7 Lesson I’ve Learnt as a Hijabi Traveler

Nerissa Rahadian
6 min readJul 13, 2016

Traveling solo as a muslim girl with hijab can be a little scary and daunting these days. When the word “Islamophobia” is getting more fame for the last couple of years, I totally can relate to all the fear every girls and women travelers with hijab have to face while abroad.

I know it can be very uncomfortable if someone stares at you from head to toe when you’re just eating your lunch at the local park. But, let me remind you that we all muslim women with hijab are just like every traveler in the world. We have the same right to explore every corner of the world and all those fear shouldn’t stop us from traveling.

Here’s the lessons I’ve learnt from all my journeys, why hijab will never stop me from traveling.

  1. The world is still filled by many, many beautiful souls

I kept thinking about how many rude stares and comments I would get in public places along the journey, I kept playing scenarios in my head about how people wouldn’t talk to me because of the thing on my head. I was totally wrong. On Christmas Eve 2008 in Arroyo Grande, California, I spent it in a church because my host-dad is a senior pastor there. I was beyond surprised when everyone welcomed me with warm hugs and asked me many curious questions because “I am the Girl who comes from Indonesia”, not “I am the Muslim Girl who wears Hijab and Went to Church Celebrating Christmas Complete with Hijab On”.

I still remember that time I just got out from the church library to meet up with my host-parents and a few people came to my direction with smiles on their faces, “Are you Nerissa? Welcome to California!” or “Do you like America? It must be a little different from Indonesia, but please enjoy your first Christmas here!”

This is one thing I always try to remember — that everything in this world is already set up in pairs. Black and white. Up and down. Left and right. So are good and bad.

2. The way people treat me depends on the way I treat them

Travelling solo means there’s nobody you can depend on beside yourself. I have no choice but to ask anybody around me. But the thing is, if I don’t make my hijab is an issue, they wouldn’t either.

In Paris, when I was looking for Shakespeare & Co, I politely asked a woman for the direction to the bookstore and what did I have back? Friendly smile and lovely conversation! She even took me to the bookstore!

Now I realized that the fear is only inside our head. There are still so many kind, beautiful people along the way. We just need start nicely and we might be surprised how strangers on the street could turn out to be one of our best friends.

3. Some of them only knew our religion from what they’ve seen on tv and they’re just genuinely curious about it

Yes, it’s only us Muslims who can give them the answers.

“Why are you wearing that? Is that an obligation? Why the other muslim girls aren’t wearing that too?”

This is a simple question but if you can’t answer it correctly and wisely, it could lead you to a misunderstanding.

I always think that I only need to be a good ‘Muslim Agent’ here.

I’ll tell them why I’m wearing that weird clothing on my head; I’ll tell them that I’m doing this because it’s so much more than the symbol of my religion and faith; that it’s one of my identity; that’s I’m wearing it because I know I have the responsibility about it; that nobody can look down on me just because you’re wearing it.

4. The warm and familiar feeling I got when encountering fellow Muslim travellers or locals

Being called out, “Salam, sister!” in the middle of busy market in the city or getting a warm smile from another hijabi stranger along the street are two of the most favorite things I always encounter when abroad.

It’s like He reminds me that no matter how far I go, I’ll never be alone and there will always be kind sisters or brothers along the way.

5. As we’re all in the same path, travellers are the most open-minded people I know

Travellers see more things non-travellers can’t see. Travellers see beyond their own bubbles. Travellers see how diverse the world out there. Because travellers meet so many people along their ways. They know this world isn’t only filled with one specific race and religion, because they see the world out there.

Most of travellers know that our religion isn’t like how the media portrayed it to be.

No matter how much I’m scared getting out from my hostel room to the common room and meet another travellers because of my hijab; it really surprised me how it doesn’t stop them for asking my stories.

6. Good things will just pop out everywhere

Literally everywhere.

In Singapore where I asked for a bowl of jjangmyeon, the chef himself came out from the kitchen and said, “No, Miss. You’re wearing.. (gesturing my hijab) and this contain pork. You can’t eat that.” Or when I went to a local pub back in 2012 in London because my friends invited me, it was really my first pub experience. When all my friends ordering tequila, suddenly one of the bartender came to me asking wether I wanted to have a coke or a glass of sparkling water. It was really nice of him.

7. The world isn’t as scary as you think it is

This point will sum up what I’ve written above. As I’m sure because all travellers believe that we are all in this together; they believe in the power of “Pay It Forward”. There’s nothing wrong with giving a hand for another as they know soon or later they will need someone’s help too.

During all my journeys, I can’t count how many act of kindness I’ve ever received from other beautiful souls out there. It always surprised me how I could feel at home when I’m not even home. It surprised me how I could feel so welcomed when I’m not even where I grew up.

Here I’ve learnt that nothing could stop me for being curious about the outside world. For being always thirsty for more adventures, for more stories, for meeting more and more beautiful souls. There’s nothing at all. Especially not my hijab.