Episode OverviewIn this episode, Nabila shares her experiences as a solo-traveler and how she visited 30+ countries while being a full-time student. Coming from a traditional South Asian family, Nabila talks about being the girl that always followed the rules and stayed on the path that her parents wanted for her: going to pharmacy school, getting a job, marrying, and having a family. But when Nabila found herself miserable during school, she decided to make a change. She tells us about overcoming familial and societal pressures to empower herself and beginning her journey as a solo traveler. Nabila believes traveling has been her greatest teacher and shares the invaluable lessons, as well as some fun (and not so fun) memories she made along the way.
CEO - Edvo
Nabila IsmailNabila Ismail found her passion for traveling as a way to escape college after being so stressed and pressured from her parents. What started off as one trip to get away and learn Spanish, turned into a wild travel bug. Over 30 countries later, Nabila has worked abroad at a hostel, been on a safari in Tanzania, volunteered at a HIV Clinic in Zimbabwe, and bungee jumped in Costa Rica. Her solo adventures have changed the way she sees the world, what she wants to do with her career, and how she wants to live her life.
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Shireen Jaffer 0:00
Hi, everybody. Welcome to the Edvolution podcast where we question what makes our life truly ours. I’m Shireen Jaffer and I’m very excited to introduce you to some incredible people with fascinating stories. I’ve got Nabila Ismail here with me, I came across her through, I don’t actually know to be like, I feel like we came across from a variety of different places. But what got me really excited about Nabila is I saw an Instagram post where she was talking about being a solo woman traveler, having traveled in over 30 countries. So it’s something that being a solo traveler is something that I’ve talked a lot about in the past. It’s something that I encourage a lot of women and men and anyone really to go down or explore. But anyways, I’m super excited to have you Nabila here to share your story and your journey with us. Thank you so much for being here.
Nabila Ismail 0:57
Thank you so much for having me. I love it. good opportunity to talk about travel because that is literally the only thing that gets me really excited. And especially during these current times, I can’t really travel so I like talking about it just to like remind me of all the good times I’ve had.
Shireen Jaffer 1:14
I love that and hopefully they’ll inspire some good traveling for people once things, you know, so tell me a little bit and so where Where did this thirst for traveling really start for you? what sparked this interest?
Catching the Travel Bug (1:32)
Nabila Ismail 1:32
You know, I’m not really sure. I know, like the one big moment but I feel like there was a few defining moments beforehand. I think one factor that was at play was just being like my family immigrated to the US. So my mom’s side of the family are all in Pakistan. So I traveled quite a bit as a kid and I feel like it’s just kind of carried on like I had been to Pakistan maybe like eight times before I turn like 12 So just going back and forth between two different places, I feel like probably played a factor. And then when I was in high school, I had a French student come live with me for two weeks and then I went to go live with her for two weeks. What really kicked it off and like, when I caught the bug I said, I guess was probably my freshman year of college. I bought a one way flight to Madrid, Spain during finals week of school and I was going to go be a nanny, and I just bought this ticket. I really don’t know what possessed me to do something during finals week. Like I probably should have been paying attention to my finals. But once that trip, that trip kind of just changed everything. I yeah, I haven’t stopped traveling since
Shireen Jaffer 2:49
that’s incredible. I mean, I so I’m back assigned to you, by the way, I didn’t even realize that about you. Now, okay, so now that we know totally resume With the type of upbringing, probably curious, like, Why so so it seems like your parents did encourage traveling growing up, and that was kind of part of your childhood.
Nabila Ismail 3:12
I don’t know if they really encouraged it. I mean, going back to see family was one thing that was like their prime primary reason for like the travel. But this whole, like French student thing, I think it was. I don’t think they really know what they were signing me up for. Like, I don’t really know, I’ve asked them about it afterwards. And they were like, really upset when it came time to like pay for the trip. And like, are you sure you want to go? And I was like, Yeah, I want to go like she stayed with us. Like, I want to go see what her life’s all about. And then they kind of just sat me, but I really still don’t know, because none of my siblings got to do it afterwards. Well, thank you since it was a school thing that I definitely cared a lot more Wait, like, they have never supported me the same way afterwards.
Shireen Jaffer 3:56
Interesting. So yeah, you know, the reason why I was so intrigued by your story and so excited to share it is because I have so many conversations with my girlfriends who are from South Asian backgrounds. And I don’t think this is limited to just the South Asian culture. I think it’s prevalent in other cultures as well. But, you know, as a woman, it’s a pretty big deal to just go travel alone. And growing up, you know, a lot of what I was made cautious of is, you know, don’t go anywhere alone. And if you’re going to go travel, make sure you have you know, guy friends with you and, you know, other friends and and only go to certain places you can’t go travel and all these different countries. I mean, there was a lot of stigma, and a lot of fear. So I’m curious when you did catch that bug, and you did start traveling, and we’ll talk a lot about, you know, a lot of the epiphanies you had along the way but I’m, I’m really curious, how did your parents feel about it and what type of and not just your parents but even maybe a community You’re part of relatives anything like that? What are the opinions? You heard when you started back travel journey?
Nabila Ismail 5:07
Okay, so I totally understand and I have fought this battle for a really long time. The reason why I started was because I was really unhappy at school and just felt like something had to give like I wasn’t doing what I wanted to be doing. I had moved away to college, which was a big deal itself, because I think I was the first one in my family to even like, go away to school, but I’ve just had like a really rough year. And I don’t know if I had was studying something maybe I wasn’t passionate about that’s like what I have always thought that maybe it was just like, I wasn’t going down the path I wanted to. And so I wanted to learn Spanish so I decided to go live with this family. And I think that’s kind of how I entered the world of solo travel. Like I had this cushion where I was going to go live with this family, so I wasn’t going to be completely alone. Was hopefully when we would like a family who was going to take care of me and wasn’t like a criminal or anything like that. So that’s kind of what started at all. And the backlash was pretty, pretty intense because I don’t know about you, but a lot of my friends and anyone who really goes to college like the summers are used to like, you either work, you do your internships, you go back home, because like you haven’t seen your family in that long. And when I told my parents that I was going, they were really shocked, but I had paid for the flight myself. And I basically was like, if you don’t need to go like, I need to be refunded because there’s all the money I have, like. So like, if you can refund me like right now, like, I guess I won’t go, but I knew they weren’t going to do that. So I don’t know where the sense of like, courage came from me. I think it might have been like moving away to school like I had the worst Like semester I was so so like miserable and I wanted to be home like I didn’t like dorm food I did not like my dorm I miss my bed at home and being able to do that kind of gave me the courage to go travel. And yeah, I mean, I guess I could go on about the backlash but my mom got all sorts of tax and like, Oh, where’s gonna be like, Why isn’t she here? Like, why isn’t she here for rums on? Like it’s eat like, Where is she? What is she doing this summer she preparing for like an internship. And my mom would text me all the time saying like, like you should be here. I’m with this family and they’re asking like where you are, or they’re like taking a summer class like their, their kids are taking a summer class or doing this for school and you’re in another country like oh pairing or nannying. So it was definitely hard. I don’t know if they still get it but it was something I had to do once I came back I think they maybe have seen like how like different I was one I got back from that trip like it was life changing.
Shireen Jaffer 8:03
And I’m so I’m so excited to talk about all the life changing moments. But, you know, going back to the, the backlash yet I, I talked to so many of my friends that can’t find the courage to just take that leap into bettering themselves and their interests and you know, go book that ticket, right, and we’ll talk about finances and whatnot. But I have found that the ones that have and I personally did this as well, I think the first time I did it was when I was 19. So you know, I’m happy to share that as well. But I’ve seen that once people do and then they come back. Their parents oftentimes do see the difference in their thinking, their actions, their perspectives, that makes them appreciate that journey for them more, but during that bad journey of just making the decision to even take that trip and allow themselves to travel. And this is so much more than just solo traveling right? Really what you did was you chose to bet on yourself and have faith in a decision that you wanted to make. And despite what anyone told you, including your parents, you stuck to your guns and you did it. And I’m glad that what it’s been, what, four or five years, is that the start of that journey?
Affording Travel and Finding Unique Opportunities (9:17)
Nabila Ismail 9:17
Yeah, it’s about seven years now.
Oh wow. Seven years later and has only continued. So that is awesome. All right. So tell me, tell me more about that time in Spain. First of all, the family you found was that through school, like how did you find that family?
I had found my family actually through a website that my friend had told me about. So my best friend was probably my biggest inspiration in going to go be an Au Pair because she had done it for a year. She was doing it that year, to taking a gap year and there’s a website called opare world dotnet and there’s a whole like, industry of au pairs and I had Found this free website and basically was like, like online dating for a family. So not find it through school. And my parents were definitely not happy, but I just found a family on the internet. Yeah,
Shireen Jaffer 10:13
that’s, that’s wild, but I’m assuming they do background checks and all that good stuff.
Nabila Ismail 10:18
Yes, at least I hope.
Shireen Jaffer 10:22
So, I mean, I’m not endorsing this by any means. But for my listeners, there are opportunities, especially after obviously, it becomes more feasible to travel. But that’s a neat story. Because I do think one of the, you know, one of the concerns, I think people who are interested in solo traveling, but want to be more cautious about it, and have that quote, unquote, safety net that you mentioned, are opportunities like this, you know, a guaranteed job or, you know, a community that they can travel alongside with, so they’re not really alone, even though technically they’re solo traveling. So that’s awesome. Thanks for sharing that. And then you had mentioned the build that you also paid for This yourself. And that’s the second concern I hear from people is I just can’t afford to travel. So tell me about how you afford your travel. Did you? You know, did you grow up privileged? It was clear that your parents weren’t funding your travel. So tell me a little bit more about that.
Nabila Ismail 11:17
Okay, well, I definitely don’t come from a rich family. I will say that I’m very fortunate for everything my parents have given me. And they did not pay for my travels. They did pay for like, things like here and there that I’m really grateful for that would have like helped me and affording my own travels like phone bills and things like that. But I am probably what you call a workaholic. I got my first job at 14 when it was like when you’re allowed to, and I’ve been working since then at multiple places, but the most constant one was this gift shop that I stayed for like for eight years. And I just saved all my money because There’s nothing to do in upstate New York. And yeah, it just came at a great time. So when I wanted to go, I had a good savings. And that’s kind of been how it is like for me, up until now, like I had been paying for everything myself working. God knows how many different jobs, I’ve had probably over 20 jobs. And it has come really handy because it all worked out and allowed me to do what I love.
Shireen Jaffer 12:25
That’s awesome. And I know, you know, before this, our only conversation has been through like email and Instagram dm, LinkedIn messages. But in one of your Instagram posts, I also saw that you also hacked the jobs you had in a way you really identified where you could it was more bang for your buck, where you could spend less hours but have more, you know, larger hourly rate and things like that. So it’s awesome. I think that’s definitely a great motivation to figure out how you can do things that you love and how you can pay for those things. I don’t think there’s a Better motivation than bad when it comes to making money? Yeah. Okay, so tell me So you said, I went to Spain and when I came back, my parents saw the change in me. So talk to us about that first summer. What were the big experiences?
How Travel Changes Us (13:21)
Nabila Ismail 13:21
Oh, wow. I feel like there’s just so many and it just makes me so happy to talk about because I can still feel like that whole trip right now and like how it’s like changed me even till now. Like, for one I would not even be on this podcast right now. If I hadn’t gone to Spain. I wouldn’t even be talking to you right now. I wouldn’t have connected with you through the various ways that we have met. So that’s for one, but I think so before I went to Spain. I grew up in a very small like a suburb in upstate New York. I was Very quiet and soft spoken, I was just going on the path that my parents wanted for me. And I didn’t know any better. There weren’t really any aspirations of myself, like, I didn’t want anything for myself. I had like, no, I guess goals or dreams. It was just to, like, get a job, have a family and like, do what my parents said. And I thought that was really it. But all throughout that first year, I was doing what they wanted. I was studying pharmacy, and I just don’t feel happy. I was off to college, I fought to go away to school, which was something my parents didn’t really want me to do. They wanted me to stay home. And I was really happy that I had the opportunity to go away. But then I didn’t feel happy. So I guess I was just struggling internally, like I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do everyone else at school, like, we’re really passionate about what they’re studying. We’re really involved in like organizing And sports and like, we’re just so like gung ho about like their future and I just wasn’t. And so when I went to Spain, I had gone because I had an underlying love for like different cultures and languages. And I told my parents that the reason I was going was to learn Spanish. And I did do that. So for one, I learned a whole nother language that I was really pretty good at, like talking in Spanish and like, listening to people in Spanish and just having conversations. Obviously, my Spanish isn’t as good right now. But that was one thing. I came back with a new skill set, but also going to another country at the age of 18. All by yourself and kind of having free rein like, your parents aren’t there to tell you what to do. Like there’s no one there. I learned how to trust my guts. Like I said, I literally went into effect home that I had no idea who they were, had never met them. I trusted my guts to go stay with them. I took care of three children under the age of six who didn’t speak the same language I did. So I had to speak to them in English and my main purpose was trying to teach them English while being like a babysitter slash like, like an older sister. So I was put in a weird situation the family did not cook they did not really treat me all that well. They eat like pork and things I didn’t eat. So it was like a whole like learning experience of how to put myself out there how to like understand a different culture. speaking up for myself, navigating myself in a country that doesn’t speak the language I know. I also met like so many friends like I had to put myself out there had to go on Facebook and like find others pears and like go meet up with strangers like we would always meet at this McDonald’s. That was a big McDonald’s that had Wi Fi because I didn’t even have cell service there. I refuse to buy like a new SIM card. Because I didn’t want it to take away from my experience where like, where I had to force myself to ask someone like, how do I get here? Like if I could just easily Google it, I don’t think my experience would have been the same. So I would like meet up with these people I’d never met I would talk to strangers. I really had to put myself out there and for someone who was so shy and like, introverted, that was so difficult.
Shireen Jaffer 17:37
That is so cool. I so I really want to call out something that you mentioned, and I really want to highlight it. The fact that you forced yourself to not buy a new sim because you knew you wouldn’t step outside of your comfort zone as much as you already were, but you would limit yourself if you had that convenience. And I think that is you know, like Self forcing function that I think a lot of people underestimate or, or we’re just not aware of, I don’t think it’s about estimate underestimating. But we’re just not aware of, you know, putting those requirements on ourselves but in a good way of just like allowing ourselves to explore and be uncomfortable and, and test ourselves and test our reactions. And I think a lot of people surprised themselves by how much they’re able to actually do in those situations. And I’m sure you’ve surprised yourself too. I would love to know you know, during that first experience, what were some things that really surprised you about you?
Nabila Ismail 18:41
yeah, I mean, that fact in itself surprises a lot of people going back now I pretty like amazed that I even did that or sometimes I wonder if it’s because I didn’t know how to get a different Sam but but no, I I think I’m surprised on how, like I mentioned, the experience was a little bit rough in the terms of like, the family wasn’t so great. And the situation wasn’t really what I had, like signed up for. I think what really surprises me is that I had bought a one way ticket and I like stuck it out for like three months, pretty much the whole time until like, it was time to go back to college again. And there were definitely moments where I was like, What am I doing here and like, I’m staying with a family that I don’t think is really treating me like all that great. And like, I’m not really making any money and like, what am I learning here? And I think the whole like mentality thing kind of really came to play like, why am I not doing an internship? Why am I not working like I am a true workaholic. So to be like taking care of kids in another country and not like, per se doing the norm kind of really surprises me because I’ve always been the girl who follows the rules and like I think that’s probably the biggest thing. And once like I kind of broke that barrier, everything else just kind of came out I was able to like, just like really enjoy the experience and like, try everything, like not getting my phone, like changing the sim. I think my favorite memory about the whole situation was I really learned to trust, I guess, strangers, but I made this friend off the Au Pair group. And she also did not change her Sim. And we like I said, we always met at this McDonald’s. And I had taken the wrong bus and then the wrong train. I had no idea where it was. And I was supposed to meet my friend like, in an hour’s time, and I had gotten so lost and we I got to the McDonald’s like three hours after the meeting time, and she was still there. She was still there. And I think that’s like it, like trying these things that I normally wouldn’t have kind of we’re all Working out. So it just made me like want to go about the way I was doing it, which was like not how I would normally go about it at home.
Shireen Jaffer 21:07
That’s beautiful. And God, she was still there. That’s super encouraging. Yeah, I think and I think there’s another incredible point you made that I totally resonate with is once you break that barrier for yourself, and you cross that boundary for yourself, you realize, oh, if I did it once, I can do it again. And your confidence builds and, you know, experience builds that confidence, so very happy to hear that availa Okay, so you’re back in the states and you’re back in college. But obviously, you then you now have traveled over 30 countries. So tell us more about how you keep once you come back is that by the way? What coming back to America coming back to college? Does your vision for yourself change at all? Do you realize the dreams you maybe had before or not? dreams you have after this travel experience?
Gaining Confidence From Solo Travel (22:04)
Nabila Ismail 22:04
Yes, so much so, I guess so when I came back the first time, I noticed a new level of confidence that I had never had. So for example, like this is something like so menial, but to me like it was really major at that point, like, when I got back from school or from that trip, I had applied to be an RA. And like, I was not really in a position to be like a leader or to like kind of looking after like other students at school or like communicating even with that many students. And I had applied for it and I had gotten the job and like, at first I wasn’t going to take it but then I felt so like liberated and so like able to talk to so many different people after that trip. That’s just an example. I took that job and I would probably have never taken that job. Yeah, yeah. Before that trip. I probably I wanted to live in New York City, because I was so gung ho About like the hustle and living in the city because I don’t know New York City just really gives me that feel like that’s where you go for your work dreams. And here I am sitting in Los Angeles, which is was never really part of the plan.
Shireen Jaffer 23:15
What really influenced you do not want to be a part of New York City, like what was that experience that influence that changed the mindset.
Nabila Ismail 23:26
So I guess after being to 30 different countries, and most of my travels have been like extended travel, so for like two to three months, and it’s always like me backpacking, so I’m always staying in like hostels where I’m meeting other people. And I have met the most incredible people who have from like doctors to like engineers to people and entertainment lawyers who have all left like at one point either quit their job to travel and the way these backpackers and travelers carry them Is with so much like life like, we never really talked about, like work. I feel like if you’re in the US or like in your day to day life, like if you meet someone, the first thing you ask is like, Hey, what’s your name? And like, what do you do? Well, like when you’re traveling, you never asked with the person dies, like the first thing is like, oh, like, Where are you coming from? Like, what country? Have you been to? And like, what are you doing here? And like, where are you? Like, what are you doing tomorrow? Like, where are you going? And I think I just learned that like work wasn’t as important. And once I started talking to this people, I found talking about like, where they had been their unique like life stories, travel stories of like, this person going to Antarctica or this person, like doing this or going on safari in Africa is way more interesting. And it seems like when you meet people from outside of the US, they definitely seem to have more of a work life balance and really appreciate the part where they can go enjoy their life. And it’s it’s pretty much a known fact. They’re like people in the seats don’t get enough time off. And like, people in Europe have so much more time off. I think Sweden’s got like six weeks. And like some countries are even adopting like a four day work schedule. And just meeting so many people over and over again, who talked about like their travels and their life and what they’ve learned, and it doesn’t have any relation to their work has just really impacted me like, yeah, like, sure I want to degree in my career, but I also want to see like every country possible and like, I want to go to like all seven continents. To me, that sounds more important and like, more exciting, almost like, life is so short. And I think, if anything, I think a lot of us have felt that over this like hard time like we are restricted to going anywhere. And like for me, I feel so grateful that I’ve already been to so many places, because now like no one can go anywhere really. So I think there’s been like a lot of different situations that I’ve kind of led up to Like, yeah, your career will be there or not, because so many people have also lost their jobs like, like, if I lost my job today, like, I would still be able to say like, I’ve had all these great experiences and those like have stayed with me forever, like I’ve already said about Spain, like, I can still feel the effects of what happened in Spain and the benefits to this day.
Shireen Jaffer 26:20
Yeah, that’s, that’s incredible. And I think it’s such an important reminder, definitely being able to explore and the people I’ve met, and the lessons I’ve learned through those experiences abroad and just mixing with cultures, those have inspired so much of what I do now. And you know, so many of my actions and my mindset and how I think about different things. So, I absolutely agree with that, especially with, you know, the hard time we’re going right now, those things that keep us encouraged and grateful. I’m very happy to hear that. Now, a lot of what you mentioned, as far as I know, meeting people outside of America and right Recognizing and understanding the values they have, and how they see work and how they see life. You know, a lot of that is opposite to what we grew up in when it comes to the South Asian culture, right? I mean, America definitely. But then also being South Asian. I, I’m not gonna speak for you, but I have a feeling where you probably came from similar experiences, your sense of stability was really important in the way I grew up and having a job and you know, doing our best and keeping our head down and, and that obedience and that you know, work ethic but when I say work ethic, really the definition growing up was, you know, work really hard. Don’t say anything, keep your head down, do what you’re asked to do. Make your money succeed, and then you know, then do what you want after that. So as you’re going on these journeys, and I’m sure you know, as you’ve come back, you’re sharing your learnings with your with your community, and your friends, and your Family. What are you noticing? Do you feel like people you’re talking to? When you come back are resonating with what you have to share? Do you feel like they’re just Well, how are they reacting? What have you noticed?
Family Reactions and Solo Travel as a Woman (28:17)
Nabila Ismail 28:17
So, I mean, okay, so we definitely have like the similar background, and I totally understand what you’re saying. So I guess we have very similar upbringings. But um, my closest friends and family I would say, probably haven’t really understood the way I’ve wanted to live my life, but I think I’ve created and fostered like an online community where I see other people doing what I want to be doing, and they also understand me. So that has been super helpful to be connected with people who are very like minded. But when it comes to like, the South Asian community, I really like revel in the fact like whenever I meet some On who has even solo travel or done something out of the ordinary that their parents or family wouldn’t approve of. But it I see that a lot of people reach out to me because it is something so difficult for a lot of people to do. I think there’s a lot more people out there going about it. But I feel like people are still really, really hesitant and they just have a hold on themselves. And I still feel like I second guess myself, and don’t make all the decisions I would want to without thinking about what the South Asian community would say. So it’s really difficult because I’ve always wanted to actually quit my job and go travel for a year and I haven’t been able to do that because the whole talk about stability. Yeah, most people don’t find it something that they can do, but even like, what I want to do is to help A woman from a South Asian community just to go on one trip by themselves or do something that they have not done because of what others might think. It doesn’t even have to be like, repeatedly. But I’m all about being the inspiration and the motivator to like, go do just make that one change. Yeah, one, like we talked about once you break that barrier, it gets easier over time. But it’s really difficult to just make that one change, but I think it’s worth it.
Shireen Jaffer 30:32
Yeah, I agree. As you’ve been traveling Nabila What have you noticed about the type of people you meet? What, what backgrounds or races Do you see more of? Do you see more men than women? Do you see? You know, I do see a lot of South Asian women as you’re traveling. What are some things you’ve experienced?
Nabila Ismail 30:56
Hmm, um, I honestly don’t think I’ve met another South Asian traveler. I’m like, that’s a female on my travels, like I’m really trying to think right now and no one comes to mind. I’ve only met them like virtually online like not on the same trip. I’ve never met someone who was a south from the South Asian community. That was a female traveling I have definitely met some guys from like India and other countries that were South Asian, but very few, like I would say probably less than five. Mostly I see groups of Europeans and Australians, mostly Australians. I feel like the Australians travels so so much. I’m in groups, mostly, but I’ve read a lot of solo travelers, but not that many in the South Asian community. Interesting.
So as a South Asian solo traveler, how do people react to you? Do they react in any specific way? I’m curious to hear your experiences. there.
Yeah, I mean, most Yeah, I get a lot of comments and DMS all the time on Instagram, like, how do you do it? Mostly questions like, how did you get your parents to do it? Like, Are you married? Like, are you sure like you’re going alone? Like, like my parents would never let me do unless I’m married. I get a lot of comments about that. And I tried to be really open about it because it wasn’t something my parents had ever really been opened about or supportive. It was something I really did take the leap on. People are always really inquisitive and like, trying to get like advice like, so I really appreciate that. So yeah. Interesting.
Shireen Jaffer 32:41
Yeah, I am. I remember when so my my solo traveling experience at 19 which was my first one. I guess it actually wasn’t intentionally solo traveling. So I I definitely had, I guess for lack of better words, a crutch a hug to propel me into that. Although experience I went on spring break with three of my girlfriends, and then we went to Mexico and we so I got there but then I realized a lot of what I wanted to do was different than what my girlfriends wanted to do activities wise. So I ended up I guess kind of solo traveling in the sense that I spent that entire week just doing everything by myself. I think there was like one activity we all three or all four of us did together in that entire week, but everything else I kind of just like did by myself and I remember I went to I got my backpack I got on this bus. I went to this like we went to to lose the bus took me to to loom It was like a three hour bus ride. And I remember I was just like on this bus with all these people that were coupled up or were group of friends and I was the only one and this like mom and her three daughters that were traveling together and I think they were from Canada. They ended up just like adopting me spending the whole day with me. But they were so shocked that they were like, well, you might, you must just be from here that you’re so comfortable doing this by yourself. And when I told them that no, I barely speak Spanish, I’m definitely not. From here. They felt like they had to adopt me for my safety. Like it was so foreign to them to see a woman from a different culture traveling by herself, and they were wonderful and I had such a good time but I definitely have seen really interesting reactions on my solo trips less about my culture but more about me being a woman traveling alone. Any like, have you had those experiences? You know, culture aside, just being a woman that’s solo traveling Like what? You know, what hesitations have people shared with you? What experiences have you had on those on those journeys?
The Generosity of Strangers (34:57)
Nabila Ismail 34:57
Yeah, I’ve had plenty of those experiences. Actually, when I went to Africa 20 my travel throughout the continent of Africa and 2018, I was there in Zimbabwe. And I had, I was spending five weeks there for my clinical rotations. I had this family who was Indian Muslim, and they were born and raised in Zimbabwe. And it was a weird story, but basically, I said, I was going to Zimbabwe, and this girl reached out to me and she was Zimbabwe and, and she was like, Oh, I’m Zimbabwe. My family lives there. Like they would love to, like take care of you. And like, if you need anything, let me know. And like, I was like, Oh, that’s so nice. Like, thank you so much. And then once I got there, I didn’t really reach out to them because, like, I was kind of doing my own thing and like, I didn’t really need anything and like, I don’t know, it just felt like a little too far for me to reach out to but she basically like took the liberty to do it anyways and like the family reached out to me and they like to took care of me so well I kind of like what you’re saying. Like they literally adopted me like I went to their house. I like slept over there. They took me on multiple trips, they invited their whole entire family and like I had Chai with them and like cake with them on a Sunday night. And like they would one time I was like, at my apartment, and the electricity went out and there was like, protests there. And so they came over and like, picked me up and like, you’re going to come to our house, like, they were so nice to me. They literally adopted me and kind of changed the whole trip. And that was like one of the stories. I remember when I was also in Zimbabwe. Also, the people of Zimbabwe are so nice. They’re just so hospitable. There was a Zambian lady who lived there, and I was at a manufacturing plant for like pharmaceuticals. And I would take a taxi to get there. And she would just take me home and she was like, No, you don’t need to take a taxi like I’ll take you home like you can catch a ride with me. And then one day she invited me over to her house and taught me how to make money. Local traditional food and choose like if you’re ever scared or if you like, want to stay with me and like, don’t want to be alone, like, come stay with me. Like things like that have happened to me so many times. And those stories often make what make my trip. So like, amazing because I wouldn’t probably have like, those kinds of like interactions if I was with a group, you know?
Shireen Jaffer 37:24
Absolutely, yeah. I mean, you attract a completely different set of interactions, by frankly, taking a chance on yourself and putting yourself out there and being open to experience the experience will complete Jews my belief, yeah. But you know, I know, unfortunately, all the experiences that then combined, you aren’t always positive. So, you know, taking a little shift for a minute. What are some experiences that you have had that have made you really uncomfortable and not the best way? You know, is there anything you want to share there?
Nabila Ismail 37:57
Yeah. So I think that Same way that we’re talking about the positives of being a solo traveler, there definitely has been some downfalls. None of which would have ever stopped me from doing it. But it just always makes you like think differently and like, figure out how to like, assess the situation. So a lot of it has to do with race sometimes. I remember when I was in Italy for three months there would always receive some sort of backlash, like, oh, what are you doing here? Just things like that. Also, people taking advantage of you or catcalling those are always very uncomfortable situations and can happen even in your home like city or like in your country, but they just kind of make you a little bit more nervous when you’re not really in like a comfortable zone or if you don’t really speak the language or if you don’t really know where you are. Other things I think is like getting transportation at night. So I think the one time I was really scared when I was in Tanzania and I just like met up with people at a hospital and they were talking about how they got like robbed and alleyway like when they took like an official taxi. And I was headed back to a major city where they were telling you the story it happened. And they are nothing works on time. So I take an early bus ride in the morning to avoid getting in anywhere at night, which I highly recommend as a major tip like don’t travel at night. But the boss had gotten delayed by like six hours so I’d gotten in Bay later than I had hoped. And I actually like this was one time that I bought a SIM card I bought it during one of the bathroom breaks and bought a SIM card just to like, in case anything happened when I got in the like if I had to call a taxi or police or anything I would have that. And when I got there I tried to get an Uber It was like midnight, I figured Uber was more safer because you can actually see where you’re going and So I got an Uber, but they were all canceling on me over and over again. And I was getting really nervous because like everyone from the bus were like, catching the rides and leaving. And now it was getting dark and like no one was around. And there was this guy who was sitting next to me the whole way there. And we had talked and like, at first I didn’t know if I could trust him if he was like, figured out that I was like, from a different country or like, I don’t know, I didn’t really know if he was someone, I’d want to like, help me out. And I had asked him if he would get in a taxi with me to go to my location, just in case if the taxi wanted to like, take me somewhere that wasn’t supposed to go or like wasn’t to be trusted. And then I told him, I would pay for his taxi fare home, and then like, also give him like, money for like coming with me. And I had gotten really nervous because I couldn’t recognize where we were going. I had been to this place before and like the path was really different. And then they started speaking and like the local English and stuff in English. And so I had gotten really really nervous and that whole way there I was so tense, and luckily had gotten where I wanted to be like safe and sound and the taxi driver and the gentleman who helped me were like both total gems and I was really grateful for that moment because I felt so much more comfortable having someone at least talk to throughout the bus ride and who like cared why I was like nervous. So that’s just like one story that really like rocked me during that time. And I don’t know if it was mostly because of other people’s experiences. But there’s definitely been moments where I’ve been scared about like getting robbed or like, just like, even like taken, I guess, like based on the movies and what everyone tells you. But most of my experiences have been pretty like knock on wood. Like I haven’t had anything traumatic happened to me except for my phone being stolen. And I lost all my photos, which was pretty sad at the time.
Shireen Jaffer 41:58
Yeah, but definitely Yeah, I read there, but thank you for sharing that story. I think one thing that also I want to talk about is just being able to ask for help, I think, you know, so I, you know, I help people with careers and you know, building lives that are meaningful. And one of the biggest things we come across is how fearful people are asking for help from those around them from those that care about them, but just this like, you know, action of asking someone for help and being okay with that vulnerability. It’s a skill that a lot of people lack and really struggle with. And in your situation, I mean, you know, you obviously, were in a situation where you didn’t seem to have that many choices you needed to ask for help. So tell me a little bit more about, you know, like that skill set. Were you always good about asking for help? Is that something that came naturally to you? Or is that something you build over time?
Independence and Learning to Ask for Help (42:57)
Nabila Ismail 42:57
No, it definitely came over time. I’m pretty stubborn. And like to be like, the whole, like independent thing, like, I can do it like, I don’t need help. But I guess over time, like during my travels, I guess not having a SIM card really meant that I had to like go out there and ask for help. And it’s definitely something I’ve gotten really good at and just kind of, like I said, trusting your instincts with that like knowing like, when, when to ask for help or when it’s okay to proceed like by yourself or do something yourself. It happens over time, I think. But I’m really happy that that’s a skill I’ve gotten because it really applies to everything in life, like you should be able to ask for help or delegate like it shouldn’t all fall on you.
Shireen Jaffer 43:43
Totally and speaking of, you know, obviously the reason why I wanted to talk about your story is again, it’s so much more than just traveling and traveling in itself, the experience the exposure, the the awareness that it brings to you is huge. That, however, translates to how you go about life and how you build life. So I’m a huge advocate for traveling. And I often talk to people who again, you know, feel like traveling is for people who have money, and I always fight against that. But all that aside, you know, what skills we’ve talked about this briefly kind of throughout our episode, but what are some core skills or you know, mindset shifts that you’ve really developed, that you owe to traveling that you believe you would not have if you hadn’t started those travel journey for yourself?
Nabila Ismail 44:33
For one decision making, I am probably the most indecisive human being ever. My friends tell me that all the time. And they really are shocked that I’m able to even go to another country and like make these decisions for myself because I can’t even decide what I want to have for dinner. So that was probably like a really big one because sometimes, decisions are very time sensitive, and you need to like make one and execute it right away. And that is something that I’ve learned to do. And because of that, I think a newfound level of confidence. Now, when I make a decision, I don’t like falter and hesitate, like, Did I make the right one, like I made the decision, I’m going to go with it. And that’s something I’m going to keep moving forward with. And I’m not going to look back. And I guess with that, you get a new mindset. So for me, unfortunately, I’ve always been a very negative person. And this is something I have been wanting to change about myself. And when I’m traveling, I think every opportunity, even if it is a negative one turns out to be a very positive opportunity because I either learn something, or I just shift how I’m thinking because if you’re alone, like you can’t, there’s no time to be negative, like you need to like keep your calm and keep your cool and find a way to like, get through the situation. So I’ve really been able to, like, make the most of things that I probably wouldn’t have been able to do before. Like, for example, moving to LA that was not really part of the plan. But I did that all by myself. And once I got here, I had a housing situation lined up, I thought I was being responsible. I thought I was taking care of things. I figured all that out before I got here. Once I got here, that housing situation was not what I expected, and therefore I couldn’t live there. And I was like, homeless for a week. And I really thought I had to live in my car. And I put myself out there in a really weird place. But the story like makes me laugh so hard. I actually met a South Asian traveler, it’s like on Facebook, and I posted that I was in LA and I moved here. And she was like, we should meet up for coffee. And I was like, Yeah, I would love that. Like once I figure out where I’m going to like sleep tonight. And she was like, oh my god like you have to come stay with me like, like, I don’t want you to sleep in your car. And if you can’t afford a hotel for like seven days, like, come stay with me. And that’s like one thing. Like I said, asking for help is something I’ve learned trusting people, but then afterwards once I stayed with her, I went to go look at a listing and the listing was like, atrocious, and I was like, I can’t like live here. So I went to a coffee shop. And the guy was super nice. So like I used as an opportunity to randomly ask him if he knew if someone was subletting an apartment. And he literally was like, Oh my God, that’s the weirdest question ever. But yes, and I signed for like an apartment that day with the person who hooked me up with and it’s moments like those like I don’t think I could have like survived like a week knowing that like I don’t have a housing like place to live like I probably before travel, I would have like moved home and called my parents. I’m like, yep, no, LA is not for me. I’m coming home, like I don’t have somewhere to sleep. But instead, I was at Well to ask for help in like a very weird situation, but make it work out for the best. So is really being able to put myself out there and ask for help or skills that I’ve learned.
Shireen Jaffer 48:13
Yeah, I mean, the overall self reliance and independence, it seems like that you’ve been able to develop is profound. And you know, speaking of our current crisis, a lot of you know, I mean, traveling is traveling is separate, but a lot of the, you know, students I work with and parents I talked to everyone’s kind of freaked out about the fall and whether kids are going to go back to campuses and a lot of colleges have already decided that they’re going fully virtual and, you know, others are still deciding and others have said, well, it’ll be blended. But there’s a lot of this like ambiguity unknown, and something I’m always advocating for as well. Have your kids take a gap year like support your kids taking a gap year if they’re in college right now, or between high school and college or, you know, frankly, I mean gap years can happen at any point in your life. It can happen, you know, when you’re currently in a career if your lifestyle allows that type of flexibility. But I always advocate for that. And one of the things I hear is, well, I don’t want my kid wasting his or her time taking the gap year, I don’t want them to fall behind. And I always say, wow, I really wish you would talk to people that have traveled and that have lived those experiences. Because the first thing they’ll tell you is the amount of skills and awareness and mindset expansions that they’ve experienced from those travels have truly, they’re priceless. I mean, they are things that you could not, you are more likely to not develop during a year of college. And those are frankly, the skills that a lot of adults even struggle with because they never get the opportunity to develop them. Just because of again, you know how our schools are structured and what we emphasize As far as what we should learn, so, I love to hear that I’m so glad you’ve been able to have those experiences. And I will say, you know, travel aside, people can get those experiences from just similar to no avail, you know, just being open to what’s out there and asking for help talking to more people. Right now, if obviously, traveling abroad may not be the most feasible or the best decision, you can do it within your own community. But it starts with opening yourself up to a completely new experience. And looking at the norm and saying, you know what, this doesn’t really work for me or I don’t necessarily see if I can develop the skills that I want to develop through this experience, and being open to a completely different set of experiences.
Nabila Ismail 50:46
Yeah, I love that. I’m happy that you said that it doesn’t really rely just on travel because I definitely don’t think that you need to travel to have some of these experiences is definitely about being open and doing something you normally wouldn’t like you Just Just for me, like, travel was that experience for me like I wouldn’t have been able to figure those out otherwise, but you can definitely find it doing something out of the ordinary, just in your hometown.
Shireen Jaffer 51:12
Where, well, the villa, thank you so much for sharing your story with us and for our listeners who want to follow along and, you know, see what other places you traveled to in the future. How can they follow along on your journey?
Nabila Ismail 51:26
Absolutely. So probably the best place is on Instagram at dose of travel. That’s where I share like most of my stories, and like photos and things like that and tips by also actually also just started my own podcast. It’s called dose of travel. I haven’t released any of them yet, but I’m working on that. So I’m super excited about that because that is something I never thought I would be doing. So definitely for now dose of travel on Insta and also doseoftravel.co
Shireen Jaffer 51:57
incredible cool, I’m stoked to listen to your podcasts. Once it’s live and I’m so happy you chose to, again, take a bet on yourself and move forward with your own podcast.
Nabila Ismail 52:06
Thank you, Shireen. I’m so happy to have connected with you and to be on your show. Super awesome.
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