At Distant Relatives Kilifi Ecolodge and Backpackers, there is a decent crowd of Kenyans who have been lured by the low rates and discounts for long-term stays.
The crowd is part of a growing number of Kenyans —mostly millennials are taking to cheaper hotels for exotic no-frills travel.
All they need is a backpack with a few clothes and essentials, a ticket and a destination.
For the older generation, one worked, prioritised investments and shelved foreign travel until the golden years.
Thanks to the internet, the growth of budget airlines and platforms like Couchsurfing, Airbnb, Workaway and more, millennials have come to realise that travel is not as expensive or hard to plan as before.
Instead of expensive one-week jaunts, long-term immersive experiences on a budget have surged in popularity and this has seen the rise of affordable hostels targeting backpackers.
While their primary visitors are Europeans and Americans, Kenyan millennials are quickly catching on.
Eric Munyiri, general manager of Tulia Backpackers in Mombasa says what attracts the travellers is the cheap rooms and adventure.
‘‘We have seen more visitors of different ages coming in from Nairobi and around Kenya since the cost of staying is a bargain. Our rooms go for Sh1,500 per day,” he says, adding that they get locals coming in to have drinks and enjoy the ambiance.
Depending on the season, you can stay for a month at Sh10,000 in a shared dorm or Sh30,000 for a private banda, and the hostel also has safari tents (it is even cheaper if you bring your own) for those keen on freedom camping.
Adam Kiboi, the communications manager at Distant Relatives Backpackers says some guests stay longer.
“Most Kenyans do short-term stays despite the discounts and the possibility of telecommuting. The sad thing is that Kenyan employers still insist on seeing their employees’ faces every day and it is rare for anyone to get more than three days off to themselves. However, with a good Internet connection, one can work from anywhere today,” he says.
At Distant Relatives, there is a private banda called Pili Pili which has a double bed and set of bunk beds for mostly families or group of friends.
Most backpackers hotels may not be too fancy, but they offer a new experience. One gets a private courtyard where they can lounge all day, but the toilets are outdoors and made from recycled materials and they produce fertiliser for the gardens.
The bathrooms are also outside and nestled amidst bamboo, moringa and banana trees. And the showers are cold. There is a mirror outside, propped against a makuti-thatched wall.
A lot of hostels have volunteer projects whereby in exchange for food and accommodation, you get to help out depending on your skills. At Distant Relatives, you can be a bartender, chef, participate in the permaculture projects and more.
Most backpackers’ hotels also have kitchens where you can make your own meals. “Backpacking hasn’t always been the go-to-option for young Kenyans,” says Mr Kiboi.
“It’s always been like the housing situation in Nairobi. Some would rather pay Sh30,000 for a bedsitter in Lavington than pay Sh15,000 for a three-bedroom apartment in Ruaka. Perceptions have however changed with millennials who see trips as more about experiences and connections rather than how fancy a hotel is.”
However, the fact that these hostels are affordable does not translate to basic or shabby decor.
Most in the coastal region seem hellbent on getting you to lose all sense of time with comfortable ankara-upholstered lounges, a teepee, sunbeds and hammocks, notice board with plenty of activities such as yoga or a relaxing sunset cruise, a library, foosball table, musical instruments, cue sports, a volleyball court, great music and an ever-friendly bartender happy to whip up a fantastic cocktail whatever the time of day.
This is exactly how they trap you. You will check in with every intention of only staying for the weekend, and on your 10th day, you find yourself walking up to the bemused yet indifferent (because he has seen this all too often) receptionist asking to extend your stay for just two more days.
A travel report has shown that a majority of Kenyan travellers—especially millenials— are taking short escapes for one or two days all-year-round and do so on a whim. Now spontaneity is king.
Jackline Oduor, a self-proclaimed adventurer, who owns an apparel and shoe boutique in Nairobi’s Central Business District, says she changed her travel habits.
“I used to spend more time planning and researching a break-away with family or friends than I did actually enjoying it,” says the mother-of-two.
“This was until I discovered the value of tossing the schedule once in a while and living in the moment.”
Ms Oduor is among an increasingly group of Kenyan holidaymakers who are ready to hop on the next Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) train, an airplane or a personal car with a friend or relative and be on the other side of the city a couple of hours later just to unwind.
The changing travelling habits are captured in a new report by Saffir Africa, a travel destination marketing company.
The report released two weeks ago is based on an online survey that interrogated how Kenyans travel.
It found out that the Kenyan traveller is not into long scripted holidays, with 43 per cent preferring spontaneous trips of about three days. About 72 per cent of Kenyans prefer short stays of between one to three nights stay at a go, the report shows.
“From these findings, it is clear that the Kenyan traveller finds quick getaways more compelling than traditional weekends,” says the study.
“A big number of domestic travellers do so on a whim, for them travel is a necessity and not a luxury. If the package is quick, easy and light, Kenyans will take it,” it says.
Ms Oduor agrees saying spontaneous travel performed without lengthy premeditation or planning is convenient and fulfilling.
“Once I have a rough idea where I would like to go, I book a flight, a bus, a train (or even pack my car). I already plan enough of my daily life. I don’t need to plan a break on top of that,” she says.
According to David Kimani, the founder of Vacay Holiday Deals, a sizable number of bookings start online but ultimately get finalised off-line.
“We expect to see more non-traditional booking flows like direct message bookings, chat bots, and use of messaging apps,” he said.