Priest: Hey everyone. Welcome to episode 9 of Missions and Marketplace podcast with our guest, Oneika the Traveller. She’s a serial expat and a travel junkie who travelled over 70 countries on 6 continents. She’s originally from Canada. She started off in France and moved around from there doing various jobs and she’s been just travelling all over the place. It was amazing to talk to her. She has a great story. I really enjoyed talking to her because I love how cultured she is, how many people she’s been in touch with, and it kind of shows in our conversation that she really has a passion for the travel. And hopefully this inspires some of us to, including myself, I’m talking of me too, to step from behind the computers and step from behind the social things that we have, Twitter and Facebook and other things, and just get out there and travel a little bit. So if you’ve never been anywhere, why don’t you just start and go somewhere, I don’t know where. But without further ado, here is Oneika the Traveller.
Speaker: Welcome to Missions and Marketplace podcast. Join us as we talk of business and thought leaders to discuss their passions in and outside of business and how it drives them to give and be citizens of goodwill. Let’s get started.
Priest: Hi, Oneika. Thank you for joining Missions and Marketplace podcast.
Oneika: Thank you for having me.
Priest: Yeah, excited to have you on. I have been looking forward to talking with you a little bit about your travels and all of that fun stuff. You’re kind of a person on the go, so I was like, “I wonder if I’m going to ever really get a chance to talk to her.” But I’m glad we got a chance to talk here. So why don’t you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself.
Oneika: Sure. So my name is Oneika and I run a travel blog called Oneika the Traveller. And basically, I am someone who is super into travelling and new cultures and it’s kind of become not only a passion but my life’s work. So I grew up in Canada but my parents are from Jamaica so I had a multicultural background, I guess you could say. And I grew up in Toronto, which is a very multicultural city. And I was always from a young age surrounded by many different nationalities. So I was always intrigued by different people, their cultures, how they lived and languages that they spoke.
But I didn’t really travel until I got to university. And when I was in university, I have the opportunity to go on a study abroad and I went to France for the year. And it was my first, I guess you could say, transcontinental journey. It was my first trip across the ocean because previously I had only traveled within the US and to Jamaica where my family is from. And basically, when I went over to France, it was a ridiculous eye opener. You know, I met people from places I didn’t even know existed. I had the opportunity to travel around Western Europe and also to Africa. At that point, at the end of that year, I was bitten by the travel bug and I knew that this was something that I really wanted to do. So ever since I’ve been travelling, I’ve traveled extensively. I’ve been an expat for ten years now.
Priest: Seventy countries, six.
Oneika: Yeah, I’ve traveled to over 70 countries and lived in 5 different countries on 3 different continents and I’ve enjoyed every single minute of it.
Priest: What’s kind of incredible about your story is that I know there are a lot of people that sit at their jobs and cubicles or just a stay at home mom or somebody that feels like they’re tied down or whatever they may have going on, and they don’t necessarily have to travel to 70 different countries but just you brought it up when you went to France how it kind of opened it up for you just to kind of step out a little bit on faith and just go somewhere. I mean it’s funny because I lived in a city with, you know, with people and I swear we would travel thirty minutes across. And if they’ve never been anywhere, they thought thirty minutes was like a road trip. You know, they’d want to buy snacks and like, if we’re going to drive way over there, we might as well get. I mean, so it’s amazing to me that you’re going across waters and across different countries. So in general, so I think you kind of briefly touched on it, but what really inspired you to travel to the level that you do now? So I know you talked about kind of the catalyst for it. But what’s the inspiration for continuing to do it at the level that you do?
Oneika: The inspiration for me really, Priest, is just that thirst, you know that desire to know more. I’ve always been curious and my mom would probably say that I’m actually quite nosy. And I’ve always been really invested in other people’s stories and curious, you know, about their providence, you know, where they’ve come from and the experience is that I’ve led them to a certain point. And I think that it’s kind of this strange, you know, chain reaction, so the more I’ve traveled, the more I’ve wanted to travel. The farther I’ve gone, you know, I’ve even wanted to go even farther away, you know at greater distances than I had previously. So I think it’s kind of this juggernaut that builds for me and I, you know, still get very excited when I meet somebody from a place that I’ve never been before. And I love just listening and be a witness to people’s stories. And I think, if anything, that’s probably what drives me most, just learning more about people and just that thirst, you know, that needs to be quenched.
Priest: You know, part of the issue I think sometimes when we’re just in Canada, when we’re just in the US, it’s hard for us to feel passionate when there are struggles in other countries or when there are successes because you can’t really identify with it. But to kind of step outside of that, you then realize that every individual, every man, every child, every woman, they have a story that goes with them. I can definitely see why that’s something that kind of just continues to invigorate inside of you. So talk about some of the best places you’ve traveled to.
Oneika: That’s always a really difficult question for me, to be quite honest.
Priest: Does it change every year after you leave the place?
Oneika: It does. And it changes not only because of the destinations themselves but I think it changes, you know, because of the people that I come across in my travels. When I first started to travel, I was really wowed and amazed by, you know the physical things that I saw. So for example, the touristic sites, the scenery, all of that. I think now, I’m really interested in the cultural aspects, so getting to know people and learning their stories. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I, you know, love a beautiful landscape or, you know, beautiful mountain or what have you. But I think at the root of it all nowadays, it’s maybe the littler things, you know, the things that don’t necessarily make it into the guidebook. So the encounters that I have or maybe the history or the ethnography of a particular place.
But that being said, there are, you know, some favorite places that I have. One of those is France. I lived in France for two years and I think that my experiences in France really shaped me, not only as a traveler but as a global citizen because that was really my first encounter with life abroad. And within France, I mean, people who are perhaps not too familiar with the country probably don’t realize that it’s actually very diverse, not only culturally but also racially. So I met a number of different people, you know from the French-speaking countries in Africa or the Caribbean. I met other European people who were, you know studying or working in France. You know, I really have the opportunity not only to learn about France, French culture, but also, you know, the greater French-speaking world at large. And that really shaped me. So I learned what it was to, you know become independent and to live away from home and to, you know travel on my own. And all of that, you know France was really a catalyst for that. And beyond that, beyond the culture and the different people that I came across, the country itself is very diverse, you know geographically and regionally, and very beautiful. That remains, you know, one of my favorite places.
A place that really wowed me in terms of the landscapes would be Chile. So I went to Chile in South America and I had the opportunity to travel there on my own. And I went to the northern part of the country, which is very rugged. It has these very interesting landscapes, kind of otherworldly landscapes. And there’s this desert up there called the Atacama Desert. And you know, there are all these kind of lagoons and it’s cold and you know it’s just, you know, these really otherworldly terrains.
Priest: It’s called Atacama Desert.
Oneika: The Atacama Desert.
Priest: Atacama Desert, okay.
Oneika: Yes, in the north of Chile in South America. And that, you know, a lot of people go to South America and they hit up the big stuff or think that, you know, we talk about it all the time like Machu Picchu. And I’ve been to Machu Picchu, I’ve traveled around South America and that’s most definitely, it’s noteworthy. It’s a beautiful sight but when I went to Chile, I was really astounded by the landscapes and by the scenery up in the Atacama Desert.
Priest: How are you picking these spots? Is it just a dart on the board that you’re just saying I’m going here? Or is it a mix of pleasure or jobs? I mean, what’s drawing to you to some of these places that you go to?
Oneika: A lot of it, to be honest with you, Priest, has to do with finances. It has to do with time and opportunity. So what I try to do, you know, not only to minimize cost but to minimize travel time, is I usually try to travel around the region I’m living in at that time with, you know, a few notable exceptions. So I lived in Hong Kong for four years and so my natural sort of reaction in terms of traveling, you know, I was inclined to travel around in Southeast Asia, you know because it was closer, it was cheaper to do so and it didn’t take me as much time to get over there. That was one of the reasons I traveled around the region when I lived there. The same thing, you know, I lived in Europe for four years total as well. So I lived in France for two years and I lived in London for two years. And again, you know, it was way cheaper and way easier to travel from, you know London for example, so I was able to do really nice weekend trips or even longer trips around continental Europe.
And so a lot of the time that’s what I do and that’s kind of what I advise the readers of my blog or, you know, the followers that I have. That’s kind of what I advise them to do. You kind of have to be strategic, especially if you have limited time to travel and limited funds. And so one of the best things that you could do is, you know, not only to just explore your own backyard, but to explore destinations that, you know maybe further a fields but not necessarily on the complete other side of the world. So now that I am living in New York, so I moved to New York three months ago. I have been taking the opportunity to travel around the Caribbean and traveled around Latin America because it’s way closer and cheaper and easier to do so from New York or having New York as a hub. In three days from now, I’ll actually be boarding a plane to Bolivia, which is a country, landlocked country in South America, and you know it’s always been a dream of mine to go to Bolivia, but living in Asia or living in Europe, it was really far away.
Priest: Too far, yeah.
Oneika: Yeah, it was super costly and you know, even if I were to have the funds to travel to Bolivia, it would have been, you know, travel time of, you know, thirty plus hours and three different planes.
Priest: That’s crazy.
Oneika: So you just kind of have to be strategic with travel and take advantage of travel deals, you know, I guess your own geographic locations. So that’s basically how I end up choosing the places I travel to.
Priest: One of the travel deals that I just kept on talking to somebody about this, there was this glitch on Christmas. I think it was Dubai or somewhere where people would get.
Oneika: Yes, it was Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Priest: Yeah. They were getting tickets for like $250 or somewhere along those lines. If people want to start being like Oneika, wait around on Christmas and see if there’s any kind of glitch, maybe that’ll work out for them.
Oneika: You know absolutely. There are a number of websites that you can sign up to that will, you know, keep you abreast of all the different fare glitches or travel deals.
Priest: What are some of those sites? Do you have?
Oneika: Yeah. Well, one of my favorites is SecretFlying.com and what you can do is you can just like their Facebook page and so that they pop up in your feed. So for example there was a deal today, I think, where you could travel to four European countries for $306 or something like that. So I think it was Norwegian Air and you could fly to Norway and then also visit on that same ticket, you could also visit, I think it was London, Amsterdam and somewhere else, I don’t remember if it was Paris.
Priest: For three hundred bucks?
Oneika: For $300.
Oneika: So SecretFlying.com is a favorite of mine. Airfare Watchdog is a good one that you can sign up for. The Flight Deal is very good. So there are a number of, you know if you sign up for these websites and mailing lists and all that and you keep an eye out, I mean, they will send you alerts. And I think, again, you know, if you want to travel more and travel, you know, for less money, then you have to be flexible. So you have to be flexible not only with your time but you also have to be flexible with the destination that you’re going to. So if you’re dead set on going to Barcelona for $200, you know what, you may not get that deal. But if you don’t mind traveling to Berlin, well, you know what, you might just have an opportunity there. So I think it’s important to be flexible, not only with your time but also your desires in terms of destination.
Priest: You know, I’m having a lot of conversations with people and as I get older, Oneika, I’m kind of changing how I approach this and I’m going to ask you the same thing. I think I know the answer to this but, you know, it sounds like you value paying for experience over things. Now don’t get me wrong. I think things are fun, clothes and, you know, different little chach every now and then. But as you get older, you really appreciate some of the things that you’re talking about earlier where you’re making new connections in new countries, new places, you’re hearing new stories, seeing new faces. At the end of the day that means, I hate that word “at the end of the day”. But at the end of it all, that means a lot more than some of the things we buy that eventually just pass away in some respect anyways.
Oneika: Absolutely. I mean, my most treasured things, if you want to call it that, would be the memories that I have from traveling. You know and I think to myself, if I had prioritized getting that iPhone 7 over my ticket to Bolivia, I mean I just, I wouldn’t have that experience. So for me, I mean it’s a balance. Don’t get me wrong, you know, as you were saying, I enjoy having things, so you know, tangible items that you can purchase in a store. I mean I enjoy having those as much as the next person. But I definitely realize that, you know, there is value and I can testify to that. You know I have personally felt the value of using my money and putting it towards or investing it in travel. As you say it, the connections that I’ve made are invaluable at the end of the day. I can’t place the dollar value on the people that I’ve met and some of those things that I’ve had the opportunity to see with my own two eyes. I’m going to Egypt for example. You know that was an investment in myself. Seeing things that are older than time. I’m trying to wrap my head around, you know, the notion that somebody built this thousands and thousands of years ago and it still exists. And I can see it and I could reach out and touch it if I wanted to.
Priest: Wow, that’s amazing. That is a trip I would love to take.
Oneika: And it’s one that I recommend. You know, you can have your iPhone 7 and you could have the most current gadget there is out there, but I think that there’s something to be said for prioritizing some experiences over, you know, these things that you can buy in a store.
Priest: So I’m going to ask kind of a loaded question here and I don’t mean it to be so loaded but I’ll explain it. If you were able to do it all over again, you know starting back at the university and now knowing what you know today, what would you do differently? And again, just in your travels and how would you approach things differently, whether that’s changed for you culturally, maybe how you view people, maybe how you travel in general, maybe it hasn’t changed anything? But what has that done for you that maybe you would change today?
Oneika: To be honest with you, I think if I could do it all over again, I would go abroad earlier. I would take advantage of some of the exchanges that exist for high school students. So for example rotary, the rotary club has a number of different scholarships and exchanges that allow teenagers to go abroad. So if I could do it all over again, if I, you know, had the opportunity to wipe the slate clean, I think I definitely would have gone abroad earlier and experience this earlier. I think as well, I probably would have tried to go to the university in a foreign country, so whether, you know, it was France or in the UK, I definitely would have had that experience. And I don’t have any children now, but in the future.
Priest: You’re going to encourage them to do that.
Oneika: Absolutely. You know, I think that it’s just such an invaluable experience. You know we’re talking about experiences a little bit earlier. And I think that there are so many things that you learn abroad that cannot be learned in a book. And just having that sort of international aspect and way of thinking is so important. It’s so important. So I would definitely do that earlier had I known, if I have the chance to do it over again.
Priest: I would have too, personally and I think we talked about this offline, but I have a 17-year old daughter that in some respect, she kind of reminds me of you in terms of just willing to kind of get out and travel and she’s willing to kind of dive in to other cultures. And you got to remember, just a generation before this, in some respects, in the states here and other surrounding areas, we were kind of closed off as, you know, different parts of the country. And now we’ve become a global economy. So I think it’s not farfetched to even start really pushing kids in high school to go to university and to go to schools outside of their comfort zone in some respects. And we need to teach that more. Teach people to get uncomfortable and start blending in with other cultures.
Oneika: I think travel teaches you so many things. I think it teaches you to be independent. It teaches you to be resilient. It teaches you to be resourceful. It teaches you to think on your feet quickly. It teaches you to be open to the unknown. So I think, again, that it’s invaluable and it’s not something that you can put a dollar value on.
Priest: There’s no question here. You’re a black woman and you’ve been to many places, 70 countries, 6 different continents. What kind of experiences have you had being a black woman and traveling to these various locations? Has there been, you know my thought is that it shouldn’t be that big of an issue, but maybe you’ve faced things that had been just appalling, have you seen anything like that or faced anything like that?
Oneika: You know what, it hasn’t been an issue, but I think that, you know, traveling while black has had an impact on my travels, but not necessarily a negative impact. I think that in the overwhelming amount of cases, so you know in 99% of my travels, I’ve had excellent experiences, very positive experiences traveling as a black woman. In certain parts of the world, people have not seen, you know local people have not encountered someone who looks like me. So, you know, I think that if you’re traveling as a black person in general, in Asia for example, you know you kind of have to be prepared to have others, you know local people stare at you or they want to touch your skin.
Priest: Touch your hair.
Oneika: But at the same time for me, it’s always been very, very complimentary. It does perhaps get annoying, but you know I just kind of laugh it off because I think to myself that again, you know, these sorts of encounters open me up to some really funny situations and some really funny experiences. So I kind of have a good time with it and if somebody wants to take my picture, you know, as long as they’re being respectful, I’ll take a picture with them. You know again, I’ve had the opportunity to communicate with others purely because they were interested in me, because of the color of my skin. Again I think it has to do with perspective.
I think that perhaps traveling as a black male is different. I think that as a black woman, you know from myself, you know, I think I’m generally nonthreatening. You know I always have a big smile on my face and I love these sorts of random encounters, so I’m not bothered by it in the least. But I think that as a black person or as somebody who looks different from, you know, if you look different visibly from the people in the host country, I mean naturally, particularly in a developing nation, you know people will come up to you and either they’ll stare at you or they’ll approach you because you look different and they are curious.
So I think that’s something to be aware of and I personally think that you should embrace it because why not. I think when we travel ourselves, we travel primarily because we are othering other people. We want to see something different. We want to have this, you know, this very visceral, you know this striking difference. That’s what many of us look for when we start traveling abroad. So it’s only natural that the people we encounter in these countries, you know, they want to learn about us, too.
Priest: That’s a really good take on it. And just to add to that, I think you have the personality for that, right, because at the end of the day, there I go again, I don’t know. But you know, at the end of it all, you know if you’re kind of looking for the drama, you’ll probably find it. But in some respects, if you kind of let it roll off and accept it for what it is, like you talked about kind of the Asian women or whoever it may be touching your hair and want to touch your skin, if you understand, look, they really haven’t seen black people. “I’m over here in Asia.” And so why, yeah, why would they see black people? And so, if you can accept it from that standpoint, then I think you’re the perfect personality for traveling because you’re not looking for the drama where people are always going to run. You know I’ve mentioned this to you earlier but I’m biracial and a lot of times, when I’m sitting in a room, especially in the career that I’m in, I’m the only black male there, black representative there. And you know I’ve had talks in the past while I was younger and people are like, “Aren’t you uncomfortable? You’re like the only black guy in there.” And I was like, “No, I’ve been in this setting before. I have family members that are white.” Right. So, maybe they’re uncomfortable but that’s a different take. So I think it’s all how we see things is what will gravitate in kind of the energy that you’re bringing towards you.
As we look ahead and you know, we’re talking to maybe college freshmen and the high school, young boys and girls out there that we’re talking about opening up a little bit or we’re just talking about Bill sitting in this cubicle or, you know, Joanne who’s at home, and they want to do this. They want to travel. They want to get out more. What do you say is the first step that Joanne, Bob just do it? What is that thing that you would encourage them with?
Oneika: I think that people who really want to travel have to plan for it and prioritize it. I think a lot of people are complacent. And they say, “Oh well, you know I can’t do that.” And they’re quick to dismiss travel without researching it or without really opening themselves up to the possibility. It’s just as easy as surrounding yourself with likeminded people. So if you want to travel, well, join a travel group. If you think you don’t have enough money to do it, well, you know, sit down and make out a plan and take a look at your finances and take a look at what some of your expenses are and think about how you can cut some of your expenses and redirect those funds to a travel fund. I think that there’s, where there’s a will, there’s a way. And I think that if you’re open enough and you’re flexible enough that you can travel, you know, you can volunteer abroad. You can sign up to all of these websites where you can get cheap airfare.
If you’re a younger person, so if you’re in college for instance, if you’re still a student, you can sign up for study abroad. And there are a number of scholarships available out there, both at the university level and you know various organizations like the rotary club. You know, these places offer financial aid. You know if you work for a multinational company, think about asking them whether or not it’s possible to get a work transfer and to, you know, work in one of the international offices, if even for only a couple of weeks. I think that if you want to travel, it really requires a change in your way of thinking and a change in your mindset. And you, in order to actualize or realize these dreams of travel, you need to, you know really, I guess be proactive in it.
You know, I think a lot of people sit back and they say, “Oh, you know, I want to do this thing,” but they don’t make any change to their life so that it could happen. And it’s only for the very select few that, you know, the opportunity will fall into their lap. You know for myself, I wanted to travel. Not many of my friends or family members were traveling internationally, so I had to plot and scheme and find a way. And I’ve found this, you know, study abroad program and you had to be a French major to go study abroad in France and I changed my major to French. You know, simple as that. Then I had a part-time job and I saved up my money and I begged my mom for the rest and, you know, I made it happen. I didn’t have gobs of money. You know I lived on a very, very tight budget. But it was something that I really wanted to do and therefore it was worth the sacrifice. I think that would be my advice to people. You know be a proactive, be proactive. Point blank. It’s simple as that really.
Priest: That’s quite interesting.
Oneika: So plan for it, prioritize it, save for it and then make it happen. And there are a lot of resources online.
Priest: Plan, prioritize, save and then beg your mom for the rest. That’s the plan. So, Oneika, how can people get in touch with you? I know you have a blog, you have a great blog with pictures of places you traveled. You talked about your destination.
Oneika: Thank you so much for saying that. So I do have a blog. You can find me at www.OneikatheTraveller.com. That’s traveller with two L’s and Oneika is spelled O-N-E-I-K-A. OneikatheTraveller.com. And I am on Instagram and Twitter and I can be found at @OneikaTraveller.
Priest: Well, you’ve been a great guest. I really appreciate your time today.
Oneika: Great. Thank you so much for having me. I love talking about travel and you were great to talk to. So thank you so much.
Priest: Thank you.
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