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 like New Zealand and India, fascinated by the diverse landscapes and cultures depicted on screen.

As an adult, Al-Sadhan was able to turn his childhood fantasies into reality by visiting these countries. Every step he takes in these unknown territories brings back memories of the awe and wonder he felt as a child.

Al-Sadhan is not your average traveler. Born and raised in Riyadh, the 35-year-old has traveled to a staggering 105 countries, each trip leaving a mark on his soul.


Nasser Al-Sadhan is not your average traveller; Born and raised in Riyadh, the 35-year-old has traveled to an incredible 110 countries, with each journey and its chance encounters leaving a mark on his soul. (Supplied)

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

At the age of 22, he moved to Canada and then to Australia, where he earned a master’s degree and a doctorate in computer science, specializing in AI.

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

HIGHLIGHTS

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

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

• He goes by @flowmad_ on Instagram, where he documents his travels and writes about the people he met along the way.

He uses @flowmad_ on Instagram, which is a combination of his love for flow arts and nomadism.

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


Nasser Al-Sadhan is not your average traveller; Born and raised in Riyadh, the 35-year-old has traveled to an incredible 110 countries, with each journey and its chance encounters leaving a mark on his soul. (Supplied)

He fondly remembers one night’s conversation with roommate Francis from South Korea. Al-Sadhan said he felt a sense of wanderlust as they browsed the countries on Google Maps.

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

“I take it because the normal travel, where everything is planned and everything is booked, I don’t find exciting… there is no room left for spontaneity, no room for unplanned experiences.”


Al-Sadhan’s travels to strange lands include his visit to the infamous Darvaza gas crater, a natural wonder in Turkmenistan. (Supplied)

He rarely, if ever, plans his flight and accommodation in advance. “The two biggest hurdles I had to overcome – which later turned out to be very valuable – are going with the flow … not having a plan and not booking anything in advance,” he said.

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

“I often booked a flight on the same night I wanted to travel so that I could get to the city and find accommodation there. But sometimes I couldn’t find any place to stay,” he said.

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

He once slept on a beach in Sri Lanka because he couldn’t find accommodation. “But then I met an amazing Ukrainian group and they offered me a place to sleep,” he recalled. “We became friends and ended up spending another two weeks together.

On one trip, Al-Sadhan’s phone stopped working while he was on a train in Poland. “Then I saw two guys from Brazil with backpacks, so I asked them if they knew of any hostels, they said “Yes” and I followed them.”

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

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

Al-Sadhan said this off-the-cuff approach pushed him out of his comfort zone and allowed him to break out of his shell.

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

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

Without a fixed itinerary or set plan, he lets the wind of the moment guide him, resulting in unforgettable experiences and connections.

In 2016, before Al-Sadhan moved from Canada to Australia, he stopped in New Zealand and the trip renewed his faith in humanity.

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

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

The seasoned backpacker revealed the trial-and-error approach to packing the essentials and emphasized the importance of minimalism and focusing on function rather than style. On his way to New Zealand, he had “a working sleeping bag, a tent and a small air mattress”.

During this 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 local homes for free.

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

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

“One day someone came in with loads of fresh fruit and vegetables and when I asked where they got it, they said it was from the bin behind the supermarket.”

While diving in the container, they found various items including fresh produce, bread and more. “If we found something like ice cream or desserts, it would go to the person who was dumpster diving that day.”

While diving in a foreign land dump, he discovered a vibrant community of people from different cultures coming together to share resources.

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

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

“We got to the gas crater before sunset and there was nothing to be seen but sand everywhere, but after sunset fiery lights in the shape of a cylinder are emanating from the hole.” Al-Sadhan recalled the eerie sight of birds swirling around the flames, dancing against the dark background of the desert region.

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

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

During his five days there, he had the opportunity to witness the customs and traditions of the region, including the public funeral procession and cremation that take place along the banks of the sacred Ganges River.

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

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

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