It’s less than a month to senior editor Norie Quintos‘s trip to Kenya (her third) with her teenage sons (their first). Here’s how she’s been prepping. This is the second in a series of blogs on the trip. Click here to see the first.
Kenya currently remains under a U.S. State Department travel warning due to “threats of terrorism and the high rate of violent crime.” (Many on-the-ground experts say this designation is unfair, undeserved, and politically motivated, but that’s another story).
I consulted the travel intelligence folks at iJet, who said that if I avoided the northwestern border areas, as all safari itineraries do, and practiced basic personal precautions, there was no reason to stay away. As with any trip to a developing country, or any trip really, I wanted a tour operator that would be able to respond effectively should the unexpected and unlikely happen. There are many established safari companies that fit the bill. The one I selected–New York-based Micato Safaris–maintains deep ties to Kenya; its Kenyan founders still reside in Nairobi. The company also uses the services of a group of aircraft-supported physicians if medical treatment is necessary.
Micato took care of much of the organizing, such as booking the individual lodges and internal flights. Still, visiting a developing country with children requires more planning and preparation, and yes, expense, than a trip to, say, California.
Paperwork: For one thing, minors traveling abroad without both parents require permission from the non-traveling parent. The regulations are meant to prevent child abduction. My ex-husband provided a notarized letter stating he was giving permission for the children to travel to Kenya.
Passports: The kids already had passports from a prior trip abroad. (Check the expiration: Children’s passports are only valid for five years, versus ten for adults. And if you do need passports, budget about $300 for a family of four.)
Visas: Next, visas, another expense many travelers don’t consider when budgeting for their trips. Micato recommended going with a visa expediting service, which was charging almost $300 for my family of three. But not everyone needs this service (it’s most useful for rush jobs and/or complicated itineraries involving several countries). In my case, we had plenty of time, were traveling to only one destination in Africa, and resided in the Washington, D.C., area, home to Embassy Row, where most visa applications are processed. It turns out that Kenya was (and is, at this writing) having a big sale on visas: $25 (half the normal fee) and for kids was free. I filled out the necessary forms, walked the packet to the Kenyan Embassy (it can also be mailed there), and my passport with visa stamp was back to me in less than a week. My cost: $25 for the visa, plus $5 return postage–a great deal.
Travel Insurance: Unexpected illness? Lost luggage? Layoff? Death of a pet? A travel insurance policy can protect the money you’ve spent on your trip (though whether it will depends on the fine print). I was covered by a work policy, but needed one for the kids. The tour company offered one; however, a little comparison-shopping on InsureMyTrip.com, a clearinghouse of travel insurance companies, yielded a better price and better terms with the same underwriting company, TravelGuard, used by the tour operator. Remember that you only need insurance on the non-refundable costs of a trip.
Tune in next time when I cover travel vaccines/medications and learning Swahili with Rosetta Stone. And in a future blog: packing and final preparations.
Photo: George W. Stone