I had the pleasure of traveling to the coast of Kenya – Diani, to be specific – and I kept scribbling down important points which came to me while on my trip. I figured they’d come in handy for my next trip. And for whoever would read this and find it useful. Almost 2 weeks after my return to the capital, I decided against putting up this post. Then a chat with a friend who feels inspired to emulate my intentional, planned and saved for trips convinced me otherwise.
So here we are. I promise I’ll try not to bore you.
- Listen to your gut – about what to pack, what to leave, what to unpack, what to repack – because you will usually discover that your instincts were right all along. For me, this time, it was the urge to carry my bulky and not-at-all-cool-looking sleeping bag. It turned out to come in handy two of the nights we (my travel buddy and I) spent at a cottage a walking distance away from the beach. Because it got a little windy at night. So listen to your gut. Charge your power bank. Pack your USB cable. Bring a book – on soft copy and a hard copy. Get that neck pillow for the long bus ride.
- Travel light. As much as possible, pack as little as you can. My rule is to only pack what my backpack can carry – with the exception of my sleeping back, of course. This rule applies within reason, of course. Because a backpack will not likely last you a month-long trip to another continent. Unless you’re hiking. Or back packing.
- Have a budget, factor in miscellaneous costs, stick to the budget. It feels great to be able to spend while on holiday without worrying about how much money you will have left for transport and groceries when you get back home. Save a little every month for travel. Factor in costs such as public transport fares, souvenirs, snacks and the just-in-case accommodation fee should you fail to check in to your hotel in time. For instance, there was an issue with our online booking so we were double booked. This meant taking another bus, 2.5 hours later than scheduled, spending 10 hours on the road instead of the anticipated 8, and arriving several hours past the intended time. We wound up having to stay a night on the north coast because we couldn’t make it across the ferry at almost 11:20 p.m.
- Split your cash. I like to have more of my money on my phone – more specifically on M-pesa, a mobile based money transfer service commonly used and accessed in Kenya. Should I happen to lose my phone, I would simply replace my sim card and use another mobile phone to access my cash. Still, one does need to be a little liquid when traveling. A rather handy tip I got from my travel buddy was to break down my cash into small denominations and spread the cash around – in different pockets and in my purse. This really helped when we used public transport to get around and when we made purchases from street food vendors and kiosks.
- Pack using an actual list. Because it sucks to realize that you forgot something as basic and as important as underwear, a swimsuit, body lotion, sunscreen, etc.
- Carry a sleeping bag and a clean sheet. I don’t like to be cold. Ever. Not as long as I can help it. Less than a month before my trip, I spent one night at a campsite in the middle of the cold Maasai Mara conservancy while cursing myself for failing to bring my (very light) water bottle for the trip. Yet I had a ride to and from my house! In short, it was a looooong night.
- Bring your own flip flops. Because you never know whether you’ll find them on the ground. Also, if you have large flat feet like mine, you almost always need your own flip flops.
- Wear a pair of comfy flats and carry a spare pair. Bata Ngomas are my favourite shoes for any occasion. They are flat shoes, made of actual absorbent fabric (like a mixture of cotton and corduroy or khaki) with a rubber sole. And they come in different colors!
- Beware of pick-pockets! Travel in comfortable pants with good/deep pockets for your loose change or earphones or gum or iPod/cellphone. Tying a hoodie or sweater around your waist and over your pockets is one way to make your stuff harder for pickpockets to access.Also, always have a clear view of your backpack zipper and carry it on your front when on a crowded street or when making a mad rush for the ferry.
- Travel in great company. This should have probably been the next point after the one about budgeting for the trip. Bring a fun, street smart, fun travel buddy along and plan with them well in advance of time (if you can). So I had planned for this trip with someone who could not make it at the last minute – they got dates mixed up and had a load of fieldwork to do far out of town. So I call an old girlfriend who has traveled to remote parts of the country for fieldwork and she was excited to come along, thankfully. When we arrived in Mombasa, it was almost midnight and vehicles were few. My travel buddy was able to help me negotiate a fair cab (more like tuk tuk) fare and she had someone on the ground to accommodate us for the night at a discounted fee because she refers people to his guest house. Throughout the trip, I kept thanking her and God for making my vacation much more fun than it would have been had I traveled solo.
- Plan for your meals and buy lots of snacks for in between. Always make a point to know whether meals are served at your hotel/cottage, how much a standard meal would cost and what the timings are for all the meals served. Then ensure you stock up on snacks – nuts, crackers, fruit like apples and bananas, yoghurt, etc – to help keep your energy levels up and for those days when you want to sleep in and skip on breakfast or when you would rather a light dinner of your own choosing.
- Buy lots of bottled water. Better more than less, because water is life and dehydration or lacking access to clean drinking water while traveling can go horribly wrong. Depending on where you are going, and how sensitive you are to stomach bugs, you may need to have bottled water for brushing your teeth. So always stock up.
I know I went on and on, but I hope it worth the read. Travel safe and happy vacationing!