travel

KENYA: THINGS TO KNOW

SURPRISINGLY COOL WEATHER

We visited Kenya (Nairobi & Mombasa) at the end of March. I glanced at the forecast and saw 80s and figured it would be hot for most of our trip.  In the mornings and at night, it was in the 60s and we didn't bring much clothing with sleeves or jackets...big mistake.

TRAFFIC IS INSANE

We arrived in Nairobi at 6am on a Monday morning.  We did not reach the hotel until 8:30am even though it was only 20 minutes away.  Turns out, traffic was like that at all times of the day and night. 

DOWNTOWN NAIROBI 

Traffic was really bad in downtown Nairobi. I had read that this was the case ahead of time, which is why I booked us a hotel about 20 minutes north of downtown.  And when we got there, I was glad we had not stayed downtown. It was super busy and packed.


TRANSPORTATION REQUIRES PLANNING

There was Uber in Kenya, BUT the WI-Fi was not reliable at all.  One night we used it to get to a restaurant but had trouble connecting to Wi-Fi to get a ride back.  I tried to arrange transportation ahead of time to make things easier. Our hotel did have a few drivers, but they were expensive and not always available.   Luckily, we ended up meeting a man through a tour we took who offered to drive us around for the rest of our trip at very reasonable prices.

FOR ANIMAL LOVERS

There are animals everywhere in Kenya. We passed cows and goats along the road.  There's also a lot of animal conservation efforts in Nairobi. We visited a giraffe center and an elephant orphanage.  We also took a safari.  And in Mombasa, we rode a camel.  A great portion of our activities in Kenya were focused on animals.

TONS OF SECURITY CHECKS

To get in our hotel, the car we were in would be searched. And then we had to go through a metal detector and open our bags each time we entered.  The same thing happened when we went to the mall.  There was even a point as we drove up to the airport where all the passengers had to get out of the car, go through a security check, and then get back in.

ENGLISH IS EVERYWHERE

Kenya has two official languages- English & Swahili.  English is very prevalent.  The newspapers, restaurant menus...really everything was in English.  The currency is shillings, but many times people would give us the price in US dollars (they could probably tell we were Americans).

FLIGHT FROM NEW ORLEANS

There were no direct flights from New Orleans to Nairobi.  We flew to Atlanta, then Amsterdam (about 8 hours), and then to Nairobi (about another 8 hours).

KENYA: THE 7 DAY ITINERARY

Tribe Hotel- Nairobi, Kenya

Tribe Hotel- Nairobi, Kenya

I took my first international trip to Kenya at the end of March. I was there to visit the young girl I mentor while she was studying abroad.

DAY 1: 

We arrived in Nairobi, Kenya at about 6am it took us two hours to get to the hotel.  We stayed at Tribe

DAY 2: 

Me & my mentee, Tassion at Osteria

Me & my mentee, Tassion at Osteria

We relaxed at the hotel most of the day and then ventured over to the mall next door to our hotel, The Village Market, for dinner.  It was a typical mall with shops and restaurants.  We ate at an Italian place called Osteria.

 

 

DAY 3:

We really got into adventure mode on the third day.  I booked a package through a tour company that took us to three locations:

The Elephant Orphanage at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

The elephant orphanage allows visitors for an hour a day to watch handlers feed baby elephants.  They play in the mud and you are warned that they may splash it on you if you stand close enough. Of course I stood close enough because I wanted to touch them, which is allowed if they come near you. You are separated from them by a rope. They give a presentation explaining how the elephants ended up at the orphanage.  Many of their parents were killed by poachers. The elephants spent around 10 years in the orphanage before they are released back into the wild.

 The Giraffe Center

Then, it was onto the giraffes.  The giraffe center is a really cool place to interact with giraffes because they are so close.  I was able to feed them and of course pose for photos.

Kazuri Bead Factory

The Kazuri bead factory employs single mothers.  They hand make beads and pottery.  We were taken on a quick (maybe 10 minute tour) to see the ladies at work and find out more about their creative process. It was so impressive.  Every bead and piece of pottery they make looks the same even though they are hand making them without any molds.  I took home a beautiful necklace and some animals made from clay.

Necklace from the Kazuri Bead Factory in Nairobi

Necklace from the Kazuri Bead Factory in Nairobi

Day 4:

We took a Kenya Airways flight to Mombasa, which lies right on the Indian ocean.  It was only an hour away and we stayed at an epic beach resort with three pools. We played in the ocean for a bit and took a  camel ride on the beach. It lasted about 15 minutes and was $30 USD. I’m sure it’s cheesy and touristy like riding a horse and carriage in the French Quarter but I didn’t care. The sweet camel was named Suzuki and she was adorable. 

Day 5:

Fort Jesus- Mombasa, Kenya

Fort Jesus- Mombasa, Kenya

We checked out of our Mombasa resort at around 11am.  Our flight back to Nairobi was for 6pm so we had time to explore.  We took a quick tour of Mombasa. We checked out Fort Jesus and got a little history lesson. The Fort was built by the Portuguese in the 1500s to protect the port of Mombasa. We also took a walk through Old Town, soaking up some culture as a tour guide told us about the original Mombasa city.  Then, we headed back to Nairobi. For more on our tour of Mombasa, click here.

Day 6:

We woke up at 5am for a safari at Nairobi National park.  Then, we headed over to the safari walk which is basically a zoo.  Ignorant American alert: I didn't know there were caged animals in Africa. Most of them were orphans and being protected. Check out all of our Safari pics here. We wrapped up the day with lunch at Carnivore restaurant.

Day 7: 

We wanted some cool stuff to take home, so we spent a good two hours bargaining at the Maasai Market.  It's an open air market where vendors sell their handmade goods.  The sellers are very aggressive and followed us around shoving things at us to buy.  The bargaining process was intense.  We ended up in the mall later in the day and found some of the same items they were trying to sell us for $60 USD for only $10.  We ended up with some good deals, but if we would have fallen for their initial prices, it would have been a huge rip off.  That afternoon, my mentee took us to visit the United States International University campus (USIU) where she was studying abroad.

Maasai Market- Nairobi, Kenya

Maasai Market- Nairobi, Kenya

KENYA: LESSONS FROM MY 1ST INTERNATIONAL TRIP

An outlet converter I bought on Amazon

An outlet converter I bought on Amazon

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.

Costs:

Passport :Around $113

Passport photos: Around $13

Visa: $50

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.

BOOK ADVENTURES

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.

My Travel Goals

I have been traveling since I was little.  My dad worked on trains, so we were always hopping on to ride with him to New York (that’s where my obsession began), Chicago, Florida…really wherever he was going.  Travel is one of my top priorities as I’ve gotten older, and I’m on a quest to fit it in wherever I can.  Here are some of my travel goals:

GO ABROAD

I have never been out of the U.S.  In fact, I didn’t even have my passport until last year and I only got it because my mentor, Kim Bondy, told me I should have one.   I will be putting it to use very soon.  I am traveling to Nairobi, Kenya to visit the young lady I mentor through Soledad O’Brien’s Powherful Foundation.  I can’t wait!

TURN EVERY TRIP INTO AN ADVENTURE

I get to travel a lot working with Soledad’s foundation, but often I am only in a city long enough to emcee an event and then get back on the plane.  This year I want to make sure I have a small adventure everywhere that I get to go because who knows when I will have a chance to get back there.

SWIM WITH DOLPHINS

There was a time in life I wanted to be a dolphin trainer. I love animals. I love water. It just always looked like a really cool job. I let that idea go, but I still plan to swim with dolphins before I die.

BUDGET BETTER

I am usually great with sticking to a budget.  Then, I go on a trip and I start spending like I’m using Monopoly money, except that it’s not.  For future trips, I want to make sure that I don’t waste money on things that I would never buy at home just because I am on vacation.  For instance, an overpriced breakfast at the airport.  I’ll be packing more granola bars this year.

Travel Roundup: 2016 Trips

I can cut back on shopping, drive an old raggedy car, and skip out on concerts and going out, but one thing I want to splurge on more is travel.  I have some great travel plans for the future. I am grateful that 2016 took me a lot of great places!


LOS ANGELES, CA (JANUARY & DECEMBER 2016)

January: Screen Gems offered to fly me to L.A. for a press junket.  It’s part of the film promotion where they bring in the media to interview key people in a film, like actors and directors.  I had never been to L.A. so I jumped at the chance.  I was doing interviews for two movies Pride & Prejudice Zombies and Risen.  I was only in L.A. for two days and all of it was work.  I didn’t get to see anything in L.A, so on the way back to the airport I asked my cab driver to stop by the Hollywood sign. He was kind enough to get out and snap a picture for me.

December:  I had a chance to go back to L.A. to emcee Soledad O’Brien’s Powherful summit. It was held Dodgers Stadium. While I was in town, I ate at Urth Café in West Hollywood, where I had an epic green tea latte. I had to try Roscoe Chicken & Waffles. I also had a blast hanging out on the Santa Monica pier.  Luckily, I have a few really great friends who live in the area so I was not short on tour guides.

AUSTIN, TX (April 2016)

We haven’t taken a family vacation for years, but last year we got back in the groove with a trip to Austin, TX to visit my older brother.  I’m not a big fan of Texas. I lived just outside of Houston for a year after Hurricane Katrina.  But Austin is a cool city.  We went to a food truck park and explored.  The highlight for me was lining up on the Congress Avenue bridge at sunset to see the bats fly from under the bridge. It was amazing. People actually pay for tours to see them and everything.  We just stood there for free- good enough for me.

NEW YORK, NY (JUNE, JULY, & SEPTEMBER 2016)

June:  I go back to New York every year to be part of the gala for Soledad’s foundation, which is now called, the Powherful Foundation.  But I love New York, so I always stay for a few days of fun.  New York has a million places to eat so I am always trying somewhere new.  On this trip, I fell in love with a place called The Meatball Shop. I am a meatball lover and it was heaven in my mouth! My boyfriend and I also walked crossed the Brooklyn Bridge, which I had never done and got some Brooklyn pizza on the other side.  I visited the High Line for the first time. It’s a beautiful park built on a freight rail above the West Side of Manhattan. We also spent some time in Harlem with friends.

July: This time I was in town to emcee another Powherful summit. This one was at Goggle in New York City, that’s where I took the picture in the green dress.

September: Soledad helped me land a gig hosting, “American Graduate Day” on PBS. It was my first time reporting on National TV.  I did live shots outside of the Lincoln Center for a four hour special on mentoring and even interviewed my mentor, Soledad.

MISSISSIPPI (JULY & SEPTEMBER 2016)

July: My friend’s dad has a camp out in Osyka, Mississippi. I had been once before.  She invited my boyfriend and I to come hang out for the 4th of July weekend.  After a night of Essence festing, we headed out.  We rode boats on the pond, jumped on some RVs, and had one of the most peaceful naps of my entire life.

September: We went to Mississippi to visit some of my boyfriend’s family in September. We found a sweet little horse in a field and he was kind enough to let me pet him.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN (October 2016)

Emceeing Soledad’s Powherful summits takes me to a lot of cool places around the country.  I had never been to Minnesota and had never really thought about going.  The summit was held at St. Catherine’s University. The campus was beautiful and since we don’t have real seasons in New Orleans. I was just amazed to see trees with so many beautiful colors.  The most epic part of the trip was the Mall of America. I wasn’t expecting much, but it was so big that there was a full amusement park inside which I could see from sitting in one of the restaurants in the mall.

Here’s to more travel in 2017!

 

Day Trip: Lafayette, LA

My family decided to take a day trip to Lafayette to visit my little brother. It’s about a two hour drive from New Orleans.  I have never really spent any time there, so even though we were pretty close to home, it felt like an adventure.

FOOD: POP'S POBOYS

740 Jefferson st, Lafayette, LA 70501

My little brother said he liked a place called Pop’s Poboys, so we went there.  It’s in the city’s downtown area, which is quaint and slightly charming. It reminded me of a downtown area from an old black and white movie.  Pop’s sat right on the corner and had a pretty substantial line, though it was early in the afternoon on a Saturday.  My mom got the oyster poboy and I got the roast beef so that we could taste both.  The oyster was my favorite.  I also should say that I eat my poboys (and any other sandwiches) plain, just bread with a little butter and the meat.  My mom got her mayo and other dressings on the side.  The roast beef was ok. I am not a fan of the debris style roast beef, so I wouldn’t order that one again.  We had a huge serving of fries that we split.  I am not a big cold drink person, but I do love a cream soda. So I was really excited when I saw praline cream soda in the cooler.  The praline flavor was a little too strong for me, but I liked it in theory. I would definitely drop by this spot again for the oyster poboy next time we are in town.

SIGHTSEEING: UL RAGIN CAJUNS CYPRESS LAKE

I wanted to see the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (ULL). I really was surprised at how pretty the campus was.  We got out at the lake hoping to see an alligator. I only saw a squirrel and a bird.  It was still much more impressive to the eyes than I ever thought it would be.  I have loved moss since my dad and I used to pull it off trees in City Park, so I had to touch it just for old times’ sake.