Rasha Yousif: Breaking Stereotypes Around Travelling in Hijab

15 March, 2024 | Blog, Interviews

Rasha Yousif is a photographer and adventurer from Bahrain. Having visited 163 countries, she is on her quest to become the first Bahraini UN Master. As a prominent Muslim female traveller and one of the best-travelled NomadMania members in the Gulf region, her experiences shed light on the intersections of culture, photography, and solo travel. Join us as we explore her motivations, memorable travel moments, and the profound impacts of her travels.

Rasha Yousif Bahraini Female Traveller posing on a colourful street in ColombiaRasha Yousif, a photographer and adventurer from Bahrain, is one of the best-travelled NomadMania members in the Gulf region.


You can watch this interview in a video form on our YouTube channel 


Rasha, it’s wonderful to have you with us today. First of all, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us, especially during this special time as Ramadan has just started. I appreciate you sharing your time and stories with our community.

 Well, thank you for having me. I’m proud to be part of the NomadMania community, which has inspired me greatly and helped me plan my travels and explore many fascinating places. 


You have 163 countries under your belt. How did it all start? What motivated you to start travelling?

Well, it all started with photography. I’ve invested in photography as a passion, not just a hobby. It evolved from a hobby to a passion and led me to travel the world, attending workshops and events involving photography and connecting with photographers globally. Gradually, I gained confidence in travelling solo, sometimes for photography and other times just for the sake of travelling, leaving my camera at home. 

NomadMania Profile of Rasha Yousif, Bahraini female traveller

Rasha’s NomadMania profile


So photography helped you become a full-time traveller and maintain this lifestyle. Can you share a story about a picture that’s very close to your heart?

I have many, but when you asked me I thought of two of them immediately. One was taken in Istanbul early in my photography journey. I captured a girl through a ferry’s glass, creating a connection despite the barrier. Before that photo, I was very shy. I did not talk to people and it was difficult for me to ask for permission or to take street photos. That moment captured on a ferry was the first photo that broke my fear. Later I was invested in street photography.

The second picture I think of is from Peshawar, Pakistan. I photographed a little girl with red lipstick in a conservative area. She looked at me and I took a snap. Another bonding experience when capturing a fleeting, yet profound moment of connection between me and the photographed person.

A picture of a little Pakistani girl wearing a lipstick posing on streets of Peshawar, taken by Rasha Yousif

A picture of a little Pakistani girl wearing a bright red lipstick is one of Rasha’s favourite moments captured by her during her travels.


Do you think being a woman affects your approach to photographing people?

Definitely. Being a woman, I believe, offers me access to many places and allows me to connect with people more comfortably. I also use a friendly approach, complimenting people before asking to photograph them, which helps break the ice. Especially in regions where people might feel self-conscious about being photographed. However, there are many places where I’m not allowed to enter because of the gender restrictions. Some mosques or some worship temples wouldn’t allow women to go inside. In general, it is harder to blend in as a woman. When you go somewhere, the eyes will be on you, particularly if it’s a male-dominated country. 

Little Muslim girls wearing hijabs at school in Kenya

‘Being a woman, I believe, offers me access to many places and allows me to connect with people more comfortably.’ 


You’ve mentioned some of the ways you connect with other cultures and people is through being friendly, through photography. How else do you navigate cultural differences during your travels? What are your travel hacks regarding that?

It varies, sometimes just holding the camera or holding a book is enough and could be a conversations-opener. People would approach me asking what kind of a camera is this. What kind of language is this book written in? Being friendly and showing interest in local cultures also helps. Knowing a bit of the local language, and engaging with local art and music. I like staying updated on trending topics through platforms like TikTok. It can offer insights into the local lifestyle and open doors to deeper cultural immersion.

Bahraini Traveller Rasha Yousif posing with a tribe from Solomon Islands

Rasha loves interacting with locals. Here: posing with a tribe during her visit to Salomon Islands


What was the biggest cultural shock you’ve experienced?

The more countries you visit, the less shocked you are, but you still get shocks now and then. It keeps you curious to see more and more. One significant shock was encountering an indigenous tribe in Colombia. Their way of life, disconnected from the outside world, was both shocking and enlightening.


Can you share a moment that profoundly shaped you as a traveller?

Living on Lamu Island in Kenya during COVID-19 profoundly impacted me. I spent the majority of the pandemic on that island, sharing a day-to-day life with locals. Bahrain was in a lockdown, under the threat of COVID. Lamu was not. Nobody believed COVID-19 existed. Locals were healthy, they were eating good food, carrying on with their day-to-day life and socializing. Back in Bahrain, nobody was socializing because we were forced to keep a social distance.

My time on the island deepened my appreciation for immersive cultural experiences a nd introduced me to slow travelling, which I now prefer. It was a period of reflection on my travel pace and goals.

A picture of performance by local kids taken by Bahraini photographer Rasha Yousif in Kenyan Lamu Island

Spending majority of the pandemic on Lamu Island, Kenya, introduced Rasha to slow travelling and gave her a lot of time to interact with locals.


How does your background as an Arab Muslim woman influence your travel experiences and confront stereotypes?

There are many misconceptions about Arab and Muslim culture in general and even more regarding women in my culture, often influenced by media. I use my travels to challenge these stereotypes, highlighting the achievements and freedoms women enjoy in places like my home country, Bahrain. I share examples of empowered women in Bahrain and my experiences as a traveller and professional. In Bahrain, women are celebrated and recognized by our government in all fields.


Are there other female travellers from Bahrain or the Gulf region travelling as extensively as you do, or with similar ambitions?

While there is a growing community of travellers, few from Bahrain are as committed to visiting every country. The community includes adventurous individuals, but the level of dedication varies.

Rasha Yousif during her travels in South America, sitting in front of a colourful house in Colombia

During her travels, Rasha challenges misconceptions about Arab and Muslim culture, especially those regarding women.


What destinations do you recommend for solo female travellers?

If you are just starting, destinations like Japan and Singapore are great for solo female travellers for their safety and unique cultures, though Japan can be complex in terms of transportation. These countries offer great environments to explore safely and gain some confidence before going to more adventurous places.


Many people fear solo travel, wondering if they will enjoy it. What are some benefits of travelling alone that might surprise others?

Surprisingly, solo travelling has allowed me to meet many people, especially locals, which I didn’t expect at first. It makes you approachable. People come up to talk, wanting to learn about my country, region, or photography, or just to have a conversation. One of the biggest benefits I enjoy is meeting locals and getting the real stories of their lives. That offers deeper insights into the local cultures, enriching the travel experience far beyond that of a typical tourist.

A group of Muslim women sitting inside a house

Solo travelling alllows Rasha to meet many people and interact with locals. She often gets invited to their houses.


Traveling full-time is beautiful but challenging. What’s the most challenging aspect for you, and how do you manage it?

The constant movement can be exhausting—dealing with changes in weather, food, water, and even skin issues due to dryness. I used to dislike routines when I was in investment banking in Bahrain, but now I miss having a routine while travelling. It’s also challenging to be away from friends and family, feeling lonely at times. But that is a choice you make. Everything in life comes with its price.


For women, especially those in your culture, who are inspired by your story to start solo travelling, what advice would you give?

Just go for it without overthinking. Start with countries that are easier to navigate to build confidence. Overthinking can prevent us from pursuing our desires, so trusting the process is key.

Rasha Yousif during her trip to Africa, visiting one of the African tribes

Rasha inspires other women, especially from her culture, to travel solo and pushing their limits


Lastly, a standard NomadMania question. If you could invite for dinner any three people, alive or deceased, who would they be and why?

I’d invite my best friend Omar, Cesaria Evora, the inspiring singer from Cape Verde whose story has always been a great inspiration to me. And perhaps one of those young TikTok celebrities just to understand their unique generational perspective. It would be a diverse and enlightening dinner.


That sounds like an extraordinary gathering! Thank you for your time, Rasha. We’re excited to follow your journey and hope to celebrate with you soon when you become the first Bahraini UN Master! Have you decided where you want to complete this journey?

I’m undecided between a challenging or an easy country. The choice remains open, the decision will be as spontaneous as my travels.

Bahraini photographer Rasha Yousif posing with her sunglasses anc backpack in front of the mountain

Follow Rasha’s Social Media and her NomadMania profile to see her progress on a quest to visit every country in the world!


Don’t forget to keep your NomadMania profile updated, so we can all see your progress! I wish you safe travels and incredible adventures!

Thank you so much for having me. Take care!


As Rasha continues her quest to visit every country on the planet, we’re reminded of the endless possibilities travel offers for personal growth, understanding, and global connection. Keep an eye on Rasha’s profile here on NomadMania to follow her progress and check our her Social Media be part of her journey!

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