster and feel much more fulfilled when I travel these days.
So, here are three lessons I learnt being a hijabi frequent flier:
#1 How I style my hijab affects how I am treated
I realise that this is a shallow observation but it is nonetheless true. I first realised this on my trip to South Korea to visit my old dorm mate. Back then, I styled my hijab in a more traditional way which got me plenty of unfriendly looks and stares. My South Korean friend was kind enough to explain that because the country is highly homogenised, not many people have encountered others that are different from them.
She also suggested to try putting my hair in a turban and see how people treat me. I took her advice and as if by magic, not a single person did a double take on me the next day. People were much nicer and even held brief conversations with some. So, the next time you feel uncomfortable with the looks and stares when you are travelling, style your headscarves differently and see how the reactions of the locals are.
#2 Make your trip more meaningful
As a seasoned traveller, I believe that immersing myself in the local culture is the only way to truly appreciate my travel destination — its people, its history and its landscapes. I used to do this by going to local watering holes but my husband introduced me to a new venue where I can meet other people — the local mosque. Not only do we get to interact and practice our faith with our fellow Muslim brothers and sisters, we have also been directed to the best halal restaurants and hidden gems that we need to visit while we are there.
Visiting the local mosque also gave us an opportunity to give back to the local community or charity. We have been doing this for a while now and I think it has made a positive impact towards my well-being. It has also given us new friends and reinforce our relationship as a couple. You can also find other charities besides the one hosted by the mosques — there are plenty of volunteering programs for travellers across the globe.
#3 Communication is key when travelling in a group
There was a time when all I did was solo travelling but now that I don the hijab, I feel safer if I have a travel companion. However, disagreements are imminent especially when you have different opinions and expectations. This happened when I went for a trip with my best friend who thought we would go out dancing and drinking at night when all I wanted to do is unwind and rest my feet. Needless to say, we were both upset, but we voiced our frustration out and resolved them.
It is important to remember that not everyone has the same travelling goals. Therefore, it is important to keep everyone in the group in the know and not to assume anything. Consider having a nightcap at the end of the day in your hotel room to talk about what you have achieved today and what you want to do tomorrow. This way, everyone will get the most out of the trip!
Final note: do not forget to have fun!
I know the list above may seem to make travel a stressful affair but I promise you it is not. The hijab is not a reason for you to not travel and see the world. It is important to step back and learn how to relax. Take the opportunity to travel with other people; it is time to reconnect with them so power down your devices and be present with them. Have fun and happy travelling!