When we think of travel bloggers and long-terms travellers, we often think of adrenalin-seeking Bear Grylls types or dreadlocked hippies wandering the world in Ali Baba pants and giant backpacks. But stereotypes are narrowly-defined and often misleading. Enter Atikah Amalina, a.k.a. The Tudung Traveller, a young Singaporean woman and English teacher who is quietly challenging stereotypes about Muslim women – particularly hijabis – wherever she travels.
Bitten by the travel bug at a young age, a painful break-up and a solo trip to Spain spurred her to document her travels as a way to make sense of the world, and to give voice to some of her experiences relating to heartbreak, spirituality, struggling with mental illness, and personal growth.
Her personal, authentic style of travel writing has garnered her a large audience, with thousands of readers on her website more than 12,000 followers on Instagram.
Q: A lot of your travel logs are imbued with your experiences relating to spirituality and personal growth. Why has this become an important theme in your writing?
A: I keep my writings personal, authentic and vulnerable – they are a form of therapy for me to navigate my own emotions and challenges. I write to make sense of my world, then quickly found out that many others go through similar experiences with me, so I started writing to a larger audience. It evolved into a platform to both give voice to the experiences I was going through and a way to reach out to other people who were going through the same experiences as well. I started writing about going through a difficult break-up, to the challenges of being single and picking up the pieces, to struggling with mental illnesses, to the day-to-day struggles. Different people facing different situations in life will get different messages from my writing – after all, we see the world not as it is, but as we are. The reader will get what she seeks.
I take the personal challenges, downfalls and darkness that I have personally experienced and learnt from, and share it through my writing. I also take the light, joys and achievements and share it too, to show that living a full life means striving to embrace the full spectrum of experiences. To show too that we do not have to be defined by our weaknesses, but can choose to be defined by our light, our strengths and the things we grow within us.
My messages vary, but it comes from a position of camaraderie – that we are all not alone, to be brave and kind, and that there is always light. I personally believe in using whatever blessings Allah has given for a greater purpose, so when the opportunity came to use my writing and travels for that, I seized it. We live in a world where social media can be a bane that makes us compare and feel terrible about ourselves, and I see this especially so with students, so I make it a point to use my social media platforms for good.
It also becomes a way to show (Muslim) women that they can be whatever it is they want to be. They can be a woman, they can wear the tudung (hijab or headscarf) and they can still kick ass and live the best life. It’s amazing how important representation on social media is, especially for the Malay-Muslim woman. Seeing someone similar to them going out and achieving things allows them the permission and courage to do the same thing. Hence, the Tudung Traveller became what it is today, a space that allows for vulnerability, authenticity, and courage to coincide.
It’s amazing how important representation on social media is, especially for the Malay-Muslim woman. Seeing someone similar to them going out and achieving things allows them the permission and courage to do the same thing.
Q: As a Muslim woman, do you face any particular challenges when you travel/backpack?
A: I face the same challenges that female travellers face, but wearing the hijab places me in an interesting and unique position. Often, I have to be more mindful of my surroundings as well as how I carry myself. I also become a de facto spokesperson for Islam in social settings, so I have had to increase my personal knowledge of my religion. Especially when I might be, and it happens often, the first Muslim other travellers have met!
Q: I enjoyed reading your post, ‘Muslims need to keep travelling in this climate of fear’, on why it’s important to keep traveling despite growing hostility towards Muslims in many parts of the world. As someone who wears the hijab, and is visibly identifiable as Muslim, have you had any negative experiences with Islamophobia on your travels? Do you think there is a lack of understanding about Islam, and that stereotypes about Muslim women are prevalent?
A: A whole lot! Travelling isn’t easy, especially when you’re doing it alone, but I’ve grown the most while I’m on my solo travels. I’ve written a blog post about this called: 7 lessons I learned travelling solo as a hijabi
Q: Your latest travel diaries seem to be about more than just travel, but also focus on activism and humanitarian issues faced by Muslim communities suffering war and displacement. Why do you think it’s important to go beyond ‘traditional’ travel writing and explore the stories and hardships of the people you encounter?
A: One of my greatest inspirations is Ibn Battuta, and I hold on to his quote: “Travelling—it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller”.
I started writing about my travels back in 2013 with the conscious intention to share about my stories and experiences, beyond the places that I’m travelling to. I steer clear or traditional travel writing of sharing tips and information about the places because I found that there’s an abundance of such on the Internet right now.
Writing takes up quite a fair bit of time. Since time is a scarce commodity for me as I juggle many other responsibilities, I wanted to add meaningful content above what’s already available. My human experience and interactions during travelling as well as in my daily life provided just that. It allows others into my shoes as well as to understand that we have far more in common with others than differences. That our joy, heartbreaks, struggles and triumphs are a unifying thread that goes through the human DNA.
I also found that reading books and meaningful articles is something that is increasingly being cast aside by many for the convenience of social media input. Reading is such an important activity for us to expand our horizons and enter different worlds, to understand and empathise with others. So I decided to use my social media platforms to provide snippets of stories so that people remember what it means to be human, to not feel alone, and to be kinder to each other and ourselves.