My Top 10 Africa Travel Tips.
Prepare before you go to be physically ready and have a peace of mind
Africa is safe for travelers if you take precautions.
If you’re traveling to Africa for the first time, there are probably a lot of unknowns and maybe even concerns that you have. From getting vaccinations to the potential dangers and whether you can drink the water or not, there’s a lot to consider. In this article, I’ll share with you 10 of my top tips if you’re preparing to head to Africa and some of the lessons I learned during my trip.
10. Be careful about transportation
Transportation can be hit and miss in Africa. There aren’t many trains and some bus companies are better than others. Seek recommendations from other travelers about reputable companies and reliable drivers, and avoid taking long motorcycle rides. If possible, I’d recommend flying. If you’re daring, rent a car as I did in South Africa….although I’d recommend against this in developing countries like Mozambique.
9. Bring a water filter
Water is readily available everywhere but bottled water isn’t. Aside from being an environmental issue, having a water filter is also a practical option as it means you can drink water whenever you need. Sometimes water bottles are refilled and resealed, so the quality is not always guaranteed. Don’t be afraid to use a filter wherever you are, even in the big cities.
8. Eat local
So many guidebooks and blogs will tell you not to eat street food in Africa as a precautionary health measure. But I ate locally most of the time and found the quality of food wasn’t very different from back home. I opted for mostly vegetables and fish, and would recommend that you make sure your meat is cooked if you’re eating chicken and red meat.
7. Hang out at hostels with other travelers
The hostel scene is growing significantly in Africa, with most countries offering shared accommodation where you can meet other travelers. This is an easy way to connect with other people if you’re traveling alone and make friends to travel onwards with if you’re heading in the same direction. Most hostels will also provide airport transportation if they’re located in big cities.
6. Africa can be dangerous
Just as you’d be vigilante traveling in unknown cities back home, you need to be careful about where you go, particularly at night. Places such as the Congo and Sudan are still experiencing a lot of violence and many of Africa’s big cities have a reputation for crime, both big and small. I avoided drinking too much and stayed with friends most of the time. So stick to what feels comfortable and don’t take any unnecessary risks – there are no heroes in traveling!
5. Keep your arms covered
Even if it’s stinking hot and you want to be in a short-sleeve t-shirt or singlet, I’d recommend covering up as an additional layer of protection against mosquitoes. This goes for your legs too. I wore lightweight, long-sleeve clothing, which also helped to prevent me from getting sunburned. While mosquito repellant might help, long sleeves are also a great anti-malaria precautionary measure.
4. Travel light
Africa has everything you need. Rather than bringing outfits for every occasion and all those “just in case” things, pack light. You don’t want to be carrying more than you have to and can always buy additional clothing and toiletries cheap once there. I’d recommend limiting yourself to a 30-40 liter backpack. For example, my friend Toto traveled an entire month with just two shirts, two sets of underwear, his swim shorts and sandals, some toiletries and a hand towel.
3. Be in good mental health
Traveling in Africa will probably expose you to a completely different environment from what you’re used to and will inevitably have you questioning the way you used to think about the world. This can be mentally difficult and draining, as well as depressing at times. I didn’t prepare myself for this emotional rollercoaster and am not really sure how to advise about going about it, other than being aware and in a good mental state before you leave home.
2. Get in shape
Traveling around Africa can be grueling at times. It can involve long days on bumpy roads and negotiating cultural differences, making it both physically and mentally challenging. Eating well and exercising to ensure you’re in shape before you leave home will put you in the best position to meet the challenges…and withstand the heat!
1. Get your shots
Many African countries are still exposed to diseases and infections that have been largely eliminated in the west, so it’s important that you get all the necessary vaccinations before you go. While you’ve probably already had some of the shots as a kid (polio, measles, rubella), there are others that you might not have (typhoid, rabies, hepatitis A and B). Add to that, there are a whole host of lesser-known ways of getting sick, including snail fever and sleeping sickness from tsetse flies, so be prepared!
Chat with your GP about what shots you might need, depending on where you’re visiting, as well as a malaria precaution that suits you. There are lots of different options out there with various side effects, such as bad dreams, unsettled stomach and even buzzing in your ear, so figure out which one’s best for you. Lots of people don’t take malaria pills and some end up contracting the disease, so it’s a good idea to know what to do if you do get it. Understand the symptoms so you know the early warning signs and make sure you have travel insurance (with medical coverage) in case you end up in a local hospital.
Also, it’s important to remember that several countries require you to have a Yellow Fever certificate before entry. So make sure you have this shot and carry a card as proof when you pass through immigration.