Thursday, January 27, 2011

What to wear when taking a trip

When getting dressed for a trip, my first thought is usually comfort.  As much as I wish I was like Victoria Beckham who always looks like she is heading for a photoshoot when in fact she is heading for the airport, the truth is I’m more concerned with how I feel than how I look in my ‘travel outfit’.  Each time I travel, I promise myself I’ll dress like an uber-model but each time, I break my own promise and go for uber-comfortable instead. 

I practically have a travel uniform now:  jeans (usually blue), a t-shirt (usually black), velcro-strapped trainers that can be taken off easily at the request of immigration officials and no-belt to set off the scanners at the airport.  I limit makeup to powder, black eyeliner and lip balm – enough to make me look alive but not enough to make people wonder if I’ll be heading to a party straight from the airport.  When travelling by road, my uniform varies slightly.  This time, I wear a belt, any pair of trainers I want and no makeup.  I dislike road trips (inspite of how fun they seem in road trip films) and not wearing makeup is my way of showing my displeasure to the universe.  I once knew a girl who always dressed up, wore heels and a full face of makeup before travelling by road.  Her story was if the vehicle she was in broke down, she was more likely to get help or a lift if she looked good.  I’m not sure I agree with her school of thought though.

My take is, when travelling, dress for comfort and safety.  If you end up having to sit on an airport floor for several hours waiting for a delayed flight (as has happened to me before), the last thing you would want to be wearing are jeggings or a body-con dress and if travelling by road and your car breaks down, walking to the nearest bus-stop or mechanic workshop would be a lot easier if you aren’t wearing 4-inch heels.

What do you usually wear when you travel?  Do you have any favourite travel outfits?

Okay, I'm not actually at an airport in these pictures but these are my standard travel outfits, honest :-)  And before you say it, I'm going to start learning to take better pictures ;-)

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Monday, January 24, 2011

My first plane ride ever

I was about 6 years old so I don’t remember many details.  Domestic air transportation in those days was a nightmare from what I can remember.  It seemed as if Nigeria Airways was the only airline available to for air travel within Nigeria.  At the domestic airport, I remember a crowd of people all shouting at someone who I assume worked for Nigeria Airways and who was sensibly standing inside a ‘cage’ made of a hard, opaque material from the feet to the waist and a wire mesh from the waist upwards.  Somehow, my mother had managed to wriggle to the front of the crowd tugging me along with her.  I vaguely remember her yelling to the person behind the cage ‘We need a ticket for Abuja!  See, I’m travelling with my daughter’ at which point she would lift me as high as she could.  Apparently, being able to afford the ticket to Abuja wasn’t enough - you had to show you were more desperate than other travelers.  We eventually got the tickets though.

I don’t remember actually getting on or off the plane but I do remember that since sitting arrangements weren’t followed (of course), I was separated from my mum.  I almost burst into tears from worry but she noted I had been placed next to a female teenager dressed in a school uniform, told me I would be okay and went to her seat.  As soon as I sat down, my companion (I don’t remember her name now though I desperately wish I could) set about entertaining me.  It turned out she was a junior student at Federal Government College, Abuja and by the time we were half-way through the flight, I had decided that that was the secondary school I wanted to attend.  She was so sweet to me - I don’t remember worrying about my mother or what would happen to me.  I just felt safe.  I didn’t end up going to Federal Government College, Abuja but I will always remember that kind, young girl.

Abuja was amazing to me.  I had been outside Lagos before but only to Abeokuta in Ogun state and even at that young age, I realised Abeokuta was never going to be an exciting town.  Abuja seemed to have a bit of the energy of Lagos or maybe I projected my 6-year old energy onto my experience.  My mother and I were in Abuja to see my dad who worked there briefly.  He acted as our guide on that short visit.  Dad took us to a market where I saw vultures for the first time in my life.  They were even uglier than had been described in the books I had read and I was appalled that they sat undisturbed on the roofs of the stalls of the meat-sellers at the market.  I remember making a note to avoid meat throughout my stay there.

Part of the reason I remember that trip to Abuja so fondly was I felt like my parents treated me like an adult.  One night, my parents told me to dress up then we went to meet some friends of their friends at Nicon Noga Hilton Hotel (which is now called Transcorp Hilton Hotel).  I remember we went to a bar where there was a band playing music.  I remember eating crisps and being offered more soft drink.  And I remember my parents’ friends making small talk with me.  I smiled, looked around and thought ‘so this is what adults do when they go out at night’. 

We only spent a few days in Abuja then it was back to Lagos for my mum and I.  I don’t remember the plane ride back to Lagos so I assume my mother and I sat together - no adventure there.  It was a short holiday but that first plane ride and indeed my first time in Abuja are memories I know will stay with me forever.

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

10 reasons I love Dubai

I’m lucky enough to have had holidays in several cities outside Lagos (where I live).  While thinking about these different places recently, my mind turned to trying to decide which was my favourite.  So far, my favourite city for a holiday is Dubai in the U.A.E. and here are 10 reasons why I love it:
  1. The weather:  I went to Dubai in August and it was crazy hot and this is coming from someone who lives in the tropics.  In spite of the heat, I loved being there as I always prefer being too hot to being too cold.  Besides, thanks to the abundance of taxis, it’s possible to go from hotel to taxi to destination (usually a mall ;-)) without really experiencing the heat.  Another thing to keep in mind is that the weather is more bearable at other times of the year so if cooler weather (cooler meaning less hot, not necessarily cold) is really important to you, consider visiting Dubai between December and February.

2.  The taxis:  Unlike in many other cities where taxis seem to disappear just when you need them the most, the opposite seems to be the case in Dubai.  You almost never need to wait for a taxi there.  When I was in Dubai on holiday, a taxi always seemed to turn up within a minute of my standing on the road wondering where to get one.  In addition, the taxis have metres which take away the need to haggle, a pesky task you usually have to go through in Lagos and some other cities across the world.

3.  The shopping:  Dubai has enough malls to excite the most jaded-shopper.  The Dubai mall and Mall of the Emirates are probably the biggest malls there and the Dubai mall is my favourite.  According to Wikipedia, the Dubai mall is the largest mall in the world in terms of total area covered and has over 1200 shops.  Dubai Mall has an ‘underwater zoo’, an ice rink (pretty intriguing for a city in the middle of a desert) and its own gold souk.  With shops covering several floors and over 100 places to eat, it is possible to spend all day at the mall shopping and eating.  This I discovered from personal experience ;-)

4.  The gold souk:  I personally love gold.  I looked on it with disdain when I was a teenager and only wore the thinnest pieces when my mother forced me to wear jewellery.  Today though, I love it and really believe that when it comes to gold, the bigger, the better ;-).  So you can imagine my joy when I went to the old gold souk in Dubai.  I went to Dubai with a girlfriend and told the driver taking us around that day to come back for us in an hour.  Sadly, one hour later, we had only been in about 4 shops which of course wasn’t up to 1/100th of the shops in the souk.  There were just so many different designs to admire that we lost track of time.  Don’t make the same mistake I did.  When you go to the gold souk, spend at least half a day there if you know you want to see even a quarter of the shops there.
A picture of me at the old gold souk in Dubai

5.  The Attractions:  There are so many things to do in Dubai, I certainly didn’t do or visit as many of the attractions as I wanted to but I did a good number.  My favourite was sand-boarding in the dunes of Sharjah (Sharjah is technically an emirate outside Dubai but what’s a few kilometers between friends?).  You can also ride in 4x4 vehicles in the desert (which feels just like a rollercoaster, only you can see the driver and you’re in a car), watch belly dancers, go camping at night in the desert, have high tea at the Burj Al Arab (sometimes described as the only 7-star hotel in the world), play in Wild Wadi (a water-based amusement park) or just chill on a beach.  It’s difficult to be bored on holiday in Dubai.
Heading for the quad-bikes
Riding into the sunset
Sand-boarding in Sharjah

On Jumeirah Beach with Burj Al Arab in the background
The Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi (another emirate in the U.A.E.)

6.  The Safety:  The crime rate in Dubai is low meaning I worried very little about my bag being stolen.  Quite a relief, really.

7.  The Friendliness:  Or maybe I meant the flirtatiousness?  The guys my friend and I came across just seemed really nice.  Of course, most of the people you meet in Dubai aren’t actually Emiratis.  Many of the people you meet come from countries outside the Emirates like Egypt, Iran and so on.  Overall, Dubai seemed like a friendly place.

8.  The Opulence:  Dubai is over the top.  For example, one afternoon I saw two Porsches.  That’s more than I’ve seen in two weeks in other places.  Some people feel that Dubai’s over-the-top-ness is too much but I love it.  I felt it showed me what was possible in this world and that life really is limited by one’s imagination.

9.  The Roads:  Narrow roads and pot-holes don’t exist in Dubai.  Of course, this may not be strictly true since I was a tourist and there for only four days.  But in contrast, one of the first things I noticed on a trip to London was the narrow roads and the tiny cars which just made me depressed and within four hours of being in Lagos, you’ll probably have come across more pot-holes than you thought were possible.  Dubai was a refreshing break from all that.

10.  The food:  I had planned to eat an ‘authentic’ shawarma while in Dubai but with the variety of food easily available from Japanese to Mexican, I never got round to it.  I will next time.  And there will be a next time.  Making this list has made me want to visit my favourite city again.

Who knows why the camel crossed the road.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

How to get the money to travel

Can you afford to travel?

People often ask me how I can afford to go on holiday so much.  First of all, I don’t go on holiday that much.  At least, not in my opinion ;-)  And secondly, I’m not a millionaire but I can afford to travel and have fun every so often.  Having established those facts, let’s move on to how you too can do the same. 

To go on holiday once or twice (or any number of times) a year, it has to be your goal.  Of course, you probably have several goals in a year like getting married, going for a second degree or eradicating world poverty but going on vacation has to be one of them if it is really important to you.  This may seem a pretty obvious point but some people don’t determine that travelling is definitely something they want to do therefore they don’t work towards it therefore they don’t get to travel like they want to.

Once you’ve made going on vacation your goal, you need to come up with a budget.  How much can you spare?  How much can you afford to spend on your vacation?  Next, do some research and find out where you can go and what you can do that would fit into your budget.  You can start your research by asking people who have gone to places you think you would like then moving your research on to the internet.

Personally, I tend to take the last two steps in reverse.  It’s the more optimistic way of looking at things in my opinion.  First, I decide where I would love to go.  Then I find out how much I need to go to said location.  If it’s an amount I feel I can reach, I save like mad until I get my financial goal is achieved.  If you can take on an extra job or two to get the money you need, do so.  If I feel I can’t afford the holiday of my dreams, I negotiate with myself.  If I can’t afford a week in South Africa what about 4 days?  If Singapore is beyond my budget realistically, what about Dubai?  Be creative and you’ll find something that will please you.

When it comes to saving, I’m a bit radical.  I deny myself many things just to achieve my goal.  I don’t buy clothes, shoes, makeup or other frivolities like that.  I cut down on eating out and become chummy with the gas cooker at home.  I cut down on expensive exotic drinks (which I love) and learn to love water (the best and cheapest drink around).  It’s painful denying myself all these things but when I travel, I buy all the clothes and shoes my heart desires and indulge in as much exotic food and drink as my happy little mind (and body) can handle.

So you see, as long as you have a steady source of income, you can go on holiday.  Just decide where you want to go and you’re on your way.

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Monday, January 17, 2011

How to go on holiday on your own

Most people prefer to go on holiday with someone: friends, a romantic partner or family.  Some people are so afraid of travelling alone, they’ll even go with someone they barely know (which can be dangerous) or someone they dislike (which just doesn’t make any sense).  Many people see travelling with people as safer which may be true in some cases but for some, ‘safer’ means not having to answer uncomfortable questions from nosey people about why you’re travelling alone (or the un-asked question ‘don’t you have any friends?’) ‘Safer’ for some people also means having someone you can use as a crutch when you’re being hit on by a dodgy guy with bad breath or a woman who insists on giving you a blow-by-blow account of what she went through when giving birth to her 7th child.

All these are valid reasons for not travelling alone but they also severely limit the fun and adventure you can have in life.  If you feel you always have to go on holiday with someone, that means looking for someone who can take time off work at the same time as you, can afford the trip you want to take and is interested in the places you want to visit.  Looking for such a person can be tedious not to mention boring.  There’s nothing quite like deciding you want to go somewhere and going there whether you find someone to go with or not.  It gives you a sense of spontaneity, freedom and going on that vacation alone inspite of what people say (and don’t say) makes you feel stronger.

Having said all that, travelling alone, especially for the first time is no small feat.  Here are some tips to help you have fun whenever you travel solo:
·         The major feeling people have about travelling alone is fear so sit down and ask yourself what you’re scared of.  If you’re wondering if you’ll be safe, do lots of research about the place you want to visit.  Knowledge is power.  Go on the internet and find out as much as you can: What language is spoken there? What is the crime rate? How are women travelling alone viewed? Are there any behaviours that are frowned upon (like shaking a woman if you’re a man may not be the done thing)? Are there any clothes that would make people feel antagonistic towards you?  For example, before I went on vacation to Gambia, I learned it was an Islamic country so I packed modest clothing in addition to my regular tank tops, just in case.  In addition, talk to as many people as you can find who have been to the place you intend to visit.  They may be able to give you information which you wouldn’t normally find on the internet. 
·         Plan what you intend to do every single day of your trip.  That way, you are less likely to feel bored, homesick or lonely.
·         Take books, magazines or portable video games along for those surprising times when you find you have to wait for hours at an airport or are stuck in the traffic jam from hell.
·         Before you travel, write down the phone numbers of the 3 most important people to you on a piece of paper even if those numbers are saved on your mobile phone.  So if for some reason you can’t get into your phone (it was stolen, has refused to come on or has just disappeared into the great-lost-and-found dustbin in the sky), you’ll still have the numbers of your loved ones and will be able to call them and let them know that you’re okay.
·         Go with an open mind, decide you will have fun and you will!

Here's a picture of me on a solo  holiday to The Gambia.

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