20 Helpful Africa Tips BEFORE Traveling 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 after a year of overlanding there, and now return every year. However 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 traveling to Africa.

Helpful Africa Travel Tips to Know

Prepare for People Everywhere

People everywhere in Malawi
random road in Malawi

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”

Staring in Zambia

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

South Africa
Somewhere in the bush

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?

Well TIA.

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.

This is Africa
And this post is about to give us a “hart atack”

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. If you’re traveling Africa, you’ll probably say “This is Africa,” at some point in your trip.

Prepare for Wireless Nights

Kasanka Camp Site
There’s no WiFi in the bush

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

Holiday in Mozambique Massinga Community
The wonderful ladies of Mozambique

Most of the African people are warm, friendly, and hospitable. We often found that they are just as interested in 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

starry night
starry night in Mozambique

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

Berber Omelette
Having a delicious meal with the Berbers in Morocco

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

Mama Africa Mozambique

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 like Cape Town or Johannesburg, salads, smoothies, and other light options are impossible to come by. Also – it’s worth noting that chicken is not considered meat in parts of Africa, so be sure to specify if you are a vegetarian.

Prepare for Some Attempted Bribery

overlanding Africa
Somewhere while overlanding Africa

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 traveling 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

Buying a car in South Africa
Getting our car absolutely Stuck in Botswanan bush

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

African National Parks
Sunsets in Ruaha (Tanzania)

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

Travel Tips - Be Different In Tanzania
We were the only white people around in this small Tanzanian town, so we made lots of friends!

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

Funny Faces in Namibian Village
In a rural Namibian town

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

Things to know for Africa
Somewhere in Malawi

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

on safari in Botswana

I’ve seen elephants taking a mud bath on safari 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

The World Pursuit
Driving across the continent in our 1989 Landcruiser

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

Linyanti Concession - Botswana
On safari!

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.

Can we make it across?
a “road” in Zambia

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 with no street lights.

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!

Hippo Party on the Chobe River
Hippos are dangerous!

Okay, not really! I’m just saying that from the terrible roads, health precautions, and dangerous 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

The World Pursuit At Kilimanjaro Tanzania

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.
  • Safari Pants: 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 to Africa. Get one before you get there so you don’t pay a premium on the ground.
About Natasha Alden

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, across 7 continents, 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.

5 thoughts on “20 Helpful Africa Tips BEFORE Traveling to Africa”

  1. 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 🙂

  2. “Be prepared for the unexpected”

    Thank you for the smile and the comprehensive guide! Best, Georgia

  3. From an African perspective, Your article comes as very mean.
    “ Unless you’re in a big city like Cape Town or Johannesburg, salads, smoothies, and other light options are impossible to come by.”
    Just one of the many statement which I found pretty annoying. .

    Why not talking about the countries which you have visited. You made the whole of Africa sound primitive by pinpointing the weaknesses of the few places you have visited.
    That’s the way Americans wants “Africa “ to be viewed by the world

  4. Hey sue, we’ve been to about 20 African countries across the entire continent and have spent nearly two years of our lives traveling there. In fact, we’re heading back next month. I’m sorry you interpreted it as mean, if we thought it was such a primitive place we certainly wouldn’t spend so much time there. You need to keep in mind that this article is for travelers who mostly go safari or take overland camping trips.

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