I had no idea what to expect when I booked a 7 day budget safari through Kenya and Tanzania. The safari was about half the price of the next cheapest trip so that made me a little nervous. I’m all about traveling on a budget but at this point in my life, I also like to pay a little more for comfort.
I did a lot of research about the company, Afrishare, before I booked the budget safari. They had over 100 reviews on TripAdvisor, a website, Facebook page and overall seemed legitimate. After emailing with Ibrahim, the owner of Afrishare, I felt decent about it. He didn’t have the greatest English in our emails but there was just something about his emails that didn’t feel like a scam. I didn’t love that he wanted me to pay via bank transfer but when he offered up paying by credit card with a fee, I went for it!
When in Nairobi, we were to be picked up by our driver, Steve, who would be our guide for the Kenya half of the trip. He was supposed to arrive at 8 a.m. and a little after 9 a.m., he still wasn’t there. I was convinced that I had been scammed. Ibrahim had grabbed his wife and flown to Europe with my money to start a new life. I couldn’t call Afrishare because I didn’t have a working cell phone in Africa so finally I asked the front desk to call them to see what was up.
Shortly after calling, Steve walked into the lobby of the hotel. He had fallen asleep in the truck but was awake and ready to take us on our safari. Thank god!
That was the first test on your budget safari. The lesson here is that if you plan to book a budget safari on your own without a travel agent, take your time to research the company you’re booking with. You don’t want your own Ibrahim ACTUALLY running away with your money to start a new life!
Here are a couple more lessons to make yours a little more comfortable!
1. Sports bras are your friend
Trust me, ladies! Pack at least one of those bad boys. Our guide literally called part of the road “the free African massage” because it’s that bumpy. You get what I mean?
2. You won’t get that perfect Instagram model’s photo
Those hotels that you see Instagram models staying at are hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars a night. The social media influencers are comped that hotel room or it’s paid for by a brand. The accommodations on a budget safari while still amazing, will not be as picture perfect.
My jaw actually dropped when I arrived at the Lake Nakuru Sopa Lodge, the first accommodation on our safari. It was stunning! It’s a beautiful property on sprawling hills with amazing views. I was actually shocked that it was considered a budget accommodation. While it wasn’t Giraffe Manor, it was still plenty comfortable enough for me.
3. Load up your Spotify
One problem with a budget safari are the long drives from one park to the other. On the more expensive safaris, you would fly from Nairobi to the Maasai Mara Game Reserve. But on a budget, you’ll be in the car for about 7 hours. The drives can be very boring with not a ton to look at out the window. By hour 3 or 4, you’ll be ready for a distraction so make sure your iPhone or iPad is loaded with downloaded music, movies and podcasts!
4. What you wear truly does not matter
I spent weeks stressing about what to wear in Africa. Every blog post I read said something different. Some said to avoid black, some said it’s ok. Some said to avoid white and others said it’s ok. I was sick of it all! Being a New Yorker I only wear black so I spent a lot of time and money online shopping to find tan and green linen clothes. I ended up returning most of it and not even wearing the other half.
The most important thing to note when packing for your budget safari is to wear lots of layers. The mornings start out very chilly but it can be swelteringly hot by midday. I often wore a tank top, long sleeve, jacket, pants and a hat.
After all my worrying, I was pretty proud of this safari outfit, complete with safari hat!
5. WiFi will be spotty
Even at the nicest resorts, the wifi was spotty and usually only available in the lobby. You are in the middle of nowhere! But I quickly learned that I loved being disconnected. Grab a sundowner, sit back and enjoy it! You can tell your family and friends all about the trip when you get home.
6. Don’t expect fancy Jeeps
Most people think of fancy Jeeps and Land Rovers when they think of a safari. Well, don’t expect that if you book a budget safari! In Kenya, we had what looked like a camper van that had a pop up top for game viewing. It was old and rickety and even broke down while we were in the Maasai Mara. We had to flag down one of the fancy Jeeps from the expensive safaris to come help us!
In Tanzania we did have more of what looked like a Jeep but it definitely wasn’t one of the fancy Jeeps you see on Instagram or in movies. It was super old with a pop top roof for game viewing.
Bonus! Baboons are very naughty
Our guide told us that if a baboon jumps into our vehicle, it’s just looking for food and won’t hurt us. We watched as the riders in a safari truck in front of us leapt out of their vehicle after two baboons jumped in to steal some potato chips. I told our guide that if a baboon jumped in the truck and onto my lap, I’d be on the next flight outta there!! So beware of baboons. But I guess, maybe don’t be afraid?