In today’s Women Who Travel Solo, Nicole Smoot, a travel extraordinaire from Alaska, shares her memories form a solo trip to Yemen in 2014. Unfortunately, it is no longer safe for anyone to travel to Yemen due to escalating terrorist activities and civil unrest. Embassy operations have been suspended in the country and the U.S. State Department urges citizens to defer travel to Yemen. Lucky for us, we can still explore Yemen through Nicole’s stories.
How did you get started traveling?
I had always known since I was a little kid that I wanted to travel. My parents were always taking me and my brother on crazy Alaska road trips. My first big travel experience wasn’t until I was 22 and I backpacked through Europe. Once I went out and did that I knew travel was going to be a regular occurrence in my life.
Why did you decide to go to Yemen alone?
I just decided to go. Had someone in my life wanted to join me they would have been welcome to. However, due to instability in Yemen for the recent past I wouldn’t have felt comfortable trying to convince someone to join me.
Yemen was not my first solo travel experience. A couple years prior I traveled to Moldova and Ukraine solo. At that time I realized traveling solo was absolutely fine.
I never ran going to Yemen by anyone else because I knew if I wanted to go there it was more than likely I’d be going solo. If I waited I may have never had the opportunity to go. (And that currently stands true, the state Yemen currently is in makes it an absolute no-go zone at the moment). It’s not a destination that’s on many people’s radar.
Tell us about your experience with solo travel in Yemen.
It was a wonderful experience going to Yemen solo. I won’t lie, I was freaking terrified to go! After reading the travel warnings about going to Yemen and knowing the risks involved, I even thought I was out of my mind. (This was January & February of 2014). In the back of my mind I had a plan to bail at the last moment if need be. I had no idea what could be waiting on the other side, as kidnapping, terrorist attacks and death were all risks that I knew were very real there.
I always had said people are people, no matter where in the world you are. Coming off the plane I was nervous. But as soon as I got off the plane and met my guide, Jameel I felt totally comfortable.
Once I arrived in Sana’a, the capital, those fears melted right away. It was a truly beautiful place full of welcoming and friendly people. People were curious and interested in my traveling there. I met plenty of people, many I still keep in contact with.
The scenery was unreal everywhere I went. The gingerbread-iced designs on the buildings in Old Sana’a, the amazing mosques, the wild landscapes of Socotra. I couldn’t stop thinking the entire time that I was so lucky to be seeing all of this.
Is Yemen safe for travelers?
No. Sadly as of now, Yemen is not somewhere you should go. The country has spiraled into complete chaos. There is a proxy war currently going on all over the mainland of the country. Saudi Arabia is still bombing many targets around the country. Many people are displaced internally and many have been injured and lost their lives.You can the U.S. Department of State’s full travel warning for Yemen here.
Should the situation ever become stable, what recommendations do you have.
Book with a known agency a tour prior to leaving. Your visa must be arranged by an agency in advance. I went with Socotra Eco Tours.They arranged my visa, my travel on the island of Socotra, as well as a guide during my stays in the capital, Sana’a.
The old city of Sana’a is a must see, as well as Dar al-Hajar (just outside the city), the Bab al-Yemen and Saleh mosque. (Many of these places have been badly damaged due to fighting and the bombing campaign by the KSA). The highlight of Yemen for me was Socotra island. It’s a beautiful and truly unique place. There are many endemic species there, and some unreal looking beaches.
My sleeping recommendations for Socotra is to be prepared to rough it. Tent camping and sleeping under the stars is the best way to do it. There are a couple hotels in the city of Hadiboh on the island but due to the difficult access to many parts of the island it’s recommended to camp rather than go back and forth to Hadiboh.
In Sana’a I recommend the Arabia Felix, it’s in the old city. Most my meals were prepared by my guides in Socotra and local families. The food was great. There are some good restaurants in Sana’a, every one of them I was brought to was great.
What was the best part of your solo trip to Yemen?
Socotra. Seeing the endemic dragon blood trees in person, walking and swimming at the pristine beaches, sleeping under the stars and the fun conversations that I had with Sami and Ahmed (guide and driver). I could go on all day about what I loved. Another highlight was watching the sun set over Sana’a from the roof of a centuries old building in the old city.
What was the worst part of your trip?
It’s hard to think of one. Probably the worst was cutting my foot on a rock while camping at the base of Arher dune. If you aren’t one for roughing it, Socotra is not for you. Sometimes you are staying in areas with no toilet or shower facilities. That is completely fine by me, but I know a lot of people wouldn’t enjoy that.
What advice do you have for female solo travelers?
In general use common sense, be selective over who you trust, if you find yourself in a situation look to local women for help. Dressing conservatively is a great idea (while it won’t detour all unwanted attention), it’s your best defense. I generally try to blend in with the other women. In Sana’a I wore a long black dress with a black long sleeve top over it and a black headscarf, so that I wouldn’t stand out any more than I already was going to. Women in mainland Yemen have gone to wearing the solid black abaya to avoid being targeted by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. (Traditional Yemeni abayas are colorful and printed).
What do you have to say to inspire women to travel solo?
Don’t let the notion of going at it alone stop you. Lots of women travel alone! Heck, when I was in Yemen there was another solo woman from the U.S. There! We never crossed paths, but word travels easily in Yemen. She had passed her contact info to her guide upon hearing about me. Her hand written note made it to my guide waiting in Sana’a and he gave it to me before I left. We emailed and made calls back and forth speaking of our experiences. My point is that even in a tumultuous destination with few travelers there were two solo females there at the same time!
About Nicole Smoot
Nicole was born and raised way up in Alaska and still currently lives and works there as a dental hygienist entertaining her patients with her crazy travel stories when she’s not on the road. She enjoys travel, especially to little known and unusual destinations. She started a blog in 2015 where she tries to share her travel stories to these places (and even the popular destinations as well as her many travels in Alaska) with her readers. So far she has 50 countries down with no plans of giving up her travels anytime soon. Next year she will embark on a year-long round the world adventure. You can follow along on her blog over at Adventures of Lil Nicki.
Women Who Travel Solo
Women Who Travel Solo is a weekly column that shares the stories of women’s solo travel adventures in hopes of spreading the message that traveling alone is not only safe, but wildly rewarding. Inspire other women to travel solo by sharing your story with Something In Her Ramblings. Email Lauren at firstname.lastname@example.org.