Oneika Raymond wanted to spend time in Africa and the Middle East on her around the world trip. (Photos: Oneika Raymond)
Oneika Raymond’s passion for travel has taken many forms – first, as a study abroad student in France and, later, as a language teacher in Hong Kong, Mexico and England. But most probably know her insightful and extensive wanderings as Oneika the Traveller on her award-winning blog, where curiosity powers each of her journeys.
“I travel because I am curious about how other people live. Meeting and engaging with people from other cities and countries allow me to better understand them and their unique perspectives — I love that,” Raymond says.
Marriott TRAVELER caught up with Raymond after a continuous around the word trip that took her to eight countries and four continents in 25 days to explore the world’s greatest natural and man-made wonders, with a little help from TRAVELER and Star Alliance.
What inspired the destinations that you selected for your RTW journey? What made you think of them in your quest to see natural or man-made wonders?
I wanted to continue my explorations of Africa and the Middle East, both regions that fascinate me for two reasons: firstly, because the history of the two regions is very multi-faceted and long-standing, and secondly, because I have travelled the least there. Those areas were thus central to my planning. I also wanted a good spread of destinations and a good mix of natural and man-made wonders.
Which wonders were you most looking forward to seeing and why? Did one surpass your expectations?
I was looking most forward to seeing the rock churches in Lalibela, if only because they are a feat of ancient architecture. The massive structures were built in the 13th century — imagining the manpower needed to do so in the absence of modern technology is incredible. In general, I was pleasantly surprised by Ethiopia. The culture and history are rich, and the people are exceptionally kind.
Where did you eat really well? What makes the food in that city so good?
I ate exceptionally well in Toronto. It’s an extremely international, cosmopolitan, and multicultural city, so the food options are varied and wide ranging. Because Toronto is comprised of immigrants, the international cuisine there is very authentic.
Isn’t Toronto your hometown? Was there something there that you were craving? Is there a place that you love visiting?
Toronto is certainly my hometown! I was craving… wait for it… My mother’s cooking! She had family over for a massive barbecue one of the days I was there, so I was thus able to “scratch that itch”! Other than that, I had a big hankering for Caribbean food, and was able indulge in that while in Toronto also. The Jamaican patties at Randy’s takeout restaurant are my fave!
You arrived in Ethiopia during a period of political unrest. Did you have any concerns? How did this change your travel expectations, if any? What are your thoughts on traveling to locations where there may be unrest?
To be honest, I wasn’t particularly concerned, but this is because I didn’t see any of the unrest with my own eyes. With the exception of certain social media websites being blocked by the government, my trip was untouched by the turmoil going on in the country. If I modified my expectations at all, it was to be more patient (there were travel delays sparked by the deliberate shutdown of a few national communication systems). I think that it’s important to inform yourself about the political situation in any country before going, assess the level of risk, and adjust your expectations and/or trip plans accordingly.
You had the opportunity to revisit some places where you’ve lived or spent time before. How do you approach such places with fresh eyes?
I love revisiting places I’ve already been. I don’t believe it’s possible to totally “do” a destination: there are always new things to discover. So I endeavor to get a deeper understanding of the destination by doing “off the beaten track” activities that I may not have had the chance to complete during a previous visit.
Can you give an example of how you went “off the beaten track” in cities you’ve visited before on this trip?
Since I’ve been to both Toronto and Beijing I ditched the guidebooks and let myself be “led” by the locals. I asked friends, locals, and the people working at the hotel what their favorite city activities were and went off of their recommendations.
A lot of travelers are enamored with Dubai and Abu Dhabi in UAE, and with good reason, but you spent time in Oman, would you say this is a destination worth a look, especially for those interested in Middle Eastern culture?
Absolutely! I was stunned at how different the country was to the United Arab Emirates— I had erroneously assumed (like most) that due to its geographic and cultural proximity it would be very similar. The landscapes are in fact quite different: Oman has mountains and is physically quite diverse. It’s absolutely worth a look.
Had you taken a continuous trip around the world before? What was different about traveling for such an extended stretch? What are your recommendations to others who aspire to do a RTW journey?
I had never before done a continuous trip like this, so was very happy for the opportunity. The level of organization with this sort of trip is different: with so many countries, currencies, and entry/visa requirements I really needed to be on my toes! Packing the appropriate clothing (for different cultural values and climates) also required some consideration. My advice, as always, is to do your research.
What was the most memorable moment of your trip? Someone you met? Something you did or observed? What made this moment something you’ll never forget?
The most memorable moment of my trip was the day I spent exploring Doha and the surrounding areas with my guide Ibrahim. It wasn’t just that he took me to Qatar’s Inland Sea and Souk Waqif, both impressive sights in their own right, it was that he spoke openly and candidly about Qatari life and customs. Not knowing anything specific about the culture before arriving, it was extremely interesting to learn about it from a local in a very organic way — our conversations felt natural and not part of a scripted tour narrative. These sorts of cultural connections are the ones I revel in when I travel.
If you had it to do over again, what would be your RTW route? Why?
I was generally happy with my RTW route, but if I had more time I would have added destinations in the South Pacific and Southern Hemispheres. I adore Latin America and Southeast Asia so would have loved to return; furthermore it would have been interesting to head to a few remote places like Fiji and Tonga. I’ll have to save those places for my next RTW trip!