What to know and do before a trip to Africa as a first time visitor.
1. Check the visa requirements for each country.
There is nothing like an African visa that guarantees you free entry to each African country because you have it. Each country has different visa requirements that you should meet before going there. Check with the nearest embassies of the countries you plan to travel to and find out all the requirements. Some maybe visa-free, others visa on entry and others might need to be applied for in advance depending on the passport you hold.
2. Pick your destinations and make an itinerary.
You can start by deciding on the countries or cities that have been on your bucket list but if you don’t know where to go yet, niche it down by deciding whether you’re all about historical sites, big cities or wildlife. This post that I wrote goes into detail about the best 10 African countries to visit. It will guide you on which countries to add to your list.
Try not to get overwhelmed by everything. The truth is that there is too much beauty in Africa and it is understandable if you want to see everything! The ugly truth is that you’re likely not to see everything at once, so don’t be hard on yourself if you can’t. My suggestion is to first note down all the regions in Africa; East, West South, North, and Central. Lower it down by deciding on which regions you want to visit. Go a step further by selecting which specific countries you want to visit from each Region. Then try to be realistic and see if it’s possible to visit all those countries at once. If the list is too long, try to prioritize until you decide on the maximum number of countries you want and can travel to. The number of countries to travel to solely depends on you: the time you have, the money saved for a trip to Africa and how much you’re willing to compromise.
If you want to travel on a budget, check out this post that showcases how you can travel the world on a budget.
3. Do extensive research on the specific countries you’re planning to visit.
It’s not enough to read about Africa as a whole, carrying out research on each individual country will be more efficient. If you’re itinerary includes countries like Uganda and Egypt, read these posts to discover more about Uganda and these ones to learn more about Egypt before you go.
Some people assume that since they’re traveling to Africa, it will be hot by default which is not the case. Even though most countries are relatively hot all year round, some places can be really cold depending on the time of your visit. So don’t forget to check the weather of each country to pack clothes appropriate for that.
4. Don’t try to see everything in Africa.
5. Pack everything you need for your African safari.
It’s not a recommended practice to rely on buying extra things in the place you’re traveling to as you’re not aware of the price and quality. So packing whatever is required will save you a tonne of money and space in your backpack or suitcase.
If you’re not sure of what to pack for your African safari, I wrote a complete essential guide to pack for Africa. The guide comprises of things you should pack and what not to pack for an African safari. You can read from it here. Don’t forget to carry sunscreen! Since African locals don’t use sunscreen, it will be extremely expensive to buy it from there. So pack your own not to spend a fortune or you can shop it here at a fair price.
6. Your security should be a priority.
7. Be ready for the culture shock.
This can literally happen in any new country you travel to be it in Asia especially in the developing counties but the shock could be a little higher in Africa. Here are some of the cultural shocks you might experience.
If you’re a mzungu ” white person”, some Africans are going to think you’re rich by default. Don’t get me wrong here, you might even be struggling financially like I am but as long as you’re white, to some Africans you qualify to be rich. This means a great number of people may walk up to with intentions of getting something from you or offer help hoping that they will be tipped. If you fall for this, you’re likely to go back home broke.
Expect the stares from the locals (though not the long ones that last minutes.) The stares are harmless and should not worry you one bit. You might find this weird at first but trust me, you’ll get used to it and it will all be normal.
Kids screaming “bye Mzungu” as they wave at you- as a way of saying hi. This could be one of the most common traits across all Africa. Kids are just innocent beings that get excited by seeing a white person. Just be kind enough to wave back with a smile and you would have made their day.
8. Download Offline maps
9. Poverty is real in Africa but not everyone is poor.
The media and news have tried to portray Africa as a really poor continent but this doesn’t mean that everyone is poor. The only issue is that the poor are actually poor and the rich are really rich. There are just a few people that lie in the middle. So be ready to experience some level of poverty while you travel through Africa.
10. Be ready to enjoy a different means of public transportation.
In countries like Uganda, public transportation can be just chaotic from extreme traffic jam to somewhat careless drivers – the hustle never ends. So if you’re up for a fun trip, try out Africa’s public transportation. The most common ones used are minibusses, tuk-tuk, boda-bodas and trains which are in a few countries like Egypt. If you’re not comfortable with public transportation, opt for private taxis. Services like Uber and Taxify are widely spread in some of Africa’s major cities, so it should be easy to get around.
11. Find out the political situation of a particular country before you go.
The question of safety might seem like common sense but it doesn’t mean I will skip it. As a first time traveler to Africa, it would be a bit hard and unpleasant to travel to a country when there is political unrest at that particular time. So try to follow international news to know exactly the current political situation.
Pro tip* As a first-time traveler to Africa, it’s not always recommended to travel during the election period. The election period brings out the determination and chaotic nature of people and the outcomes from the election are always unpredictable and yet again the aftermath worse. So, avoid traveling during election period if you can.
12. Beggars, street kids, and slums are real.
All these are real challenges that Africa still faces, unfortunately. You’re likely to find many beggars and street kids as you travel through Africa and you might want to help them. The question is can you help all of them? Of course not, and don’t feel guilty about it because you and I know that you can’t help all the beggars and street kids across Africa. But if you feel generous, you can give a few coins to the one you think needs it the most but if not, just smile to them and say “next time.”
13. Cash works better in Africa than credit/debit cards.
Even though some of the high-end places in Africa accept cards, cash is still the highest form of transaction and actually, cards are not acceptable in most places especially in the rural areas.
Things might be different if you were used to transacting using your card- so carry enough cash or you can always get cash from the ATM machines.
14. Check whether the African countries you’re traveling to require a yellow fever card.
Frequent travelers know that a yellow fever card is required in some countries but if you’re a first-time traveler, you probably didn’t know that. Some countries will require a yellow fever card before you enter their country and if you don’t have it, you’re likely to pay a lot of money to acquire it from the port of entry. So it is better to have it before your much anticipated African safari.
15. Ignore the negative and soak in all the beauty Africa has to offer.
Regardless of how many negative things you’ve read about Africa, I still believe its the most beautiful and diverse continent in the world. So ignore the little negatives and focus all your energy on enjoying Africa.
And instead of looking for 5-star hotels, ignore the comfort and experience Africa like a local by going out of your comfort zone.
Need more inspiration before your trip to Africa? Check out these books to discover more ins and outs about Africa.
Buy it on Amazon from here.
Buy it on Amazon from here.
Buy it on Amazon from here.
Are you visiting Africa for your very first time? Tell me if this guide was helpful and if you have any other questions, leave them in the comment section and I will surely get back to you.
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