In a society where gender inequality prevails, women’s calls for their simplest rights become a fierce struggle. A large number of restrictions and constrains are imposed on young women who are not allowed to go to certain places, study in certain fields, work under certain circumstances, live alone, or travel without their families.
Heidi Mostafa Sohdy decided to break many of those rules when she decided to become the first female solo traveller from Egypt. For her, travelling is not just a hobby she enjoys or time she spends for leisure; is an important message to young women who cannot imagine themselves capable of travelling worldwide or exploring countries independently without the help of parents or friends.
On her Facebook page “I Travel”, Sohdy has 70,369 followers who use the page as a platform to exchange their different travel experiences and acquire information about ways to resolve problems they might encounter on their trips.
Sohdy remembers her first trip outside Egypt and how it helped her discover her deep passion for travelling. “When I was in the second year of the preparatory school, I visited France and England with my friends and I realised how much I loved the idea of travelling and getting closer to other cultures with their customs and traditions. In 2011, I visited Turkey with my mother and cousin, and since then, I decided to travel once or twice a year,” she said.
The 29-year-old accountant travelled to France, England, Spain, Turkey, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Malaysia in the past four years.
“I always search for any opportunity to travel when I feel lost, sad, or confused. Travelling can always help me get rid of life pressure and negative energy. I travel when I lose my self-esteem because being in another country with different customs and lifestyles can always help you count your blessings and appreciate every moment in your life,” she said.
Although many people consider travelling a complicated process and always resort to travel agencies to finish all the related procedures, Sohdy has a completely different point of view. “Travelling is easier than anyone can imagine. I make all the reservations myself. I first compare the cheap flight tickets through Skyscanner or Expedia. For the best accommodation offers, I always check on Booking.com to find the cheapest and safest hostels around the world,” she said.
Although convincing her parents was not an easy task at the beginning, Sohdy believes that she is so lucky to have a family that encourages her and are proud of her undertaking. “When I launched my Facebook page for the first time, my friends kept supporting me and called me ‘Bent Batuta’, which made me feel happy,” she said, referring to the renowned 14th century traveller Ibn Batuta.
Although many people are always motivated to travel and explore the world, only few people take the action and plan for a real journey. “I once wrote an article called ‘How to spend a week in Milano at the end of the year by saving only EGP 14 per day’ and I was surprised with all the positive comments I got as many people tagged their friends and encouraged each other,” Sohdy said.
“However I discovered two main problems that girls who love travel face in our society. The first one is the parents’ permission and the second is the girl’s level of self confidence. If the girl is really excited, she can plan her trip properly, which will help her gain her family’s trust and eventually encourage them to accept the whole idea,” she said.
This does not mean that Sohdy has not experienced any uneasy situations while travelling. When she was travelling from Italy to Germany on a 10 hour bus journey, the driver stopped in a forest and left the bus.
“Without thinking, I sent my location to one of my friends living in Germany via WhatsApp and I was really worried about my family. A few minutes passed and I discovered that they were switching drivers. All the passengers were worried because this does not usually happen in German transportation means,” she said.
Although Sohdy believes each country has its own merits and drawbacks, just like anything in life, she picked Switzerland as her favourite country, insisting that each country is worth visiting and exploring.
“I’d like to tell girls that travelling alone is completely safe, unlike all the misleading perceptions people have. It strengthens your personality and helps you gain experience, ability, and courage to adapt to sudden situations and circumstances. When you travel, you can feel that you are capable of doing anything with no limits,” Sohdy said.