- Theirs is nothing luxurious; the trips are cheap with no-frills but fun. They pool resources together or pay for the trips in instalments and stay in cheap lodges.
For years, tourism in Kenya has been synonymous with the wealthy and foreigners. But young Kenyans are taking up frugal travel as they seek to change their perception of the world, experience different cultures, meet new friends, and make lifelong memories.
Theirs is nothing luxurious; the trips are cheap with no-frills but fun. They pool resources together or pay for the trips in instalments and stay in cheap lodges.
Alex Kamau, the founder of Lets Drift Community — a group of more than 250 adventure-loving individuals — is among the young travellers.
The 27-year-old says he was motivated to start the group to allow youth to travel to different destinations on a shoestring budget.
Most local tourism experiences, he says, are too expensive and they are crafted for foreign and rich tourists. Hence the focus is on luxury hotels and activities in beaches and game parks.
To curate packages for the money-conscious youth, he picks less beaten paths and those that are underrated.
“Budget travel is a big thing, especially for millennial travellers. With the flood of information about destinations on the Internet, it’s pretty easy to plan a trip without involving a tour agent,” he says.
Alex says that the group has courted many young people who have fallen in love with exploring the country. They travel by public transport, eat local foods in cheap hotels, and even get hosted by locals in their homes.
For the last two years, he says, they have gone on more than 50 hiking trips in Kiambu County alone, giving young Kenyans access to places they would have never visited at budget-friendly rates. Members can go to unlimited hikes every month after paying a monthly subscription fee of Sh1,000.
He explains that although coastal destinations remain top in the list of places young people are likely to visit, a majority are seeking adventure-filled experiences like cultural festivals, mountaineering, camping, and group road trips.
“This [frugal travel] is the future of domestic tourism. If we have to get more Kenyans to embrace local tourism, we must offer affordable experiences,” he says.
Wacera Kieha was not been a nature-lover, preferring to do yoga. But since joining Lets Drift Community in July, the hiking bug has stung her and no weekend passes without her going hiking or travelling to new destinations.
She says that the group has made travelling affordable. All she has to pay is Sh1,000, a monthly subscription fee, and then cater for transport to the various destinations every month.
“I now love hiking and I do not miss hiking every weekend. I have discovered places I never knew existed at an affordable price,” says Wacera.
The group’s officials scout for new destinations every month then come up with a calendar of which places will be visited every weekend. This is then shared with the members, known as drifters, at the beginning of every month who will then choose which one to go to either on Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
They will then meet at a central location where they take public transport like matatu, which is cheap, to their destination. Each person pays his or her own fare.
“I learnt about the group from a friend,” says the 26-year-old.
“The experience has been amazing, more than I expected. I have gone to places I never knew even existed. For instance, I never knew Kiambu has that many waterfalls. I have come to appreciate nature and I want to experience more,” she adds.
Peter Nyabuto, who joined Lets Drift Community in July, says he has travelled to 15 different places in four months.
Before July, he says, he could not afford to book for a trip through a tour and travel firm.
“I have always wanted to visit different places in the country to see what nature has to offer outside Nairobi. But I could not because tour companies charge expensive rates but since joining Lets Drift, I have not missed hiking every weekend,” says Peter.
The 27-year-old is born and bred in Nairobi and the only time he has been leaving the capital city is to his grandparents’ place, which is not always, and to Mombasa a few times.
“With Lets Drift, I have travelled to many places and met different and interesting people. It has made domestic tourism affordable and has made me curious to see even more. If Kiambu has such beautiful waterfalls and other scenic places, what about other places in Kenya?” he says.
Pay in instalments
Cynthia Kimola, a communications officer at Knight Frank Kenya, says most Kenyans think that travelling is expensive but the group has disapproved of this notion.
“I have gone to more than six hikes since I joined in March. The experience has been great and I have gone to places I never knew about. We have a WhatsApp group where we share the calendar for the activities,” says the 30-year-old.
“It has re-ignited a desire to travel more around the country and I cannot wait for more,” she adds.
Pancras Karema, the chief executive officer of Expedition Maasai Safaris, a tour and travel operator, says they have adopted a plan akin to budget travelling where clients pay for a trip in installments. This, he points out, is informed by the need to cater to a clientele, mostly comprising young people who have no stable jobs or have just begun working but want to travel on a budget.
“We have a flexible payment plan where one pays in installments even a year. For instance, when you tell a young person to pay Sh15,000 at once to travel to Maasai Mara, it is a bit steep,” says Mr Karema. He explains that most young people do not have disposable income and are looking for something affordable to fit their budget.
“The uptake has been high and because of the volumes we deal with, we negotiate with hotels to get discounted rates because we understand that not every client can afford some of the expensive rates offered by most hotels,” he says.
Simon Kabu, Bonfire Adventures CEO, agrees with Mr Karema pointing out that young people love travelling and exploring but cannot afford the charges by most established tour and travel firms.
As a result, he says, they had to come up with a package known as lipa pole pole — where one pays a deposit, makes a reservation and pays in instalments.
“Young people love travelling but because they do not have a steady income to afford the high-end packages, they opt for budget travelling,” says Mr Kabu.
Tips for travelling on a budget
1. Do away with the luxuries
Be financially-conscious in terms of the kind of accommodation to choose, mode of travel to use, food, among others.
"Look out for discounts. If it is accommodation, don't book the presidential suite, if it is flying don't use first-class, no five-course meal," Mr Karema says.
2. Come up with a plan
Pick a destination(s) you want to visit and the duration. This will eliminate the unexpected expenditure and last-minute rush as these will only add expenses to your travel. Travelling on a whim is great but only if one has money to spare.
Take your time to conduct some fact-finding on your destination by reading about it, reading reviews about the destination as well as talking to other travellers who have been there before.
4.Travel out of season
Avoid trips during peak seasons like school holidays when prices are high.
5. Book in advance
Be smart by booking in advance when prices are yet to shoot up as the peak season approaches. Book your accommodation and travel ahead of time to avoid the last-minute booking when rates rise.
6. Pool together
Make connections with people who might share the same travelling plan to pool resources. This will help reduce the financial burden that one has to foot when alone as well as making the trip more memorable and exciting.
7. Be flexible
Though it is tempting to plan your itinerary, this is one of the most important qualities of a budget-savvy traveller. Be able to drop plans and switch things up but have a list of important things you miss.
Take advantage of deals and opportunities. Stay in hostels, apartments, or Airbnb.
8. Learn to haggle
Bargain price down from the asking price or wander around before settling on the best offer. However, know when to stop and pay a decent price. You can also avoid shopping in overpriced outlets.
9. Be open to a new adventure
We all have lengthy bucket lists but don't be married to them! Sometimes some of the most amazing destinations in the world aren't on your radar yet but are worth the trip.