The tale of Lagos makes for an interesting read. The city has been dubbed Africa’s entertainment capital, from its exciting nightlife to its bubbly beach resorts. However, it is more exciting to experience the city. Whether it’s strolling through Africa’s longest canopy walk at the Lekki Conservation Center or eating an overpriced plate of spaghetti bolognese at the newest ‘island’ restaurant, There’s always some fun activity. But it is not just Lagos. Every city in Nigeria is worth experiencing. Like exploring the Ogbunike Caves in Eastern Nigeria or hiking the Mambilla Plateau up north.

It would be wonderful for people to fully experience Lagos and other parts of Nigeria, but planning trips and fun activities can be stressful. You must first choose a location or an activity and then plan the logistics. Given the state of insecurity in the country, you often have to investigate the safety of certain places. Putting all of these into consideration takes its toll and it’s easy to discard your bucket list for Netflix. Fortunately, people like Chidera Echedom have taken on that planning process so you don’t have to. Chidera is an experience curator who plans and organises fun events, travels, and activities for people.  

Chidera Echedom, CEO Explore with Dera

The first time Chidera curated an experience, it was to save cost on her plans. She wanted a fun experience in Lagos and had been planning for weeks. After some calculations, she realized the activities she wanted to do would cost more than she thought. So she called a few friends and asked if they would like to join her.“I realized I was not the only one looking to have a good time,” she recalls. “If I could get these people to tag along, we could split the bill. I could have my experience without having to spend as much.” Little did she know this action would set the ball for a future career.

Chidera would continue to do this for subsequent activities with her friends. She would suggest activities and places they could visit and take on the planning and logistics. Soon, people started to consult her on places to visit and things to do. “They started calling me the plug, a title that has stuck till this day,” she says. One of her friends advised her to start a blog where she could tell people about other fun places in Lagos. “I was hesitant at first. This was supposed to be something I do within my circle. I was not sure how blogging would turn out. So I hesitated,” she recalls. Eventually, she launched Explore with Dera, a blog where she documents her experiences and posts reviews on places she’s visited. She also suggested spots for people to explore. “Before I knew it, I started getting requests to organize outings,” she says.

Today, Chidera is the founder of two experience curation companies, Explore with Dera, and Explore Lagos. The latter she co-founded with Mirabella Henry, another Nigerian experience curator. Explore with Dera offers premium enjoyment on a friendly budget through food adventures while Explore Lagos focuses on curating group trips, day-cations, family trips, foodie hangouts, and stay-cations. A typical day for Chidera involves consulting and researching new ways for people to have fun. “My job is all about enjoyment. But it is also a lot of work for me. Some nights I spend hours researching the best places people can visit. Sometimes I have to visit these places myself. So if I am listing five places for a date under a #10,000 budget, I’m talking about places I have been to. I have to experience these places myself to be able to recommend them,” she says.

With regular events, you never know what to expect. It could be food tastings, paint sessions, kayaking, or a trip to the zoo. “I can organize an event dubbed a taste of India in Nigeria or a taste of West African dishes. Sometimes I make a special appearance,” she says. Chidera also organizes tourism trips within Nigeria. “We could take a trip to Ibadan or Ebonyi. I usually list down places we can visit in the cities we visit. And if we are not able to visit these places at the end of the trip, I do a refund,” she says. Although there are no off days in this business, holidays seem to be the “rush hour” for curators. “There are days you would not get signups, or you get only two. On other days you will be sold out. But more people tend to plan events or tours during the holidays.” says Chidera.

Meanwhile, with this type of business, things can go awry. Like when the pandemic hit and everyone had to stay indoors. So did Chidera’s business. She had to suspend all outdoor activities. Instead, she translated new ways on her platform for people to make the most of their indoor experiences. Inflation has also had a lasting effect on the experiences Chidera offers. “Say a plate of food that used to be N1,500 increases to N2,500, it can affect how much the entire experience would cost. Sometimes I may organize an event, stating the fee is N50,000. Then you see N18,000 for that same event at a different time. It happens with transportation a lot. When I try to book a bus, the price can be more than what it was two weeks ago. It could go higher or lower. And to get profit, you must consider these things,” she says.

In experience curation, people cancelling at the last minute is common. And it can dampen plans, especially if it’s a travel event. “If it is a day event it is not so bad. But when it comes to travelling outside the state or country, it can seriously affect the schedule,” she says. So Chidera has a strict system – cancellations attract a fee that is dependent on how short the notice is. “There is something we call PPS – per person sharing. Where two people share a room on a particular trip. It helps save costs so I always recommend it. Now imagine if one person cancels in that situation. That is why I have terms and conditions,” says Chidera.

Ultimately, Dera has to plan for everything, including Nigeria’s unique challenges. “We do not pray for any bad thing. But you have to always plan for the worse,” she says. “When we went to Ngwo cave, it was beautiful. But getting there was stressful. That is why I advocate group travels,” says Chidera. According to Chidera, people have toned down travelling due to security concerns plaguing the country. This limits the places she can explore as she has to be careful. “It is only God who guarantees safety. However, you have to do your part,” she says.

Outdoor event with Dera

Having beautiful experiences can be fun. But it can also be expensive. Nearly 67 per cent of Nigerians live below $1.25 a day. However, Chidera believes there are ways to have fun without having to break the bank. “I hear people say “I cannot afford such experiences”. Honestly, it is about planning. The way I save money for school fees or rent is how I save money for experiences. You have to be intentional about it. If not you will never be ready to explore. You can start from your city or within Nigeria. There are great tourism spots in Nigeria, although some are dilapidated. But your budget should not stop you from having fun or creating memories. I have a client that takes a trip every time there is a public holiday. She goes to Abuja or Anambra. That is what she can afford to do for now and she makes the most of it,” she says. 

Uniquely, different experience curators have their niches. “I know an experience curator that explores only African countries, and another one tours the 36 states in Nigeria. Now, she intends to explore each local government in Nigeria. You can also equip yourself with a tourism course if that is a route you want to take. It depends on what you want to do,” she says. In the meantime, Chidera is sticking to her guns. “Sometimes, I get bad reviews. But the good ones outweigh the bad. Ultimately, I just try to make people happy,” she says. “I do not see what I do as a job. I see it as a lifestyle. It takes a lot of work to plan these events and trips, but it is the kind of work I enjoy. I get to watch people create memories. And sometimes without spending my money, I get to explore places. It is work but I am also enjoying life.”

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