Oneika the Traveler™ is fearless and unstoppable. She's matter-of-fact, but also knows how to go with the flow: if she wants to learn about Catholicism, she'll go to Rome, but if she's feeling colorful, she might book a trip to India during March for Holi. Having been to over 60 countries on 6 continents, Oneika is not one to sit around wondering what it would be like if. Life is too short for wonder. She lives to do, to go, to experience. A year ago, we caught up with this travel-fanatic and picked her brain on a variety of topics. See what the Canadian-born, England dweller had to say about language and living abroad, the London Underground, living sans materialism, and being bored with travel.
ND: Language and culture: you seem enthralled by the pair— you even have a background in French Literature. Tell us about this.
Oneika the Traveler: My love of language and culture basically started very close to home! I grew up in Toronto, which has been designated by the United Nations as being the most ethnically diverse city in the world. Growing up in an extremely multicultural setting meant that I was constantly surrounded by people who were different from myself; people who spoke a number of foreign languages and came from places I couldn’t even find on a map. I took an active interest in learning from and about these people and it really fueled my desire to go abroad and discover. As for majoring in French lit, Canada is a bilingual country and I took French courses from an early age and really enjoyed French language study. When I got to university, I was at first an Economics major, until I remembered how bored I am by the subject! I found out that if I changed my major to French lit that I would be able to study abroad in France, so it was a natural choice to make the switch!
ND: That kind of choice seems like a no-brainer, but if you ask me, it's quite a brave decision. So after the major-switch, you spent a year studying in Nantes [France]. What was it about that year that really opened you up to seeing what the world has to offer?
OT: My year in Nantes was mind-blowing in that I gained [a certain level of] independence and maturity— being away from home for a year will have that effect on a young adult! I lived in dorm amongst people from the French-speaking diaspora. I travelled in Europe and North Africa during all of my school breaks. I discovered just how big the world is and gained a new appreciation for travel.
ND: Well, that independence living away from home certainly lasted. You've lived a number of places. Currently, you reside in [London] England. Some people assume that because it's an English-speaking country, it's comparable to North America, but having lived there, I can speak to the fact that on a cultural level, it's completely different. What are some of the differences you've come to love and loathe?
OT: I have a love-hate relationship from London that is constantly evolving! Superficially speaking, I really love the variant of English spoken here. I feel like I am constantly learning new words and expressions, even though English is my mother tongue. I love the multiplicity of accents here in the UK and have a lot of fun trying to guess where people are from by their accent. What do I hate? So very simple. The London underground! I’m come to rely heavily on the Tube and it’s always a pain to get from A to B since many of the metro lines have issues or major delays on a regular basis. It’s the one thing I really despise about London, but a necessary evil since I wouldn’t ever dream of driving here.
ND: Oh, the tube! I'm sure we could spend hours swapping stories! But… in a way… I think the chaos surrounding the tube's imperfections prepares you for travel elsewhere. The big city congestion in places like Peru, India, Ghana and China come to mind (laughs). Tell me this: has living and traveling abroad influenced your views of [1st world] societal norms? Do you find certain things don't hold as much weight or value as they did before you gained this bevy of cultural experience?
OT: I feel that I’m not very interested in many material things. I don’t have a fancy phone, don’t own a television, don’t own any jewelry, don’t care about having a flashy car, and not interested in living in a huge house. I’ve gotten used to constantly moving/travelling (I’m a 5-time expat- moved to France twice, and Mexico, Hong Kong, and the UK one time each), so I never decorate my living spaces. I am a huge clotheshorse, but every time I’ve moved, I’ve been able reduce my life to two suitcases and a couple of boxes- it doesn’t faze me to throw things away and start over. I think that my travelling lifestyle has definitely shaped me in this way.
ND: You said something recently that resonated with me— that you've "been feeling a bit jaded about travel for the last little while." It reminds me a bit of writer's block. Why do you this happens? And how do you think one can get over that hump and feel inspired to travel again?
OT: For a while I was feeling physically and mentally exhausted, and the constant travel I was doing only served to deepen this fatigue. I think that when one has travelled a lot, it’s really difficult to maintain/sustain the magic and wonderment of travel. I’ve been to over 50 countries now, and even though I love it, I sometimes find it hard to keep the momentum. For a while, I was feeling really jaded, feeling as though I was seeing some of the same things and having some of the same experiences over again even though the city or country was different. To avoid this, I now try to visit places that are vastly different from one another and/or in completely different regions in the world. For example, I just got back from a week in the United Arab Emirates, and next month I am off to Peru and Bolivia! Wherever possible I try to vary my travel experiences so that I don’t get bored.
ND: 3 things you don't travel without?
OT: I will not travel without my camera. I see so many amazing things while on the road that I just have to capture. I love looking back at old photos and reliving my travels. Another essential item for me is a good pair of tennis shoes. For me, the best way to discover a place is on foot, and I thoroughly enjoy navigating a place using my own two feet. The third item would have to be my Kindle. I’m a voracious reader and having an e-reader is the perfect way to indulge while travelling.
ND: What's your travel philosophy?
OT: “Have money, will travel”. If I have the funds and the time, I am SO there. My friends will tell you that I don’t hesitate and I hate to miss out on an opportunity to go somewhere new; I’ve been known to book plane tickets on a whim if they are cheap (and even if they aren’t)! I once booked a ticket to Singapore within an hour of a friend mentioning that she would like to go. I would rather regret going to a place (though I never have!), then regret NOT going. So if it is feasible for me to go on a trip, I’ll go. No half-stepping!
Note: As this interview sat in limbo—unpublished— for a year, there's no doubt that Oneika has amassed a number of unique stamps to add to her already-impressive collection.