I lived and taught in Nairobi, Kenya for three years; packing and travel tips for Africa are from my own experience! While living in Africa, I explored Ethiopia, Tanzania, Swaziland, and South Africa, and learned a great deal about touring in Africa.
Before the tips, a quip:
“Every morning in Africa, a Gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a Lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest Gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a Lion or a Gazelle… when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.” ~ unknown.
This is one of my all-time favorite quips…we all have to keep moving to be successful! If you’re on the move to Africa, get the Lonely Planet East Africa— it contains tons of useful tips for traveling all ’round the world.
And, read on for my specific packing and travel tips for Kenya, East Africa…
Packing and Travel Tips for a Trip to Kenya, East Africa
These Africa travel tips are particularly good for women traveling alone – as they’re from when was I a single female traveler.
1. Take bug spray for bedbugs and other insects. I don’t think Africa is any worse or better than other countries for bedbugs. But, no matter where I travel, I always take insect repellant – even when I visit Toronto, Canada! Before bed, I spritz or dab it on me or the sheets (or both, depending on the room I’m sleeping in). If you’re touring Africa and beyond: take bug spray, and wear it well.
If you plan to go on safari in Kenya, read Africa Travel Tips – Living or Volunteering in Kenya.
2. Malaria concerns in Kenya, Africa. When I lived in Nairobi, there wasn’t a problem with malaria because the city was at a high altitude (mosquitoes don’t survive at that altitude, if I recall correctly). But, traveling to other parts of Kenya may be riskier – it’s good to check with your consulate or travel clinic before you go. And be prepared for conflicting evidence! When I went to Costa Rica last month, some doctors advised malaria precautions, and yet few of our fellow travelers did. If you’re packing for and traveling to Africa, do your health research at least three months in advance of your trip, as some meds require multiple dosages and/or time to kick in.
3. Speaking Swahili, interacting with Africans. The Kenyans I met and worked with (I was a teacher at the Rosslyn Academy in Nairobi) were incredibly friendly. I wished I learned Swahili before I went there – and I unfortunately never took the time to learn more than the basics when I live there. This is a great travel tip, no matter where you go: learn a bit of the language, so you can reach out to people in their own words. Even if you make mistakes and butcher your accents or grammar, you’ll still build good relationships.
4. Kidnapping and assaults? As far as I can recall, assaults were rare, partly because of the harsh penalties (I know of one Kenyan man who was beaten by other Kenyans who found out that he attacked a girl). A basic travel tip for Africa is to wear clothes that aren’t revealing, leave your jewelry at home, and maintain a friendly but aloof manner. And, regarding kidnapping: it’s not likely you’ll be grabbed in broad daylight, especially if you’re with other people.
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5. Avoiding carjackings and muggings. This was no doubt the worst part of living in Africa. As a general rule, it was too dangerous to drive around after dark (6 pm!) – but I did occasionally. When I drove during the day, I made sure that my windows were rolled up and all my doors were locked – even the hatchback. I was never mugged, carjacked, or hurt…but I did have friends who were. When you’re traveling in Kenya, East Africa — or anywhere — don’t carry all your money or important documents with you when you’re exploring. Use a hotel safe.
But, don’t let the crimes rates in Nairobi scare you! Before I moved to Kenya, I’d read all the horrible crime stories – and yet in three years, I never experienced a single bad moment. And I even camped in the wilds of Kenya with my students three times, camped with some of my colleagues in different parts of the country, and went on four day bicycle tour through the Rift Valley. I ran through my neighborhood four times a week — the Kenyans stared at me with their jaws dropped — but no one every hurt me. All my African experiences were exciting and fulfilling … and safe.
So, go to Africa. Use your head and watch your back (like you would anywhere in the world) – and enjoy your adventure in the Dark Continent!
Before you go to Africa, read Packing a Carry On Bag for Air Travel? Easy Ways to Pack Light.
If you have any thoughts on these packing and travel tips for Africa, please comment below!