Quick Tip: Don’t bother with a Kenya e-Visa

We knew that we needed a visa to enter Kenya, so I figured that I would make it easy and use the e-Visa website. That assumption was so wrong. First of all, the form asks a lot of very personal questions; questions that could be used to steal your identity if it fell into the wrong hands. After all, Kenya isn’t too far from Nigeria, where all those phishing emails originate. Next, the application process is extremely convoluted. To apply for both Sheri and me, required creating separate accounts on their website. Payments weren’t straightforward, requiring several acknowledgment steps along with a third-party payment step. Finally, after all that work, it doesn’t seem to actually work. My username/password didn’t work, requiring me to reset the password a couple of times. After payment, their system just shows the application as pending and never acknowledges that a payment was made. Checking with the credit card company confirms that a payment was made, but still no visa.

On the other hand getting a visa on arrival is a much more straightforward process and, depending on the number of people on the flight, doesn’t take nearly as long as the online process. There are fewer questions on the form, and the cost is the same. I would suggest skipping the e-Visa and just applying for one on arrival. Be aware that visa on arrival is only available at major airports and not for overland border crossings.

Our Tanzania Self-drive Safari

We decided to do a self-drive safari of Tanzania after I read all the reviews and blogs of other people’s self-drive experience. I figured that it wouldn’t be as difficult as many people have made it out to be, however, I was basing that on just the driving experience. If you haven’t already read my other post, Should I Do a Self-Drive Safari, you should read about the actual driving experience. What I didn’t take into account were the many other factors that come into play when dealing with a third-world country.

Vehicle Rental

imageWhenever we told any of the locals that we planned to drive ourselves to the Serengeti, we received surprised looks, followed by concern. A couple of people said we weren’t allowed to go into the national parks without a guide or driver. Don’t believe them. A couple of places where we inquired about renting a 4-wheel drive, quoted us a much higher price, up to 50% more, for self-driving than with a driver. Even many of the people commenting on TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet warn against driving yourself. These are all scare tactics meant to encourage using tour operators. You can rent a vehicle and you can enter the park without a guide. It will cost you quite a bit for the 4WD rental, especially with places that don’t specialize in it.

We went with Arusha Fortes, because they have been renting self-drive vehicles for over 30 years. They were very good at explaining a lot of the complexities of entering the national parks. Their vehicles were well equipped with two spare tires, a high-lift jack, and pop-up rooftop tent. For our convenience, they let us use their Ngorongoro Park card, for a $20 convenience fee, preloaded with enough to cover our costs. The vehicle was tough and we drove it like the locals. Everything on the vehicle survived the journey, but some things were a little worse for the wear. The parking brake cable seemed to stretch out, the brakes squeaked something awful for a while after sitting in the mud for 3+ hours. All the bumpy roads also took their toll. The high-lift jack lost a very essential pivot pin, making it almost unusable. And a metal door alignment stop simply sheered off. Continue reading

Quick Tip: Clean Your Cookies

I spend a lot of time searching airline sites for the lowest fare. I often use Google Flights to get an idea of which locations offer the best savings and go directly to the airline web site. However, I started to notice that I would run a search at an airline site, find a great deal, and later, come back to show my wife and the deal would be gone. At first, I thought the low priced seats had sold out. This happened so many times that I was starting to think I was losing my mind, until I decided to go into my browser and clear all the cookies that the browser stores. Voila, those fares showed up again, and this time I didn’t take a chance and bought it. It would appear that the airlines want to encourage you to buy right away, so they offer the lowest price only on your first visit to their web site. They store a cookie in your browser that says you’re a repeat visitor so you won’t get the first-time deal on subsequent visits. Lesson learned: clear your cache and cookies in your browser to get the best deals.

Quick Tip: A Picture’s Worth…

In Asia, getting help to find all those places you want to visit is difficult when you don’t read or speak the language. The saying goes that a picture is worth a thousand words, and in a country where you don’t know how to say a thousand words, that picture can be even more valuable. When you arrive at your destination’s airport, make a quick detour to the gift shop and pick up a few postcards of the places you’d like visit and let the pictures do your talking. Quite often the name of the place is printed in the local language on the back. Continue reading

Quick Tip: Don’t Advertise Valuables

You’re a good vigilant traveler. You’ve packed your bags and secured them with a TSA approved lock to protect its contents. It’s all good, right? Keep believing that if it makes you feel better, but everything I just described could actually make you more of a target for theft. To begin with, locking your bag only provides you with a false sense of security. Unless you’re one of the few remaining travelers who still have hard-sided luggage with uniquely keyed locks on the latches, you’re probably more vulnerable than you think. If you have a bag with a zipper, it doesn’t take much to get into your bag and not even leave any evidence that it happened, all it takes is a ballpoint pen. By placing a lock on your bag, you’re telling thieves and unscrupulous baggage handlers there’s something worth stealing in that bag, even if there isn’t. But you also don’t want to just leave it unlocked and risk a zipper becoming accidentally opened or someone putting something in your bag. So what can be done? Continue reading

Quick Tip: Have Blank Pages

Our passports were stolen almost 4 years ago when our house was burglarized. Since passports are good for 10 years and we knew that we would be doing a lot of traveling, we requested the larger passport with more pages. A normal passport has 28 pages with 17 blank pages available for visas and entry/exit stamps. The larger passport has 52 pages with 43 blank pages. That may seem like a lot, but when traveling to countries such as China, they will use one full page just for their visa and most of another one for entry/exit stamps. Continue reading

Top dozen RTW travel planning resources

We have been planning our trip since 2003, and actively saving for it since 2006. Travel planning is equal parts fun and frustration. It’s exciting to make plans and to see a trip coming together, but it’s also a lot of work researching your destination, arranging transportation and lodging, and determining how long you’ll need in order to do everything you planned. You become a project manager, event coordinator, location scout, travel agent, and financial planner all at once. The last time I went on an extended trip overseas, I didn’t have a lot of the tools and web sites available today. Travel planning is a bit easier these days now that the Internet can provide so much information. Here are the 12 tools that I use extensively for our RTW trip planning.

Google Sheets

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 9.30.03 PMSpreadsheets may be a bit antiquated, but there’s no quicker way for me to determine travel dates and keep all those destinations straight. If you have a lot of destinations, it can become tedious to keep track of where and when you’ll be somewhere. I originally set up an Excel spreadsheet with destinations, dates, approximate costs, and visa requirements back in 2003 and have updated it frequently. It became the basis of our savings goal. I recently transferred the spreadsheet to Google Docs and keep it updated online now. The format hasn’t changed much since I first created it. The dates are automatically calculated from the initial starting date. I enter the number of nights we plan to stay at a destination and the spreadsheet calculates the arrival dates for all the following destinations. It becomes a dynamic, ever-changing master document that is invaluable for advanced planning. Unlike other online tools, you can add or remove columns for whatever you want to track. Continue reading

Quick Tip: Hello Kitty!

On one of our European trips, a portion of the time was with an organized tour. Alcoholic beverages weren’t included in our tour price. However, our tour leader was a bit of a wine connoisseur and enjoyed wine with meals. Since he was familiar with local wines and wanted to share the experience with us, he asked those who wanted to have wine with their meals to contribute $50 to a kitty that would be used during the tour to buy wine for the meals. I thought, what a great idea that could be applied to lots of group activities. Continue reading