Blogging and posting for several years now, if you don’t currently have restless feet and the urge to travel, read on and then visit Fatima Al Mattar’s social media feeds – @Hello965 will get you locked in – and you’ll soon be reaching for the number of your favourite travel agent. A perpetually curious traveller, she’s the owner of a passport crammed full of visas from across the globe’s continents. Passion Arabia’s Simon Balsom decided there was no-one better to turn to and get a slice of ‘insider information’ from than Fatima.
We’re firm believers in the art of deliberate discovery, and insist that a journey will only be a success through some preparation. How do you plan your trips? What are the key essentials you’ll lock-down in a city or region prior to arriving?
Most of the time, I prefer to pre-organize a full plan and itinerary for the year for my trips. Every year, I have a couple of countries that I’d like to visit. That begins with a long list, which is filtered and divided each year depending on my annual schedule. Country or even city visits are mostly based on seasons of travels; summer, winter, humid, rainy and so on. Most countries are usually recommended to visit during the peak season, other countries are recommended to visit in the off-season to avoid the crowds as well as the associated higher prices.
Moreover, I love exploring hotels and staying in different boutique hotels – whether they’re hostels or 5 star hotels. As soon as the country is picked, I do further research to choose a city or a series of cities in one country (or even multiple countries). After that, I go to the hotel. Everything else follows depending on the destination.
I generally though like to research restaurant options, and set myself at least 2 restaurants to try out. The rest I prefer to let unfold and explore in the destination itself.
I don’t typically have a preference for any type of transportation at my destination; I go for the most convenient and cost-effective option.
What’s your state of mind as you step off an airplane in a new country? How is your sense of anticipation and excitement?
Excitement! Always excited to see new places and take on new adventures.
For us, people are the new places. A city is nothing without its citizens. Where have you visited that most surprised you in terms of friendliness and openness?
Cubans took my breath away with their kindness and friendliness. Like everyone else, I visited Cuba with some concerns regarding safety because of what we’ve heard around us. I was positively surprised by the atmosphere and the friendliness of the people. They were so happy, so simple, so friendly and always smiling.
You’re best known as a solo traveller. What’s the attraction of this for you?
Self-discovery, pushing my own limits repeatedly. But I’d like to differentiate between socializing and traveling solo.
I’m very social, and I like being around people – but I don’t mind traveling alone. I do, however, try to meet new people or even catch-up with friends living in different countries during my travels.
On the other hand, I enjoy solo traveling, and I strongly believe that it changes one’s personality.
You’re well-known to your followers on social media, does this change your approach to travel and to what you share? Do you feel any sense of responsibility in this respect? We mostly share to friends, you share with tens of thousands of people you’ll never know – daunting at all?
In travel itself, that doesn’t change anything. I refrain from sharing personal daily activities and focus on cultures, adventures, hotels and experiences – because this is what I’d like to portray and to inspire my followers with. I do what I do based on love, and since the beginning, the account was very travel-focused and followed a specific agenda – I continue to follow it but that doesn’t limit me from sharing anything.
Where do you look for travel inspiration? Keen to follow the trends or content to find your own path?
A mix of both. There are bucket lists and things to do – and that is usually following a trend of a list or a website. For instance, for the 7 Wonders of the World, I definitely followed and researched before visiting these. Other times, and this goes back to visiting friends living in different countries, when you’re with locals it’s a whole new experience and opens new paths. From there, you decide to go to different places that you feel connected with and that aren’t part of any trend.
In the case of specific countries that aren’t touristy, I feel that I owe it to my curiosity to visit and explore; to get to know the culture, the food and try to understand it even more.
Packing. What are the essentials you’ll never embark on a journey without?
Camera, headset, phone, passport.
Finding your way around a city – head down on Google Maps, paper maps in the wind, or head up and ask the locals?
Google maps all the way for me. Believe it or not, I’m bad when it comes to maps and have a very bad sense of direction. Thanks to Google maps, life has been made so much easier for me.
However, and when the internet is not at hand, I tend to ask for directions from the locals rather than read from a map.
I tend to avoid looking like a tourist in some cities to avoid any danger – especially when I’m alone.
Where is next on your itinerary?
You can instantly follow Fatima’s globetrotting exploits via her tag @Hello965 on Instagram and Twitter, or visit her blog at www.hello965.com for a lengthier read.
She’s also broadcasting short films of her travels on YouTube – great insights, and each delivered with a slice of her refreshing humour.