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.
Traveling to Africa? Read our Africa Travel Tips
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
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 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 lots 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
I’m certain you have heard of Malaria. It’s really serious in Africa. The disease is spread by infected mosquitos. Symptoms start like the flu and gradually worsen, and can even cause death.
Neither of us has gotten malaria (yet), 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 to the health precautions, to the 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 a little planning and common sense, you will have a wonderful and memorable time in Africa!
What to Pack for Africa
Overland Tour in Africa
Traveling Africa on your own can be daunting to many travelers. However, there is no need to fear with overland tour companies who will show the ropes and a great time. You can check out some of them here to compare the different companies and possibly score a discount.
Travel Water Bottle
Plastic pollution is a problem in Africa so it’s best not to contribute to the problem buying plastic water bottles everywhere. The tap water in Tanzania is generally not safe to drink, but a water purifier, like the Grayl waterbottle, works well!
However, we also love filtered water bottles in areas we’re uncertain of the water supply. Read more about favorite water bottle for travel in our post.
Chances are you’ll want a camera for your trip to Africa. Our favorite pocket-sized point and shoot camera for quick trips are the Sony RX100V. It takes fantastic photos and video and is the size of your palm.
For more professional photographs we use our Fuji XT-3, and LOVE IT.
Lightweight pants that are made from synthetic material are tremendous to have in your pack. It’s what we wear most days when traveling around Africa as they’re comfortable, antibacterial, and protect our legs from mosquitos (malaria).
We recommend neutral colored pants as they’re great at hiding dirt and can match most shirt colors. What’s great is they’re useful beyond Africa as they are a travel staple and we pack a pair everywhere we travel.
I like two pairs, one pair is made by prAna and rolls into capris and the other are convertible pants. For men, prAna makes the Stretch Zion Pant, a tremendous pair of hiking pants for a reasonable price.
If you’re wondering what necessities to bring to Africa then sturdy shoes are perhaps the most important thing you will need before you get to Africa.
I cannot stress a good pair of shoes enough because if you land anywhere outside of South Africa a quality pair of hiking shoes will be hard to come by. If you plan to walk around a lot get thick rubber soled shoes as acacia thorns are prone to stab through thin shoes. Cameron learned the hard way one day when he pulled a thorn out of his foot that went straight through his thin rubber sandals.
I love my buff. I usually wear it for keeping my hair back, but it’s also served its purpose as a scarf and wet rag too. Buffs last for years and aren’t only helpful in Africa. I actually wear mine every day when I’m snowboarding in the mountains. It’s been one of my top travel accessory investments ever!
Skin cancer is for real! Don’t forget your SPF when traveling around Africa. We recommend ordering some online before leaving the house as you will need it underneath the sun in the summer.
We highly recommend getting an eco friendly sun cream that does not contain harmful chemicals.
Make sure to protect your eyes from the sun. There are a lot of options for sunglasses and everyone should own at least a pair. It’s best to make sure they do have UV protection for the health of your eyes.
We made our first investment in quality polarized sunglasses with a pair of SMITH Optics Lowdown 2. Truthfully, not everyone needs to invest $150 in a pair of sunglasses, but they do make a huge difference from the crappy $10 ones.
Most hotels will provide you with a towel, but they often aren’t suitable or allowed on the beaches. I like to travel with a microfiber towel because they are light and fold up small, and they also don’t cling on to sand our dirt. Here are a few of our favorite travel towels.
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