Africa I: Planning Logistics + Budgets + Immunizations + Clothing/Gear + Getting There
I’m very excited to share with you all the details of my Africa (Kenya/Tanzania) trip, and hopefully it helps you plan your own trip, encourages you to visit these places, or at the very least teaches you about another culture in another part of the world. I loved my African experience.
To start off I want to focus on the rundown of the trip and planning leading up to the trip. Then I’ll end this post with my arrival in Kenya (day 1 of the trip). My upcoming posts will follow this timeline.
Here’s the RUNDOWN of the entire 3 weeks of travel.
Day 1: getting to Kenya and meeting up with Erica (my sister and travel blogger of As Her World Turns).
Day 2: exploring Nairobi, Kenya since I only have 24 hours in this country.
Day 3: traveling to Moshi, Tanzania (Kilimanjaro’s airport and closest town/city) and meet up with the School of Good Hope, where a friend of a friend teaches children. Also meet with our Zara Tour Guides (Bruce and Thomas) to discuss the climb and get any last minute items for climbing the mountain.
Day 4: Start climbing Kilimanjaro via the Machame Route.
Day 5-11: Climbing Kilimanjaro.
Day 12: One rest day at the Springlands Hotel in Moshi.
Day 13: Take public transportation into Arusha (nearby town/city) to meet up with our Nomad Tours safari group, who we are with through the end of the trip.
Day 14 + 15: Stay in the Serengeti and spend the two days game driving.
Day 16: Stay in the Nogorogro Crater and spend the day game driving.
Day 17: Come back into Arusha for the night.
Day 18: Drive overland with our Nomad group to head toward Dar es Salaam.
Day 19: Arrive in Dar es Salaam and take a ferry to Zanzibar.
Day 20-22: Spend time in northern Zanzibar and then head back to Stone Town Zanzibar, where I had to depart the Nomad Tour and spend the night by myself at the Shangani Hotel.
Day 23: Depart Zanzibar and make my very long trek back to the US.
You can see above, it was a very packed 3 weeks of travel. How do you even begin to plan all of this?! It’s helpful that my sister is a travel blogger and enjoys this sort of planning, as I just followed her lead. The first thing we did while trying to plan was figure out a goal budget and a list of places I wanted to see. This ultimately decides the number of days of the trip, as each day adds $$$. My budget when this conversation first happened was $5000 (to include hiking Kili, a safari, time in Zanzibar and all air travel), which I figured would go far in Africa, but it was all more expensive than you would think. My goal length of time was 2-3 weeks. Once the list of goal destinations was made, and after a lot of “well if I’m already here, I might as well also see here”, it ended up costing more around $6000 and being a solid 3 weeks. But if you’re going halfway around the world you might as well do it right, right?
I highly recommend making a list/spread sheet of costs because like I experienced, it gets VERY overwhelming. My spread sheet had a page just for vaccinations (and researching the best prices around LA), a page just for tracking airfare (as there were so many flights an options to consider), clothing +gear (as the climb required me to purchase more clothing and hiking aids, and the safari required a completely different set of clothing), extras (An international cell phone plan? Snorkeling in Zanzibar? Travel insurance which is required for the tour, etc) and then a page tabulating all these numbers. Yikes. It’s so easy
Before you leave, I suggest getting $500 (as safety money) in clean bills (no rips, tears, pen marks etc) and make sure the date of the bill is 2006 of newer, and get small bills. Some places are fussy about money and you don’t want to be in a situation where you have money but they won’t accept it. If you use a debit or credit card you’ll probably be hit with fees (investigate your banks rules before you go), so having this safety money, actually saved me from being charged fees. They take US dollars in most places (assuming it fits those rules above). I suggest bringing cash for the porter/guide tips on Kili (more on that in my Kili posts), money for food + gifts, as well as cash for visas. I was traveling with about $1000 total cash, which every day that number went down. I was nervous about having that much money, but I just always kept the money on me or locked up. We also exchanged cash in both Kenya and Tanzania for their countries shillings. I suggest getting a currency converter app to make it easier to track the amount you’re spending.
***When budgeting any international travel, be sure to budget money for immunizations. I didn’t budget the right value of these shots and my budget went from $6000 closer to $7000. I called all over Los Angeles researching where to get the best deal on these immunizations as none of it was covered by my health insurance. The best deal ended up being the Heathy Traveler in Pasadena. I made an appointment and went 1 month before my trip. Be sure to research via the CDC which immunizations are required, and which additional immunizations you want to get to feel comfortable. Most of these shots last for at least 10 years or in some cases cover you for life, so while it’s a pricy up front cost you can see it as an investment on future travel. Keep a running list of what immunizations you’ve had as it will save you money in the long run.
Since I was in Nairobi (a city) for 1 day and then at a high elevation in Moshi, I didn’t need malaria medication until I was in Arusha getting ready for the safari. I took a generic malarone medication for this, which actually was covered under my insurance (woo hoo!). This medication you take 2 days before entering a malaria area, all during your stay and then 7 days once you’ve left the area. With other meds you have to take even longer after you’ve left the infected area, so malarone is a good one to take.
To enter Tanzania and Zanzibar you have to show proof that’s you’ve gotten an immunization to Yellow Fever. Keep this paperwork forever, as you’ll need it to enter other countries too and it’s very important. I also got the hepatitis B vaccine (it’s a 2 series shot), and the typhoid fever oral vaccination (cheaper option than the shot). You’ll have to pay for the doctor’s visit to get these done, as well as pay for the meds they prescribe. Get the anti-vomiting and anti-diarrhea medications and even bring imodium as I can guarantee you’ll use them here. They also offer a bunch of other immunizations, I just had to weigh my budget against the odds of getting some of these illnesses to figure out which vaccines I wanted to get.
Bring the above medicines as well as advil, advil pm/sleep meds, allergy meds (it’s very dusty), tums,
CLOTHING + GEAR
This was a challenge. I was in a tent and sleeping bag for 16 nights out of a 23 day trip. That’s a lot. This was a great way to save money but to make sure I was relatively comfortable I bought a blow-up travel pillow on amazon, and a fleece sleeping bag liner (a must for Kili). I also packed my cold weather sleeping bag, which as you can imagine sucked up a lot of space in my travel bag. On Kili Zara Tours provided mats, and Nomad Tours provided mats on the safari, so there’s no need to purchase and carry one in your bag.
For Kilimanjaro, it’s all about hiking clothes and layers. I probably packed about 2 full changes of clothing to cover me for the 7 days (plus 7 pairs of underwear and socks). At the end of each night it felt good to change into clean underwear and socks even when your clothes were dirty. Keep in mind on the summit night/day you’ll probably wear everything you’ve packed (I did). Include a poncho as it’s often raining in the jungle portion of the climb. Bring clothes (hat/gloves/gator) that you would bring on a ski trip, and bring clothes that you would wear for a hot day of hiking and then pair them up. That’s the best advice I can give. Also pack power bars and energy boosters for the climb. Plenty of food is provided, but not mid-climb each day, so if you need an energy boost in the middle of a 6 hour hike, I suggest you pack something. I packed a power bar and Clif shot blok snack for each day of the climb and that was good for me.
Bloggers said “you’ll be so dirty you won’t be able to put in your contacts so don’t bring them”. I disagree and I’m so glad I brought contacts and my glasses/sun glasses. I wore my contacts every day. I also purchased something called a P EZ (not pez like the candy), and it is hilarious. It’s to help women pee standing up (like if it’s zero degrees and you don’t want to take your layers off, or if you need to just go by the path where people might see you). I think every girl should own one for hiking but also for gross bar bathrooms. Female bloggers recommended this to me. I only used it a few times, but I was also very lucky and had a toilet on Kili (more on that in a future post). If we didn’t have that toilet, I would have been using that every day. Think about it ladies.
Footware: Bring waterproof hiking boots, but also bring a pair of sandals that your feet can slip into with socks on. For example, if it’s freezing cold and you have to use the bathroom at 2am, you can keep your four layers of socks on by just slipping into a sandal to go use the restroom it’s SO much easier. Plus after a long day of hiking it feels good to be in something other than your boots (which will get muddy and gross). It’s not a fashion show, so don’t worry about the whole socks-in-sandals thing, as you’ll want to be in those sandals with socks on by the end of day 1.
While you are climbing Kili, you are able to leave luggage at the hotel, which is a great place to ditch the safari clothing as there’s no point carrying that stuff up the mountain. Which reminds me, bring FAA approved travel locks for all your bags. There are many times that you have to separate from your bag and a travel lock will hopefully deter would-be robbers. I even kept my bags locked in the few hotels we stayed at just to be safe.
For the Nomad Safari Tour, you want to dress for the heat during the day which is light airy clothing that covers you (which prevents sun burns, over heating, and bug bites). Avoid bright white, black, navy or bright colors as these attract misquotes which can carry malaria. At night, bring a light jacket and a sweatshirt as it can get chilly in August at night (it’s their winter). Bring a hat and sunglasses as it’s bright on the Serengeti.
Our safari tour ended for me in Zanzibar, which is a beach resort island off the coast of Tanzania. It’s mostly Muslim, so bring shirts that cover your shoulders, scarves and long skirts. Bring your bathing suit, as you should feel comfortable wearing it at the beach without judgement. It’s mainly in Stone Town where you need to be respectful of their unofficial dress code.
To save on space, try to pack layers for Kili that are tan/beige and can be re-warn while on the safari. You can always do “laundry” in the sinks at hotels if you pack a little laundry detergent. Bring lots of sunscreen for both the climb and the safari as well as bug spray (just for the safari/Zanzibar). Most places have netting over the beds for sleeping, but I still managed to get 3 face bug bites on the first day of our safari.
I have a Verizon phone plan, which has a terrible international option ($25 for a small amount of data). It just didn’t make sense to do this, especially since they don’t tell you how much data you’ve used and the plan rolls over up to $400. Aka, just checking email could end up costing you $400, even though you think you’ve only spent $25. Not ok. Erica suggested getting sim cards in each country, as they often have places that are cheap and at the airport. My plan was to get one in Moshi, but the airport was so tiny and didn’t have a cell phone store (or any stores for that matter). I ended up going the whole trip keeping my cell on “airplane mode” and using the free wifi at the different places we stayed. This was SO liberating! Every few days I was able to check in with my parents and post a few photos and then turn my cell phone off. It was amazing. And for all of Kili I didn’t even pack my phone! Not only was this the cheapest option (free), but it also kept me the most in-the-moment, instead of constantly checking email etc.
Nomad Tours requires travel insurance, just incase something doesn’t go as planned… like we miss our ferry, or the bus breaks down and we can’t do things we’ve already paid to do or something costs a lot more as a result, it covers the cost. In Africa there are so many things you can’t count on- for example at one airport while I was checking in for a flight the guy said “Oh we canceled that flight 6 months ago” (more on that in a future post). Things just aren’t very organized and you have to roll with it. I got my travel insurance from WorldNomads.com (not affiliated with Nomad Tours) and it was $85 for the whole trip.
You can see my long “to pack list” in the shot above. Keep in mind you’ll have to carry your own bags a lot, so do your best to keep it light. I would suggest a large canvas duffle (which works well on the safari and fits in the lockers on the truck) and a backpack that you can carry with it. I also brought a smaller purse with pockets (which could slip into my backpack if needed). I would suggest packing your bag a full week before as a dry run. By doing this I was able to see what I was lacking and gave me a week to think about what I could remove to make it lighter.
Above, I took this photo in my apartment as I waited for the airport shuttle to arrive at my house. I used Shuttle2lax.com and it was $20 one way (plus $5 tip). Sure, we picked up a van full of people before I got to the airport, but I allowed plenty of time and didn’t have to pester friends for a ride- win! The photo is to give you a sense of scale of my bags. It was still pretty heavy for me, but I’m glad I didn’t pack a roller bag as those are not recommended. The red color made it easy to spot and the canvas made it malleable which was good.
LAX has an awesome international terminal. This was my first time flying directly out of the country from LA and this puts the rest of the airport to shame. They even had a LAMill! And it looked like the real LAMill in Silverlake. The space is very modern with many yummy dining options and I like that they’ve incorporated LA specific restaurants like LAMill and Unami Burger.
I flew from LAX to Amsterdam via KLM Airlines, then Amsterdam to Nairobi (also KLM). My flight out was on time, comfortable and since it was a 747 (huge!) it had a lot of amenities that make flying go by quickly. I prefer these long comfy flights as opposed to the 4-5 hour US flights which feel like riding a bus (no space, no food, no music, no tv). It’s nice to enjoy the meal after take off, put on a tv show, enjoy a free glass of wine and nod off. Then an hour before landing you get another meal (usually a breakfast). It’s delightful.
Looky here, it’s The Newsroom in Dutch!
I arrived in Nairobi around 8:30pm, and their airport has all the flights exit their planes on an exterior staircase bought right to the door of the plane, then you take a bus to the luggage terminal/immigration. Unfortunately, my stay in Kenya is just 24 hours which was long enough to require a $50 visa. Oh well, I was so glad to get to see Nairobi, so it was worth it. After waiting in a very long Visa line, at 10:30p I got my bag, went to an atm to get 3000 Kenyan shillings (like $35 US dollars) which would cover cab fair, meals and entrance fees for my 24 hour day in Kenya.
Erica and I booked a room at the Nairobi Airport Stop Over House, which included a yummy breakfast, a shared bathroom, and free wifi (we each paid $36 a night). When booking with them they said for an additional fee they would send a car for us. I think it was $15 and included tip. This meant that at 10:30p, I found the guy holding a paper with my name on it and he took me directly to the hotel. Easy-peasy. He taught me a few Swahili words (“Jambo” is hi), took us through a police check-point (scary since it was my first one) and then through 2 different gates each with armed men (holding huge guns). Where am I?! Thankfully I ended up safely in the right place. Welcome to Kenya!