“I’ve traveled to 30+ countries, more than half of which have been SOLO travel!”
– Anisa Ismail
Anisa’s parents migrated to the UK, from Somalia, before she was born, but having one look at their childhood home, you would think Africa relocated to the UK with them! From an early age, the Ismail’s were deeply submerged in their heritage and East African culture; from the way they dressed, to the food they delved into each day. Culture was ingrained in family’s DNA, so much so, that Anisa’s British nationality came as an addition.
“My mother created her own lane; and raising 7 children primarily on her own wasn’t an easy feat as one can imagine. She did it with wisdom and class, that of which an African Queen resembled,” Anisa recounts. “She started her own business by setting up a retail store in London, where she sold East African & Arab home goods, which she exclusively selected and imported from the MENA region. Her business had its trials, but she succeeded in bringing a piece of home to her very eager customers,” Anisa goes on to explain.
Anisa fondly remembers her mother as a keen traveller, crediting her listening to her mom’s travelling exploits as the impetus for her growing up to become an avid traveller herself. Spending the school year working and saving awarded her opportunities to then explore different destinations during the summer, venturing off throughout the UK, Europe, and North America. Anisa’s mother set a premium on ensuring that her children experienced as much of the world as possible, learning about other cultures and places. It was close to two decades later that she would retire and enjoy the fruits of her labour.
“I made the decision to relocate to the UAE when I turned 20, settling in Abu Dhabi. Till today, I truly believe that all the summers of travelling had set me up with an appetite for discovering the world. Sheltered by my family during most of my travels, this would be the first time, I did something on my own. Being in a location such as the UAE, made it easier to access countries I had never been to,” cites Anisa.
“After my huge move, the first destination I travelled to on my own was Hong Kong, and my life would then change forever. Solo travel was not something I was accustomed to, but it wasn’t hard to fall in love with the independence it brought along,” she adds.
As a woman of African origin, Anisa believes that solo travel truly shaped her life, and the way she now views the world.
“After a heart-breaking moment in my life, I spent 10 days alone in a yoga retreat in Bali and being the only woman of colour at the resort, there were a lot of eyes on me, but that was the least of my worries. I fell in love with the adventure and excitement of being in a whole new country, learning about different people and visiting exciting places, that I would never have done so had I not pushed myself to step out of my comfort zone and try something new,” says Anisa.
Anisa dispels the myths of solo travel as an African woman, citing that many of them have never been further from the truth, and that people often assume that doing so is a treacherous decision with potentially gruesome outcomes. This is not true by her standards and those of many women of colour across the world, who have chosen to use travel as opportunities for self-discovery.
“Women of colour are becoming more and more open minded about traveling solo and this is how it should be. The very idea that African women shouldn’t travel alone is baseless and often backed by nothing worth listening to. I think it should in fact be encouraged and celebrated moving forward,” says Anisa.
She credits living in such a diverse country as the UAE as what has afforded her insight into how positive and inspiring it is to see so many nationalities live harmoniously and meshing so well. In the now 10 years Anisa has lived in Abu Dhabi, she has learned so much about other people and cultures and is inspired to travel to the home countries of some the people she has met based off their honest and creative knowledge.
“I don’t get the TripAdvisor review,” says Anisa. “I hear about their country first-hand, without anything else adding assumptions and I use that to make an informed decision on whether or not to make a particular destination my next conquest!”
When asked what words she had for fellow African women on why they should consider solo travel, Anisa asserts: “My message to the African Queens reading this message, is to abandon any concerns about solo travel and to truly dive into a new adventure headfirst. Try it Sis! There is a whole world out there that is welcoming and waiting for your arrival. Why stifle that dream because of fear?! Who wins in the end if it can’t be you? So, do it. Travel the world. Fill up your passport with stamps of airports whose names you can’t pronounce. And then come back and tell your girls about it, so they can do the same!”