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Packing and Travel Tips for a Trip to Kenya, East Africa

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.

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!

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7 thoughts on “Packing and Travel Tips for a Trip to Kenya, East Africa”

  1. Thanks for your tip for traveling to Africa, Neill. I wouldn’t have thought to include it, because I was celibate while there. It’s definitely the safest way to travel – whether you’re in Africa or America!

  2. All too true Laurie. I work at a rural HIV clinic in South Africa. You should include that HIV is rife. Avoid any contacts of a sexual nature while in Africa. We see it all too often with overseas volunteers who get involved with the local men. Don’t do it!!

  3. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    A couple more tips for Tina: take your address book, email address book, prescriptions on paper from your doctor, vitamins and supplements, rechargeable batteries…..

    But really, as long as you have your passport and a few bucks, you’ll do great! You can buy most anything you need – even if it’s not the same as you’d get at home – and if you can’t buy it, you’ll probably be fine without it. You’d be surprised what you can live without!

    Please do let me know how it goes — I’d LOVE to hear from you when you return! Maybe you could write a guest post here, and tell me “What I Wish I Knew Before I Traveled to Kenya, Africa.” I’d love to hear your before and after perspective…..

    Anyway, if you have time to pop in before you go, feel free to update me! Otherwise, I look forward to hearing from you when you return.


  4. Tina, how exciting!

    I’m jealous — I wish I was gearing up for a big African adventure. Honestly, the anticipation of a vacation or major adventure is almost as exciting as being there…..almost 🙂

    What could you be forgetting or not doing? Hmm…if you have prescription medications, do you have enough to get you through — and some extra, just in case? Do you copies of your passport and important documents pdf’d and saved on your email, or your parents’ email? I used to photocopy my stuff, but now just save them in the world wide web.

    I can’t remember how long you’re going — but if I travel for more than a week or two, I like to take my extra pair of prescription glasses. I don’t like contacts, and don’t recommend them unless you’re going on a cushy, easy vacation (but each to her own — I just don’t like contacts!).

    Did you read my “55 Travel Tips for Women” article? The link is above – there’s some good ideas there.

    Did you read my “Women Traveling Alone: Fighting Homesickness” article? 🙂 Seriously — it could help. You might be homesick – and that’s OKAY. You’ll live. It may be scary and a little painful — but that’s part of this big adventure!

    I gotta run — DH is back after a long day. I’ll come back and nudge you some more in a few hours….


  5. Laurie –

    Things are getting wrapped up and I leave for Kenya in about 10 Days. I’m almost ready I can’ t help but feel there is something i’m forgetting or not doing. I will be in contact when I return and let you know about the experience. Thank you again for your tips and advices.


  6. When I flew into Nairobi, it was long after the sun went down, and we were perfectly safe driving across town to get to the school! Many, many people drive after dark — it’s just that if you have a choice, you’d choose not to. But driving at night in Africa isn’t always a threat, it’s not always dangerous.

    I’m willing to bet that the Earthwatch people have arranged for a legitimate driver and an extra passenger, so when they pick your daughter up, she and they will be safe going “home”!

    Here’s some impossible advice, but I’m gonna say it anyway: try not to worry! Whether your daughter is going to Africa, or you’re going there as a single woman or solo traveler, it doesn’t help to worry. What does help is to make smart choices and equip yourself with knowledge, knowledge, knowledge!

    Here’s a twist for you: What really helped me not be afraid was a guy who broke into my apartment in the middle of the night when I was 19, living alone in Edmonton. Luckily, he didn’t really hurt me — but I realized from that experience that bad things can happen to you ANYWHERE: in Canada, in the US, in Africa, in Asia……so there’s no point in hiding or being scared of trying new things or taking risks! If your number is up, it’s up.

    I’m glad that your daughter is up for this experience, and I wish her and you all the best 🙂


  7. My daughter is planning a trip with earthwatch. my biggest concern is after arriving at the airport her trip to the hotel, they are providing a pick up for her but she arrives at 9pm. I am afraid of the trip to town alone. fear of carjacking or that the driver is not legitimate. I know it sounds crazy. How safe is the trip to town after dark?