Wanderlust: How My Inaugural Solo Travels Ignited My Desire to See the World

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by Krystalyn Azikiwe (@CafeUzuri)

Two weeks removed from my return, I sit pondering the possibilities of my next trip abroad. I have officially been bitten by the travel bug and taken hostage by wanderlust. My inaugural solo trip abroad took me to the sanctity of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, the hustle and bustle of City Centre in Nairobi, and the mesmerizing white sands of Mombasa. With barely any itinerary in hand I let the wind be my guide.

Prior to planning my trip I’d been introduced to an inspirational group of travelers called the Nomadness Travel Tribe. The sheer audacity of their traveling spirit infected me immediately upon joining. I found a space of people who encouraged traveling beyond the confines of one’s comfort zone. I happened upon pictures of people of color traveling to Abu Dhabi, Iceland, Lagos, Bali and destinations foreign to me. I knew I could be one with them. A traveler of whim. A citizen of the world. Thus, when I saw a post in the forum about a round-trip flight to Nairobi for merely $770 from the US, I jumped at the opportunity.

After purchasing my ticket last July, I went crazy seeking travel advice for my February trip. As my journey drew nearer, I found myself throwing planning to the wayside. My initial excitement slowly morphed into anxiety. Last February, my trip to Istanbul had been thwarted by my family’s anxiety around my solo travel. Around that time an American mother had been killed while traveling in Istanbul. As fate would have it, Nairobi experienced a terrorist attack just a few months after I’d booked my trip. Family members oft mentioned the attacks, to which I responded by telling them I would reconsider going. However, I began heavily researching Kenyan culture and the possibility of an extended layover in Istanbul. I happened upon a free, guided 9-hour hop on/hop off tour of Istanbul to embark on during my 12-hour layover. I daydreamed of capturing a photo of myself riding atop a camel on white sands alongside crystal blue waters – I made the decision to go.

I made the choice to grab life by the horns, to have a say in my travel journey, to be openly spontaneous, to learn a culture beyond my own, to behold sights I’ve only dreamed of, and to be free. To be safe, I told my boyfriend and mother of my decision. The week of my flight came quickly and my anxiety took a back seat to my enthusiasm. I got on my flight feel emboldened. But my first step in Istanbul had me shook. I had no phone. However, while waiting for the tour, I befriended a fellow solo traveler also on layover – after feeling his energy out first. He and I bonded quickly. I used his laptop to Skype my boyfriend and Facebook those friends who knew I was traveling. He and I snapped photos while enjoying the sights together. Istanbul was interesting. The men were intense. The reaction to seeing me – a brown-skinned woman with long braids – ranged from comical cat-calling and outright stares to flattering commentary and asking to take pictures with me. What Istanbul lacked in charm, it more than made up for in beauty. The architecture left me breathless. Ancient, unique, reverent, classic, and undoubtedly marvelous. I visited the Cistern (my favorite sight), Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, and Spice Bazaar. We even had a free breakfast and lunch at a great spot called Tamara. The weather was acting in our favor that day and it left me glowing and ready for Nairobi.

Nairobi welcomed me with open arms. Thanks to the Nomadness Tribe I had one part of my
trip pre-planned: where I would stay when I arrived at 4AM. I stayed with a hospitable Tribe member for the night and at 9AM, my experience truly began. I bonded closely with my host’s driver, who drove me around for much of my stay. I even met up with two alumni of my alma mater Howard University, while there. They showed me a funky good time. One happened to be the hostess of a top reality dating show in Kenya. I accompanied her as she and her production crew filmed in different locations. This was such a unique way to experience Nairobi, and I was so appreciative for it. I explored with an open mind, heart, and itinerary. I so enjoyed the spontaneity and whimsical nature of my trip - especially the part that led me to Mombasa.

Mombasa lulled me with its ambiance. It was a slower pace and home to white-sanded beaches and blue waters. The highlight of my journey was captured in the photo of what brought me here: a camel ride along the beach coast. It was mesmerizing to reach a place I’d merely dreamed of, and I was on cloud nine. Riding a camel almost matched my next experience in Nakuru National park, where I met wildlife animals up-close and personal. Seeing animals in a “non-zoo” format is something everyone should do. At Nakuru, animals are just hanging out in an enormous park. Seeing buffalo, zebra, flamingos, rhinos, impala this close and in their natural habitat was so beautiful and memorable. It was the perfect close to my journey. I can’t wait for the next jaunt.

Next up: who knows?

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