It’s been a very busy autumn with a combination of good news and bad news. As life has a knack for doing, it gave with one hand: travelling opportunities, spending time with my best friend and starting a new job but took with the other a close friend’s wonderful grandma passed away and his family’s health was quite poorly throughout October and November. As we all move forward and embrace the seasonal festivities, I wanted to share this autumn’s adventures with you in case it helps you develop your own future travel plans!
As I mentioned, part of autumn’s busyness was starting a new job. Two weeks into my new job, I found out that I was to travel to Kenya in a week’s time! I felt a mixture of excitement and anxiousness. I was excited about being given an opportunity I would perhaps never have in my life. But it also meant that I would be travelling alone and needed to research safety, customs and even what vaccinations I needed to get. Luckily I had experienced colleagues I could lean on and I learned a lot from my experience and would like to share it with anyone who may benefit!
If you’re thinking about going on a safari to spot the Big Five (African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard and White/Black Rhinoceros), visit Mount Kilimanjaro and/or meet members of the Masai tribe, I’ve included a few tips on how to prepare for your once-in-a-lifetime trip to Kenya to make it as fuss-free as possible!
Planning your trip
As soon as you start seriously planning your African trip, make sure you visit your country’s centre for diseases website (Brits check here, Americans check here), which will have a list of recommended vaccinations per country.
Book an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible as some vaccinations require multiple shots or need a certain amount of days in your system before you are vaccinated. Some countries may require proof of certain vaccinations (i.e. Yellow Fever vaccination with a stamped card that you need to be able to present at immigration. You must have a Yellow Fever vaccination at least 10 days before arrival in Kenya. This protects you against a disease carried by mosquitoes).
If you’re lucky enough to live in a country that provides free health care, check with your GP/doctor to know which vaccinations are free and which have a charge. In Scotland, my diphtheria, typhoid, polio, tetanus and hepatitus A vaccines were all free but the Yellow Fever vaccine had a charge. Visit your local travel clinic (Brits here, Americans here) to schedule a Yellow Fever vaccine; however, if you’re getting multiple vaccines in one day make sure you speak to your nurse beforehand to see if this is ok. You need at least a 2mm distance from another injection site on your upper arm for the Yellow Fever vaccine.
Protect against mosquitoes
You should also speak to your doctor/nurse regarding malaria and antimalarial pills. Your doctor will prescribe the right pills for you. I took Malarone pill (with the active ingredients of Atovaquone/Proguanil) every morning with breakfast (starting two days before I arrived in Kenya, throughout my stay and seven days after arriving back in the UK).
While in Kenya, sleep in beds with mosquito netting that you sprayed with at least 50% DEET insect repellant. Make sure you wear clothes that will cover your skin and try to avoid dark clothing as mosquitoes are attracted to it. I made the mistake of wearing black leggings and got 12 massive bites that that still haven’t quite disappeared from my legs. Kenyan mosquitoes are far more hard core than Ohioan mosquitoes. I’d even prefer Scottish midges to Kenyan mosquitoes – at least midges don’t carry human-transmitted diseases! Also make sure you spray yourself with 50% DEET insect repellant.
Protect yourself from the strong sun
The equator runs through part of Kenya so it will be warm and sunny most of the year. (This Northern Hemisphere girl had a super geek moment while in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, and was excited to be in the Southern Hemisphere for the first time ever but I digress…)
Make sure you grab yourself some strong sunscreen – I wore SPF 50. Also make sure you wear a hat during the day. I didn’t bring one and really wished I had after I spent my first day in Nairobi on a farm with some Masai and ended up being the Mzungu (Swahili for “white person”) with a burnt scalp and that’s even with long thick hair! I will NOT be doing that ever again!
Pack some creature comforts
As a tourist, you may have not been exposed to various foods. It’s best to always eat cooked food and to steer away from street food as you will not be able to guarantee if it’s been washed to the same standards that you are accustomed to. I had no problem eating at the restaurants in Nairobi and Kisumu; however, while I travelled to rural areas around Lake Victoria, I only ate from my stash of packaged nuts and health bars.
I also recommend bringing antibacterial wipes, toilet paper, wet toilet wipes and hand sanitiser whenever you leave your hotel room. You don’t know when it may come in handy! Sometimes you may have to make use out of a hole in ground and you may want to be prepared. Real talk.
I also recommend bringing band aids/plasters, ibuprofen (or similar pain medication) and Immodium. Most likely, you will not have to use these but it’s better to be prepared. Medicine will be more expensive in Kenya.
Two large airlines often fly to Nairobi – British Airways and KLM. I normally prefer BA but I’ve heard great things about KLM. If you fly through BA, you will most often have a stopover in Heathrow. Heathrow is massive and crazy busy and I tend to avoid that airport when I can – the security is a nightmare (but you know, also understandable being that it’s a huge port and its security – but still! No. Ew.).
Flying the Dutch airline KLM, will often have a stopover at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol for long haul flights. I’d never flown into this airport but when I did, I was impressed. The airport was clean, bright, efficient and was designed for the tired traveller. Huge comfy couches are dotted all around the airport with open plan and large windows – it’s the perfect airport to have a nap. I’ve learned to perfect my airport narcolepsy through the years and Amsterdam Airport is the best place to do that – that should totally be an award, right?
PS – When booking long distance flights, it’s often best to book 3 months ahead of your arrival. This is often when you get the best deals. Check Skyscanner to compare flights at different days of the week (Tuesdays are usually really cheap) or Kayak for flight comparisons.
Visas and currency
I suggest bringing a small amount of American dollars with you to Kenya. You will need a visa to enter Kenya. To avoid long queues at the airport, you can easily apply for a Kenyan visa online before you travel. Allow at least two business days to secure your online Kenyan visa.
If you wait to apply for your visa until you arrive in Kenyan immigration at the airport, you can purchase a single-entry visa (good for one entry in and out of the country) for US $50. This is were they will check your Yellow Fever vaccination card. Depending on where you are flying from, you may also be required to fill out a traveller surveillance form from the Kenyan Government’s Ministry of Health. Make sure you have your Kenyan hotel’s contact details on hand to fill out this form.
Once you are in Kenya, I recommend that you use Kenyan shillings (often referred to as “bob”) and your credit card (to protect against fraud). Many places take American dollars but you won’t get a good exchange rate.
Getting around Kenya
Nairobi does not have public transport. Instead it has very creative traffic jams. It will take you between 1-3 hours to travel around Nairobi so it’s best to choose a recommended driver from your hotel and agree a price before you leave for your destination. You can also join one of the many tourist buses.
You may want to drive; however, be prepared for creative driving. It’s common for people not to stop either way at intersections and just push through as well as getting around traffic jams by driving on the dirt sidewalk/pavement, which pedestrians, cyclists, livestock and motorcyclists use. This will usually all be done with a smile and a relaxed attitude from your driver, which will put you at ease – maybe?
Because Nairobi is a growing city with many people, it’s infrastructure hasn’t quite caught up to it’s growing needs. Expect travel delays – Kenyans certainly do. And if you have to wait for an hour to meet someone – you’ve been introduced to “African time”. Many throughout Africa have a different concept of time from the Western world’s concept of time, which is run by the ticking second hand. So this can be translated in what Westerners see as missed/late appointments or a more relaxed lifestyle. Whatever your thoughts are on Africa time – it’s certainly an experience!
The next Kenyan travel blog post will be about what to do while in Nairobi – stay tuned!
In the meantime, are you planning a trip to Kenya? If so when and what do you hope to do while there? Leave a comment if you have any other Kenya questions! Asante sana (ah-san-tee sah-nah) – thank you for reading xx