I am travelling overseas later in the week with my family, minus Z (yes, I KNOW! How am I going to do it?! But I also can’t do it WITH her, so…). I haven’t actually been overseas since my honeymoon, which was SEVEN years ago, and am feeling slightly anxious about it. We’ll be gone for just over a month so I knew I needed to seek advice from a more experienced traveller. Who better to ask than writer/creator of Wayfarer’s Compass, dear friend and all-round knowledgable and lovely person, Sana Gillani. I wanted some tips on how to best to plan and navigate one’s travels to get the most of it, spiritually and practically.
If you are travelling any time soon, and even if you are not but interested in travelling at some point, this is a must read. Thank you Sana for your wise advice!
Written by Sana Gillani.
Sometimes amidst the stress and multiple commitments of our daily routines, our planned travel tends to creep up on us and we aren’t as well prepared for the trip as we’d like to be. We find ourselves making rushed bookings, paying extra where we could have saved and trying to jumble a myriad of tasks on the way to the airport. Somehow suitcase locks and dry socks are always a part of that last minute to-do list. Although no trip will be completely free from trials, there are ways for you to eliminate unnecessary risks and make the most out of your travels. As a seasoned traveller, I have picked up a few useful practices from my own experience and research.
Set your Intentions
It’s often the case that our decision to travel is made with a considerable amount of thought and deliberation. We are influenced by conflicting schedules, monetary concerns, doubt over the benefits of the trip and managing competing priorities at home. Use your faith in God to divert any anxiety in such affairs and utilise prayer as a compass towards seeking conviction. It is recommended to perform the Istikharah prayer before travelling, and also to consult those known for their piety and religious wisdom. This is where the setting of intentions come into play. Know the purpose behind your travels and what benefit will arise. Will you be strengthening family ties? Will you be fulfilling your fard, such as Hajj? Will you be seeking knowledge, retreating or engaging in wholesome rejuvenation through leisure? Will you incorporate ethics, sustainability and social consciousness in your plans? Decide this and self-affirm and evaluate accordingly throughout your journey.
Other Sunnan associated with setting out on a journey include reciting two rakat of prayers, particular invocations and informing loved ones of intended travel. Such acts invite khayr (goodness) and protection in your journey. A useful guide to the etiquettes of travel is detailed in Shaykh Umar Husayn al-Khatib’s book, “Prophetic Guidance”.
Planning is half the enjoyment
I don’t see trip planning as a chore. There’s something so psychologically satisfying about allowing your mind to wander with the possibilities when constructing your travel itinerary. The truth is that there are so many variables involved in your travel, many you have little control over, that will shape the nature of it. A million and one different experiences can be had in one trip, and the decisions you make while planning form a kind of “choose your own adventure” scenario.
Especially for more complex itineraries, I would start by creating a timeline of milestones that need to be achieved within months in advance for the trip. I did this recently when having to balance more than one complicated visa application for a trip and arranging an itinerary for visiting five different countries over 6 weeks, and it really helped. Keep a sleeved-folder for all your travel bookings, itineraries, maps, directions, contact numbers and copies of ID docs etc., filed in chronological order. An electronic copy of such documents is also a must.
Apart from the usual research you undertake, find out useful details like opening and closing times for places of interest as well as any costs associated. Download travel guides onto your e-reader or tablet. Travel guides such as Lonely Planet and Bradt travel guides are all-inclusive resources you can carry around to find restaurants, transport and detailed historical/cultural information, all without needing wifi to look things up. Read up on your traveller’s fiqh (you can see here and here). Be sure to keep a record of prayer times of the places you are flying to/from and over, as this assists in determining when you may need to pray in the aircraft.
Some other important advice I have gathered on planning your trip is that its ok to plan a meticulous schedule, as long as you remain flexible to changes and unexpected opportunities. You don’t want to miss out on the festival you’ve just come to learn of, or reject a kind invitation by newly-made local friends. Weigh things up. Another great tactic is to devise, as a good friend of mine calls it, “planned spontaneity”. Oxymoronic? Maybe. But it’s a great concept! Plan for periods of time in your itinerary to be spontaneous and free yourself of the rigid schedule. You can visit a favourite place for a second time, meet with locals (I like to do this via the couchsurfing website), or simply allow yourself to get lost in a city’s streets. Try to make it a rule to wake up early, as you don’t want to have any regrets about how you used your precious time in all these special locations.
Downloading particular travel-related apps can be a very effective use of technology. HalalTrip and Have Halal Will Travel have launched excellent apps directed at the Muslim travel market which include location guides, halal food information and prayer times.
The essential rules of travel packing
- Roll rather than fold your clothes. This helps with creating more space and also minimises creasing.
- On that note, invest in a mini travel-iron. Ironing in hotels can be a very inconvenient and costly exercise.
- There are innumerable, wondrous uses for wet wipes. Always pack them.
- Zip lock bags will always come in handy.
- Invest in a good quality portable phone charger and don’t forget to charge it overnight. These have saved us a lot in a world where we rely so heavily on phone battery.
- Pack multi-purpose shoes. Footwear that can be durable, comfy walking shoes but also act as wudu sandals while you’re on the go.
- Empty plastic bottles with “wudu only” labelled on them, you don’t want to confuse them with drinking bottles!
- Keep emergency money in a secret hiding place. This will help you in any unfortunate circumstance where you lose your wallet or handbag.
- This is common advice, but easy to forget: Pack a change of clothing for your carry-on luggage. Also take on board moisturiser (I like Argan oil for long flights) as flying will make your skin incredibly dry. Teeth cleaning products are always essential too.
- I always make sure I pack presents for people I will be meeting overseas or staying with. I usually pack gifts such as Tim Tams (as long as they don’t melt!) or Australiana themed candles, lotions and teas. I also keep a few spare on hand if I can, for unexpected friendships made.
It’s almost a given that I experience travel-sickness in many countries I travel to. I’ve become an expert in sensing which street food I can take a risk with and when not to. Most important things to note are to stay away from ice in areas where drinking water is not safe, and eat cooked food or sealed fruits. I also carry Travelan medication with me, as it is a preventative tablet you can take before a meal where there is a higher risk of the food making you ill. You can also include in your travel First Aid kit a water sterilising pen, a nifty device available at camping stores or online.
Traveller’s intuition is real. Remain conscious of your surroundings, read up on the culture you are entering and respect it. Choose your companions wisely. Due too particular fiqh rulings, we often hear about the need for women not to travel solo. What we don’t hear as much about, is how the Prophet (s.a.w) recommended travelling with company for males as well. The prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) said, “If people knew what I know about travelling alone, no rider would travel alone by night” (Al Bukhari). Of course, the hadith needs to be contextualised, but it highlights that one is generally at an advantage when they are travelling with others. We are recommended to choose companions who are students of knowledge so that they be sources of guidance on our journey. We are also urged to be considerate and of service to our companions during travel. The fruits of this is that the one you travel with, is the one you will come to know very well, trust and secure a strong friendship with.
My final morsels of advice for the traveller is to learn from mistakes made in previous journeys, and to document your travels in all kinds of interesting ways, so that you can savour the memories and build your knowledge. Try new types of travel over time and continue to challenge yourself. Don’t just opt for an easy vacation in a serene location, but dare yourself to go off the beaten track and also test your strength, physically. Try travelling whilst maintaining an internet detox as well. The more detached you are from home, the more immersed you will be in your new surroundings.
All Images via 8 Rue Caffarelli.