For those of you who have a passion for traveling but lack the funds, Aliaa ElRamlawy offers a unique way of traveling the world on a budget. ElRamlawy has traveled to Turkey, Poland, Berlin, Vienna, Amsterdam and Prague, all alone, at a young age. Later, she founded Gallivanter Travel, a travel- advising agency, to help prospective globetrotters plan their travels in an effective way, on a low budget. The travel advising sessions she gives are informative, providing attendees with A to Z information about low-cost getaways and answering specific questions on any upcoming plans travelers may have. Cairo West Magazine sat down with ElRamlawy to learn more about her experiences, what to do and what to avoid.
CWM: What started your passion for traveling?
AER: My parents ignited my passion for traveling. They always encouraged my older sister to travel abroad; she has been to so many countries and was the first person to push me to travel on my own. I also used to watch a lot of Turkish TV series and I learned a bit about the culture and the language. Falling completely in love with it, I decided to go there.
Take us through the process. How can you guarantee booking safe and clean hostels before arriving at a country?
I love doing the research, so I check each and every hostel that I book through 5 different apps or websites to make sure that all the reviews are positive. Whenever I find one bad review on a website, I start looking for a different hostel. Also, I never book last minute, I always book at least three weeks in advance, because that affords me time to do some research and find the cheapest, cleanest and safest places.
Research is the answer to everything! Before I go to any country, I do proper research about all the cheap places where I can find healthy food. I also try to find hostels with a small kitchenette so that I can buy fresh fruits, vegetables, and other ingredients, and I prepare my own meals. This really helps when you are staying in a country where the restaurants are really expensive or you need a change from the local food.
How do you calculate the money you spend daily during your trip?
I calculate everything I’m planning to do beforehand so that I can set a budget and stick to it. Accommodation, transportation, tickets to any sightseeing activity, food and even water is calculated daily and I always keep extra cash for safety.
Do you make an income while you are traveling for long periods of time?
I don’t make an income while traveling, but during travels I try to save money through booking early. For example, if flying to my destination is expensive, I cut down on the things I intend to do over there so the whole trip doesn’t exceed my budget. I have even slept at the airport or a bus station a few times. I also rarely use transportation; I usually walk to the places that I want to go to so that I can really explore the country. I avoid eating at fancy restaurants or touristic places; you can get the same exact meal for less at less known restaurants.
How can you learn about different cultures and meet locals without speaking their language?
I use an application called SayHi, it translates any language by sound, this way I can understand what people are saying around me. I also never shy away from asking for help, some people are really friendly and within a few hours we could be having lunch together and they become my new friend and tour guide. Making friends around the world is the best thing ever, because we stay in touch and sometimes they come visit me in Egypt!
Have you ever experienced culture shock?
I always learn as much as I can about the culture of the country I’m going to. I find it helps a lot when I read lots of books, and do my research before traveling.
How do you pack for a long trip?
I’m not good at packing at all! I love shopping, so I always travel with one bag and come back with two… plus extra weight! But I don’t pay for it; I take out all the extra clothes and wear them or put them in my carry-on. It can get really messy with me wearing 10 shirts and carrying a stuffed carry-on.
Do you always keep your passport with you? What happens if you lose it?
Yes, I always keep my passport with me everywhere I go, because in some countries it can be a big problem if you don’t have your passport with you. I always keep extra copies of any official documents that I have like my passport, visa, tickets, and any bookings locked in a safe at the hostel.
I was robbed in Prague; among all the cities I’ve been to, it’s the worst for theft. I always travel with a cross-bag or a backpack because handbags and shoulder bags can be easily stolen. I never go out with all my money; I only take what I need for the day plus my credit card. Also, I buy a lock for each of my bags.
If the train station or airport does not have baggage storage, where do you leave your belongings for a day of sightseeing?
I book a room at the cheapest hostel I find and I leave my luggage there for the day.
What’s your favorite thing about traveling?
Meeting new people, making new friends, learning new languages, and getting to know more about myself, but what I like the most is learning about different cultures and teaching others about my own culture and country.
How do you do that?
I teach people that Egyptians are not just what the media portrays! I give sessions about Egypt (sometimes even at my hostel) when I am abroad. I met two Polish girls who knew nothing about Egypt, I showed them photos and told them a bit about it, and later they came here to visit and they fell in love with it!
What sets your business apart from a travel agency?
For starters, I hate the idea of travel agencies. I find them to be so expensive, and they usually book touristic hotspots, which do not have the authentic experience and culture that a country has to offer. Also, they do full packages, but people have different interests when they travel. For example, some people might like art, history, museums, while others want more nature-based activities like hiking and exploring. Others might just want to relax by the beach or eat local food, so each plan should be customized based on what the person’s interests really are and what they want to do. This is why I founded Gallivanter Travel as an advising agency, not a travel agency.