Should I pay for volunteering?

Yes and no. First you need to evaluate your attitude.

When travelling to Kenya for the first time, I used two organisations to get there. One German and one Kenyan one. The German organisation prepared me with two seminars and connected me to the Kenyan organisation. The Kenyan organisation connected me to an orphanage and two other projects where I could stay and volunteer.

The opening ceremony for one of the projects was a fundraising. Local officials gave speeches and some women donned them with glittering chains that I just know as Christmas tree decoration. The volunteers, a bunch of slightly overwhelmed graduates from Germany, Japan, the Netherlands and Finland had to introduce themselves, and everybody said how happy and grateful they were to be here and motivated to work together.

The fundraising followed the common structure: Somebody announced that they were collecting money to support the project we were all going to work in. Then people went in front and gave out money which was collected in a pot or on a plate. Often, politicians use such fundraisings to make themselves known as supporters of certain causes, as they are also the guests of honour of such occasions and draw attention to the project.

counting money copy

counting money at a fundraising 

When the officials and the project hosts had contributed, something awkward happened:

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Keeping your travel tech simple

in order to be a more responsible travel blogger

The [last post of this series] on Responsible Travel Blogging should have helped you to choose the right format for reporting about your trip. You may have even set up your blog already, or opened a group on social media.

Now you wonder what you need to carry in order to keep people at home updated.

The most important thing is to find out about internet access, because for reporting to friends this is often the cheapest way.

Internet

You can check [nomadlist.com ] for a quick overview of big cities worldwide. But if you are travelling to the rural areas, free internet access is not always guaranteed.

I used to take notes for blog posts on a piece of paper, while still on the countryside, and I took it with me when we went to the next town. In the cybercafé the notes became a blog post that had to be sent immediately, because I never knew when I would have access to internet next time.

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Choose your format for Responsible Travel Blogging

How and why to publish through email, on blogs, social media or WhatsApp.

My first travel blogs fulfilled the sole purpose to keep my family and friends updated. I just wrote, added some pictures and then published without editing. The posts were long, because I wrote twice a month and a lot used to happen within two weeks. The response was scarce, but friends and acquaintances generally were interested in my journey and I was sure they were reading.

If you are thinking of opening a travel blog, these are the first two questions you need to ask yourself:

Why are you writing?

Who is your audience?

These questions go hand in hand. If you are writing to keep your family and friends updated, they are your audience. But don’t underestimate the bragging power of parents: My dad started sending the links to the blog posts to his colleagues and friends, because he liked them so much. So the private audience quickly became a bunch of people I didn’t even know.

Ask yourself why, how and when they are reading or following you. Are they going to read long texts? Or are short videos better (Periscope)? What about daily quick thoughts and photos (Twitter / Instagram)?

Maybe you are a professional travel blogger, or want to become one. Or you want to journal for your own benefit. Whatever your reason to publish and whoever your audience determines your platform and format for travel blogging.

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All you need to carry for your journey: Your Ultimate Packing List

Why packing lightly makes you a more responsible traveller – and how to do it

Some fear it, some love it. Some do it four days in advance with a well-prepared list, some throw everything together in the last minute. We are talking about packing for your trip.

It’s especially hard to pack for a trip to a country or continent you have never been before. We’ll give you the ultimate packing list for responsible travel, which in this case also means light travel.

There are two simple steps for relaxed packing.

  1. You need a bit of time, but not necessarily a list. Go through each room in your house or apartment and pick all the things you think you need from there. Collect them in a bag, box or basket and before leaving the room, already try to sort out half of the stuff. Then pile the rest on the floor or your bed and go to the next room.
  2. Once you have collected all the things you think you need, sort out half of the things again. I know, it sounds hard, but give it a try. You will thank me later.

Carry only things that you will need at least twice every week (That’s a great tip from Conni of [planetbackpack.de].

Digitise!

No need to bring books, guides and journals. They all fit in one slim multipurposeful device.

(Disclaimer: I DON’T own such a device. I’m an old school soul and swear by real paper books and I journal and scrap book like crazy. But I buy, read and leave my books in the country, and I don’t use guide books anyway. And yes, I stopped collecting supermarket receipts and tickets from every single bus ride I ever took.)

Always consider eco-friendliness of your products and baggage.

They are often great in multipurpose usage. There is organic soap for skin and hair (and sometimes even hand laundry), and lotion for body and face, for example.

Carry lightly.

Backpacks are often better than trolleys, especially if you don’t expect smooth and tarmacked walk ways everywhere.

denno

The ultimate challenge

Try to travel only with hand-luggage. Although I have never managed to do that, it’s one of my big dreams and I admire everyone [who already ] [does it]. You have so much more freedom and less stress when travelling and moving around.

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All you need to know about transport, logistics, phone and internet when travelling

Transport

Once you know where you want to travel, you may wonder how to do so. Most likely you’ll be flying, but how do you continue afterwards? Guidebooks can be a good option to check different possibilities for different routes within one country and how to get from one country to the next. The guidebook for Kenya by Lonely Planet, for instance, often describes the exact routes of public transport or which line to use to get to a specific sight.

Much better, though, are people who are or have recently been there, and those who live there.

Often it is sufficient to make bookings one day prior to your tour or day trip, if at all.

Try to settle first, for a day or two, in the town where you land. Then you can get helpful information on how to continue. Hotels, organisations and hosts often have contacts and can help you organise the continuation of your journey.

In Kenya, a common means of transport are matatus, small vans with 10 to 30 seats. Depending on their route and whether they operate within Nairobi or carry passengers from town to town, they are pimped and tuned, play the latest Kenyan or Nigerian music very loudly and they may or may not carry excess passengers.

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All you need to do to stay healthy on your trip

Vaccination

Before going to a different country, collect recommendations for vaccinations. You will get the best advice at a tropical health institute. Make an appointment early enough and carry your vaccination certificates. Their staff are able to give you exact and up-to-date recommendations specifically for the trip you are planning and your conditions. Some vaccinations may need several refreshment shots, some will interfere with others, so again: Make sure to start early.

You could also ask your doctor and contact people who are travelling there right now or have recently returned.

In order to enter certain countries, for example D.R. Congo, you must prove that you are vaccinated against yellow fever. It is necessary to get that shot and be able to produce a valid certificate. I got vaccinated against yellow fever in Germany, but I could have done it in Kenya, too. If you are doing a longer trip though several countries, find out what the exact conditions are and what suits you best.

Check with your insurance what they will pay for.

A note on malaria

There are a few medications on the market that serve as prophylaxis against malaria. They differ in possible side-effects, doses and prices. I tried one in two different cases and had very few problems. But I have also seen people getting malaria despite taking these pills. I have met people suffering heavily from the side effects. And I have had malaria myself several times and some relatives and friends got it.

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All you need to know about visa, flights, travel documents and money

Everything you can prepare for your trip – with helpful printable checklists

In this series we focus on all the technical, pragmatic stuff you should take care of before you start your trip. We tried to keep them as general as possible, but different countries of destination have different processes. Since these things are sometimes overwhelming, you can download and print checklists at the end of the posts to keep track of what you have to do.

Visa

The first thing to check, even before applying for your visa, is your passport and its expiry date. Will it be valid until you return to your home country? Is it damaged? Does the photo still comply with your appearance?

Then collect information about visa requirements for the country or countries you want to visit. Check the websites of embassies, trustworthy guidebooks, blogs or forums. Also check back with people from your own country who have been there. Contact bloggers or websites directly and ask them for specific advice for certain countries.

What are the specific requirements? Do you need certain vaccinations? A certain amount of money on your account? A letter of invitation? (Sometimes it must include specific information or be written in a certain format.) How much does it cost?

Sometimes you can get the visa at the airport upon arrival. Check which currency you can pay it with. If you have time, though, doing it in advance is what I’d advise you to do. It saves you time and stress when arriving. If you apply for visa or other documents in advance, make copies before you send out originals.

In addition to the visa, when arriving in Kenya I always had to fill an entry form. Sometimes marking “voluntary work” as the purpose of entry was a bit tricky. It is often easier to tick “tourism”. A tourist visa may not officially allow you to do voluntary work.

In case you want to travel to several countries: What makes more sense? One multiple-entry visa or several single visa for the specific countries? Compare finances, flexibility and conditions. Will you be able to change your plans if you have the single visas fixed in your passport?

Bureaucracy in your country of destination may work differently. If you continue your trip into the neighbouring country, make sure to find out in advance where you can do that and what documents and procedures are required in that case. Not all border crossing places issue a visa.

Carry all documents you can imagine being helpful, especially if they have a government stamp. Consider that translation might be necessary. And remember: It takes time!

For some countries there are commercial visa agencies you can pay to do the work for you. Be a bit careful and trust other travellers who successfully have used them before.

Don’t risk to overstay the expiry date of your visa. Make sure to start the process for the extension a couple of days in advance.

For perfectly relaxed visa planning download and print this free checklist.

visa screen shot

Flight

If you apply for a visa in advance, you may need to know the time period you will be in the country. I haven’t found a proven strategy for booking cheap flights. But here are some common strategies for cheapest prices:

  • The earlier, the better. Start looking for flights even ten months in advance!
  • Compare prices.
  • Countercheck on the website of the airline you consider flying with. Sometimes booking can be cheaper there than on a platform.
  • Are there cheap airlines from the country you want to go to? Sign up for their newsletters. When do they announce sales?
  • Set up an alert.
  • Fly on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
  • Book at night.
  • Check blogs that provide information about error fares and special offers.
  • Be flexible with dates and location, if you can.
  • Use Privacy Mode or something similar in your browser, in order to avoid cookies and the collection of your data. If the booking platform realises that you are comparing certain flights over and over, they automatically raise the price.
  • Consider consulting a travel agent or a special student travel office at your university.

Consider how much time you want to spend in a transfer. Are there special packages to be able to get a refund in case you have to cancel the flight?

How much luggage are you allowed to bring?

What time of the day will you arrive? Is it convenient for someone to pick you or will you have to wait?

Stress free flight booking works well with this free checklist.

documents print

 Documents

It’s advisable to walk everywhere and anytime with a copy or a registered / certified copy of your passport, including the visa. Like that, you can prove your identity if necessary and if you lose it, you still have the original.

Some countries require you to prove certain vaccinations. Make sure to have those.

Leave copies of all important documents, including front and back of any money cards, at home with someone you could get in touch with while abroad.

Scan your documents and save them in your email or the cloud (Google Drive, Dropbox, etc.). If you feel comfortable, give someone else access to these files, in case you are not able to access internet. You can also store the documents on a flash drive that you carry.

These documents include:

  • tickets
  • passport
  • ID
  • international driving license. How to make it international?
  • vaccination certificate(s)
  • insurance policies, forms to be filled by the doctor in case of sickness, phone number
  • PIN / TAN-list for online banking
  • emergency number for the bank
  • (certified) copies of everything
  • any additional documents for special cases: research permit, disability certificate, student pass, invitation from the host, …
  • contact addresses and phone numbers of your host, friend, organisation etc.at the destination
  • passport photos

Some embassies offer registration of their country people in the new destination. If you want, you can let them know that you are in the country, provide them with your address and local phone number.

In case you have donated blood before, you may have a passport-like document showing your blood group. It is a good idea to carry that as well.

Store these things flat, stable and waterproof.

We had a couple of our certificates laminated, because they went through so many hands that they started to get small cracks.

Empower somebody who remains at home to be your legal representative with a letter of attorney, in case something needs to be signed, collected etc.

Don’t fear to forget anything. This printable list is complete.

documents screeen shot

Money and banking

Collect information about the currency in your country. Maybe you can get information from your bank about what is best for your trip.

Check whether your cards are valid long enough.

Not everywhere can you pay with credit cards. Are there ATMs around?

Schedule or pay all necessary expenditures in advance, for example rent, and cancel all subscriptions for the time you will not be around.

Some countries have cultural specifics when it comes to money. In D.R. Congo, for example, people would accept US dollars, but only in specific contexts and only if they looked like freshly printed and were not folded. In Kenya, the best place to change Euros was in the casinos in town because they had the best rates, not the exchange bureaus.

Should you get the foreign currency ahead of time or just change upon arrival? How much is necessary, for example, for visa and transport from the airport?

The best advisors for these cases have proven to be travel websites, guidebooks and especially people who have travelled there.

Yes, we also have a printable checklist for your travel finances. Right here.

Did we miss something? What is your biggest piece of advice? Let us know in the comments below!

 

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children on sofa with toy unicorn

Presents for the host

Ideas for what to bring when you want to reward people for their hospitality

As a guest, it is always nice to bring a present. As a foreigner, it is even more interesting to bring something typical from your culture.

Different things for different people

When you are traveling to an African country or volunteering there, you might meet many different people who will have different roles towards you. Therefore a good hint is to bring several things that you can divide accordingly.

Sweets and balloons

Children will frantically appreciate the cliché presents like balloons and sweets, but they only last for a few hours. Afterwards, people are remaining with plastic waste from burst balloons and sweets wrappers to be disposed, which in some areas is not as easy. Dental health care is rare in rural areas, and the sweets you wanted to spread in a good intention can leave people with big problems.

Another type of rather unique sweets like liquorice from the Netherlands or Salmiakki from Finland have ever led to funny faces among the people who tasted them. They end up being eaten mostly by the people who brought them.

This doesn’t mean that you cannot bring sweets at all. Just mind the amount and the disposal later on.

Cultural Food

Other food stuff is usually appreciated. I am always hitting the jackpot with my dark German bread and sausage. Usually Kenyans regard Japanese food with less enthusiasm, but they are all the more appreciated by international volunteers.

Things like butter, cheese and chocolate obviously melt easily and are hard to be stored. But I gave out flavoured tea or instant cappuccino and people liked them.

In case you are participating in a work camp or any other event that will involve a cultural day, keep these food items for that occasion.

Photos

With photos you can often spark conversations. I glued together some photos of my family, friends and home and up to date it’s one of the favourite books of a small girl in the village. She knows all my relatives in there by name.

Put together some photos of your family, where you stay, what you do, and maybe a bit of the surrounding area.

Equipment

Another thing we always get orders for are solar lamps. People actually pay us back the expenses. They deem anything that says “Made in Germany” on it to have good quality, be it a clock or something else.

Textiles

And finally there are things like table cloths, dish towels or other textiles or clothes that may have the national colours on them or are typical and significant in another way.

Being the guest

Whatever you bring, try to give it from your heart instead of just disposing stuff on people. Since I am usually the visitor, at least in Kenya people don’t actually expect a present from me like they would in Germany.

Buy locally

Finally, you can also always buy things in the country and bring them. When I visit women, a bag of sugar, salt, rice, flour or a bottle of cooking oil is a common and valid present and I just buy it in the local shop.

field, tree, seedling

This is a friend’s farm. When I visited them, I brought some lemongrass from another farm which we planted there.

What are your suggestions? Share them in in the comments below and add to the list!

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Why it is so important to know the local language

Nairobi is a segregated city. There are areas where mostly working class people live, there are those for the middle class and then those for the rich – and all the nuances in between. I recently went to a place with big malls, co-working spaces, Italian restaurants and well-tarmacked roads. There were more white people there than in the estate where I live. I alighted from my bus and started looking for the place I had a meeting in.

With my non-existent sense of orientation I got lost immediately and I had to ask around.

My Kiswahili skills are colloquial, so I can do small talk, but I don’t understand everything from the news. I am so used to speaking it that I hardly recognise when I am actually doing it.

But as I did ask the people for directions in Kiswahili, something interesting happened:

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How to ensure that your hosting organisation is truthful, impactful and reliable

And to bust your hopes right from the beginning:

Just as you cannot ensure that you are going to like your blind date, you can’t ensure either that all your expectations about your hosting organisation are going to be met.

The only thing you have influence on are your expectations. And you have to examine them closely.

Here is a list of questions you can ask yourself:

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