By Rana Khaled
When I first watched the famous film “Eat, Pray, Love” five years ago, I was fascinated by the idea of the solo traveller, who wants to explore the world searching for truth, balance and self-satisfaction. I was most attached to the film as it portrayed the sufferings and hopes of a woman who decided to sacrifice her marriage and stable career to find her inner entity, and decided to resort to travelling to achieve her life goals. In Italy, she learnt how to eat and enjoy her life, in India she learnt to pray and get closer to God and spiritualism, and in Indonesia she found real love.
I thought such inspiring characters with this remarkable passion for travelling can only be found in films. You must be surrounded by large numbers of people who want to travel, but you’ll find out that only few of them would take such a risk and start their own life adventures. Travelling needs time, effort, money and an open minded personality who wants to know more about people, lifestyles, culture and histories.
With his incredible enthusiasm for travelling around the globe, Mahmoud Moustafa Kamal has destroyed this stereotype in my mind. A few months ago, he launched a Facebook page called “No Fixed Address”, where he encourages people to travel and get rid of their daily routine. By recounting his own adventures and stories about travelling around the world, Kamal urged many people to change their incorrect perceptions about travelling solo and its dangers. Through his page, he gives young people tips about the basics of travelling, including the ways of booking reasonable plane tickets, finding the cheapest accommodation, using the best transport, and visiting the most interesting places in each country.
For me, Kamal isn’t just a person, he’s an idea that must be promoted and supported. Kamal is a “travelholic” who would go to have lunch in Italy, then buy a mobile charger from Austria, before going to have dinner in Slovenia, all on the same day. He has travelled around 15 countries and collected many amazing stories and experiences that have vastly enriched his character.
For him, the traveller is someone who has all what he needs in a small backpack; he wears a T-shirt from Paris and a pair of shoes that he bought from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport when his old pair died a death in Barcelona. In his opinion, the traveller doesn’t need any fixed address, as he doesn’t want to be caged in a specific house. He can find his home everywhere and in each country. The traveller will never be convinced that life has limits, as he spends most of his time in the sky moving from one place to another. The traveller doesn’t live an experience, because he is the experience itself.
In an exclusive interview with Daily News Egypt, Kamal talked about his passion for travelling, his advice for young travellers, his adventures and his future plans.
Simply, I’m a 27-year-old journalist who graduated from the Faculty of Mass Communications at Misr University for Science and Technology several years ago. I worked at Al-Dostour and Tahrir newspapers for several years, but in 2011, I decided to resign and pursue my dream of launching the first news website devoted to cars in Egypt. Thus, I submitted a proposal for a digital agency to launch Al Tawkeel.com, and started working hard on my dream until it became true. Recently, Al Tawkeel.com grabbed the attention of the biggest car manufacturers around the world who wanted to be sponsors and advertisers. Unfortunately, people here still ask me what automotive journalism means! The concept is still new to them, as we don’t have specialised journalism in Egypt.
When did your passion for travelling start? And what was your first destination?
I was always drawn to the idea of travelling and exploring the world. During my university days, I didn’t have enough money or time to travel. However, on my 24th birthday, I decided to achieve my dream and travel to Turkey for 10 days. During my trip, I met a retired basketball player who was one of the most inspiring characters I’ve ever met. He told me that he used to spend every penny of his salary on travelling when he was young, to the extent that he couldn’t pay for his apartment’s rent many times! He was always convinced that he would never be able to take such a risk and experience such adventures when he got older, and that was why he wanted to travel everywhere when he was young.
Actually, that was a light that made me think about travelling from a different perspective. I decided to travel around the world and create my own adventures and stories. When I came back from Turkey, I decided to search for more practical ways to reduce the costs of my next trips. At the beginning, I didn’t understand what hostels meant, and I had a very bad stereotype about them. I thought they were very poor places, where five or six people share the same room because they can’t afford a room in a hotel.
It was when I travelled to Paris to cover a motor show. I went to the travel agency and changed my arrival ticket from Paris to Rome without any prior plan. I travelled from Paris to Porto in Portugal then to Barcelona in Spain where I decided to sleep in a hostel for the first time in my life. Surprisingly, I found a very good place and I had a locker in my room which was important to protect my money and important belongings. I paid about EGP 120 in Barcelona, and I made a lot of friends. After that, I found a cheap flight to Amsterdam and I spent few days there, then I took a bus to Belgium and a cheap flight to my final destination in Rome. This unplanned trip helped me understand everything about travelling, and was one of the best trips in my whole life.
How did the idea of the page come to mind? And what are the messages you wanted to convey through it?
When I started travelling, I used to send large numbers of photos to my friends. I thought about creating a Facebook page to post photos from my journeys and share them with my friends. I named it after the song by my favourite rock band, Nickelback, and I started writing my first post telling people travelling isn’t very expensive as most people believe. I gave them some tips and I didn’t expect that such a post would go viral in this crazy way. The next morning, I woke up to find more than 5,000 likes and 400 shares. I was shocked, and I decided to pay more attention to the page and post more, and people started sending me a huge numbers of questions daily. In three days, I reached 20,000 subscribers which is a great achievement in the digital world. However, I’ve never meant to make the page informative, I just made it for fun.
A lot of people claim that travelling is so expensive and will cost them a lot of money. This is a big myth. I travelled from Portugal to Spain on a flight that cost EGP 290, and you can stay in a hostel in Paris for an entire week with only EGP 500! Also, for those people who believe they won’t be able to enjoy if they travel alone, I want to tell them you’ll meet a lot of people and make a lot of friends and you will never feel lonely. As for the visa, it’s all about papers and procedures. Whenever you complete your papers, all the other bureaucratic procedures will go smoothly.
You also have to know that you don’t need a travel agency. All what you have to do is to “search”. Then you must search for the cheapest flight prices on Google or sky scanners. You can easily find cheap hostels after that. I also want to tell girls to encourage themselves and travel, but they have to take into consideration the same security procedures the boy will pay attention to.
As a travelling expert, what are your suggestions for improving Egypt’s tourism industry?
Unfortunately, tickets for internal flight in Egypt are very high. For example, I can go from Sharm El-Sheikh to Italy at a cheaper price than travelling from Sharm El-Sheikh to Cairo. A day on the North Coast would cost EGP 1,200, while it might cost EGP 120 in Barcelona! In brief, people who work in the tourism industry in Egypt need to know that they have fierce competition, and they have to provide people with other seductive alternatives to put Egypt as their first destination.