Why I don’t pay too much attention to travel warnings by embassies

is it safe to travel to kenya

and what I do instead for my safety

I am often asked: Is it safe to travel to Kenya? In my view, safety begins in my mind and here is my take on the topic:

Before I published this article for the first time, the UK embassy to Kenya issued an advice for their country people to avoid certain places along the Kenyan coast and in Nairobi. The advice followed several attacks and threats by terrorist groups like Al Shabaab. It had a tremendously negative impact on the region which highly depends on tourism.

The Kenyan authorities pleaded with the UK embassy and also the US embassy, who had issued similar warnings, to lighten them again. I have to say, I went to some places they had issued the warnings about, and I am still alive and kicking.

Then they lifted the ban.

Some warnings were still in place, but many locations didn’t have to be avoided anymore, according to the UK embassy. It all happened barely a week after an attack on a military base in Lamu, in which several militants, including a Briton, were killed.

This shows that such warnings are sometimes politically motivated or even random.

I used to be on the newsletter list from the German embassy, but I unsubscribed. Because I mostly got warnings and comments that didn’t apply to my daily life in Nairobi. Some examples:

  • Don’t use matatus (public mini busses), they are dangerous. (Well, if I don’t want to sit in my house day in day out, I necessarily MUST use matatus because they are the only available means of transport.)
  • Avoid crowded places. (Nairobi Downtown, where the end station of my matatu line is situated, is by default a crowded place which I have to pass through if I am going to the City Center.)
  • Welcome to the Kenyan October Fest. (I don’t even go to the German one, so why should I join the Kenyan one? I hear last time they didn’t even have German beer. And besides, to get there, I would have to use several matatus and pass crowded places.)

What I do instead to keep safe:

  • I am known in my street and interact a lot with people. They know that I am not a tourist anymore, but a resident of the area.
  • I also have a lot of friends around who know me AND the town and who can estimate well how I should behave in order to be safe.
  • If a Kenyan tells me, I should avoid certain places at night, I do.
  • I usually walk with a Kenyan friend in town when it is dark.
  • I never look lost, I always know where I am going.
  • I don’t wear a money belt. I also try not to look like a tourist.

In that way I feel safe and comfortable. Much more than if I would follow the politically motivated or random advices from my embassy or others.

 

Being sick and getting well

sick abroad

Experiences in Kenya

Falling sick in a foreign country is annoying. Especially when you actually just want to enjoy your trip and need to be at the top of your powers.

I have been sick several times and developed a mind-set that helps me get well quickly again.

I follow the rule “the earlier the better”. If I feel feverish, weak, dizzy and stomach ache, I go to see a doctor or chemist. It doesn’t always have to be a hospital. Especially in Kenyan public hospitals you sometimes have to wait for a long time. Chemists or private clinics will also do the test and then prescribe the proper medication.

When i am not feeling well, it is usually because of malaria or stomach problems.

Malaria

The symptoms always start with some pain in the joints of my fingers. Then it spreads across the whole body. I feel weak, a general disease and a bit dizzy. It happens often when I am back from the countryside, where malaria is more common than in Nairobi.

I go to the doctor, get pinched in the finger and the test is done. Then I get six times four yellow tablets which I will take over the course of three days and that is it.

Malaria is not to be joked with though, so even if you take prophylaxis and always cover yourself in mosquito repellent – whenever you feel the slightest discomfort, go for the test.

We once dragged my whole family to the doctor just to be sure, and nobody had it. That was also a relief to know.

That said, malaria is also not the end of the world and easily treatable. Even in rural areas there are health facilities around, so don’t shy away from visiting them.

Stomach problems

We foreigners are not familiar with how to wash our hands, how to clean specific food, and how to generally keep a certain level of hygiene in new circumstances. Therefore it is common to get some stomach problems. Some can be solved with anti-diarrhoea medication. I always have some available. But if the condition persists longer than a day, I go to see a doctor.

They will ask for a stool sample, which is not everybody’s favourite, but a necessary means for a proper diagnosis. Common cases I experienced were infections, amoeba or h. Pylori. There are always medications against them. I always make sure to ask what I am allowed to eat or drink and what not.

Medication

Sometimes the price for the medication is negotiable. However, it depends on the place and the drugs. There are certain brands and labels that are cheaper, and others more expensive. We once had a case of a mouth infection, and we bought the required mouth wash much cheaper in the supermarket than from the chemist.

Pain killers

Usually, chemists or doctors give me some pain killers, too. (Mind the fact that especially with stomach problems you can only take a certain type of pain killers.) Therefore we often have a stock from last time and I tell the doctor that I don’t need them.

Natural remedies

My mother-in-law used to have a pot of home-made herbal medicine that cured basically everything. She helped me get rid of a terrible diarrhoea with two cups of a very bitter herbal drink. If you are open for these things like me, they are worth trying. It’s old knowledge that has proven to work for generations.

Dosage

Ask how many pills you will have to take at which time of the day. I always confuse the numbers and amounts which the chemists write on the small paper bags to indicate the dosage.

In general: try to not overreact.

I don’t question my doctor in Germany, so why should I do it in Kenya? They know what they are doing. They have studied those things and they are not helping people for the first time.

I generally talk a lot when I am seeing a doctor, just to make sure they get all the information, and I get all the instructions right.

Go to the doctor or chemist early. Make sure to communicate much, well and politely. Follow instructions. And then get well soon!

 

Keep your travel tech simple

travel tech

in order to be a more responsible travel blogger

Picture me, sitting in rural Kenya in a cyber café. I walked here for half an hour. For days, I took notes in my notebook on what to write about in my next blog post. It’s a bit of a struggle to form the notes into an appealing post, considering the noise from the people at the busy market. But I manage to focus and mold an interesting story.

As I hover over the publish button with the cursor, the screen goes blank. Blackout!

My meditation skills were greatly tested several times. In 2009 I depended on the cyber cafés to keep friends and family updated. It’s still one of the easiest and cheapest ways.

Internet

You can check nomadlist.com for a quick overview of the coverage in big cities worldwide. When I stayed in Nairobi, we got Wi-Fi installed. Easy. But if you are travelling to rural areas, free internet access is not always guaranteed.

There are also more and more libraries, cafés, co-working spaces and hubs coming up where you can access internet.

And if you carry your laptop, you can either purchase a modem before you start the trip, or you buy it locally, once you have arrived.

Sometimes, data volumes and network cover can be shaky. I had to have my laptop run for one night straight in order to upload videos.

Phone

Once you know which format suits you, you’ll find that it can probably be filled on a smart phone. It usually makes much sense to buy a line from a local provider, which is the cheapest option in most cases. You can ask local friends about that. You can buy internet data in “bundles” like airtime, or subscribe for a regular monthly fee.

If you are in a more rural place, remember that you may not be able to charge your phone whenever you want. We don’t have electricity in our house on the Kenyan countryside. I usually take my phone to the next shop that is connected to power and pay a small fee every time I have it charged.

How to simplify your tech equipment

  1. Multifunctionality

I am a very old-school person with a very old phone that’s not smart but robust. I also have an MP3 player and two different cameras. Don’t be like me! Carry your smartphone. I’m sure it can offer all these functions in one.

  1. Combine

Get one single adapter that helps you get electricity in any country. Use headphones with an inbuilt microphone. USB chargers and cables can be combined as well.

  1. Avoid

Sometimes you may need batteries. You don’t have to carry them though. They can be bought locally.

  1. Minimise

Do you have to carry your entire external hard drive or will a flash disc do the job for the short trip? One SD card with massive storage replaces many smaller ones. You don’t need to carry the cable to connect your device with a computer or laptop. Bluetooth and card readers are your friends here.

  1. Don’t forget

To avoid losses, install antivirus programmes before you start travelling.

What are your tips for travel tech? How do you keep your loved ones updated? Let me know in the comments below!

 

Choose your format for Responsible Travel Blogging

travel blogging

How and why to publish through email, on blogs, social media or WhatsApp.

My first travel blogs fulfilled the sole purpose of keeping my family and friends updated. I just wrote, added some pictures and then published without editing. The posts were long, because I wrote twice a month and a lot used to happen within two weeks. The response was scarce, but friends and acquaintances generally were interested in my journey and I was sure they were reading.

If you are thinking of opening a travel blog, these are the first two questions you need to ask yourself:

Why are you writing?

Who is your audience?

These questions go hand in hand. If you are writing to keep your family and friends updated, they are your audience. But don’t underestimate the bragging power of parents: My dad started sending the links to the blog posts to his colleagues and friends, because he liked them so much. So the private audience quickly expanded to a bunch of people I didn’t even know.

Ask yourself why, how and when they are reading or following you. Are they going to read long texts? Or are short videos better (Periscope)? What about daily quick thoughts and photos (Twitter / Instagram)?

Maybe you are a professional travel blogger, or want to become one. Or you want to journal for your own benefit. Whatever your reason to publish and whoever your audience is, they determine your platform and format for travel blogging.

Here are some options. You can combine them, and there are more. But this should give you a quick overview.

Blog

Publish on a blog for friends and family with the possibility of expanding the readership. Blogs are also great if you want to reach a bigger audience, publish journalistically, inspire others whom you don’t know personally or even want to raise money or make some political, social or cultural phenomena public.

If you want to journal just for yourself, lock it with a password, so that you are the only one who has access.

Video

I kept getting similar questions about how and what I was doing in Kenya. But I myself find emails addressed to many people not very personal and sometimes even boring. So I record a video every month, upload it and send the link and password to a growing number of people.

I don’t have special equipment. Neither do I have a script. I just start talking in front of the camera, insert some photos or scenes I recorded previously and sometimes add some music. I always keep them around six to maximum ten minutes.

Watching a video is less effort to many people than reading a long email. And I feel more authentic towards the people who are genuinely interested in what I am up to.

There are plenty of options for platforms, tech equipment, professionality and formats. Some audiences may be satisfied with only seeing you talking. However, travel vloggers often have great cameras and microphones and their videos are full of action.

Shooting the video is only one quarter of the work. Vloggers usually have thought about a story before, and edited it later. And then there are data volume requirements and not everybody has internet everywhere.

If you want to do videos, you can also just record short clips, a bit like taking moving photos, and upload them on Periscope, in your WhatsApp or Facebook group or on Instagram.

Email

Emails will definitely be found in someone’s inbox. There is no escape and people can’t miss it. And you know exactly whom you are sending it to.

Consider your audience here: Hardly anybody, apart from your biggest fans, take their precious time to sit down and read 3 000 words of continuous text about their friend or niece, who is currently travelling through a country they can hardly imagine.

If you want feedback, a WhatsApp or Facebook group is more attractive than email, simply because people can quickly like something or leave a short comment with one single click. Also, your messages might be shorter, more regular and not these big bites that nobody in the boring non-traveller’s daily life has time for and enthusiasm to read.

WhatsApp

On WhatsApp or other messenger services you have more control over who gets to read what you are writing, and you will more likely get feedback, because it’s easier and quicker to answer.

Social Media

Social media is usually more public. You can change the settings for who will be able to read and share though, or open a separate, closed group.

Photos, videos and voice messages will be easier to handle on social media, like Periscope, or a messenger service like WhatsApp.

Podcast

Voice messages or podcasts are only suitable for people who know you personally, because they can imagine your face with the voice. Describing a different culture in a ramble for a podcast is a real challenge, and I would like to dare you here to be the next best travel-caster! However, most of it works better visually or when you have written it well.

This worksheet will help you getting an overview over all the points made so far and pick the right medium for you.


If you are thinking of establishing a professional blog or brand, or you have already started out: There is a great blogpost by Regina of byregina.com  where you can find out whether blogging, Youtube, Periscope and other platforms are right for you.

Some general hints

  • Short is always good, especially online. People don’t have time anymore – unfortunately. Unless you are a predestined travel writer, keep your posts around 800 words, your videos under ten minutes and sort your photos before publicly uploading them all.
  • Regular works better than long. If you can write once a week or three times a month, do it. This automatically helps keeping things short. It also “teaches” your audience when to check for news about you. You can announce new posts via email or social media. Or blog on a specific day so that people know, every Tuesday or every 10th, 20th and 30th of the month they can check back in with you.
  • Different platforms give you different ways of control. Do you want control over who is reading or is it okay if it spreads? (Consider password protection, groups with invitation vs. Facebook pages, for example.)

Insider hint for lazy bloggers

Maybe you are already familiar with one or several of these outlets – and you don’t have much time to start learning how to use a new one. Then the best is to go with what you are comfortable with. Register a blog, open a group or set up a profile. If you need to practice, start talking about your preparation, announce your flight, or answer questions you are already getting about your trip.

Do you have any favourites of formats for travel blogging? What did I forget? Let me know in the comments below.

 

Why a Kenyan village went crazy about Obama’s visit to Kenya

Luo culture Obama

or: The story of my several husbands and co-wives

Obama’s father is from Kenya, from a place in the West of the country called Kogelo. The area is dominated by Luo culture.

But Obama himself was born in the US, obviously.

Otherwise he couldn’t have become their president. Therefore many people didn’t understand why the country made such a fuss about Obama’s visit to Kenya in 2015. And particularly people from Kogelo and the surrounding county were not being understood or even ridiculed for welcoming “their returning son”.

After all, he is not their son.

He is American, and apart from a few visits has nothing to do with Kogelo, right?

Wrong!

At least for Kenyans, especially Luos.

There is a complex cultural structure underlying this issue.

The role of men in Luo culture

In Luo culture, men often remain in the homes while women leave when married. Men mean strength and security for the whole extended family. Everyone has a role in this tight relationship network of family and clan members.

This sounds strange to us. In the global North, the individual and their success is more important while in Kenya, values are derived from the community. None of the systems can be judged “better” or “worse”. Both of them function, with advantages and disadvantages.

Changing cultural rules

Nowadays, people are not entirely staying on the countryside and in the value system of the community anymore. Many live in Nairobi, where the rural rules don’t apply so much. But it is very common that they go home regularly and try to balance things. Some rules can be bent with the consent of everyone, or they can be changed into some equivalent procedures.

This also applies for people who are abroad and who don’t have the chance to take the next bus going to their rural home. What is important is the deep identification with the land itself.

The identification with land

In Luo culture, especially boys belong to the father. If something happens, they have the right and the duty to appear and demand help and support, including a piece of land. If a boy is left to grow up with his mum or maternal grandparents, he won’t be able to attain land from them, which is the resource for his future life and even the place where he will be buried.

People will therefore accept homecoming sons in cases like funerals. Nobody will be utterly surprised if a son that nobody knew of suddenly appears.

You come from where your father comes from. Otherwise you can even be seen as an orphan who doesn’t know his home and doesn’t have direction.

Being raised in a Luo community

That is a deeply rooted cultural knowledge. It is given through society and while growing up, children learn where they come from, and fatherless children or those away from their father’s place can even be mocked.

Going back to the roots therefore implies respect. As a Luo, and as a Kenyan in general, you are not successful for yourself. You will be the pride of an entire location. The results of the final exams of high school are announced and celebrated publicly by an entire village. And it is this village that comes together to raise funds in order to send “their son” or “their daughter” to university.

That Obama didn’t “come home” to his father’s place, that is Kogelo, was almost  seen like he disowned the people there. It looked like he didn’t value and respect them. When he identified with the people in Kogelo in his inauguration speech, he made them proud. They don’t just call them their son, to them, he is.

A little story about relatives

There is a photo of a family meeting that shows me with my husband Osero and Mrs Osero who is therefore my co-wife. Furthermore my husband Odhiambo, my co-wives Nyaudo and Mary, and my brothers-in-law Lawi and Paul.

Wait. What?

When I was walking with Antony through his village for the first time, I met about six men who introduced themselves as his father and even more women who said he was their son. I got confused, but by now I myself am incorporated in a wide net of uncles and aunts, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers and even co-wives! They are not literally my co-wives or fathers, as they are from Antony’s side of the family. But they see me in close relation to them since I have entered their family ties. My decisions and actions not only affect myself anymore. They will always mean something and be interpreted by Antony’s relatives.

Obama was in a similar situation. And he was not the only one. Divock Origi, Belgium born footballer, proudly refers to his Luo roots. And Ali Mazrui, Kenyan lecturer in the US, insisted on his body being buried in Kenya.

What do you think? Was the fuss about Obama’s visit exaggerated? Let me know in the comments below.

How to take photos in Africa

travel photos africa

A guide to responsible travel photography

Preparation

Type the name of your destination in a search engine and look at the pictures. Question those travel photos! Can you find others beyond exotic wildlife and romanticised poverty? How do photographers from your country of destination portray their country?
Use this free worksheet to go deeper.

responsible travel photography
I searched for Kenya in Google pictures and this is what I got:

travel photos kenya

 

Yet some Kenyan photographers give a very different perspective (click on the photos to get to their awesome websites!):

responsible travel photography kenya
(c) Cedi Mungai

 

responsible ravel photography kenya
(c) Mutua Matheka

 

responsible ravel photography kenya
(c) Mwangi Kirubi
responsible ravel photography kenya
(c) Victor Peace

The reason for taking pictures

If there are millions of photos of giraffes in sunsets already – why do you take them again? What do you want to proof with your photos? Why do you hunt “perfect moments” like trophies? We often unknowingly reproduce the photos – and the stereotypes coming with them – which we have already seen many times before.

Landscape

There is more to Africa than the savannah. There are urban areas and skyscrapers, lush green suburbs, highways, semi-urban centres and malls. Do you only take pictures of rural areas, because they are so exotic, so different from what you know? If you leave out the urban areas and all the zones in between, you will portray an unbalanced picture.

People

Always ask for permission. Always. And don’t take that permission for granted. Some people will agree because you took them by surprise and they don’t want to appear impolite. That is not a free ticket to publication.

Take respectful photos of people. Avoid a higher angle forcing them to look up because that makes them look small. When taking photos together with them, how are you positioned? In the middle of decorative black children? Standing, while other people are sitting down? Don’t make objects out of the others.

Editing

When digitally editing your photos, consider what you exclude for aesthetic reasons and why. Why do you chose this frame, and what are you leaving out? A slight change in contrast can make a flat landscape look hostile or sharp, and other adjustments can lighten or darken peoples’ skin colours. The border between ethical enhancement and manipulation is extremely blurred, so be careful.

Sharing and Publication

Again, you need permission from the people in your photos for publication. It is not easy, but here on this website we ask the parents of the children before we publish the photos. Social media is a form of publication, too. What would you think if you one day found a photo of you online portraying you as poor or exotic?

If you take photos with or of people, they also have a right to have a copy of them. Make sure to develop them and give them out before you leave, or share them online.

Captions

Name everyone in the photo or nobody. “Me and some kids” is a caption that makes the white person the hero, the main subject, and the children become mere props. What about “First-graders of Garden School on their last day before the holidays”?

Also, try to avoid stressing stereotypes in the captions or downgrade people or situations.

Safety

Big cameras and equipment as well as expensive phones may present attractive opportunities to thieves. If you neither want to lose your expensive equipment, nor feel like being constantly on the run from possible pick-pocketers, just leave your equipment in the hotel or the house and enjoy the walk through the city. It will be much more stress-free.

Ask your friend or guide whether it is okay to take the camera along and also whether you may take photos in certain areas or situations.

Law

In Nairobi, like in other places, it is forbidden to take photos of some government buildings. If you want to avoid trouble with the authorities, respect these rules.

Not taking photos is also an option!

In the beginning you might be uncomfortable and over-aware or over-sensitive about many things, including taking photos. That is a good thing! You don’t have to get rid of this sensitivity. Your intuitive shyness about taking photos is a sign that you are aware of the complex process behind taking photos. Not taking photos is just as well an expression of a responsible attitude.

What are your best tips for taking photos responsibly? Share them in the comments below!

 

Presents for the host

Presents for the host

Ideas for what to bring when you want to reward people for their hospitality

As a guest, it is always nice to bring presents for the host. As a foreigner, it is even more interesting to bring something typical from your culture.

Different things for different people

When you are traveling to an African country or volunteering there, you might meet many different people who will have different roles towards you. Therefore a good hint is to bring several things that you can divide accordingly.

Sweets and balloons

Children will frantically appreciate cliché presents like balloons and sweets, but they only last for a few hours. Afterwards, people remain with plastic waste from burst balloons and sweets wrappers to be disposed, which in some areas is not as easy. Dental health care is rare in rural areas, and the sweets you wanted to spread in a good intention can leave people with big problems.

Another type of rather unique sweets like liquorice from the Netherlands or Salmiakki from Finland have ever led to funny faces among the people who tasted them. They end up being eaten mostly by the people who brought them.

This doesn’t mean that you cannot bring sweets at all. Just mind the amount and the disposal later on.

Cultural Food

People appreciate other food stuff. I am always hitting the jackpot with my dark German bread and sausage. Usually Kenyans regard Japanese food with less enthusiasm, but they are all the more appreciated by international volunteers.

Things like butter, cheese and chocolate obviously melt easily and are hard to store. But I gave out flavoured tea or instant cappuccino and people liked them.

In case you are participating in a work camp or any other event that will involve a cultural day, keep these food items for that occasion.

Photos

With photos you can often spark conversations. I glued together some photos of my family, friends and home and up to date it’s one of the favourite books of a small girl in the village. She knows all my relatives in there by name.

Put together some photos of your family, where you stay, what you do, and maybe a bit of the surrounding area.

Equipment

Another thing we always get orders for are solar lamps. People actually pay us back the expenses. They deem anything that says “Made in Germany” on it to have good quality, be it a clock or something else.

Textiles

And finally there are things like table cloths, dish towels or other textiles or clothes that may have the national colours on them or are typical and significant in another way.

Being the guest

Whatever you bring, try to give it from your heart instead of just disposing stuff on people. Since I am usually the visitor, at least in Kenya people don’t actually expect a present from me like they would in Germany.

Buy locally

Finally, you can also always buy things in the country and bring them. When I visit women, a bag of sugar, salt, rice, flour or a bottle of cooking oil is a common and valid present and I just buy it in the local shop.

What are your suggestions? Share them in in the comments below and add to the list!

How to bargain at the market

I am horrible at bargaining! It’s usually making me uncomfortable. I often pay more than people who are better at bargaining. That’s why I do the little shopping that includes bargaining with my husband. He is great at bargaining and often gets good deals. There are certain rules how to bargain.

Bargaining is an art, and it needs to be approached carefully.

Here are some hints how to do it respectfully. All my bargaining experience stems from Kenya but I imagine that the basics apply to more countries.

What to bargain about

  • Clothes and shoes in markets or stalls
  • Souvenirs and gifts
  • Furniture or anything handmade on the street or in a shop
  • Services like tailoring, repairs, fixing of shoes, although some of them have commonly known fixed prices
  • Household items being sold by street vendors

Asking for a discount

If you buy a big amount of things from one person, you can ask for a discount, that will “make you come back again”. I often get one extra tomato or an extra sweet potato from the vegetable sellers who know me. One chili pepper, for instance, costs one shilling, and if I buy bananas and Sukuma for fourty, Mama Mboga (our vegetable lady) gives me the chili for free. Even the chemist sometimes rounds down the price for tests and medication, if I ask kindly.

What not to bargain about

  • anything with indicated price tags
  • when vendors shout the price
  • food and water
  • public transport (Ask a local friend for the price or other passengers, and before bordering ask the conductor and insist on the amount you know.)
  • goods in the supermarket

How to bargain

  • Be kind and friendly.
  • Make jokes.
  • Bargaining is about finding a price that suits both the vendor and you and not about ripping anybody off.
  • Try it in the local language. You will leave a better impression.
  • Say clearly if you are just looking, and don’t hold or take something you are not absolutely interested in buying.
  • Walk away if you are uncomfortable. Sometimes walking away can also trigger a cheaper offer.
  • Say thank you.

Funny methods

There are some strange insider measures that people use especially for souvenir shopping. You could, for example, get a greater discount by offering a simple pen. A friend told me how she danced and sang a French song with her travel mate somewhere in South East Asia for a better bargain.

Commissions

Guides sometimes have deals with the vendors. If you are brought to a certain market or stall by your guide, he or she may earn a little commission from the vendors for bringing them customers. This commission is included in the price you pay.

Being “ripped off” or a victim of situational discrimination

There is a difference between structural and situational discrimination. Due to structural discrimination, and the fact that the global North still exploits the global South, people from Europe have enough money to fly to Africa and spend some vacation there, whereby many Africans don’t have equal chances.

That is why vendors situationally discriminate possible customers, especially if they are white. For them, white means rich and they can hike the prices for sometimes 1000%. Situational discrimination is not to be confused with racism, because the power structures are very clear:

While you may feel angry or sad about “being ripped off”, in a global perspective you are still privileged.

This infographic should help you to better understand the concept of structural and situational power and discrimination.

infographic structural power and discrimination, situational power and discrimination

Alternatives for bad bargainers

If you are as uncomfortable as me when it comes to bargaining, there are several alternatives:

  • Buy things in supermarkets or shops.
  • Ask for help in bargaining from a local friend.
  • Before you go, try to find out the approximate prices for the goods you want to buy and take those as points of orientation.
  • If you stay somewhere for longer, frequent the same vendors and build relationships. You will get to know each other and be able to estimate each other’s expectations.
  • Ask for discount (see above) in a friendly way. And if you promise to come back and buy again – do it!

What are your best tips about getting good deals on the markets in a responsible way? Let me know in the comments below!

When you are feeling guilty, do this

when you feel guilty do this

Why I sometimes feel guilty in Kenya and what I do about it (printable diary prompt below)

When I came to Kenya the first time, something I call “white guilt” struck me. I felt guilty for having been born in a privileged country like Germany. I was wondering: Why had it been me who had been born by a German mother in a German hospital, with electricity and insurance and autobahn and good education? Could not have somebody, who is now living in a slum in Nairobi or in a clay house on the countryside, arrived there on my behalf?

Was it not unfair that I had all these privileges and someone else on the other side of the equator didn’t?

And all the stuff we had at home!

Bathtubs and toilet paper handles and several sets of towels and several sets of dishes, a car, canned food for the dog and dry sweets for the guinea pigs, tile roofs and iPads and seven different types of milk. And all the money and access and possibilities to buy them.

And all the stupid stuff that my country and my continent had been doing to Kenya and the African continent: missionary undertakings, colonial expeditions, economic exploitation, geographical fragmentation. And what they still did to it: exploitation of resources and labour, marginalisation, stigmatisation, taking influence with moral, financial and social measures…

I was in the middle of this. Actually, I was clearly from the bad side. So I felt guilty and that numbed me down and made me feel powerless and sad and angry.

Obviously, feeling guilty is the solution to nothing.

After reflections, interactions and research and many years later, I have mostly overcome that feeling of guilt and realised that it isn’t all my fault. Nowadays I am very grateful for having been born in a country that enabled me with the possibility and – yes – the privilege, to make these experiences, learn from them and become proactive.

I turned my guilt into my personal responsibility to adapt a certain attitude of awareness, and to travel carefully and respectfully.

This is how in the long run, >>> Mind Set Travel was born.

If you are feeling similar “white guilt”, here is what you can do:

  • Recognise the feeling. Don’t just brush it away as home sickness or culture shock or the side effects of malaria prophylaxis. Those are different. If you are feeling miserable because of your origin, accept that and properly examine it.
  • Examine what you are really sad or angry about, either in your mind or on a paper, maybe in your travel diary. Are they general points or do you have concrete examples? Do you, for example, find it unfair that you can easily get a visa to Kenya, but your Kenyan friend will have to struggle for a German one? Do you generally feel sad about how the BBC is reporting on African issues? Or do you feel plain shame for British colonialism in Africa?
  • Examine your points and find out which ones you can influence and which ones are beyond your power. You cannot make history undone, for example. But you can try to do some research on it, or plan to do it once you are back in your home country. If you feel that the dumping of second hand clothes from your country in the global South is destroying the local textile industry, you can take action by telling others about it and stop donating second hand clothes to charities.
  • But before you tell others about it from an expert standpoint, it is crucial to pause. Don’t write an email or Facebook post in the rush of your emotions. Try to talk to others in similar situations first. Talk to people you are living or working with, your hosts, other volunteers, maybe your sending organisation. Get other viewpoints and clarification. Try to balance your view and expand your emotions to be a foundation of knowledge.
  • Let go of the guilt for the things you have no influence on. Take action on one point you may be able to change. Don’t do it if you only want to calm your conscience. Do it because you realised your responsibility.
  • Accept that you can’t change the world. But you can move within it in an aware and responsible way, gaining knowledge and sharing experiences.

How do you deal with feeling uncomfortable or guilty while travelling? Let me know in the comments below!

This free worksheet shows you once more how to deal with your own confusion, resistance, and guilt.

guilt printable diary prompt

 

4 checklists for your visa, flights, travel documents and money

4 checklists for your visa, flights, travel documents and money

Everything you can prepare for your trip – with helpful printable checklists

In this post I focus on all the technical, pragmatic stuff you should take care of before you start your trip. I tried to keep them as general as possible, but different countries of destination have different processes. Since these things are sometimes overwhelming, you can download and print the checklists at the end of the posts to keep track of what you have to do.

Visa

The first thing to check, even before applying for your visa, is your passport and its expiry date. Will it be valid until you return to your home country? Is it damaged? Does the photo still comply with your appearance?

Then collect information about visa requirements for the country or countries you want to visit. Check the websites of embassies, trustworthy guidebooks, blogs or forums. Also check back with people from your own country who have been there. Contact bloggers or websites directly and ask them for specific advice for certain countries.

What are the specific requirements? Do you need specific vaccinations? A certain amount of money on your account? A letter of invitation? (Sometimes it must include specific information or be written in a certain format.) How much does it cost?

Sometimes you can get the visa at the airport upon arrival. Check which currency you can pay it with. If you have time, though, doing it in advance is what I’d advise you to do. It saves you time and stress when arriving. If you apply for visa or other documents in advance, make copies before you send out originals.

In addition to the visa, when arriving in Kenya I always had to fill an entry form. Sometimes marking “voluntary work” as the purpose of entry was a bit tricky. It is often easier to tick “tourism”. A tourist visa may not officially allow you to do voluntary work.

In case you want to travel to several countries:

What makes more sense? One multiple-entry visa or several single visa for the specific countries? Compare finances, flexibility and conditions. Will you be able to change your plans if you have the single visas fixed in your passport?

Bureaucracy in your country of destination may work differently. If you continue your trip into the neighbouring country, make sure to find out in advance where you can do that and what documents and procedures are required in that case. Not all border crossing places issue a visa.

Carry all documents you can imagine being helpful, especially if they have a government stamp. Consider that translation might be necessary. And remember: It takes time!

For some countries there are commercial visa agencies you can pay to do the work for you. Be a bit careful and trust other travellers who successfully have used them before.

Don’t risk to overstay the expiry date of your visa. Make sure to start the process for the extension a couple of days in advance.

For perfectly relaxed visa planning download and print this free checklist.

checklist for visa

Flight

If you apply for a visa in advance, you may need to know the time period you will be in the country. I haven’t found a proven strategy for booking cheap flights. But here are some common strategies for cheapest prices:

  • The earlier, the better. Start looking for flights even ten months in advance!
  • Compare prices.
  • Countercheck on the website of the airline you consider flying with. Sometimes booking can be cheaper there than on a platform.
  • Are there cheap airlines from the country you want to go to? Sign up for their newsletters. When do they announce sales?
  • Set up an alert.
  • Fly on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
  • Book at night.
  • Check blogs that provide information about error fares and special offers.
  • Be flexible with dates and location, if you can.
  • Use Privacy Mode or something similar in your browser, in order to avoid cookies and the collection of your data. If the booking platform realises that you are comparing certain flights over and over, they automatically raise the price.

Things to consider:

  • Consider consulting a travel agent or a special student travel office at your university.
  • Consider how much time you want to spend in a transfer. Are there special packages to be able to get a refund in case you have to cancel the flight?
  • How much luggage are you allowed to bring?
  • What time of the day will you arrive? Is it convenient for someone to pick you or will you have to wait?

Stress free flight booking works well with this free checklist.

checklist for booking flights

Documents

It’s advisable to walk everywhere and anytime with a copy or a registered / certified copy of your passport, including the visa. Like that, you can prove your identity if necessary and if you lose it, you still have the original.

Some countries require you to prove certain vaccinations. Make sure to have those.

Leave copies of all important documents, including front and back of any money cards, at home with someone you could get in touch with while abroad.

Scan your documents and save them in your email or the cloud (Google Drive, Dropbox, etc.). If you feel comfortable, give someone else access to these files, in case you are not able to access internet. You can also store the documents on a flash drive that you carry.

These documents include:

  • tickets
  • passport
  • ID
  • international driving license. How to make it international?
  • vaccination certificate(s)
  • insurance policies, forms to be filled by the doctor in case of sickness, phone number
  • PIN / TAN-list for online banking
  • emergency number for the bank
  • (certified) copies of everything
  • any additional documents for special cases: research permit, disability certificate, student pass, invitation from the host, …
  • contact addresses and phone numbers of your host, friend, organisation etc.at the destination
  • passport photos

Some embassies offer registration of their country people in the new destination. If you want, you can let them know that you are in the country, provide them with your address and local phone number.

In case you have donated blood before, you may have a passport-like document showing your blood group. It is a good idea to carry that as well.

Store these things flat, stable and waterproof.

I had a couple of my certificates laminated, because they went through so many hands that they started to get small cracks.

Empower somebody who remains at home to be your legal representative with a letter of attorney, in case something needs to be signed, collected etc.

Don’t fear to forget anything. This printable list is complete.

checklist for travel documents

Money and banking

Collect information about the currency in your country. Maybe you can get information from your bank about what is best for your trip.

Check whether your cards are valid long enough.

Not everywhere can you pay with credit cards. Are there ATMs around?

Schedule or pay all necessary expenditures in advance, for example rent, and cancel all subscriptions for the time you will not be around.

Some countries have cultural specifics when it comes to money. In D.R. Congo, for example, people would accept US dollars, but only in specific contexts and only if they looked like freshly printed and were not folded. In Kenya, the best places to change Euros were the casinos in town because they had the best rates, not the exchange bureaus.

Should you get the foreign currency ahead of time or just change upon arrival? How much is necessary, for example, for visa and transport from the airport?

The best advisors for these cases have proven to be travel websites, guidebooks and especially people who have travelled there.

Yes, I also have a printable checklist for your travel finances. Right here.

money

Did Imiss something? What is your biggest piece of advice? Let me know in the comments below!