Spreading Smiles, Breaking Stereotypes

Ismail Roqai Chaoui is 23 years old and is from Morocco. This year he decided to
take a break from university to travel around Asia. Having a very limited budget, he uses hitchhiking for his transportation and that helps him to know more about the culture of the countries he visits. He documents his travelling experiences in his blog I Smile Around TheWorld.

What inspired you to start the blog-I Smile Around The World?

I always loved to travel and discover other countries, other cultures. When I travel, I try to live in the local way. That starts with little things like taking city buses or eating in popular places. I also hitchhike and find local hosts using the website Couchsurfing.

That helps me understand how the locals live and I learn a lot about the culture and the country this way. My blog is a tool I use to share this vision of traveling. I write about what I do, but mostly about the people I meet. I try to break stereotypes. People are more and more scared about others. That fear starts with lack of knowledge of the other cultures. For example when I decided to go to Russia and to Siberia, some of my friends told me : "Are you crazy to go there ! People are very racist in that country; you will not be safe etc..." But I only met very friendly and helpful people there and got one of the biggest support of my trip in Siberia. Some of them even spent their day off helping me get out some bureaucratic issue. Instead of being leery and suspicious, I try to trust in every person I meet and that makes my experience of traveling much richer.

Of all the places you've been, which country have you found to be the most hospitable?

It is hard to choose one country. In every country I have been to, people opened their homes to me and treated me like family. Everyone I have met has been incredible with me especially when I talked to them about my project. They make this question really hard for me... I will pass!

What has been the greatest joy of your journey so far?

My biggest joy was fifteen days after I had a motorbike accident in Vietnam. I had several injuries, broke my left arm and had to wear a plaster cast for six weeks. But the hardest part was that I had to stop hitchhiking because my movements were limited. For me, it meant also I had to abandon one of the purposes of my trip. But after fifteen days, I felt like I could hitchhike again even if that would be a big challenge. So I did, and it worked! It was one of the greatest feelings of my life! I felt like I was reborn again and I almost cried of joy in the truck! Nothing could stop me at that moment! Since that day, I use hitchhiking every time I have to go from a city to another!

What have been the biggest challenges?

My biggest challenge is not to get lazy, always be curious to discover new places, new cultures. Every day is a chance to discover new things and to meet new people with sometimes incredible stories. When I had my motorbike accident in Vietnam, I had to rethink my travel. I had to change all my plans to adapt my journey to my physical condition but keep my objective to always discover more. I also work hard on my blog to share these experiences and conceal it traveling is also one of my biggest challenge.

Was there ever a time you wanted to quit and go home?

I sometimes miss my family and friends of course. But the idea of quitting had never crossed my mind. I am living something I dreamt of for a long time.

Do you agree traveling opens your mind and heart to the world’s challenges?

Of course! The globalization is a reality. The world is getting smaller and smaller. Understanding the different cultures is a start to understanding the challenges of the world today. All my experiences made me realize the importance of strengthening the dialogue between civilizations. Instead of building walls, we should build bridges between people of different communities, religions, and cultures. In that way, we can learn how to live together and face the different challenges the world is facing.

What was the greatest lesson you’ve learned on your travels?

The greatest lesson I have learned on my travels is that from one community to another, there are more similarities than differences. No matter the country, religion, or color of the skin people aspire for the same things, and have the similar joys, sorrows and fears. I learned how to trust people and be more confident about myself.

What advice would you give to young people who are thinking about going travelling, but may be feeling uncertain or intimidated?

Traveling, especially alone, may be intimidating. People can be afraid of the unknown and prefer to stay in their comfort zone. But getting out of this comfort zone has many benefits. It helps to be more confident and do things you would never think possible before. Traveling is the best way to learn about others and about yourself. I learned more in the passenger seat of a car than in any university class I have been to.


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