Meet Tania Mukwamu. She is the founder of the travel blog Kongo Travels. As you will see from this interview, Tania is a multi-passionate and multi-hyphenated woman who juggles motherhood, entrepreneurship ventures, and frequent travels.  I had a chat with her shortly before Christmas 2020. We discussed her passion for traveling, her earliest travel memories and her dream destinations. She also shared a few tips for discovering the world  on a budget.

In the second part of the interview ,we discussed her strategies for staying on top of content creation for her blog and most importantly, how does she balance it all.

Editor’s note : this article has been edited for length and clarity

WATCH / READ THE INTERVIEW VIDEO BELOW

Hey Tania, We’ve been discussing about doing this interview for a long time. So thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule for this. For starters, please tell us a little about yourself.

So, my name is Tania, I’m a tech entrepreneur, a mom of 3 :2 boys and a girl who keep me very busy. I’m passionate about all things Africa’s empowerment, especially in my field which is banking. With my husband, we run together our business venture, which is a tech company. So I’m keen on conversations that have to do with financial inclusion, especially for women. On top of that, I have a fashion brand called Moseka bags.

But what brings me here today is my passion project, my blog Kongo Travels, which is a creative outlet for me to share my journey of a keen traveler of Africa and the world.

How did the idea of creating a blog dedicated to travels came about; what fuelled your passion for travelling and what’s your earliest travel memory?

My earliest travel memory came from my childhood. Both my parents are well-travelled professionals, who often travelled for work and will leave us with uncles, aunts and cousins. They will often bring us back memorabilia, souvenirs and gifts from all their amazing trips that sparked my curiosity. So I pin down my passion and interest for travels around that time. I was also fortunate to travel quite early, in few countries, including South Africa where I’m now based and work full time.

When it comes to my blog, I had it for quite a long time, but at the beginning, it was more of a journal where I was documenting my few adventures, telling stories about whatever I was going through at the time. the stories of a young African woman talking about her work life and her love for travelling as well.

 Picture of Tania with a camera
Courtesy of Kongo Travels blog

But, it’s only around the past year, year and half, that I decided to take a serious look around it and expand a little bit what I was sharing. And also, looking at what was being shared on social media and not seeing enough young African or Congolese women, sharing whatever we go through into building our future for our families, sharing our passions and learning about the world, either alone or as families, …that’s literally what drove me to rebrand.

Which countries have you visited to date and what is your most memorable destination thus far and why?

Wow! So far, sometimes I think it’s way too low to even mention. I’ve been to only 23 countries. It’s not like I’m on a mission to set foot in every country. For instance, some countries I’ve been there several times because I’ve enjoyed it so much. So my top 3 will be Spain, Colombia and Nigeria. Ghana is a close number 4, so apologies to my Ghanaian friends, this sounds like another Jollof war I’m about to start (laughs), but I’ve lived like 6 months in Nigeria for work and I had an amazing experience. For Ghana, I would love to go back and experience more, but it’s definitely a close number 4.

Travelling from and around Africa can be quite expensive and hectic (long routes and sto- overs to arrive at destinations, absence of low-costs options, visas hassle etc. What are your tips to discover Africa and the world on a budget for the average African woman?

I’ve lived in South Africa for about 19 years, so for me it’s a personal choice to keep my Congolese passport. So as much as I am very fortunate to be in South Africa and have easy accessibility when it comes to flights routes, I also experience the hurdles that’s comes with popping my Congolese passport for visa application. 

I think, it’s only 14 countries that provide visa free entries to Congolese nationals, and most of them are random places. So because of all these visa restrictions, I tend to plan early enough . The earliest I have planned for a travel was 8 months to a year in advance. But I also try to not make any financial commitment  until at least 2 months before my planned travel dates. So what I do is, in all these months leading to the trip, I try to save, and I look for accommodations and other specials. I go on sites such as booking.com and Airbnb (I suggest not to  leave all the expenses to the travelling month because the closer to the trip, the more everything will get expensive). I love booking.com, because it has options to book and pay at a much later date, like on arrival for instance.

A snap of Tania the colourful Bokaap distric, Cape Town. Courtesy of Kongo Travels

What I love with Airbnb is the variety of options that it offers and the personal touch. So when it comes to budgeting, here are my few tips:

  1. Plan ahead: if you’re able to, book at least 3 months in advance. These are the times when flights are quite affordable
  2. Try and travel off season: for instance, if you’re travelling from Europe or the US and you want to visit South Africa, look at spring (Spring in southern Africa is during September and October) or early autumn (March to May) to make your trip. Weather wise, it’s not that crazy but prices wise, it can make a huge difference. Same goes for travelling to Europe or the US from here. Avoid high season in touristic cities because not only it’s more expensive and the amount of tourists will drive you crazy. You will spend time queuing at attractions and touristic spots most of the time. I would rather consider travelling in August because, being the second month of the summer, things become less expensive and less crowded. Same goes for winter months.  I will consider October instead of December, when people are into full Christmas mode.
  3. As I mentioned earlier, I used websites such as booking.com and Airbnb to look for deals and payment options.

H.O.N: building on all the visa issues you just described and, in light of the chaos around the COVID-19 pandemic, heave you ever had to cancel a trip after you’ve made bookings etc.?

I have to move and cancel a lot of flights, especially given the current situation. For instance, I had a family trip planned for December 2019. We had planned for it a year in advance, but unfortunately, in August 2019 my father passed away and I wasn’t in the right space to enjoy a family vacation. So, we postponed it to July 2020, and early into the year, the pandemic hit!  So we’ll have to reschedule it again. I’m sure they’re just tired of me keeping on changing plans. But the idea is to be open and honest about the issues preventing you from travelling. Also, I try to consider their business as well and to find a middle ground and, if possible, communicate with them in advance, so I don’t have to cancel on them on a short notice (unless there is a force majeure, of course).

In terms of airlines, a lot of international flights tickets are valid for 2 years. It means that you’re able to move your travel around, within the 2 years’ deadline. If your ticket has expired, you will need to pay some penalty fees to move your trip dates around. Now with this pandemic, the travel industry is hit hardly and lot of trips are being cancelled, re-scheduled etc. Airlines and the hospitality industry aren’t able to refund their customers completely, so at best they can offer you a voucher to travel at another time. This situation is quite new and unprecedented the travel and tourism industry is trying to adapt to the challenges.

Tania in Colombia. Courtesy of Kongo Travels

In today’s context of Black Lives Matter, racism is a huge topic. As a black woman traveler, have you ever experienced racism or ill treatment of any sort? And how do you research destinations, especially when travelling solo (include safety tips if any)?

I’m fortunate to have not lived some hard-core racist experiences. But of course, As a black person, you always go through some levels of ignorance. I’m generally confident and comfortable in my own skin, but I have been in places where it’s rare to meet any black people and therefore experienced some weird  stares , attitudes etc. But my biggest fear is to experience this while travelling with my kids because I do not know how I’m going to react.

One weird experience I remember was at the Dubai airport , waiting for my connecting flight, and I saw a group of travelers; they look like a group of pilgrims or something like that. They just surrounded me and started touching my hair and talk in their language etc.…it was really weird.

Another one was in Hong Kong, where people will come and take pictures of my son (who was still a toddler at the time) without asking.

To prevent such things from happening, I do a lot of research, I go through comments and reviews, especially from people like me etc.

[Tania also related to me, an experience she had while working in Lagos and going back to her hotel. In the lobby, the hotel security was suspicious of her and started interrogating her about her presence in the hotel. This experience highlights the treatment faced by a lot of young African women throughout African cities’ big international hotels. The working staff try to prevent sex workers from entering the hotel and are suspicious of any black young woman. Being a victim of such stereotypical and discriminatory attitude is shocking , to say the least. But that’s a topic for another day.]

Tania in a market in Ghana, Courtesy of Kongo Travels

You’re an entrepreneur with multiple business ventures -a financial technology start-up, a fashion brand, your blog-on top of being a wife and a mom. How do you 1) keep the balance and 2) stay consistent with content creation for the blog and related social media?

How do I balance it all? Don’t you see my superwoman cape floating (laughs)? Hmmm how do I manage? I do not manage! None of this is done alone. Delegation is key. I have an incredible support system, a team of people ranging from family to my staff. I’ve sort of designed a world around my lifestyle to allow it to exist. I’m the mom who is friend with the teacher. I make sure I know them and they know me, they know that I’m not always around so they send me little notes to keep track of my children progress in school and to stay updated when I travel.

I also make sure I hire the right nanny because she will spend so much time with my kids and she has to be complementary to the way I do things in the house. My husband, my sister, my brothers are always available to pick up the kids at school, assist with homework and other tasks.

Also, whenever I’m busy with a project, I make sure I commit to it 100 per cent and get done with it. As much as I believe that we can have it all, but not on our own. Also you have to be very forgiving to yourself.

WATCH the interview video below

Read part 2 of the interview here

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