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simply_angelic 05-12-2008 04:58 AM

So You Want To Travel Africa
As many of you must know, I've been jumping around Africa a lot these past few months (just hit the 4 month mark a couple days ago) and here's some of the tricks of the trade I've aquired through my travels.

(1) First and foremost- BRING A FLASHLIGHT OR HEADLAMP!! Power outages are COMMON, you'll probably aquire one at least once every few days if not a couple times a day. On average, I'd say they happen about once a day. Even if you (by some miracle) don't encounter a power outage while in africa street lamps aren't exactly common in most areas outside the major cities so they definitely come in handy at night.

(2) Don't bank on maps. A few major cities will have them but that's pretty much it...and even if you find a map, most roads aren't labelled. Memorize your route and make sure you know the name of where you want to go/where you're staying before you head out...otherwise finding your way back can be tres difficile. (As from personal experience in Gaborone, Botswana...)

(3) Roadside vendors rock (also known as people coming up to your bus/minibus-taxi offering you food)!! Don't be afraid of them...(as I was initially). The further north (outside of South Africa) you go, the more common they will become, especially in poorer countries. When people approach your car offering food, chances are it's the only food you're going to get for a while...and it's cheap!

(4)Long-haul buses are everywhere and reasonably affordable. You can travel great distances for like 5$-10$ in most countries. You'll learn to love the minibus taxis as well, when there aren't "real" buses as they're ridiculously cheap. Rules for minibus taxis:
-Always try to barter first, you can usually reduce the fare a bit
-The best seats in the house are the front by the driver (leg room) but the back isn't bad because you have great airflow so it's not as hot
-Don't talk to the driver, there is a man who'll usually negotiate the fare with you/sit by the big sliding door who you pay and ask where to get off.
- Get into the fullest minibus taxi you can find going to the same location you are. They don't leave until they're full (usually)...otherwise you'll be waiting for a while. I think the longest I've waited is 3 hours....
-knock on the wall if you want to get the driver's attention or need off early.

(5) Bring food with you on a long trip or money to buy from roadside vendors...there usually aren't many stops and you usually dont want to get off b/c the buses are so packed it's very difficult to walk...

(6) If there's anywhere I can recommend travelling light, it's in Africa. The people here can be aggressive! There isn't usually much baggage space and when there is it is a hot commodity (this is how people transport goods for their businesses). Overhead luggage space can also be a challange to aquire on a long haul "reg" bus. There is very much the "everybody push & squeeze" to get onto a bus mentality so that they (a) will have a seat and (b) will have luggage space. Also, you never know when you're going to have to hitch and if there's only one ride that comes around every hour you're going to want to be able to fit in....

(7) If you're a vegetarian, it's going to be tough, but it is manageable. I'd definitely recommend bringing vitamins with you, you're going to be eating a lot of rice/maize meal and beans. When you can find salads it's the most amazing thing in the world. That is one thing I will be excited to get back to in Canada, although the veggies in Rwanda aren't bad, I can usually find salad. Botwana was horrible...

(8) ATMs are here but not always accessible, they're usually in major towns. If you're in a relatively poor country (eg. malawi(poor) vs. Botwana(rich)) you're probably not going to find an atm or bank so stock up on cash while you can! Another option if they don't have ATMs that will accept your card (say, if you have mastercard like me) is to take money out through the bank at a fee, but it's usually a lot higher than an ATM fee as they usually charge %'s, not a set amount. (Although everything is developing like lightning here so that may change in a few years)

(9) Unless you're staying at fancy hotels, they're probably not going to take your credit card (unless you're in a rich country where credit cards are accepted everywhere). I was actually laughed at when I thought you could buy A PLANE TICKET with a credit card.....

(10) Money belts aren't widely known here (awesome). Every once in a while when I need to get money out in public people laugh at me because they think I store it in my underwear...

(11) English/French are widely accepted, depending on where you travel (a good chunk of the population should be fluent in either of these languages depending on who colonised, sometimes both). Although it pays to learn the basics of whatever language is native in the area you travel as people in rural areas will most likely not have very good schooling....

(12) Learn some of the language, when you speak their language to them they really really appreciate it. I can get smile from local women who usually glare me down!!

(13) "Give me my money" Get used to hearing this from the local children (and full grown adults who look well off? wtf?)'re going to get it a lot. If you are white, you are rich in their eyes. Plain and simple. On the other hand if you don't get it, it's the most amazing feeling ever to see these kids because they are genuinely in awe of the fact that they are looking at a white person. 99% of the time I can make a baby stop crying. It's like you're a celebrity. Everybody wants to touch your hands and come out and see "the muzungu" (in central/southern africa).

(14) Bring a travel guide. Highly recommended. It's like having a friend with you who knows the area and speaks your language. Beautiful. Just add about 1/3 to the price listed, especially for loding. In Rwanda expect prices to be 2-3X what you read....

(15) Africa is expensive for budget travellers in terms of lodging. It's comparable with europe. Yes, you'll get more for your money but you'll still be paying similar prices. Expect to pay between $10(cheap)-30/night. If you have someone who you can share with, the prices are usually $10-20/night. Backpackers are few and far between. Most countries are more "lodge-based" in their acommodation.

(16) Cellphones are EVERYWHERE!!! And cheap! Everyone has a cellphone here, it's crazy. Some of the poorest areas...everyone has cellphones...Sim cards are between 1-2$ on avg per country. I bought my basic cellphone (does nothing other than phone people) in Botswana for approx $35. Long distance calls are around $0.75/min avg. but incoming calls are free (on pay as you go! WHAT?!). Just make sure that if you're changing countries you have an open phone so that you're not locked into one provider and therefore stuck without service once you get to a country dominated by one provider. PS if you can avoid it, avoid MTN. They're the worst provider I've used so far....

um...that's all I can think of for now, will update again soon with more but need to scadaddle. Chow!

worldwidemike 05-12-2008 09:27 AM


One question: Has English got you through your sojourn in Africa fairly well, so far, "simply muzungu"? We should seriously change your name to that...! :lol:

I'm thinking of a backup plan to the one I posted on the Maghreb Mike thread. if that falls through, maybe fly into Ghana, visit that for awhile, then check out some of the neighboring countries in West Africa (Togo? Benin? Burkina Faso?)...

Any scuttlebutt you've heard on West Africa would be greatly appreciated. I have read that Ghana is probably the most tourist oriented and stable country in West Africa...


mbo108 05-12-2008 10:27 AM

Thanks for the advice; you are definitely the go-to african expert on the boards now.

Mike, I've wanted to do Ghana ever since hearing about how my father went there in the 70s when he worked for PanAm. He's passed away since there but as reminders of the trip I have a set of hand-carved wooden bookends, his old passport with the Ghana stamp, and an old-school picture of him with 30 Ghanian (Ghanese?) co-workers, some in "traditional african garb" (long colorful robes), others in three-piece suits.

simply_angelic 05-12-2008 12:58 PM

Hey mike, I personally haven't heard too much about Ghana but I'm pretty sure it's cool....I know my old riding instructor's best friend lived and worked there for a couple months and she had the time of her life. I'll try asking about it but as it's going through 3 people it might not be the best way to get info....

As for mbo, it's actually pretty awesome how the traditional and the new are mixed so easily in Africa...even amongst the "suits". You'll see women in traditional fabrics and dresses right next to women wearing business suits. Both are equally accepted as "dressy attire". The clothes they wear here are generally different from the west african attire so you dont tend to see men wearing the garb as much, but still v. cool.

aliz 05-12-2008 02:26 PM

this thread makes me want to explore africa. with a guide and flashlight and cash! haha.

I don't want to change the subject here, but...

Originally Posted by simply_angelic (Post 183673)
but incoming calls are free (on pay as you go! WHAT?!)

are you saying that you normally have to pay for incoming calls? that is really strange

SGRHewitt 05-12-2008 08:08 PM


Originally Posted by aliz (Post 183704)
this thread makes me want to explore africa. with a guide and flashlight and cash! haha.

I don't want to change the subject here, but...

are you saying that you normally have to pay for incoming calls? that is really strange

For American cell phones, you use your 'minutes' for incoming calls. At least thats the way it is with Verizon.

When I got to England and found out my parents could call me, and it wouldn't cost me a thing. I was shocked.

Sorry to take away from the thread subject as well.

aliz 05-13-2008 01:04 AM

man, that's a crappy deal. If I had to pay every time people called me I would probably be very hostile on the phone. then people would hate me. but I don't so they don't.

aaaaand back to Africa.

TERI 05-13-2008 05:44 PM

well I can tie this thread back together...
I just called SimplyAngelic in Rwanda and we talked on the phone for almost 2hours!!!!!! lol :)


travelpunk 05-14-2008 02:00 AM

Hey Laura, thanks for the great post and I love getting your email followups! It definitely give us good insight on what to expect when traveling to Africa.


kids because they are genuinely in awe of the fact that they are looking at a white person. 99% of the time I can make a baby stop crying.
Hahaha...that is classic:lol: !

Glad to see that all is well, babe:kisscheek: !

mbo108 05-14-2008 07:20 AM

Great updates to the thread, thanks. On the cell phone issue, i knew a girl who was doing aid work in Africa and got easily upset because she couldn't understand how a country/population could provide/support a cell phone infrastructure yet so many citizens didn't have access to clean water.

On the issue of appearing rich simply because you are white, I know that when Paul Theroux did his trek from Egypt to South Africa he bought secondhand clothes in small towns to try to dispel the myth that he was rich - i believe it only worked with marginal success.

Again, good luck with the rest of your time there and thanks for the updates.

worldwidemike 05-14-2008 12:08 PM

Yeah, I think his line was something to the effect that people in much of Africa look at a white person as a walking ATM...!

Besides the marriage offers, Laura, have you noticed that in your travels?


simply_angelic 05-20-2008 09:06 AM


Originally Posted by worldwidemike (Post 183776)
Yeah, I think his line was something to the effect that people in much of Africa look at a white person as a walking ATM...!

Besides the marriage offers, Laura, have you noticed that in your travels?


Oooooh yeah. I've never read the book, but we definitely use that line a lot. It's true. (Not all the people, but a good chunk) see the colour of your skin and think of you as a walking atm. Even people who are pretty well off by african standards...and it does not matter how well you're dressed. Maybe robbers target those people but they still all think you're loaded. Most of my clothes are VERY well worn and def not stylish for the africans as I also got a good chunk at second hand shops or they're just old clothes. And hand washing your clothes in africa doesn't exactly leave them sparkling clean with all the dust you walk through every day...

Oh, and africans dont tend to really look at brand names as a sign of wealth as they get so many clothes/goods shipped in from Europe where people donate to those bins. So they'll be buying ralph lauren, etc for like 2$

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