We never want to discourage spontaneous travel plans, but there are a few preliminary steps you should take before your trip to Africa. A little forethought and careful consideration could save your trip from turning into an international catastrophe. Here are a few tips to help you plan for your African getaway.
Virtually every nation in Africa (including South Africa) is in some stage of development, and this means that healthcare standards are not up to par with those of the United States. Hospitals are sparse, clinics are often understaffed and ill-equipped, and medications may not be readily available (especially in rural areas). For these reasons, a pre-travel visit to your doctor is definitely in order. He or she will administer the necessary vaccinations — hepatitis A, typhoid fever, and rabies, to name a few; many countries will require proof of immunization upon entry. Your doc will also prescribe the requisite medications, including malaria prophylaxis (for which you should adopt a strict routine).
Africa is vast — probably much more than you think — and getting from place to place can be tricky. Availability of different modes of public transportation will vary between stops; luxury buses may be your best best in one city, while crowded mini-buses or expensive taxi cabs might be your only option for others. You’ll want to budget for these variables, as well as the different border requirements; South Africa, for instance, does not require an entry visa or fee, while Tanzania requires travelers to purchase a visa in advance of their arrival. Most larger cities have rental car agencies, which are considerably more convenient than public transport — and much more expensive. Thanks to an ever-growing Internet presence in Africa, lodging accommodations can be researched prior to the trip; for budgeting travelers, youth hostels often provide a wide array of amenities and convivial atmosphere for a fraction of the price you’ll pay to stay at a fancy hotel.
3. Buy Some New Clothes
Your Africa wardrobe should be comprised of light garments (nylon-,rayon-, or cotton-based) that cover your skin; these will keep you cool under the sweltering sun and protect you from mosquitoes, parasitic infections, and other unwanted bodily visitors. In addition to a sturdy pair of sneakers, be sure to pick up thick hiking boots for adventures in the bush and a pair of flip-flops for casual street walking and poolside relaxation. Hat and sunglasses are advised (hell, downright mandatory), and a durable backpack might also be a good investment. And don’t bother bringing jeans; their thickness will cause sweaty discomfort, regardless of the time of year.
4. Throw Away Your Watch
OK, maybe don’t trash a perfectly workable timepiece — but be prepared to seldom use it. Ever heard of ‘African time’? It’s a term that applies throughout the continent, and refers to the generally laxed attitude toward schedules and meetings that is common among native residents. This isn’t a bad quality, per se, and after all you are on their turf. But you may want to adopt a similar outlook during your travels. So if the taxi is running 15 minutes late or the post office hasn’t opened a half hour after the listed hours, don’t fret. Just relax, remind yourself of your current location, and revel in the cultural experience.
Depending on your bank, this one may not do much good; certain financial institutions will place a hold on your account when any international activity is registered, whether or not you notified them prior to your trip. But it won’t hurt to phone your local branch and let them know you’ll be visiting Africa for the next couple weeks. Credit and debit transactions are somewhat rare in most African countries (whether you’re in a city or village), and you’ll need access to an ATM soon after your plane lands. Among your first purchases should be a pre-paid cell phone; the cheapest models cost less than $100, and may prove invaluable if you need to place a stateside call anytime throughout your trip (switchable sim cards are available as you travel from country to country).
Best of luck on your African excursions! Have fun, experience a new culture — and above all else, please be safe.
By Brad Nehring