Backpacker Interview: Flying in Africa is crazily expensive; I now stand at 12 countries, 42 more to go!

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Lunch-hour away from the office usually translates into recharge time. Colleagues at Jumia Travel either chill out or hangout at the terrace during this time when the weather is agreeable. With our lunch boxes, we pore into each other’s minds as a means of escaping what could easily be the mundane routine of life. We share travel experiences, exchange reviews of flights and hotels, wow at each other’s choice of destination and of course laugh hard whenever someone comes back from leave deflated instead of  energetic.

Margie defies the myth that accountants are boring. She is an explorer at heart, a voyager by nature and a financier with Jumia Travel by profession. Since I was curious as to how she backpacks twice a year internationally, I caught up with her after a recent trip to Morocco.

  • How and when did you decide to start travelling across Africa? What was the motivation?

I have always been keen on travelling and right from Campus I used to organise small excursions with my friends and I remember Ngong Hills and Naivasha were a common destination for us. You know when you only have a thousand shillings to spare every three months? The typical student life!

Travelling across Africa then came by chance; we got into a random argument with a friend which mountain was tougher to climb between Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Kenya. Since he had climbed Mt. Kenya, we took on Mt. Kilimanjaro to prove to ourselves. This was in 2014.

Cape of Good Hope

That trip to Kilimanjaro sort of switched up my wanderlust a notch higher. I met a fellow wanderlust who had travelled 40 countries and was a fellow Kenyan. I was consequently very inspired to explore our beautiful continent. I am privy to the fact most Africans prefer travelling to Europe and all my research would lead me to articles of Africa written by non-Africans and this inspired my desire to discover for myself and write African stories from an African mouthpiece. I now stand at 12 countries, 42 more to go!!

  • Where have you backpacked in Kenya?

For two years, I set up a small itinerary to maximise most of my weekends on doing excursions within Kenya. I sky-dived at Diani, snorkelled at Kisite Mpunguti, drove a speed boat in Bamburi, Mombabsa, Kayaked and bungee jumped at Sagana, hiked Sleeping Warrior and Ugali Hills in Naivasha, Mt. Ololokwe in Samburu, visited Grogan Castle in Taita Taveta, took a dip into the hot water pools of Magadi, visited 90% of the game parks in Kenya and to crown all of these, hiked Mt. Kenya.

Dead Valley Namibia

With that, my conscience was clear, I had “Tembead Kenya”.

 

  • Travelling within Africa is synonymous to expensive. What are your money saving tips before and while travelling?

Unfortunately to a great extent yes. Flying in Africa is crazily expensive. I therefore must find ways to go around it. I usually prepare my travels one year in advance. This way, I can have a draft of the budget as a guide in my saving plan. I carry packed meals to work to save on lunch money, use public transport to move around, shop at the fleece market and basically minimise my “hangout” expenses to bare minimum so that I can afford a trip.

By planning early, you also get to have a variety of choices at low cost. Don’t expect to book a hotel a week to travel and to get a great deal. Chances are you will get the best hotels are already fully booked or are available at high rates.

Kayaking Botswana

If you can get a travel pal, it would help to split the costs such as accommodation and taxi.

Alternatively, you can stay in self-catering apartments or look for a host as opposed to staying in hotels which might be expensive. Haven’t tried this yet, but who knows about tomorrow? My advice for anyone intending to travel through Africa by air, get your visa early so that you can book your ticket early. This way, you will be able to save some hundreds of dollars off the air ticket.

  • Going through your Instagram feed, you voyaged in Southern Africa. Was it challenging to prepare for the trip?

Yes!!! This was by far the most challenging trip to plan for myself. Mostly due to scanty information for a backpacker. I travelled from Nairobi to Zambia. Then went to Botswana, Namibia and finally to Cape Town.

Most of the research would lead me to overlanding trips. These are the most common trips done in the Southern Africa especially if going through Namibia. Namibia is huge, under-populated with very little public road transport. However, they were too pricy for me and the time they take were a bit longer than the leave period I had.

Quad Biking Namibia

It took me four months to figure out the maps, border crossings, ask around for questions and come up with a 17 day itinerary. But thank God, it was executed and executed well

  • What were your 3 favourite destinations for this trip? Why?

I must Namibia stood out for me, due to its vast inhabited landscapes. I am an outdoor girl and getting out to enjoy the beautiful outdoors totally took over. The hills, the open skies, the ‘naturalness’, the resilient wildlife that roamed freely, it was generally a sight to behold.

The really pretty and colourful towns – Windhoek and Swakopmund – were an all time favourite.

So, I would pick two places in Namibia; Kamanjab where we visited the Himba Tribe

Sossuvlei with the dunes and salt pans

 

and Victoria Falls in Zambia.

  • You recently travelled north to Morocco, how did you manage to interact with the local people without speaking their language?

Good question, it was a lot of fun, reliving the pre-colonial days before English, French and Arabic was introduced. For the Atlas mountain hike, we had an English guide, but the rest of the places, we simply used basic communication, like mentioning the place where we would want to go and follow the gestures that our assistors would give us, until we needed further assistance. At one section in Fes, we did not want to incur the costs of a tour guide. GPS cannot help either. Our hotel host wrote down the places we requested him that we wanted to visit, then he translated them to Arabic, and we simply showed the piece of paper around from street to street until we reached the various places we intended to visit.

  • Take us through your planning phase. How do you select, budget and plan for your next destination

My planning always starts with downloading the map of the country that I want to visit. The idea is to maximise all places of interest that might be feasible to visit since it would be a shame to leave out a place of interest just because of poor research.

Then I always look for tips online of the best places to visit. Once this is done, I check the distance from each place, and the transport costs and time involved.

In most places, accommodation is relatively available, and I usually plan to spend $30 per person or less.

Etosha National Park Namibia

I also look up entry fees and activity charges involved for each place.

I select the best mode of transport to travel to the place, if road, or air, and get the best option (time and cost wise).

With these costs then I come up with a budget. Then I save towards this, for at least a year.

I remove items that might be too expensive – I had to cut out swimming with the Sharks in Cape Town due to costs, Abu Simbel temple visit in Egypt and Fish River Canyon in Namibia.

  • Any advice for 1st time tourists who want to travel across Africa without creating holes in their pockets?
  1. Plan early! This is the most important. That helps minimize air transport cost where you may need to fly.
  2. If you can merge a few neighboring countries, it would be a plus as it would eliminate the need to travel that area again not unless you are significantly enchanted by the country.
  3. Take on deals; Jumia Travel always has deals for both hotels and flights. Don’t get too tired of the emails, they come in handy.
  4. Get a travel buddy. There are sunk costs that can be reduced if you cost share, and not forgetting having someone to take your pictures.
  5. Use public transport as much as possible; the advantage of travelling Africa if African, is that you can easily blend in. Notwithstanding that you can still be conned, but it will be better than going private. And don’t be afraid of risks or getting tired. You will rest when you come back.

 

 

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