Lessons learned from Kenya

Travel Lessons: Takeaways from Kenya

68 hours of travel and 8 days in Kenya

After a few crazy travel months, I am finally playing a bit of catch up on thoughts I wanted to share from our rather impromptu trip to Kenya in February. The experience was incredible and I gained some additional perspective on traveling that I could have only learned from a long-haul trip like this. If you didn’t read about our trip to Kenya in February, you can read more about it here.

Don’t let flight time scare you

Kenya Flight

1Scott and I had talked about traveling to Africa many times, including during our preliminary honeymoon discussions. A safari experience was high on both of our lists, but every time we delved into real planning, flight times scared us off.  ‘If we’re going to Africa, we’ll need at least two weeks’, we’d always say. There’s no point in flying 25+ hours and spending all that money just for a 7 – 10 day experience, right?

Wrong. I wouldn’t have learned that lesson had we not gone on our whirlwind adventure to Kenya, but our perspective on distance has changed hugely. We flew roughly 26 hours to arrive in Nairobi (plus another hour to Mombasa). Our route home had us on a 42 hour travel excursion with a full day in London and a night in New York. I know what you’re thinking – it’s what we thought when we booked the trip – this is going to be hellish. We thought about the jet lag and the cramped quarters on the plane (God knows we weren’t flying anything but economy). We thought about the layovers in New York and London, clearing customs and the rigamarole that comes with every big trip.

Here’s what actually happened though: We had our long layovers in New York and in London. We froze briefly in New York, dressed entirely inappropriately for anything but sunny weather. The flight was long, yes, but I slept on the plane — this is one of my hidden talents, I can sleep on a plane without need for an Ambien or a glass of wine — and spent my hours awake reading about Kenya and watching in-flight movies that I would otherwise never see. We arrived in Kenya, and I forgot about the whole flight that was now behind us. For those that enjoy international travel, I think it’s almost as if your body has a defense mechanism to allow you to continue to savor your love of jet setting. With the excitement of exploring a new destination overpowering all other sensations, your mind sort of erases anything but happiness and you forget the 25+ hours that you just spent in airports, on planes, on people movers and buses. We quickly learned that we could do this. That while the thought of being in transit for a day sounds terrible, it’s actually not all that bad.

A week is worth it

Ladies in Kenya, Mombasa, Kenyan Village

2Building off of the first point, my second lesson — lesson 1 1/2– is this: don’t discount a trip as unworthy, no matter how long the transit time, because it’s ‘just a week’. If someone said you were going to fly from San Francisco to Beirut for a weeklong trip, you’d probably balk a bit. If you’re going to go that far, you’ve gotta make it worth it, right? Our second lesson, which is very closely linked with the first, is that every travel experience is worth it. If you can score a great deal on a far-flung getaway but can only afford a week off of work, don’t discount it. We spent eight days in Africa. Our total transit time was 68 hours between getting there and getting home. That seems like a ridiculous endeavor, but we left Kenya feeling as though we had truly explored it. We spent an amazing day in Nairobi exploring the main sights and making a great friend that we’ll hopefully keep in touch with for life. We went on safari for two days, we went deep sea fishing off the Kenyan Coast and snorkeled in the Indian Ocean. We spent wonderful evenings together on the deck eating home-cooked Swahili dishes and watching the tide come in. We drove through neighboring towns and got a serious taste of local culture. We did all of that in seven days. I was worried that we would barely be able to scratch the surface in a week, but we left feeling fulfilled. With proper planning and prioritization, even a short time can be done well.

Flexibility is key

Big Fish, Mtwapa Deep Sea Fishing, Deep Sea Fishing Kenya

3I think every traveler recognizes the importance of flexibility, but our trip to Africa reinforced how key flexibility is in terms of planning and booking tickets and in terms of creating an itinerary and creating an experience.

When it came to actually booking our tickets to Nairobi, I had convinced myself that the flights would be hugely out of range. Considering what tickets to Western Europe can cost from St. Maarten, I anticipated tickets to East Africa would be in the $3000 range (per person) which was entirely out of the picture. At first glance, tickets were nearly that much for the dates we picked, but after digging a bit deeper and being somewhat flexible with dates and time of arrival (we arrived a day before the rest of the group), we saved a huge amount. Our tickets were less than half of what we had originally seen.

When it comes to building an itinerary – and this goes for all locales – Scott and I are both huge planners. To me, planning is half the fun; the build-up, the anticipation, the research. You learn something very quickly when it comes to new locales, though: things rarely go exactly as planned. Now I like to have an idea of the places, dining experiences, and sights that I want to prioritize, but I do leave flexibility for spontaneity. There are many in-country experiences that you won’t learn about purely through reading a guidebook, a blog or interacting on a travel forum. There are some things that just happen, and allowing yourself the flexibility to explore an unexpected locale, enjoy time chatting with other travelers you meet, or dining at a hole-in-the-wall with locals often create the most memorable experiences of all.

Being in Kenya in general was a bucket list experience, and spending that time with family was absolutely incredible. Beyond that, I think there were some great travel lessons learned from booking a rather impromptu trip. We jettisoned our typical Type A Planner mentalities (I mean, we’re already chatting about potential travels for October 2015), and let ourselves go with the flow. Now when we talk about bucket list trips, we don’t let a long flight or a short span of time scare us off. I mean, who are we to pass up an incredible travel experience?

xo from Anguilla,

Shannon Kircher

More about Shannon Kircher

Shannon Kircher is the founder and editor of The Wanderlust Effect. Founded in 2009, she has continued to document her international escapes as an expat in Europe and the Caribbean. Additionally, Shannon is the founder of Compass & Vine, a luxury boutique travel design firm, and is the Director of Marketing for the Frangipani Beach Resort. Shannon holds an MSc in Social Policy and Development from the London School of Economics and is a current candidate for WSET Level 3 in Wines & Spirits.