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Travel Hacks Interview with travelpreneur Yejide Runsewe

Lawyer turned travel entrepreneur Yejide Runsewe talks to us about the reach of a Nigerian passport

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What would make a lawyer pack it all in to pursue her dreams of creating travel experiences for people with Nigerian passports? Well, Yejide Runsewe did just that and she has not looked back since.

Yejide started Naijanomads with a very noble cause, 'to unveil the reach of our Green passport'. Nigerians often feel limited in where they can go without a visa. We have focused so much on travelling to the UK or the USA that we have overlooked the many amazing destinations that welcome us with open arms, most of them right here in Africa.

Yejide has taken it upon herself to not only open our eyes to the world that lies before us but take it a step further  by providing curated experiences for her groups of travellers.

We spoke to Yejide about what motivates her and out of everything she could have possibly done, why travel?

Yejide, you trained and worked as a lawyer. What made you want to want to get into the travel industry?

it’s such a funny story. Travel has always been a hobby of mine and it stayed that way for a very long time. My very first trip to a different destination was in 2011, I went to Morocco. By different I mean a destination the typical Nigerian traveler will not visit. Prior to this a holiday for me was either to the UK or the US to see family and friends + Shop at malls all week long. I did not care about experiences.

So a couple of my Thai friends were planning a trip to Morocco and I decided to tag along when I saw the prices of the tickets. 70 pounds for a round trip to Morocco, I jumped on it! I knew I'll never get such cheap tickets back home in Nigeria so I decided to go with them with no prior knowledge of the country. I think its the best ways sometimes because you do not know what to expect. My experience in this country blew my mind and it made me long for more of this "out of the box" destinations. I visited a few more and started my blog in April 2015. I did not actively get into the space till October/November of 2016. I was out of the last law firm I worked in for over a year for health reasons. It was during that time I was able to reflect and decided to make my hobby my full time job.

How difficult was it to make that switch?

It was not very difficult I’ll be honest. The only hard part is everyone expects me to be a lawyer. My dads a lawyer and I was the “chosen one”, the one supposed to carry on his legacy. But my parents are quite open minded and will not force you into doing what you don’t want to. Whatever your career path, they are always ready to support you. So everyone that knows me personally  calls me Naija Nomads and comes to me for ANY travel related questions they have. It had always been like that but now they take you more seriously and ​some will​ pay you money for your services.

What did you know about business before you started and what resources did you make use of?

I knew absolutely nothing about it and I still have a lot to learn. It started a blog and I still blog at least once a week. Everyday in the industry there’s always something new. For accommodation my go to is booking.com, AirBNB and Innclusive. Sometimes I just call the hotels directly, introduce the company and what we do and ask them for a discount. This has always worked for me. Its also good to source indigenous websites of various countries (if they have). For example, for accommodation in morocco, a platform like Riads Morocco might have some riads not listed on the popular booking websites. Some of my other​ resources include renowned travel platforms such as Condé Nast, lonely planet and trip advisor. They keep you up to date with the latest travel trends all over the world​ and you have to keep reading and reading. I also listen to tons of podcasts webinars and watch vlogs from travel enthusiasts I love. I take these things I've watched and learnt and apply them to the Nigerian market.

How did the idea of Naijanomads come about? What inspired you to choose travel above anything else?

It started as a platform for me to share my personal experiences with my friends and family. I’m ​very ​adventurous and every time I come back from a trip my friends will always ask me for “gist”. They wanted to have all the information; what did you do? Where did you go? What did you eat? How much was this? Did you need a visa? The questions were endless. I thought this was odd because all i did was research these destinations online​ and just adjust to my Nigerian struggle. However, people could not relate to these resources online because most of them did not address these struggles. They made travel seem so easy, literally packing your bags and going. That’s not the same for a Nigerian traveller living in Nigeria. You’ll have a lot to battle with; visa restriction, limited airline carriers,ridiculously expensive ticket prices, horrible treatment and even possible deportation simply because your passport is green. And so I saved myself the hassle of constantly sending Microsoft word documents to my friends and family ​ and started a blog to share the struggles I faced travelling on a green passport. I also gave tips and tricks to navigating better on a green passport. Everyone could relate to this and people wanted to share their own experiences to! That’s how it all started! As​ for the name “Naija Nomads” when I was looking for a name for the blog, I wanted it to mean something significant. I went back to my most memorable experience then and it was definitely sleeping in the Sahara desert, wining and dining with Berber Nomads in Morocco. My friend and I were the only Nigerians there and that’s when it hit me, we were Nigerian Nomads for a night! I switched up Nigerian to Naija because it just sounded nicer to me.

 

I chose travel because it just makes me feel alive. You know how they say chose a job you love and you’ll never have to work a Day in your life. That’s how I feel at the moment. It doesn’t feel like work to me even if I decide to quit on the business part, I’ll still always have my blog and I’ll still write. Travel is just something that gets me excited and I feel empowered when I’m back with a wealth of knowledge learnt from locals. It’s also feels good to share what you’ve learnt with others as well.

 

Why do you believe it’s important to travel?

There are so many answers to this but I’ll try to keep it short and simple. When You travel, get first hand information and learn about the history of a place, it’s people and their culture. You can’t get this from any classroom or any book. Knowledge is Power and these things you have learnt will definitely come in handy in this journey called life.

What are you most notable career achievements to date? 

It has to be when I got the opportunity to travel to Turkey for a medical tourism conference courtesy the Turkish Healthcare Travel Council. We were contacted by their Nigerian representative and got the the opportunity to document the entire event. There were over 300 people from various countries and it was quite a humbling experience. I learnt too much on that trip and it has surely opened more doors for us. 

Tell us about the first trip you planned and what goes into co-ordinating such trips?

The first trip was to Kajuru Castle in Kaduna State. December, 2015. It was such a bold move as people were still skeptical about travelling to the north. They still are.​ A new company with absolutely no social media presence. I think we had a​bout 1,000 followers when we did that trip. We planned it with our buddy, Unraveling​Nigeria. I remember us second guessing ourselves and our ability to pull it off. At some point we were going to cancel it all together. First of all the trip was looking to expensive so we decided to hunt product sponsors. We sent out emails to almost everyone asking them to sponsor this our journey to Northern Nigeria. Some ignored us and others simply said no. However some of them loved the idea and gave us products which made the trip more affordable for everyone. ​

We went ahead and promoted this trip as surprisingly ​people  signed up for it! We charged N40,000 for that trip and it covered everything; transportation from Abuja, feeding and accomodation. It was even fully booked. We were so excited to see that adventurous Nigerians exist. The ones that are not blinded by the media stereotype. It was so much fun and it was the first group tour by a travel company to Kajuru Castle. 

Organising trips are such a hassle, they are far from easy. From organising transportation to food to entertainment everything needs to be considered for our participants to have a good time. But truth is I love doing it so it’s not a problem at all.

 

How do you choose your destinations and what attracts you to a place?

For personal travel, most of my travel is usually spontaneous so the first question I ask is “what are the visa restrictions?”, if it’s visa free or on arrival I’m likely to go there. I also go online and check out photos of these places and see what people are saying about it. This does not deter or stop me from going, it just gives me a high or low expectation. People travel differently so what might be fun to one person might be boring to another. What attracts me to a place is pretty much simple, can I go on adventure there? I’m quite the adventurous traveller so I want to be able to jump off a plane or bungee jump or para sail in these destinations. Adventure comes first for me, then culture, then food and then history.

 For group travel it’s pretty much the same thing but we are focused on promoting green passport friendly destinations. By that we simply mean a destination that is easy for Nigerians to get to i.e visa free, visa on arrival or a generally easy visa. It’s exciting that people are beginning to see the beauty in these countries and now want to go there! 

What do you want your customers to get out of the travelling experience?

Apart from having a good time and meeting awesome people,  It’s important they learn something new and have something they can take back home with them. Travel should be a form of learning and we try to incorporate that into our trips. For example when we did a trip to Ondo State, our itinerary had elements of so many things. We picnicked at a golf course (leisure), climbed Idanre hills (adventure), feasted on pounded yam( staple food of Ondo people) visited a palm kernel oil factory (business) and visited the Deji of Akure's palace (culture and history). This is what to expect at a typical Naija Nomads trip. 

What’s your ideal holiday destination?

This is such a hard question as I look forward to a lot of things when I travel. My ideal destination will have a combination of many things; culture, adventure and the ocean. Places like Thailand and Indonesia are Ideal for me but those visa restrictions are killing!. 

How do you want Naijanomads to evolve over the next few years?

I want Naijanomads to be a household name for green passport friendly destinations. We want to be the first name that pops in your head when you think of visa free/on arrival travel with a Nigerian passport. We want to write for international publications, create useful travel guides, work with tourism boards and airlines on travel restrictions for the Nigerian traveller and hopefully start conversations that will make things better for everyone. 

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