Things to know before backpacking in Kenya

A lot of people think you need to take an expensive safari trip to travel to Africa, but I’m here to tell you that you don’t. Safaris and big bucket list experiences are only a tiny part of what Africa is and contrary to popular belief, it’s an amazing place for an independent traveler. Travelling as a backpacker allows you the freedom to immerse yourself in the local culture in a way that you wouldn’t get to otherwise.

1. It might occasionally be Uncomfortable

There are lots of nice forms of transport in Africa, but when you’re on a backpackers budget, the times you get to take those will be few and far between. If you travel cheaply ie. by public transport, you’ll have to get over the fact that (at times) you’ll be:

  • on bumpy roads
  • squashed in an uncomfortable position with too many people for way too long
  • too hot
  • too cold
  • windblown (from the person in front not wanting to shut their window)
  • needing a wee
  • hungry
  • feeling sick
  • all of the above

2. Get accustomed to African Timing

Have you heard about Africa Time? We Africans tend to have a much more relaxed attitude to time than in other parts of the world. There is no sense of urgency. Nobody stresses. Hakuna matata my dear friends. It happens when it happens.

3. Always carry essentials in your daily bag

As well as the usual things like your passport and cash, there are a few things I always carry in my day bag.

  • Toilet Paper, Sanitary Products, Hand Sanitiser, wet wipes
  • Eye Drops, Lip Balm, water (stay hydtared)
  • Small Change
  • Phone Charger, Powerbank, Head Torch (for emergency power outages), Entertainment
  • Insect Repellent, Sunglasses, scarf/hat
  • Food, snack, Medication (painkillers / malaria medication)

4. Book in advance (if traveling in a busy season)

Some places need to be booked in advance, some you can just turn up. It can also depend on the season. In high season, the really popular places can book out so it’s good to give them a call before you turn up, even if it’s just a day or two ahead.

5. Learn A few local words

If you can learn a few learn a few words in the local language, it will really help you. Just be aware that the local language in one part of the country is probably not the same as another part of the country as almost all countries have multiple languages, but there’s usually a main language and people will generally appreciate your efforts. Learn a few Swahili words to get you by.

The best words to learn are:

  • Hello. (Habari / Mambo)
  • How are you? (Habari yako / Niaje Niaje)
  • I’m fine/good. (Niko salama / Mzuri sana / Niko Poa)
  • Thank you. (Asante)
  • You’re welcome. (Karibu)
  • Goodbye. (kwaheri)
  • What is your name? (Unaitwaje? / Jina lako ni nani?)
  • My name is… (Naitwa… / Mimi naitwa… / Jina langu ni… )
  • No thank you or I don’t want. (Sitaki kwa sasa)

6. Your sense of time and distance will change drastically

Africa absolutely dwarfs Europe. In ten hours, you can get from London to the south of France; 5 hours driving in Kenya will barely get you across a single province. Also, in many parts of Africa “main road” is a very subjective term, making the already long distances an even more epic undertaking.

7. A campfire is the best type of TV

There is something truly mesmerizing about a good campfire. With obligatory sundowner in hand and the sounds of the African bush reverberating all around you, you’ll find yourself staring into the fire for hours on end, thinking about nothing in particular.

8. Kenya is never boring

Backpacking in Kenya can be exhausting, frustrating, taxing and occasionally risky. But one thing it can never be is boring. On the contrary, you will actually wish it never stops. There is always something happening here, whether it’s a mesmerising African sunset, or a small group of children materializing out of nowhere and flocking towards the side of your vehicle screaming “SWEEEEEEEEETS!”

When thinking about a backpacking safari in Kenya, start your first stop at Airport View plaza hotel.