Is Kenya Travel Safe?
As December 27 dawned, millions of Kenyans headed to polling sites to vote for a president. As December 27 drew to a close, I booked an airline ticket from Nairobi to New York. And as the next few days progressed, Kenya plunged into violence that has left more than 650 people dead, so far.
I’ve spent the past few weeks reading horrific tales of bloodshed with the hope that post-election killings will cease any day. I’m not scheduled to visit Kenya for another 5 months, but regardless of how much the situation improves by then, it’s scary to think that what is widely regarded as the most stable country in Africa can dissolve into tribal conflicts and machete attacks at the drop of a ballot.
Photo courtesy of IgoUgo member smokeysf
The violence is never far from my mind; a friend with whom I’m traveling signed us up to receive email notices from the US State Department, so I’ve been getting near-daily warnings in my inbox, along with invitations to town-hall meetings in Kenya. And I’m not the only traveler wondering what happens when you have a ticket to a dangerous situation. The New York Times, the Seattle Times, and every publication in between has been searching for answers.
For my part, I called the airline to inquire if it’s possible to change my itinerary free of charge (so that I’d fly to New York from Tanzania). The airline’s website says that it’s allowing fliers to postpone immediate travel to Kenya, but doesn’t hint at what it might do if the violence continues. And since I’m organizing a trip where I’ll be meeting friends arriving from all over the world, it seems complicated—and potentially risky—to wait until the last minute to decide that we all need to bypass Kenya. I was curious if we could make that difficult decision now and pursue a new plan.
Apparently not. At least, not without paying a fare difference and a change fee. So we’re going to wait a bit longer to discuss our options. I’m torn between my desire to see the legendary Masai Mara and my instinct to play it 100% safe. Somehow the assurances that tourists aren’t targets are not very assuring. In life, as in travel, things are unpredictable.
Do any other travelers have experience with touch-and-go trips—or words of advice on what to do when political violence or other unforeseen circumstances come into play when you’re planning?
My name: Michelle Doucette
How I earn my keep: I'm an editor at IgoUgo.com.
Favorite way to get around: Some of my favorite trips involved renting cars in foreign countries and driving through the countryside, stopping on whims. You get a feel for the culture away from the big cities and meet interesting people on the road, including, I must admit, an embarrassingly high number of local policemen. I suppose it would be prudent to learn all of the traffic laws ahead of time.
Best meal I've had while traveling: Since a succession of gelato cones probably doesn't count as a meal, my favorite must have been a fresh crabmeat lunch prepared by a St. John sailboat captain while we took a break from snorkeling in the Caribbean. Sharing baklava as the sun came up over Paros, Greece, (while, once again, not technically a meal) was also memorable.
Travel ambitions: Since climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, I've figured out that I'd like to keep trekking while traveling. I've got my eyes on epic hikes in Nepal, Bhutan, and Peru.