“Globe trotting on a tight budget? Easy as ABC!” says Wangechi Gitahi
Can solo travelling around the world be hassle free and cheap as a Kenyan? Wangechi Gitahi has jaw dropping stories about her wanderings as a young African woman. Moreover, she backpacks wherever she goes are.
- What is your blog all about?
The blog is basically about sharing of my personal travel experiences with the world. I love to travel and I actually travel with my current travels classified as a female, African traveller/backpacker. I have travelled several destinations in Africa, Asia, Middle East and hopefully soon the other continents. Having a curious mind, I enjoy solo travelling to discover the unbeaten paths. The blog keeps evolving and soon I will be converting it into a website so I can showcase more elements like more pictures, videos and offer more interaction with my audience. Keep an eye out before end of March.
- How and when did you decide to start the blog?
When I started solo travelling, it was my best kept secret as I am a reserved person. I would maximise on my annual leave days, public holidays, and weekends and put off my phone and disappear for a bit without anyone apart from my family knowing my whereabouts. I would then only share the stories with my family and really close friends who would read mischief on my disappearance and see through my smoke screen story of “I had phone issues.” However, after some time, I started getting tired of repeating the stories individually to the different people and eventually people started asking me to start a blog where they could read all the tales and see the pictures. It wasn’t until 2013 that I started to blog without an idea of what blogging entailed.
I would thus write my article, get my sisters to proof read and check my pictures were fit for consumption and my cousin would do everything from the back end. I have been forced to learn on the job, reading, stalking other travel bloggers, attending online courses and at times just winging it. With time, people told people, the online communities especially travel enthusiasts started finding my site when searching for various destinations and alas, my blog is now read both locally and internationally.
- What motivated you to keep blogging?
The intent in the beginning was sharing information – where I had been, how I had gotten there, what I had done, the challenges, surprises and pictures of the place with the aim of enticing more people to venture out and discover the world for themselves. I only shared the blog with “inner circle peoples.” i.e family and friends after lots of edits and re-edits which basically ended up watering the stories and they were instructed not to share with the world. Besides having a platform to share with my inner circle of my travels, I also wanted to share with the world that which was factual based on my experiences.
My main goal is to reduce biased segregation, stereotyping, ignorance and the lies and fear due to lack of adequate information on several destinations. In this way, I am able to promote love and world peace via appreciating the diversity in the world. Lastly, I want to engage and entice more people to venture out and travel. I am tired of hearing the usual narrative, “I wish I could travel but…” By sharing my tales which are dominantly pulled off by solo travelling as an African, female, I have encouraged others to travel. It is great when I get feedback that a reader visited a destination as a result of what they read and saw on my blog and social media pages.
- From all the places you’ve been to, it appears you’ve often travelled alone. Any reason why you don’t plan trips with your group of friends?
Yes! I enjoy solo travelling as it enables me to backpack, venture easily into new territories, discover “not so popular tourist destinations”. I also develop physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. Moreover, I get to have fun to the maximum. I choose to share honest experiences as I have read some blogs , listened to some travel tales or seen some pictures only to arrive there and realize they were fictitious. I get to share.
- From an article on your blog, you dismantle the stereotype that Northern Kenya is a no-go zone. How did you conceive the idea to venture to the bare lands of the north?
This is honestly one of those travels that for me stand out and prove you can achieve anything you are passionate about. Northern Kenya had been on my mind for the longest time with my enticement being the diverse rich cultures to be found in the region. Being home to many pastoral tribes that have held on to their culture, it held an appeal for me for the longest time that I wanted to see and experience for myself, to experience their different cultures and to live among them.
Though I had always journeyed alone to other countries, I hadn’t done any solo travelling in Kenya. I realised this in 2014 when I got a question from one of my avid readers on the safety of solo travelling in Kenya as a female. In order to answer truthfully to her question, I decided to be my own guinea pig. If the adventurous “Wangechi” could backpack solo to one of the supposed no-go-zones in Kenya, and succeeded, it would definitely be a benchmark for the rest of Kenya. I thus decided to travel from Nairobi to Lake Turkana-Loiyangalani.
- Give us a snapshot of the trip to Lake Turkana. What were the highlights and how did you get there?
Two things – I had to backpack overland because I couldn’t afford a flight or the tour companies fees that traversed that route at the time and also I lacked information on how one could travel there on their own challenged me to want to discover and solve this mystery for myself. The only information I had was how to get transportation from Nairobi to Nyahururu, then to Maralal via Suguta Marmar and eventually another matatu to Baragoi which is the last stop for public means on that route. From there I had to rely on the local intelligence on whether I could get to the Lake and how.
It was the one of the most scary, thrilling and exciting trips I had undertaken so far. I not only interacted with the Samburucommunity in Suguta Marmar and the Turkana in Baragoi, I also learnt of their cultures and hitch-hiked for the first time in my life a lorry for a 12-hour journey. The funniest part was that I had to sit atop the lorry in the scorching sun as it was carrying lots of cargo. I came face to face with several young men armed with guns along the route. I cannot explain the fear that would grip me which would only only ease slightly whenever they waved at us or disembarked from the several vehicles we used. When we finally arrived safely in Loiyangalani, the setting sun on the beautiful Lake Turkana made the whole trip well worth it.
- How do you manage when interacting with people without speaking their language?
Firstly when I smile, it’s contagious and breaks any and all barriers.
Secondly, a mixture of hand signals and body language go a long way in solo travelling.
Thirdly, sometimes more is said by observing silently and copying their lead,
Lastly, I make friends with people who understand the language I speak and that of my new environment to act as translators. People do enjoy this role.
- Solo travelleing in East Africa is synonymous to expensive. What are your money saving tips before and while travelling?
Allow me to break the myth that travel in East Africa is expensive. East Africa caters for any and all budgets everything from budget to luxury to VIP. Whatever your wallet allows, East Africa has what you require, and you just need to do a bit of digging. Point of reference – two passengers could both be travelling by the same means to the same destination yet they’ve pay different prices.
- Before travel: I save save save save like crazy. I made a conscious decision that at bare minimum I would travel internationally once every year and locally as many times as possible. Beginning of the year, I know several trips have to be done in the course of the year. I will thus decide on average how much I can splurge for the international trips and how many local trips I must travel in that year. I then tighten my purse strings, cut on my flexible expenditures like hanging out, shopping or whatever else I can do without for some time.
- While travelling: I will maximise on eating at the local joints to get a full integration to the place as well as this is normally cheaper. I also use public travel, book at bed and breakfast rates, walk a lot and visit as many free or cheap sights.I will only splurge on those activities that I have to do for me to rate the trip successful.
- We really enjoyed yourpost because of the harsh stereotypes that most foreigners pin on Africans. What other labels do you face as a solo, female traveller?
When I did the Northern Kenya trip, upon arriving in Maralal town and asking around for how to proceed, one shop keeper couldn’t grasp that I was travelling for the sole desire discovering my country and to get to see the amazing Lake Turkana. Her remark was, “Wasichana wenye huenda huko ni wenye wanaenda na wazee ama wazungu”. (Girls who go there are accompanied by old or white men).
I am white and have white tendencies – Solo travelling as an African female is not the norm in Africa let alone Kenya. It has thus raised many eye brows with people wondering where I got it from because according to them it is un-African.
I am brave– This always brings a smile to my face. Ladies and even men will ask me what it is that makes me want to venture into the world which is supposedly more dangerous for Africans than most races and most especially for women.
I must be a rebel
- What’s that one bad experience you had whilst solo travelling?
I have been fortunate not to have experienced any major bad experiences. If I had to choose one, I would have to say my visit to Meru that I wrote about. We had gone to visit a local winery in that place and the men working there really made the whole trip near impossible.
- How do you select, budget and plan for your next destination?
There is no one way I choose my next destination. Sometimes it is a place I have read about or pictures I had seen and other times it’s the stories that I have heard that stagnate in my mind.
On budgeting, I tend to work backwards by deciding how much I am willing to spend and then I research on the various destinations running through my mind that could fit that budget. I usually factor the basics first, that is transportation, food and accommodation. I read lots from travel books, travel blogs, search for deals online as well as contacting others who have gone to the same destination. If information is shortcoming, I decide how much I want to spend and when I embark to find out, I ensure I keep to it.
- Any advice for 1st time tourists who want to backpack across Kenya?
Welcome! Welcome! Welcome! Do not overthink the trip, just do it.
Kenya is an amazing place, the people are friendly, the cultures numerous and diverse yet beautiful. The scenery varies from place to place and there is something for everyone regardless of your budget or preference. Kenya is also a safe place. I would only advise that you take precautionary measures when solo travelling as you would apply anywhere else in the world.