Travelling to Africa for the first time has a propensity to freak out people. All is that it is a land filled with war, disease, poverty and hungry children.
It saddens me a great deal that this causes individuals to dismiss Africa as a travel destination. Preconceptions are untrue and are embedded in our minds as a result of Western media.
Africa is a continent, filled with incredibly full of diversity and culture and developing countries. It’s a power unlike any place on Earth and these people’s soul is something. Life in Africa is all about community, gratitude, and love — something which we in the world could learn a thing or two about.
To me, travel is all about exploring and discovering a means of life you never knew existed — one that changes you and leaves an impression on you. There’s no better place than Africa to do that.
Here are a few things before you take that first excursion into the motherland, you will need to know:
1. Take new US dollar bills
Ensure that you take bills no older than Series 2006. Many places in Africa won’t accept bills and several places won’t accept $10. To avoid carrying large amounts of money try and use the ATM’s where potential — they are widespread and accept credit cards and Plus cards. This will save you the anxiety of thousands of dollars in your pocket.
2. Have an old smartphone
Cellphone carriers are good. 3G is cheap and available — you might pay $20 or so. Just take an old smartphone that uses the initial size sim cards (eg. iPhone 3G or something similar). Here’s why:
Original sized sim cards are both cheaper and easier to find — they are standard issue in East Africa and cost around $1. Getting your hands on sim or a nano will be expensive and harder. Most stores I’ve seen use the old school way of cutting on sims that are original.
With a functioning smartphone, you won’t perish from Whatsapp withdrawal but you also won’t risk losing your brand new iPhone 8. You will also be connected to email, Skype, GPS etc. for any emergencies and have Google useful for all your tourist needs. It’s difficult to have wifi so using the hotspot will keep you connected on your laptop.
3. Malaria awareness
Malaria isn’t a joke — it is a major problem in Africa and millions die from it annually. Don’t allow this’ fear ruin your trip. Malaria is not difficult to stop and with the precautions, you’ll be OK.
Malarone and Doxycycline are the two most anti. Malarone is the more expensive alternative (around $7 a pill) but has the least side effects. Doxy is much cheaper (a 6 month supply might only cost $50) but it leaves your skin sensitive to sunlight, which means that you are going to burn off easier, and some folks experience hallucinations. No big deal.
Malaria is difficult to catch, it is a species of mosquito named Anopheles that carries it and it struggles to live at altitudes above 1,500m. That means in areas like Addis Ababa and Nairobi you can relax, but little towns like Zanzibar and Mombasa require vigilance. The apparent prevention method here is to use insect repellent whenever outside at night, in the bush, or where mosquitoes may be found. You are safe if you do not get bitten!
4. Learn about HIV
Too many people think HIV and Africa are synonymous. That is a bit sad. People today appear to get caught up on the idea that they will be putting themselves at risk simply by spending some time on the continent. I was extremely educated on the subject on my first visit to Africa. Turns out, HIV is a disease to contract. Do not have unprotected sex, do not get a blood transfusion, do not use needles. Easy!
5. Take sunscreen
This can be tough to find in certain African countries because the population doesn’t have any need for it. It is going to be costly if you do find it and you will be lucky to find your brand. Take your own.
6. Get the Dukoral vaccine
This is an oral vaccine that protects you. So you’ve got a likelihood of pooping water drinking it’s going to iron plate your gut for 3 weeks. I have had this vaccine on all my Africa excursions, eat all kinds of crap and have not had diarrhea! It is not always contained in a family physician’s “Africa value pack” so be certain to ask for it.
7. Dress down
Bear in mind that poverty is a problem here. Do not draw attention to yourself and respect the culture. That means easy on no clothes and the bling. For the women, remain and try covered up.
8. Have a torch
Powercuts are frequent and widespread, and lots of areas do not have electricity.
9. Don’t pack Lots of white clothing
It is going to get dirty real fast and you will most likely be hand-washing it.
10. Careful with your camera
You’re likely to come across some photo opportunities of people doing. Have some tact with your camera at you taking photographs of them because people will take offense. If they catch you, people will approach you and ask you. Use your zoom and take your snaps or just be discreet. Ask permission first if you would like to get and choose your photograph. Alternately, take the photograph and then provide a “tip” afterward. It is going to keep the peace and they will appreciate your respect.
11. Hand sanitizer
If you are planning a few trips have children and you are certain to be touching all kinds of things. Keeping a bottle of the handy is a lifesaver. It’s not hard to take your own.
12. Carry a pack of baby wipes
You will thank me later.
13. Use a VPN!
Places in Africa have wifi but safety is up to the degree that we are used to. I’d highly suggest getting a VPN before you go if you plan on connecting to wifi networks in hotels/cafes/restaurants etc.. This makes certain your activity and will encrypt all of your connections is protected, which is important if you’re going to be accessing bank details online, Paypal, or any other information. I use Private Internet Access and have been for a couple of years. If you are new to this stuff I’ve got a post about internet security whilst traveling here!
14. Be clever with the hustlers
You will find some attention while walking around the streets. Lure one in an effort to souvenir shops or men will try to sell you crafts and arts. If you are interested, that’s fine, but odds are you are not. These people are an annoyance more than anything else and are harmless, so the secret is to be relaxed rather than hostile and cool.
When they ask if it is your first time visiting only say “No, I come each year, my brother lives here” or something like that. They likely chat with you for 10 seconds before moving on to a target that is promising as soon as they realize you are not a tourist.
I remember getting off the bus at Arusha annually and before my toes have even touched the floor some dude has his hands on my shoulder crying “Taxi my buddy? My friend? Taxi!?”
I ignore him and he moves on, “Your first time in Africa, my friend?”
My head shakes. “My family lives here.”
“Oh! You’ve got African wife?”
I start laughing and turn. “Ndiyo, kaka” (yes, my brother).
With that knowing look in his eyes, he cried and then fades so quickly that I’m surprised. I turn my head to nod off him and he is already back in the bus door, hassling somebody else.
15. Get a driver
Get the telephone number of a taxi driver that is trusted as soon as you land in the nation. You get to your resort alive and if your resort sends a driver, get his number. Ask the hotel staff for a taxi that is trusted. Keep his number into your mobile or better, memorize it. If you are in a rough spot, or you’re stuck out in the dark, ensuring you won’t ever be stuck behind enemy lines you can call him.
16. Pack a first aid kit
A first aid kit may come in handy at a place and hospital helicopters do not exist. That means bandages, antiseptics, prescription antibiotics, a pocketknife, sterile needles (some physicians do not have these), DEET, antidiarrheals, and painkillers.
17. Use common sense and stay secure
Regardless of what people think Africa isn’t a wild location. Common sense will be enough to keep you secure, although there’s offense. Do not go out at night — choose a male. When you arrive in the nation, ask someone who you can trust like a tour guide or hotel staff about the danger spots in town. If you do not go wandering and have an escort, you will be in no more danger than you would be in your home country.
I have been to every continent and Africa is by far my favorite! Go, explore, discover, love.