The Nigerian experience is physical, emotional, and sometimes international. No one knows it better than our features on #TheAbroadLife, a series where we detail and explore Nigerian experiences while living abroad.
This week’s Abroad Life subject is Muna, a fintech lawyer and author of the 8000+ subscriber travel newsletter, TravelLetters. She tells us about her motivation to start the newsletter, important travel hacks for first-time travellers and her best and worst travel experiences.
What is your motivation for travelling?
Travelling is a form of therapy for me and a nice escape from the real world. It can be an expensive hobby sometimes, but I love it. Travel opens your mind and helps you gain exposure. I love travelling to new places; it doesn’t have to be outside the country. Am I on a plane going somewhere? If yes, then please, let’s go there. I just love to travel for the thrill of it.
What was your first travel experience like?
This would be surprising, but my first travel experience happened as recently as 2018 in Dubai. I went with a friend. Even though it was my first time, I did the logistics (getting a visa, booking accommodation etc.), especially navigating immigration. Doing my due diligence and research made navigating the process by myself possible.
How did you navigate immigration? Please break down the process.
As a first-time traveller, immigration officials will ask you many questions at the airport, such as your payment for the hotel, how much money you are carrying etc. Regarding the money, I had researched and knew that most countries (aside from a few like Lebanon) needed me to have a certain amount of Personal Travel Allowance (PTA) as cash. I knew this and thus was able to avoid any sort of extortion. Though it was my first time, I wasn’t so naive about the process.
Okay, let’s continue with the Dubai experience.
I think Dubai is overrated because the city is highly artificial, with hardly any natural tourist destinations or landmarks. The city is also extremely hot as well. I had to run from mall to mall when shopping just because of the heat. I also went there as a ‘Fresh young lawyer’ and had to manage my finances half the time. So maybe, that is why I didn’t quite enjoy the city. If I travelled like Jowizazaaa, I wouldn’t complain.
Despite Dubai not being my favourite city, the boat cruise was one highlight of Dubai for me (that has now become a habit). They call it Dhow Cruise. It happens in the evening, with dinner and song performances. I think it is a thing in most Arab countries I have visited.
Then there was shopping. I liked shopping in Dubai because the naira-to-dirham exchange rate was favourable then. One United Arab Emirates (UAE) dirham was equivalent to ₦100, which made buying things cheaper. Some of my favourite clothes today were from the Dubai trip.
Nice! What would you say is your best travel experience?
It’s Lebanon for me. I love it because that’s where I spent my honeymoon. Whenever I remember it, it’s always with tender and passionate feelings. Lebanon is a beautiful country and should be on everyone’s travel list.
Despite the country’s war history, the people there are also hospitable and friendly. They are still hopeful. Funny enough, most people I talked to there always seemed to have “cousins” doing business in Nigeria.
Which would you say is your worst travel experience?
Dubai for the reasons I mentioned above. The experience feels very “artificial”, and nothing there seems to be unique to them.
When did you start the TravelLetters newsletter, and how?
I’d say the desire was birthed in me one Sunday morning in 2022 as I returned from church. I was browsing Twitter when I saw a popular travel vlogger post.
I clicked on the like button and saw this ‘not-so-cool’ comment from a user asking where she gets her money to travel. It made me uncomfortable because I realised many people were ignorant about travel.
When I went on my first trip to Dubai, I was earning ₦300K as an entry-level employee at my former company. To shock you even further, I went on two trips that same year in 2018. Some weeks before I saw the post, I had just travelled to Rwanda, and the cost of my return ticket was ₦188k. That’s the same price as going from Lagos-Abuja! But let’s get back to the story.
I then tweeted how much it cost me to go to Rwanda. Excluding feeding, the other costs for flight tickets, tour guide and accommodation were around ₦400k. The tweet blew up, and then I realised that people were uninformed and curious. When I saw that gap, I decided to fill that void and create articles guiding people on how to travel with certain amounts of money. This was how Travel Letters was born.
That’s amazing! Can you share some of these tips with us?
The first one I’d say is to do your research. There are many travel influencers out there now that are giving out information. You have Trip Advisor and other travel blogs. Even the immigration websites of these countries have useful information as well. You can also call the airlines going to these countries as well. Is this country safe for female travellers? What are the locals like? You should know these before travelling.
You also need to cross-check your documents for validity. For instance, many people carry fake Yellow Cards, which they’re unaware of. This tends to cause issues when being scanned by the Port of Health. One should always scan the QR code of their Yellow Card and see if their details are correct. Kenyan and Ghanaian immigration officials are very particular about this.
Don’t dress for attention at airports. If you dress flashy, there’s a high tendency for people to call you aside for donations and tips. By the time you finish, you could probably miss your flight. Dress simply.
As a regular Nigerian, booking your flight at least six weeks before you travel is also best. You tend to get flight tickets at a cheaper rate. For some airlines, ordering your tickets from the mobile app is cheaper than on the websites, e.g. Ethiopian Airlines. If you also want to upgrade from an economy to a business class air ticket, don’t buy the business ticket straight away. Buy the economy ticket, then upgrade to the website’s business class. These airlines will usually send an upgrade email.
From my experience, the cheapest days to travel are usually during the early part of the week (Mondays to Wednesdays). Weekend flights are usually more expensive because most people are travelling by then.
Always get to the airport hours before your flight to sort out all issues.
This was extremely insightful! Would you ever get tired of travelling?
Not at all. I always pray to God that I never run out of money to travel. If ₦300k was the last money in my pocket, I’d probably use ₦150k to go to Benin Republic and then ‘wash plates’ when I return. Travelling does something amazing to you; once you’ve caught the ‘travel bug’, it’s hard to let it go. It educates you, and it gives you hope to live again.