From Saudi Arabia to 105 countries — the incredible story of a modern nomad

RIYADH: As a child, Nasser Al-Sadhan spent hours watching documentaries about countries such as New Zealand and India and was fascinated by the diverse landscapes and cultures depicted on screen.

As an adult, Al-Sadhan was able to fulfill his childhood fantasies by visiting these countries. Every step you take in these unknown territories evokes the wonder and wonder you felt as a child.

Al-Sadhan is not your average traveller. The 35-year-old, born and raised in Riyadh, has traveled to 105 countries with a backpack, and each trip leaves a mark on his soul.


Nasser Al-Sadhan is not your average traveller; The 35-year-old, born and raised in Riyadh, has backpacked to a staggering 110 countries, each trip and chance encounter leaving a mark on his soul. (attached)

Having traveled far enough, he realized that finding yourself isn’t just a cliché—it’s a transformative experience.

At the age of 22, he moved to Canada and then Australia to complete his Masters and PhD in Computer Science specializing in AI.

“I moved back to Saudi Arabia at the end of 2019 when I became a professor of artificial intelligence at King Saud University in Riyadh. Now I focus on exploring the world and making flow art,” Al-Sadhan told Arab News.

HIGHLAMPS

• As a child, Nasser Al-Sadhan was intrigued by the sight of backpackers at the airport.

• Backpacking taught him how to live in the moment and look for new opportunities.

• She goes by @flowmad_ on Instagram where she documents her travels and writes about the people she meets along the way.

He goes by the name @flowmad_ on Instagram, a combination of his love for the flow arts and being a nomad.

Al-Sadhan started his backpacking adventures in 2014. Even as a child, he was intrigued by the sight of backpackers at the airport. “I never had the opportunity (to backpack) until I moved to Canada for my higher education and had more free time and income,” she said.


Nasser Al-Sadhan is not your average traveller; The 35-year-old, born and raised in Riyadh, has backpacked to a staggering 110 countries, each trip and chance encounter leaving a mark on his soul. (attached)

He fondly remembers a late-night conversation with his South Korean roommate, Francis. Al-Sadhan said that while browsing countries on Google Maps, he felt a sense of wanderlust.

He knew that this moment was the catalyst for his journey into the unknown. This ignited a spark in him that eventually led him to exciting experiences around the world.

“I’m a backpacker because normal travel, where everything is planned and everything is booked, doesn’t sound exciting to me… there’s no room for spontaneity, no room for unplanned experiences.”


Among Al-Sadhan’s trips to exotic lands is a visit to the infamous Darvaza gas crater, a natural wonder of Turkmenistan. (attached)

You rarely plan your flight and accommodation in advance. “The two biggest hurdles I had to overcome – which later proved very valuable – is going with the flow… I don’t have a plan and I didn’t book anything in advance,” he said.

Backpacking taught him how to live in the moment and look for new opportunities.

“I often booked a flight for the night I wanted to travel to reach the city and find a place to stay. But sometimes I couldn’t find a place to stay,” he said.

The Saudi nomad’s willingness to embrace uncertainty and new experiences has created meaningful connections that transcend geographic boundaries, sometimes restoring his faith in humanity.

He once slept on a beach in Sri Lanka because he couldn’t find a place to stay. “But then I met a wonderful Ukrainian group and they offered me a place to sleep,” he recalled. “We became friends and spent the next two weeks together.”

During one trip, Al-Sadhan’s phone died while traveling on a train in Poland. “That’s when I saw two Brazilian guys with backpacks, so I asked them if they knew of a hostel, they said yes, and I followed them there.”

The trio traveled together for the next three days and became friends.

“During my trip to Japan, I didn’t have the local currency on me and couldn’t pay for the bus ticket when a girl helped pay for me.” He noted that the two became friends when she showed him around the country.

Al-Sadhan said this no-plan approach pushed him out of his comfort zone and allowed him to break out of his cocoon.

“I’ve been traveling the world for the last 10 years and I’ve never had any difficulty that resulted in a bad experience,” he said.

These chance encounters enriched his travels, exposing him to different cultures and perspectives.

Without a fixed itinerary or set plan, you let the wind of the moment guide you, resulting in unforgettable experiences and relationships.

In 2016, before moving from Canada to Australia, Al-Sadhan made a pit stop in New Zealand, a trip that restored his faith in humanity.

“New Zealand is quite an expensive country and I was still a student at the time, so I decided to hitchhike the whole way through the country because I didn’t have much money,” said Al-Sadhan.

Hitchhiking was faster than taking the bus and allowed him to connect with people from a variety of backgrounds, including a kind-hearted mother and child and a scientist studying birds on a remote island off-limits to the public.

As a seasoned backpacker, she revealed the trial-and-error method of packing the essentials and stressed the importance of minimalism and focusing on functionality over style. During his trip to New Zealand, he took a “functional sleeping bag, tent and small air mattress” with him.

During the five-week trip, Al-Sadhan developed a deep appreciation for the importance of community. To keep his expenses to a minimum, he resorted to couch surfing – a form of accommodation where travelers stay in locals’ homes for free.

He stayed in a communal apartment with four rooms and a living room, in which 30 people lived. “I stayed there for about six days because I enjoyed it. People came from different countries and created a sense of community where everyone helped each other,” Al-Sadhan said.

There was only one rule in this apartment: “If you cook, you cook for everyone.”

“One day someone came in with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and when I asked where they got them, they said, ‘From the bin behind the supermarket’.

While dumpster diving, they found a number of items including fresh produce, bread and more. “If we find something like ice cream or eclairs, it goes to the person who went dumpster diving that day.”

While diving in a foreign country, he discovered a vibrant community of people from different cultures who came together to share resources.

Dumpster diving has saved him money, but it’s not just about finding free food, it’s about building relationships and experiencing a new culture.

His travels to exotic locales include a visit to the infamous Darvaza gas crater, a natural wonder of Turkmenistan. It is also known as the “Gates of Hell” as it is a fiery pit that has been burning continuously for more than four decades, emitting a captivating flame that lights up the night sky.

“We reached the gas crater before sunset and there was nothing to see but sand everywhere, but after sunset cylindrical fiery lights emanated from the hole.” Al-Sadhan recalled the eerie sight of the birds swirling around the flames and dancing against the dark backdrop of the desert area.

“My guide explained to me that these birds feed on flies that are attracted to the light of the flames,” he said.

She had another life-changing experience at the Kumbh Mela festival in Varanasi, India. Unlike the other places Al-Sadhan visited, which he described as somewhat similar, “Varanasi is the exact opposite; everything is different and nothing is the same.”

During his five days here, he had the opportunity to witness the customs and traditions of the region, including a public funeral procession and cremation that takes place on the banks of the holy Ganges River.

Watching the ceremonial cremation of a middle-aged man, Al-Sadhan said: “They have a different social and spiritual relationship with death.” He vividly described how the bodies were wrapped in cloth before being placed on the pyre and set on fire.

The solemnity of the ceremony, combined with the spiritual energy of the festival, made him think about the fragility of life and the importance of appreciating every moment.

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