Kemi Onabanjo is a management consultant by day and a blogger by night. In this piece, she took us through a journey with her as a travel blogger.
– By Kemi Onabanjo
Being a management consultant at a global firm like McKinsey comes with the opportunity to work on projects across multiple countries. However, travel for me started well before I became a management consultant. While I worked at Ericsson Nigeria, I travelled all over and eventually started travelling to other countries (Ghana, Kenya) running change management projects. My first trip to Kenya triggered my curiosity to see the rest of Africa and I made it a goal to visit one new African country every year.
My first trip ever was a family trip from Lagos to Port-Harcourt in 1995 to visit my Aunt. It was also my first time ever on an airplane – we went by bus and returned by air and I can never forget how excited I was to be in an airplane. It was so fascinating! First trip abroad was also a family trip in 2000 to the United Kingdom to visit my Uncle and his family.
I started travelling properly on my own in 2009 when I could afford to sponsor my trips from my savings (thank God for good jobs).
Planning Travels With a Full-time Job
This depends on if it is a proper vacation or a quick opportunistic trip. Every year, since 2013, I take 4 weeks of unpaid leave off work, and plan my proper vacations around that. The great thing about working in an organization that is project-based is that with good upfront planning (I am talking months in advance), you can take time off without worrying about the world crashing at work.
In addition, we have a good number of weekend public holidays in Nigeria, and I try to plan quick trips around those as well. My latest hack is to join group trips organized during public holidays as a way to minimize planning stress and also meet new people. Most Nigerian travel experience curators have their annual calendars of group trips published in advance so it is easy to plan (save money, book, get other friends to join, etc.) ahead.
Travelling Favourites and Non-Favourites
My favourite thing about travelling has to be going to new places and actually seeing/experiencing things I have read or heard about. It is always so cool for anticipation/expectation to be met with reality. Those moments also make me grateful for the opportunity that I have to be able to touch/see the things I could only imagine before.
My least favourite thing used to be all the time wasted travelling but now I actually love it because I do most of my writing when I am on train rides or flights (a big chuck of this article was written on a flight from Abuja to Accra). For some reason, a lot of my inspiration comes when I am in the clouds. To be honest, I think it has more to do with the fact that I can’t be on WhatsApp than the clouds themselves, lol. That said, I am still not a fan of airport security and all that ‘remove your shoes’ business.
Challenges Encountered While Travelling
Gosh, too many – here we go;
Uncertainty – “Abeg, when exactly is the public holiday happening? Thursday/Friday or Friday/Monday?”
Visa applications – “Oh no, this country only has an embassy in Abuja! Why me Lord?” or
“Please where am I supposed to find my grandmother’s birth certificate that this embassy is asking me to submit now?”
Language – “I am lost in this city but I can’t explain to anyone where I am going because the only thing I remember from Google Translate is how to say rice and chicken in this language!”
Cash – “After all the months of saving, I can’t believe that all these my plenty Naira is worth only 500 of this other currency!!”
Unmet expectations – “Excuse me, but this hotel room does not look like what I saw on the website o”Hehehe.
Being unequally yoked –“Dear diary, please remind me never to travel with this my friend again – how did we end up spending more time (and money) in Zara stores than at the museum?”
I can go on and on about challenges but I think you get the point now. Travel, just like any other worthwhile endeavour, is not devoid of its challenges but I have learnt to take them in my stride and laugh about them. In the moment, it’s usually not funny but hey, we move anyway!
I have too many favourite places. My top 3 would be:
- Japan because my experience in that country was so deep and rich, it overflowed from my heart into a note on my phone that eventually became my first ever travel (and the unofficial launch of my writing/blogging career). Japan opened my mind and woke my fingers up!
- Lebanon because I had very low expectations (blame it on CNN) and I was pleasantly surprised by how beautiful the country is and how similar Lebanese and Nigerians are. I genuinely believe that we are distant cousins.
- Rwanda because I was completely blown away by how well/quickly they have rebuilt the country since the genocide in 1991 and it gave me hope that Nigeria can be great again in my lifetime.
Advise for Potential Travel Bloggers and Tourists
For a potential travel blogger – write from your heart and be authentic – don’t try to write like anyone else. Focus on excellence and not on being commercial – if you focus on the right thing, everything else will be added unto you. Don’t forget to enjoy your trips – it is easy to get caught up in documenting everything you see that you end up not enjoying the trip. Not all trips will be amazing or article-worthy and that’s okay – there is no wasted experience so remember to enjoy all your experiences.
For the tourist who wants to see the world – Just do it!!!! Don’t overthink it, just go! Be intentional about travel – set money aside every month for it, look for deals and packages to help you get more value for money, don’t tie your travel destiny to anyone – it is very okay to be a solo traveller sometimes. Enjoy the whole process, be adventurous and don’t go abroad to be looking for jollof rice and dodo!
Impact of Technology on Travelling
I rely quite heavily on technology (a combination of the internet and mobile apps) in my end-to-end travel process. From choosing a destination, getting the information to complete immigration requirements (VisaHQ, relevant Consulate websites and various forums on Google), booking flights (airline websites, travel sites like Travel Start, WakaNow), securing accommodation (hotel websites, AirBnB), to discovering and planning my itinerary (TripAdvisor, Instagram feeds of country tourism sites and fellow travellers, good ol’ Google), sorting out ground transportation (Uber, Taxify, GoogleMaps), getting food and staying nourished (UberEats, Yelp), managing money matters especially on group trips (Splitwise), documenting my experiences (iPhone camera and IG stories), staying in touch with family and friends back home (WhatsApp, Facetime) and so much more.
Long story short, technology provides me with relevant and timely information and services that make my travel experience simpler, richer, more efficient and more enjoyable.
Role of the Government in Improving Tourism
There are so many ways we can monetize tourism in Nigeria but I will focus on just 2 practical initiatives. There are 2 dimensions to tourism in Nigeria – local tourism (for Nigerians in Nigeria) and international tourism (for foreigners coming to Nigeria).
For international tourism, we make money when people actually come to this country, so first things first – invest in making Nigeria an attractive tourist destination. I fell in love with Lebanon on Instagram. I keep dreaming about Bali and the Maldives because of the amazing online photos I have seen of these locations. Countries that are serious about tourism invest in showcasing their country via dedicated websites and other online channels. The power of a beautiful photograph and well-written experience cannot be underestimated. Nigeria needs to get serious about its online presence.
The second practical initiative is more around local tourism. Even though there are a good number of potential tourist attractions/historical sites spread across Nigeria, they are either not well-known or well-maintained and therefore, not visited and therefore not commercially relevant. Believe it or not, a lot of Nigerians have not really explored Nigeria beyond Lagos, Abuja and their states of residence or origin, and they are quite keen to see more of their country. So, what we can we do? Each state should focus on improving the attractiveness of their tourist attractions because whatever revenue they make become internally-generated revenue that they get to keep 100% (if you know how the Federal Government and State Government treat revenues, you will understand how that is a big deal). The revenue will not just be from the sites themselves, but from the broad ecosystem – money spent at hotels where tourists will stay, restaurants where they will eat, tour guides they will patronize, local transport they will take, etc.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in The Spark Magazine. Find the magazine here to read other articles.