Sara Omar wants the whole world to know her Saudi Arabia 

written by Sahar Aman April 4, 2024
an Arab woman draped in a scarf sitting in front of Al-Ula-Hegra-Nabatean-tombs

Meet a trailblazing entrepreneur with a new take on tourism in the Kingdom. Sara hopes to share a different side of her country with the world through immersive experiences on Intrepid’s latest Women’s Expedition.  

Sara is a travel powerhouse. For starters, she’s visited more than 70 countries. While that alone would be impressive, she’s also a force to be reckoned with, especially for Saudi Arabia’s tourism industry.  

As the co-founder of two tour companies, Sara has led countless travellers around the world and through her home country. Now, she’s sharing her passion with Intrepid to launch a new Women’s Expedition in Saudi Arabia. 

You might be surprised to hear that Sara was shaken the first time she flew by herself, but it changed something in her.  

When the Saudi tourist visa opened, it was like, okay, now I can show them instead of just talking about it.

After her first solo plane journey she stayed at a hostel in Berlin where she not only got the chance to connect with fellow travellers from around the world, but she also got to share her experiences and challenge their prejudices. Sara has been compelled to help other travellers find meaningful connections like that ever since. 

‘I usually talk about who Saudis are and what our lifestyle is like, and I can see the shock on peoples’ faces. They have stereotypes in their mind and misconceptions about the country,’ she says. ‘When the Saudi tourist visa opened, it was like, okay, now I can show them instead of just talking about it.’ 

After the pandemic brought her outbound tours to a halt, Sara’s attention turned to travels inside her home country as a way to share the real Saudi Arabia with international visitors through local immersion and community-led experiences. 

Teaming up with Intrepid to launch a trip to Saudi Arabia is a pivotal moment for Sara, who was inspired by Intrepid in her early days as an entrepreneur. This 12-day Women’s Expedition is full of local experiences she personally discovered while backpacking through the Kingdom. From meeting two sisters who run a citrus farm and visiting Madinah’s ancient and holy city to sharing tea and stories in a women’s only salon, travellers will explore Saudi Arabia like never before.  

I sat down with Sara to learn more about her journey from a reluctant solo traveller to an adventurous entrepreneur. 

a woman leaning against a wall

I really want to hear more about your story and how your travels led you to what you do now.  

How much time do you have? I’ll give you the short story. I love to explore new countries, cultures and history. My husband is exactly the same. Sometimes, I travel alone, and sometimes he does, and then we travel to certain destinations together. He’s into history, and I’m into people, so that’s a great combination.  

After every trip, everyone would ask questions like where did you go? How did you go there? Can you plan my trip and help me? So we started doing that for family, friends and their friends. Then we thought, why don’t we just turn this into a business and make something out of it?  

In Saudi, we travel in a very classic way. People tend to go to destinations like London, Paris and Geneva to visit a restaurant or maybe a landmark, shop at the best mall and come back with zero knowledge of the country, its history and the people.  

I love the surprise you see on people’s faces when they discover our Saudi lifestyle, especially when they meet our women.  

So, my husband and I wanted to introduce our way of travelling, which is connecting with people, getting to know other cultures and going to the smaller cities instead of the big cities. When we first started our company we were inspired by Intrepid and wanted to create something similar for Saudi.  

These trips opened the door for a lot of women to start travelling solo, but not alone. You know, they wanted to get out of their comfort zone without their parents and friends and go someplace nice on their own, but they didn’t really want to feel they were completely alone.  

How did you go from exploring the world alongside Saudis to inviting the world to visit you instead? 

[In September 2019, Saudi Arabia began offering tourist visas] and then COVID-19 hit like five months later. So, they didn’t have the chance to introduce the country to the world. When the pandemic came, businesses stopped, everything did. We stayed at home for a year and a half, almost two years.  

I was going crazy because I could not travel internationally so I took my backpack and started travelling all around the Kingdom. We usually take our own country for granted, thinking I can see it any time, so I hadn’t really explored Saudi Arabia.  

I was honestly surprised. I know that Saudis are very hospitable. We’re extremely generous and like to host people. But I’m a local, not a foreigner, and even to me, they were hospitable. I travelled to Hail and told someone I was from Jeddah. They were like, ‘You came all the way from there? Come and have dinner at my place. I’ll tell my mom; I’ll tell my family.’ 

Inspired by that and with the introduction of the tourist visa, I wanted to do whatever I could to introduce Saudi to the world and all the people I met on my travels. 

So, I started jumping around every small city and worked on creating interactive experiences that supported the local communities. When the airport opened up, I was ready. I launched my website and started doing tours for people from around the world to come and explore Saudi and experience its history, culture and architecture. 

What can travellers joining this Women’s Expedition expect?  

Trust me, from the moment they land in Saudi, they will have a lot of experiences. Every little experience in Saudi Arabia has a wow factor, whether it’s a landmark, the people we’re visiting or its history. 

From a traveller’s perspective, Saudi Arabia has a lot to offer as a destination. A lot of people underestimate the size of the country. It’s huge and very diverse. Jeddah is completely different from Riyadh and, likewise, with Hail and Al-Ula. The dialect, food, folklore and dance change from place to place. What I love about Saudis is that they love their culture and traditions.  

It’s different when you often hear about a country and then visit it. I don’t blame anyone for coming with misconceptions about Saudi because we all know that the media only puts one story out there… I love the surprise you see on people’s faces when they discover our Saudi lifestyle, especially when they meet our women.  

Can you tell me about the women who travellers will meet on this trip? 

My favourite part of the trip is connecting women with other women. I want the travellers to meet all Saudi women and learn how wonderful they are. There are plenty of opportunities for this in our itinerary.  

I don’t blame anyone for coming with misconceptions about Saudi because we all know that the media only puts one story out there.

A lot of people think Saudi women are unable to do anything, that we’re not educated, that we don’t work and that we need human rights to save us. Visiting is the only way for them to actually understand that it’s the exact opposite in Saudi. Meeting the locals is one way to understand what the lifestyle is like.  

On this trip, they will get to do that by meeting different women in our society. From the first day, they’ll see people who aren’t wearing hijab, the people who are and the people wearing the niqab, and how it’s a personal choice. They’re just like women anywhere around the world. They’re hilarious, talkative and fun. 

I’d love to get your take on how Intrepid’s Women’s Expedition is different from other offerings in the country.   

For most people coming to Saudi, the experiences offered are related to landmarks, history or UNESCO sites but none of that is really focused on the people. For anyone who wants to do something in-depth, meet people and spend quality moments with them, this trip gives them that.  

I’m excited and a little nervous, but honestly, what’s making me comfortable is everyone I have met or talked to at Intrepid is very nice. I feel like everyone at Intrepid has my back. There are people to guide me and lead me if anything needs to be amended or changed. 

I’ve curated experiences like going to a local home and spending time with a family, visiting a citrus farm, visiting a ladies-only beach and spending time at a women’s salon. 

You know, I’ve been to several salons around the world where you just get your hair done and leave… but for us, the salon is a place for community. They are women’s only for ladies who wear hijabs and need privacy. We all sit, talk and connect with everyone. We just go as girls together and spend something like two to three hours doing one treatment after another just to keep catching up. 

So, the focus of the Women’s Expeditions is giving experiences with interactions with the local community instead of landmarks. I want to deliver the standard, concept and vision that Intrepid has when they create trips. It’s like, you this role model, and then you are part of it. So, I’m very excited, it’s a dream come true. 

Learn more about how Intrepid’s Saudi Ariabia Women’s Expedition came to be and check out the 12-day itinerary.

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