Meet Globetrotting Couple, Alison Stoody (32) and Fajer Abu Zayed (35), whose journey has taken them to 30 countries across six continents. Along the way, the adventurous couple picked up more than souvenirs – priceless memories, newfound perspectives and had Summer, their precious two-year-old daughter.
Family Flavours: How did your upbringing impact your desire to travel?
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Fajer: I was born in Dubai, raised in Canada and spent my summers in Jordan, so the world was already a very small place growing up. Discovery (new people, places and cultures) is in my blood!
Family Flavours: Did your education and profession effect your “travel bug”?
Alison: I studied English literature and I got a Bachelor’s in Education as I wanted a concrete skill that I could travel with. I have now taught all over the world, including Canada, a few countries in Asia, Dubai and Jordan. It’s nice knowing teachers are needed all over the world! Teaching in these various places showed me that humans (and kids, especially) are more alike than different. It’s nice seeing the similarities that connect us all. It has also taught me a lot about communicating through body language and that a smile is universal.
Fajer: My undergraduate degree is in Business Management and I have a master’s in Logistics, so I was able to combine my passion for travel with my work. As I have a travel agency, I get to organise everything from flights to itineraries to accommodations and tours in countries least visited such Bangladesh and Bhutan, to more popular destinations like Norway (and everything in between!). I was thus able to combine my passion for travel with my work.
Family Flavours: Where and how did you meet?
Alison: We met at university while were were studying in Canada in in 2004. Every time we would make plans, I felt we were going on an adventure! I liked Fajer’s passion for embarking on new things and not always following the crowds.
Family Flavours: Tell us about your first trip together
Fajer: We back-packed around Honduras together, making the most of every single day, trying to squeeze in as much exploring as possible and signing up for every activity on offer.
Alison: One morning we went on a hike around a national park, getting lost and only having a local guide and a machete with us. That same afternoon we went white water rafting. I felt like I was going to die twice in one day! I like that Fajer pushes me out of my comfort zone.
Family Flavours: You lived in Cambodia just a year ago. Why move to Jordan?
Alison: Initially, we loved the small neighbourhood vibe of living in a village amongst a few expats that were enjoying a simpler life. Not long though, a major development sprung up!
Fajer: Since having our daughter, more support and access to quality health care became a priority. Almost a year ago, we were vacationing in Jordan, then decided to stay!
Family Flavours: What do you like about living in Amman?
Fajer: Amman has all the great elements of a city – a nice café scene, the countryside nearby and the four seasons all in one month. We especially like how it has the main elements of a big city which we love, yet it moves at a slower pace; there’s always time to sit and have coffee with friends or family, for example.
Alison: We now finally feel a connection to Fajer’s Arab roots and want to pass on some of these values on to our daughter and son (on the way). We love that the culture here put an emphasis on the importance of family, helping others and respecting elders. We enjoy the simple things like a walk in the park on a Saturday morning or a great meal among relatives.
Family Flavours: What is your advice for readers who want to give their families authentic travel experiences?
Fajer: People tend to overthink the logistics of travel. We don’t need the latest technology or “gear” – what we take is a positive attitude and the willingness to go a little bit out of our comfort zone for an authentic experience.
Alison: It’s important to feel safe, so if you are in a place super foreign to you, always have relevant phone numbers on hand in case needed (like your hotel). Information is better written down because you can’t rely on technology to work 100 per cent of the time.
Family Flavours: What is the most memorable city you travelled to as a family?
Fajer: We had an unexpectedly good time in Negombo, Sri Lanka.
Alison: Perhaps it was because we didn’t have any expectations or plans that we were able to relax. Our daughter Summer was about five months old at this point, and just starting to eat solid food, so I packed tonnes of baby food! We ate at a cute local restaurant, ended up walking along a huge stretch of beach and checking out a little bit of the nightlife all with Summer in tow. Locals were super friendly and someone was always offering to hold her during our meals. Things went smoothly and Summer was a trooper! The key was our relaxed and non-rushed attitude.
Family Flavours: What is your next getaway?
Fajer: Our next adventure is an unexplored destination for both of us – South Africa! We are going without our daughter this time, but will be scoping out the area for a future family-friendly trip once we’re a family of four! Some friends of ours are getting married just outside of Capetown, so we are going for a relaxing ten days of adult time.
Family Flavours: What has travelling mostly taught or offered you?
Alison: Having a global perspective on the world is important. It’s also humbling to be in a situation where you aren’t the majority – where you’re seen as “different” and where you’re in a situation where you don’t feel 100 per cent comfortable.
Alison’s family travel tip
“Moving around a lot with kids is hard and tiring, but there is a way to be smart about it – by not allowing “rush” to be part of the equation because this puts stress on everyone. If kids see their parents stressed, it also makes them stressed. Having a super flexible schedule and a positive attitude are key. If little things become annoyances, no one will have a good time!”
Fajer’s budget-friendly travel tip
“One of the advantages of living here in Jordan is that we’re just a hop away from Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa, which provide a plethora of budget-friendly vacation destinations. There are methods for reserving accommodation which have become super popular – they allow you to self-cater, meaning you don’t need to spend a fortune on dining out and are generally cheaper than staying in a hotel. You don’t need to spend a lot on touristic activities and going on costly tours. The best way to take in a new place is to do those activities which are free; stroll through the local market, enjoy the morning at a park or visit a religious monument.”
Couchsurfing refers to staying with hosts while you travel without paying them. They may offer you a sofa or a spare bedroom and you can “repay” your hosts in informal ways like bringing a gift, cooking a meal for them or buying groceries.
Fajer’s first experience with Couchsurfing was in 2006: “I stayed with Manuel and his generous family in their tiny apartment in Lima, Peru.” He has since hosted and been hosted by travellers from all over the world, from New York City to the Balkans. “We’ve made friends in all corners of the world with Couchsurfing,” Fajer says. “During times when I couldn’t travel, like when I was a student, it was refreshing to be a host because I would get to know new people and cultures – it was almost like I was on a trip myself!”