Words of Wisdom For South Asian Travellers

BY Hena Sharma

Words of Wisdom For South Asian Travellers
Photography by Jai Toor


In our travel tool ‘South Asian and Abroad’ we compiled both the good and bad experiences of our South Asian community when travelling abroad. Their travel experiences wildly varied depending on factors like which passport they held, where in the world they were exploring but also complex issues like skin tones and surnames. In this travel tool, members from our community of South Asian heritage give you their words of wisdom, including ways to ‘leave the nest’ and follow your own travel desires, embarking on a solo travelling adventure and navigating ‘Chameleon Syndrome’ when you’re on a trip.


Leaving the nest

Sometimes it can be difficult to break from the nest. Though this is by no means true for all South Asian families, there can be notions of “collectivism” present within families and family dynamics for some. Ansuni Stories, a collective aimed at opening up discussions for South Asian women about family dynamics, unpacks this for us:

“A collectivist culture is one where the needs and expectations of the community are placed above those of the individual.” This notion can at times lead to children not being able to pursue their individual interests (for example, travel). This was the case for Pakistani-Canadian traveller Anam Hakeem or Girl With A Green Passport. Her article about travelling solo as a South Asian Woman highlighted that in terms of travel, ‘getting my parents’ permission was hard for me. When I took my first trip to the US, my family simply couldn’t understand my motivations. They’d get mad at me and my mum would cry a lot. I really had to stand my ground about travelling being my dream.”

Nylo, a dual heritage Mauritian-Pakistani model, comes from a family of travellers and has been actively encouraged to travel by her parents and grandparents growing up. Being Indo-Mauritian means her ancestors have migrated for generations, having been brought from India to Mauritius by the British to work on sugar plantations post-slavery. “Being from an island like Mauritius, most are not native to that island. We were all brought there essentially.” On top of that, her grandfather was a naval officer, and had the chance to travel across the US, Haiti and further with his work. “It was my grandparents that encouraged me to travel and kind of see my heritage, and my mum just ultimately wants me to live my best life.”

If your parents are particularly anxious about you wanting to travel, it may be an idea to update them regularly on the trip. Send them pictures and keep them in the loop and make use of how connected our world is, regardless of where in the world you are.


Tips and tricks for solo travel

Travelling solo can be one of the most liberating experiences, it pushes you out of your comfort zone to try new things and see the world. We asked our community for their tips on travelling solo.

Nylo told us, “The advice I’d give is really just do your research – luckily there’s a huge community of travellers online that give reviews on places, even on Instagram, TikTok, websites, Twitter. So I do think there’s a big travel community.” She also cautions that – as a South Asian woman – she has sometimes faced exoticisation/feticisation in some destinations. Be vigilant of your surroundings when abroad, especially when travelling solo, “if you are travelling solo, just make sure you’re taking all the precautions”, we suggest making friends with people in your accommodation so you have an extra pair of eyes.

Jamie Padda shares, “I think you need to just trust your gut. Everywhere on this planet can be dangerous. I think treating locals with respect is the number one rule. They might be the ones looking out for you and you won’t even know it. Putting out positive vibes is important. I’ve been in some very dangerous neighbourhoods and I found that if you have good vibes, people want to talk to you, and show you a good time.”

Alex Singhal tells us, “Learn the language for sure. In South America, most people assumed I was a local so they would speak to me in slangy Spanish so I picked up a bit. This also means that when you meet locals you can break the ice with those sayings. Don't dress flash with jewellery!”

Husnain Ahmed notes, “Be careful! Don’t make immature decisions, always be polite and stay calm regardless of how tired and frustrated you are. Travelling solo is such a beautiful experience and you learn a lot about yourself but you need to just face the facts when it comes to how you’ll be treated by certain individuals because of your name, religion or appearance but just find the right crowd/environments and focus on that.”


The beauty of travel

There is so much beauty in travel, experiencing a new land and people, interacting with those that live there and seeing how life is outside of your own personal bubble.

Pakistani-British traveller, Jawas Abbas, always found the best interactions occurred when he was just being open, friendly and willing to talk to strangers when travelling. “Don't be afraid to put yourself out there, be open, converse with as many people as you can. This can lead to random, unforeseen, amazing events when you openly engage with someone else. Try to risk comfort for the discovery of new experiences.”

Husnain suggests using your South Asian heritage to your advantage when you travel. Use travelling as an opportunity to meet other South Asians from across the world, “I have some horror stories about being robbed, lost and locked out of my Airbnb, and in all those situations I found someone from my background who treated me like a brother and literally fed me.”

Punjabi-British photographer Jai Toor, discovered communities he never expected on his travels to Italy, “I travelled to Italy in December 2021. As a Sikh, I was fascinated by the large community that resides in northern areas like Bologna and Novellara. It is the largest Sikh community in Europe outside the UK and has the first-ever European gurdwara.”

On Chameleon Syndrome

Some travellers experience what can be best described as a Chameleon Syndrome: you may outwardly look South Asian, but have a Westernised upbringing.

Nylo shares how in Mauritius, she is often seen as a foreigner despite looking outwardly South Asian and being half-Mauritian. “I’m a British Asian person. They see you and think, ‘Wow you’re a foreigner’. Even in Mauritius, guys can sense that you’re not from there. I don’t even look the part most of the time. I feel like I’m used to sticking out like a sore thumb which I’m okay and brave enough to navigate. But sometimes, it is kind of hard.”

Alex Singhal tells us that sometimes when he travels, he blends in with locals and this gives him a deeper understanding of the way of life, “What I love about when I go travelling to other countries is that I seem to blend into the people (as long as I keep my mouth shut) and people find it hard to guess where I'm from. Like a child of the world.”

There is so much beauty in travel: it creates new conversations, generates refreshing experiences and can truly push you outside of your comfort zone. The experiences shared above are in no way in full representation of the entire South Asian travelling experience, but we hope it gives you an insight into what to expect and how to navigate bumps along the road.

Photography by Jai Toor

Thanks to Nylo, Anam Hakeem, Alex Singhal, Jai Toor, Jawas Abbas, Husnain Ahmed and Jamie Padda.