T: A short bio about yourself, A 3-4 lines that best describe you, what you do for a living and so on. Where are you currently living and where are you from? Tell us more about your blog, IG / FB / YouTube
S: Hi, I’m Sally, the Arab-American Muslim foodie traveler behind Passport & Plates. I was born in Ireland and grew up in the U.S., but I’m ethnically Egyptian and Sudanese, so I consider myself of a bit of a “multicultural mutt.” I speak three languages, and when I’m not traveling or blogging, you’ll find me whipping up some random concoction in the kitchen, clumsily dancing salsa and tango, or curled up with my cat and favorite book.
T: Would you call yourself an avid traveller?
S: Absolutely! I boarded my first plane at 10 days old and haven’t stopped traveling since.
T: What inspired you to travel?
S: When I was ten days old, my parents boarded a plane with me to attend my first wedding…and I’ve been traveling (and attending weddings!) ever since. Well, sort of. We traveled a lot when I was really young, but I didn’t start traveling again until I was 14. My first trip was to Egypt for the summer to visit my extended family. I was intrigued by how drastically different life could be in other places and since then, I’ve been addicted to learning more about other cultures!
T: Where have you been?
S: I’ve been to 35 countries across 5 continents so a lot of places!
T: Do you prefer to travel alone or with family and friends? Why?
S: Both, depending on the place. I love traveling solo. I get the freedom to choose how, when and where to go, and I’m much more inclined to make friends on the road when I’m alone. However, there are certain places I’ve visited that I really enjoyed sharing with close friends and/or family members – I don’t think I would have enjoyed Hawaii solo for instance.
T: Do you have a full-time job? If yes, how do you find time to travel?
S: No. I have a very busy part-time remote job doing social media and marketing strategy. I’m very fortunate that my manager is understanding and flexible with my travels, as long as I get my work done. I have no idea how full-time workers travel often!
T: What was your best trip ever?
S: That might be the hardest travel question, along with ‘what’s your favorite country.’ It’s a tough call because I have had SO many amazing travel experiences. However, I’d say my very first solo trip back in 2015. I had just left a job I hated and was both terrified and excited to travel solo for the first time. I made so many friends and memories and fell in love with Spain while I was at it.
T: What did you learn about yourself during your most memorable trip?
S: I realized that a little courage and friendliness is all you really need to travel solo (and a good selfie stick, ha!). But all jokes aside, I had been wanting to solo travel for a long time but was too scared to, and this trip was the push I needed to travel more.
T: What were the locals you met like?
S: The Spaniards I met were friendly, curious and light-hearted. They were eager to understand my journey and customs in the U.S. as well as to share Spanish culture with me. I made quite a few close friends on that trip that I still keep in touch with.
T: What was the funniest/strangest/most insightful thing a local said?
S: I’ve actually written an entire post about this topic because there have been so many! People say the most hilarious things.
T: What was the scariest moment?
S: The time I flipped my dune buggy in Egypt while racing through the desert. I had to get a stitch in my forehead and had a nasty bump on my head for a week. Needless to say, I drive them much more carefully now.
T: What’s your favourite travel destination and why?
S: Oh, not this question *hides.*
Rather than select my favorite travel destination (I have at least 3), I’m sharing the one I’d most like to return to Chile. I don’t often leave a place thinking I didn’t have enough time there, but that’s exactly how I felt in Chile. I was there for a couple of weeks to study Spanish, but it was truly love at first sight. The sleepy city of Santiago stole my heart, and I left two weeks later, vowing to one day return to explore the glaciers of Patagonia, the beaches of Valparaiso, and the desert of Atacama. I haven’t been back since I left in 2012, but Inshallah I hope to very soon.
T: What place is top of your bucket list?
S: Patagonia, definitely! I’ve been dying to see the penguins and to return to South America and this would fulfil both desires. Plus, the photos I’ve seen of the glaciers are nothing short of magical.
T: Have you learned a language when a traveling?
S: Yes, sort of! I took Spanish in high school but I really brushed it up on the road. Back in 2012, I spent 6 weeks studying at Spanish schools in both Argentina and Chile. This year, I did an intensive Spanish program in Spain to improve my Spanish even further. I’m at a pretty high intermediate level at this point, which I never would have gotten to if I didn’t practice in real life!
T: If yes, did you take a course at home, etc.?
S: Yes – I started learning in high school but practicing with actual locals really improved my abilities.
T: What’s your top travel tip?
S: Be flexible! You can plan every aspect of your trip, but what’s the fun in that? Leave some room for plan changes, for meeting cool people, for saying yes to random opportunities. So many of my travels over the past year have happened spontaneously.
T: What’s your travel style: budget or luxury?
S: Budget, now and forever I find that traveling on a budget helps me meet more people, find cooler local experiences, and get more creative about how I spend about my time and money.
T: What do you think of the current stigma on Muslim travel? E.g. US Muslim travel ban
S: I’m vehemently against the travel ban of course, and the rhetoric that the media uses to scare people makes me really angry. It’s frustrating to live in a country (the U.S.) that constantly pushes an Islamophobic agenda.
T: How we can change it?
S: There are tons of great organizations (like the Muslim Public Affairs Council, for example) that work tirelessly to protest unjust laws and civil rights abuses by the government. Donating or volunteering with such organizations is one way to help. Another is to volunteer with refugees, especially if you live in a country where they’re being accepted. And lastly, fighting Islamophobic rhetoric in whatever way you can – in my case, through writing and traveling.
T: And how we can encourage more Muslims to travel?
S: I wrote a piece on that too. Honestly, I think as Muslims, we spend so much time writing and talking to each other, rather than the outside world. Hatred and bigotry often comes from lack of knowledge, and I think if more Muslims traveled, we’d be able to make an impact in challenging people’s Islamophobic thoughts. Rather than traveling in big tour groups or to other Muslim countries, we need to get out of our comfort zones and realize that the more we connect with non-Muslims, the more ambassadors we’ll have for our community.
T: Which country is most Muslim-friendly?
S: Naturally, most of the Muslim-majority countries were easy to travel in. However, besides those, I found that both Thailand and Singapore were surprisingly easy to travel in. Perhaps it’s because they’re used to Muslim travelers from neighboring Indonesia and Malaysia, but I found plenty of halal options there – both in terms of food and hotels. Plus, I saw lots of hijabis in both, which is always nice.
T: What’s like to be a solo Muslim female traveler?
S: It’s actually really interesting for me because I’m not easily identifiable as a Muslim traveler to most. I don’t wear a headscarf, I don’t look particularly Arab, and my name is Sally. Most people don’t know enough about last names to determine my background. However, it doesn’t take long for me to mention it, especially because people are curious as to why I don’t drink or eat pork. Like it or not, being a Muslim traveler means being an inadvertent ambassador for Islam. I welcome this because I’ve realized that there are SO many people out there who are woefully ignorant to the most basic tenets of Islam. They know what the media tells them. They see veiled women on TV or in the streets and think they’re oppressed. I spend a lot of time answering questions, honestly, but I hope this means that people will walk away with a different view of Muslims.
T: Was your family OK with it?
S: With solo traveling? Not initially, no. I had to very slowly build them up to this point, starting with university-organized trips, to studying abroad, to traveling with friends, to traveling solo. They still don’t love my solo travels but they also understand that I won’t let it hold back my desire to travel.
T: What advice you can give to other females who want to travel but don’t dare or their family is not supportive?
S: Once upon a time, my parents were SO strict that I couldn’t even go to the movies with my friends. Honestly, it’s all about baby steps. Start with a day trip with friends or a local overnight trip somewhere nearby and build it up slowly to traveling solo. It has taken me years to get my family to be supportive and I’m very grateful I can do it now. Group tours are also a great way to travel solo while helping parents keep peace of mind. I’ve loved doing group trips with Geckos Adventures.
T: Where would you revisit? Would you ever move to any of those cities?
S: I used to be so anti revisiting cities, but I’ve revisited several in the last year. I spent several months living in both Valencia and Madrid in Spain and could definitely see myself spending even more time there. I’d love to revisit Argentina and Chile as well as Jordan. I could easily see myself spending an extended amount of time in Chile but I likely wouldn’t live there long-term.
T: What can’t you travel without?
S: Technology, unfortunately. I’m a total phone and laptop addict. I need them both for work and I have a hard time switching out of work mode. I actually went sort of off-the-grid this past week while on a sailing trip in Greece with A Dot in the Blue, and it was so liberating. I plan on doing it again soon!
T: Which country has the friendliest people?
S: It’s hard to make that conclusion if I’ve only visited a place for a short period of time. However, out of all the places I’ve spent a month or more, I’d say it’s between Indonesia and Ireland. If you even look a little lost, an Irish person will come up to you and ask how they can help. I was astounded by how friendly and curious everyone was and how safe the country is overall.
I felt the same in Indonesia. People went above and beyond to welcome me. I spent two months there and didn’t speak any Indonesia and relied a lot on strangers to help me communicate. I’m normally quite independent so I had a hard time with this, but I’m grateful for all the people that helped make my time there amazing.
T: What’s the best piece of travel advice you’ve received?
S: Saying yes often leads to unexpected adventures.
T: What’s the worst piece of travel advice you’ve received?
S: Not to travel solo because it’s not safe. Or not to travel to certain destinations because they aren’t safe. Every country has its safe and unsafe places.
T: How many countries have you visited?
T: How are you documenting your trip?
S: I write blog posts and take a ridiculous number of photos!
T: What’s the most reliable source of travel advice?
I find that bloggers based in specific countries have been great resources in helping me plan trips. Same with the Like a Local website as well as people I’ve met on Couchsurfing hangouts.
T: What’s been the best street food you’ve had?
S: Singapore takes the cake for clean, delicious and affordable street food! They have a huge variety of cuisines too. Malaysia (KL) is a close second, especially because as a Muslim country, I rarely have to worry about accidentally eating pork.
T: What destination have you found to be overrated?
S: Paris. I could write an essay about why I dislike Paris to be honest. It’s a beautiful city, but the Parisians are by far the rudest people I’ve encountered in all my travels. It’s a shame because it really ruined the experience for me.
T: Which country you’ve been so far has the best weather?
S: I’m from Los Angeles, California so the weather truly does not get better than there. Mild temperatures, dry heat, and access to beaches, cities and mountains. Call me biased, but there’s no place like home.