Photo Credit: Nessa Yesufu
Nessa Yesufu: From Traveling Solo At 18, To Successful Group Trips
Nessa Yesufu started traveling solo at 18 and never stopped. Now, she hosts small group trips that sell out in three days. When she started an Instagram called @nesufu to give new solo travelers help, advice and a place to ask questions, her page blew up and she continues to post tips and give advice to her followers.
Yesufu never traveled out of the country as a child. That is to say, no one in her family even had a passport. In fact, Yesufu didn’t get her passport until she was going on her first trip abroad.
In contrast, Yesufu has volunteered in a Brazilian favela, studied culture along with the local scene in Barcelona, lived for a year in Columbia and has visited and lived in over 40 countries. Important to realize, Yesufu was fresh off an almost nine hour flight and a six-hour time difference, when she took the time to talk about her solo travel adventures and manifestation skills with Travel Noire.
Originally from the UK and currently living in Houston, Texas, Nessa Yesufu has been traveling solo since she was 18. From the time her dad handed her the gift of a children’s atlas, Yesufu couldn’t stop thinking about travel. She read the book front to back and memorized the capitals of each country, ready to hit the ground running as soon as she could. At 18, she created her opportunity and began her first travel abroad. Before the end of the year, Yesufu was ready for her first solo trip to Brazil.
TN: How do you get over the time change when traveling such a great distance?
I’ve taken long flights quite often. So, I’m used to the time change. I left Houston in the middle of the day, which is the middle of the night in the UK. Sometimes you just have to keep yourself awake. Then, you can sleep at the place you’ve just arrived. It could be that you keep yourself busy. Or, you nap. I napped when I got here and then I’ll basically force myself to sleep tonight.
TN: First ever travel experience went like….
My first ever travel experience was to Spain. Being British, Brit’s often go to Spain the same way Americans go to Mexico. It’s very close and very cheap for travel. It was an easy destination. I was 18 and I saved up for months just to get my passport with my part -time job. I went with my friend to Barcelona. There are a lot of cities in Spain that teenagers will go to just to get drunk.
But I was like, I want culture as well as to have some fun. So, Barcelona was great for that because I was really able to enjoy the local culture and history as well as have a good time. It definitely started everything for me.
TN: What inspired you to start traveling solo?
It’s interesting because I never felt like there was anything directly. I think I’ve always just been independent. I didn’t grow up in a household where people traveled. We didn’t have money to travel. It wasn’t even a conversation because we didn’t have money to go anywhere. It was like, why have a passport? Where are you going? Nowhere. I always just did so much for myself as a kid. My mom was a supportive mom and such, but I still had to do things for myself. I took myself to school 2 hours away from home every day. I started working when I was 15.
I’d always wanted to travel because I heard my friends in school were traveling and stuff and I always wanted to go. I’d never got a chance to. I just wanted to feel what it was like to go abroad. So, I did my first trip with my friend and that was cool. I just wanted to keep going.
After a while, I realized people couldn’t always come with me. It was just like okay, well, I’m not going to cancel. I just went. I didn’t have this big dream of traveling solo, I just knew I wanted to go.
TN: What was your first solo trip like?
A few months after I did that first- ever trip to Spain, I decided I was going to do a solo trip to Brazil. I was just one month away from 19, when I went. It was a place I’d wanted to go my whole life. I felt like everything I heard about the country, I knew it wasn’t all necessarily true, but I just wanted to see for myself. I planned it and I went. And it was the best experience of my life. And hands down my most treasured and my most sentimental travel experience because it totally influenced me to continue to travel solo.
It also taught me that the way we speak about different countries, what we hear in the media, or even different people’s experiences, isn’t always the complete truth. You have to find out for yourself.
I was in Brazil for three months. I went just to visit. Then I did a day volunteering in a favela about an hour away. I love working with kids. I’ve worked with kids throughout my travels. I had dinner with the community organizer, who helped with the favela’s community center, as well as their family. From there, I was going to that favela every single day to help out. I was just volunteering. They needed extra adults with computer skills and adults to play sports and games.
The organizers were like, “oh, you speak English, teach the kids English!” I wrote hello on a piece of paper and the kids started sounding each letter out. It was a great way to learn Portuguese.
TN: Is it dangerous to visit a favela?
I think throughout history, favelas have been known to have lots of crime.A lot of favelas have been pacified. The government has done a lot of work to run gangs out of those neighborhoods.
Favelas have a reputation of being dangerous. However, they are literally just neighborhoods. They are neighborhoods for people, particularly Afro-Brazilians, at a time when they were not given access to housing in the city. It was after emancipation, so they had to create neighborhoods. Now they are rich and vibrant neighborhoods. The one I visited had been pacified, so there was a military presence there. Not in a threatening way, just to keep gangs from coming in.
There are many favelas that haven’t been pacified. So, it can be dangerous. You should be spending time in favelas with someone who knows what they’re doing.
I’ve seen people on favela tours. Tourists, if they’re brave enough, do that type of stuff. I personally like to volunteer. There are so many ways to do things for a local community when traveling. Tread gently though. You don’t want to turn anyone’s life into tourism.
I was fine though, I never had an issue. I’m sorry, I’ll say it. Being Black in Brazil you don’t really have to worry. I won’t say nothing will happen. But, the way they would look at me and walk passed me. Then walk up to someone who wasn’t Black to maybe see about taking something from her.
I think that’s something we’re not taught enough. Brazil is so Black. They have one of the largest populations of Black people outside of Nigeria. It was one of the first places where I felt like I was home. There are all different shades and all different races in Brazil.
I had such a welcoming, beautiful and warm experience there that I was like, wow Brazil is amazing! It’s a big jump for people to go to Brazil as their first solo trip. I am not going to lie, I don’t think everybody should do it. I think you have to be very confident and very sure of yourself traveling. At that point, I’d only been to Spain and the Netherlands.
After that, I left Europe and went straight to Brazil. Not everyone can do that. Not because I don’t want them to, but because some destinations are more for advanced travelers and solo travelers. There’s a lot going on, you have to move a different way than maybe you’d move to another tourist country.
It literally changed my life and how I see the world and traveling. I felt at home. You blend in there, there are all kinds of shades of Black. It was the best memory of my life. Even though I’ve traveled to so many other places since then, Brazil will always stand out to me.
TN: Tell us EVERYTHING about your group trips!
This is something I’m really proud of. YesufuTravels. I do group trips. I like to keep it to 8 people, so we can get to know each other, learn each other’s names. Become friends.
When you travel so much, I don’t think I always realize how great it is that I travel. I get to go to these places in the world I’ve always dreamed of. Then, I’m there and I’m like, “oh, that’s great. What’s next?”
So, often I don’t stop and think about how proud I am of how much I travel. My family will tell me, or friends, or even strangers on Instagram will tell me how great it is. I started my social media to inspire Black women to travel solo, or just travel more. So, I provide as much information as possible. After providing all of these tips and insights, I thought, one day it would be really great to take a group of women somewhere and encourage them.
I imagined them there at the group trip I would host. They’d made it, they’d flown to this destination by themselves to meet this group of fun and adventurous women who just want to explore this beautiful place we’re in. And now, I’m here to help them and guide them through it. I answer questions and facilitate navigation through that new environment.
I always thought I’d love to do group trips. But, I always felt like it was a big thing. People have these whole teams to successfully pull off a group trip. After constantly being asked about Columbia, I finally said, “I’m just going to do a group trip to Cartagena, Columbia.”
Because I’d spent so much time there, it would be a great place for a group trip. I lived there for a year. I spent so much time traveling around, a group trip to Columbia could be something I could plan by myself.
It sold out in three days. Some guests were followers, and others were recommended from a friend of a friend. It was one of my proudest moments. It is so nice to share your passions with other people. When I’m there, leading a group trip, I’m there in person cheering them on and walking them through it. After that first trip was a success, I was like group trips are going to be my thing. I’m going to continue to do this!
At the end of the year, I’m going to do a group trip in Tanzania. I’m going to try to do two trips a year. I am leading trips to places I’ve been before for long periods of travel. So, I actually know the people providing the transportation or the activities. I know them because I have been there before, done the activities myself and even used the same transportation.
TN: If you could’ve been born in any country, what country would you choose?
Now that I live in America, I’m so grateful. I was born in the UK. I’m not trying to read America. I’m just so happy to be British. The UK has its issues too.
Where else? I am a child of Nigerian immigrants. So, I feel like it would only be right for me to say Nigeria. I visit there every chance I can.
Other than those obligatory countries, I think just Brazil, and Columbia. Oh, and Cuba!
TN: Which country had that meal you’ll never forget?
I feel like everyone needs to taste Nigerian food in Nigeria because it’s spectacular.
If you think you’ve had a good Thai curry, once you’ve gone to Thailand, none of the Thai curry will ever match. They’re not even in the race. I’m a curry girl, I love curry. Of all of the curries in all of the cultures, Thailand has the best curry. Less than a dollar for a filling, tasty meal. Red curry in Thailand. I crave it. I could eat curry any day of the week.
TN: You once wrote: ‘All of my travels occurred through prioritizing my funds and manifesting.’ Can you expand on this? How did you learn to do this?
I’m really weird in that I know exactly what reel that was on. (Laughs.)
I think it was because I’d recently visited Guatemala and I stayed at an Airbnb on Lake Atitlán, which I’d dreamt about for years. I’d really wanted to go and I wanted to stay at this Airbnb. And I said it for years. I just said, “I’m going to go there.”
That’s the manifestation part. Just believe you’re going to go. And because you want to go so badly, you’re going to make it work.
Guatemala’s not an expensive country. It wasn’t about the price. But logistics and time weren’t working out. I kept saying Guatemala is coming. I know I am going somewhere. Just believe you’re going to go.
And, prioritizing funds comes into that. What’s manifestation without doing the work? I tell people all the time, you don’t have to be rich to travel, you just have to learn to prioritize your life.
Sometimes, people want me to have this big complex answer as to how I travel so much. It’s simple. I spend all my extra money on travel. I wouldn’t encourage everyone to do it like me. If you have a 9 to 5 and a low to medium amount of responsibilities and some time off work, you can’t tell me that you can’t afford to travel.
With the ability to travel and still not traveling, it may simply mean your money is being prioritized in other areas, which is completely fine. When the priority is to eat out with friends, or play with your car, or a hobby, that’s fine. Personally, once I pay my bills, I use my extra money for travel.
After manifesting, then you logistically figure out how you’re going to go. It was $250 per night for that Airbnb on Lake Atitlán. So, I saved up.
TN: Favorite Tulum travel story?
I did a solo trip early 2020/2021. I spent the NYE there. It wasn’t meant to be a solo trip. Sometimes, people let you down. Sometimes, it wasn’t a let down. I wanted it to be a social trip. I had a couple before that were solo, solo. Not social.
When I posted in a Facebook travel group and was surprised. I was there for two weeks and I didn’t have one moment to myself. Being a solo traveler at heart, it was surprisingly really fun to be so social. I went to two Mayan ruins, celebrated a girl’s birthday who I’d just met with her for the first time that day. I lived it up for 14 days with a bunch of different people and I still talk to them today!
People always think traveling solo means being alone all the time. That trip was really one of my favorite solo trips because I really wasn’t ever solo.