You have a departure date and your Safari to Africa is looming deliciously large.
Excitement is building as you prepare to experience all the beautiful extremes of the continent…
But you might also be a little tense.
Because Africa is also a major leap of faith.
And to experience it as an adventure rather than an affliction you need to prepare yourself.
This is what you need to know before travelling to Africa.
Do be Careful, but Don’t be Afraid
Most African nations are peaceful, everyone is working towards a brighter and more stable future and the value of tourism is appreciated everywhere.
Take usual, sensible precautions (as you would when travelling anywhere else in the world) but do not isolate yourself to the point of being unapproachable.
It is quite normal for folk to greet each other in public and you can’t go far wrong with a smile and a wave or a hello wherever you go.
The Exception to Rule No 1
What you do need to watch out for? Extreme temperatures.
Do not take the African heat lightly. Sunstroke is terrible and very dangerous. At the very least it will ruin a number of your precious days on Safari.
But, Africa isn’t always hot. High in the mountains, in the desert or at elevation it can be very cold at night.
Always wear appropriate clothing, hats, sunglasses and sunscreen as required by your own unique Safari.
African people have a capacity for acceptance and happiness that defies logic. It is common to be greeted with massive smiles and keen hospitality everywhere you go.
If you are respectful and open you will feel like a friend wherever you find yourself.
The Meaning of ‘Mzungu’
The Swahili word originally translated as ‘someone who wanders without purpose/ is constantly moving’ but today it a kind of shorthand for ‘white foreigner’ these days. It may be shouted at you in public. Don’t be alarmed.
On African time
There is a rhythm to life in Africa. Rushing is not something that is considered a priority. The best way to approach African Timekeeping (or lack thereof) is to prepare to go with the flow, make an effort to BE in every moment and then you may find that you really enjoy every moment.
Don’t be tempted to throw money at every problem you see. Handouts often cause more damage to local communities and Africa will continue to need saving while the idea that rich foreign tourists must do this job is perpetuated.
While donations can be incredibly meaningful when they are organized through reputable programmes, passing money to begging children may simply fund a cycle of abuse for instance. If you see something that speaks to you discuss it with your guide or Travel Designer before you act inappropriately.
Don’t take Photographs of Anyone without Asking
Even when you would like to take a picture of children it is impolite to do so without asking (try to consider the same situation with young children from your own family). It is prudent not to visit any program that is not specifically suggested and condoned by your Travel Designer (this includes orphanages and schools).
If you fancy learning a language before you arrive in Africa then French and Portuguese will get you very far.
Not planning to brush up on your school French? Do learn the appropriate words for ‘Hello’ and ‘Thank you’ in the local language. You can even do this after arrival… but you will make a great impression if you show that you have done a little homework beforehand.
Africa as a whole is quite modest. Always err on the side of modesty and note that nudity is almost always frowned upon. Carry a scarf to cover your head when it is appropriate and respectful of another culture.
Every Country is a Different Country
The physical size of Africa allows for incredible cultural differences from nation to nation. When you realize that the continent can fit the United States, China, India and a bevy of European nations it becomes easier to understand that the 54 countries in Africa are all very different.
It follows that what is and isn’t acceptable varies from one country to the next. The languages are different, the culture and religion can vary widely. Prepare to make no assumptions beforehand and do prepare for the specific regions you will visit. What you need to pack or know will be quite different from one area to a next and even from one season to the next. A very experienced Travel Designer will ensure you have every conceivable eventuality covered before you leave.
You might get from the airport to your hotel in exactly the same way in any number of Western countries… but what usually happens does not always translate to Africa. A sound knowledge of area-specific logistics, local tips and what not to do is a must.
The list of visas, vaccinations, and documentation that you need to carry with you will also vary from country to country and different members of a family may require specific additional documents. To make this even more complicated, requirements can also change very quickly.
Internet and Phone coverage
While Africa is catching up very quickly as far as connectivity goes, you cannot depend on your phone and/or internet to work when you really need it to. Plan ahead to avoid being caught with an urgent problem and no Wifi or telephone connection.
Images via Chen Hu, David Clode, Quentin Dr, Chris Rhoads , Juan Gaspar de Alba