Updated: Nov 1
I have lost count of the number of times I looked around on a flight or at the boarding area at the airport and found myself to be the only one with a headscarf. There are destinations I have been to where I felt that I was not only the only Muslim but also the only one who didn’t fit in. I don’t mind it, and standing out doesn’t scare me, even if it means I could easily be a target.
On the other hand, I have also gotten comments from people I’ve met or come across, where they say they are either happy to see me or they say, “you’re Muslim? This is the first time I see a Muslim (hijabi) here!” This is something I’ve heard many times on the cruise ship especially. But, the response has been mostly positive, because believe it or not, I come across many other people who are also Muslims (but you wouldn’t necessarily know about it unless you talk to them). One worker from a ship I have been on shared her story of how she used to wear a headscarf (back home) but doesn’t anymore because of her work environment.
If there’s one thing I hope to change when traveling, whether I am the only one who believes it or not, it’s that nobody should ever have to change who or how they are to fit in, nor should they have the fear of being different, even if it means that they will be the only ones to stand out. Aside from my travels, I have also been in the same position before, where I have been the only one with a headscarf in a work environment and I remember clearly before doing the job interview that someone had advised me to remove the headscarf for the interview so that I get a better chance of getting selected.
My response was simple: No. I would never do that. If they don’t choose me, because of my headscarf, then that’s their loss. Not mine. Besides, even if I remove it for that reason, if the job is not meant for me, I will not get it regardless. Keeping those intentions before and throughout my interview left me with a shocking response after the interview; it was the first time in my life that I had been hired ON the spot at any job interview and it was the fastest I ever accepted a job offer (it was a job I really wanted too!)
So, if you have ever been in a position where you wondered how you can adjust so you can fit in or you thought maybe you’re off limits at a certain place because of being different - find what makes you comfortable and find a way to make it work for you.
Here are some things I like to practice when I travel alone to stay safe:
I always begin my day with prayers of protection (adkh’ar) and end it the same way. It’s the best protection for me and the best way to get rid of any anxieties, fears, and doubts when you are traveling.
Always tell someone where you are going. Share details of your trip or your whereabouts with someone you can trust. If you decide to go on a solo camping trip or somewhere where you know you won’t have access to reliable internet, it is better to advise someone of these details. One tip that a friend had mentioned to me previously also is to make a note and place it in your car (that is, for example, if you are leaving your place in a parking space for a few days and going to a remote area for camping. The note could simply say “If the car is still here after ____ days, please call XXX-XXX-XXX.”)
Bring a portable lock with you! I have never been the type to stay at hostels because the idea of a shared space with strangers (especially the bathroom situation) isn’t something that appeals to me, though hostels could cut my solo travel costs drastically. I prefer to stay at hotels, as I can have privacy and a room to myself, but sometimes depending on the type of hotel you choose to stay at, and the location - you feel like you won’t have a peaceful sleep. This is where portable locks come in handy. You can get them for less than $15 and they are handy and require no installation. You place it in the door, in addition to the other lock(s) that are already there and the best part is that you are the only one who can control/adjust it so that nobody else can get in the room.
Wear a hoodie or a hat. If I had ever felt uncomfortable when I had first started traveling alone, I would bring a hoodie with me in the winter or cooler months, so that I can wear and hide my scarf, especially when walking outside after sunset. There are times when a hat also works, but as time went on and got more comfortable, I stopped using this technique to hide and instead just started embracing it.
Take a self-defense class! This is definitely an essential skill to have, as it prepares you to act accordingly in any situation, especially if you feel panicked. It will help you feel more comfortable and allow you to find different techniques to defend yourself in case you ever find yourself in a nasty situation. Sticking to my other tips has always been sufficient for me and though I have taken many self-defense courses in the past, I never had to use it in real-life situations (thankfully), but it is still worth knowing.
Let me know if I have missed anything! These are some of the things I can think of and I hope that this blog post inspires you to go out there and embrace who you are, whoever you may be, hijabi or not! Do not let fear get in the way of being you, do not let fear get in the way of stopping you from following your dreams. Do not let fear get in the way of experiencing life and all it has to offer - from the joys to the discomforts.