On one of Elena Nikolova’s first trips as a Muslim, she realized travel for her had changed forever. Visiting Bulgaria from the United Kingdom, she saw how her new halal diet was at odds with her pork-heavy, Bulgarian-Greek upbringing. It wasn’t long before Nikolova also noticed she was getting extra checks at the airport and more attention once she landed because of her hijab.
“I realized that whether we wanted it or not, there is prejudice against those who wear a hijab,” Nikolova said. “I realized that kind of puts Muslims off traveling.”
Since she converted to Islam in 2009, Nikolova has worked to make travel more accessible and comfortable for Muslims. A lover of deals, she began to share cheap fares and travel hacks on social media to encourage others in her new community to travel too. As a student in the UK, she often booked the longest layovers possible on her way back home to Greece just so she could explore new places.
An online forum for advocating Muslim travel
Upon the urging of a friend, Nikolova transformed her expertise into the blog Muslim Travel Girl in 2013, with the goal of helping Muslims travel while being confident in their identities and without breaking the bank. Right away, she started receiving questions related to airport security and whether certain countries were welcoming to Muslims. Her readers, mostly based in North America and Europe, were apprehensive. One of Muslim Travel Girl’s most popular videos, for example, is on navigating airports as a hijab-wearing Muslim woman.
Building a comfort zone
“Throughout the past seven years, we’ve gone through [issues with] the media and Muslims, and the hijab and problems with women traveling,” she said. “The whole point of a Muslim travel blog is to help and encourage those people, to give them the resources to actually find destination information.”
While other resources exist, Nikolova says it was especially hard to find information that spoke directly to the experience of traveling as a Muslim when she started the blog. “Even though travel [for Muslims] in general is not so different, we have some differences, like [needing] places to pray or [specific] food to eat,” she said. “Not every Muslim needs these, but it should be there.”
This is an excerpt from an article by Juhie Bhatia, originally published by Lonely Planet.