Traveling solo while Nigerian and female
With eight years of solo travel experiences and over 30 countries visited, I can confidently say that traveling solo as a female Nigerian is not that big a deal. I do not think it has anything to do with bravery, instead, I find that it has more to do with confidence in oneself. Maybe I am wired differently, but I trust myself and my capability enough to safely venture out to see the world beyond my daily Lagos life.
The first time I traveled solo as an adult was when my college roommates and I planned to travel around Europe in the spring of 2008. My friends cancelled on me but I decided to go anyway. Many of my travels would never have happened if I relied on the people I planned to go with. Time waits for no one.
Live and learn! My first solo travel was quite terrible; my travel itinerary was clogged up with way too much to do and less time to actually breathe in and take in each city. That was the first lesson I learned.
Always leave room to breathe and space to be lazy while going on an adventure.
Something I always do before I go anywhere solo is to plan. Duh! I research every city’s level of security regarding safety of Africans traveling in the country and safety of solo female travelers. If I want to visit a country but not willing to deal with any racial or sexist issues that may be plaguing a small part of the region, I simply travel with my go-to tour company, Contiki. In cases where a large demographic of the country is racist or unsafe for solo female travelers, I skip it. Life is simply too short for that sort of rubbish.
I also look up activities to get up to and I put it on an excel sheet within my dropbox travel folder that syncs across all my devices. This serves as a backup plan for just in case ‘going with the flow’ does not work out so well. My spreadsheet also has tabs for my accommodation bookings, travel itinerary, budget plan and the likes. It sounds like homework, but I quite enjoy the planning phase and it keeps me in a lovely bubble of something good to look forward to before I get to my destination. This also helps me figure out what to pack for my trip and I find that in rare occasions where I do not have anything planned for the city, I end up missing out on so much.
Review sections are my best friends when booking anything. I tend to read multiple website reviews of the same accommodation just to be on the safe side. The reviews let me know about the safety of the location, and the experiences of past like-minded travelers. I do not book places below 8.5 stars and I always look out for reviews by solo travelers. Having to deal with bathroom or service issues when traveling is no bueno.
I learned to be ok with stares or requests to feel my hair. In way too many cases, I was the first African person many had ever met. That seriously blew my mind, even in some parts of Europe of all places! In many parts of Asia, most especially China and Vietnam, I starred in way too many selfies without my consent. It was hilarious! Imagine walking down the street and someone randomly gets in your private space to start taking random selfies with you. What would you do? When that first happened to me, I was so confused and shocked, but since then, I mastered the art of throwing the peace sign while smiling for the camera.
I try to be open and cautiously friendly. Traveling solo has never been a lonely experience. Yes, I am a dark-skinned Nigerian but I rarely worry if people with racial bias would shun me because of this. I have experienced racial bias issues while traveling, but I don’t give the people or the situation another thought, they are not worth it and not worth ruining a great vacation over.
Worrying about things that I cannot control makes no sense, instead I keep myself open to positive energy. The moment I get a whiff of negativity, I pick myself up and run the other way. For example, when I was in Tokyo earlier this year, I wanted to go to a Hanami party (picnic parties under cherry blossom trees in the parks). I was on my own and I figured I’d just head to Yoyogi Park with some grub and crash a Hanami party. And so, I did. I went to the park, approached a group of Japanese and French people that looked friendly enough. I asked for an invite, they said yes, and that was how I got to spend 4 hours of my time hanging out with new friends.
The people I get to share some experiences with help paint a bright and fun memory to look back on. The beauty of meeting people along the way is also the ease of departing from them when I want my alone time. For many of the locals I met along the way, I was the first African person they ever met and I made sure that when we parted ways, it was on a very positive note. The main media does not do us Africans any favor when it comes to PR, so I might as well give Nigerians a good PR spin whenever I can.
Hostel accommodations = cost savings + potential new travel friends. Many Nigerians tend to roll their eyes at me when I advise them to use hostels while traveling. I have met other travelers that go for private en-suite rooms at hostels because they want their privacy but want the benefits of the hostel social scene. I am a legit cheap skate, I have no qualms bunking in a clean hostel and saving a whole load of money. And when I feel like enjoying the nightlife of a town, I almost always find people willing to do it with me at the hostel. If finding people at the hostel is difficult, I sign up for a pub crawl. Safety in numbers.