Host Nisreene Atassi takes a closer look at the current state of travel with the help of Oneika Raymond, aka Oneika the Traveller. Raymond shares some perspective as someone who has been traveling during the pandemic, and as someone who has grown and evolved her traveling style in the process.
From what it’s like to travel with a young child to recognizing the privilege involved in being able to travel, the conversation is candid and wide-ranging. They also discuss how the desire to travel is manifesting.
Here’s something that may help guide your planning whenever you decide the time is right for a trip: a Travel Smart checklist that will have you covered for 2021 and beyond.
Real Talk about 2021 Travel
Nisreene Atassi: As travel starts to re- emerge this summer and vaccinations continue to get rolled out, I still feel like there are some concerns and unknown questions out there. I know for myself personally, when I think about traveling, there’s obviously the amazing benefit that we get out of it, but I’m still nervous. Are there going to be a lot of crowds? How are we going to navigate through that? Is it going to be a scenario that I’m going to be comfortable in? I’m Nisreene Atassi and this is Out Travel the System. Interest in travel seems to be picking up steam every day, but we know that there are so many questions still about what it looks like or feels like to be traveling during these times. For more on this, we’re joined by my guest Oneika Raymond, or as she’s known through her blog, Oneika the Traveller. Welcome to Out Travel the System, Oneika.
Oneika Raymond: Hi. Thank you so much for having me.
Nisreene Atassi: Why don’t we start off with just sort of the basics. For our listeners who may not be familiar with you or your work, what’s your brief backstory, in terms of how you were able to become a professional traveler?
Oneika Raymond: Well, it all started in a little city called Toronto. I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada, but I have Jamaican heritage. And for anybody who hasn’t been to Toronto, it is an extremely multicultural city. So from very small, I was very curious about other people, places and spaces, because I was surrounded by so many different people from different walks of life. When I went to university, I had the opportunity to travel overseas for my third year and spend an entire year in France at a French university.
Nisreene Atassi: Oh, that’s amazing.
Oneika Raymond: That opened my eyes up to a whole world that I didn’t even really know about, even living in an international city like Toronto. And by the time I got back to Toronto after my year overseas, I thought to myself, ” You know what, I need to make this a thing.” And I started a career in international education. I taught in places like Hong Kong. I taught in London, England. I taught in Mexico.
During my years abroad, I started a travel blog. I was just trying to record my experiences, but it started to pick up traction and I ended up accruing a bit of an audience. This travel writing thing that I was doing on the side, it was purely for pleasure. But when I moved to the US in 2016, I thought, ” You know what, I’m going to throw caution to the wind and try and see if I can make this travel media gig my full- time career.”
Nisreene Atassi: You’ve been doing some traveling during the pandemic. What was the thought process that you went through before deciding whether or not to take a trip and whether or not it was the right decision for you?
Oneika Raymond: The pandemic was a major event of 2020, but another major event that occurred was I had my daughter. Prior to having my daughter, I traveled very much by the seat of my pants. Because I’ve traveled so much and because I traveled so often, I took a very non- stress approach. So it was kind of like as long as I made it on the plane, I was good.
Nisreene Atassi: Sure. Yeah.
Oneika Raymond: Traveling during the pandemic requires a level of organization that I just was not used to. So for example, looking to see what the requirements would be to be able to enter that particular city or even country, because I did travel internationally last year. Did I need to get a coronavirus test? Was it necessary to get a PCR test or could I just get a rapid test? What was the actual destination looking like? There were really important, I guess, considerations to think about.
Nisreene Atassi: I was curious. Did you see any criticism from your fans and followers when you started traveling again during the pandemic, and how did you handle it?
Oneika Raymond: One of the things that I’ve seen posted online, and it’s kind of a quote or a meme, is that safety is in actions and not destinations. And that’s, I guess, a model or a quote or whatever you want to call it, that I really take to heart. The way you can be safe, it’s not necessarily in terms of where you go or if you travel, it’s how you travel.
And so if you are taking the necessary precautions, if you are testing before and after your trip, if you were quarantining before and after your trip, if you are limiting the amount of direct contact you have with people in your destination, if you are engaging in activities that allow you to social distance and be outside, then irrespective of destination, I feel as though you are doing the best that you can. So context is everything. Context is key, particularly when we talk about traveling during the pandemic.
As people who work in travel media, one of our jobs is to show people how to travel and show people how to get back into the world of travel. And that’s something that I take very seriously. And so not only was it a vacation, a leisure vacation, but I was also using it as a kind of example to show people how they could move about the world in this new normal.
Nisreene Atassi: The way you approached it and the way you’re sort of thinking about it, in terms of also helping to educate people, they want to know what it’s like to go and travel during a pandemic – I mean, that’s part of the reason why we’re even doing this episode right now, is that we want to help people understand sort of what’s going on out there, what’s it going to be like. Because having realistic expectations, I think is super, super key when you’re traveling during pandemic. If there’s one thing we know, is that you’re not alone in having the desire to travel. We do this annual sort of vacation deprivation study every year. And we did it in the heart of the pandemic because we knew it was going to uncover some really interesting insights. What’s happened is that people, they’re recognizing that they have not appreciated the value that travel brought to their lives as much as they do now, because they don’t necessarily have it. One of the stats we saw was that people are planning to take an extra week of travel.
Oneika Raymond: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Nisreene Atassi: People who didn’t have bucket lists before are now starting to create bucket lists. And even during the pandemic, they’ve been adding to their vacation bucket list.
Oneika Raymond: Absolutely. I just encourage people to move smartly and safely.
Nisreene Atassi: It’s not just you and your husband. You’ve got a little one now. When you were planning your first trip and you were going to Germany and Greece, what other aspects of your travel plans changed? In addition to having to navigate around the pandemic, you’re also navigating the equally complex world of traveling with an infant. What was that like for you?
Oneika Raymond: There’s so much more to think about. Considering how you’re going to transport her from point A to point B. We have to buy a separate stroller that could fold up into a car seat, so that we could bring that car seat in as carry- on, on the plane. I’m traveling to California. I’m traveling to Greece. I’m traveling to Germany. What is she going to drink?
Nisreene Atassi: Yeah.
Oneika Raymond: What is she going to drink while we’re in transit? And then also once I get to the place, am I going to bring this huge bag of formula? We said, ” Okay, well, we’re not going to bring diapers, nor are we going to bring formula.” We’ve got to Greece and forget it. We were in Santorini with this Greek formula and whatever the compound was, the chemical compound was, she just did not like it and she didn’t take to it, and she wasn’t drinking.
This was a very humbling part of the travel experience, because I realized that it was no longer just about me. And there were certain things that I was going to have to have in place, or certain things that I was going to have to make sure of if I was going to travel with my child and have it be a successful trip.
Nisreene Atassi: Yeah.
Oneika Raymond: Even though it’s more work, seeing the world through her eyes has been such a gift, because I do feel to a degree that I was jaded. I’d been to so many places. I had had so many different experiences. Some of the places I was visiting, they were kind of melting into one another. And there’s something about traveling with a child who’s experiencing things for the first time. The first time she ate a mango, the first time she visited the Bavarian Alps, hopefully it won’t be the last.
Nisreene Atassi: Yeah.
Oneika Raymond: These simple things seen through a child’s eyes and experienced through their lens, are just wondrous.
Nisreene Atassi: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. I think my first solo flight with my daughter, I was sort of stewing about it and I was getting so stressed out. I was talking to my cousin and she was like, ” I’m not going to lie to you. It’s going to be really, really hard. But there’s two things I know for sure. Number one, you can absolutely do this. Number two, it’s totally going to be worth it.” She was right and you’re right. The memories that you get from these types of trips, incredibly, incredibly valuable to your life and to your experiences. And to then be able to impart that onto your child and to be there as they experience it, is priceless.
Oneika Raymond: Yeah.
Nisreene Atassi: All right. So we’ve had lots of great conversation already around traveling during COVID and we’re going to dig in a little deeper as Oneika gives us some of her travel tips and packing hacks right after this. So stay with us.
Nisreene Atassi: I’m Nisreene Atassi, and this is Out Travel The System. Season Three means new goals and new inspirations. We’re taking our deep dive destination episodes overseas to places like Spain and France, and spotlighting amazing American cities with our ‘Only In’ series. Along the way, we’re sharing our best tips and tricks to make the most out of your vacations and even pondering to cruise or not to cruise. Like and subscribe on your favorite podcast player for answers to questions like these, and to make sure you get every episode right when it drops. Welcome back. We are here with Oneika Raymond, AKA, Oneika the Traveller. I’ve tried to find the silver lining throughout the entire year. And I think one silver lining that a lot of us have found, is that the pandemic has caused us to sort of slow our pace a little bit. Do you feel like you’ve slowed down a little bit? And if so, what role has that had in your life?
Oneika Raymond: I have definitely slowed down my travels. Pre- pandemic, I was on a plane probably every 7 to 10 days. I remember I had a month long stint where I had flown to Senegal for five days. And then I flew back to New York City for two days. And then I flew out to Uganda and Rwanda. And then I flew back home for five days or so. And then I believe I flew out to Lebanon and Cyprus.
I had so many trips spanning different countries and continents and time zones. And they were just one after the other, after the other. I think as travelers, especially as frequent travelers, there’s this obsession with going farther and going to a place that seems very unfamiliar and different from what your everyday life looks like.
So the pandemic has been a gift, in that it has allowed me to slow down to appreciate travel more and to appreciate the country that I’m currently living in more. I’ve really had time over the course of this year to get to know and love my city, and that’s been a wonderful thing. And I’ve also traveled more within the US than than I typically would have. I traveled out to the West coast a couple of times, did a road trip through Utah and Arizona and Nevada, which was lovely.
Nisreene Atassi: Travel’s really beneficial in feeding your soul and expanding your horizons. But there’s obviously an aspect of privilege involved with travel overall. What are some of your thoughts on this? How do you consider these things have changed considering everything that’s happened over the past year?
Oneika Raymond: Travel is inherently political and within the politics of a place, a region, a country, a destination, a city, there’s a lot of privilege in there. And so for people like us who are from the quote unquote West, which I kind of hate saying that-
Nisreene Atassi: Yeah, I do too actually.
Oneika Raymond: But there’s a lot of privilege in there. And for myself, it’s a funny feeling as well, because I am a black woman. I have an immigrant background, well, I’m currently an immigrant in the United States. My family is from Jamaica. Yes, I had a very privileged life in Canada, but my eyes are also open to the lack of privilege in a lot of different places. Because my eyes are open to these things and having traveled so extensively around the world, it is something that I think is really important to reflect on and talk about.
In particular for Americans, last year, the country was really in the thick of the pandemic and having borders basically closed to Americans and US residents, I think that was a real wake up call, real shock and a wake up call to people, because they were like, ” What are you talking about I can’t travel to your country. What do you mean you’re not going to let me in?”
It was a very humbling experience for a number of people I know, who for the first time began to understand what it was like to not be in possession inherently of privilege when it comes to traveling and exploring and going where you want.
Nisreene Atassi: Yeah. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard the word freedom come up so much in a year across basically every single conversation that I’ve had, regardless of what the topic was about. Because you’re right, this was the first time where people had various restrictions in place and borders were closed or locked down. And now as the vaccines sort of start to roll out, it’s just really interesting to see how people have opened up their eyes a little bit more. It’s people like you who continue to go out there, who continue to share your voice. I want to make sure that we can give our platform to others to help sort of extend the reach of that voice.
We’re looking forward to the future with optimism. Let’s talk about tips, because I feel like you’ve got a lot of those. What is your best advice for people considering taking a trip in the near future?
Oneika Raymond: I would say from an enjoyment perspective and an entertainment perspective, to keep a close eye on what you’ll be able to do once you get there. So many people are focused on just getting to the destination in the first place, but they don’t consider what they’ll actually do when they’re there. And depending on where you’re going, there may not be any indoor dining or even outdoor dining. There may be limited tickets and attractions even open. You could go and get all the way to Greece, but can you visit the ruins? Can you visit the Parthenon? What can you do while you’re there? And I’m not necessarily saying that this is the case for Greece at this current moment, but it’s really important to survey what type of vacation you will have once you get there.
Nisreene Atassi: We talk a lot about research on this podcast overall, so I’m really glad you brought that up. So just to recap, we’re looking at checking activities and attractions in your destinations. Some of the other things that we’ve compiled as well, making sure that you check your booking policies to know what your cancellation waivers might look like. Other things to consider are the cleaning procedures at your accommodations, confirming your travel insurance. We have compiled all of this into a very lovely How to Travel in 2021 Checklist, which we will also link in the show notes.
Obviously, you must be a master at packing your luggage. What are some of the other things you check off on your to- do list before a trip these days when it comes to getting ready and packing your bags?
Oneika Raymond: I’ve really taken to bring disinfectant wipes. One of the best things to come out of this is, that my hygiene is amazing. I am the queen of bringing along those disaffected wipes, especially traveling with a childhood touches everything.
Nisreene Atassi: Everything, like literally everything.
Oneika Raymond: Oh my goodness.
Nisreene Atassi: They’ll find the one random screw, and then they’ll touch it and try and put it in their mouth, 100%.
Oneika Raymond: But you know what? Apart from that, I would have to say that my packing behaviors haven’t really changed. I still am somebody who tries as much as they can, to travel with carry- on only.
Nisreene Atassi: Carry- on only with a child? You’re a magician.
Oneika Raymond: We do a lot of rolling and folding.
Nisreene Atassi: Okay.
Oneika Raymond: I am so much happier to travel light and then to go seek out a laundering service wherever I am.
Nisreene Atassi: You got to find what works for you. I’ll tell you, the first time I was exposed to the rolling technique was in high school. I went on spring break and my friend, we were on a cruise with my family. And you know when you go on cruises, there’s one night where it’s a fancy night. And my friend pulls out, I’m not even kidding you, a long, red gown that she had just rolled up. Maybe it had a little bit of wrinkling, but not what you would have expected for a cocktail dress to have been bundled and rolled up in what I think might’ve actually been a carry- on bag. And I was so amazed by it and I’ve been rolling my clothes ever since.
Oneika Raymond: Mm- hmm ( affirmative). My top packing tip is to pack clothes that, that compliment each other color- wise. Have separates that are within the same or a complimentary color range.
Nisreene Atassi: Oh yeah, that’s smart.
Oneika Raymond: I like really bright colors, first of all. So my color ways, I guess in my suitcase, would be something like white, yellow and orange. You can mix and match and get a wide variety of outfits. The other thing that I’m really good about, is typically, I only bring two to three pairs of shoes on any trip that I go on. So I bring some sort of active wear shoe, some sort of flip- flop or sandal. I could use it to walk around my accommodation. I can use it for the beach. And then typically, I’ll bring a shoe that can transition me from day to night, fairly conservative in size, it’s still kind of pliable. It looks a little bit fresher or smarter or more stylish than my sneaker. Especially if I’m traveling during the fall. I am a huge fan of over- the- knee boots.
Nisreene Atassi: Well, before we wrap things up, Oneika, tell us, where are you headed to next?
Oneika Raymond: Gosh, next up, I’m not entirely sure. That is what the pandemic has brought us, a real uncertainty with regards to travel. I mean, this is the first year ever that I didn’t have one plane ticket booked January 1st. Whereas in years past, I would have had at least 10, 15 tickets booked already. I would have had a number of travel plans in place.
But there is beauty in the unknown. And I’m trying to find the beauty and stillness, staying still, being still in one place and appreciating the stability that it’s given me.
Nisreene Atassi: Plus one to that. Oneika Raymond is a travel host and correspondent and the voice behind Oneika the Traveller blog. Oneika, thank you again so much for spending time with us on Out Travel the System. It has been an absolute pleasure to have you on.
Oneika Raymond: Thank you so much for having me.
Nisreene Atassi: I’m Nisreene Atassi, and this is Out Travel the System. In our next episode, we’re talking all about the windy city.
Mary Krosnjar: Hi, this is Mary Krosnjar, founder and creator of Sportsanista. com. Tune into the next episode of Out Travel the System, talking all Chicago and my favorite things that I love about the city.
Nisreene Atassi: Until then, happy travels.
Out Travel the System is brought to you by Expedia. Our show runner and executive producer is Claudia Kwan. Our associate producer is Katie Doten, with sound engineering from Jill Constantine. Additional production support is provided by JAR Audio.