At 27 years old, Arabia Umrani is on a mission to totally shake up the travel industry by doing something that should’ve been done a long time ago: providing immersive cultural experiences for women, by women. Through her new platform, Unwind, women around the world will be able to connect with other women who are leading excursions and activities unique to their cultures and communities with the click of a button.
Arabia’s entrance into the travel industry was initially through managing hotel front desks and later as a Delta flight attendant. She then found a passion for leading group trips for women around the world who needed a bit of “hand holding” when it came to solo travel. When eventually the need grew larger than one woman could handle- Arabia had to pivot; hence the birth of Unwind. I caught up with Arabia amidst her travels to talk about her company, and to get some travel tips for those that may be curious, yet unfamiliar, with solo travel (me).
Mia: So first things first, Arabia..you missed a flight today. Instead of freaking out how did you go about it?
Arabia: I was fine, because I knew there was another flight. It’s a different situation when you miss your flight and it’s the last one out at night. In the general scheme of things, I know that nothing is ever promised. Anything can happen. I generally have a very relaxed attitude when traveling.
Mia: How do you think you came to get that relaxed demeanor?
Arabia I was a Flight Attendant for Delta. So being that every day changes I have learned to have low expectations. I take that into my daily life, too.
Mia: When researching a place to travel to solo, what are some key things to look for?
Arabia: For me, I really am inspired by different hashtags or visuals. If I read an interesting fact in a book, I am instantly inspired to go to that place. After I have the interest, then I look around to see who I know that has been. When I find people who have been, I then look for the safest way to go about it, because I am traveling alone. Safety is a big part. I make sure to get A LOT of advice. It all comes down to finding the safest place for my accommodations and experiences. After getting all of the information, then it’s time to book!
Mia: So are you more of a hostel girl or a hotel girl?
Arabia: I am not a hostel girl. I am more of a hotel girl. But really, I am an AirBnB girl. THAT is my jam. I am a loyal AirBnB host on both the housing and the activity sides. I love the platform. I love that they give you the opportunity to have a closer relationship with the locals. That was incredibly important to me and I didn’t originally realize that the opportunity to connect with local women was what I missing when I travel. And that’s what AirBnB was giving me….sometimes.
Mia: What do you think is different about the travel experience for a woman vs. a man?
Arabia: There are so many layers to that. Women are culture seekers. We are the ones that create culture. But we are not the ones that the tourist dollars are going to. I look for experiences that are safe and led by a trusted guide. I always try and look for experiences that are led by women. Unfortunately, most of the guides in the world are men. Because of cultural reasons or the way infrastructure is set up, men need to be the face of the revenue. So in that case, I always make sure the guide comes with good reviews or recommendations and I make sure to never be the only woman. It’s again, the safety thing.
Mia: That’s so true. Even if the only thing you have in common is your womanhood, it helps so much. So my big question: as a woman how do you navigate nightlife while traveling solo?
Arabia: Girl, I am still trying to master this myself. Nightlife for me is finding the music I like. But again, if I go and I am the only woman? I am out of there! I don’t care if I end up at a folk club where they’re playing the banjo! I need to find a place that has good music, but also that has other women that I can approach or connect with. Also, look for places that have good security. I can’t tell you how many times I have had people get drunk and try and get inappropriate with me.
Mia: Totally. And I think it all goes back to your intuition in those situations, too. Do you have anything you specifically avoid while traveling?
Arabia: I try to avoid the over-touristy places. For example, I stay away from the Hard Rock Cafes. Girl, when I see those I get so mad! I don’t do stuff like that because I paid all of this money and spent all of this time traveling to a place…so I can eat the same thing I have at home? No! I think the true meaning of travel is getting as deep as possible into the culture and the city. The purpose of travel is to come back with a story and a relationship to the place- not photos.
Mia: What has been your favorite place you’ve traveled to?
Arabia: I have traveled to over 56 countries and I have different favorites for everything: a favorite for architecture, culture, food, or the people. I think that my overall favorite was the Amalfi Coast. I just left last week and girl, it was so fun! It was so fun, so beautiful, and the people were so hospitable. It was gorgeous and I felt right at home.
Mia: I bet the food was amazing.
Arabia: It was so good. We even got the chance to do this Farm to Table cooking class where we picked plants off of the side of the road and the chef helped us make a gourmet meal with them.
Mia: What has been the safest place you have traveled to?
Arabia: The safest place I’ve been was Tokyo. Hands down. Tokyo has some of the lowest crime rates in the world. It’s expensive, but safe. I am a woman of color and I’m curvy, so there are different levels of what is safe for me and how the world sees me. I have spent much of my life being over-sexualized by others, so I am very conscious when traveling. And in Japan, I felt safe on all those levels.
Mia: So when someone is finally ready to travel solo, how can they make it more cost-effective?
Arabia: Ditch the hotel and go for a hostel. AirBnB’s for the win. You can even do a private room in an AIrBnB. Take public transportation, don’t Uber or take a Taxi. Eat local food and street food. Every dollar counts. Travelers should look for volunteer opportunities, too. That way, they can get connected to someone that is willing to show them around, or at the least take them out for a dinner or a drink.
Mia: Do you know of any specific volunteer organizations to work with?
Arabia: No specific ones, but if you’re passionate about a certain cause, go look for opportunities in that field. Your time is valuable and nobody is going to turn you away.
Mia: What is the biggest mistake women make when traveling solo?
Arabia: The biggest mistake? Is that they think they CAN’T. That they think have to travel with someone. That they aren’t smart enough, strong enough, or intuitive enough. The biggest mistake they make is that they left self-doubt win. Solo travel shows you how strong you are.
Mia: So obviously, your platform helps with all of this. Why was creating Unwind necessary?
Arabia: Women do want to travel alone, and they want to break down these barriers. But there are just not enough resources for women to do it safely. These big travel conglomerates- AirBnB, VRBO, Expedia..these companies are ran by men. Men are making the decisions when it comes to travel, but women actually travel 70% more than men. Women account for 15 trillion dollars in the travel industry. Women are the powerhouse in travel and it was time to create a product by us FOR us. It was time to connect women to the resources that they need, and to provide women with opportunities to become more entrepreneurial.
Mia: How can one get involved with Unwind?
Arabia: Simply go online and book an experience with a local amazing host that we have, or message me and we can get the verification process going to help you sign up and bring a fun experience to your city.
Mia: What kind of activities are available on Unwind right now?
Arabia: There are so many. Philanthropy activities in Tokyo. Kayaking in Miami. Cooking classes. Perfume making in the Bay Area. Cultural tours! We have a tour of the last surviving Black neighborhood in San Francisco proper. Silent yoga near the Golden Gate Bridge. A cultural headwrapping experience in Atlanta. We even have an experience where you can design a pair of Swarovski sandals in Italy with a third generation leathermaker. And most experiences range from about $30 to $50.
Mia: So what do you hope to see come from your business?
Arabia: I hope to see more women traveling and creating authentic relationships. I want to see more women having resources for their families through hosting on Unwind. More access to education, and more personal power that comes with financial power. I want to see them living abroad and ditching the jobs that make them physically sick. I want them to feel empowered. And, I hope that Unwind becomes a globally-known platform.
Mia: And finally, what is your go to travel item?
Arabia: CHAPSTICK! Chapped lips are the worst. You can’t talk to a potential travel bae with chapped lips, girl!