Traveling to Africa for the first time? Here are the rookie mistakes to avoid in Africa plus tips on how to avoid them for an amazing trip.
Africa is a continent that is blooming with wildlife and immense beauty that every traveler wants to admire.
From the incredible wildlife in the many African national parks, the history that lies in some parts of the continent to the bustling crowded cities you’d love to hate, there is a little nitty-gritty for every kind f traveler.
But all that beauty doesn’t come without its own challenges, in fact, first-time travelers to Africa are always worried about what will happen, and it’s some times inevitable for them to avoid these mistakes.
As an Africa native that not only lives on the continent but has also traveled extensively within its borders, I am here to share with you some of the common mistakes in Africa that I’ve seen tourists make and how exactly to avoid them.
So whether you’re visiting Africa for the first time or you just need some refresher tips to help you avoid the mistakes you might have made on your previous visit, this post will give you all the rookie mistakes to avoid in Africa.
Big mistakes to avoid while traveling in Africa
1. Assuming that cards work everywhere
If you’re coming from the western world, chances are high that you’re used to using debit/credit cards everywhere, but this is not the case in Africa.
Cards are mostly used in “high-end” places like big hotels, big restaurants, grand shopping malls, etc but not the smaller ones.
So how should you avoid this mistake?
Don’t forego your cards but make sure that you always have some cash on you all the time. Don’t worry, you don’t have to carry lots of cash from home, there are a number of ATM machines in most African cities/ big towns.
However, if you’re going to a rural area, make sure that you first withdraw money from an ATM before you leave the cities as you’re likely not to get any in the villages.
Related post: Best countries to visit in Africa
2. Underestimating the driving distances
Another major mistake to avoid in Africa is underestimating the driving distances – that is if you’re going on a self-drive road trip safari in the continent.
And since most major attractions are far from each other, factor this in as you create your African itinerary.
Estimated driving distances on google maps might not be entirely accurate as they might not account for the road conditions which might not be the best.
So what should you do instead?
On top of the estimated driving distances, add some extra time to cater for the conditions on the road.
Also, as you make you plan your trip to Africa, make sure that you have enough time that will enable you to see all those major attractions that are always far away from each other.
3. Going at the wrong time of the year
The worst part of traveling to Africa is going at the wrong time of the year. Depending on the activities and countries in Africa you want to visit, some months are ideal and others are just not.
For example, if your reason for traveling to Africa is to watch the great migration, it will be a mistake to travel to either Kenya or Tanzania between January to March as the chances of seeing the greatest display of wildlife are close to none.
If you want to witness the Victoria falls in its greatest splendor, it will be a shame to visit Zambia or Zimbabwe in October or November as that’s when the water levels are its lowest hence missing out on the beautiful display of the storm that thunders.
So how should you avoid this mistake?
Make a thorough research about the best time to visit each particular African country or destination to get the most out of your trip and not miss out on the best moments.
Below are some of the best times to visit some the popular destinations in Africa.
- Uganda: During its dry season between December and February, and between June and August as the conditions are perfect to explore Uganda’s top tourist attractions.
- Kenya: From July to September to experience the wildlife’s best spectacle of the Great migration – it’s also the country’s dry season.
- Botswana: Between May and October as it’s Botswana’s dry season (driving in the rainy season in Botswana is a nightmare). Also, the water levels in the Okavango Delta are at its highest which is one of the best places to visit in Botswana.
- Egypt: It can be visited all year round but if you don’t want to visit Egypt’s famous landmarks in the extreme heat, then September through April are the best months as the weather is bearable.
- South Africa: South Africa is an all year round destination but for perfect game viewing, May to September, are the best months to visit.
Related post: Famous landmarks to visit in Africa
4. Not going on any African safari
Is it even a trip to Africa if you don’t go on any safari? Certainly not! Africa prides itself on having one of the best wildlife in the world and not experiencing it would be a huge mistake.
Traveling to Africa is all about enjoying the beautiful landscapes as you search for the wild animals that hide among the bushes – that is the thrill of traveling to Africa.
You can miss anything else in Africa even if it’s trying out the local African dishes but a safari in Africa is one thing you shouldn’t miss.
How to avoid this mistake?
Go on atleast 3 African safaris if you have the time but if not, even one will help you come close to Africa’s incredible wildlife.
I’ve been on a number of countless games drives in Africa but I still go on one every chance I get – safaris in Africa are that amazing.
Some of the best national parks in Africa to go on safaris include; Serengeti national park in Tanzania, Queen Elizabeth National park in Uganda, Masai Mara in Kenya, Kruger National park in South Africa, Chobe National park in Botswana, and so many others.
But before you go on an African safari, make sure that you know all these African safari tips especially if it’s your first time.
5. Not listening to your guide while on a safari
Ok, I’ve just told you not to miss going on an African safari but while you’re on one, listen to your guide because they know better when it comes to the wildlife.
If he/she tells you not to go out of the game drive van, listen to him. Don’t let the excitement of seeing a big cat make you want to jump out of the car.
What should you do instead?
If a tour guide advises you on what to wear and how to behave on an African safari, adhere to the rules as they’re meant to keep you and the wildlife safe.
Related post: Safest countries to visit in Africa
6. Not preparing for the culture shock
Just like traveling to a totally new area, you’ll experience some culture shock when you travel to Africa.
Things are going to be different compared to back home and you should prepare your mindset. However, things being different doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re wrong or right, it just makes them different from what you’re normally accustomed to.
Some of the things that you might find different include the traditional dress code, dances, food, not respecting time, taking almost everything slow and casually, and even how the daily day to day life is conducted.
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.
You’re also likely to come across kids screaming “bye Mzungu” as they wave at you- as a way of saying hi. (Mzungu means white person). This could be one of the commonest traits across all Africa. Kids are just innocent beings that get excited by seeing a white person.
How should you avoid this mistake?
Understand that different countries have different ways of lives which could be in contradiction to what is back home.
So before traveling to Africa, open up your mind and be accepting of the values and cultures you’ll find. And instead of trying to scrutinize everything and maybe hate on them just because they’re different, try to learn about them, you might end up being fully immersed in them – and if you disagree with them, just ignore them.
7. Forgetting your bargaining skills
Let me tell you a little secret (maybe not much of a secret but you get the idea). In Africa, tourists are considered rich. Yes, you read it right, RICH.
We don’t care if you’re just backpacking Africa, hitchhiked your way to the continent, or just surviving on a $10 budget a day, as long as you bought a plane ticket and spent all that money “just to visit a country”, you’re rich!
And what that means is that when you make transactions, you’ll be told a “tourist price”. (I guess this could happen anywhere in the world) but it’s the norm in Africa. The price you’re told could be double or even triple the actual price of the item/service.
And what happens is that when you go to a market, every salesperson will want to sell to you because they know they will make more money from you by overcharging you.
So how should you avoid this mistake?
Bargain and bargain some more, there is no shame in bargaining. Actually, when sellers set a price, they set it leaving room for negotiation because they know that bargaining is a norm in Africa.
If someone tells you a price, start by dividing it into half and make your offer. The seller will start reducing the price until the price that works for both of you. If he insists even when you’re offering a fair price, try the “walk away tactic” – it always works like a gem.
Walk away slowly and the seller is likely to call you back and give you the item at your proposed price or better yet at the actual price of the item.
Related post: Best tips for backpacking Africa
8. Forgetting travel Insurance
One of the biggest mistakes you can ever make while traveling to Africa is forgetting travel Insurance.
God forbid but imagine getting an accident in the middle of nowhere or your really expensive travel item getting stolen- that would be the beginning of a bad trip in Africa. But having travel insurance can put your mind at ease knowing that you have a backup plan.
What should you do then?
Before traveling to Africa, buy yourself travel Insurance. The most recommended travel insurance by most travelers is World Nomads. But if you’re a long time traveler, you should look into safety wings as it offers the best rates.
Both these travel insurances can be easily bought online and they do work in a number of countries. Request a quote from World Nomads from here.
9. Not carrying a mosquito repellent or even anti-malaria tabs
A number of African countries have done their best to combat malaria but it sadly still remains prevalent in some.
Malaria is a serious disease that shouldn’t be taken lightly and that’s why it would be a big mistake not to prevent it by either taking a mosquito repellent or anti-malaria tabs.
How to avoid this mistake?
You should buy a mosquito repellant to kill or keep away those little blood-sucking monsters away. This mosquito repellant is 100 % guaranteed to keep away mosquitoes.
Alternatively, you can talk to your doctor before you leave your home country to prescribe for you anti-malaria tabs to fully protect yourself.
10. Drinking tap water
One of the big mistakes to avoid in Africa is drinking tab water. Most of the water in a number of Arican countries in not safe for drinking.
Don’t be fooled to drink it even when you see indigenous people drinking it unless it strictly says that it’s safe for drinking – you might just get yourself typhoid especially since you’re not used to it.
How to avoid this mistake
To avoid getting sick from drinking unsafe water, stick to bottled mineral water. You can easily buy it from shops and supermarkets.
But if you’re going to a rural place where clean water might be a luxury, take a personal water filter like this one to purify any kind of backcountry water.
Related post: Adventurous things to do in Africa
12. Not packing the right African travel essentials
Before going to Africa, make sure that you have all the right essentials so that you don’t waste more money buying them.
Some of the items to pack for Africa include;
- A good quality camera: With all the beauty in Africa, you’d need to pack a good quality camera to capture all the action. This camera is perfect for African photography but you can also draw inspiration from these best travel cameras.
- Extra memory card and batteries: From taking countless photos and videos of the incredible wildlife, your memory is likely to fill up soon. So take these extra memory cards to avoid that.
- Binoculars: Binoculars are a must-have before hitting Africa’s wild. These ones are perfect when it comes to bringing even faraway animals up close.
- First Aid kit: It’s important to have a medical kit like this one before traveling to Africa for any accidents that might happen.
- Power bank: Never run out of battery on your phone by taking this portable power bank
- Sunscreen: The tropical sun is hotter like nothing else. And since most Africans don’t use sunscreen, they’re always pricey when you find them. So buy one from here before you go.
- Universal travel adaptor: Since most countries use different adaptors, you’re better off opting for this international one as it can work anywhere in the world.
- Travel neck pouch: Keep your travel documents, money, and Phone safe by taking this travel neck pouch to Africa.
These are just a few of the things to pack for Africa, but you can check out this complete list of the essential items to pack for Africa.
13. Letting little things ruin your trip
Let’s be honest here, things are gonna go wrong! You might end up waiting for a bus for 2 hours after its scheduled time, you might have people overcharge for a service/commodity, you might face a number of little annoyances while in Africa, but should that ruin your trip completely?
No! Those things can happen while traveling anywhere in the world and the only thing you can do (if you can’t solve them), is to dust yourself up and enjoy your trip.
What to do then?
As you plan for your African trip, know that certain things might not go as planned. Instead of feeling angry and disappointed because you missed an activity, try to see if you can do something else instead.
Ignore all the little things that might go wrong and concentrate on enjoying the beauty that lies in Africa.
There you have it folk, those were some of the rookie mistakes to avoid in Africa. As you plan your trip to Africa, plan it while putting them into consideration not to fall a victim.
More posts to help you plan your African safari
- Famous landmarks in Africa
- Best countries to visit in Africa
- Things to know before traveling to Africa
- Bucket list destinations in Africa
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