For this week’s Stamped, Jessica Ufuoma, a 30-year-old Canada-based Nigerian, walks us through her magical holiday in India, her last trip before the pandemic. She talks about why she remembers the trip so fondly and what she misses about pre-COVID travel.
I travel at least once a month, and no, I’m not kidding. I’ve visited a lot of different places, from Singapore to Japan to Colombia, and I’ve done it all with my Nigerian passport. It can be stressful, sure, but I love travelling too much not to try.
My trips usually last for about five days, mostly from Friday to Tuesday. It doesn’t even matter whether it’s a solo trip, a getaway with my girlfriends or a baecation with my husband, I’m always down to travel. I feel like a totally different person when I do; I morph into someone braver, and I’m suddenly open to skydiving, parasailing and bungee jumping.
But I also appreciate calmer activities, like a photography tour around the city, finding a wellness centre to do yoga or simply chilling in my resort. Then when I travel with other people, we usually do group tours and activities — I remember swimming with turtles and going horseback riding with some friends in Jamaica.
Before the pandemic, I was really big on visiting a new country every chance I got; I’ve visited over 50 countries in the past 7 years. But COVID has changed the way I travel. Now, I’d rather go to a country I’ve been to before because I already know the landscape. With all these COVID restrictions, it’s easier to manage a place I’m familiar with. In the past two years, the only new country I’ve visited is Tanzania; I’ve mostly been revisiting old favourites, like Mexico.
That being said, I do think the lockdown, as terrible as it was, was also a bit of a blessing for me. 2019 was my most mobile year — I was travelling non-stop, sometimes even twice a month. Then the pandemic happened, and I was forced to settle down. I didn’t realise how much I actually needed that. I mean, after six months I was ready to hop on a plane again, but I definitely appreciated the break.
The pandemic also gave me a fresh perspective on my last pre-COVID trip, the one I took to India. I went with a friend I met online, a fellow lover of travel. I was meant to go alone, but when I told her about my plans, she said she’d never been, so I asked her to come along.
In India, we did four different cities: Jaipur, Deli, Agra and Udaipur. India is very chaotic — it reminded me of Lagos in many ways — and I loved that about it. I wore a sari for the first time, which made me look and feel like a princess; we visited the Taj Mahal, a literal world wonder; and we also had a lot of amazing Indian food, like butter chicken and chicken tikka masala. I loved the food so much, in fact, that I found myself cooking a lot of the meals I had in India during lockdown.
We also got to stay in a bunch of beautiful places, but the highlight was staying at the Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur, a place for actual royalty. It cost us $2,000/night, and we split it for one night; we just wanted the experience, and it was definitely worth it. We were treated like queens, from being woken up with live Indian music to being waited on hand and foot. It was truly magical.
I especially appreciate that I went on this trip with someone who loves travel as much as I do. I’m used to being the travel expert in my friend group and my home, so whenever we go on a trip, I’m the one who’s expected to sort everything out. That wasn’t the case with her. She was the one planning outings and asking strangers questions about Indian culture. That was refreshing.
Even now, when I return from a trip, I still find myself thinking about my visit to India. I don’t think people realise just how much our lives have changed because of COVID. I remember walking through the busy markets in India, talking to strangers and exploring freely. I don’t think you can experience that anymore — not in that way or anytime soon, at least.
My favourite thing about travelling used to be meeting and interacting with people from different cultures, but now I’ve kind of shifted to fancy resorts because that’s where I feel safest. And while that can be nice, too, it’s just not travel the way I remember it.
So, yeah, the pandemic really made me appreciate that trip to India more than I initially did. It’s now a core memory I reach for whenever I start missing how things used to be. I think I started taking those experiences for granted; I don't anymore.
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