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!

 

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!