MONEY TALKS: How to travel locally on a budget

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Last May, GB and some pals of ours travelled down to Mtwapa in the Coast for our pal’s ruracio. Si you know how these things go? We were three couples and two loose single guys. We travelled down on Friday, had the ruracio on Saturday and returned on Sunday.

It was a short stay but it’s from this trip that I picked up a few tips on how to travel locally on a budget:

Rent a villa instead of staying in a hotel

Hotels are a luxury you can do away with over the holiday season. And to be quite honest, what does a hotel offer which you can’t find in a well-maintained and hygienic villa? Comfort is what holiday makers want, I believe, not luxury. Comfort costs less than luxury. Comfort fits almost any traveller’s budget. Seek comfort.

We rented a five-bedroom villa in the outskirts of Mtwapa, one of those Moi-era bungalows with an expansive backyard, a pool, spacious living room and high ceilings. The master ensuite was the size of the average Nairobi’s high-rise one-bedroom.

Mostly, it was private and felt like home. Hostels are also another option.

Renting is an even sweeter package if you rent it as a family group with your siblings and their kids and the grandparents.

Hire a chef, avoid eating out

Our Mtwapa villa package included a chef. This one I insisted on, there was no way I would spend my getaway weekend stressing about what we’d eat and what time I’d cook. You shouldn’t either. Let someone else do the heavy lifting in the kitchen for you.

I use the word ‘chef’ here loosely, by the way. He was a local guy who knew how to cook well. He looked like Ronaldo (the footballer) in his early 20s. It didn’t help that he only had a patch of dreadlocks which he tied in loose high bun on the top of his head. And he rocked nothing but a t-shirt and shorts all weekend.

Anyway, we bought all the dry supermarket ingredients and sent him to the local butcheries for fresh meats. He fixed all our meals for the day.

He told us to give him a heads-up next time we’re travelling down so he can prep his condiments cupboard. Because what’s a trip down to the Coast without tasting his famed chicken biryani?

Use a local as your tour guide

Our chef doubled up as our tour guide. He didn’t walk around with us but he advised us on the night clubs to visit and shared contacts for taxi drivers.
We were there for only a weekend so we didn’t have the time to tour as tourists do.

You could buy some in Nairobi to travel down with it. Flights and trains will let you check in with it as long as it’s sealed and isn’t in your hand luggage.

The moment you crack the seal open, then you must surrender it at the security check. (Or drink it all down, your choice.)

The other option would be to get some in the local liquor stores. Which is what we did.

We drank our own booze in our villa, so when we went out, we drank just enough to maintain the buzz for the rest of the night.

Oh, and now that we’re here, don’t go to clubs and other public spots that charge entrance.

Keep time
On the Friday we were to travel down to Mtwapa, GB and I slept in and ended up missing the train. (I know, I know.) Flights may sometimes delay, you can take this tardiness risk with a flight, but don’t even try it with the SGR – trains always keep time.

You must also factor in the time required to check in and other mandatory security checks, some take about as long as getting a root canal done.

Because GB and I didn’t keep time and the next available train wasn’t until the following day, we opted to fly down with Jambo Jet.

We bought our tickets at the airport’s ticketing office. This decision upset our budget. Granted, the flight was only 45 minutes long, compared to two hours for the train – we got there before our pals did and had time to take a dip in the pool and fool around.

That’s no excuse though, keep time so you work within your tight budget.

There’s choice in flying with a local budget airlines: Jambo Jet, Silverstone, Air Kenya. It’s a growing list.

Budget airlines are easy on their ticket rates, but they’re ruthless with charging extra for, well, the extras: you’re charged for the luggage you check in, for the beverages and snacks they serve on board, I wouldn’t be surprised if they charged for wet wipes and tissue paper. Squeeze everything into your carry-on.

Don’t splash on souvenirs
Fridge magnets, lesos, t-shirts branded ‘I Love Watamu’ and ‘Hakuna Matata’, handmade curios and whatnot are on the most part costly and tighten your tight budget the more.

If you must buy a souvenir – if you must – make sure you’ve budgeted for it and it’s a piece that truly captures the spirit of the locality and of your adventure.

Don’t buy anything in the hotel shop. Or on the side of the road. Or some place that you stumble upon on a whim. Have your local tour guide point you to these hidden gems in the local markets.

We had a travel agent make the weekend bookings for us. But there are several free apps that undoubtedly make your budget travel easier: an app to book your cottage or villa, an app to point you to the pocket-friendly hangouts, an app to remind you about travel dates and packing lists, an app to help you track your money and warn you when you’ve spent above your budget.

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