Hajar Ali at home in Little India, Singapore
Tell us a little about your background – what did you study and what path led you to founding Urbane Nomads?
I did strategic studies at the Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies (now Rajaratnam Institute of International Studies) but what led me to start Urbane Nomads was the frustration I’d felt being a real estate agent where my transactions were predicated on the available inventory. This posed a problem as I worked solely with ‘designer’ real estate- well-designed apartments and houses or conservation property. There were many times when clients with a legitimate budget would not be able to find anything as there was simply nothing on the market at the moment.
I was inspired to set up Urbane Nomads while on a trip to Argentinian Patagonia. The agency was conceived to specialize in luxury travel to remote places.
What sets Urbane Nomads apart from other travel companies?
I’d had clients from South Africa contacting me for East African safaris, knowing that I’m based in Singapore. Their reason was that we execute our trips in luxury but incorporate many off-the-beaten trek elements, something that most luxury companies are not known to do.
You have travelled all around the world. What are your favorite cities?
My favourite cities are Istanbul, Beirut and Buenos Aires- in that order. I imagine I’d enjoy Buenos Aires a lot more once I pick up a little bit more Spanish.
You are the first woman to cross the Empty Quarter – how was the experience and journey like?
This is almost embarrassing- it was a long time ago and my subsequent expedition has not panned out. Hopefully early 2015!
I was researching the Empty Quarter for clients’ trips and went into the history of expeditions in the Empty Quarter. I was intrigued by the rich, interesting history behind the race to do a complete crossing of the Empty Quarter and realized that no woman had managed to complete a crossing. It feels good to be tied to that history once it’s ended but during the expedition itself, it was amazing to be in a territory that has captured the imagination of such great men and women.
How would you describe your style when you travel?
Very much dependent on the weather. I’d been lucky in that before the Empty Quarter crossing, Style magazine came over for a photo shoot and helped me put together an outfit that I would not have thought of myself- literally hours before I was supposed to leave for the flight. A hat is a must for the sun and clothes that are easy to pack and don’t wrinkle easily.
What is your go-to travel bag?
I use a Globetrotter for hand carry and a Rimowa for check-in, not being able to decide between the two ‘looks’.
What is your packing strategy – any tips or secrets?
I have a mental list of things I need to pack. Am not the most organized of packers.
Any favourite travel apps?
Google Maps should be useful. People don’t think of Whatsapp as a travel app but it helps for staying in touch while travelling.
How would you define your interior style?
It’s organically evolved, with pieces put together from my travels.
What of your personalities can we see in it?
It would be more of my interests and travels- a retired saddle, African chief head dress, a Maasai necklace, crystals from the Empty Quarter, the Moroccan lamps and kilims, the Pakistani tableware and the Hafez poem written on my wall. My cat, Loki Monsta, is getting more real estate now that I’m getting him a cat wheel. His toys are everywhere now.
Do you have a favourite piece of furniture or object in your flat?
I love my door. Am really not sure what it says on it though and recently I’d heard a rather disturbing, if surreal, story on the origins of the Hand of Fatima.
In your opinion, no home should be without…
A pet, possibly. Never been one for a pet but having had Loki for some 4 months now I think it’s the best decision I’d made this year.
What’s on your bucket list?
Papua, a lot more of Africa, Kamchatka
Famous last words?
Shouldn’t last words be something reserved for the deathbed?