How I travel on a low budget in Kenya

and why a change in perspective is the key to all richness

Just to warn you: This is much more a blog post on your own attitude and how it can help you deal with the money issue while travelling. It’s not a guide to budget travel. BUT: With the right perspective, money issues become much easier to handle.

I went to Kenya as a volunteer because I didn’t have money. Or at least, that was one of the many reasons. I was fascinated by the African continent and I wanted to get in touch with people instead of visiting the place as a tourist.

In fact, travelling as a volunteer may not be as money-saving as you think.

I paid for my flight tickets, the German organisation that connected me to the Kenyan one, and for them I paid again, for hosting and food. Regardless for me, after finishing school, volunteering was a cheaper option to travel.

It is always good to have a bit of a buffer on your account when going abroad. Many people work extra and save money for their big trip. Tara wrote a non BS guide on how she earns money for travelling

It’s hard earned money. And it’s precious, so you don’t want to waste it.

I lived very modest in Kenya, never bought sweets or anything that appeared luxury to me. I hadn’t done that in Germany either, in order to keep my bucks together and make this trip happen.

It took me many years to realise two things:

  1. The fact that I am in a position to work extra, earn and save money for a flight ticket, is a privilege that not many people have.
  2. And: Some people in Kenya would have preferred me to send them the money instead of coming.

Some people see me as a walking wallet. Because I do own more money than them. [I used to feel guilty about it, but I have learned to cope with that

The most important thing to keep in mind when travelling to the global South is that you as a traveller from the global North will always have more money, better ways to get money and higher financial security than many people you will encounter. Think health insurance, visa card, student loans, help from your family, etc.

Many of my Kenyan friends don’t have a bank account. It’s not necessary for them.

Keeping my privilege in mind makes it a bit easier to decide on what to spend on and it helps to understand certain situations.

Antony was invited to a fancy restaurant by volunteers once. To get there, he spent half of the money he had that day on transport and remained with another 80 Kenya Shillings, just enough to get back home. After the meal, where he only took tea which was already expensive enough, the inviting volunteer left a tip of 400 Kenya Shillings on the table. Tipping is generally not very common in Kenya, and there was Antony, spending his last bucks on transport, leaving 400 Shillings on the table of a noble restaurant.

fifty bob copy

I still don’t spend a lot of money when travelling, mostly because I don’t have it anyway.

  • I don’t need much anymore, as my life has become more minimalistic.
  • I personally don’t give money to people begging in the streets, whether it is in Kenya or in Germany. Even though I could. My reasons for that shall be discussed another time.
  • I developed a feeling for when something is expensive. I buy local food on the market. I use public transport and don’t join all-inclusive safari packages. Goods and services are cheaper compared to what I would have to pay in Germany. But that is not reason enough for me to abandon my modest lifestyle in Kenya.
  • I don’t invite everyone all the time and pay for everything, just because I feel guilty about having more money than many of my Kenyan friends. But I sometimes cook for them, I help them when they have funerals or hospital bills. Not because I have money, but because it is very common to do that in Kenya.

To me it is important to add value to people’s lives and make them know that they are adding value to mine. Money discussions are still uncomfortable, but I know I am privileged and that makes me more open towards the Kenyan culture of dealing with money and I have learned to develop my standing point when it comes to what to pay for and what not.

How do you deal with “the money issue” while travelling? Do you have any good tips or tools you use? Let us know in the comments below!

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