“Nothing belongs to anyone we’re all human, all strangers on this earth, all travellers on this earth.” – Amina
Amina, 25, London, is a PhD student and world traveller. She’s also an old school friend, as in we knew each other from 10 years old and regularly used to spend our lunch breaks together. I noticed Amina’s globetrotting on the good old ‘gram and got in touch to hear more about her travel journey. Amina is the type of woman who truly looks you in the eye when you are talking to her. She is confident, stands for something and really just loves to explore and have fun. I was buzzing after speaking to her, in a really enlightened way, and I was sure that people would benefit from hearing her story.
Amina and I met in my favourite coffee shop, coffee7, in my old hometown (Forest Gate, East London). I hadn’t seen her in 9 years, but we giggled like old times – even though it was clear she was much wiser. In the last couple of years she had begun a travel blog and YouTube channel documenting her travels and educational journey. She hopes that by putting herself out there, she can inspire young people who want to do the same thing. The truth is, I believe she could inspire any generation, so I hope you feel the same and find it useful, as ever.
When did you first realise that travel was going to be a big part of your life?
When I started my PhD. Doing a PhD in the field of biological science requires a lot of travel through collaborations with other labs and conferences – I actually just got back last week from one in Germany for example. I think the thing to remember is that it’s international. So you have a lab in Canada doing the same thing to a lab here in the UK, and you go to see how techniques are being used yourself. In 3 years I’ve done a whole load of travelling, both with uni and leisure. And the nice thing is that when I travel with uni, it’s paid!
Also I think, I have always had an adventurous streak; and at uni I’m surrounded by people who are doing the same thing too, which helps. It’s a different crowd to the typical Forest Gate one, lets say. I’ve met a lot of people from abroad: researchers, lecturers and other students from my university. In my lab out of 9 of us: 2 are British, 1 Italian, 4 French, 1 Iranian, and 1 Indian. We’re so international. And of course my peers are always going back home, as opposed to being in east London where everyone is British.
But the real turn of events was in July 2015 when I got a fellowship [it was funding for a three month abroad placement collaboration in Montréal]. There was a competition that I entered and I got it – I was sooo excited. The money funded my travel and accommodation to go to Montréal and learn a new cutting-edge technique. I then travelled around, to Ottawa, New York and Toronto (3 times). [As part of the fellowship you also get £300 to go towards extra travel.]
Also apart from my immediate family, I have no family here. They’re really spread out and I felt like I was missing out not knowing them that well growing up. Through visiting family I’ve been to Canada, Australia, and Ethiopia.
I love London, and this is where I’ll be for the rest of my life. But I’m missing the people instead, the family and for that reason I feel like there’s a part of me spread all over the world. Family is unconditional, and I think for me a lot of time when I go places it’s to see them. Especially when I go to Ethiopia. If we didn’t travel to see each other I’d never see them grow up. In a way it’s quite nice because we really treasure the time we have and don’t take each other for granted.
Also I find travelling to them is always a good reason to bring everyone together; sometimes they say: the last time we saw each other is when you were here, because they’re so busy in their lives; Toronto’s like London in that way it’s just very go go go. My cousins say to me “you’re the one that glues us together.”
How does the Ethiopian culture mix with the culture of the locations they live?
Our culture is very generous, kind and giving, that’s something the people will always be. Of course our parents have all assimilated to the country, they’re part of the country the city but they’ll they keep things like the specific way to decorate the house in my tribe. I show it in a blog post of mine – https://iaminaplace.com/2016/09/03/i-am-in-harar-ethiopia-part-one/. Here you can see how they decorate the houses; they have a specific room with cushions around it.
How often do you travel?
I would say PhD is like a job as in you don’t have ‘school’ holidays so I can technically travel when I want to. I try to travel off peak so I’m not travelling during summer holidays or Easter.
This year for example I’ve been away (as in abroad) 3 times. However including travelling around the UK I’ve been away about once a month. This year I’ve been to Margate, Poole Cambridge, York, Lake District, Morocco (Fez), Ethiopia and Germany.
I don’t necessarily plan my holidays, but instead I go with how I feel: so I think this month I need to get away and I just do it.
How do you financially support travelling?
As I mentioned before half is uni funded, part of my grant is for travelling to conferences, so dinner, accommodation, hotel, flights and travel is all expensed. Germany was via a conference, so was Paris (for a meeting). So that’s one part of how my travel is supported.
And of course as a PHD student I also I get paid. I live at home at the moment so I have a bit more to spend. But it doesn’t have to be so expensive there’s always ways to travel cheap!
What are some of the obstacles you gave yourself in regards to travelling? And how did you overcome them?
I love travelling alone. And I had previously thought: am I going to get bored? Usually travelling you don’t have network so it’s a bit weird, but you just start talking to people! Also you tend to find people are nicer outside of London and more willing to talk (we laugh knowingly). When I was on the coach from Montreal to New York I met a girl and we spent the whole next day together in New York, she was a local. You have to be open-minded when you travel alone.
Did you have any preconceptions about the type of people who travel and how did you personally fit into that?
I think people who travel in this social media age might seem a bit showy-offy, narcissistic, and pretentious, like oh I’m going around the world. I’d like to think I do it in a more informative way rather than I’m here, look at me! – I would like to hope people get that from me anyway. Another is that they’re really rich, but again you don’t need to be rich, you stay in hostels you, you fly Ryan Air, I Airbnb a lot and saves money and you can meet a friend from there.
Think of a moment for you that sums up why travel is important.
When I went to Morocco, last month. I had a preconception of Arab/ North African people in general. Even though I’m a Muslim myself I grew up in the West thinking that there was a misogynistic view in that region. I thought it would be men staring at women, and women can’t do anything, but this wasn’t the case. There were people all around doing what they wanted: some wore hijabs, some didn’t – it didn’t feel like Muslim country. They had Eid celebrations with people dancing in the streets, there was never a moment I felt uncomfortable and I thought actually it is not like that at all; it was nice to realise.
Most interesting person you’ve met because of your travels?
This is hard, I don’t have a person in mind, but because I’m more aware of travel, because of my blog etc, I’m more connected to travel Instagram accounts and London accounts. For example @RosieLondoner, she’s British, she travels a lot and is quite fashionable. I appreciate seeing photos of people and the places they go like her, its very inspirational.
What do you like to do when you visit a destination?
Before I leave I’ll do a search on what there is to do. I’ll search ‘things to do’ ‘free things to do’, ‘top 10 things to do in…’ blah blah blah. I’ll also do a search on top 10 secret things to do in x place because when I travel I don’t want to always go to top attractions, but maybe secret gardens and things known by locals.
I try to form a little itinerary before I go and group up my lists based on locations to make it easy for me. If I’m visiting a place, I form an itinerary based on days. So day 1 I’ll do this, day 2 I’ll do those, but I’m not rigid, I give myself time to just stroll and I guess when you walk around you find things. I think having a sense of spontaneity is quite nice, but I like to have a plan because then you might miss out on a lot of things. It’s good to prepare by just finding transport for example, what bus to get? Or finding out a few phrases like ‘good morning’ ‘how do you get to’ and so on.
Do you have a favourite place you’ve travelled?
I’ve never been anywhere more than twice. Apart from Ethiopia and Canada (and that’s because of family). If I could go anywhere right now it’d be Australia. I went to Melbourne and I loved it but its soo far. But I found there was a really nice mix of things to do – plus I get to see family, so I’d go to Sydney too while I’m there.
Thoughts on solo travel?
I love it; personally I’m a fan. I’d say you have to be a certain type of person, you have to be a person who appreciates and loves you own company. If you always seek attention from others and want to be around others – you’ll get very bored. I think when you solo travel you learn a lot about yourself. Its great you don’t have to think about anyone you can just focus on what you want to do. I think everyone should try it at least once.
Amina on her blog, YouTube channel
When I was travelling I thought: I can just post pictures to Instagram, but then I realised I wanted to share more pictures, and information. Now I’ve got 11,000 visitors in a year and it’s steadily growing.
Originally when I started my blog I didn’t have one single photo of myself because I didn’t want people to people to judge me. I just wanted people get something out of it. But then I thought: I want to share these things I’m doing, and be an advocate for education and also just having fun, and I think I come across well. So I started my YouTube channel too. I got around 3,000 subscribers in about 5 months. I decided to focus on education too so that people could see something other than what women typically do on YouTube.
For example I always find it sad when vloggers say “sorry for my natural face”. I find it sad that women feel the need to apologise for their natural faces. It shouldn’t always be about beauty, but sometimes about promoting intelligence and education.
What are your aims with your blog/ vlog?
Through my YouTube channel I look at travel and also education. I show what happens at a science conference, for example, what my poster board looks like, what the lecture hall looks like. I know from being in these settings that there are halls of 300 white men or women, and there would be 1 or 2 Asian or Indian people. It doesn’t make me feel uncomfortable in anyway but I can understand how people might feel a bit like sore thumb, so I am trying to make it more accessible.
I get emails from young girls saying you inspire me and that they wish they saw more ethnic people doing a PhD, and travelling in a hijab. One girl once messaged me asking: did you get weird looks wearing a hijab? Because they see people travelling – but no one that looks like them. Whenever you’re browsing on YouTube most travel vloggers are normally white middle class girls. So for them it seems like it’s not safe for them; they never see that it’s comfortable situation, which it is most of the time.
How did you grow your following?
I just posted and people kept recommending me to other people – so just word of mouth really!
How did your parents deal with your travelling?
The thing about my parents is, both parents are educated. They came over from Ethiopia, and when they have free time they take the opportunity to see their family that they haven’t seen in 5/10 years. I grew up going to Ethiopia for my holiday. For them you travel somehere for a purpose – not to go to France for culture. If you gave my mum $1000 and say where we would you go? She’d say Ethiopia, whereas I might say Brazil or something like that. But they want to see there family and it’s understandable.
I also think with social media it’s so easy to see other people doing the same thing, which encourages our generation. Telling someone who’s never left the country to go to Italy for example, when they don’t know the language or how things work – is a bit scary! I remember when I first went France; it was weird, reading the stations and signs. Even in Morocco, and Germany I went thinking I have no idea how to speak the language – but I was totally fine. I think you have to see others do the same thing.
What advice do you have for young travellers?
- Have fun, but be cautious. Don’t be naive in the sense that you are not aware of your surroundings. Don’t be so cautious you’re not enjoying self, seize every opportunity, but with caution.
- Set your priorities first, in the sense that if you’re studying – study and make travel a perk, treat the travelling something you do on the side rather than travel and not study enough.
- Take lots of pictures so you can look back in 10/15 years. When I take photos I think: I’ll be able to show my kids, my sisters and parents. I have people that don’t take picture and live in the moment but never get to relive it. That’s why I love taking photos and videos to look back on. So yes, take pictures remember the moments! Share with other people in your life so they can enjoy too.
Favourite website/ app for travel?
- Maps.me – recently I downloaded maps.me, it’s quite cool: you can se what direction you’re facing, download a city map offline and know where you are located on the map without data, ooh and you can also save locations on there too.
- Google search – I don’t look for a certain site or someone in particular, I just search
Most practical travel item?
- Travel adaptor definitely, especially for someone who blog and vlogs like me; my phone I don’t really care about but I need the stuff to record.
- Comfortable shoes: like Clarks shoes, I can only wear their shoes/ heels, or converses, Vans, Nike trainers etc. I like to walk all day when I’m in a new place. I think one time I did something like 30k steps; I walk A LOT so yeah I think comfortable shoes is key.
How has travel changed you? What skills have you gained that you can apply to either your personal or professional life?
- It’s made me more open-minded – I guess, and aware of different European cultures. In East London where I grew up, you have a lot of African cultures, but not French or Italian for example, but travel has definitely shown me more European culture.
- And I think organisation – being very careful with everything, in terms of time and managing it.
- Also just appreciating life and living in the moment. I think especially growing up being very academic you can get stuck in your head. But you’re only young once and you’re able to freely travel, so you can appreciate that.
Can you sum up your relationship with travel in one sentence/ quote?
A person who travels leaves a part of them self all over the world, and they always have the urge to go back. Travelling opens your eyes to the beauty of the world.
Don’t want to say bye to Amina just yet? Join her journey below.
Discover more awesome globetrotters like Amina in the Wading Wade: Meet the Travellers series.