A while back, I caught up with a young enthusiastic Kenyan traveler who was willing to share some tips to consider when planning a trip out of Africa.
These guidelines are not strictly meant for a traveler destined for a trip to the Netherlands or Kuwait, and the like. No. They cut across destinations; be it within your country, African nation(s), or elsewhere.
Here is what Lillian Ruby shared with The African Exponent in an email interview.
The African Exponent: What are the key things that one should have before preparing for a trip to a country out of Africa?
Lillian Ruby: This is my mantra: Good travel is the result of good planning. That applies to any trip you take. But it’s especially true when you’re heading to a foreign country. It can be tempting to book a ticket and start fantasizing about your getaway, but there’s work to be done.
TAE: When you say “there’s work to be done,” do you mean visa and passport? What other things should one consider?
LR: Yes. Visas are needed to visit many nations around the world, and the application process varies greatly from country to country. So, you need to apply for a visa after checking out a country’s requirements.
Also important to consider when planning for a trip is your passport. It must be valid for at least six months after entering a foreign country, though; some nations will let you get away with less. If its expiration date is approaching, you’ll need to renew your passport before your next overseas trip.
Critical to a trip is your finances. Apart from the fee needed to process your travel documents, you might be required to produce bank statements as well.
When applying for visa, I have had to produce my bank statement. This is surety that one has adequate money to avoid being stranded in a foreign country. Most of the embassies will always need to scrutinize bank statements. So, ensure you have enough money in your account before applying for a visa.
Consider learning about the exchange rates and the general cost of items in the country(ies) you will be visiting. This gives you some sense of how much you’re going to spend while on the trip.
Need I mention the vaccines or medications you need to take as precaution against various diseases? Some countries have outlined the medical precautions that you need to observe before landing there.
Most importantly, have at least one color copy of your passport’s ID page stored somewhere safe and separate from your passport. You should also make copies of any visas that pertain to your current travels.
TAE: I have found that learning a language of your destination makes the experiences even more enjoyable. Would you advise travelers to learn a few local phrases?
LR: Absolutely. It is best practice to learn basic phrases like “Hello,” “Thank you,” and “Where is the bathroom?” However, the more you can say in the local tongue, the better.
Then there are times when being able to communicate effectively are a matter of health, and safety. If you have any food allergies or severe medical conditions, it’s important to learn how to inform others about those issues in a foreign language. If you don’t feel comfortable with your language abilities, then cheat and print out a document with relevant phrases or make flashcards that you can carry with you.
TAE: When packing for your trips, what factors do you consider and why?
LR: My Golden Rule: Take half of the clothes you were planning to bring and twice the money. For shopaholics like me, this means I get to buy new clothes when on the trip.
A 3-week trip requires more or less the same stuff as a 3-month trip. All the essentials stay the same: the only thing that changes is that you’ll wash your clothes along the way or buy new ones and pick up extra toiletries when you need them. There’s no need for extra gear, or stress, when prepping for a big trip. What you forget, you can always buy.
TAE: Does one need travel insurance when traveling?
LR: Yes, I have always needed and purchased a health insurance for my trips. I also think that travel insurance is a must for most people.
The concept of travel health insurance relates to covering up medical expenses in case an injury or unexpected sickness arises during one’s trip. It depends deeply on the desired destination as well as the ability to personally cover any health care needs during the stay-out in the foreign country.
Apart from medical expenses, travel insurance is intended to cover different losses suffered during the trip. Unexpected happenings like lost luggage, or cancellation of your flight at the last minute.
TAE: How do you pick places to visit? Do you identify them beforehand, or are you a random person? Which style works best for you?
Mmmmh I would say I am totally random. I can put "everywhere" in the destination box and it will sort flights according to prices (lowest to highest) to literally anywhere I want to visit on the dates I entered. I love adventure.
One advice on this, though: before you put on a blindfold and throw darts at the globe, determine how much money you're willing to spend on the trip. Also, think about how much time you can afford to spend away from your job. Factoring in your schedule will rein in some of your wanderlust and force you to put far-flung destinations like Bali and Fiji on the bucket list. Not only do these trips cost a pretty penny, but they require at least six to 10 days, to make the most of the destination. If you only have a four-day window, it's not worth a 20-hour flight.
TAE: How do you identify good accommodation and would you recommend early booking?
LR: Most of the time, I have had to stay with friends and relatives when abroad since I am always on a budget, but if I have to find accommodation, I will consider booking a hostel. And yes, it’s important to book prior to arrival. No longer just a haven for backpackers and college students, the modern hostel is more high-end, with private rooms, complimentary breakfast, and on-site language classes.
TAE: How do you communicate with your loved ones while on transit? What are the best tips that have worked for you when you want to communicate with people back at home?
LR: I tend to use WhatsApp to communicate with my family, friends, and relatives as well as my international friends. It’s pretty much universal at this point as a cost-effective way for just about anyone to communicate with another from every corner of the world.
In most foreign countries, there is free wi-fi connectivity just about anywhere; from airports, train stations, and restaurants. Free connectivity makes it easy to be online all the time, thus, making it even easier and affordable to video call, send pictures and messages to loved ones back at home. Once in a while, I have had to buy international sim cards.
All images courtesy of Lillian Ruby