Meet Fathima Jaleel, The Malayali Who Found Joy And Strength By Travelling

Travelling is addictive. We rediscover ourselves during our journeys. Before travelling, we need to be aware of many things. From planning to execution, the life cycle of a journey involves many steps. We thought of bringing an exemplary journey of a girl who loves to travel, and her story will inspire you. Meet Fathima Jaleel, an enthusiastic traveller and a PhD scholar in Hindi Literature from Kollam. We had a brief chit-chat about her travel experiences; check it out.

Tell us about your first trip- a solo trip specifically.

Ladakh was my dream.

After detailed research, I found a group called Youth Hostel that helped me see Ladakh. I always had budget-friendly ways to think since I was low on savings.

So after my first trip, I didn’t feel like coming back. You might think many of us feel the same; what’s the big deal about it? Well, my Ladakh trip got extended. From there, I went to Kashmir. Yes, you heard me right Avdennu oru bus kayari nere Kashmir, and from there, I went to Jammu Tawi. And then, I slowly decided to visit Amritsar- Golden Temple. From there, I went to Shimla, Manali and Delhi, I don’t know how, but I survived a 20-day trip as a solo traveller on my very first solo trip.

I made impromptu plans and travelled as my heart desired. I told my parents, who luckily didn’t oppose me. And just like that, I got to know one of the most beautiful addictions of my life.

As I returned home, I knew very well that I wouldn’t stop this any time soon.

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The problems, fun elements, and concerns while you travel as a woman

As a girl, be prepared. Challenges can go beyond your expectations.

Travelling can throw unexpected issues on you at the most unexpected time. But you can stay confident and not lose your sense to act, react and respond. You could be scared deep down, but the idea is to pretend as if you have got this.

People might stare at you, stalk you and eve-tease you. Your confidence speaks up a lot during such situations. Be it travelling via train, bus or walking around places. People can make you uncomfortable.

And never share your itinerary with any strangers. You will come across many when travelling solo. Talk when needed. We are here to make memories and see places. You don’t need to share your details or other plans with anyone you meet during journeys. Such small things can matter a lot. Be sensible. You are travelling in a world filled with dangers. You won’t have a safety net across. Be alert.

Try to blend in. For example, once, I was in crossing Kargil and suffered from a high fever. From a nearby shop, I asked for some haldi milk. That lady thought that I was a Kashmiri travelling to Srinagar. And I didn’t change her perception because the plan was to blend in.

How women-friendly are the places in our country when it comes to travel, staying and exploring journeys?

I will be very honest. Women-friendly places are rare. One might come across many situations which can make you uncomfortable. But trust me; you will have a lot of good experiences too. And remember to be confident and clear about what you want to do and where you wish to explore. Just keep the plan ready if you are alone.

Follow your instincts and be sensible.

Can you suggest some clubs, agencies, or travel-related profiles for women who want to start their travel dreams?

There are a lot of agencies that support women with safer journeys. Currently, I am a travel coordinator with an agency, but there are many clubs too that can help you with planning and travelling. I take many teams integrated with my team while going on trips. I work for “Let’s go for a camp“. They are pioneers in this field with around seven years of experience. “Srishti” is their women-centric campaign which plans and executes trips involving only women. The coordinator is also a girl for such trips. I went on my first trip with Srishti, and the experience made me work with them today. There is also a trekking group called youth hostlers which is a mixed group rather than a women-only one.

I cannot take other names because I haven’t personally been a part of their trips. But to everyone’s surprise, this field has many more firms than one can imagine.

Why travelling? What made you decide to travel this often?

Travelling is therapy. It is a teacher. You change with each journey. It is never just moving around or watching places. It is a lot more than that. You meet people., witness their stories, become a part of them unknowingly and make them a part of your life in return.

When I first travelled, it was more of a self-discovery journey. I learn that I am so much more than what I know about myself. It makes me happy. Immensely happy.

I come closer to nature after each trek. I feel elated when people thank me for helping them with their dream journeys. I feel as if I am doing justice to my dreams and life. It is a feeling beyond words can ever express.

What were the initial challenges when you began to travel?

My inner fears –

  • Can I do it?
  • What if things go wrong?
  • How will I survive obstacles alone?

We set our boundaries. My mindset was restricted in many aspects. I had to fight with myself first. I had difficulty understanding the very basic thing- “YOU CAN”.

The next challenge was convincing my family. For an authentic and traditional family, it was had to make them understand what I wanted to do and why I wanted it. It was a slow-paced trust development because I could hardly travel alone. I had to demonstrate several times that I could look after myself and return safely.

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The biggest hurdle I still face is answering society. I think it is gender specific. As a girl, our society expects you to answer everyone and everything. I am constantly questioned about my choices. But then, I think it is very commonly faced by most women yet hard to deal with.

So, I have slowly started to come to terms with this, and I am learning to break this barrier of societal questioning. I have also started to handle finances better to travel more.

May we know your dream destination?

To be honest, none. I want to travel often. Be it a closer place or a different country, I am in for the experience. But I would want to go to the Everest Base Camp someday. Also, a great lake trek is on my bucket list.

I am not at all choosy about places. I happily take any travel opportunity that I get because, in the end, the journeys count more than the destinations.

Your best and worst travel experiences so far.

First snowfall. It was in Ladakh while crossing Khardung La pass. I was with a group of elderly women. It was the first snowfall of my life. It is a high-altitude region. You might experience oxygen issues there. But that day, we experienced snowfall for around two hours due to a considerable traffic block. That’s one of my best experiences. Also, people remember you unexpectedly. That makes your day! They come to you and talk about your well-being. I love that.

I have had challenges. But I have never let them make my journeys bad. I have missed trains. I have lost my wallet filled with IDs, money and all. I had to file a complaint at the nearby police station in Amritsar at around three am in the morning (because I couldn’t find the station). It was a horrible thing to happen, but I got a lot of experience. The police helped me with everything, and luckily I had a card inside the phone case to withdraw money.

But even after all this, I forgot everything that had happened when I stepped into the golden temple. I felt surreal. If things don’t work your way, try to cope with the other ways.

If you are comfortable sharing, can you tell me some instances where you felt unprepared or weak in a situation? It could be any random travel instance where you felt uneasy due to the people around you or the safety factor.

No such situations so far. I will tell you the reason. I never had a situation that wasn’t under my control. My childhood was pretty brutal. It was filled with uneasy situations, body shaming, and a judgmental atmosphere. So, I never felt I had to face anything more complicated than that during my journey. I might have fallen sick or lost track of place, but I have faced them with utmost courage and sensibility. Nothing can ever make travelling unpleasant for me.

Here again, it is how I respond and react to upcoming situations. That changes the whole game.

Do you have any tips for young travellers who are mere beginners?

Homework. Learn about the places that you go to. Try to know about the specialities and the best time to visit. Do not disclose your personal information to any strangers. While booking, be careful. Because what they show on websites might differ from the actual rooms. Also, check availability from your room to nearby bus stops, airports, and metro stations. Be careful and choose a place with reasonable accessibility.

Also, save a few emergency contacts. Tell your entire travel plan to a close friend or acquaintance. At least one person should know about it in case of an emergency. If you are going to a place where a mobile network is not there, make provisions for that. Always carry liquid money because you never know when a need arises.

Keep money in different bags. Keep them scattered.

5 things that you never travel without would be?

Phone, charger, power bank, liquid cash and IDs and if you go trekking, do not forget your shoes!

How do you handle your expenses and budgets while travelling?

The first solo trip was entirely from my savings. Investments in share markets are also an option to generate money to travel. As I mentioned, I work as a travel coordinator as a part-timer, which helps me with some amount. And other than that, I also work as a travel guide which helps me to travel with less expense. You can create content and blog about it. Other options include videography and so while you travel. I make money in these ways.

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The next five places on your bucket list would be…

North-East states

Kedarkantha trek

Everest Base Camp

The great lake trek

I would love to go back to every place I have been to. Every place is a new picture when you go back. It shows you some other shades which you might have never noticed previously. For example, I have been to Ladakh, Kashmir, four to five times. But if I get a chance, I will go there again. Places are little mysteries. You can never solve them, and the urge to see more encourages you to return whenever possible. Every journey is a new story.

How do you choose the mode of transportation? What do you prefer the most? And how do you decide where to stay?

I prefer train journeys as a primary mode of transportation. It is cheap and budget-friendly. Also, we benefit from having many people around, making me feel safer. Depending on your budget, you can travel in ac or non-AC compartments. There are regular government buses available too. So I choose them too.

And for stays, you can easily find hostel facilities around. If female dorms are available, I choose them; if not, the normal dorms also serve the purpose. I prefer them to hotels to cut shot expenses.

Is this your voyage to be a travel blogger that we are witnessing?

Maybe. I don’t mind being a travel blogger. It is fun to share stories. People who love stories, come and listen too! So, this could be a slow transition.

Let’s get into something profound and insightful – what does travel give you which makes you decide to go back to it after every time you come back from one?

Peace. Happiness. Satisfaction

I feel at peace while I travel. I met my inner strength.

I might sound like a motivational speaker with all positive adjectives here, but I agree with the famous saying about making your passion a profession. So, whenever I return from a trip, my heart races in excitement about the next adventure I will be going to.

I feel blissful.

Can you tell us five things no one tells you about when you travel but need to know?

Carry your confidence with your luggage.

Don’t forget to enjoy yourself despite the obstacles.

Ask for help when needed- don’t think you have everything under control when you don’t!

Make memories and try to bring back a souvenir for you to remember every journey.

A journey is not a task to be fulfilled. Make sure you don’t treat it likewise.

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Padma Nair
Techie in pursuit of a passion. I live on a shore with scribbles, stories, sarcasm and people who like to smile often!

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