By Kelly Clarke
Imagine the scenario. You’re alone in a foreign country. It’s the middle of the night and you’re stranded on an island in a fog-dense forest. There’s not a soul in sight. Now what would you do? My answer: fingers in ears, eyes squeezed shut, rock back and forth in fear, wait desperately for morning to break. But for Nada Al Nahdi, it wasn’t a case of imagine; it was real-life.
When it comes to travel, there’s a general rule of thumb concerning us, the traveler. You’re either a) the adventurous type or b) the sit back, relax and do very little type.
When I ask Nada which one she is, her description leaves little to be explained. “I like to be on the road by 6am, backpack in-tow, living off bread and water.”
‘A’, she’s clearly traveler ‘a’. I get chatting to Nada fresh from a trip around East Africa. It’s an acquaintance who introduces us. But with her in Saudi and me in Dubai, the introduction comes by way of phone. She intrigues me because of her intrepid approach to travel. And like Nada, I’m option ‘a’, not ‘b’ – minus the 6am rises.
Since 2015, this 24-year-old — whose mix of Indonesian-Yemeni roots is every bit as exotic as her travel tales — has visited 25 countries. And the account manager with a consultancy firm has done it all on a shoe-string budget.
If you work that out on average, that’s about one country, every month, for two years. Impressive! It knocks my lifetime count of 15 countries in 31 years straight out of the water.
When I ask Nada to describe herself in one sentence: “always on the go, making things happen”, is her response. And if she was forced to list her top three countries — and force her I did—it would be Armenia, Lebanon and Ireland. The appeal for all three; the people and the landscape.
I’m charmed by her answers. Firstly, because of my heritage, I’m Irish; great choice. And secondly; I recently visited Lebanon myself. It took just 3 days for me to fall truly, madly, deeply for the place, so she’s clearly a girl with great taste.
Nada has stories that could fill any Lonely Planet book. From hitch hiking in the middle of the night in Delhi, to running out of money in Cambodia.
But it was that stint on a near-deserted island in Japan, which is one memory she’s keen to bury deep in her backpack. That’s because darkness is her worst nightmare.
“If you’ve ever seen a Japanese horror movie, you’ll know they’re *real* horror. So when I was stranded alone on Miyajima Island, my instant thought was: I’m going to be killed or haunted by the unknown.”
Nada is the kind of girl that can’t walk up the stairs alone in her own apartment without having a panic attack — her words, not mine. So although forest isolation may be the perfect serenity for some, for her, it was anything but.
Like a scene from those *real* horror movies mentioned above; her escape from the island could have been pulled straight from a script.
“I ran like a maniac through the forest. All I wanted to do was find human contact.”
And that contact came about 1.5km later, by way of climbing through some stranger’s garden fence. It was midnight by this time.
“Some old lady opened her door. She was completely confused as to why I was crying. And if you’ve ever been to Japan, you’ll know it is not common to find English-speaking Japanese.”
With the few words she had — along with some erratic facial expressions, hand gestures and lots of tears — the lady and her son walked Nada back to the campsite. And luckily, on her return she stumbled across another camper; one whom she pitched her tent directly next to. Stranger or not, he was her saviour in the dark of that night.
You often hear the hypothetical question: what three items would you take with you if you were stranded on a desert island? For Nada, it’s no longer hypothetical. She’s lived it, she knows.
“I would bring a spear, a solar power light, and warm clothes. That’s all based on my dreadful experience.” Thankfully, she made it out alive that night; and thankfully with no visit from the ‘unknown’.
Since her travel bug set in two years ago, Nada has spent about 60 days country hopping in her first year and 80 in her second. But what I find almost as fascinating as her plucky, solo travel tales is the fact that she holds down a full time job — and a happy relationship with a very understanding fiancé — all at the same time.
When it comes to visits, the number of days in each country varies on the size, expense and location of the place. From as short as 2 days to as long as 14.
“As for my fiancé, that part shocks everyone; even my friends.” But the reason he doesn’t tag along is simple. “We are different individuals when it comes to traveling. He’s into laid back and leisure travel, I’m not.”
If there is three things this girl cannot live without, it would be her maasai shuka (African blanket used as a cover up), rain jacket and travel pillow. And if she could pick one place to visit before she kicks the bucket … well, apparently it’s not an easy one to answer.“Hmm, fluffy polar bears or wobbly penguins? It’s my dream to go to the Arctic Circle and Antarctica so I can snuggle with them, but I really can’t choose one over the other.”
Before grudgingly ending my time with Nada (I could listen to her stories all day long), I end with one final question: what’s the worst piece of travel advice you’ve ever been given? “It’s not a safe country, you can’t travel there alone!’, says someone who hasn’t been there.”
PICK A travel hack
“As a low budget backpacker, travel hacks are my weapon,” she says
- Get on mileage programs, they are full of rewards. So far, I have received and used three return flight tickets and I still have two more round trip tickets which are FREE!
- Couchsurf, hostels, tents or local hospitality are the best options when it comes to accommodation.
- Make money en-route. I use an app called AirWayBill. It basically involves carrying packages for people internationally. It’s up to you to choose what, depending on your baggage allowance. It’s the easiest money you will ever make.
Kelly covers education and finds it endearing that people call her Kel