I took my first international trip to Kenya with my boyfriend at the end of March. I did a lot of research before we left to make sure our first time out of the country was a success. I picked up tips from scouring the internet and talking to friends, but also learned a lot on my own. Disclaimer: All of these tips are based on my trip to Kenya. Maybe after my next trip out of the country I will need to revise them.
DON'T FORGET OUTLET CONVERTERS
Luckily, something I read online reminded me to buy outlet converters. A quick search told me which type I would need for the region I was traveling to. I bought a pack of 3 for under $10 on Amazon.
GET YOUR DOCUMENTS TOGETHER
The passport process was quite an adventure itself. Only certain post offices accept the applications and only on certain days and at certain times. We finally made it to the right post office at the right time, but I only had a wallet-sized version of my birth certificate. I had to go over to the Office of Vital Records to get a full sized copy. We took our passport photos at Walgreens, but the post office didn’t accept them. Apparently, they were not formatted right. We had to retake them at the post office and get a refund from Walgreens for the bad ones (the lady in the post office told us this was a common issue with Walgreens passport photos). I was nervous to mail out all of my documents, but sure enough in a few weeks they came back in the mail with my very first passport! My advice would be to head over to the Department of State’s website to fill out the passport application and print it ahead of time. There will also be a list of everything you need.
And we are not done there. In all of my googling, I found out we would need visas to enter Kenya. I read that we could simply fill out the application when we arrived at the airport in Kenya, but we were set to arrive around 10pm and I knew we would just be ready to get out of there. So I went to the Kenyan Embassy’s website filled out the application for a visa and went back to the post office to mail off all of our documents and passport. This time I was even more nervous that everything would not come back, but everything went just fine.
Passport :Around $113
Passport photos: Around $13
MAKE AN APPOINTMENT FOR SHOTS
The CDC recommends several vaccines and medications for travelers to Kenya. I asked around and learned about a travel clinic at Children’s hospital (the clinic was for all ages) that would have everything we needed. The doctor recommended we get vaccines for Yellow Fever, Typhoid Fever, and Hepatitis A. I was shocked when we went to check out and the shots were $271 for each of us on top of my $25 co-pay for my appointment. Then we still need, malaria pills which we started taking two days before we left, the seven days we were gone, and then several days when we got back to America until the prescription ran out. The doctor also told us that 50% of travelers to the area get diarrhea, so we would need to take diarrhea medication with us just in case.
BUY AN INTERNATIONAL CELL PHONE PLAN
I asked lots of friends about their past travels, and I’m glad someone reminded me to get an international phone plan. For $40, the package included unlimited texting and free calls through facetime as long as we were connected to Wi-fi. There were a few desperate times I made a regular phone call, which was like a $1 a minute (umm talk fast lol). My cell phone bill came back about $75 over the normal amount.
LONG LAYOVERS MEAN 2 TRIPS IN 1!
Due to some delays in the beginning of our trip, we ended up with an 7-hour layover in Amsterdam and turned it into a mini trip. We plan to always book a long layover for international flights in the future. We made the most of our 7 hours in Amsterdam. For more on that mini trip, click here.
ARRANGE TRANSPORTATION AHEAD OF TIME
A friend gave me the heads up that Wi-fi wouldn’t always be reliable in Kenya, so I spent the money on a call to talk with the hotel ahead of time and arrange for a shuttle to pick us up from the airport. As the trip went on, we ended up meeting a man through a tour company who took us around at set prices.
It is difficult enough trying to get around in a foreign place, but booking things ahead of time made it much easier. A friend recommended booking adventures through the website Viator. At first the prices seemed high, but once I realized that if we went on our own we would be struggling to find transportation, I knew the prices were worth it.
FACTOR TRAVEL TIME INTO THE LENGTH OF THE TRIP
To many this would seem obvious, but remember this was my first time leaving the country. Originally, we planned on going for 4 or 5 days until a friend pointed out it took nearly 24 hours of travel just to get to Kenya and that we would be jetlagged. We ended up leaving on a Saturday afternoon and returning on a Monday morning. That gave us 7 nights in Kenya. It was the perfect amount of time.
RESEARCH OPTIONS FOR EXCHANGING CURRENCY
I called my banks ahead of time to let them know that I would be traveling abroad, but they said that because of the new chips in the card my advance notice was unnecessary. I did check to see if my cards had any foreign transaction fees. There were plenty of opportunities to change our US money into shillings- the airport, local banks, and even at the beach resort we stayed at in Mombasa.
KEEP CARRY ON LUGGAGE LIGHT
I decided to carry a duffle bag with some of my clothing in case my luggage got lost, but when we ended up with the layover in Amsterdam, I checked it so that I wouldn’t be stuck carrying it. In the future, I would just take my chances with my luggage getting lost for the sake of convenience.