There is absolutely no reason not to travel with a non-Muslim. You don’t need to explain every single detail of your religious adherence to them, but it can be beneficial to explain certain practices. This will help you avoid miscommunication and ensure that you are able to meet all your religious obligations. Here are some things you might need to explain to them:
Are you praying or not – Often it’s not obvious for non-Muslims what actions constitute prayer, and which indicate that you have concluded. For example, you may need to explain that dhikr or dua is added onto the end of your prayer and requires focus but may be more readily interrupted than salah.
Inability to verbally respond – Many people are not aware that Muslims cannot respond while praying and that speaking to them will interrupt their prayer, requiring them to redo their prayer from the beginning. Suggest that they hold off on asking you any questions until you have either stood up after praying or told them that you’re done.
No walking in front of a person who is praying – Islamic prayer (salah) is unique in that it requires certain body positions. Changing these positions or having a person cross in between interrupts the prayer and can even disrupt the praying person from being able to complete it (in cases where someone crosses in front and the praying person can’t move into the sujood position).
Washing before prayer – Explaining the need to perform ritual ablution (wudu) may be necessary if you’re having trouble finding a water source. Usually this can be avoided by caring around a light, plastic, foldable water bottle. I keep mine with me and even use it to fill up with water prior to entering the toilet when there’s no bidet available.
Praying in a particular direction—This may come up if you are having trouble looking for an adequate space to pray in. It may also be helpful for your travelling partner to know this in advance because they will likely start wondering why you keep placing your prayer mat in strange angled directions.
Prayer times—Arguably the most important piece of information on this list. Explaining the how to’s of prayer will allow both of you to plan your travel and sightseeing with less frustration. Although it may be annoying for your travel partner to organize their travel based on your prayer schedule, the more advance notice they have, the less inconvenience it will cause. What to explain? Start with telling them that there are five prayers per day and that you need to pray at specific times. Explain that you need to try to pray on time and that if you can’t, you’ll need to at least pray before the next prayer time starts. I also like to follow this up with saying, “feel free to ask me any questions!” with a smile. Usually after the first time watching me pray they will eagerly ask several questions.
Travel prayer times—Although it’s not necessary to explain the details of all prayer adjustments, it may be helpful to explain the difference between regular and travel prayer times for general knowledge. Your travel partner may have heard that Muslims pray five times a day and may feel confused if you’re only praying four times (combining dhuhr and asr prayers).
Praying in a clean space—Non-Muslims may not know that we cannot pray just anywhere. The space for prayer must be clean and free of any visible human depiction in your direct line of vision. This may help explain why you can only pray in certain spaces versus others.
Attending the mosque on Friday afternoon—If you are male, you may be looking for a mosque to pray jummah on Fridays. You may need to alter your travel plans to accommodate for this. Let your travel partner know well in advance. Suggest that they do something fun for themselves in the meantime and you’ll meet up with them again later.
Not drinking alcohol—This is kind of a given but depending on whether your non-Muslim friend drinks or not, you may have to remind them. Otherwise, you may find yourself sitting awkwardly at a bar repeatedly fending off peer pressure.
Not eating products with pork ingredients – When someone doesn’t have religious dietary restrictions they may not be aware of what ingredients are in the meat they are eating. Besides meat, sweets can also potentially contain gelatin. If you know you will be going on an extended camping trip, for example, try to drop by your local Islamic grocer and pick up halal marshmallows in advance (mmm smores!).
Travelling with a non-Muslim can be extremely engaging beyond your sightseeing. It can give you the opportunity to reconnect with your faith through explaining your religious practices. By being open about these practices, you can more fully experience your travels since the stress of explaining yourself in rushed situations is lower. So, what are you waiting for?!!