World

A year already? A recap of my experiences and what travel has taught me..

At Clarke-quay, Singapore.

At Clarke-quay, Singapore.

At Schipol Airport waiting to meet a friend on transit.

At Schipol Airport waiting to meet a friend on transit.

Travelogues of an African Girl is a year old! This past year, on the 18th of April, I blogged my first post: Singapore cool.

My experience in the Little Red dot debunked every pre-travel research I had undertaken. Singapore is an amazing city-state with lots to see, do and eat. The architectural delights are eye-candy, the great subway is efficient, and the ubiquitous range of tasty foods at your disposal means your belly will feel sufficiently stuffed during the time you are there. You can swim with sharks at Sentosa, see white tigers at the Zoo, view the lights by the bay or the picturesque sights from the top of Marina Bay Sands and if you’re thirsty, you can sip the Singapore sling cocktail at the Raffles Hotel. It’s one of the great Asian tigers with a large concentration of billionaires in the land, and is extremely orderly with courtesy signs everywhere. I was almost fined for jaywalking on my second day there! But oh boy, the staring…my down point in the hot humid land were the icy stares I received…Brrr! Being gazed at like I was a moving exhibit or specimen in the laboratory. But I considered it some sort of induction, and now if I’m stared at on my travels, instead of being upset, I simply pretend to bask in the glow of my ‘celebrity status.’

Singapore super-trees with a backdrop of Marina Bay Sands hotel.

Singapore super-trees with a backdrop of Marina Bay Sands hotel.

The country with the most page views is…the United States of America! In second place is the Netherlands where I am based, then the Republic of Kenya, where I  am from. After these countries, comes the United Kingdom then Germany.

Kenyatta International Conference Centre in Nairobi, to the left is a statue of the late founding father, Jomo Kenyatta.

Kenyatta International Conference Centre in Nairobi, to the left is a statue of the late President and founding father, Jomo Kenyatta.

The post that garnered the most views is The ups and downs of Black female solo travel. I think I may need to write a book and give a download of all my experiences, but that will be after I’ve covered a little bit more of the world. I’m guessing the curiosity stems from the fact that black female solo travelers are a rarity, either that or folks googling black girls spa men are hoping to read something pretty racy….this blog is not that kind of journal! In my observation, a majority of Africans just don’t set off. We travel mostly out of necessity: for work or career purposes, to study, a family vacation, for marriage or to visit someone in the location. I’ve been given incredulous looks when I said I was going to visit Latvia or Bosnia.

“Why??? Do you know anyone there?” “I’d be terrified to go to such countries! They may be racist!”

Both countries were amazing and I would love to visit again. Bosnia especially surprised me with not only stunning picturesque views, but as well, I encountered incredible warmth and acceptance. There were a couple of crazy guys; like the one in Mostar who tottered about in drunk fashion and planted kisses on the backside of my hand as I was entering and exiting the train and cooed in Bosnian, “My sweet chocolate.”

In the foreground, a mega mall, in the background rolling hills at Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

A mega mall in the foreground with rolling hills in the background at Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The least popular post tailing in page views is Jurmala in Winter, just as bare as its streets in the windy, wintry season. I loved the Baltic Beach hotel and enjoyed the pampering there. A repeat of the spa treatment is definitely in the works. This time it will be being slathered in hot lava-like chocolate.

Jurmala in winter

Jurmala in winter

My personal favorite has been A lost passport and a marriage proposal. It may be laughable now but losing my passport albeit briefly almost sent me into shock. You do not want to lose your passport in a faraway foreign land. Kuala Lumpur otherwise was a breath of fresh air. The people were friendly, the taxi-drivers a wee bit much, grilling me on my relationship status and hastily throwing in marriage proposals and overcharging my rides in the process. Wearing a hijab got my status bumped up from single-available-foreigner-who-should-marry-us-like-yesterday, to auntie that we should respect. I think if I’m going to a predominantly Muslim country, I will cover up and wax lyrical about my ‘imaginary husband.’ Less harassment.
While I enjoyed the views in KL, loved the food and the huge Suria KLCC mall, my most memorable experience was when I stumbled onto a roadside barber shop to trim my short hair. While most African barbers here in the Netherlands would seem to tiptoe around my head like it’s an egg they are terrified of breaking, the Indian barbers of KL are confident, they have a no-frills attitude about them, they don’t act shocked that a lady has walked in. You get seated, have the nylon draped around your neck, choose your haircut, they give you a price and get a-cutting. They don’t stop when it’s over. Your skull gets a thorough massage, which is transferred to your neck, shoulders and arms. They then give your head what feels like light karate chops. I have not looked at a barber the same way since KL, they seem like amateurs in the kindergarten of barber school. They all should be shipped off to KL for some training.

Barbecue food, Chinatown, Malaysia.

Barbecue food, Chinatown, Malaysia.

Petronas towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Petronas towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Firstly, how did I begin this travel blog?

I knew that I loved travel and knew that I loved to write, but had never put the two together. This blog was birthed accidentally when during a visit to Asia for a conference, friends were curious to read more of my seemingly excitable Facebook ramblings about my Cambodia visit. So I begun to write and haven’t stopped since.

Friendly smiles in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Friendly smiles in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Teenage girl selling helium balloons on Independence Day in Thessaloniki, Greece.

Teenage girl selling helium balloons on Independence Day in Thessaloniki, Greece.

Deep inside though, I’m not a hobo or nomad trying to escape the 9 to 5 work scenario. Travel for me evokes as much pain as it does pleasure. Preparing to travel stresses me; I would love to carry the whole house with me but of course there are baggage restrictions, I get uncomfortable during airport checks which more and more seem like striptease sessions, being made to remove my shawl, jacket, hat, jewelry, belt and sometimes shoes, I hate forgetting things on the way, I get restless during lengthy flights and and bus rides. I’m grossed out by shared spaces and unsightly or dirty accommodation which looks like nothing I had booked. On the other hand, I love the extreme heat, the picture-perfect views, the amazing cultures, the hospitality in new lands, the intense questions and strange but tasty foods, I love the immense learning opportunities I get when I meet friendly folks, whether in budget hostels, five-star hotels, or day tours.

Escargot (snail) and toast.

Escargot (snail) and toast, Brussels.

Howbeit, just a visit to an academic setting like university gives me an unexplainable high. Being in an international conference hob-knobbing with professional brainiacs weighed by big titles behind their names, has me fluttering with joy. Just like many Africans, I prefer to develop my career, improve the lot of the poor and disadvantaged, work on the plot of land back home, grow veggies and fruits for sale, have a side-hustle, build a house, I would love me some security and to be grounded. Travel however, will always be on the side, it will be my second love, until the time I choose to travel full-time. Travel bloggers will always be my other tribe, the side of me that feels absolutely at home with them as we speak the language of travelers, one that requires no questions and no translations.

What lessons has travel taught me? 

1) Travel can change you: The biggest lesson I’ve learnt as a traveler is not to sweat out the small stuff. Missing or canceling flights is no longer a big deal. Life goes on, just hop into another. It is also easy to dream of going to a place and actually bring those dreams to life.  The globe in my experience has reasonably shrunk. I remember chatting with a dutch friend some two years back who said his sister packed up and set off for Ibiza where she now lives. I let out a sigh and wondered aloud, ‘Why can’t I just do that?’
I believe I’ve come to the place where I can. I am much bolder and have stepped out of my comfort zone and keep on stretching out. Travel has enhanced my senses, sometimes time stands still as I take in the beauty of everything; social interactions, stunning sunsets or sunrises, random birds in flight, delicious food, picturesque sculptures, magnificent cathedrals. My eyes have been peeled to see everything anew, from the eyes of a traveler.

Swans at Keukenhof, Lisse.

Swans at Keukenhof, Lisse, The Netherlands.

A giraffe at a national park in Kenya

A giraffe at a national park in Kenya

2) Travel can be costly but it doesn’t have to be: I’ve learnt that with good planning and a little bit of prudence, you can hack the travel thingy. Join a frequent flyer programme and commit to it, begin collecting miles in the skies and on ground, and you may have a free flight at year’s end or take advantage of different rewards. Sign up for a number of travel newsletters and be on the look out for the thousands of sales floating about on cyberspace. Book vacations way before the travel dates. If you are desperate to travel, begin in your town then move out to a neighbouring country then region. You can relocate to countries with a lower standard of living than your own and stretch your savings that way, or volunteer your services in exchange for food and lodging, study to be an english teacher and get posted as one to fabulous locations, work away around the world, begin to do online work that is not limited to location, be a house or pet-sitter. Quit the tourist tag and choose to be a traveler; you may feel comfortable booking that package from your home country, but it’s definitely cheaper when you book your ticket and get the tour packages on ground once in the foreign country. Your 3000 euro trip may be scaled down to 300 euros or less.

3)Travel renews your faith in humanity: I’ve come to realize that even in the most unfriendly or racist of nations, there’ll always be people wanting to do good or help you out. In times when I have been in a fix and encountered unsympathetic travel officials, there has always been that kind hearted one who went out of their way to make international calls and write e-mails on my behalf out of no extra cost to me. I’ve had offers at hostels from total strangers asking me to join them for meals and drinks in restaurants. There are a good number of friendly cafe owners who have accepted my payment for meals but declined to be paid for drinks.

4) Travel with a child is not too bad: I was panicky when I begun to travel with my child. I shuddered when flashbacks of her terrible twos popped up, that period when even walking back home from the baby sitter’s was an experience fraught with drama. Now, at 8 years young, she’s like my little helper, it’s a breeze and when I have to get to a destination solo, I actually miss her. She helps tidy the hotel room when we are checking out, and double-checks that nothing is under the bed. She can pack her own suitcase and is the perfect travel companion; giving her own input about the food, the tours and the destination. She is loads of fun and entertaining when she chooses impromptu moments to break out in song or dance, she is quite handy with the camera and has taken some super cool shots. Additionally, whenever we spot a tired mum in distress with a crying baby and a few children in tow, my little one is only too glad to intervene, and loves to play with other children, making faces and tickling which quietens the yelling baby, giving the mum that much needed break. Of course there are countries that I wouldn’t feel comfortable bringing my child along until she is much older.

Bonding with a lion cub at Nairobi, Safari Walk.

Bonding with a lion cub at Safari Walk in Nairobi

At The bridge in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

At The bridge in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Jumping for joy at the Verudela beach, Pula Croatia

Jumping for joy at the Verudela beach, Pula Croatia

5) Travel shows you that locals are the best teachers: If you travel to a location and don’t interact with the locals you might as well have stayed home. Locals love talking about their countries and those are free tips right there, stuff that is raw and direct that you would never find in a guide book. Locals know where the cheap and it places are, they can introduce you to the best foods and give you a good history of their country, you are guaranteed to leave a place feeling more fulfilled and richer if you bonded with locals.

Kids at an Internet cafe in Bangkok

Kids at an Internet cafe in Bangkok

Friendly lady selling seafood.

Friendly lady selling seafood at Khao San Road in Bangkok.

A street in Matonge, Brussels

A street in Matonge, Brussels

Streetdance in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Streetdance in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Dancing at the Rotterdam carnival, the Netherlands

Dancing at the Rotterdam carnival, the Netherlands

What are some lessons travel has taught you?

24 replies »

    • Your writing is inspirational. I’m thinking of heading off to Greece for a solo break, but am nervous about going as a single 40s something black female alone. Will I be stared at our made to feel unwelcome? I just crave some sunshine, sand and culture! I usually do Morocco, which has all 3, but wouldn’t mind a change. Elle

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hey Elle! OMG you only have one life to live, live it unapologetically the way you want to live. So what if people stare at you–overseas they do stare but it’s more out of curiousity sake. They want to know where you come from, how’s America, they are admiring your nuances and not so much because they abhor you. So go for it and let me know how Greece is–Greece and Morocco is definitely on my bucketlist. Now as for solo travel, that’s enlightening. Let me know if you want me to connect you with my friend who just came back from Greece solo–she loved every second of it!

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Wow! This is fantastic. I really enjoyed reading this post. I have travelled solo since l was about 18, and now travel with my husband of 8 years. Many things you say resonate with me… 🙂 . I also found a barber in Malta (from Ethiopia) who cut my short hair even shorter to style it somehow since it refuses to grow and massaged and did a wonderful job. I haven’t found the same since. Your baby is so cute !!!! How great to have a little helper when you travel… Happy anniversary !!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much Kemkem, and you are brave to have started traveling so early at 18 years..just two years ago, I couldn’t even go across to Germany or France, but when I begun, I got totally hooked! My little one loves to travel with me, she gets sad when I have to go solo!

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  2. Many Congratulations africanagiiiiiiirl! I can’t believe that you’ve only been blogging for a year. Good stuff! Like Kemkem, I too started travelling solo before I went to university and then I did my GAP year around Asia. I get you that you’re sometimes nervous when travelling alone but honestly, just be proud, do your thing, travel where you want to, listen to your instincts and just go for it. And you can take your daughter anywhere in the world. Just take as much care as you would in your home country.

    I was born and grew up in the Northern part of England where a person of colour was really rare. My dad is an engineer and he was actually in the newspaper because he was “the first” and I used to live in the Czech Republic and Slovakia only a few years after the Wall fell down and they were really surprised, but so what?

    I love the fact that you’re going to more extreme places like Bosnia and so you, we, anybody and everybody should. Live the Dream!
    Love it. 🙂

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    • Thank you so much British Berliner! Great to hear you begun to travel way back, and your dad was a pioneer! So so cool!..I’m thinking you and Kemkem had a marvelous head start and you don’t fret as much as we late-comers do around travel..:-)..
      We will be headed to Kenya during the summer, though I will be working so hardly any vacay for me, (except to resorts and national parks over the weekends) but lucky for her, there’ll be tons of relatives around to keep her happy. I was actually debating within myself whether to bring her to Asia, if I make it to come to Thailand for TBEX..I think you have encouraged me to do so, and as well I felt very safe last time I was in Asia, my hotels were really great and I had no issues at all, plus it will be a great experience for her.

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  3. This may be cliche, but living in Japan has helped me learn that the American way is not the best or only way (well, actually I never thought it was, but is sure gained a new appreciation that it is not the best/only way). Living there for an extended period (years) has given me more insight than just visiting for a week or two. In a way, it is a mode of education, refining my ability to see things objectively, to step outside of received wisdom and cultural norms. I believe that in the longer term, globalization will attenuate prejudice and xenophobia as we come face to face with the other.
    All the best,
    D

    Liked by 1 person

  4. First of all, congrats with one year of blogging! 🙂
    Secondly, I love what travel has taught you! I agree with all the things, and can say that travel have taught me a lot of the same things. But I have no experience travelling with children, but I am happy to hear that it is not too bad. Because I would love to travel with my own when I get 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • hahaha..I know what you mean, and I am able to do this because I live in a different continent than my family..otherwise they would freak out I think. Another idea: you could travel with your family!

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  5. Congrats on your one year of blogging. I had to laugh about the expertise of barbers in KL as I am always a tad wary of getting my hair cut overseas. I used to live in the Netherlands so am jealous you are there. It feels like home to me still years later. I love following other’s adventures as I am always planning my own. Soon I am off to teach in Cairo and hope to get back to visit more of eastern Africa or maybe Zambia. Happy travels, Cheryl and the Family C

    Liked by 1 person

  6. “What are some lessons travel has taught you?”

    1. Stop giving a damn what strangers think about you.

    2. Our journey through life is personal…so is traveling. I like a mixture of luxury and budget travel depending on what my needs are. I think people (and I include myself) should focus less on what other people are doing and spend more time getting to know themselves; like and dislikes, what gets you excited, what causes you anxiety, etc.

    3. You can travel/explore the world anywhere. You can travel to another continent or venture into a nearby neighborhood and discover a new restaurant. It’s up to us.

    Great post!!

    Like

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