Staycations in Nairobi

One of the few good things that have come out of the COVID era in Kenya is Kenyans making the best of the closed borders. People have travelled. Perhaps it’s the realization that there is so much to see with the convenience of getting back home at a moment’s notice or the push by the resorts to make the best of the local tourists with the near zero business from foreign tourists over the last couple of months. Whatever the case, travel by Kenyans in Kenya is booming.

Many hotels and property owners have realised the demand in people securing a day or two or a week away to get their heads together. With the whole idea of people working from home, it can get crazy to be stuck in the same space that is your workspace and home. It starts to feel like you’re at work all day every day and it doesn’t help when you have a family or children running about and driving you crazy. Also, who wants to spend every hour of every day with their partner? It’s cabin fever!

Cabin fever refers to the distressing claustrophobic irritability or restlessness experienced when a person, or group, is stuck at an isolated location or in confined quarters for an extended time. A person may be referred to as stir-crazy, derived from the use of stir meaning "prison".

Take a second to Google and see how many results return with “5 ways to avoid/manage your family’s Cabin Fever” or “Activities to combat Cabin Fever”

Soooo people have resorted to finding escapes not too far from home. Early last year, several hotels engaged influencers to get staycations on-trend and it seems to have worked. 5-Star hotels with friendly rates offering a night or two at fantastic rates whether just for adults or with the kids. Luxury apartments missing the business travel and expatriate dime or even the ordinary landlord trying to make do in the face of loss of jobs and income for their middle and upper-middle-class tenants who have resorted to shifting to low-income housing. All have realised you better have something little than nothing at all and from it, there has been a shift and perhaps a movement in profit margins.

A three-bedroom furnished apartment for instance at Riverside Drive goes for upwards of KES 150,000 and has during the pandemic been empty for months…yet…there are couples/families/a group of friends willing to rent a single room in the apartment for KES 4000. If the rooms are booked for just half the month…that’s KES 180,000 without the hustle of dealing with leases, deposits and notices.

Where do you start?

Several hotels/properties have amazing deals which you can either get off their web pages or through adverts and of course through your preferred online travel agency e.g., Kayak, Trivago, TripAdvisor, Expedia, Hometogo etc. It may help to simply Google hotels and apartments in Nairobi and you will immediately sort out where there are deals advertised. Most online travel agencies advertise the best available deals for a specific area. You usually start by providing the preferred date of travel, the number of days and the number of people. The trick is to treat it like a shopping expedition…use the Filter options for these sites. They are your friends. They usually provide a filter for price, so you can select your maximum as KES 2,500 or 10,000 or even KES 10,000,000 - there are levels in these streets and there’s nothing wrong with that. Then, you can opt to select amenities you require e.g. a swimming pool, spa, double/twin bed etc. You can also select an area for most of these sites though I encourage you to look widely. There is nothing wrong with an escape smack in the middle of the CBD. To each his own! You can also select meal plans e.g. bed and breakfast or full board and for apartments, you can request for a fully stocked kitchen- with cutlery and cookery darlings, not food.

I try to go on staycation with my partner at least once or twice a month. Usually just for one night because we get to try different spaces and have something to look forward to every two weeks. So, we just search “Hotels and Apartments in Nairobi'' and go from there. We then select the options available off the Google search and more recently (because my partner is the typical dude and hates shopping) – when it is his turn to pick a spot -he takes to the mobile app which has great only-mobile deals and allows you to save searches for future stays.

Then we look at the properties, location and amenities available. Wifi, TV in the room, a decent looking bathroom that has a door, a kettle, cups, glasses, microwave, fridge and a big bed with a view- those are OUR must haves. (yes, I said a bathroom that has a door because believe me, some don’t). Before we book a place, we look through reviews. Some reviewers are just gassing up the place because they work there, others just genuinely had a bad experience. Reading enough reviews will allow you to have a general idea of what to expect. I encourage you to give reviews as well. They can be really helpful so pay it forward.

We then call the property first to find out whether they can give us a better rate, if not, we stick to the booking online. Most don’t but we’ve been lucky twice. Check for available options for meals…this can be hell. Plan your meal situation in advance so that you don’t have to stress about it. Because of the curfew, most restaurants and supermarkets close very early. Going to bed hungry on a staycation suuuucks! Hotels are easier to deal with because most have an in-house restaurant so that helps. Again, remember to check reviews for the food. Some places serve food not fit for dogs or just ridiculously expensive that it costs more than your stay. My partner and I have taken to ordering in or depending on the area, sampling the kibanda food. We just get it early and microwave it when we are ready to eat.

We have however found ourselves going to some spots more than once. For instance, apartment blocks like West Suites in Nairobi West can be very convenient. The going rate is usually about 2500-4000 a night depending on whether it’s a weekend or weekday. All you need to do is book, pay and they provide you with a deposit box number and room number. Once you get to the property, you only need to get to the deposit box number (there are about 40), enter the code and take your key. Pretty cool, yes? The block has 13 floors with about 10 rooms per floor. They are spacious, gorgeous and owned by different people so none looks like the other. We have stayed in about 10 different rooms but I can tell you other than the one time we stayed in a room next to the elevator on a Saturday night-they were all amazing stays. They all have TVs, individual Wifi Routers, a fully stocked kitchen and the holy grail – a door for the bathroom! What we really like is the fact that we know what we are getting when we go there and the hustle of standing at a reception filling in those long ass forms with questions on your grandmother’s maiden name are avoided.

We also have enjoyed our fair share of shared apartments but those are akin to playing Russian roulette….you never really know who is going to share with you so sometimes you get cool people…who stay in their rooms, mind their business and don’t keep you up all night. For instance my partner and I had a good experience at Edmore Residences on Riverside Drive. They have gorgeous décor, are situated in a super quiet neighbourhood and generally attract business people and couples.

Tips to having a great staycation

  1. Research, Research, Research – Google is your friend so are the several available online travel agencies. From personal experience, I can tell you a simple search on your phone with the use of the filter options for price, proximity and amenities will get you whatever you’re looking for.
  2. Always read the comments and reviews for any given hotel or property – They can tell you their experience with the host or service, the speed of the Wi-fi, the cleanliness or lack thereof, the noise levels etc.
  3. Always select options for payment on arrival – the internet is a useful tool but some hotels/properties can be economical with the truth and you might find the photos were not at all candid or the location was completely off…yes, believe me, I have experienced ALL THE ABOVE. Now imagine walking into this dream room with a bathtub that you pictured you would be having a bubble bath in. It in fact sold you, then you find a green tub with a broken faucet and let me not get started on what it smells like in case you’re having lunch as you read this. Now imagine you already paid and there’s a no-cancellation policy…..yep…nightmare….which leads me to an important tip…..
  4. Read the fine print with respect to the reservation – what is the cancellation policy? What are the check-in and check-out times? Are they flexible?
  5. Know where you’re getting your meals – a lot of these furnished apartments don’t offer a restaurant within the building so you either have to cook your own meals – most have all the cutlery and crockery but call and ask specifically if you need to.
  6. Ask about parking but honestly, if you don’t need the car…just uber…it makes the experience feel more like a break.

Most important tip…. Enjoy yourself. Immerse yourself into the experience of the space and you will have a blast. Just do things differently than you would do at home. That’s what you needed after all. A break…

Happy Staycation!