- Middle East/North Africa
Twenty-nine-year old travel-passionate Menna Shahin tried to break the ice of societal traditions by launching a Facebook page entitled "She travels" to encourage girls to travel alone, with no fear of society's criticism.
Shahin is a pharmacist who has been travelling since she was 26 years old. She travelled 20 countries around the world visiting more than 35 cities. Her main aim in setting up her page was to help develop the Egyptian girls and change their lives through travel.
In Egyptian society, if a woman travels alone it means that, absolutely, she has crossed the line.
The fear of people's judgment, preserving a girl's reputation and concerns for personal safety and security are the main reasons that most Egyptian families refuse to let their girls travel alone. Even addressing the issue is "taboo".
After the success of her initial page, Shahin launched another Facebook group that includes more than 50,000 users, to let the girls interact with each other and enable those who traveled to post their experiences with some of their photos.
"Travel helps the girl to explore herself and her personality, especially given that society's traditions make all the girls look the same after restricting them in the same molds. This goes completely against nature; God created us all different in every way," Shahin told Egypt Independent.
"Travel teaches girls countless experiences as they engage themselves in new societies with different cultures; it puts them, alone, in new situations that let them learn how to act independently," she said.
Shahin believes that the main obstacle that hinders the Egyptian girls from travel are lies the family's way of thinking, their wrong belief system; and this is mainly because of the fear of the unknown in other countries and the safety issues.
"It is a mistaken belief that all the countries abroad are unsafe; but, while some are well known for their threats, we can overcome that by googling the destinations before traveling to take all the necessary safety precautions," she explained.
Meanwhile, some families refuse to let their girls travel alone due to the distrust of the other society's traditions. Other families believe that, if their daughter has traveled alone it will be a 'shameful' thing that could affect her reputation.
It could make her an undesirable person that will be single forever, if the potential grooms learn that she has travelled alone. "Though, actually, traveling develops the girl and generates a more cultivated and educated person who becomes more desirable, really!" she said.
Shahin at Disneyland
Shahin thinks that girls should develop their parents' way of thinking and help them by reading them books about travel to reassure their worries.
"One day while I was watching TV with my dad, I saw footage of Italy. I said 'Dad, Italy looks wonderful! I want to visit Italy!' he laughed and said: 'Well, at least you are watching it through the TV'," said Shahin, narrating how her story with travel started.
In the beginning, Shahin's family refused whole-heartedly the idea of her solo travel, but she insisted and kept on convincing them for years, until they finally let her travel to Europe three years ago, where she visited 7 countries.
One of the most embarrassing situations Shahin experienced during her travel was upon her arrival to Vietnam.
Shahin in Sweden
"I was opening the taxi door outside the hotel and accidently hit a girl on her motorcycle, I was panicked at first, because the girl was injured.. but I took her to a hospital nearby, paid for her medical treatment and gave her a daily stipend to compensate her workday loss," she recalled.
"This situation taught me a lot, as I realized that I can bear the responsibility," she said.
At first, Shahin's idea behind launching the Facebook page was to give girls who want to travel tips and advice about the best places they can visit, how to find reasonable ticket prices and the best accommodations available; all this enthuse them to travel the world with no fear of being on their own.
"I receive more than 200 messages daily from many girls asking about travel and safety. Many girls travel and send me photos to post their stories, in order to encourage others to go through the same experience," Shahin explained.
But recently, Shahin has been developing other aspects of the page, as she is organizing trips for girls to visit places both inside and outside Egypt.
"I'm neither a tourism company nor taking a profit from that. I'm only organizing good trips for ladies with the most suitable prices," she said.
Shahin was organizing a trip outside Egypt for Christmas, but due to the increase in US dollar prices, she failed to get good offers. "I succeeded in arranging a good trip to Saint Catherine, in Sinai, and Alexandria a couple of days ago.
The girls were very excited and sent me supportive feedback and satisfying comments. One of the ladies is a 40-year old woman who was very enthused to repeat the experience, as she said she experienced something very inspiring during the trip," Shahin said.
During the trip, Shahin sent a group of life coaching experts along with the girls without their knowledge to indirectly give them advice for life and travel passion; moreover, they distributed books about travel and life coaching.
Shahin's page has so far garnered more than 100,000 fans, with several girls telling their stories about their experience of travelling alone.
One of the most intriguing stories was that of a 21-year-old girl called "Nahla Kamal", who dreamed of traveling to SPain. Kamal is from the countryside, where everyone knows that traditions are set in stone.
"I'm a 21 years old girl from Beni Sueif, where most girls my age get married and become housewives; but I always considered myself different from all these traditions," Kamal said.
"I decided to travel, while everyone around me said I was crazy; my family said 'We don't have girls who travel outside Beni Sueif alone!' but I did not give up and I stuck to my dream which finally came true: I traveled to Spain alone through a cultural exchange program."
When Kamal arrived in Spain she recounts how she felt if she was dreaming; but, in fact, she had made her wish into a reality. "Yes, I'm a girl who succeeded in breaking all the traditions and barriers," she said.