Hi all. This week I’ve interviewed a brilliant travel blogger from Nigeria, Amarachi, who runs the blog ‘Travel With a Pen’. Her blog is vibrant and exciting, and has a mix of local (Nigerian) travel options as well as international travel as well. Right now Amarachi has JUST moved to Nairobi, where she was able to answer my questions. Enjoy!
- Hi there. Thanks for agreeing to do this interview. Would you mind starting by telling us who you are and where you’re from, and of course the name of your blog?
Hi Andy, thanks for interviewing me. My name is Amarachi Ekekwe Huelsenbeck and I am from Nigeria. I run a blog called “Travel with a Pen” which is a travel blog that encourages people (especially Nigerians) to travel both locally and internationally on a budget. These days, I spend most of my free time blogging or hanging out with my partner. I used to write novels in my not so distant past and I am hoping to get back to doing that.
Currently, I am based in Nairobi, Kenya. I just moved here from Lagos a few weeks ago and I am still trying to settle in. It’s been a great transition so far though.
- When did you start your blog and why did you decide to start a travel blog?
I started Travel with a Pen in 2016 to show young Nigerians that budget travel was possible and enjoyable. The catalyst for creating it was a solo trip I took to some parts of Europe in 2015. That trip was the beginning of a new phase in my life. Before, I thought traveling was expensive and that to be considered well-travelled, you had to travel a certain way and visit certain places. I had been to about 22 of 36 states in my home country but I didn’t consider myself a traveller. I also didn’t know that travel blogging was a niche people blogged about and when I found out that it was, it encouraged me to write about my own experiences.
I travelled solo and on a very small budget but the trip was the most exciting thing I had ever done in my life at the time. I wanted to help change the mindset about travel (within my age group) in my home country, so I started a blog.
- What do you like to write about and why?
I blog about my personal travel experiences and itinerary but I think my favourite thing to write about is the breakdown of costs for my budget trips. I find that this is very helpful for people who are looking to travel cheaply but aren’t sure about where to begin. It also helps to bring home my blog’s main message because it is one thing to say that travel can be done cheaply and another thing to show you how.
- What have been some of your favourite destinations? What countries have you been to and how is travelling on a Nigerian passport?
I have loved every place I have visited but if I had to choose a few places outside Nigeria, I’d say Benin Republic, Morocco and Italy are really high up the list. Benin Republic, Nigeria’s closest neighbour, has my heart for many reasons. Its proximity to Lagos makes cheap international travel possible and the country offers a much needed relaxing escape from the chaos of a busy city. I also met my partner during my first micro budget trip to the country, so of course it has a special place in my heart! The landscapes in Morocco and Italy were simply stunning and the food was delicious.
Apart from these countries, I have been to a few others, most of them on the African Continent. I travel with a Nigerian passport and if I’m being honest, it is not the easiest document to travel with.
Having a Nigerian passport means jumping through several hoops to get a visa – if you get it at all. For countries where we need a visa to travel to (which are quite a lot), the process is often long, tedious and expensive. It also means being scrutinized more (and sometimes even harassed) by immigration officers.
My travel history makes the process just a little bit easier these days but it doesn’t absolve me completely from the challenges I mentioned above.
- Who do you see as the audience for your blog?
I think my audience is very dynamic and changes as I and my blog evolves. For the most part, my primary audience are young Nigerians looking to explore the country (and continent) more and on a budget.
- What advice would give to someone just starting out blogging?
The first thing I’d advice is to define your objectives, find your ‘why?’ and be passionate about whatever you want to write about.
- What is the hardest thing about running a travel blog?
The hardest thing for me is not having to check my stats every 2 minutes! Just kidding (or maybe not J). On a more serious note though, I think the hardest thing for me is trying to balance being present and enjoying a moment for what it is and not because I want to blog about it.
I’m finding ways that work for me but I’d say this is the hardest thing. I have absolved myself of every other pressure that comes with blogging. I write because I love to and I write when I can. To keep my blog alive, I commit to writing at least 1 post every month – most months I write between 4-6 posts but I don’t stick to a particular schedule.
Because of this, running a travel blog has been a whole lot of fun.
- How has your world changed due to Covid-19? What restrictions are in place where you are right now?
Covid-19 basically put a halt to life as we knew it. I have been working from home for nearly six months now. I appreciate not having to commute (even more when I lived in Lagos), however, I feel like I don’t recognize the life I am currently living.
In Nairobi though, life is returning to normal. Local and international flights have resumed and businesses have begun opening up again. There’s still a curfew from 9pm to 4am and a ban on the sales of alcohol in most places. I’m not sure why the latter is in place.
- How do you think travel will change due to the pandemic?
I don’t think much will change due to the pandemic. Right now, there are regulations being put in place to curb the spread of the virus – like social distancing, wearing of masks, temperature checks and so on. I think once the pandemic is over, these will stop and we will return to the status quo – maybe with more attention to hygiene and cleanliness of spaces.
- What place would you really like to visit and why?
Oh, so many places! Rwanda, Uganda, Japan, Bolivia, Peru…. I could go on and on. I’d like to see gorillas up close in Rwanda or Uganda and enjoy the green, clean spaces in these countries (especially in Rwanda). I’d also love to visit Tokyo, see the salt flats of Bolivia and trek the Inca Trail in Peru. Another big adventure I’d love experience is the Trans-Mongolian train journey from Russia to China. Like I said the list goes on and on J
- You blog from your home country, Nigeria. You sometimes post about the travel experience for Nigerians. How popular is ‘outbound’ tourism (ie people going to foreign countries from Nigeria) for Nigerians (Covid-19 issues aside) , and is it a growing industry? What countries do Nigerians most commonly visit and why?
Outbound tourism is quite popular among Nigeria’s middle and upper class. I’d say that Dubai, London and the US are the most popular tourist destinations. The cost of travel and the ease of obtaining a visa makes Dubai a very popular destination. As for London and the US, many people have family members who live in these places, so they usually combine their holidays with a trip to see them. I also think that the social prestige that comes from being able travel to these places make them popular destinations as well.
- How strong is tourism in Nigeria? And what would recommend for the tourist coming to Nigeria for the first time?
Local tourism, on the other hand, is not quite popular. The infrastructure and security concerns make it somewhat difficult to travel within the country. However, there are private organizations – mostly comprising of young entrepreneurs, who have taken up the challenge to promote local tourism and take care of the logistics of travel within Nigeria.
While I do not organize tours, on my blog, I also promote local tourism and help travellers plan their trips around the country.
For anyone visiting Nigeria for the first time, I’d say optimize for experiences with people, rather than places. West Africa, especially Nigeria, has some of the most vibrant people you’d ever come across!
For places, I recommend visiting Lagos (this is usually the first state you’ll arrive in and the most popular in Nigeria), Abuja and Calabar. Lagos is a lot to take in and I’d recommend having a local to show you around (especially if this would be your first introduction to the continent). There are several activities you could engage in; my all-time favourites would be to see a play at Terra Kulture, spend a relaxing weekend at a beach resort, visit the Nike Art Gallery and the Lekki Conservation Centre.
Abuja and Calabar are more laid back and they both have gorgeous terrain and good weather conditions.
Please recommend three posts from your blog you’d like people to read (and why!)
I’d recommend these articles:
Nigeria Travel Guide: http://www.travelwithapen.com/visiting-nigeria-travel-guide/ – This article would give you a good introduction to Nigeria and some of the places you can visit while you’re here
25 places to visit in Lagos: http://www.travelwithapen.com/fun-places-to-visit-in-lagos/ – If you’re visiting Lagos for the first time, I think you’ll find this article very useful
The Legends of the Knights of Kajuru: http://www.travelwithapen.com/legend-knights-kajuru/ – This is one of my favourite articles on my blog. I love it because it is such a silly story that tells you about a beautiful castle we have in Nigeria.
- Finally, how can people find you on the net and social media? Please include blog address, facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube and any other channels you use.
- Finally (again!) what are you hoping or dreaming for in 2021?
I haven’t really thought about it in terms of travel but since I just moved to Nairobi, I am hoping to explore more of East Africa in 2021.
A MASSIVE thanks to Amarachi this week for a fantastic interview.
Hope you are well wherever you’re reading from – thanks for tuning in! And May the Journey Never End!