Budget travel queen Yara Yehia made a name for herself by showing Egyptians that international travel was attainable. Her YouTube channel “Hezaha w Safer” or “Move Around and Travel” offers practical advice, breaking down costs to far flung destinations like Malaysia, Kenya or the Philippines.
And now the millennial built TripDizer, an online travel agency that hopes to change the way the world explores. I caught up with her at StepConference in Dubai, where we talked about how she broke into YouTube, becoming an influencer and the top country every American should visit in the Middle East. (Hint: they have pyramids.)
Alexandra Talty: You’re an influencer and the CEO of your own travel business. You’ve been making YouTube videos for three years now. How did you get started and build that trust with your audience?
Yara Yehia: I used to be a teacher working in Malaysia. When I was there, I met a lot of travelers who would tell me, ‘oh I was in Thailand last weekend’ or ‘oh, I was in Indonesia.’ At the time, I thought, ‘oh my God, where are you getting all this money to travel?’
As an an Egyptian, I assumed traveling was expensive. I thought it meant you have to stay at a fancy hotel and spend a lot on an airline ticket.The travelers I met introduced me to budget airlines and hostels.
So I told myself that every weekend I was going to a destination. I went to Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore; everything in South East Asia.
Then I realized that no one in Egypt knew about budget travel. My husband asked me, ‘why don’t you start a blog telling people in Egypt how to travel on a budget?’ And I was like, ‘ok yes, let’s do this.’
I started with a video about Kuala Lumpur because that’s where I lived. I explained all the basic stuff: what to do, how much things would cost, when to book flights and that Malaysia is visa-free for Egyptians.
To be honest, I didn’t expect that it would be something. But then suddenly, people were watching. My fourth video was how to do the Maldives on a budget; that was my big break. I jumped from 5,000 followers to [nearly] 50,000.
For Egyptians, the Maldives are just the dream. Everyone wants to visit and see what it’s like. I made a budget calculator for the trip and it all came under $1000 – for the stay, the flight [from Egypt], the food, the visa. People went crazy after this video. It was shared endlessly.
Then people started writing their statuses on Facebook saying that they followed the video exactly and that everything I said was correct. That is how I got a lot of people following me – they trust what I say.
AT: That was something you spoke about at StepConference. The importance, especially now, of building brand trust.
YY: Exactly. Let’s be honest – to have high quality followers, you need to give them something in return. The something I’m giving is travel information. I’m not just showing off a fancy hotel. I’m showing them how to travel. That’s why people like my content.
AT: Do you get a lot of people asking about traveling on an Egyptian passport?
YY: Definitely. In all of my videos I start with how to get a visa for Egyptians. They are very concerned about the visa. And food. People say, ‘oh we don’t like Asian food, they eat cockroaches.’ Or in the United States, they worry that pork is everywhere. There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to travel.
AT: Can you explain a bit about TripDizer?
YY: It is an online travel platform where you make your own itinerary. You put your interests and then the website builds an itinerary based on what you like. If you love adventures, this is what you should do. If you love beaches, this is where you should visit. We tailor a personalized itinerary for you, booking your flights and accommodations as well. It is full service.
AT: If you were going to recommend one country to an American who’d never been to the Middle East before…
YY: Egypt! We have the most magicificant monuments – come on, we have the pyramids. We have Luxor. We have beaches. We have Sahara, we have the black and white desert. And you can visit anytime of the year.