15 Essential Africa travel tips for first-time visitors
You’re planning your very first trip to Africa, Yay- it’s absolutely an amazing experience and a great step that some travelers are still skeptical to take.
But at the same time, it can be daunting for a first-time visitor to Africa since you have no idea what to expect on a continent as big as Africa.
If you’re not yet sure where to go first check out my post about the best African countries to visit.
With this post, I’ve got you covered with the best Africa travel tips for first-time visitors.
Africa Travel essential.
– Before you go to Africa, I recommend buying this Lonely Planet travel guidebook to learn more about Africa and its diverse culture.
– Before heading out to Africa, it’s paramount that you have proper travel insurance. I recommend buying World Nomads insurance as it covers a variety of activities and can be used in a number of countries.
– To get the best of Africa, book all your tours with GetYourGuide to be able to enjoy Africa like a local as you get guided by the most professional tour guides on the continent.
What to know and do before a trip to Africa as a first-time visitor
1. Check the visa requirements for each country
There is nothing like an “African visa” that guarantees you free entry to each African country because you have it.
Each country has different visa requirements that you should meet before going there.
Check with the nearest embassies of the countries you plan to travel to and find out all the requirements.
Some may be visa-free, others visa on entry, and others might need to be applied for in advance depending on the passport you hold.
2. Pick your destinations and make an itinerary
You can start by deciding on the countries or cities that have been on your bucket list but if you don’t know where to go yet, niche it down by deciding whether you’re all about historical sites, big cities, or wildlife.
Try not to get overwhelmed by everything. The truth is that there is too much beauty in Africa and it is understandable if you want to see everything!
The ugly truth is that you’re likely not to see everything at once, so don’t be hard on yourself if you can’t.
My suggestion is to first note down all the regions in Africa; East, West South, North, and Central. Lower it down by deciding on which regions you want to visit.
Go a step further by selecting which specific countries you want to visit from each Region.
Then try to be realistic and see if it’s possible to visit all those countries at once.
If the list is too long, try to prioritize until you decide on the maximum number of countries you want and can travel to.
The number of countries to travel to solely depends on you: the time you have, the money saved for a trip to Africa, and how much you’re willing to compromise.
If you want to travel on a budget, check out this post that showcases how you can travel the world on a budget.
3. Do extensive research on the specific countries you’re planning to visit
It’s not enough to read about Africa as a whole, carrying out research on each individual country will be more efficient.
If you’re itinerary includes countries like Uganda, Botswana, and Egypt, read these posts to discover more about Uganda, these ones about Botswana, and these ones to learn more about Egypt before you go.
Some people assume that since they’re traveling to Africa, it will be hot by default which is not the case.
Even though most countries are relatively hot all year round, some places can be really cold depending on the time of your visit.
So don’t forget to check the weather in each country to pack clothes appropriate for that time of the year.
4. Don’t try to see everything in Africa
Most first time visitors in Africa get overwhelmed by the beauty and end up wanting to see everything.
Well, unless you have the entire year allocated to touring Africa, it will be absolutely impossible to see everything.
Prioritize and see only places that are on your bucket list.
5. Pack everything you need for your African safari
It’s not a recommended practice to rely on buying extra things in the place you’re traveling to as you’re not aware of the price and quality.
So packing whatever is required will save you a tonne of money and space in your backpack or suitcase.
If you’re not sure of what to pack for your African safari, I wrote a complete essential guide to pack for Africa.
The guide comprises of things you should pack and what not to pack for an African safari.
Don’t forget to carry sunscreen! Since most African locals don’t use sunscreen, it will be extremely expensive to buy it from there.
So pack your own not to spend a fortune or you can shop it here at a fair price.
Here are some of the travel essentials you should not leave behind when traveling to Africa.
Travel Essentials you should never leave home as you travel to Africa
– A universal travel adapter: Since some of the countries in Africa use a different adapter, I’d advise you to buy a universal travel adapter to cater to all regions. You can buy one from here if you don’t have one yet.
– A power Bank: One of the things you should never leave behind while traveling to Africa is the Power bank!
Phones have now become a great deal of our lives that we need to use them for so many important things. So take a power bank with you so that you don’t run out of battery.
This power bank is small, light, and has the capability to charge your phone and other devices multiple times.
– Microfibre travel towel – I always opt for this microfibre travel towel because it is super lightweight, easy to wash, and dries easily.
– First Aid kit: Regardless of where you’re traveling to in Africa, you’ll need to pack a First Aid kit for emergencies that might arise while traveling.
Remember it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Just make sure that the one you pack has all the essentials and that it is small and light enough to fit in any kind of suitcase/ backpack.
This first aid kit actually fits all the qualities mentioned above plus it is really cheap for what it offers.
– Collapsible water bottle: I always prefer carrying a water bottle while traveling so that I can just refill it when I run out of water.
It also helps be a responsible traveler since you won’t have to use tones of disposable plastic bottles which are not great for our environment.
Any water bottle can work but I prefer this collapsible one as it doesn’t take a lot of space in my bag.
– You can also read my complete Africa packing list to know everything you’ll need for an African safari.
6. Your security should be a priority
Even though Africans welcome tourists amazingly, this doesn’t mean that a few are not seeing you as their next target.
Pickpockets are very high, especially in big cities, so, be sure to keep your money and valuables safe.
Wear a cross bag instead of a handbag and if you have a small backpack, wear it from the front instead of the back.
However, this should not scare you away from visiting Africa.
Street theft is literally everywhere whether in Europe or America and Africa is no exception.
For security reasons, buy travel insurance and I recommend World Nomads as they’re highly trusted by almost all travelers.
Remember it is always better to stay safe than sorry by covering yourself with travel insurance.
7. Be ready for the culture shock
This can literally happen in any new country you travel to be it in Asia, especially in developing counties but the shock could be a little higher in Africa.
Here are some of the cultural shocks you might experience.
If you’re a mzungu ” white person”, some Africans are going to think you’re rich by default.
Don’t get me wrong here, you might even be struggling financially like I am but as long as you’re white, to some Africans you qualify to be rich.
This means a great number of people may walk up to you with intentions of getting something from you or offering help hoping that they will be tipped. If you fall for this, you’re likely to go back home broke.
Expect the stares from the locals (though not the long ones that last minutes.) The stares are harmless and should not worry you one bit.
You might find this weird at first but trust me, you’ll get used to it and it will all be normal.
Kids screaming “bye Mzungu” as they wave at you- as a way of saying hi.
This could be one of the commonest traits across all of Africa. Kids are just innocent beings that get excited by seeing a white person.
Just be kind enough to wave back with a smile and you would have made their day.
8. Download Offline maps
Most of the areas in Africa especially in the remote villages will not have wifi or even worse, you won’t get any service at all.
So, before your trip to Africa, downloading offline maps and saving all the places from hotel locations, famous restaurants in the area, and the most popular destinations you want to see will make your trip easier.
Check out this post to see the best offline maps and other free travel apps that don’t need internet that you should download before your anticipated trip to Africa.
9. Poverty is real in Africa but not everyone is poor
The media and news channels have tried to portray Africa as a really poor continent but this doesn’t mean that everyone is poor.
The only issue is that the poor are actually poor and the rich are really rich.
There are just a few people that lie in the middle. So be ready to experience some level of poverty while you travel through Africa.
10. Be ready to enjoy a different means of public transportation
In countries like Uganda, public transportation can be just chaotic from extreme traffic jams to somewhat careless drivers – the hustle never ends.
So if you’re up for a fun trip, try out Africa’s public transportation. The most commonly used ones are minibusses, tuk-tuk, boda-bodas, trains, and metro which are in a few countries like Egypt.
If you’re not comfortable with public transportation, opt for private taxis. Services like Uber and
Taxify are widely spread in some of Africa’s major cities, so it should be easy to get around.
11. Find out the political situation of a particular country before you go
The question of safety might seem like common sense but it doesn’t mean that I will skip it.
As a first time traveler to Africa, it would be a bit hard and unpleasant to travel to a country when there is political unrest at that particular time.
So try to follow international news to know exactly the current political situation.
Pro tip* As a first-time traveler to Africa, it’s not always recommended to travel during the election period.
The election period brings out the determination and chaotic nature of people and the outcomes from the election are always unpredictable and yet again the aftermath worse.
So, avoid traveling during the election period if you can.
12. Beggars, street kids, and slums are real
All these are real challenges that Africa still faces, unfortunately.
You’re likely to find many beggars and street kids as you travel through Africa and you might want to help them.
The question is can you help all of them? Of course not, and don’t feel guilty about it because you and I know that you can’t help all the beggars and street kids across Africa.
But if you feel generous, you can give a few coins to the one you think needs it the most but if not, just smile at them and say “next time.”
13. Cash works better in Africa than credit/debit cards
Even though some of the high-end places in Africa accept cards, cash is still the highest form of transaction and actually, cards are not acceptable in most places, especially in rural areas.
Things might be different if you were used to transact using your card all the time. So carry enough cash or you can always get cash from the ATM machines.
14. Check whether the African countries you’re traveling to require a yellow fever card
Frequent travelers know that a yellow fever card is required in some countries but if you’re a first-time traveler, you probably didn’t know that.
Some countries will require a yellow fever card before you enter their country and if you don’t have it, you’re likely to pay a lot of money to acquire it from the port of entry.
So it’s better to have it before your much anticipated African safari.
15. Ignore the negative and soak in all the beauty Africa has to offer
Regardless of how many negative things you’ve read about Africa, I still believe it’s the most beautiful and diverse continent in the world.
So ignore the little negatives and focus all your energy on enjoying Africa.
And instead of looking for 5-star hotels, ignore the comfort and experience Africa like a local by going out of your comfort zone.
Final Thoughts on Tips for Visiting Africa
Now that you know everything you must know and do as a first-time traveler to Africa, it’s time to book your air ticket from here and also your hotel from here and wait for the d-day.
Are you visiting Africa for the very first time? Tell me if this guide was helpful and if you have any other questions, leave them in the comment section and I will surely get back to you.
More posts to help you plan your African trip
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20 Helpful Africa Travel Tips to Prepare for a Trip to Africa
Traveling to Africa? There really isn’t anything quite like traveling around the continent. From the interesting cultures to the copious wildlife and mesmerizing landscapes traveling Africa is sure to captivate your heart.
I cried the day I had to leave this wonderful continent, but getting used to traveling Africa sure wasn’t a walk in the park. Here are our best Africa travel tips to help you prepare for your trip to Africa.
Helpful Africa Travel Tips to Know
Prepare for People Everywhere
Instead of millions of cars on the road in Africa, you’ll find people. Unless we are on a rural African road there are almost always people walking on the side. Actually no, scratch that – the more rural we get the more people we find.
I usually hate long distances and driving, but while driving parts of Africa I don’t really mind. The views out the window are always entertaining and we get lots of waves (and lots of stares).
Prepare for the “African Stare”
That being said…depending on your skin color and how rural you get in Africa you’re probably going to get a couple “African stares” as I like to call them. Some of the locals (and especially children) may have never seen a white/Asian/brown person before – so you may be very interesting to them. Don’t think you’re off the hook if you’re black either, Africans can spot a foreigner from a mile away.
We recently were driving in a remote village in Zambia and pulled over to take a break, when along came a boy on his bike. He just stopped on the bike and stared…stared…stared… for about five minutes until we had to tell him goodbye and drove off (see photo). It’s all harmless and in good nature, just wave and show those pearly whites.
Prepare for Things to Not Work
One of my top Africa travel tips is to just prepare yourself for things to not work. Is the electricity out? Did the water stop running? Does something just not make any sense to you at all?
Or “This is Africa,” otherwise meaning “Well this is Africa, what do you expect?” You will see many things in Africa, sometimes they will frustrate you and other times they will make you laugh. Just get ready for the ride when traveling through Africa. One of my top travel tips for Africa is to be patient.
A couple months ago this post popped up in a Mozambique travel group we are members of. We instantly bust out laughing and knew that something like this could only happen in Africa. In case it’s hard to see the tile layer laid the tiles on upside down. I truly don’t believe this Mozambican meant to fail at his job on purpose, I just believe he genuinely thought something like this.
“Well, this is the correct side for non-slip floors.” Which makes total sense in his mind and it really is now a non-stick floor. However to westerners would quite literally have a heart attack if they saw this. “This is Africa.”
Prepare for Wireless Nights
One of my top Africa travel tips is to not expect constant connection. Besides Antarctica, Africa has been the last continent to catch on to the whole internet thing. South Africa and Morocco are among the top rated for internet speeds and coming from the United States where we are fortunate to have amazing internet, we were still less than impressed in both. Just get excited when the “free WiFi” can load a page, and pull out a book about Africa to keep yourself entertained while you’re waiting.
If you want to be sure you have the internet, I would recommend picking up a sim card in each country and load it with data or get a portable WiFi stick. However, even with a sim card the connection only works if you are in a city or town. It’s okay, though – the world got on just fine without the internet for thousands of years. I touch more on the internet in Africa here.
Prepare for Beautiful People
Most of the African people are warm, friendly, and hospitable. We often found that they are just as interested as us as we are in them. If I can give you just one Africa travel tip it would be to accept the curiosity and be kind back.
Prepare for Fantastic Star Viewings
There aren’t many big cities dotted along the continent so grab a snack, a blanket and prepare yourself for some amazing night skies.
Prepare for Some Uninspiring Food
French, Italian, Thai, Japanese are all cultures revered for their fabulous cuisine. Not the same for most of Africa. Many Africans rely on maize, or corn meal, to keep them full and satisfied.
Maize is cheap, filling, and can be eaten with just about any meat or fish dish. It is the staple in many African countries, but to Westerners, the food may not be the tastiest.
There are a few exceptions, but in general, we haven’t found the local food anything to write home about in the countries we have been. Moroccan cuisine and some of the coastal dishes such as peri-peri on the coasts of East Africa (hello Zanzibar!) deserve some recognition.
Prepare to Throw Dietary Restrictions Out the Window
Are you on a diet? Well, that diet may be hard to keep up with in Africa. While I do believe it’s possible to be a vegetarian when traveling Africa it will certainly make your dinner choices tougher. Like I said many dishes in Africa are based off maize meal sometimes accompanied by a heaping portion of meat.
Unless you’re in a big city, salads, smoothies, and other light options are impossible to come by. Also – it’s worth noting that chicken is not considered a meat in parts of Africa, so be sure to specify if you are a vegetarian.
Prepare for Some Attempted Bribery
You’re likely not to experience much of this problem unless you are driving; however, it’s worth noting that the police in countries like Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Tanzania are notorious for trying to get bribes out of locals and travelers alike.
It’s also worth noting that we’ve been in Africa just over eight months now and have never once had to pay a bribe (although we did hand over a Coke once). Patience is key when dealing with African police.
Prepare for the Unexpected
Another top Africa travel tip of ours is to expect the unexpected. Things don’t always go according to plan, so always be prepared for spontaneous decision making. After two days of driving 1100 kilometers in Zambia we realized we had gone down the wrong road after following a map (yes, 1100 km’s).
A quick brainstorm and gin and tonic later, we were already re-routing the next few weeks.
Prepare for Bright and Amazing Colors
From Morocco to Malawi I just can’t get over how vibrant Africa is. It’s hard to have a bad day when items, wildlife, landscapes, and people are so dazzling.
Prepare to Feel out of Your Element, Guilty, and Uncertain
Traveling around the developing nations in Africa can be hard – especially if you come from the west. Whether you’re rich or not back home, in countries like Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia and many more you have money (you are traveling after all).
You may see many people and communities with nothing and it’s easy to feel guilty. It truly makes you feel just how fortunate you are. However tempting it may be I never recommend giving out money (or candy to children), as it may just encourage begging. If you want to give back consider bringing clothes, pencils, bread or anything truly useful to people.
Prepare for Happy Children
I’ve yet to see an unhappy child in Africa. I’m not saying that there aren’t unhappy kids in Africa, but the children I’ve come across in the villages, on the beaches, on the streets are always smiling, laughing, and full of joy.
Okay, besides the one time in a small village where I made a little girl cry by looking at her (I found out later I was the first white person she had seen). They mostly seem to get a kick out of any foreigner around! My favorite thing to do is make funny faces at them and they’re happy to reciprocate.
Prepare to be the Minority
Black, white, purple, man, woman, it – you name it if you’re a foreigner traveling in a country you’re going to be in the minority. Don’t be scared, just embrace it!
Prepare for Things You’ve Never Seen Before
I’ve seen elephants taking a mud bath in Zimbabwe, cheetahs sprint across the Namib desert, and even a Zebra give birth in South Luangwa National Park. From the wildlife to the people, to the landscapes prepare yourself for spectacular sights.
Prepare for Amazing Wildlife
It’s tough to talk about Africa and not mention the wildlife. If you’re traveling all the way to someplace in Africa I would highly recommend going on at least one safari (Kruger is great for your first time).
You will be amazed at what you can see on the African plains with just one day – Lions, Zebra, Giraffe – Oh my!
Prepare for Plenty of Driving
Whether you are self-driving, on an overland tour, or taking public transport the distances between points are huge! After a while of traveling the continent, you might get used to it. This is why we always wear comfy clothes for long days in the car.
I know it’s gotten bad when I think a five-hour drive is short. I love to look out the window at the landscapes and people passing. If that’s not your thing be sure to download some podcasts, movies about Africa, good music, or books about Africa to keep you entertained.
Prepare for Mozzies
This is one of my most important African travel tips. I’m certain you have heard of Malaria. It’s really serious in Africa. Infected mosquitos spread the disease. Symptoms start like the flu and gradually worsen, and can even cause death.
Neither of us got malaria after traveling Africa for a year, but just about every African we’ve met has, and they describe it as a step above hell. There are a lot of mozzies in Africa, especially if you are by water. Cover up, buy insect repellent, and consider taking prophylaxis.
Prepare for Daytime Driving in Africa.
We haven’t visited one country in Africa where it is safe to drive at night. In South Africa, it was because of crime. In Botswana and Mozambique, it was because if there isn’t livestock on the roads, it’s elephants. In Lesotho, it is because the roads are pitch black and mountainous.
Driving at night in Africa is not a smart idea, there are people on the roads, hardly ever street lights, and don’t forget about the wildlife. For us, if it means starting our journey at 5 am, we will do it to avoid night driving. Just not worth the risks!
Prepare to Die!
Okay, not really! I’m just saying that from the terrible roads, health precautions and animals, traveling around Africa can be a potentially dangerous experience.
It’s especially important to make smart choices and prepare yourself fully for traveling on the most undeveloped continent. With some planning and common sense, you will have a wonderful and memorable time in Africa! We sure had a fantastic year traveling there and now want to go back every chance we get.
What to Pack for Africa
Packing the right safari clothes is always a good idea, but it’s never essential because you can wear whatever you want. We also go in-depth on the best women’s safari clothes!
Plan Your Trip to Africa
- Travel Insurance: We don’t travel without travel insurance and neither should you. You never know what can happen while traveling so it’s best to be prepared. HeyMondo provides excellent short-term and long-term travel insurance plans.
- Travel Waterbottle: When we’re uncertain about the water supply we use our Grayl Purifier. It’s come in exceptionally handy around Africa.
- Camera Gear: Chances are you’ll want a camera for your trip to Africa. We love the Sony RX100V for a pocket-size camera and the Fujifilm XT-4 for a professional camera. Check out our favorite cameras for Africa.
- Safari Clothes: Lightweight, beige, and moisture-wicking clothing are great for traveling Africa. See our favorite safari clothing here.
- Safari Hat:A good hat is both stylish and functional.
- Safari Bag:A durable bag is ideal for traveling around Africa. : We recommend neutral-colored pants as they’re great at hiding dirt and can match most shirt colors.
- Safari Shirt: Shirts like these are lightweight and keep the bugs away!
- Boots:While you don’t need to wear sturdy shoes every day, at least one pair of safari boots will make your trip nicer!
- Travel Adapter: You’ll need a special travel adapter for traveling Africa. Get one before you get there so you don’t pay a premium on the ground.
Natasha is the co-founder of The World Pursuit. She is an expert in travel, budgeting, and finding unique experiences. She loves to be outside, hiking in the mountains, playing in the snow on her snowboard, and biking. She has been traveling for over 10 years experiencing unique cultures, new food, and meeting fantastic people. She strives to make travel planning and traveling easier for all. Her advice about international travel, outdoor sports, and African safari has been featured on Lonely Planet, Business Insider, and Reader’s Digest.
Learn more about Natasha Alden on The World Pursuit About Us Page.
2 thoughts on “20 Helpful Africa Travel Tips to Prepare for a Trip to Africa”
Nice article. Been reading about your drive through Africa, would love to do so myself one day Few comments, my experience with the food is I agree with you mostly. Its not super interesting. Although I have to mentioned Ethiopia here, i really liked the food there and probably my favourite so far. And interesting with your advice on the water bottle! We just bought the lifestraw bottle, so lets see if we will have the same experience as you
“Be prepared for the unexpected”
Thank you for the smile and the comprehensive guide! Best, Georgia
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Africa travel tips: everything you need to know before you go
Planning a trip to Africa soon? From what to know before you go, how to travel around, and how to stay safe, to avoiding border scams, travel health, and finding accommodation, our Africa travel tips guide will answer all your questions!
You’ve finally taken the plunge and booked that ticket for an epic African adventure, you’ve planned a rough itinerary, picked your safari, and soon you’ll be on your way – hooray!
Believe us when we say that you’ve definitely just made one of the best travel decisions you could hope to make. From the incredible natural environment to the rich cultural history, the friendly locals to the vibrant markets, Africa has everything, sometimes all at once.
There’s just something about this fascinating continent that pulls you in and keeps you wanting to return over and over again. For many, it’s the ultimate in exotic and far-flung destinations. But there’s no also denying that it can also be a daunting place to travel for even the hardiest of explorers!
We’ve spent a total of 9 months travelling through Southern and Central Africa in our time, and we’re the first to admit we were a little lost and confused when it came to planning our first trip there way back in 2014.
Would we be safe? How does one even travel around Africa? Would we end up with Malaria?
Turns out we had nothing to worry about, travelling around Africa is pretty easy, with the right planning.
But those initial questions are exactly why we’ve compiled this list of Africa travel tips, and stuff we wish we’d known before we left – so you can focus on having the trip of your dream!
AFRICA TRAVEL TIPS: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
TRAVELLING AFRICA: WHAT TO ORGANISE BEFORE YOU GO
While you might be someone who enjoys ‘winging it’ when it comes to travel (aka us), this is one place where a little bit of pre-prep actually goes a really, really, really long way when you’re in this part of the world.
In fact, on our Namibian road trip a few years ago, we arrived into Sossusvlei after an 8-hour drive through the desert without phone service only to discover that the only available accommodation was a room in the super luxurious Sossusvlei Lodge. which also happened to cost about the same as our monthly budget!
If we’d been better prepared, we’d have known it was coming into high season and would have either booked one of the budget options, or organised camping gear and pitched our tent inside the park.
Before you go to Africa, spend some time researching the following and plan accordingly:
Where you want to go
How long you want to go for
What season you want to travel in – is it peak? wet season?
Work out whether you want to travel Africa independently or on a group tour (like Intrepid Travel)
What you’d like to do (safari, Kilimanjaro, etc).
What visas you’ll require for each country
What kind of budget you’ll need with all of the above in mind.
A few other things to consider:
Is your passport up to date, with at least 6 months left before expiry? You’ll also need more than 2 blank pages left in it.
How will you carry your money with you on the road? Traveller’s cheques are virtually useless here, ATMs can be temperamental, and carrying huge wads of cash around isn’t the best idea. We found using a low-fee bank card, taking out enough for a few days, and stashing it in different places across our bags was the best solution for us.
Your vaccinations and medications: most African countries will require proof that you’ve had a Yellow Fever vaccination. Malaria prophylaxis like Malarone is another must-have, and if you’re planning on trekking at altitude, speak with your doctor about organising Diamox or similar.
It might seem a little daunting to begin with, but trust us, having a good idea of all of the above will make your life a thousand times easier on the ground.
WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE TRAVELLING AFRICA
BE CAREFUL, BUT NOT AFRAID
The whole of Africa has had a pretty bad rap as a war-and-poverty-stricken, crime-ridden, and inhospitable continent over the last few decades, but we’ve always found that this perception couldn’t be further from the truth.
The reality is that most African nations are stable, peaceful, and working towards a brighter future for everyone there.
Being wary, and taking the same precautions as you’d take while travelling anywhere else in the world – of course, while not allowing yourself to become closed off or fearful of every interaction – is the key here and will help you avoid many problems throughout Africa.
You’ll quickly realise that most of the fears you’ve carried with you are unfounded!
THE PEOPLE ARE SUPER FRIENDLY
Just as Africa is not the dangerous, backwards place it’s made out to be, the diverse and wonderful people who inhabit its countries aren’t waiting to rip you off at every opportunity.
Hospitable and friendly folk are everywhere, and we often commented to each other that we felt safer travelling through there than we often did in our own city, or in London (where we lived for 18 months).
You’ll probably encounter more unfriendly people on your daily commute on the tube than you will here!
It’s common to be greeted with a huge smile and hello, and most are keen to learn your name, where you’re from and why you’re visiting.
We had Malawians take us under their wing on a confusing and overcrowded long bus ride, new friends help us exchange money for fair rates at a border crossing, families who took us into their homes and cooked us chicken stew while their kids played next to us, a smiley Zambian cab driver who picked us up at all hours for our various adventures, and chatted politics, football, and the best meals in Livingstone, and so many more happy encounters.
We’ve only ever felt welcomed in Africa; if you’re open, friendly, and respectful (particularly bearing in mind that most nations are still deeply conservative), you’ll always be treated as a friend.
YOU’LL PROBABLY BE CALLED A ‘MZUNGU’
You’ll probably encounter the phrase ‘Mzungu’ being thrown your way – often by locals smiling as they wave out of car windows or pass you on the street. The literal translation from Swahili is ‘person who wanders without purpose’, though these days it’s used to describe any white foreigner.
It’s mostly said in a friendly, joking way – so try not to take offence.
BUILD FLEXIBILITY INTO YOUR ITINERARY
“Africa time”. It’s a phrase you’ll come to love and hate during your travels here, but the sooner you can embrace it the better!
Life just runs differently here. Buses leave when they’re full, not often when they’re scheduled. A pick up time of 8am might actually mean 11am and just because you ordered your food an hour ago, doesn’t mean it’s any closer to arriving.
Rather than getting frustrated by the relaxed attitude towards timings, roll with it – and always build time into your itineraries to account for it.
You’ll soon realise it’s actually nice to escape the immediacy of the west, where everything has to materialise the minute you’ve thought of it, and enjoy a more relaxed pace instead.
BRING YOUR FAVOURITE TOILETRIES WITH YOU
Generally when travelling, if you run out of your favourite shampoo or sunscreen you can just duck down the street and find a replacement at the local shop or pharmacy. That’s not quite the case in Africa, unless you’re in a large city, and even then you might struggle to find the toiletries you’re used to back home.
We found good sunscreen to be a near-impossible find in most parts of Africa, along with tampons and hair ties. If there are toiletries you simply couldn’t go more than a few days without, make sure to pick up some spares at home and add them to your luggage.
BE A RESPONSIBLE TRAVELLER
Witnessing people living in poverty can often be overwhelming for travellers, but as tempting as it is to give gifts, money, or good to beggars or children, the most positive thing you can do for them is not to give things to them.
Handouts can actually cause more damage to local communities than you’d realise by perpetuating the idea that Africa needs ‘saving’ by well-meaning rich foreign tourists.
You might also be surprised to learn that begging is actually one of the most visible signs of human trafficking; encouraging kids to stay out of school and earn money instead, and organised crime gangs to drug or deliberately maim people in order to garner sympathy from tourists and more donations.
Be a responsible traveller, and avoid funding this cycle of abuse. And while we’re talking about it, don’t take photos of random children (for a start, it’s weird – would you walk up to a kid in London and snap a photo of them without another thought?!), and avoid visiting orphanages and schools as it’s both disruptive to education, leaves children vulnerable to predators, and is often hard to distinguish a good orphanage from a scam one.
ALWAYS TRAVEL WITH TRAVEL INSURANCE
We’ve said it once, we’ll say it again (and we’ll continue saying it forevermore!) – if you can afford to travel, you cannot afford to leave home without comprehensive travel insurance.
Longtime readers will probably remember Mark’s story of getting bitten by a snake in Malawi; the ultimate proof that the unexpected really can happen, especially on a continent like Africa!