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Twelve Tips for Backpacking in Africa

Posted: 17th March 2017 09:15

If you’re going backpacking Africa is the place to be.  It’s the wildest and most interesting of the continents; a place where you can really get to grips with nature, and experience the wilderness lifestyle you’ve always dreamed of, but its cities are as dynamic and fast paced as anywhere else too.  That means it can be daunting at times, so here are our tips for making the most of your time there.

Get Insurance

Pretty much a necessity for any holiday, travel insurance is even more important when you’re off to one of the biggest continents on Earth for months on end.  It will be expensive but invaluable, so make sure your chosen policy covers trips lasting more than 90 days and dangerous activities like bungee jumping.

Work or Volunteer

You’re there to have a good time, but why not mix in some voluntary or paid work whilst in Africa?  The continent is always in need of volunteers and there are an untold number of projects to get involved with.  It will also help alleviate any strains on your budget as even unpaid volunteering might get you a free bed or a meal.

Think About Your Health

You’ll need vaccinations before you go, and make sure you take anti-malaria medicine, mosquito repellent and water purification tablets with you as well.  Hand sanitising gel is also a shrewd investment, but don’t try to take 30 bottles of the stuff in your hand luggage – it looks suspicious.

Leave Your Valuables At Home

If you still want to have something when you come home, leave it at home.  Travelling anywhere takes a serious toll on your personal belongings, and phones, iPads and so on will get broken, lost, left on trains or even stolen.  While we don’t want to overplay the risk of crime, brandishing an iPhone is a sure-fire way to make sure that if anyone gets robbed, it’s you.

Plan Everything on Advance

The big things anyway.  Which countries do you want to visit?  How long do you spend in each one?  Where will you stay?  Do you need to book in advance for tourist attractions?  Do you need a visa?  These are just some of the questions you should ask yourself in order to keep costs down and make sure your loved ones know where you will be and when.

Be Flexible

When your plans fall by the wayside you need to be able to adapt to a plan b. Public transport is notoriously unreliable and can be hours or even days late in some parts of Africa, so be patient and accept that you will experience delays.  If you have something particularly important (like a flight) plan to arrive in the city a few days in advance just in case.

Pack Light

Kind of an obvious one for any backpacker, but you don’t want to carry too much, and you’ll be amazed how little you actually need.  Just the essentials and a few changes of clothes are required; you can always buy anything you forget on the ground.  On a more literal level, bring a torch – if you are ever going to need one, it’s while backpacking in Africa.

Find a Travel Partner

Not only does this help with costs (renting a double room in a hostel is almost always cheaper than two singles), but you’ll also have someone to talk to and share the experience with. If you can gather together a small group, even just for a day, you can save a fortune on things like renting a tour or safari guide for the day. You can also look out for each other and will generally feel safer.

Careful Where You Go

Although we love off the beaten track travel you should stick to the tourist areas in larger cities. While most places are safe, some areas will be tourist no-go areas and you won’t know where these are.  Be especially careful at night, keeping to well-lit areas, avoiding taxis that don’t look official and generally following any advice you are given by locals you can trust.

Travel Snacks

We want to encourage you to try new experiences and local foods, but don’t feel bad about packing a ‘cheat bag’ of your favourite foods from home too. There will be a time, probably on a train, when you get peckish and that Twix will be a welcome luxury. This is not an excuse for shying away from eating local food however, so don’t pack a full suitcase of Monster Munch.

Ear Plugs

Take them, seriously. Hostels are fun and social, but also noisy, and there will be a time when you get royally fed up of everyone around you whispering, snoring or going to the bathroom.  Having some ear plugs can save you a lot of hassle down the road, as murder is looked on poorly in most hostels (people do drastic things when they are sleep deprived).

Keep Smiling

Finally, bear in mind that Africa will not always be comfortable.  Bus rides will be cramped, accommodation might be shabby and food may not be to your taste, but remember to stay positive and patient and savour the experience as one you’ll never forget!

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