With Sabira Mehrin of Wander Woman: Creating a community of independent women travelers

Like many patriarchal societies, girls need permission to do basic things in life– to stay out after dark, to get a job, to make their own career choices. In this context, there are still women who are pushing boundaries and venturing out on their own. One big change is that more woman are now travelling and seeking adventure.

Read more: These 4 apps will make traveling a lot easier

What is Wander Woman?

Among many things, Wander Woman is a travel company– by women, just for women. Wander Woman started out as a Facebook group but is growing into so much more. The group currently has 10,030 members.

Wander Woman comes with one sole purpose – bringing all women together in one platform to share the love for travelling around the world.

Travelers post their tips, ask for help to navigate blocks in their journey and share their stories. Solo travelers can also coordinate with each other, form groups for short trips based on common interests.

Read more: 5 countries you can travel to without a visa if you’re Bangladeshi

Who is Sabira Mehrin?

Sabira Mehrin is the founder of Wonder Woman. She is full of life and full of determination. She is trying to bring women together, help them travel and see the world, while creating a community of cool explorers that help each other.

She is also efficient. She has to figure out how to deal with her biggest challenge in administering a facebook group and keeping the group authentic. “I was very picky! I only wanted member with authentic profile, with legitimate work portfolios- and it was extremely hard to administer the group. So I made the best use of all my time- in traffics, and such.”

Why Wander Woman?

In a little more than 12 months, Sabira Mehrin has turned a small Facebook group into a full-fledged start-up. But what made her want to create this group in the first place?

“When I was a student in IBA, I used to participate in global business competitions and conferences. All of them were organized by big companies. So whenever I traveled, I never faced any kind of hassle in the process of purchasing tickets and all. All of these were done by the professionals.

But when I got into job and started planning a self-funded trip for myself for the first time, I realized I only knew few people who could give me the right kind of information. Also, while researching, I came across very few Bangladeshi travel bloggers. So I saw the lack of information, the discrimination, and saw that the issues were mostly for the women. And I thought, how can I create a platform that makes it easier for women to travel? And my best friend gave me the idea to start the group- just to assess the situation. I opened the group and added 200 people. And from there it started to grow, and it didn’t stop!”

Why do people trust Wander Woman?

There are a lot of factors at play when it comes to woman and travel- including safety, reliability and of course, trust issues. However, the closed nature of the group, the direct interactions and careful moderation has led to a thriving community with trust.

When we asked this question, Sabira exclaimed with genuine surprise, “I don’t know! They just do! I have spoken to so many parents about permissions and stuff, and they all seem to come around after talking to me! And I feel privileged to be blessed with this type of trust. So if anyone has trouble getting permission for solo trips, just show your parents our group! Let them see that it is safe, and we will do our best to give you the best experience possible!”

What’s next?

What’s not next is a typical, commercial agency. Sabira keeps that in mind as she finds partners to help her build the community. “When we first started out, a lot of travel agencies reached out to us. But I soon figured they were all being very commercial. We would prefer if we could find people who were more interested in building the community with us.

Sabira has big plans for Wander woman for 2019. “Wander woman got registered”, she said. “We want to make travelling more accessible to the students in near future. And I know that people believe that wander woman is a little too niche, but I refuse to compromise the quality of our packages. So we might not reach out to the the mass market just yet. Let’s see what happens!”

Read more: 5 tips for the solo traveller in Bangladesh

Tips for a solo traveller?

Sabira is an avid traveller. So when we asked her for tips she said, “Solo travelling is about two things- courage and planning. You don’t have to be fearful, necessarily, but you need to be cautious. So while some places are safer than others, you can still make the best of your situation by being smart. I have come across so many helpful people, help was coming from unexpected places whenever I was in a pinch. That was really surprising for me.”

Read more: 4 Bengali traveling myths that are completely wrong

So if you are a girl and you love travelling, do check out their group! Because there is something for everyone!

Travel solo at least once in your life, it can be enriching

Traveling has always been one of our top choices for choosing what to do in upcoming holiday seasons. However, as our lives get hectic- the fond memories from our childhood of travelling with our family simply become memories that are difficult, or in most cases impossible to relive. In addition, knocking your best friends on Facebook to check their schedule and plan trips result in nothing but utter disappointment, as you find them drowning in deadlines or juggling a hundred things going on in their lives.

So, do you let go of your plans and spend the vacation like a typical weekend with Netflix and pizzas? Of course not.

Solo trips to the rescue! Although solo trips are not a popular choice or a choice for many at all, they are an incredible life-experience. Today, we bring you some reasons to consider travelling solo at least once to have the experience of a lifetime!

Confidence and Responsibility

Solo trips would surely help you gain confidence as an individual. You initiate conversations, get to know people and enjoy little things you normally wouldn’t. Moreover, as a solo traveler, you would also seem more approachable and locals might start the conversation themselves. As you explore and return from the trip, it would also clear your misconception of solo trips being anxiety-inducing, no-good trips. Additionally, solo trips teach you to be more responsible as you take care of your belongings, passport, and other documents and try your best to avoid any danger in the foreign country.

Moreover, solo trips are more peaceful and therapeutic as you escape from your daily life. You can get away from people you know and spend more time with yourself at a quiet cottage. This also means giving yourself the opportunity to step out of your comfort zone. Imagine giving yourself a fake identity to strangers like all those times in the movies; fun, eh?

Make friends along the way

One unique and wonderful aspect of solo trips is that it also gives you the opportunity to meet more locals. When going with your family, friends or your significant other to a trip- it is given that you would go to have all your meals with them or sit next to them in public transportations, movie theatres and amusement park rides. However, travelling solo lets you meet people along the way and do the activities with them, which can be very fun.

A big advantage travelling solo brings is the reduced waiting time. For example, from perceiving theme parks as a noisy, rowdy place filled with screaming kids, crowds and endless walking, you would perceive it as the truly magical place it is meant to be- simply because of the amount of time you save skipping lines and entering as a solo rider. I had a similar experience in Universal Studios Singapore and I cannot describe the sheer happiness as you cross the long queues, get on your ride as a solo-rider and look at all those people waiting in groups.

Step out of your comfort zone

A solo trip like any other trip lets you meet new people and experience new cultures, traditions and food. However, it also lets you do those to a greater extent as you step out of your comfort zone, transform into a more confident, responsible and ‘fun’ individual and surround yourself with people living their life to the fullest to be a part of them.

So go out there, plan a trip for yourself and experience the magic. After all, a solo trip can be exciting, nerve-wracking and rewarding all at the same time; let go of the fear, have one for the first time and you shall find yourself planning the next one soon enough!

4 Bengali traveling myths that are completely wrong

Traveling is something we Bengalis love to do. We might act a bit old school when comes it, but you would rarely find a Bengali who doesn’t fancy traveling. Back in the day, our parents would probably start planning for a tour six months before a vacation starts. Now, in the age of information technology we fancy eating street food in Bangkok one fine morning and we might find ourselves doing it the next weekend. And yet, few old timer traveling myths still remain embedded in our habit.

Here are 4 such traveling myths that are completely wrong.

Myth 1: You need to buy plane tickets months in advance to get the best deals

Wrong. This might have been true ages ago when air traveling was not as frequent as it is now. Back then, airlines would hike up the ticket prices at the last minute because options were so few.

These days, it’s the opposite. With so many budget to high-end options, airlines scramble to fill in half empty seats as the date of departure comes close. Moreover, if you try to book a ticket months ago, you are most likely to see the static prices rather than dynamic ones. The ideal time to book your air ticket would be 4-5 weeks in advance.

Myth 2: Packages know best

While some packages might offer convenience once in a while, in most cases packages will rip you off. And the offers are almost never the best you can get. Comes with the added hassle of doing everything by the package terms and conditions.

If you try and explore by yourself, chances are you’ll cover the trip with half of what the package programs ask of you and get more out of your traveling.

Myth 3: Duty Free is a good bargain

This is a very common myth among those of us who frequent in airports. Duty Free items means that they are not taxed. However, it doesn’t mean anything about retail prices. There’s a higher chance that you’ll find the same goods at a much lower retail price in local market.

Myth 4: It’s a good idea to change your currency at the airport

4 Bengali traveling myths busted 2

Almost never. At airports, the transaction fee is built into the exchange rate percentage. And that means you’ll get a bad rate at airports almost all the time. It’s better to change your currency from your bank before traveling. Or do it in a local money changer once you reach your travel destination.

In Kolkata, the city of joy

One of the oldest and the busiest cities in the world, Kolkata nicknamed the city of joy, is also the proud holder of a very befitting title, the cultural capital of India. The city of Kolkata is full of people, colours, scents and noises of all kinds and a rich cultural heritage to boast about.

Kolkata is a coveted destination for all the history buffs, cultural explorers and spiritual travelers. This is the city that saw the rise of modern India and is the birthplace of the Bengali renaissance. For someone from Bangladesh, there is no better destination to travel to if you want to embark on a journey of discovering your roots and heritage.

Anyone who is looking for the experience of a lifetime on a tight budget, the city of Rabindranath and Satyajit Roy welcomes you.

Kolkatay Shwagotom
Traveling to Kolkata from Bangladesh is as easy as it gets. There are trains, which take roughly 8 hours, daily buses from Dhaka with a journey time of 12 hours (+ horrible Dhaka traffic) and of course aeroplanes that will land you in Dumdum airport in just about 2 hours or so. Indigo airlines would be the cheapest option if you’re planning to catch a flight.

Trains and buses will cost you the same, which would be a lot cheaper than an aeroplane. Trains operate between Dhaka to Kolkata four days a week from Kamalapur, tickets are sold as early as one month prior to your travelling dates. Check with the railway website for more information on timings and other details.

A number of buses operate daily on the Dhaka-Kolkata-Dhaka route. The best option would be to get a ticket for the BRTC-Shyamoli service. The staff is efficient and helpful and will get you a “VIP privilege” during land immigration, which can be a lot confusing than regular airport immigration. A round trip should cost you around 4000 or less, including taxes and other charges.

Kolkata New Market

A place to stay
If you’re traveling by bus, they’ll drop you off right in the heart of the city, Marquis street. Just adjacent to Marquis street, is Sudder street, the central backpacker’s district. You’ll find a number of cheap to mid-range hotels on Marquis and Sudder street. Just walk into any if you haven’t pre-booked one.

If you’re looking for a cheap stay with quality rooms, check out Ashreen guest house on Cowai Lane. Right in between Sudder street and Hogg’s market, the Ashreen guest house has 3 star rated rooms, in terms of quality, for a jaw-dropping cheap rate. Just don’t expect a proper 3-star hotel facility. You get what you pay for.

Many of these hotels are in heritage buildings that are hundreds of years old and are meant to keep it that way. Whether you’re looking for a heritage stay or a quality upgrade for a little value for money, finding a stay in Kolkata is an absolute no-brainer.

Explore, explore and explore
Kolkata is a crowded and crammed city. It has its own fair share of dirt and filth. But every street in Kolkata has some sort of history and culture associated with it.

The streets of Kolkata are a bold mixture of the old and the new. When Job Charnock of the East India Company first arrived in the banks of Hooghly in 1686, he realized the potential of the region for English settlement. For the next 150 years, English colonists would clear the jungle of Hooghly and establish roads, erect buildings in British architectural style and turn Kolkata into the first capital of the British Raj in India. Kolkata still bears the sign of its glorious past. Old British colonial buildings still adorn the streets of Esplanade and Park Street. The Park street cemetery houses the graves of 200 years old British families who were the first to arrive in India.

College street houses the largest street book market in Asia alongside the Calcutta University, the first institution for westernised higher education in India and Asia. Calcutta University and the subsequent educational institutions in Kolkata would, later on, produce some of the brightest minds in Bengal and create an educated and politically conscious middle class who were the pioneer in the movement for Indian independence. The college street is also home to the infamous Indian Coffee House. The intellectuals of Bengal would come here often to discuss literature, politics and everything in between over a cup of coffee.

This is the same coffee house Manna Dey wrote his famous song about. And it is believed that Roma Roys and D’Souzas really did exist.

There’s Victoria Memorial, a magnificent structure built by the British in memory of Queen Victoria. Built with a mixture of Victorian and Mughal architecture in style, Victoria Memorial was quite literally erected because the British happened to be jealous of the Taj Mahal in Agra wanted something as magnificent as Taj Mahal for the Empress too. Whether it served its purpose or not is of course, for you to decide.

Victoria memorial Kolkata
Victoria Memorial

St. Paul’s Cathedral is near to the memorial. It’s an 18th-century church built in English-Gothic architectural style, for the increasing number of English populaces in the city. The church is open to all and visitors are expected to maintain civic and silence when visiting the church. The church also houses a number of Graves inside its walls. Some of these graves belong to prominent British bishops, reformists and Lords who died in Kolkata.

St. Paul's church Kolkata
St. Paul’s

Birla Planetarium, the second largest planetarium in the world is close by and Birla Mandir, a magnificent temple with intricate marble stone carvings on its walls, is about 20 minutes taxi ride from the planetarium.

The famous Howrah bridge stands proudly on the Ganges river. Go to the Mullickghat flower market very early in the morning to witness one of the largest flower markets in Asia alongside the morning view of the Hooghly bridge.

Jorasanko Thakurbari, the ancestral home of Rabindranath Thakur is a must visit. The house is now turned into a museum and you can get inside the rooms Rabindranath and his family used to stay. The house also served as a center for intellectual practices during the renaissance period and now doubles as the Rabindra Bharati University. Satyajit Ray’s ancestral home is also nearby.

Tagore house Kolkata
Tagore’s house

Visit the Indian Museum, the largest in India to witness the vast and rich collection of our ancient civilisation and heritage. Top it off with a quick visit to Sir Stuart Hogg Market, commonly known as the New Market. The market built mainly for the British back in the 1800s now houses hundreds of shops that sell everything from antiques to traditional clothes. Shopping in the Hogg’s Market is an unforgettable experience.

Visit the Kalighat temple. The largest temple devoted to Goddess Kali or Durga. It is one of the 51 Shakti Pithas in Hindu mythology. According to some historians, the etymology of Kolkata is directly related to Kalighat. Mother Teressa’s house, Nirmal Hridoy, is right adjacent to the temple.

KolkataAbove everything, the most important aspect of traveling that I’m an advocate of is that, take random aimless walks down the streets and alleys of a city. Breathe in the smell of the city as every city has a smell of its own. Experience lives of the locals like the locals do. If nothing else, it enriches the soul.

The magnificent culinary journey
It is needless to say that food in Kolkata are practically crafted to our taste buds. The street foods are to die for. In Madge lane, right opposite to the New Market, you’ll find stalls selling hot Pav Bhaji, Chicken Paneer Kebabs, Chow mein etc. Don’t forget to try the Kulfi Falooda.

In New Market, you’ll find Nizam’s which have been around for 100 years selling delicious Kosha Manghso, Chicken Roll, Chicken Kabirazi etc. Head over to Baba Rolls in Park street to try the mouth-watering hot kathi rolls. The momo chain “Wow Momos!” sells some of the best pan-fried momos in the continent.

In college street, you’ll find Hindustan Dhaba. They sell the best Punjabi thali in the city. A hearty lunch at the dhaba is not only easy on the wallet but also one of the most delicious meals you’ll ever get to try. The juicy butter chicken and tandoor roti alone is enough to make one come back to Kolkata just to try it one more time.

Food in Kolkata
Thali in Hindustan Dhaba

You’ll, of course, go to the coffee house when on College street. One heads up is that the coffee at the coffee house is nothing special to be absolutely honest. But it’s the conversation that people come here for, not the food.

You’ll find some of the best South Indian idly and dosa in Friend’s Eating House behind the new market and their masala chai is a must try. There’s a small stall in Hartford Lane, near Ashreen guest house, that sells snacks like sandwich, omelettes, toast, chai and many more. They open early for breakfast and close late at night. Head over there for a cheese omelette if you’re not feeling too adventurous. The boy who runs the stall is a talkative young chap who can recommend you a thing or two.

And the best for the last, Roshogollas. Kolkata would not be Kolkata if there were no roshogollas. Try Bheem Nag and KC Das to taste these delicious sweets and maybe get a box or two home.

Getting around in Kolkata
At times it feels like Kolkata never moved on from the colonial times at all. 1958 models of Hindustan Ambassador yellow taxis and Royal Enfield motorcycles ply the streets along with trams, a forgotten mode of transport in most parts of the world.

Kolkata has the oldest running tram system in the world right now and getting a tram ride is a part of the Kolkata experience. Human run rickshaws are still found in the streets.

There are of course buses and conventional Uber rides. Kolkata also has a metro line which happens to be the first and the oldest underground metro in India. Travelling in the metro is cheap and fast for covering long distances. However, get one of the trademark yellow taxis to cover short distances and places where the metro will not go. Make sure you bargain well. They’re not very costly anyway.

Biday Kolkata
As night falls over this 300-year-old city, you should take a long look at the city from somewhere high enough that overlooks the old colonial buildings and crowded streets. The scent of incense would swirl into the sound of Azaan and the church bells would remind you that time is almost up.

You’ll get your return bus tickets from the same counter where you were dropped off. Or you could always take the train or the aeroplane, the choice is up to you.Kolkata taxi

As your bus/train will keep taking you further away from the city, you wouldn’t know what it is that’d keep calling you back. Is it the coffee house? Esplanade? The yellow taxis? Or is it the hundred years old night over Hogg’s market that stands witness to numerous events of history and culture? You will only know if you get back again. Kolkata, as always, welcomes you.