Are you living, volunteering, or going on vacation in Africa? These tips will help you travel to Africa; they’re based on my experience living and teaching in Nairobi, Kenya for three years.
I also explored Ethiopia, Tanzania, Swaziland, and South Africa at Christmas and Easter – so I learned a lot about traveling in Africa!
Before the tips, here’s an African proverb:
“Every morning in Africa, a Gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a Lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest Gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a Lion or a Gazelle… when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.” ~ unknown.
Travel in Africa isn’t that scary – but it can be challenging!
What to Expect When You Travel to Africa – Travel Tips
Know how to avoid carjackings and muggings
This was no doubt the worst part of living in Africa. As a general rule, it was too dangerous to drive around after dark (6 pm!) – but I did occasionally. When I drove during the day, I made sure that my windows were rolled up and all my doors were locked – even the hatchback.
I was never mugged, carjacked, or hurt…but I did have friends who were. When you vacation or live in Africa, do not carry all your money or important documents with you when you’re out and about. Use a hotel safe.
Don’t let the crimes rates in Nairobi scare you
Before I moved to Kenya, I’d read all the horrible crime stories – and yet in three years, I never experienced a single bad moment. And I even camped in the wilds of Kenya with my students three times, camped with some of my colleagues in different parts of the country, and went on four day bicycle tour through the Rift Valley. I ran through my neighborhood four times a week — the Kenyans stared at me with their jaws dropped — but no one ever hurt me.
Traveling to Africa is exciting, fulfilling, and safe – but you have to be careful.
Learn Swahili – try to interact with Africans
The Kenyans I met and worked with (I was a teacher at the Rosslyn Academy in Nairobi) were incredibly friendly. I wished I learned Swahili before I went there – and I unfortunately never took the time to learn more than the basics when I live there. This is a great way to travel to Africa, whether you go on safari or volunteer your time at an orphanage or school. Learn a bit of the language, so you can reach out to Africans in their own words. Even if you make mistakes when speaking Swahili or any African language, you’ll still build good relationships!
Know the stats on kidnapping and assaults
As far as I can recall, assaults were rare, partly because of the harsh penalties (I know of one Kenyan man who was beaten by other Kenyans who found out that he attacked a girl). A good travel tip for Africa is to wear clothes that aren’t revealing, leave your jewelry at home, and maintain a friendly but aloof manner.
And regarding kidnapping: it’s not likely you’ll be grabbed in broad daylight when you’re traveling in Africa, especially if you’re with other people.
A basic travel tip for African countries: take bug spray!
I don’t think Africa is any worse or better than other countries for bedbugs. But, no matter where I travel, I always take insect repellant - even when I visit Toronto, Canada! Before bed, I spritz or dab it on me or the sheets (or both, depending on the room I’m sleeping in). If you’re going to Africa, you can expect bugs. So, take bug spray and wear it well.
If you’re hiking in Africa, read Backpacking Checklist – 10 Packing Tips for a Hiking Trip.
Get your vaccinations – expect malaria in Africa
When I lived in Nairobi, there wasn’t a problem with malaria because the city was at a high altitude (mosquitoes don’t survive at that altitude, if I recall correctly). But, traveling to other parts of Kenya may be riskier – it’s good to check with your consulate or travel clinic before you go.
And, be prepared for conflicting evidence! When I went to Costa Rica last month, some doctors advised malaria precautions, and yet few of our fellow travelers did. If you’re packing for and traveling to Africa, do your health research at least three months in advance of your trip, as some meds require multiple dosages and/or time to kick in.
2 Packing Tips for Africa
Here area couple of packing tips from my article about staying at an all inclusive resort:
Take an iPad, Kindle, or other electronic reader
I’m a huge fan of print books — I can’t stand the thought of reading on an e-reader. But, I also can’t stand the thought of being weighed down by tons ‘o beach books, so…I choose the lesser of two evils. Packing an iPad, Kindle, or some type of e-reader may be one of the smartest packing tips you’ll get.
Digital readers aren’t too expensive, and they’re one of the best things to pack for a Caribbean all inclusive resort vacation! Check out the Kindle 3G Wireless Reading Device and the Apple iPad Tablet on Amazon. Wifi access is good to have (but not necessary, according to my husband).
Pack old clothes to leave behind – and to make room for African souvenirs
I always bring old clothes on my vacations, whether I go to an all inclusive resort vacation or a camping trip in the Rocky Mountains in the summer. After I wear those old clothes, I leave them behind for the cleaning staff to use however they like…and I have space in my suitcase for new clothes and souvenirs! This packing tip may not work if you care how you look on your holidays…but I’d prefer to look a little “shabbier” and have room in my luggage to bring great stuff home.
If you want to pack light, read tips for packing a carry on bag for air travel.
Enjoy traveling to Africa. Use your head and watch your back (like you would anywhere in the world) – and enjoy your safari or volunteer time on the Dark Continent!
If you have any questions or thoughts on what to expect when you travel to Africa, please comment below.
I'm glad you're here! My name is Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen; my husband Bruce and I live in Vancouver, BC with our critters. We can't have kids, and are learning to accept whatever life brings - both good and bad. I have an MSW (Master of Social Work) from UBC, and degrees in Education and Psychology. I hope you say hello below - I can't give relationship advice, but writing can bring you clarity and insight.