Meet Sara El-Amin

This is Sara, a 23-year-old who is working at the hotel I’m staying at in Dahab. She has just completed a BA degree in Mass Communication, majoring in Journalism, from MTI in Cairo and the University of Wales.

She would like to continue studying for an MA Journalism in the UK but needs scholarship or a sponsor. She is prepared to work to support herself but needs to find flights and course fees.

I found Sara’s story fascinating because she is translating Virginia Woolf’s diaries into Arabic for the first time. She doesn’t have a publisher yet, but you can see some of her translation here. She was a reporter at Sharjah Book Fair in her first year, an event I was lucky enough to attend last year – it was clear to me there that we need many more works like this translated into Arabic. Sara doesn’t yet have a publisher for the translation but there are details of translation grants for publishers here.

Sara has a fire and energy that I love to see burning in a young woman. She has clear views on women’s rights and has been interviewed on Egyptian TV about sexual harassment in Cairo. As a follower of the amazing Mona Eltahawy, Egyptian women’s rights campaigner and NYT columnist, I know that we need to hear more female Muslim voices on public platforms and I believe Sara’s is one of them. She tells me of her experience to date and it’s clear that other people are threatened by her intelligence (as a woman) and her decision to forego the veil. I would love to see her thrive and become the journalist she’s clearly meant to be.

If any of you can help in any way – perhaps you know the perfect course or a publishing company/newspaper willing to sponsor Sara – then let me know via my email: lisaedNW10@gmail.com.

Shokran.

Lisa

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How to Go on Holiday on Your Own

I seem to be part of a zeitgeist for solo travel, with more and more people than ever opting to take their vacations on their own, even if they’re in a couple. I’ve been doing it for five years now, and I’m addicted. On my own, I can holiday at my own pace and I can choose to be with other people, or not. I’ve found the freedom exhilarating.

The first holiday, to Thailand, was a huge test for me. I spent the first three days in the hotel, too scared to go outside. But once I did, encouraged by friends texting me, I found the world was waiting for me.

Here are my top tips on solo travel:

Start just outside your comfort zone

The jetty at the Amari Phuket

The jetty at the Amari Phuket

Book your first solo holiday in an all-inclusive hotel, or wherever you feel safe. Just flying far away on your own is stressful enough so be nice to yourself by booking a safe haven at the other end. You can then be more adventurous when you’re there but have a base to return to. I asked Trailfinders to find me a lovely hotel in Thailand, and when I got there, I got upgraded to a seafront room. I then used the hotel as a base for trips, so I could see the lie of the land. You can read my review here.

Book lots of trips

Me, exhilarated on my first Thai boat trip

Me, exhilarated on my first Thai boat trip

If you’re not on a group holiday (I choose not to join those) then book day trips. My favourite thing is a boat trip and I’ve met so many great people while on them, often women who are on their own. I tend to alternate between days by the pool/beach and day trips. It gives the holiday a bit of pace, and gives you a chance to talk to people over the course of a day, and potentially meet them again as a dinner companion.

Let preconceptions go

Riding an elephant

Riding an elephant

Most of us arrive in countries with preconceptions about the culture and we need to form our own. You will find that the things you find most alien, or are scared of, become ridiculously normal and tame after a few days. Beware of scare-mongering. Most people are too afraid to go away on their own and look for reasons why they shouldn’t. Research your destination and know what you’re in for, but draw your own conclusions about it.

Prepare for the Rollercoaster

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A solo holiday is a rollercoaster. You will experience days when an unexpected meeting or event propels you into a state of high excitement, followed by days where nothing happens and you start to feel sorry for yourself. Know that it will happen and embrace the Rollercoaster. Don’t rely on other people for your holiday highs – they will happen when you least expect, and usually just at the point you wish you hadn’t gone away on your own.

Take lots of books

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Books are the solo travel companion you can rely on in any setting. At the airport, on the beach, at lunch or dinner on your own, even Happy Hour in the hotel. Have your book with you and you can lose yourself in it, and stop focusing on your alone-ness. Make sure you have enough to see you through the holiday and a potential flight delay.

Share your experience

Inhabitant of Monkey Island

Inhabitant of Monkey Island

If you’re like me, you want to share your experience on social media, and use it as a travelogue and a form of companionship. Wifi-allowing, think of your holiday as a window onto the world that you can share with others – there is a whole community doing it on Instagram, for instance, and you can be one of them.

Enjoy the journey

Pubu the naughty elephant with his mahout

Pubu the naughty elephant with his mahout

I’ve found that the journey to my destination on my own is an adventure in itself. From the moment you step out of your door on the way to the airport or train station, you are doing something amazing. Most people can’t even go for a walk on their own.

Realise that people are envious of you

In Koh Samui with Bo and Su.

In Koh Samui with Bo and Su.

You will find, at lunch, dinner, or any other ‘social’ occasion on holiday, that people will look at you. They won’t be able to believe that you are brave enough to go on holiday on your own. But you are. And you can smile back at them, safe in the knowledge that they wish they were you.

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Walking is the Way Forward

Walking is having a moment, isn’t it? Well, it is for me.

It started last year when I read a piece by journalist Polly Vernon on how she’s incorporated at least three hours’ walking into her life every day since 2003 – it keeps her fit, slim and her headspace clear. I found myself wondering how long it would take to walk into central London from my home north-west London and Google Maps told me it would be 75 minutes. It seemed like an age, given that I was used to hopping on a bus or a tube and whizzing in under half an hour. But once I started doing it I became hooked, and time passes so quickly when I’m walking, it all seems like a bit of a lovely dream when I get to my destination.

I’ve noticed that I’m gravitating to books about walking, too, and they’re inspiring me more and more. I’ve just finished The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce and cried with the joy and grief of his journey. I’ve always loved travel writing and whilst I’ve enjoyed books about people cycling or taking trains or motorbikes across vast continents, I’ve never really read walking books. The first one to inspire me was Cheryl Strayed‘s Wild. I first heard the author on the radio (while walking!) reading extracts from her book. She walked the Pacific Crest Trail on her own – over a thousand miles from the Mojave desert to Washington State. Reese Witherspoon picked up the movie rights and made a film I wanted to leap into almost as much as the book – I want a Walk of One’s Own.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed (Atlantic)

Wild by Cheryl Strayed (Atlantic)

Then came the wonderful Robert Macfarlane, whom I’ve only just discovered this year. I usually confine my travel reading to foreign lands. Why would I want to read about travelling around Britain? I want to stretch my horizons when I read, not limit them. But I was oh so wrong. Macfarlane’s incredibly intelligent writing in The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot (2012, Penguin) has opened up a world that is right on my doorstep. He follows ancient tracks around the world but seems at his most spiritually enlightened on British soil, or on ancient sea trails.

The Old Ways (Penguin)

The Old Ways (Penguin)

I’ve now bought his earlier work, The Wild Places (2007, Granta) and I can’t wait to join him again as he seeks out the wildernesses in Britain and Ireland. The last time I felt like this about a travel author was when I discovered Paul Theroux (Louis’ dad) who is still the One and Only for me.

The Wild Places (Granta)

The Wild Places (Granta)

So now I’m contemplating a Walk of One’s Own. I’m going to walk around the Isle of Wight at the end of July, 69km over four days, five nights. I’m going to tweet it, blog it, review it, Instagram it, and 4G-allowing, Periscope it. I’m now a seasoned solo traveller so the thought of doing this on my own is exciting. I’ve been to Thailand, Turkey, Egypt and the Middle East on my own and blogged about those experiences elsewhere. But what will happen on my own doorstep? Whom will I meet? Where will I stay? Will I collapse after walking 16 miles a day? What will the weather throw at me?

Bring it on. I hope you will join me as I go. More details to come, but in the meantime, here’s my Top Ten Travel Books reading list (excluding the above). Note that all but one of the authors are men – that’s another blog post!

The Old Patagonian Express by Paul Theroux (Penguin)

Moods of Future Joys by Alastair Humphreys (Eye)

McCarthy’s Bar by Pete McCarthy (Sceptre)

The Full Montezuma by Peter Moore (Transworld)

The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin (Vintage)

Sea Room by Adam Nicolson (HarperCollins)

Hokkaido Highway Blues by Will Ferguson (Canongate)

Duende by Jason Webster (Black Swan)

Jupiter’s Travels by Ted Simon (Penguin)

The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara (HarperPerennial)