Fajer Abu Zayed’s average day can be described as an experiment in the art of navigating cultural differences and language barriers across the globe. The Dubai-born entrepreneur talks to Vision about the journey that led him here
Invite Fajer Abu Zayed for a cup of coffee and you’ll walk away learning that Mongolia has the world’s lowest population density, guests at South Korean weddings chase chickens that are released after the ceremony, and 35 people in Bangladesh get eaten by wild tigers each year. The Jordanian entrepreneur is the founder of Escape Travels, a company that introduces intrepid travellers across the GCC to unfrequented destinations such as Myanmar and Kyrgyzstan through unique travel itineraries and total cultural immersion.
Backtracking to where it all started, Fajer says: “After I got my bachelor’s degree, I bought a one-way ticket to Caracas and took off for about three years.” As a fresh graduate, he financed his globe-spanning trips through volunteer work and credit cards. “I figured I would use my credit to see the world while I’m young and healthy, and get a real job someday to pay it off. As of today, I’m still travelling. Who would’ve thought the journey would be the destination?”
And what a journey it’s been. At only 31, Fajer has helped raise an orphaned puma in the Bolivian Amazon, motorcycled from Kashmir to Kerala, spent a summer living in a tent by the Arctic Circle, and hitchhiked in Ecuador with plumes of volcanic ash spreading in the background.
The eternal wanderer returned to Dubai in 2010 to earn his master’s degree in logistics. Escape Travels is the culmination of his adventures in over 80 countries, humbly tracing its roots back to a road trip to Hatta he organised in his quest for affordable escapades. The company has evolved into a tight-knit community beloved for bringing together like-minded travellers from all walks of life.
Nature and nurture seem to be at play in the fact that Fajer averages a flight per week, with no intentions of slowing down. “It’s my DNA. My father is an old school Bedouin who was born in a tent in the desert. He jokes about how his attempts to modernise me have failed. I also give a lot of credit to the outdoorsy environment in Canada, where I was raised.”
It’s safe to assume that travelling for years on end would eventually deter one’s passion for exploration – but not Fajer. “I love it when that airplane door opens and I hear, ‘Jambo! Habari gani?’ or ‘Sawatdee krap’. I get excited every time I’m on a flight,” he says, unintentionally revealing his knack for accents. Yet every so often, a travel scenario will have Fajer re-evaluating his rather unorthodox lifestyle.
“I was in Socotra, an island with an incredible aura that is located 350km off the coast of Yemen, at the end of November to lead a trip. The airline cancelled the flight the night before the group was supposed to reach and the trip had to be called off. Suddenly I find myself stuck on the world’s most isolated island, meeting with its governor so he could sign an order allowing me to fly out on a military plane to Yemen, where the unrest was just kicking off."
"There were goats on the plane, the lights were flickering, and the pilot had to make an emergency landing for some reason. I must admit at that point, I was questioning what in my life has driven me to be here. Ultimately, it’s the challenge and excitement of discovering new places and sharing them with others – that’s what keeps me alive.”