With many changes taking place in the customs and habits of Saudi society, a new trend has appeared, which is grandstanding. People travel abroad with the sole objective of swaggering around snapping selfies simply to show off, even if it is at the expense of essential needs of the individual or family.
Young women have become an inseparable part of any family trip nowadays. And often they are the ones who plan, lead and even finance the trip, according to a report published by Al-Riyadh newspaper recently.
This new concept of travel led young women to think of further deepening their independence away from the family. With the newfound financial freedom that came along with more employment opportunities, young women no longer feel forced to travel with a man, whether father, husband or brother.
Women tourist groups
They join women-only tourist groups or travel with their female friends or relatives, especially since social media have greatly consolidated this new method of travel. Thus a new travel culture has come into existence with many reports of female friends and relatives traveling in groups without any male companion.
Maha, Hadeel and Sarah are bank employees. They decided to take a break from their jobs and household routines for a short trip. It took them four months to plan for the journey.
“Traveling with my female friends is mentally very relaxing and it dispels boredom. It is an opportunity one should not miss to get to understand more of different cultures and enrich one’s knowledge. I prefer to travel with my female friends, as we enjoy the trip greatly. As I am still unmarried, I cannot find anyone in my family who is ready to travel with me,” said Hadeel.
Hadeel’s friend Sarah agreed. “This trip was not our first. We made several trips with the same group in the past. After every trip, I return to my work greatly refreshed. I come to my family and shoulder my household responsibilities with renewed energy,” said Sarah.
“As to the advantages of these trips with a group of female friends, they have taught us to be completely self-reliant with regard to planning for our accommodation, period of stay, mode of transport and how to control our travel budget. During the trip, we try to prevent anyone or anything from spoiling its beauty and fun. We switch off our mobile phones and do not accept any calls. As to documenting the trip, we use professional cameras to take pictures of anything that attracts our attention, including beautiful sceneries or moments to remember with our group of friends,” added Maha.
A chance to meet
Noorah Al-Duwaish and her sisters Moudhi and Muneera, who have become dispersed to different cities after getting married, use every school break to meet in one of the Kingdom’s tourist cities like Jeddah or Taif, accompanied by their children. This gives the trip a different flavor.
Apart from recreation and change from the routine, this provided the sisters an opportunity to get together along with their children since their father’s death.
“Aside from being a recreation, the trips help bring the family members together and enable them to talk about each other’s life and problems. This is greatly encouraged by Islam,” said Al-Duwaish, a schoolteacher.
She insisted that the trips helped her family members keep in touch with one another.
“Of course, there is a difference between travel within the Kingdom and in a foreign country. We feel more comfortable and have greater peace of mind when traveling inside the Kingdom,” she said.
“With the frequent trips, we have accrued considerable experience in managing matters independently. We rely on ourselves for everything without the need for assistance from anyone else. This includes budgeting, booking accommodation, renting a car and even distributing the daily meals among children,” said Al-Duwaish.
Noorah’s sister Moudhi, who is a bank employee, wished she could travel abroad with her sisters for a change.
“My sisters and I have never tried to travel outside the Kingdom. I wish we could. But fear is what prevents us. We feel that we are incapable of relying on ourselves in a foreign country,” Moudhi said.
Women traveling without male relatives accompanying them has been a controversial matter for long. There are those who say women cannot handle unexpected problems that might occur during travel.
Manal Al-Muhaissin, a retired teacher, is of the view. Al-Riyadh met her at a travel agency while making booking for herself and her children to attend her niece’s wedding.
“Women since olden times got used to traveling with their husbands, brothers or sons, who will be in charge of all matters on their journey. This includes making flight bookings and accommodation. If a woman travels alone, her trip might turn into a risky adventure that she cannot deal with in situations like a change of flight schedule, complications with the bookings or an accident, God forbid,” she said.
Al-Muhaissin cited her sister’s experience for an example. An accident occurred when her sister was on a trip in an Asian country with her husband and daughters two years ago.
“My sister’s husband sustained serious injuries in a traffic accident and had to be hospitalized for several days. My sister became so confused, she did not know what to do. She eventually called our brother requesting help. Our brother had to travel to that country to bring them back,” Al-Muhaissin said.
“He approached the Saudi Embassy in that country to make arrangements for the transfer of our brother-in-law to Al-Shumaisy Hospital in Riyadh.”
Rania Al-Sharqawi, a tourist consultant who holds a master’s degree in Business Administration, said women are now the decision-makers when it comes to tourism, whether for themselves or the family.
Choice of destination
“It is the woman in the family who chooses the travel destination, specifies the period of stay and coordinates with the reservation offices. In the majority of cases, it is she who bears the expenses as well,” she said.
As to specifics of tourism activities, Al-Sharqawi said this is determined by the age and interests of the group members and the nature of the journey, whether a family trip, honeymoon, or simply adventure travel.
“Tourist groups exclusively for women have become widely available these days. Many women prefer them to spend some time away from the routine. These trips are described as safe. They guarantee privacy, while having companions during the trip. Some of these trips have been used as self-development programs,” Al-Sharqawi explained.
“When a woman becomes experienced in matters of travel, she can deal with all matters concerning her trip, especially if she is traveling with her female friends or relatives. If a woman abides by the customs and traditions in her own country, then it is not difficult for her to conform outside the borders of her nation,” said Huda Al-Ghareeb, a family consultant.
“Traveling with female friends is the ideal solution for unmarried women who do not find a male relative to accompany them. In the case of married women, their husbands too might be preoccupied with their work, preventing them from joining their wives on their trips. I believe the time when women used to fear traveling alone is past. Now we live in an age of easy communications with a lot of safety means.”
This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette.
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