Six Trips, Six Lessons

On seizing opportunities for travel

At the end of my last post, I promised you all a post about tips on house-hunting in Nairobi for newbies. Well, I haven’t delivered because I haven’t found a new place yet! After I moved out of the last place, I had to travel to the US for almost a month, so it didn’t make sense to get a new place and pay rent for a month that I wouldn’t be living there. And then, as soon as I came back from the States, I was on the move again, this time to Lagos for two months. I will probably be travelling elsewhere after Lagos. So the way my life is set up at the moment, finding a new place isn’t really a priority.

But I’m loving all the new places I’m visiting, and so I thought I’d write about my travel experiences. 🙂 I think everyone loves or would love to travel and see the world, but sometimes the opportunity just doesn’t present itself. And let’s be honest, travelling the world costs money…. and most people you see on your timeline visiting all kinds of exotic locations never seem to address just who is funding their luxurious lifestyle. 😀

So for this post, I’m going to be revealing all my travel secrets, especially from a financial point of view. This is kind of my way of rejecting what we’ve become as millenials on social media: over-sharers of the good times, paraders of our exotic travels, displayers of our fancy meals, all the while bending over backwards to maintain an air of mystery and nonchalance when it comes to just how we are able to do all these things. Oh yes, here I am holidaying at the coast for the third time this year. Here I am, having yet another expensive cocktail with friends, like I do every Friday. Here’s the wing of the plane from my window seat; I’m flying somewhere again. But don’t ask me how I’m affording all this, just admire from afar and quietly wonder where you went wrong to be missing out.

I’m not an exception; goodness knows I Instagram the heck out of all my travels, and I’ve posted a few of those obnoxious aeroplane wing shots in my time. 😀 But you know that joke about the couple who displays their relationship on social media, and then goes silent once they break up, as if we are no longer stakeholders? As if we haven’t paid with our comments, likes, and retweets for the right to know what happened? That’s kind of how I feel about sharing the good times on social media. I mean, yeah, technically nobody is obliged to tell anybody the finer details of their lives. And most people aren’t actively trying to make other people feel bad, one Instagram picture at a time. But as long as you’re displaying your success, you might as well share the story behind it too so that your followers can get some tips. My two cents. 🙂

So in the spirit of walking the talk, here we go. I’m not an heiress to a fortune, I don’t have a huge income (at least, not enough to fund most of my travels), and I am yet to start the multi-million dollar company that’ll make me rich. 😉 And yet, while I haven’t been everywhere I’d like to go, I’m really happy with my travel record so far: Uganda, Tanzania, Japan, France, Germany, the US (Utah, New York, Florida, New Jersey), and Nigeria. I also have plans to visit South Africa at the end of the year, and whatever other destination life throws my way. I hope the story behind each destination and the lessons I’ve learnt along the way will inspire you to think differently about travelling. 🙂

P.S: All pictures taken by me! 🙂

1. Uganda: You Don’t Have to Leave the Continent to Travel
The view of the Nile from the Jinja Nile Resort, Jinja

 

When we think of travelling the world, a lot of us jump to the most exotic locations we can think of. And while Milan, Rio de Janeiro, and Bangkok are all fine aspirations to have, sometimes it’s more realistic (and no less fun) to start small. One of my first overseas adventures was to visit family in Kampala, Uganda. At the time, I had relatives living there who graciously hosted us, and so all we had to pay for was our bus tickets with Easy Coach.

At the source of the Nile

 

Weekend chilling at Kabira Country Club, Kampala

Takeaway lesson: If you have relatives or good friends who live abroad, take it as an opportunity to travel! Nothing beats not having to pay for food and accommodation. Do be sure to be a good guest, and offer to help with the chores. Consider bringing along a gift for each member of the family you’ll be staying with.

2. Tanzania: Because Mombasa Isn’t the Only Coast Experience
The beach at Kigamboni, Dar es Salaam

 

My boyfriend and I have a tradition of going somewhere new on vacation every year. This is the trip that started that tradition: July 2014, Dar es Salaam. Not only was it our first time in Dar, it was also our first vacation together! 🙂 We were both still in uni and had saved some money from our internships, so we felt all grown up and responsible, hehe. We love the beach, so we definitely wanted a beach vacation, but decided to do something different and leave the country instead of going to Mombasa or elsewhere on the Kenyan coast. I still remember us going together to get our yellow fever travel shots, getting the bus tickets, checking TripAdvisor for affordable beach-front hotels… just thinking about this trip makes me all happy and nostalgic. 🙂

Views from the hotel grounds: Kijiji Beach Resort, Kigamboni

Takeaway lesson: Sometimes, even your yearly vacation can be an opportunity to go to a different country. And it may cost less than you think! It’s been a few years, so I can’t remember the specifics in terms of price, but a road trip to Dar es Salaam can be just as affordable as going to Mombasa on holiday. It also helps when you have an amazing travel buddy to spend the 16-hour bus trip with! 😉

3. Japan: Your Hobbies/Interests Can Take You Places… Literally
The beautiful Kinkakuji (金閣寺 – Temple of the Golden Pavilion), a Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto, whose top two stories are covered with pure gold leaf

 

In August 2015, I got to spend an amazing two weeks in Japan. The best part? It was all-expense paid. That’s right: my travel, accommodation, transport, food and entertainment costs were all covered. The trip was a Study-Tour Award Program for Outstanding Students of Japanese, courtesy of the Japan Foundation Japanese-Language Institute in Kansai, Japan, via the Japanese embassy here in Kenya. I had been interested in Japanese language and culture for a while, and if you know me, I go hard with my hobbies. 🙂 After winning the 2015 Japanese Speech Contest and passing Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) N5, I was selected from a pool of finalists as a participant of the study-tour program. It was an incredible two weeks, and I got to visit Kansai, Osaka, Nara, Kyoto, and Hiroshima, and I also met some really awesome people from more than 50 different countries! I wrote a four-part blog post series about this trip, so if you have a few minutes on your hands, check them out here!

I do know that a lot of other embassies have similar opportunities for travel, so if you are interested in learning a foreign language, get in touch with its embassy or cultural centre for details! It’s not just languages, either: travel opportunities abound for every hobby and interest. Whether it’s gaming or programming, singing or dancing, there’s a chance for you to attend a conference, symposium, or event. And yes, sometimes these opportunities are all-expense paid. Shoot your shot… what do you have to lose?

Osaka City by dusk

 

The view from my 17th floor room window in Rinku Town, Kansai

Takeaway lesson: If you’re passionate about something and really enjoy it, you have nothing to lose by finding out what travel opportunities there are, and applying for them. You never know.

4. France & Germany: The Trip I Didn’t “Earn”… And That’s OK!
The Eiffel Tower

 

I think about my trip to Europe in April 2016 with mixed feelings. Paris was breathtaking. Saarbrücken was lovely and quaint. I enjoyed every minute. And still, I can’t help but feel a teeny tiny twinge of guilt, because this is the one trip that I feel I didn’t earn. I didn’t get it as a reward for excelling, like the Japan trip. I didn’t get it after saving my money, like Tanzania and Uganda. I didn’t get it because of a job I worked hard to get, like the US and Nigeria. The truth is a lot more run-of-the-mill: it was an academic trip, and my parents paid for it.

I recognise that there’s no shame in this. My parents worked hard and sacrificed a lot so I could have these kinds of experiences, and I’m grateful. But I would really have liked this post to be all about alternative ways of travel that are within everybody’s grasp, if only they put the effort of saving diligently or getting really good at a skill or hobby. Unfortunately, the reality is that sometimes (heck, a lot of the time) travel is attached to privilege. And if I’m being honest, all of my trips are attached to some kind of privilege, it’s just that this is the most obvious of them all.

A bit more about the trip: Strathmore University‘s Faculty of Information Technology organises a trip each year to visit various centres of excellence in computer science in Europe. In my final year, we got to visit a few universities and research centres in Paris and Saarbrücken, including two Max Planck Institutes and the IBM Innovation Centre. It was a great experience, seeing amazing cutting-edge research in fields like computational linguistics, computer graphics, computational biology, and artificial intelligence. The trip got me thinking seriously about pursuing a career in research – I still haven’t ruled that out!

The Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile, at the end of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées

 

Gorgeous spring evening just outside the train station at Saarbrücken, Saarland, Germany

Takeaway lesson: If your parents/ relatives/ significant other wants to treat you to a trip, let them, and enjoy it. It’s OK to let people do nice things for you without feeling guilty. 🙂 (Also, if you are a young person wondering which university to attend, consider attending one that will give you opportunities to travel.)

5. The US & Nigeria: Travelling For Business
Times Square, New York City

 

I grew up watching my dad travel frequently for work. He’s been everywhere, from Chile to South Korea, from the UK to Israel. (All the travel took its toll, though, and now the incentive must be really high for him to get on a plane and go to another country. These days, he likes to take my mum along with him when he can for the company, otherwise it’s too tiresome for him. 🙂 )

I always knew I wanted the same thing for myself, a job that would allow me to see the world. Now that I’m older, business travel is appealing for more practical reasons: visa applications, plane tickets, accommodation, expenses… everything is so much smoother when you have a company behind you, as I discovered when I made my very first business trip in May. We’ve all heard the horror stories about getting a visa to certain countries, especially if you hold certain passports (for instance, Exhibit A). And with Trump and his shenanigans, I really wasn’t sure how my US visa application would go. But once I got to the officer, he glanced at my application and said, “I see here you’re with Andela. Let me guess… New York for two weeks to see your client?” My reason for travel was a bit different, but that opening statement was such a relief. A few questions later, and my application for a five-year multiple-entry visa was approved. Bam! Not so easy for several other people at the embassy, who had to suffer the additional humiliation of having everyone in the hall hear their rejection. Ouch.

Anyway, it was awesome travelling around the States! I blogged about the business side of my visit on my tech blog, so do check it out. 🙂 As I mentioned earlier, I am now working from our Lagos office and loving it! I may blog about my Nigeria experience soon. I have a few more weeks here, so I still have plenty of time to experience the culture.

The view of Lagos from the 5th floor patio at the Andela Nigeria offices

Takeaway lesson: If you love to travel, one of the best ways can be through your work. Look out for multinational companies with offices in different locations, and be sure to ask whether there are opportunities for employees to travel… and not just senior-level employees.

6. South Africa: Haba na Haba

At the beginning of the year, I stumbled across the Rookie Manager’s 52-week saving challenge and it seemed like a pretty sweet deal – if I followed it, I’d have KSh. 68,000 at the end of the year. I figured that would be enough for a trip somewhere nice, and I’d been wanting to go visit my sister in Cape Town. Inspired by the challenge, I decided to go a bit further and put aside KSh. 10,000 every month towards the trip (separate from my regular savings). I’m really happy to say that I’ve followed through and I’ve been steadily saving since January. So, all factors remaining constant, I should be heading down south in December. I have heard nothing but good things about Cape Town, so I’m quite excited! 🙂

Takeaway lesson: Good things come to those who save! Go the extra mile if you can, and save more than you need to. Your future self will thank you!

That’s it from me! I would love to hear from you: what are your travel tips? Let me know in the comments below! 🙂

  • Gillian

    Great tips Mbithe ?

  • ray wira

    Great read! Taking notes on how to expand territory in this regard. 😀 Also, your picture skills are so on point.

  • Alex Kiura

    Some nifty pointers right there. And those are some great shots.

  • Swabra Mutwafy

    Good tips, especially on Uganda trip. we need to learn what it means to be a good guest. Cleaning up after ourselves, babysitting and being pleasant company by being conversational… not just locking yourself up in the guest bedroom and treating the place like a hotel…

    • Agreed! We should keep that in mind for Dubai ? Thanks for reading Swabby ?

  • Shiro

    Nothing profound really!!! I came here armed with a pen and notebook. Only the last pointer on South Africa

    • Hey there! 😀 I’m really interested to know what kind of info you were looking forward to reading. Maybe I can cover that in a later post. 🙂

  • Sharon Immaculate Waithira

    Nice one