When friends and family heard I was embarking on a solo backpacking trip, I got a few raised eyebrows. When they heard my intended destination was East Africa, those raised eyebrows turned to frowns and looks of concern. And if I’m being entirely honest – I was more than a little nervous myself!
But I was determined to have one of those once in a lifetime kind of travel experiences, and I’m happy to report that East Africa did not disappoint! I was amazed at the sheer diversity around every corner – from fascinating cultures and people, to the stunning scenery and massive variety of animals of every shape, size and temperament.
Here are a few of the highlights I experienced on my journey south from Kenya, through Tanzania, and finally Mozambique. I really hope it inspires you to stretch yourself and take on an adventure of your own – I can say first hand that it’s one of the best ways to really get to know yourself and grow your self-confidence. And there’s no doubt that you’ll end up with memories you’ll treasure for the rest of your life!
Kenya has a good reputation as a spot to take a cheap gap year, so I thought I would make this my first stop on my backpacking journey. After landing in Nairobi, there were already several hostels to choose from, and I was pleased to find other backpackers from across the globe in residence! The ‘matatu’ minibuses which the locals use to get around are a bit noisy, but they’re a cheap way to get about in the city and to the outskirts. The locals tend to have good English, so it’s not difficult to communicate at all.
I had to splash out a bit for my first wildlife experience, which was a seven day route to Lake Naivasha (where you can stay in a beautiful tented camp along the river) and Lake Nakuru – but the unbelievable flocks of pink flamingos and herds of hippo were worth every penny. My first big landmark was a trip to see Kilimanjaro, and for that, I needed to embark on the next leg of my journey…
One of the things I really wanted to experience on my journey was to see the icecap on ‘Kili’ before it disappears for good due to a warming climate. And while the friendly Swahili guides at my first stop tempted me with their excellent track record for escorting backpackers to the summit, seeing it from a distance was enough for me!
If you’re fitter and braver than me, then this is almost certainly the best hiking and climbing experience a backpacker can experience anywhere, as you don’t need any technical mountaineering skills to tackle it. That said, it’s really, really big – we’re talking over 19,000 feet big – so you’ll definitely earn some bragging rights if you do!
Another highlight of the trip was a true African safari experience in the Serengeti National Park, which spans across the Tanzanian and Kenyan border. A night drive, where unexpected glowing eyes appear at every turn and the magic of the nighttime bush music seems to creep under your skin, was an unforgettable experience.
I really couldn’t have asked for a better way to end my adventure than by resting my feet on a beautiful sandy beach and enjoying some exotic dishes – and with such a variety of backpacker-friendly accommodation to choose from, it seemed like the logical way to round off my travels.
Tofo beach was an absolute highlight, and the snorkeling and scuba diving opportunities are unbelievable – with the chance to encounter every marine creature you can hope to see, from turtles, manta rays, dolphins and even whale sharks! Even better, the area is still relatively underdeveloped, so it doesn’t yet have that ‘touristy’ feel you get from more established beachfront destinations.
What I learned from my backpacking adventure:
If I look at what I spent along the way, one lesson becomes very plain – you need to learn to haggle a bit. If you assume that the first offer you get is the best one, you’re going to end up spending a lot more than you need to!
This was a tough lesson for me, but it’s one of those fears that seems silly once you’ve conquered it! And I think this kind of lesson – learning to trust in yourself and your abilities – is perhaps the most valuable of all for a traveller embarking on a solo journey. Don’t let your fears stop you from having the adventure you deserve!