9 things you should consider before traveling to Nigeria!
Most sources for travel advice to Nigeria have one thing in common: They warn you not to go! While this may make sense for some parts of the country, it seems too generic for a nation 22 times the size of Switzerland.
So I decided to put together my own travel advice, based on my personal experiences.
I have been traveling to Nigeria, mainly Anambra and Abia state since 2008, and think that the following 9 points may help you prepare for your own trip:
#1 - Visa / Passport
The first thing to get done when planning a trip to Nigeria is to organize your Visa or Passport. Unfortunately, the process for both can be very frustrating and time-consuming (especially as a first-time applicant). I advise you to start the application at least three months in advance (for a passport, even more).
Before submitting, I recommend you call your local Nigerian embassy to ensure you follow the right approach and avoid disappointments (e.g., applying for a passport when passport booklets are unavailable).
#2 - Vaccinations
The National Travel Health Network and Centre and the WHO recommend the following vaccinations for all travelers to Nigeria:
· Yellow fever (mandatory, usually checked upon entry)
· Hepatitis A
In addition, for some travelers, the following vaccinations are recommended:
· Hepatitis B
· Meningococcal Disease
Please discuss with your doctor which vaccinations are suitable for you and also check the Nigerian International Travel Portal for current COVID-19 restrictions and travel requirements
#3 - Malaria Prophylaxis
There is a high risk of malaria in Nigeria, and antimalarials are recommended. I have tried both “Mefloquine” (once a week), and “Malarone” (daily) and have never had any bad experiences with them. However, both can have strong side effects, so please seek specialist advice to determine which prophylaxis is best for you.
Should you choose not to take any prophylaxis, I suggest you take some emergency standby treatment with you, especially if you are going to remote areas with limited access to medical attention.
#4 - Flights
As we say, “all roads lead to Rome”. There are countless options to book a flight to Nigeria; but there are still some things to consider:
Book in advance
I recommend you book your flights well in advance, as flights usually get more expensive closer to the traveling date.
Near not far
Out of experience, I recommend booking an international flight that gets you as close to your destination as possible. National flights or traveling by road can be frustrating, time-consuming, and sometimes even dangerous. So, if your destination is near Enugu, I recommend booking a flight to Enugu airport instead of flying to Lagos first.
Plans can change, especially when made well in advance. I recommend booking your flights with the option to cancel - and while you are at it, add a travel insurance (health and repatriation) as well.
#5 - Hotels
The first time I checked in to a Nigerian hotel, I was shocked: the cost for a night was almost as expensive as in Switzerland. Therefore, if you plan to sleep in a hotel, I recommend you budget enough money for your stay.
You can book most rooms online (many international booking platforms do offer hotels in Nigeria), but I prefer booking on the spot, as not everything that glitters is gold. Hotel rankings may not always compare to European standards, and I recommend looking at the rooms before making a reservation.
Either way, I personally prefer staying with friends and family. Not only is it more sociable and fun, but to me, Hotels always feel a bit like a “bubble” - with huge security fences, air conditioning, and, if you are lucky, 24/7 light - far away from the authentic 9ja experience!
#6 - Moving around
By car – self-driving
The traffic, especially in Nigerian cities, can be a madhouse, and you must be a very experienced driver to maneuver your way through the motorized battlefield.
“If you can drive in Lagos, you can drive anywhere in the world, but not vice versa”
In the countryside, traffic may be less, but bad roads can be a challenge for inexperienced drivers. It takes a trained eye to spot the bumps from a distance - miss one, and you will appreciate the importance of roadside mechanics! And if you dare to drive at night, you will understand the true meaning of “blinded by the lights”; beca literally, everyone drives with their headlights switched on!
By commercial car - if available
If you are staying in a bigger city (#Lagos, #Abuja, #Enugu, etc.), you can get around safely with Uber, Bolt or Taxify. Just enquire which app works best in the area, download it, and get moving. For short distances, a Keke Napep (tricycle taxi) can be a fun alternative.
I can not give any recommendations for commercial buses, as I have never entered one. So, me telling you that they are always packed, sweaty, and driving recklessly would be pure stereotyping.
In the cities, pedestrians are an endangered species. Don’t expect extensive sidewalks or pedestrian crossings. If you use legedis-benz (your feet) to move around, always watch out for the unexpected because nobody will stop for you. It’s more a “survival of the fittest” kind of mindset.
If you are taking a walk in the village, your chances of being hit by a car are however far smaller (though still possible). Just make sure you watch out for snakes, biting ants, and Masquerades and enquire with family and friends beforehand if the security situation allows for it.
#7 - Food and water
Hot hot hot!
If you have not tasted Nigerian food before, you better prepare for some spiciness. Almost every meal is prepared with pepper (and not that mild type you get in the supermarkets abroad).
It was in Nigeria that I learned that “pepperish” food could not only be felt in the mouth while eating but also hours later in other parts of the body (let me not go into details here, you will remember my words the first time it happens to you).
Sweet is not always sweet
I can’t recount how often someone told me that a particular food tasted “very sweet” and it turned out to be salty, spicy or even bitter. In Nigeria, “sweet” is synonymous with “delicious”. So don’t be deceived when trying "sweet" foods.
Cook it, peel it, wash it (and dry it) or leave it
This generic advice to avoid food poisoning also applies in Nigeria. But for foreigners, the “wash it” part needs some special consideration. Traditionally, cups and plates are freshly rinsed with water right before serving and are therefore often still wet when being used. I strongly recommend you dry them first, as they may not have been rinsed with bottled- or purified water, to avoid getting sick.
Sealed and bottled
When I first traveled to Nigeria, I was advised never to drink water unless it was bottled (as it was presumably the safest for me). However, I learned that from water to whiskey, just because a bottle has a seal on it does not mean that it is safe, as some of the products are being forged.
So depending on where you are, sachet water may be safer than bottled one. Either way, your best option is to ask your friends or family (or any local person apart from the “water seller”) which option is safe - and have some diarrhea medicine at hand for emergencies.
And if you are in doubt, I recommend you order a #Gulder, #Guinness or #Hero – as you can never go wrong with beer.
No generic answer
Planning a trip to Nigeria stands and falls with the security situation. I have never once been in a situation where I felt unsafe, but obviously a security assessment cannot be generalized, as the situation may differ from state to state, from town to town, or even from village to village. Therefore, I won’t be able to tell you if it is safe or unsafe.
Listening to mass media or governmental travel advice is not enough and might give you the wrong picture. I recommend you check with your friends and family on the ground before planning a trip. Also, I suggest you always have a plan B in case the security situation deteriorates and recommend that you constantly reassess the situation when on the ground.
TIN - This Is Nigeria
I cannot explain why or how, but I am a living witness to "TIN". Whenever you encounter a difficult situation or are about to lose your patience or close to a mental breakdown, remember my words:
This is Nigeria - there is always a solution! It might take longer than expected or turn out different from what you planned, but it will always work out SOMEHOW!
Therefore, my last advice: You can’t control everything! Avoid being narrow minded, stubborn or pretending you know better – this is a unique environment with its own rules.
So instead of trying hard to stand up against the wave, take a deep breath, dive right in and let it take you along!
Last but not least
I decided to always end my blog posts with an Igbo proverb or quote and a song (not necessarily Igbo) that speaks to my heart. Feel free to share your own favorite proverbs or a song that you are listening to at the moment! Igbo quote of the week: "Nwata akwo na azu amaghi na ije di anya" - A child that is carried on the back does not know the journey is long. My song this week: Oliver de Coque - People's Club of Nigeria