What skydiving in Cape Town taught me about trust in God

May day, May day! Lol. Okay, that’s me just being an alarmist. I have missed you guys so much! I took some time off social media (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, etc). It was a well-needed break, to be honest. I know I am not a daily poster on Instagram but to be honest, I spend a LOT of time being a low-key stalker, lol. At least, I am the kind of stalker that actually likes pictures and leaves comments, instead of just doing waka pass, hahahaha. Seriously though, I realized how much time-share social media has in my life, and I decided to go on a detox. A few people asked if I deleted the app from my phone – nopes! It was right next to WhatsApp  (speaking of WhatsApp, does that count as social media as well?) and I saw it several times a day. I guess I was also trying to teach myself some lessons in will-power and self-discipline. Maybe now I can actually look past the dessert section of menus or still look and choose the fruit salad, hehehehe. No further words on this desserts matter. *lips sealed*. That said, I apologize for all the messages I missed. I will respond shortly. Thanks for your kind understanding 🙂

Sooooo, while I was away, a lot of things happened! I took my first helicopter ride (thank God the Abuja airport has been reopened, yaay!), I visited Cape Town for the first time (more on that later in this post) and I finally went sky-diving!!!!! Yup, I did it guys. *insert loudest scream here*

I told only a few people about my plan to go skydiving, mainly because I wanted to be accountable to some people and make sure I didn’t chicken out last minute, but also because I didn’t want anyone trying to talk me out of it. I already had many excuses, I didn’t need any extra discouraging comments. Of course, I only told Mama Kemi AFTER the fact, and even then, I broke the news to her in person when I got back to Lagos. I was just casually showing her pictures from my trip and then, boom! I showed her the pictures and videos of me jumping and flying (yup, that’s what I call it). She actually took it much better than I expected! God bless our mamas. Funny enough, on the day I jumped, I sent her pictures of me in my harness just before I got on the plane, but I am sure she had no clue what it was I was about to do.

After I went zip-lining in Singapore, the caption on my IG post was something about that being a rehearsal for sky-diving. Little did I know that it was going to happen barely a month after.

Our words are powerful!

 

I had been planning an Easter trip to Morocco with some of my close friends but sometime in March, based on logistics (I have been looking for a legit way to use that phrase, lol), I was unable to go on that trip. I had a work commitment come up and I had to prioritize getting the visa for that over getting the Moroccan visa. I also looked at my bank accounts, and frankly, I could not afford the trip right after the Singapore one. It was painful but I had to cut my coat accordingly to my cloth. I hope I get the opportunity to go on an all-girls trip really soon (between weddings, pregnancies and babies, Jesus take the wheel!)

When you ‘enter’ Morocco by photoshop, hehehehehehe 

Anyway, since I had to go to South Africa for work the week after Easter, I figured I could make lemonades out of the ‘no-Morocco’ lemons I had been given (I am on quotable quotes roll on this post, lol). I decided to take 2 days off work (Easter Tuesday and Wednesday), get to South Africa a little early (thank God the ticket prices were the same regardless of the dates) and go on a low-budget vacation to Cape Town. I managed to buy a cheap ticket from Johannesburg to Cape Town and used my hotel points to book a decent hotel (see why you need to get on all those loyalty programs ASAP?). The Lord is good!

I really wanted to chill on this trip – eat, sleep and read. I ate a lot, slept okay and read a bit too. As I was travelling alone, I didn’t have sufficient motivation to always get dressed to go and sit in a restaurant alone, and because I was on a budget, hotel room service was not an option. So UberEATS was my saving grace on this trip. I could still eat great food, at an affordable price without moving an inch – okay, I had to go down to the hotel reception to pick up my order- but yeah, you get the point. Long live Uber!

Food, food, food!

I got to spend time with old friends based in South Africa. Danielle from my YALI days  and of course my darling business school buddies – Ofentse and Lakheni. I also attended a braai (South-African barbeque party) which Lakheni’s family was hosting but forgot to take pictures because the food was so good *covers face*

Good people make me smile!

 

I had only 3 touristy things I wanted to do in Cape Town – visit Robben Island (popularly known as the political prison where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years of incarceration, visit Table Mountain (one of the 7 wonders of the world) and go skydiving.

I was completely subdued by the Robben Island experience, I managed to take only one picture there. It was such an emotional and enlightening experience. I got to know about some of the unsung heroes of the apartheid struggle – Robert Sobukwe and Walter Sisulu – just to mention a few. It gave me a fresh appreciation of what it means to lead from the sidelines or from the background. This whole concept of leadership from the side is something I am exploring now and maybe I will write about it one day when it has been fully crystallized in my mind. I have renewed respect for South Africans and the redemptive process of forgiveness that they are going through. I pray that the healing and reconciliation continues and is perfected very soon. Amen!

Robben Island

Table Mountain was a view and a half! God is GREAT! God is an incredibly talented designer! Wow! Cameras cannot really do justice to the breathtaking beauty of Table Mountain. Before you ask, yes, I took the cable car up the mountain. Maybe if I had more time, I would have hiked up. I think even if I had more time, I would have still taken the cable car up, lol. Table Mountain photo credits go to the lovely Ms Tayo who I reconnected with at the wedding I low-key gatecrashed on Easter Monday in Cape Town.

With Tayo on Table Mountain 🙂

 

A view and a half!!!!
Feeling like a G on Table Mountain

Don’t judge me, I was a legitimate +1, lol. Being a +1 (a.k.a hand bag, a.k.a I only know the person who invited me, a.k.a I actually don’t know the bride or groom personally) made me realize that the major thing I enjoy about weddings (apart from the small chops) is being able to share in the joy of seeing my friends FINALLY beginning their journey to forever. So yeah, you probably won’t catch me at a wedding where I don’t know the bride or groom personally again, lol. That said, the scenery at these wine estates and vineyards in Cape Town are just gorgeous. I finally understand/see why Cape Town is a destination wedding favorite for Nigerian couples.

Isn’t that view (and maybe the girl) just gorgeous??

 

I won’t bother giving a motivational speech about my skydiving experience because my big uncle, Will Smith has already done that here. Nevertheless, I will try to describe how I felt with before, during and after the jump.

The day before, I was all cool and calm about it. However I didn’t sleep much the night before and I was awake and ready by the time my pickup arrived at 7am. By the way, I chose the skydiving company on the recommendation of one of my brothers who had jumped there a few weeks before. I would never do such a risky thing without major research o!

When I arrived, I was still cool as I signed the forms (they make you fill and sign a 4-page form which in summary means ‘you are on your own’, lol), and listened to the briefing. Things got real when they suggested that I go up with the first pair of divers, hehehe. I politely declined and said I’d rather wait for another pair of people to jump first. Between the time when that first pair went up and when I finally went up, I visited the bathroom like 3 times. Lol. The queasy feeling in my stomach was real. It was the same queasy feeling I got in my tummy as a little child whenever I had done something wrong and was awaiting the return of my parents to come and execute judgment upon me.

The 4-page form of life!

Gosh, I was afraid! I kept thinking ‘who sent me message oooo?’ As they say, delay is not denial. It was finally my turn to go up, I was the last person and there was no hiding place for me. I tried to act cool again for the camera, wore my harness, got on the truck and headed to the airplane.

This is my ‘who sent me message ooooo?’ face, lol

As part of my coping mechanism, I did a few quirky things to make me feel better – I put on my batman t-shirt (don’t ask me, it made perfect sense to me at the time) and I wore my brightest red lipstick (I figured if I’m going to fly, it would be good to do it pretty, lol). I also did a little dance just as we were about to get on the plane (see full video of the jump here) and got someone to write ‘JESUS ROCKS’ on my palms. Silly things but they definitely made me feel more confident about what I was going to do. I mean, if I was going down, it had to be with Jesus o! 🙂

JESUS ROCKS!!! (Plus my batman tee and popping red lipstick)

Going up was cool, the view was so magnificent, I found myself humming the hymn ‘O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder consider all the works thy hands have made…then sings my soul my Saviour Lord to thee, HOW GREAT THOU ART!’ It got colder as the plane went higher and higher (and we all know my relationship with cold) so I was so grateful I had worn my INSEAD jumper as well. When my tandem handed me the goggles to wear and start shifting towards the door of the plane, I knew it was over. My soundtrack changed from ‘how great thou art’ to ‘heaven is my home’, lol. I died like 5 times already. I kept thinking ‘what if’. I said my last prayers for like the 20th time and just waited. It was shame that did not allow me chicken out. My tandem didn’t even bother counting for me, he just jumped! The mighty rushing wind that greeted me as we jumped out was intense. I looked down and the worst kind of fear I have ever felt gripped my heart. There was really no turning back.

Saying my last prayers AGAIN!
The JUMP!

Then I remembered the money I paid for the pictures and videos and quickly started smiling, lol. An Ijebu girl is an Ijebu girl whether on land or in the air, hahahaha. Seriously though, after the terror I felt for the first 10 seconds of the free fall, I spread out my arms and started flying. I felt so free, so light, so at peace. I didn’t want it to end. I actually loved flying!

Not sure why I look like I am being tortured here, lol

This is what fear looks like – it involves a lot of teeth and nose, lol

I believe I can fly!!!

And then in the middle of this blissful flight, one crazy thought came to my mind ‘what if the parachute refuses to engage?’ Jesus! Why won’t these crazy fearful thoughts leave me alone and just let me be great? Thankfully, the parachute cooperated when it was time and I thoroughly enjoyed floating around, taking in the view and gisting with my tandem. I asked how many times he jumped in a day and what he enjoyed most about it. Can you imagine? We had a full blown conversation floating in the air! Amazing!

The parachute worked, yaaay!

Landing back on earth (see me sounding like an astronaut that went to Mars or Venus, lol) was such an anti-climax mehn. The familiar suddenly became boring and I would have really liked to be in the air for much longer. Not sure I wanted to jump out of a plane again but I definitely wanted to hang out floating in the air again. Maybe in a hot-air balloon or something. All in all, it was an AMAZING experience! I felt very fulfilled about achieving this goal after a few years of toying with the idea and quite proud of myself for being able to face my fears and ‘do it afraid’. I did it shaking, I did almost peeing on myself, but I did it anyway! If I listened to all the reasonable reasons for why I should not have jumped, it would still be a wish/dream I might never have realized. Now I am hoping to transfer this same daring ‘risk-taking’ drive and energy to other areas of my life, and just dare to achieve some other goals I have set for myself.

Feeling like an astronaut, osheeeey!

Don’t get it twisted, the doubt will come, the ‘what-if’ questions will pop up, the nay-sayers will give counsel, the fear will envelope your heart at different times on the journey, but you just have to take that leap of faith and trust that God will not let your parachute fail and let you crash. He’s got you!

Here’s to being daring and doing things afraid this month of May and for the rest of our lives! Remember, God’s got you!!!

Hugs,

Kemi

What’s next after 30 countries? Falling in love again in Singapore!

Oh Singapore, I really really love you. I spent 6 days in Singapore – you would think that after all my mouth, I was going to relocate there, lol. Those 6 days have to be the most activity-packed days of my life, so far. Pheeew! Of the 6 days, I had only 2 days (Saturday and Sunday) to be a tourist, so the real title of this post should be something like ‘how to explore Singapore in 48 hours’.

No comment 🙂

I realized that in my former post, I did not disclose the purpose of my travel to Singapore. Well, I went there on a spiritual retreat to attend a conference called Kingdom Invasion. After I completed my project 30 by 30 (30 countries before 30), it seemed like the next logical goal would be 40 by 40 or something fancy like that. However, that didn’t excite me as much. Instead, my new goal was to become more purposeful about my travels. I have a coach who spends ALL of his vacation days attending events (conferences, seminars, revival calls, etc) centered on God’s Kingdom and how to manifest His presence here on earth as it is in heaven. Instead of just envying him and calling him #goals, I decided I would start attending at least one of such events every year. And so late last year, I signed up for Kingdom Invasion as my first trip for 2017.

Kingdom Invasion!!!

Kingdom Invasion is an annual event beyond church or denominational lines. It was 4 days of teachings and impartations about how to fulfil the portion of the Lord’s Prayer that says ‘thy Kingdom, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ It had over 1,000 delegates from about 40 countries and teachings led by 5 amazing teachers – Bill Johnson (Head Pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, California. If you are into gospel music, you probably know Bethel music well); Heidi Baker (an American missionary sent to Africa who actually lives in Mozambique and is taking the gospel of Jesus to most remote parts of Africa), Lou Engel (a firebrand man of prayer and fasting who is constantly rocking back and forth while standing or sitting, and is leading the prayer revival in the US) ; Ed Silvoso (the pioneer of the message of city and national transformation through the gospel and author of the book ‘Anointed for Business’ which reveals God’s mind and practical ways through which your job or business can be your ministry) and Shawn Bolz (Word of Knowledge minister who has demystified what it means to hear God and how we can translate God’s voice in our day-to-day lives). The time I spent there was absolutely life-transforming and I am excited about the practical manifestation of all I learnt and got during the conference. My biggest takeaway was a deeper revelation of the crazy, unrelenting, unbelievable, border-line ridiculous LOVE that God has for all of us. *goosebumps*.  I definitely fell in love with Jesus ALL OVER AGAIN!!

To crown it all, I attended the Friday night worship session with Bethel Music’s finest – Brian Johnson, Amanda Cook and some other amazing worship leaders. Whooooosh! That was amazing.

Brian Johnson and the Bethel Music crew

So, I was done with the conference on Friday night and my flight back to Nigeria was on Sunday night. I had 2 options – just sleep in and take it easy or go hard and max out on being a tourist for those 2 days. I am sure you know what option I went for, lol. Sleep is important but yeah, I figured I could sleep on my flights back home. No food or movies, just sleep.

Over the course of the week (specifically during the conference’s break sessions when I had time to daydream, lol), I started making a list of 10 must-do activities in Singapore.

1. Spend the day at Sentosa Island – includes visit to Universal Studios, beach bumming and some physical activities
2. Eat chilli crab (which is the Singaporean local delicacy)
3. Visit Chinatown and Little India
4. Visit the Botanical Garden
5. Catch the sunset and amazing view of the city at Marina Bay Sands
6. Visit the Gardens by the Bay
7. Visit the zoo during the day or go on the Night Safari
8. Take a long walk on Orchard street (you may choose to shop or not)
9. Extra for Kemi: Attend service at Joseph Prince’s church
10. Extra for Kemi: Visit the INSEAD Singapore campus to get closure, lol

 

Closure, finally!
Hanging out with Joseph Prince

Around mid-day on Saturday after having my first sleep-in for the whole week, I set out to tick off most of the activities on that list in the 34 hours I had before heading to the airport on Sunday night. The cool thing about Singapore is that because it’s a single city-state, everywhere in the country is within a 45-60mins drive range. This meant I did not have to worry about going out of town or missing out on some major attractions due to location. So I thought to myself, ‘Kemi, this your plan is kinda feasible’ 🙂

Good people, I am proud to announce that I managed to accomplish 60% of my target. When people start using percentages, you know they are trying to sound more profound than is necessary, lol. Okay, okay, I managed to tick off 6 of the 10 things on my list, and I even got to hang out with 2 of my favorite girls from business school.

The struggle to get a good selfie with Shaivi and Malini was real

Sentosa Island was a lot of fun! Too much to do, jeez. I managed to get a picture in front of Universal Studios, lol. There was no time to actually go inside to explore and get on all the crazy rides. You need a whole day to do Universal Studios justice. However, I got my adrenaline rush from ziplining at the MegaZip Adventure Park at a nearby beach also on Sentosa Island. I figured I could still visit the other Universal Studio theme parks in the U.S and in Japan (I will take any excuse to go back to Japan, lol).

Just in case I never get to Universal, at least I have this picture 🙂
Zip-liner Kems

The night safari was also beautiful. So many animals, all well-behaved roaming freely and staying in their lanes. For the first time in my life, I saw zebras (fun fact: zebras are actually black with white stripes), elephants, hyenas, monkeys, hippopotamuses, rhinos, lions, and giraffes. I even saw a tiger!! The tiger was the only animal that was kept behind a wire fence. I guess they must have realized that tigers can’t mind their business, lol. It was so dark and flash photography was prohibited so the pictures didn’t come out great. So sorry, no pictures from the night safari. You should just go there yourself to behold the breathtaking beauty of a night-time zoo.

I was torn between going to the Botanical Gardens and the Gardens by the Bay, but I chose to spend time with my friends at Ce La Vie (the restaurant at the 57th floor of Marina Bay Sands); catching the sunset and just being satisfied with taking pictures of the Gardens by the Bay from the rooftop. I love plants and gardens but it’s not that deep, really! Lol. I promise you, the view from the Ce La Vie was just as gorgeous.

Gardens by the Bay – spot the domes and the super trees

For me, the 3 most striking things about Singapore are how green the city is, how many malls they have and how much food is available.

Greenery: Singapore is like Dubai with more greenery. Singapore reminded me so much of Dubai. Apparently, Dubai got their inspiration for the building their city from Singapore. There are trees and plants EVERYWHERE! It’s almost ridiculous. I got tired of taking pictures of the scenery, because it was like taking pictures of the clouds. Duh, clouds are everywhere so there is nothing unusual about it. That’s exactly how plants and trees and vegetation are everywhere in Singapore.

Greeeeen!!

Malls: I thought Dubai had malls until I got to Singapore. Singapore is the winner o! There are malls EVERYWHERE. Infact, at every metro station, there is a mall. There is a whole network of malls connected by underground tunnels and bridges. It’s almost confusing, lol. And you have every imaginable shop in those malls. You need a lot of willpower or no cash to resist the shopping temptation in Singapore. Good luck!

Food: There is a wide variety of good food in Singapore. Eating out is like a national sport. I remember my classmates in business school saying it was cheaper to eat out than to do groceries and cook at home in Singapore. During the course of my stay, I ate all sorts – Indian, French, Chinese, Japanese American, Asian fusion etc. There are a lot of food courts and hookah centres everywhere you go. You can never ever starve in Singapore. Food is cheap, fast and tasty! After having such a great time with food all week, I had to make sure my last meal in Singapore was epic and memorable. I had the the black pepper crab (thanks for the recommendation Jumoke G) and it was hard work! Epic, memorable and plenty of work. De-shelling and extracting ‘meat’ from the crab was work. At some point, I got so tired, put the tools they gave me aside and just started using my hand, lol. Thank God for good friends like Shaivi who rescued me and started de-shelling for me. I think you burn all the calories from the meal by just working through it. All the same, it was quite an enjoyable experience. I genuinely believe there is a business opportunity to sell de-shelled chilli crab to lazy people.

See the TOOLS I was given plus a bib for protection, lol

 

The joy when the black pepper crab finally arrived!
I gave up on that last piece!

On my flight back home (when I wasn’t sleeping and hopefully, not snoring), I was reflecting on how Singapore has ZERO natural resources but managed to turn their nothing into a country that is the hub of trade in Southeast Asia.Their efficiency is great, everywhere is clean but Japan is still my personal winner. They are also very open to foreigners, although (as usual), I did not run into many black people. When I got back to Lagos, I was tempted to begin to whine and complain about everything that wasn’t working BUT I remembered my decision to go on a negativity fast (as inspired by Heidi Baker) and instead, started to focus on the things that are working. The airport is looking better, the wait times on the queues are shorter, the A/Cs are working well, there are fewer touts hanging around the airport these days and things are getting more efficient. And to make things even better, Mama Kemi offered me a delicious hot meal of amala, ewedu, gbegiri and plenty pieces of meat when I got home. Mama Kemi for President!!!!

Amala – before Kemi happened to it!
Amala – after Kemi happened to it!

I must confess, it was hard to leave Singapore. The time was too short, I didn’t spend enough time there and I feel like I did not get the chance to be fully immersed in their culture. So I have to go back, yaaay!

Doing a negativity fast in Singapore was super easy since everything works, but to be honest, it hasn’t been as easy in Nigeria. However, I shall not relent. Anyone want to join me on this negativity fast? We can do this till the end of April. No negative talk about anyone, anything, no complaining about Nigeria, no whining about talented drivers in traffic, no cursing politicians and all that. Just positivity and optimism all day, every day. Deal?

Here’s to good vibes, positivity and joy all the way!

Kemi 😉

p.s – please don’t try to do this crazy 48-hour vacation. My feet are not smiling at me now.

Kemi Onabanjo’s Journey to 30 Countries Before Her 30th Birthday

My name is Kemi Onabanjo and I am a certified ‘ajala’, or as my more learned colleagues would say, a travel enthusiast.

In June 2016, I successfully achieved a personal goal I set for myself – to visit 30 countries by the time I turned 30. The goal was aptly named Project 30 by 30, and I managed to achieve this goal a good 16 months ahead of time. Folks have asked me a lot of questions ranging from why I set this goal and how I managed to achieve it on a Nigerian passport, to how I funded the project and where I am headed next. So I decided to take a moment to answer all those questions and share the entire experience with the world. Here we go!

Travel mantra
Travel mantra

Why?

I have always been curious about the world. I remember devouring volumes and volumes of children’s encyclopaedias (I guess Google is the new encyclopaedia) while growing up and my parents having to buy new editions as soon as they were released. I enjoyed watching a program on NTA Channel 5 called ‘Children of the World’ where kids from all over the world convened somewhere (can’t remember where now) for cultural and talent displays. There was a little boy from Nigeria who used to play the xylophone and although I used to watch him with a mix of pride and great envy (as I could not play any musical instrument or sing to save my life), it was watching the kids from other countries in their beautiful costumes that gave me the most delight. I loved and still love to play the ‘country and capitals’ game – still played it on the bus ride to Idanre Hills last holidays, and I won, whoop! Sorry, I digress.

Although I was curious about the world, I did not start travelling until I was 13, and being a true Nigerian, my first destination was London, England! It took another 6 years before the next trip happened, and this time, it was to the other destination for true Nigerians – Dubai, United Arab Emirates! I went on both trips with my family and although, they were mainly to visit family and look for bargain deals (again, another hallmark of being a true Nigerian), we also managed to visit some tourist attractions. I don’t think I still have or remember any of the items we bought on those trips, but I remember how I felt when I first saw the pigeons at Trafalgar Square, the still policemen in front of Buckingham Palace, the imposing Burj Khalifa and the breath-taking sand dunes in Dubai. As my eyes widened in excitement every time I saw these things, it felt like my mind also popped open in enlightenment. The thrill from landing in a new country, looking out for similarities and differences with Nigeria, trying out new food (although that took a while) was next to none.

London, England - 2000
London, England – 2000

As soon as I started working and earning money, I started saving aggressively for travel – I even set up a dedicated bank account for my travel-savings. About 6 years ago, I decided to be deliberate about my travel destinations when I realized that my vacations almost always led me to the same spots – London, Dubai and Accra, Ghana. And that’s when I decided to start visiting at least 2 new countries every year – 1 in Africa, and 1 in any other part of the world. About 4 years ago, this goal metamorphosed into the Project 30 countries by 30 – and here we are today! Done and Dusted. To God be the glory! 🙂

Dubai, UAE - 2006
Dubai, UAE – 2006

 

How?

First, I have had the good fortune of having to travel for work to cool countries like Sweden (more cold than cool), Kenya, Cameroon, Tunisia, Brazil, AustriaIvory Coast, Benin Republic, South Africa, USA and Mauritius (dear future husband, you can strike that off the potential proposal/honeymoon locations, thank youuu). On my business trips, I quickly learned the art of exploring whichever city I landed in on the weekends. Sometimes, I deliberately arrive/leave a day earlier/later so I can explore the city, and I happily pay the hotel bill for that extra night because I essentially got a free flight to the country 🙂 I fell in love with some of these countries and I have gone back multiple times to explore other cities within them. I have plans to revisit some of them in the nearest future because there is still so much ground to cover.

(Click on photos to enlarge)

In deciding between which campus of my business school I should spend more time on, France was a more attractive option compared to Singapore, due to the miracle of the Schengen visa and the access it gives you to most European countries. However, the thought of living through winter scared me and I tried going to the Singapore campus but that did not quite work out right. Ultimately though, I can say that braving the winter and going to the France campus paid off big time! In the course of my 11 months in France, I managed to visit 8 additional European countries including The Netherlands (I never counted the many stopovers at Schiphol airport as visiting the country), Belgium, Bulgaria, Hungary and Croatia.  All things truly do work out for good for God’s children. Amen, Halleluyah!!!

(Click on photos to enlarge)

Visas – Being a Nigerian passport holder means that I need a visa for a good number of countries – even within Africa. Things are changing though, with more African countries opening up their borders and removing visa restrictions for other African passports. While we wait for that to happen, I have learnt the art of filling visa applications like a pro. I don’t even think about it, whine or worry about it, I just get right straight to filling it.

Quick tip: I have all the important documents scanned and saved in a folder on my computer – passport data page, work I.D. card, pay slips, template letter of introduction from employer, previous visas, even my grandmother’s birth certificate (lol). This makes it easier for me to put all the supporting documents together, print them a day to my interview and just hop to the embassy like a champ. It also reduces the stress associated with visa interview prep, where one is constantly worried about forgetting an important document at home.

I also constantly do a lot of research on visa hacks for that lovely green passport of mine. I am always looking out for countries I can visit without a visa, or where I can get a visa on arrival. You cannot imagine how elated I was to find out that you don’t need a visa to enter Mexico if you already have a valid U.S visa and that if you have a valid U.K visa, you can get a visa on arrival in Turkey. Plus, the fact that I only had to pay US$50 for a visa-on-arrival to get into Tanzania was a huge relief! These seemingly little visa workarounds make travel-life a little more pleasant.

Prison Island, Zanzibar, Tanzania - 2016
Prison Island, Zanzibar, Tanzania – 2016

Funding- Since I am not a trust fund kid (yet), I had to save a LOT to be able to travel. Life is all about trade-offs, so I chose travel over expensive shoes, bag and clothes. I also have the luxury of not having to worry about diapers and crèche fees yet. I saved in Naira and US Dollars. Every month when my salary got paid, I would change some small USD with my ever-faithful aboki and then deposit in my local domiciliary account (not under my mattress o!). I usually printed my USD bank account statements when I was going for visa interviews, as part of proof of funds.

It was frustrating to see that the deposits yielded no interest but at least it was accessible and I could withdraw it whenever I needed it. This habit of changing forex small small came in handy when I began to save for my business school fees.

Quick tip: Open a domiciliary account so you can start saving in USD for your travel fund. International flight ticket fares are usually quoted in USD, so you can pay for your tickets from that dom account. It will be less painful than paying hundreds of thousands of Naira.

If you can get a debit card linked to the dom account, even better. That way you can spend from your dollar card abroad without whipping out a calculator to calculate exchange rates and bank fees every time. This will save you from exchange-rate induced high blood pressure or tension headaches!

The current economic climate does not seem conducive for any forex related transactions now, but this too shall pass. We hope it will not last forever. As soon as this storm passes, open that dom account and start saving in USD.

Flights- For me, this was the biggest part of the travel expense. I love to travel but I don’t particularly enjoy airports or flying, so I try to minimize the time I spend getting from point A to point B. I would rather pay a little extra for a direct flight than have to stay at an airport for hours waiting for a connecting flight and being tempted by the evil perfumes at duty free that keep calling out to me, lol.

In my working years before business school, I always used the same travel agent (who has now become a family friend) because I did not have the time to go online. I would ask the travel agent to give me 2-4 flight options and their prices, and then I would choose the most affordable and time-efficient. When I became a student, and had more time and less money, I booked a lot of my tickets by myself, online – go figure!

Beyond flights, I have also used other modes of transportation to explore more and manage costs. I went on a 7-day cruise of the Greek Isles for my 25th birthday and I got to visit 7 cities across 3 countries – Greece, Italy and Turkey. On my last birthday, I took a train from Berlin, Germany to Prague, Czech Republic. During my last international trip with my best friend and her family, we also took trains from Barcelona to Madrid in Spain, and from Lisbon to Porto in Portugal. Trains are great – you don’t have to take off your shoes to go through security, you don’t have to get there 3 hours before departure, you usually would get a great view of the scenery and landscape, and you can sleep in peace without a seat belt holding you down.

(Click on photos to enlarge)

Accommodation – This is another major culprit in the high travel expense category, and I have tried out a lot of different options in a bid to manage costs. I have stayed at all sorts of hotels (even the 0 star ones), hostels (more available in Europe than in Africa, and the best one I have stayed in so far was in Japan), serviced and non-serviced apartments (great for when you’re travelling with a group), Airbnbs (the new kids on the block which I absolutely love) and even once, I stayed at a colleague’s house who was out of town (this is a good way of getting super cheap accommodation if you have colleagues in other countries). Not every time 5-star hotel, sometimes hostel. However, on my birthdays, I always give myself a treat and stay at a fancy hotel for just that night at least. It’s a not-so-cheap way to get a free birthday cake, maybe some wine, and on some very good days, a free room upgrade! Hotels are usually very nice when it’s your birthday 🙂

Takayama village, Japan - 2016
Takayama village, Japan – 2016

Solo vs Group travel – This one is tricky. I have done both and I definitely prefer to have my people with me on trips. I think that memories are even more beautiful when shared with friends and loved ones. However, the coordination challenge is real. Between weddings, pregnancies and babies, vacation calendars that won’t synchronize, bosses who refuse to approve leave requests, and other unexpected life events, it is very challenging (sometimes impossible) to travel with your full squad. So, I have learnt to be content with travelling with just 1 friend, or joining a group of people where I know just 1 person. My trip to Gambia over the Easter break in 2014 was with a friend and 3 other ladies who were her colleagues from work. It was awkward for like 5 minutes initially and then we became a real crew over the 5 days we spent together. And today, when we see each other, we do warm hugs and try to catch up real quick on life. Now that I think about it, this is actually a good way of expanding your network of acquaintances and people you know.

Banjul, Gambia - 2014
Banjul, Gambia – 2014

Technology – Unfortunately, I am one of those late adopters of new technologies/apps (e.g., I only joined Instagram last November) but once I eventually get with the program, I definitely max it out. I have found some apps and websites that have helped make my travel experience easier in one way or another. My personal favorites are:

  • Yelp – This app uses your location to provide a list of restaurants, bars, cafes, and all things related to food, complete with ratings and reviews. The best part is that it provides directions to your chosen destination, and gives you the option to call and make a reservation.
  • Splitwise – Great for tracking your spending and splitting bills when travelling with a group. You know how easy it is for money matters to scatter friendships!
  • Been – This app helps to keep track of where you’ve been around the world, and it’s simple, yet powerful, visual of the world map helps you see your ‘gaps’ and can be used to draw up your destination wish list.
  • Booking.com – Especially great for alternative accommodation options like apartment-hotels, and they almost always have a deal/discount for you.
  • Uber – This is one of the safest and cost-effective ways to get around a city- enough said!

That’s all folks! I hope with these few points of mine, I have been able to convince you, and not confuse you, that it is great to explore the world through travel!  A lot of my choices of where to go and what to do have been heavily influenced by this project of mine. The moral of the story is this: you have to be deliberate about achieving your goals, travel-related or otherwise. It won’t just happen.  You have to make it happen for yourself, and with a little discipline and a lot of motivation, you can surely achieve it!

“Kemi, where are you headed next?”, you may ask. “What is your next travel goal?” Still undecided, but I have a long wish list of countries that I would like to visit soon. Top on that list are Senegal, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Burundi, Cape Verde, China, Pakistan, India, Singapore and Switzerland. Any willing companions and hosts? 🙂

Cheers,

Kemi