A few years ago, my brother and I started a road trip tradition. Every year, we set a theme and then take road trips according to that theme. It could be one trip a year or multiple trips; the idea is to spend time together and enjoy the beautiful sights that East Africa has to offer.
Our first road trip is what we call “the lakes trip”. Perhaps because it was our first trip, it seems to be our most memorable. We visited five lakes in three days: Lake Naivasha, Lake Nakuru, Lake Elementaita, Lake Baringo and Lake Bogoria. We set off from Nairobi and took turns driving. Tip number one of successful road trips: have a driving schedule and take turns driving. Implementing the schedule allows you to give each other a break to enjoy the scenery.
The thing about road trips is that you spend quite a bit of time on the road. It can very quickly become boring, and you risk your fellow passengers nodding off in the car. Keep it fun and engaging by having activities you can do en route. On day one, we started in Nairobi with our first stop in Naivasha. We went sightseeing and enjoyed a boat ride on Lake Naivasha. Blue skies, calm waters, fresh air and hippos in the distance were a good break. Our second stop was at Lake Elementaita, where we enjoyed lunch and quad bikes on the lake shores. Our final stop was in Nakuru, which we used as our base for the rest of the trip.
For the long car rides, we had lots of banter, music and snacks. There were four of us with varying tastes in music, so we switched it up. As you go to remote areas or across borders, you can’t always rely on the internet or the radio. Have some music available on another medium like a flash disk or downloaded to your phone. If you have picnics or other activities along the way, you may also need an external speaker.
We planned to get to the hotel in Nakuru early to enjoy the pool and settle in our new environment. Tired from the drive, we had an early night, so we didn’t get to enjoy the nightlife in Naxvegas. However, if you go out at night on your travels, remember you’re not in your comfort zone. Be alert and aware, keep a low profile and don’t tell strangers where you’re staying.
Day two started with breakfast at the hotel and then back on the road. We visited Lake Baringo and Lake Bogoria. It’s a smooth, tarmacked road to L. Baringo, with the only test to my driving skills being the bumps when driving at night. The last time I took this trip, I was with my parents, and the idea was to get a picture of all the features of the Rift Valley we learnt in geography class.
We learnt three vital lessons on day two. One was to do our research. Upon arrival, we realized that the lakes had risen and had inundated roads and building infrastructure. The hotels we intended to visit were no longer existent, and flooding had swept away the smooth road to the hot springs at Bogoria. Since we were determined to get to the hot springs, a trip that should have taken 15 minutes took us two hours. As a result, I ended up driving back to Nakuru in the dark. That’s lesson number two: if you can, avoid driving at night on unfamiliar roads that are unlit and not frequently travelled. Number three, know your car and its fuel consumption. Some of these deserted roads don’t have petrol stations. If you run out of fuel, it will be a long hike to the next petrol station. Fortunately, we didn’t run out, but our two-hour drive within the park had me watching the fuel gauge and praying until we found a petrol station. An alternative is to carry extra fuel in a jerry can.
Speaking of cars, please service your vehicle before and after a road trip. The last thing you need is your car breaking down and having to deal with a new mechanic or looking for a spare part in the middle of nowhere. It never ends well. Make sure the AC is working. Lake Bogoria without the AC would have been a nightmare. Check your brakes, your spare tire, and your toolbox. It may be a while before you see another car on remote roads, so don’t count on people to help you. Also, make sure your vehicle can handle the trip. Amboseli in a Vitz during the dry season is doable, but your adorable dudu is not the car you want in the Mara, even in the dry season.
We got back to the hotel late that evening. Again, too exhausted to do more than eat and sleep. This brings me to another lesson about the hotels and rooms you choose. I’m all for the “soft life”, but years of prudence push me to seek the best value for money. I’m not going to spend $250 a night for a room I only sleep in. Now, if it was a vacay where I spent all day at the hotel, I may reconsider and go for a hotel with all the amenities to justify the $250 a night price. (Who am I kidding, I’d rather pay for excursions!)
The last day started with a late breakfast and then packing up our things. We intended to spend the day at Lake Nakuru National Park and take our time driving back to Nairobi. I like to take things slow on the last day. We enjoyed the game drive and a fantastic lunch at Lake Nakuru Lodge, where we could watch the lions at the watering hole from our table. After our late lunch, we drove back to Nairobi.
There’s nothing as jarring as travelling back to Nairobi on a Sunday. The traffic is insane unless you leave early in the morning and plan to arrive before noon, but who wants to wake up early on a Sunday? Avoid travel over the weekend if you can. I know it means using more leave days, but you avoid the traffic, even human traffic, at your destination. And speaking of leave days, you need at least a day after the holiday. Holidays are fun, but you need to readjust and relax before you go back to work. This is especially necessary after a road trip. A holiday from the holiday to prepare you for work!
Last but not least, road trips are about the company. You’re on the road, in a confined space for HOURS. You have to like the people you’re with, or it can be a very loooooong trip.
Whether you’re travelling with friends to a new destination or going to shags with the family, road trips can be fun. Do tell us about your experience. This year’s theme is “revisiting our favourite places”, and we’re planning another trip soon.