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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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


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 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.


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

All you need to know about the infrastructure when travelling

All you need to know about the infrastructure when travelling

Here are some hints on transport, logistics, phone and internet (not only in Kenya) you should consider when travelling.


Once you know where you want to travel, you may wonder how to do so. Most likely you’ll be flying, but how do you continue afterwards? Guidebooks can be a good option to check different possibilities for different routes within one country and how to get from one country to the next. The guidebook for Kenya by Lonely Planet, for instance, often describes the exact routes of public transport or which line to use to get to a specific sight.

Much better, though, are people who are or have recently been there, and those who live there.

Often it is sufficient to make bookings one day prior to your tour or day trip, if at all.

Try to settle first, for a day or two, in the town where you land. Then you can get helpful information on how to continue. Hotels, organisations and hosts often have contacts and can help you organise the continuation of your journey.

In Kenya, a common means of transport are matatus, small vans with 10 to 30 seats. Depending on their route and whether they operate within Nairobi or carry passengers from town to town, they are pimped and tuned, play the latest Kenyan or Nigerian music very loudly and they may or may not carry excess passengers.

The German embassy warns of using these vehicles for transportation, but for me there is no other way, since I don’t own a car. Here the best advice is to stick to what your hosts or friends say who use these vehicles daily. There are certain times or places that you shouldn’t use them. You shouldn’t expose your phone close to the window or door. And it is advisable to carry the exact amount of money for the fare with you.

At the Kenyan coast and also in some places in Tanzania there are routine methods for indicating that you want to alight. You may knock on the inner roof of the van or answer in a certain way, when the conductor announces your stage. You will learn these with time.

Transport in the global South is often stereotyped as being chaotic and if you have these expectations, they will fulfil themselves. Try to be open, flexible and not judge or compare everything with your home country. Be careful with describing everything as extreme if it appears to you like that. A ride on a matatu won’t make you a hero. People use it every day because they must.

General logistics and infrastructure

  • People who stay longer can consider to open a P.O. Box.
  • You may not be able to get free Wi-Fi everywhere. Instead, cyber cafes or co-working spaces and hubs are becoming more popular in certain areas in the global South.
  • Find out about the requirements for driving. Left or right? What type of driving licence is accepted? How can you get one?


We have made the experience that people sometimes don’t read their emails as regularly as we expected – if at all. Mobile phone numbers are expensive to call, but often a good way to confirm things from abroad.

Not every organisation has an address that may make sense to you. Not all houses have numbers, not all streets have names and not all places have streets. Often, there is the postal address with the code for the P.O. Box, and then there is a description of where the office is.

You may need all these information upon arrival for visa application and general information at the entrance.

Officers want to make sure that you have someone who is responsible for you, or at least that you know where you are going. Carry these contacts with your other travelling documents.

Phone / Internet

You may have seen the stereotypical photo of a Maasai using a mobile phone. In Kenya, almost everyone has a mobile phone, because landlines never really made it.

The idea – and the practical execution of it – to send money through the phone came from Kenya.

You don’t need to come with an extra, “Africa compatible”, robust, old Nokia phone. People also use smartphones there and may ridicule you for thinking that “modern” phones are not suitable.

In most cases, the easiest option is to get a national sim-card. You can easily buy credit for calls and bundles for internet. Ask other travellers how they communicated with the people at home and which one is the cheapest or best connection. Maybe Skype or other services are better.

As I said before: The Wi-Fi coverage may not be as broad as you are used to. But with bundles on your phone, in more urban places and in hubs, cafes and hot spots with many expats you will find connection.

What are your tips and experiences with logistics, phone and internet while travelling? Share them in the comments below.

Choose the format for your travel blog

How and why to blog about your travel 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 had happened 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:

  1. Why are you writing?
  2. 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 of the blog posts to his colleagues and friends, because he liked them so much. So the private audience quickly became 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.


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.


I kept getting similar questions about how I was doing in Kenya. But I personally find emails 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.


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.


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.


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.

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  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.)
  • 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 we forget? Let us know in the comments below.


How I travel on a low budget in Kenya

travel on a low budget in Kenya

and why a change in perspective is the key to all richness

Just to warn you: This is much more a blog post on your own attitude and how it can help you deal with the money issue while travelling. It’s not a guide to travel on a low budget in Kenya. BUT: With the right perspective, money issues become much easier to handle.

I went to Kenya as a volunteer because I didn’t have money. Or at least, that was one of the many reasons. The African continent fascinated me and I wanted to get in touch with people instead of visiting the place as a tourist.

In fact, travelling as a volunteer may not be as money-saving as you think.

I paid for my flight tickets, the German organisation that connected me to the Kenyan one, and for them I paid again, for hosting and food. Regardless for me, after finishing school, volunteering was a cheaper option to travel.

It is always good to have a bit of a buffer on your account when going abroad. Many people work extra and save money for their big trip. Tara wrote a non BS guide on how she earns money for travelling.

It’s hard earned money. And it’s precious, so you don’t want to waste it.

I lived very modest in Kenya, never bought sweets or anything that appeared luxury to me. I hadn’t done that in Germany either, in order to keep my bucks together and make this trip happen.

It took me many years to realise two things:

  1. The fact that I am in a position to work extra, earn and save money for a flight ticket, is a privilege that not many people have.
  2. And: Some people in Kenya would have preferred me to send them the money instead of coming.

Some people see me as a walking wallet. Because I do own more money than them.

The most important thing to keep in mind when travelling to the global South is that you as a traveller from the global North will always have more money, better ways to get money and higher financial security than many people you will encounter. Think health insurance, visa card, student loans, help from your family, etc.

Many of my Kenyan friends don’t have a bank account. It’s not necessary for them.

Keeping my privilege in mind makes it a bit easier to decide on what to spend on and it helps to understand certain situations.

Volunteers invited my husband to a fancy restaurant once. To get there, he spent half of the money he had that day on transport and remained with another 80 Kenya Shillings, just enough to get back home. After the meal, where he only took tea which was already expensive enough, the inviting volunteer left a tip of 400 Kenya Shillings on the table. Tipping is generally not very common in Kenya, and there was my husband, spending his last bucks on transport, leaving 400 Shillings on the table of a noble restaurant.

I still don’t spend a lot of money when travelling, mostly because I don’t have it anyway.

  • I don’t need much anymore, as my life has become more minimalistic.
  • I personally don’t give money to people begging in the streets, whether it is in Kenya or in Germany. Even though I could. I may write about my reasons for that another time.
  • I developed a feeling for when something is expensive. I buy local food on the market. I use public transport and don’t join all-inclusive safari packages. Goods and services are cheaper compared to what I would have to pay in Germany. But that is not reason enough for me to abandon my modest lifestyle in Kenya.
  • I don’t invite everyone all the time and pay for everything, just because I feel guilty about having more money than many of my Kenyan friends. But I sometimes cook for them, I help them when they have funerals or hospital bills. Not because I have money, but because it is very common to do that in Kenya.

To me it is important to add value to people’s lives and make them know that they are adding value to mine. Money discussions are still uncomfortable, but I know my privilege and that makes me more open towards the Kenyan culture of dealing with money. I have learned to develop my standing point when it comes to what to pay for and what not.

How do you deal with “the money issue” while travelling? Do you have any good tips or tools you use? Let us know in the comments below!

Should I pay for volunteering?

Should I pay for vlunteering?

Yes and no. First you need to evaluate your attitude.

When travelling to Kenya for the first time, I did pay for volunteering. I used two organisations to get there. One German and one Kenyan one. The German organisation prepared me with two seminars and connected me to the Kenyan organisation. The Kenyan organisation connected me to an orphanage and two other projects where I could stay and volunteer.

The opening ceremony for one of the projects was a fundraising campaign. Local officials gave speeches and some women donned them with glittering chains that I just know as Christmas tree decoration. The volunteers, a bunch of slightly overwhelmed graduates from Germany, Japan, the Netherlands and Finland had to introduce themselves, and everybody said how happy and grateful they were to be here and motivated to work together.

The campaign followed the common structure: Somebody announced that they were collecting money to support the project we were all going to work in. Then people went in front and gave out money which they collected in a pot or on a plate. Often, politicians use such fundraisings to become known as supporters of certain causes, as they are also the guests of honour of such occasions and draw attention to the project.

When the officials and the project hosts had contributed, something awkward happened:

Everybody was waiting for the volunteers to contribute, but we hadn’t brought cash, because we hadn’t known that there would be a fundraising campaign and that people expected us to contribute. Also, we thought, we paid for our flights and our organisations, so why add expenditures on top?

I didn’t understand the cultural value of a fundraising ceremony by then. And many Kenyans thought that if I had the money to come all the way to Kenya, I would certainly have money to contribute to their cause.

I expected that with the fee I had paid to the German and the Kenyan organisation, they had taken care of everything.

I didn’t understand that NGOs or community organisations that are sending international volunteers to local projects are, at least in Kenya, mostly commercial undertakings. And there is nothing bad about that. Just as my German organisation gets funding from the government and the German participating volunteers to pay their staff, the Kenyan organisations need to cover their costs and generate income as well. They work in offices, they have transport costs and internet fees, and that’s where the volunteers’ money goes.

One of the biggest complaints I heard from many volunteers…

… was that they were disappointed and angry, because they felt that the money they had paid the organisation didn’t reach the project where they were staying. This is very common. But neither are we police nor do we have the authority as volunteers to ask for a total breakdown of the organisation’s cost. None of the volunteers I ever met demanded that from their sending organisation. The tension usually arose on the ground, when expectations were not being met and communication was not clear. Money is only a scape goat for these issues.

Erick Hartmann knows the numbers:

Intermediary organizations may be for-profit or non-profit, but they’re all part of the $173 billion global travel and tourism sector. Within that sector, industry leaders have identified international volunteering as a high growth market. There is also typically a community-based organization (CBO), or a local school or other social-serving initiative, where the volunteering actually occurs.

Depending on the financial model, the CBO may receive a donation with each volunteer, may receive room-and-board revenues, or may experience no clear financial benefit. The CBO, like the intermediary, is part of the financial puzzle that is the rapidly growing $2.8 billion global voluntourism sector.

It’s business – which doesn’t mean it is bad. But knowing that fact can avoid that you have wrong expectations.

But let’s get back to the burning question: Should you pay for volunteering?

You are offering your time and labour for free for people to improve their living conditions. Then why should you add them money on top?

When should you not you pay for volunteering?

  • when you are actually scared or not sure about what you are doing and you want an agency to handle everything – In that case, rethink again whether volunteering is for you.
  • when you want to make claims, get back the exact value for your money or implement your idea on the ground – Volunteering cannot be broken down into monetary value only. Exchange, connection and experiences count much more.
  • when you want to donate for charity – You can do that differently. If you see a situation on the ground that needs support, you can start thinking about how you can assist. (We once got support by the great people of The Wandering Samaritan to do so.)
  • when you want the certificate for your CV – Volunteering is so much more than that. That’s why you will have to pay for much more than only a certificate.
  • when you already know a local project and have contacts so you can organise it yourself – Then it depends on whether you can stay there as a visitor or whether you will contribute to your stay financially. The beauty of this situation is that you can discuss it with the people directly without having to pay an agency for connecting you.
  • when you will be in the country for a while – Get to know people first. They will be able to direct you to projects where you can become involved.

Would you pay for volunteering? Have you volunteered before without paying? Let us know in the comments below!

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