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Tools You Need for Planning a Holiday

Tools You Need for Planning a Holiday

The websites and applications recommended in this article can help you plan your travel, from finding low-cost flights to planning your budget, booking excellent accommodation and, most importantly, having fun on the road.

1. Kayak
Benefit: Allows you to compare flexible dates very easily so you can find the best days to fly.
Description: Kayak is a standard flight search engine where you enter your destination and preferred travel dates. If you tick “Flexible date” it will present an easy-to-understand layout to show the cheapest dates to fly.
Tip: Once you have used Kayak to find the cheapest flight, go to that airline’s site and see if it’s cheaper to book directly. Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t.

2. Hipmunk
Benefit: Their agony scale balances cost with layovers, plane changes, etc so you can weigh up your time versus your money.
Description: Hipmunk is another flight search engine where you enter your destination and travel dates. It present the flights on a time line so you can compare the length of the journey with the prices. It has an algorithm to judge the “agony factor” and ranks the flights accordingly. But it presents the information so you can also decide for yourself the level of agony you are willing to put up with for a lower price.
Tip: You can also choose to rank the flights on price alone or any other factor. But the agony scale puts it all in perspective.

3. Seat Guru
Benefit: Helps you pick the best seat for your flight (or at least avoid the worst!)
Description: Enter the airline and/or flight number and it will present a colour-coded chart showing good seats, bad seats, mixed review seats and ordinary seats. You can use this chart to select seats for your flight when you book or check in.
Tip: Select your seats when you book so you have maximum choice, but keep checking back from time to time in case better seats become available.

4. Trip Advisor
Benefit: Read reviews from other travellers about accommodation and attractions. The site also ranks accommodation and attractions according to category and location to enable easy comparison.
Description: Simply enter your destination and what you are looking for there (i.e. hotel, tour, restaurant, etc) and it will give you a list.
Tip: Check the dates of the reviews. A change of management can make a dramatic difference so if there is an overall four star rating but the reviews from the past six months have been terrible, you might think twice. Of course, it also works the other way – a low star rating might have excellent recent reviews.

5. Universal Packing List
Benefit: UPL puts together a packing list and a preparation list according to the parameters of your trip.
Description: Go to http://upl.codeq.info/ and enter all the details of your trip – dates, climate (it has a handy link to get that information), activities, mode of travel, accommodation style, size of bag, etc. It will give you a packing list and preparation list specific to your journey.
Tip: Don’t do this at the last minute. You will be surprised, especially for an international trip, at all the little things you need to do and get that you might forget. For example, do you have enough sockets to charge all your electronics (and nowadays we seem to travel with more and more!) the night before?

6. Sworkit
Benefit: An app with no-equipment workouts to help you keep fit while you travel.
Description: Choose the type of workout (strength, cardio, yoga, stretching) and the amount of time you want to exercise for. It provides a circuit-style session with exercises that can be done in a small space with no equipment (i.e. a hotel room).
Tip: In a new city sometimes even going for a run can be a bit daunting. But a quick workout in your room is a cost-free way to stay in shape on the road.
Price: A free plan is enough to keep you going, but there are paid options as well.

7. XE.com
Benefit: Provides easy access to foreign exchange rates
Description: The app is easy to use – simply plug in the amount, the currency you have and the currency you want to convert to and it will give you the conversion. You can set up a number of different currencies if you are travelling to several countries and enter the amount of one currency and see the conversion into all the currencies you have in the list. It can be useful when you are crossing a border and need to change money to decide if you want to change at the border or wait for a better rate further down the line. Or if you are carrying say US Dollars and Euros and need to get some Kenyan shillings, you can see which currency will be more beneficial.
Tip: It’s such a handy tool to have on your phone for quickly converting grocery items, accommodation prices, tour quotes, etc on the fly.

8. Foursquare
Benefit: Share hidden gems with fellow travellers and get their secrets as well.
Description: It uses your smart phone’s GPS signal to determine where you are so you can do quick and easy check-ins. You can read other travellers’ tips, leave reviews, photos and your own tips.
Tip: Link Foursquare to your Facebook account so your check-in automatically shows up as a status update to share with friends and family.

These tools will help you get the most out of your journey, from saving you money on the flight, to helping you pack, getting the best seat, finding great accommodation and at last sharing it all with your loved ones back home. What are your favourite apps or websites that you use to plan or enjoy travel?

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Four Advantages to Staying in a Local Guesthouse Instead of a Safari Lodge (and Seven Disadvantages!)

Four Advantages to Staying in a Local Guesthouse Instead of a Safari Lodge (and Seven Disadvantages!)

If you are a backpacker, independent traveller or more experienced safari-goer you might be considering your accommodation options for your next visit to Kenya.  This article offers advice about the different types of accommodation and whether it is better to stay in a nearby town when visiting the national parks.  The answer does somewhat depend on your definition of “better” – in terms of quality usually it is not better, but in terms of cost it usually is.  My recommendation is to stay outside the park but close to the gate where you can usually find campsites and cheaper lodges than inside the park, but still enjoy the convenience of being at the park.

For many backpackers and independent travellers, “better” can often mean “cheaper” so let’s start with that as a definition to decide the best place to stay.  Although the cost of the accommodation in the towns will be lower than accommodation inside the parks, you also need to factor in the cost of transport between the town accommodation and the park.  Sometimes camping is preferable to dingy local guesthouses and can be the same price. Camping inside the parks is expensive, but at most parks in Kenya there are campsites close to the park gates that have good amenities (including cold beer) for around US$6-10 per person per night.

Aside from cost, there are more experiential definitions of “better” to decide where to stay.  Guesthouses in towns can offer a deeper insight into local culture and if you get lucky with your fellow guests it can be a very good experience.  You have more freedom to explore when you are close to the action.  You can go out to find a local restaurant and again have a more local experience with your meals.  Public transport to towns in Kenya is readily available so getting to your accommodation in a town is easier.

To counter these positive aspects, there are some things to consider.  Local guesthouses are often co-located with a restaurant and bar so it can be quite noisy at night, especially if there is a big football game on.  They also may not have the quality of facilities that we might expect at home.  While the overall cleanliness might look OK, the attention to detail is often lacking.  Many local establishments have squat toilets or even just a hole in the ground.  If there is a toilet, there is often not a toilet seat.  On the coast you will be hard-pressed to find a hot water shower and inland the hot water showers are electric (so you have to remember to flick the switch to get hot water).  If mosquito nets are provided, they often have holes in them.  Because most travellers do stay closer to the park, you also need to be prepared to be stared at as you will be a novelty (especially women).

If your priority for visiting that area is to see the wildlife in the park, then it is far more convenient to stay inside the park or just outside the gate, rather than in a nearby town.  Realistically, the closest towns are just not that close – for Maasai Mara you would be staying in Narok which is two hours away on a corrugated road, and for Samburu you would be looking for somewhere to stay in Isiolo which is over half an hour away.

If you do want to stay in a local guesthouse then I suggest doing as much research as you can.  Sites like Trip Advisor may not be so useful for small local places, so you are probably better asking people who have been before – perhaps expats or Kenyans in Nairobi who have to travel to that area for work.  It will help to find out the types of people who frequent the accommodation (is it geared towards business travellers or bus/truck drivers) and if there is anything to be especially aware of (i.e. some guesthouses act as the local brothel, which is only known to locals, not unwitting tourists).

Even if you prefer travelling independently, when visiting national parks in Kenya it is often easier to go with a tour operator who can cater to your budget and needs.  Your safety and security is much higher with an operator and their knowledge of the accommodation options means you have more choices available to you.  But if you still prefer to go it alone, then hopefully this article has provided you with more awareness about the advantages and disadvantages of different accommodation options.

Have you stayed in local guesthouses in Kenya? What has been your experience?  And what is your recommendation for fellow travelers in choosing their accommodation?

Explore 3 Kenyan Parks with OTA

Explore 3 Kenyan Parks with OTA

OTA is launching a series of weekend trips especially for Kenya’s citizens and the expatriate community.  This will give people living in Kenya the opportunity to explore this country’s top parks easily, conveniently and safely.

OTA's weekend trips to Maasai Mara, Amboseli and Samburu www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Throughout 2015, OTA will have three-day trips departing every Friday to Maasai Mara, Amboseli and Samburu.  This is an excellent opportunity for both Kenyan citizens and expatriates to explore Kenya in the comfort of a safari vehicle fit for photography, game-viewing and touring.  Starting from 16,300KES inclusive of meals, accommodation, transport and park entry fees, these trips are affordable and fun.  Prices vary according to group size and you can visit http://bit.ly/1sUS18Q for more information.  Any group size can be catered for with transport in safari vans or overland trucks.  All trips are accompanied by an experienced English-speaking driver-guide.  For reservations and enquiries, contact Tracey and Francis on tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com.

Francis Wamai, Founder and Director of OTA, says: “After a week of work, these trips offer Kenyans a great way to relax and explore their country.  Boring weekends at home are a thing of the past as you can come and meet other people and see the beauty of Kenya.”

These weekend trips give expatriates and Kenyans the opportunity to explore Kenyan parks affordably.  For more information, visit http://bit.ly/1sUS18Q or contact tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com to make a booking for you and your friends this weekend.

OTA offers trips in Kenya where you can experience the local culture, stay in villages, and engage with community development organisations as well as view the amazing wildlife and spectacular natural scenery in this amazing country.  We can cater to groups (large and small) for any budget, offering a range of accommodation from camping to luxury lodges.  Visit www.ota-responsibletravel.com for more information.

OTA's weekend trips to Maasai Mara, Amboseli and Samburu www.ota-responsibletravel.com

 

OTA’s Turkana Festival Tour – cultural engagement and safari in Kenya

OTA's Lake Turkana Festival Tour www.ota-responsibletravel.com Kenya Safari

The Lake Turkana Festival has been an annual event on the Kenyan calendar for five years but in 2014, for the first time, it is being organised and facilitated by the local government.  So come and help the local economy, engage with communities, and support cultural traditions at this spectacular festival in one of the most remote corners of the globe.

OTA is leading a tour to the Lake Turkana Festival between 11 and 19 June 2014.  The tour will travel from Nairobi to Thomson’s Falls (http://www.itravel.net/travel-blogs/eastern-africa/thomson-s-fall-kenya), Maralal, Loyangalani (the venue for the Festival), Marsabit and Samburu National Reserve (https://www.safarious.com/en/posts/10391).  Travelling in a comfortable safari van with pop up roof fit for photography, game viewing and touring, this is a camping trip accompanied by an experienced driver/guide and a cook.

OTA's Lake Turkana Festival Tour www.ota-responsibletravel.com Kenya Safari

Francis Wamai, Founder and Director of OTA, says: “The Turkana Festival is special in order to learn more about the cultures of people in the Turkana region. Also it’s so nice to see the lake itself in Northern Kenya, which is mostly a large desert!”

OTA's Lake Turkana Festival Tour www.ota-responsibletravel.com Kenya Safari

OTA’s nine-day Lake Turkana Festival Tour is designed for those looking for an exceptional cultural experience to combine with their safari.  The tour cost is US$1157 per person (the trip will only run with a minimum of four people) inclusive of all meals, accommodation, entry fee to Samburu National Reserve, and an English-speaking driver and guide.  There are only six seats available so contact tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com today to reserve your seat.

OTA offers trips in Kenya where you can experience the local culture, stay in villages, and engage with community development organisations as well as view the amazing wildlife and spectacular natural scenery in this amazing country.  We can cater to groups (large and small) for any budget, offering a range of accommodation from camping to luxury lodges.  Visit www.ota-responsibletravel.com for more information.

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