The first time that Bernadette Ndeda thought of travelling to the Greek island of Santorini, was when she came across photos in a travel group.
“I saw a picture-perfect island with whitewashed buildings and blue domes, stunning coastline and gorgeous sunsets. I wanted to experience the Santorini sunsets,” she says.
The ardent traveller who has been to 44 countries and counting is among the thousands of Kenyans who have spent holidays in Greece to quench their curiosity about the exotic destination.
“It took me about six months to plan the trip. First, I looked at the best month to travel. I read that it gets crowded and hot in summer, so I avoided summer. I almost went during winter because it is cheaper but I was worried that it would be too cold to enjoy, and besides, everything would probably be shut down,” she says.
So she settled on travelling before the cold season kicked in, but still off-peak season.
“I got the possible hotels to stay in, then flights. Then came the Schengen visa application which took about a month. Once all the major things were accounted for, I was good to go,” she says.
Ms Ndeda has always loved travelling and Greece was not her first daring trip. When she got her first passport in 2007 her interest in travel was aroused.
“I was so excited and wanted the passport stamped. So I travelled to Tanzania just for the stamp. I remember that trip, aboard the Tahmeed bus. It was a long and dramatic journey. The bus broke down, the driver’s hand got scalded by steam from the radiator and we were stranded in the middle of nowhere for a couple of hours with a one-handed driver. It was chaos, I arrived in Dar es Salaam tired, hungry, and sweaty but very happy. I also visited Uganda and Rwanda by bus. Long tiresome trip but very fulfilling. In 2014, a friend posted on Facebook about her trip to Europe. I never thought that I could ever travel beyond East Africa,” she says.
She asked her friend how she went about travelling abroad.
“Then I wrote a travel bucket list, started saving and eventually, I went on my dream Euro-trip to a couple of countries,” she says.
Travelling comes with challenges. You plan a trip with friends and they cancel last time, then they plan another, and they cancel again and the back-and-forth continues. Does she opt to travel solo?
“I travel solo and other times with family and friends. When I travel solo, I’m my own entertainment. I carry a portable speaker, my fun spirit and throw a one-person party. Sometimes I take walking tours or group excursions and meet other travellers. Other times I am an introvert, so I explore the cities by myself, taking long walks, meditating and taking in the sights,” she says.
Travelling is also costly. How does she ensure she sticks to a budget?
“I mostly travel during shoulder months or off-peak seasons. That way, everything including flights, accommodation and activities is much cheaper than during peak season. I book the flights in advance. I do a lot of research before travelling. I start by searching ‘free things to do …’
I also always weigh my options, for instance, it is cheaper to rent a car and drive around in some places than taking public transport or taxis. I also look for package deals, for instance, some cities have passes which you can use to access various attractions at a discounted rate,” she says.
She also cuts food expenses by eating street food or at local diners.
“I keep track of every expenditure during my trips,” says Ms Ndeda, who works in procurement.
For Santorini, she rented a car which allowed her to explore the island at her own pace, and save.
“Taxis are quite expensive, it is cheaper to rent a car,” she says.
The global luxurious “flying dress” photo shoot craze in Santorini, was a must-do for Ms Ndeda. In her long dress, she posed against the backdrop of blue domes and white houses.
“There is just something about the flying dress photos that make a lady look so elegant and poised and even more so with a beautiful backdrop of Santorini white and blue buildings, the sea, and the beautiful sky. I found an amazing photographer (True-Santorini) online who charged €350 (Sh55,000) for a one-hour photoshoot which was cheaper as most of the photographers charge from €500 (Sh78,000) and above,” she says.
To stand out, as most of the flying dresses look somewhat the same, Ms Ndeda engaged a designer in Kenya (Kiafrika) to custom-make her bright-coloured dress and a tinge of African print.
“I did two photoshoots. One was in the typical Santorini flying dress which comes with the €350 package and you can choose from different designs and colours that the photographer usually has and another in my custom-made dress. To make the dress ‘fly’ the photographer has an assistant who throws the dress in the air. When I saw the photos, I felt like I was on top of the world. It was a great once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Ms Ndeda says.
For someone who has travelled to 44 countries, does she have a dream destination?
“Antarctica,” she says, “It feels so surreal and out-of-this-world. I feel like everywhere else is reachable but going to Antarctica is like an expedition. You can’t just wake up one morning, book flights and say I'm going to Antarctica. I would like to see the icebergs and seascapes and I get fascinated by the penguins.”
The most interesting place that she has gone to is the Maldives. That was in 2021.
“Hands down, this is the most beautiful place I have ever visited. The beaches are so white and clean. The water is so blue and clear, you can see to the bottom of the ocean. This trip is quite memorable because I went with my mum. Sadly in 2022, she passed on and I was glad to be left with the beautiful memories that we had on the trip. I was also glad that I shared Maldives with her and showed her just how much I loved her and how much she meant to me, but also just appreciated her for all the sacrifices she made that made me who I am today,” she says.
While in Maldives, they stayed on three different islands; Ukulhas which is a small island with locals going about their daily lives, and Maafushi which is where most tourists go and has lots of of excursions and affordable accommodation.
“We also stayed at a private resort called You & Me by Cocoon which you can only get to by using a seaplane. We did snorkelling, watched dolphins, visited sandbanks, and island-hopped,” she says.
For adventurous Kenyans in search of unique destinations, she recommends Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Italy, and Portugal.
“They have amazing culture, tropical weather, food, and people. The Philippines has an extra advantage because it is visa-free for Kenyans. Portugal is much cheaper than other European countries. It is the only country in Europe where I could afford to take a taxi to almost anywhere,” she says.
Challenges that she has experienced while travelling?
“I’ve missed flights. I remember a time I was unable to order food because of a language barrier. I ended up walking to a McDonald’s and pointing at a burger and fries. Another time I got food poisoning, the flight back was not easy. I lost my phone and was stranded for a while. No one wanted to help me because they thought I was a fraud, I was in a city notorious for pickpockets and scam artists. But I am a happy-go-lucky person, I always find solutions to problems and if I can’t find a solution then there is no point worrying about it so I don’t,” she says.
Has she travelled twice or thrice to one destination?
“Yes. Two places. Italy and Zanzibar. I feel like I want to keep going back to explore. Italy is a gorgeous country with scenic landscapes, lakes, and mountains, the whole country is a work of art. The food and wine are amazing. I have been to Zanzibar three times and I will probably go back,” she says.
Another Kenyan who travelled to Santorini is Sophie Kinoti. At only 29 years old, she has been to over 20 countries.
“I work in Athens [the capital city of Greece], so planning didn’t take long,” she says.
For her, the most captivating thing about Santorini is the white castles, volcanic islands, and black and red beaches. In Greece, besides Santorini, visit Kamena Vourla, she says.
Just like many travellers, she rented a flying dress for the photoshoot.
“I hired the dress from Santorini Flying Dresses. Hiring the dress cost 110 euros (Sh17,300) and the photography cost 350 euros (Sh55,000),” says the communications specialist.
An avid traveller, she recommends Dubai, Seychelles, Spain, Greece, and the UK for those looking for new destinations to add to their bucket lists. She has visited some more than once, others while on work trips.
“One time, I flew business class to Spain, paid for the hotel and excursions. I spent about Sh800,000. I did Ferrari World in Catalunya, it was amazing. I visited Madrid and Barcelona too which blew my mind,” she says.
How did she discover travel at such a young age? Ms Kinoti says her interest in travel was piqued at a young age.
“I used to admire my parents when they travelled overseas for meetings. Then I started travelling with family, friends, and colleagues and then later solo. Music is the food of my soul. You can’t get bored,” she says.
How does she ensure she sticks to a budget?
“I do research, and carry the exact amount I’m going to use plus a little bit more for miscellaneous expenses. I’m a spendthrift, so I try to contain myself,” she says.
Her dream destination? Singapore.