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Sunday, May 28, 2023

American couple fulfilling travel dreams in Saudi Arabia

American couple fulfilling travel dreams in Saudi Arabia

For American couple Eric and Ashley Rowell, the COVID-19 pandemic helped them explore the Kingdom in depth.

After moving from North Carolina to Saudi Arabia in 2015, they decided that before returning home they would explore Saudi Arabia and other parts of the world.

“We’ve both always loved travel, seeing new places, and meeting new people. Travel has always been something we’ve prioritized, and now Saudi Arabia is the perfect place for us to explore,” said Ashley.

Prior to getting married, Ashley lived in Poland and Eric in India, and the idea of traveling and spending time abroad appealed to both of them.

“When the opportunity at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology arose in 2015, we knew that it would be the perfect next step for us,” said Ashley.

Currently they are working at KAUST, where Eric works in the office of admissions and student recruitment while Ashley teaches grade one at the KAUST School.

Speaking to Arab News about their adventures in Saudi Arabia, Ashley said: “When we moved to Saudi Arabia, the country’s location at the nexus of Asia, Europe and Africa was really appealing. Our initial plan was to use Saudi Arabia as a great location to explore the world — and we did just that.

“In our first several years that we were in Saudi Arabia, we did lots of scuba diving excursions and weekend trips in the western part of Saudi Arabia to places like AlUla, Taif and Al-Wahbah Crater, but we used much of our extended vacation time to visit other countries.”

When COVID-19 hit in 2020 they were in Saudi Arabia, as the government began pandemic measures which included closing all land borders, mandatory masks, social distancing, and shopping and movement restrictions. The pair took the opportunity to spend more time exploring Saudi Arabia.

Eric said: “In December of 2020 we took a three-week trip making a huge loop around the country from Jeddah through Al-Baha, Abha, Najran, Riyadh, Hail, AlUla, and back. We combined the desert with mountains as well as camping out and four-by-four adventures with staying in the big city. It was amazing to see so much of the country in such a short amount of time.”

He added: “The pandemic was handled well within the Kingdom, and as restrictions began to lift, we found the desert to be the perfect place to social distance. We took several longer roads trips that year, and in 2020 alone we visited 10 of Saudi Arabia’s 13 provinces. From then on, we were hooked and realized that Saudi Arabia has so much to see and explore.”

Talking about what inspired their exploration and expeditions, Ashley said: “We both love nature, photography, and simply having fun. We still plan our trips around what gets us excited to travel, and then we just get to share that with friends, family, and others through YouTube and Instagram.”

In 2020, the couple started an Instagram account @eric.and.ash and YouTube channel @EricAndAsh to document their journey which so far has seen them also visit over 40 countries spanning North America, Europe, Asia and Africa.

They want to dispel the idea of Saudi Arabia being unsafe for travelers and encourage others to explore the country and its varied regions, cultures and foods. “We’ve been fortunate to not have many issues in our travels around Saudi Arabia. We’ve honestly never felt safer than we do in Saudi Arabia,” said Ashley.

Both agreed that Saudi Arabia has changed so much since they arrived in 2015. “The country’s vision for economic transformation is incredible, and it’s exciting to be here as it unfolds. Tourism is a key tenet of the future for Saudi Arabia, and we’re excited to see how that develops. We truly love the natural beauty within the country, and we hope to see continued efforts to preserve both the historical sites and the incredible landscapes we have here,” said Eric.

They have no plans to leave the Kingdom anytime soon. “When we moved here, we had no idea we’d stay this long, but we’re continually grateful for the opportunities we’ve had in our careers and in the Kingdom,” said Eric.

Eric said their next adventure is to “either take our FJ Cruiser to the Farsan Islands to scuba dive and camp on the island beaches or go explore the oases in the Empty Quarter. Our next international trip is going to be to Iceland and Greenland this summer.”


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