When Arab travellers become social media sensations

Mohamed Alselini, a Libyan national who calls himself “Rahalista,” meaning “traveller” in Arabic, has reached more than 220,000 subscribers on YouTube and more than 78,000 Instagram followers.
Saturday 19/10/2019
Mohamed Alselini, a Libyan national who calls himself “Rahalista.”  (Courtesy Mohamed Alselini)
Mohamed Alselini, a Libyan national who calls himself “Rahalista.” (Courtesy Mohamed Alselini)

Travelling the world comes with adventure and excitement but also financial and logistical challenges for those who don’t know the tricks of the trade.

Qassim al-Hatou, a 24-year-old Jordanian, said he hopes to make the hobby more accessible, providing ideas on how to travel well — and at the lowest cost — to his hundreds of thousands of social media followers.

Like many travellers, photographers and influencers, Hatou said social media platforms such as Instagram, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are the best outlets to share his work and experiences and get his message out to the public.

Hatou, who travelled to 12 countries and 40 cities in less than one year, calls himself Ibn Hattuta after the famous Arab traveller Ibn Battuta. His 100,000 followers on Instagram and some 240,000 on YouTube give him a big stage to showcase his photos, stories and experiences.

Hatou focuses on sharing local culture and street food, while making friends and connections along the way. Like many low-budget travellers, he uses sites such as Couchsurfing to find a free bed for the night and hostels for cheap prices if he is unable to find available free hosting.

“The most important thing I have learnt is that most of what we know about other people’s culture is wrong, and most of what other people know about us is also wrong,” Hatou said.

“The reason I chose this kind of life is because I want to enjoy a free life away from the routine, stress and confinement of geography and borders and go out of the comfort zone. I support myself financially from the income [generated by] the videos I produce for some companies. Some sponsors finance my expenses as part of a collaborative agreement to produce certain stories.”

Hatou is one of many aspiring globetrotters, including from the Arab world, who bankroll their travel by providing content and reviews to the public.

However, some travellers face greater hurdles than others in obtaining necessary visas due to their nationality.

Mohamed Alselini, a Libyan national who calls himself “Rahalista,” meaning “traveller” in Arabic, starting his trek about a year ago and has reached more than 220,000 subscribers on YouTube and more than 78,000 Instagram followers.

“In addition to travel restrictions at borders, financing yourself on the road is another challenge,” Alselini said. “I personally sold my car and used my savings and had to get a loan from my family to start this journey but, after a few months, I had to look for a constant source of income so I started to rely on collaborative projects with some sponsors to produce specific content.”

Some travellers, such as Palestinian Basil Elhaj, brand themselves “worldwide food explorers,” focusing their content on local cuisine. Elhaj’s motto is the Arabic phrase “ana Juaan,” which means “I’m hungry.”

He produces video series such as “The Tastiest Food in the World” that have become major hits in the Arab world. He has more than 290,000 Instagram followers and 1.7 million YouTube subscribers, making him the world’s most-followed Arab YouTuber, with some videos viewed more than 5 million times.

“I’m fond of travelling and the idea started from my hobby,” Elhaj said. “I said to myself, ‘Why not produce videos about the best food or popular street food in the countries that I visit?’

“I did and I was encouraged by my followers to produce more videos. Then I started to receive invitations from people worldwide to visit them and taste their food and enjoy their hospitality.”

Travellers like Elhaj must be adaptable and willing to change perspectives, they said. However, despite the challenges, they said they find that the journey is well worth it.

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