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Tips for Going on a Solo Backpacking Trip

Tips for Going on a Solo Backpacking Trip

Travelling solo can be one of life’s most eye-opening, mind-expanding, joyful experiences.  This article will give you some suggestions to overcome the trepidation you may experience, especially as a woman, when deciding to venture forth on your own.  The best advice: Go for it!

5 Ways to Set Yourself Free and Travel Solo

  1. Make smart decisions

You make smart decisions at home everyday about what to spend money on, whether a situation feels safe, who to trust or not, etc.  Bring these smarts with you on your travels – don’t sell your brain for a plane ticket!  Even if you are on a budget, sometimes it is better to spend a little extra to stay in a more secure hotel or take a taxi at night.

  1. Meet people

Most of my travels have been solo, yet I have rarely felt lonely.  Using networks like Couch Surfing has helped me connect with fellow travellers and hosts who have been happy to hang out and show me their home town.  In backpacker hostels, the communal spaces provide opportunities to strike up a conversation and even in hotels there is usually a pool or a bar to linger at to find someone to chat with.

  1. Use a guidebook

Lonely Planet, Let’s Go, Rough Guides, DK, Bradt…. there are so many guidebooks on the shelves of your local bookshop there is no excuse for not being well-informed about a place.  It’s true that not everything should be taken as gospel (indeed prices are often out of date even before the book is published) but it gives you a good idea of what to do, where to stay, where the good food is, where to find banks and most other information you want when you get off an overnight bus/train/plane.  Often they have some sample itineraries to help you get the best of a destination.

  1. Join a tour

If the thought of doing everything yourself and fumbling your way through a destination is totally off-putting, there are plenty of tours all over the world to suit any taste, style, and personality.  Depending on the type of tour you choose, you will be issued with six or sixty travel buddies to keep you from getting lonely during your travels.  Often taking a tour will put your family’s hearts and minds at rest as you embark on your solo trip … but don’t feel forced to take a tour if you really want to experience total freedom.

  1. Take time out

Travelling solo can be exhausting as you are making all the decisions yourself, you feel like your guard must always be up, and you are often putting yourself in uncomfortable situations (going to restaurants alone, striking up conversations with strangers, etc).  So it’s important to take time out to nurture yourself.  It’s supposed to be a holiday as well right?!

Twelve years ago I travelled solo for the first time and experienced incredible freedom that changed me forever.

Being quite shy, stepping out of my comfort zone to meet people was a massive challenge.  Couch Surfing has been my staple travel site since 2006 because it gives me the opportunity to connect with local people and get to know a place on a deeper level.  Through this network, I have made life-long friends who I know I can call on the next time I might be flitting through on a long layover.  Armed with a guidebook and a local, I feel like I get to see the best of a destination – both the tourist sites and the best restaurants, bars and other bits of ordinary life.  When I travel, my focus is on connecting with the culture, and so this style suits me.  Of course when meeting locals online one must be careful, but reading profiles and references thoroughly and trusting my instincts has kept me safe and provided me the most wonderful opportunities and experiences.

Have you travelled solo? Or are you considering taking a trip but have some worries?  Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Looking Back: Tourism in Kenya

Looking Back: Tourism in Kenya

Mzungu!”  This oft-heard cry directed at travellers comes from colonial times when the British were travelling from Mombasa port to Nairobi and back.  To the Kenyans at the time, all the British looked the same and so they thought it was the same person going around in circles. Mzungu means something that rotates!  Tourism in Kenya has come a long way since then and this article will look at its development from early traders to the growing industry of today.

Foreign invasions

Around 800AD, Arab traders arrived under the command of the Sultan of Zanzibar. Mostly slave traders, these visitors were not the most welcome in Kenya’s history.  The Portuguese took control of the coastal area in the 16th and 17th centuries, but the Arabs soon took it back.

In 1895, Kenya became a British protectorate.  Tourism began with the colonial settlers in the early 1900s.  The settlers enjoyed going “on safari” to hunt The Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo).  Luxury camping with numerous servants was the standard, and they either travelled by motor car or on horseback.  The movie Out of Africa has some excellent scenes of a typical safari during this time.

Independence
In the 1960s and 70s tourism throughout the continent was hit by independence struggles, but the hunting safari remained popular.

Shortly after independence, the Kenyan government realised the tourism potential of the country and the impact on the nation’s economy if the industry were to be developed.  The main obstacle however was the lack of qualified people.  So the government, together with the Swiss Confederation, established a training program which produced the first Hotel Management students at Kenya Polytechnic in 1969.  In 1975, the Kenya Utalii College was founded as a dedicated hospitality and tourism training institute.

Promotion Abroad

Also in 1975, the Africa Travel Association (ATA) was established to assist the new African nations develop their tourism infrastructure.  In 1980, the Association for the Promotion of Tourism to Africa (APTA) was born out of the ATA.  It seems to have much the same objectives, namely to promote education of tourism to African business and to promote Africa as a destination to the rest of the world.

Election Disaster

In the wake of the 2007 elections, inter-tribal violence caused upheaval in Kenya.  Although none of the violence was directed towards foreigners (it was tribes fighting to have their man in the presidency) it impacted the industry significantly.  Tourism slumped by about 50%.

Onward and Upward

Despite the violence early in the year, April 2008 saw Kenya win the Best Leisure Destination award at the World Travel Fair in Shanghai.  In 2010 Kenya received over one million arrivals, a record number to that time.

Last year, both President Uhuru Kenyatta and Vice-President William Ruto pledged their commitment to growing Kenya’s tourism industry during their inauguration speeches.  Currently Kenya is receiving approximately 1.5 million tourists a year.  But Ruto stated that this government is committed to growing that number to 3-5 million in order to turn around the economy and increase jobs for young people.

At the 2013 World Travel Awards (Africa), Kenya was well-represented among the winners.  The Kenya Tourist Board won Africa’s leading tourist board award.  Nine accommodation categories were taken by Kenyan lodgings in categories such as eco, green, meetings and conferences, spa, and tented safari camp.  The Maasai Mara was named Africa’s leading national park.

On the world stage, Kenya was also well-represented in the nominations in the categories: golf destination, tourist board, eco-lodge, green hotel, new hotel, resort, spa resort, and private game reserve.  Kenya won the World’s Leading Safari Destination.

Kenyan tourism is growing from strength to strength.  Long gone are the hunting safaris; now the only shots taken are with a camera.  Despite the terror attack and airport fire last year, Kenya has been recognised globally as a leading destination.  Security remains an issue for many travellers coming to Kenya but, with the government’s renewed commitment to developing the industry, it is a safe place to holiday.  And as the general population recognises and profits from the economic benefits of tourism, the support of the nation will only increase Kenya’s attractiveness as a destination.

3 Smart Tips for Experiencing Your First Safari

3 Smart Tips for Experiencing Your First Safari

Africa is becoming an increasingly popular destination for travellers, as people find it easier to tick off that “Safari” bucket-list item.  Flights are getting cheaper, tour operators are plentiful and travel agents in countries far from the African continent are becoming well-versed in the myriad options available under the Safari concept.  But Africa can also be a daunting destination.  The media is plagued with stories of civil strife, political tension and personal security issues.  This article offers three smart tips for those wanting to embark on their first safari.

  1. Personal Security

Listening to foreign news about Kenya, one would think the whole country was at war.  Reading government travel warnings about South Africa gives a similar impression.  While it is prudent to heed travel warnings and other information about the safety of your destination, it is also advisable to connect with people living there to find out how they are experiencing daily life.  In general, people want to get on with their lives and the majority of citizens are not throwing grenades or robbing tourists.  As with anywhere (including your home town!) you should keep your wits about you, but there is no reason to cancel your safari because the media has hyped up a situation.

  1. Know what you have booked

Tour operators are a dime a dozen in many countries of Africa as tourism becomes increasingly lucrative.  In Kenya, tourism accounts for approximately 13% of GDP, making it the largest industry of the country.  So it is important that you thoroughly research your selected tour operator and ensure they are the real deal.  There are plenty of review sites on the internet, and a tour operator should be prepared to connect you with previous guests (if those guests give permission of course!) so you can check them out.  Ask plenty of questions about the mode of transport, the standard of accommodation, what activities are included in the price, which meals are included, whether you will be picked up at the airport, etc.  If you are clear on what to expect then the chance of nasty surprises spoiling your holiday will be minimised.  And don’t take anything for granted – if you assume something, then it is almost guaranteed that your assumption will be wrong.  Africa behaves differently to other places in the world so it is vital to ensure everything is explicit.

  1. Interact with locals

There are a lot of “flying packages” where you fly into the capital city, transfer immediately to a charter plane to fly to a game reserve, spend a few days looking at wildlife and then fly back to the capital and home.  You might have a chat with your safari driver or the staff at your lodge, but that would be the only chance you have to interact with a local.  While this suits many people, my opinion is that there is no point in travelling if you don’t meet the people and see the culture.  The safari experience is enriched when you take some time to visit communities and talk to people about their lives.  There are a lot of kitsch tourist villages to visit, but there are opportunities to engage with people in a meaningful way, if you use a tour operator committed to sustainable and responsible tourism.

Africa is the ultimate safari destination with opportunities for the most sublime wildlife encounters and eye-opening cultural encounters.  Sadly, much of the wildlife is in grave danger from poaching and shrinking habitat.  Tourism provides an income stream that encourages the protection of the wildlife which is crucial right now.  If a safari is on your bucket list, start your research, find a reputable tour operator and come to Africa!  You won’t ever regret it…. and perhaps it will just be the beginning of a love affair with this amazing continent.

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