While vacationing has been in vogue for a very long time in Pakistan, not a lot of people seem to be interested in traveling, until lately that is. Confused? Let me put it simply! People have been going to local and international destinations every year for as long as I can remember to relax and shop and just be in a different environment to escape the monotony of everyday life. This is a vacation. On the other hand, lately, we’ve seen people catching the travel bug, going off to unknown lands to experience the surroundings and learn a new culture and its values.
Now you may not know a lot of people who travel for the same reason, much less single women traveling solo. So, to give all you girls out there some inspiration, here we have a single, female, Pakistani traveler who went on a Euro trip solo! We had to get her account on everything from a desi perspective. So, we got in touch with Saman Samee Khan and here’s what she had to say!
Any inspiration behind the solo trip? Or was it an impromptu plan?
Ever since I can remember, I wanted to travel alone and explore things at my own pace. Dull as it may seem to most of you, I am the sort of person who can admire a good, sunny day or listen to street musicians playing for hours and since I have travelled a lot with family and some with friends, I always felt that there was a certain haste. Rush to one place, pack up quick, rush to the other, eat fast, have to reach the next city before dark and someone ALWAYS has to go to the loo. So, before I came back to Pakistan after working in Istanbul for several months, I decided to just go for it.
What restrictions (if any) did you face as a Pakistani woman traveling alone?
Once I left Istanbul, I felt like just another traveler at practically every airport, every station and every bus stop. The only difference was that just before you board a plane, they double check that you have a return ticket back to where you came from. Generally, people were amazingly nice and it was exciting to see that instead of being rude as we are generally told about how Pakistanis are treated abroad, they were more than intrigued once they found out I was from Pakistan. They chatted more, asked more questions. Seems like we are a ‘thing’ in Europe 😉
Still, I was told to take off my shoes at Václav Havel Airport in Prague, unlike other passengers, but that’s okay… I was wearing my new pink socks.
Tell us about one experience that stands out during your trip.
Oh that’s a difficult one. Right now, the whole trip seems magical even to myself, but one experience that stands out would have to be the visit to Schindler’s Factory in Kraków, Poland. Anyone who is interested in History would know about the Holocaust and the story of Oskar Schindler. The Factory has been converted to an amazing, goosebumps inducing museum. The labyrinth of rooms and corridors held so much of history, cruelty as well as kindness, stories of hundreds of human beings facing imminent death. I did not see Jews or Christians or people divided by religion, for as long as I was there, I just saw a story so tragic and horrible but also so uplifting and restoring my faith in mankind. I came out very, very quiet and it took me the whole day to process and digest that experience. It was very moving.
Did you finance your trips yourself? If yes, HOW? (Yes, we all want to know that!)
I did finance this one myself. As I told, after working in Istanbul for 8 months, I had some savings but honestly, I walked away from far too many beautiful dresses, bags, shoes and what not. I want to take this opportunity to tell you about this absolute-shopaholic, Egyptian friend of mine who is responsible for most of us friends being broke in Istanbul, I almost blindfolded myself going out with her to avoid looking at clothes. My last day in Istanbul, I stood outside the Zara store on Istiklal Street while she and my brother shopped, so you can guess. So scrimp and save, I’d say, scrimp and save!
On the brighter side, once you enter Europe, traveling gets pretty cheap. You can take buses and trains for intercity travel and even the air tickets are pretty cheap on airlines like Rayyan Air, Pegasus and others. I would suggest Trains; cheap, convenient, comfortable and the journey is beautiful through small towns and the picture perfect European landscape.
– What message/tips/advice do you have for other Pakistani women and girls looking to travel alone?
Safety first. You’ll find plenty of strangers offering you to share taxis (yes, just like in the movie ‘Taken’, no kidding), to go out for drinks or even inviting you to a party (during the first five minutes of you sitting next to them in the bus). I don’t want to say that everyone means bad but it would be advisable to decline such offers.
Book a hotel/hostel in city center. ALWAYS. You save a lot on taxis and public transport this way. Walk to places, you soak up more.
Lastly and most importantly, I was advised by my friends from other countries not to tell people straight off that I was a Muslim and a Pakistani. I am so glad to tell you that it was NOT a problem at all. In fact, everyone I met and told I was a Pakistani, just got friendlier and was interested to know more about us and our country. One taxi driver, on finding out that I was a Pakistani, said, “What a beautiful country!”
Just felt a lot of love towards him that very moment..
In your opinion, which is the best European city/country for solo travelers, and why?
For fairytale landscapes and beauty; silhouette of a castle on the horizon, a river flowing next to it, enchanting stuff, I would say Prague, Czech Republic. For solo traveling, I’d say Germany. The people are unusually nice and helpful and everything is extremely convenient.
Any precautions you took to maximize your safety during your trip?
Europe is generally very safe but I was careful about not staying out too late and avoiding places that were far from my hotel at night. I also carry pepper spray (glad I never had to use it) just to feel safe. Also, with a heavy heart, I declined every time I was offered any kind of drink, even from seemingly perfectly nice people.
An activity/sport/experience you would recommend other travelers?
I did not get to do as much as I wanted to but I would suggest that you keep an eye on Festivals/Events calendars of the cities you plan to visit. Airshows, skiing events you can take part in, cultural or music shows, all would be worthwhile experiences. I got to do some Gliding in a sailplane in Poland and it was an experience of a lifetime. I would highly, highly recommend that.
What are your top 5 traveling essentials?
I would suggest first and foremost, a good Sunscreen. You’ll thank me for this one.
An umbrella and waterproof shoes, if you plan to walk to places everywhere like me.
In Europe, they use Type E sockets and you will need a Type E plug to charge your phone and other devices. So a Travel plug adapter is something I always carry.
A good book (for train travel taking more than 4-5hours)
May not sound very ‘essential’ but I took a pair of Stilettos for special occasions. Don’t judge me, you may want to treat yourself to dinner at a good restaurant, you never know. Besides, with a little help from those perfect heels, your Instagram would be lit.
(I hope it was traveling and not make up essentials you were asking about)
Would you suggest solo travel to other girls? Why?
A big YES. I will try not to go overboard with this one but I say this from my heart… Every little thing has a profound effect on you when you travel alone. Being a woman and being a Pakistani, it was an extremely different and a liberating experience. Lying in the sun, taking long walks, eating weird looking food, making friends, managing finances and little setbacks, navigating through airports and through all this experience, knowing where you push forward and where you stop is something I think every girl needs to experience and enjoy. Traveling alone changes you in ways you cannot fathom. I would not elaborate on it as I think it’s just one of those things you have to experience to truly understand.
Planning any more solo trips in the future?
I am planning something with friends for the summer but soon after, I will plan another one just for myself, Inshallah. You see, solo traveling is addictive.
Inspired yet? We are! And totally getting down to planning a solo trip!