When most people think about travel, Africa doesn’t usually come up as an option, and admittedly originally it wasn’t top of my list either… I think this is because not only are people unaware of all you can experience there, but sometimes the continent can seem an intimidating place to travel. I recently wrote a guest post on WanderingOutsideTheBox (linked here), about why Africa should be your next travel destination, and it made me realise that I should be writing more on my experiences in Africa so that I can show others how incredible it is to travel there.
I want to convey what the reality of travel in Africa is like, and try and go through common fears or things that might put people off. So in this post I’ll be doing exactly that, I’ll be listing common fears about travel in Africa, and then explaining based on my experience what the reality actually is.
A little side note here, I realise throughout this post I use the term ‘Africa’ a lot, which is of course a massive generalisation of a huge and diverse continent with over 50 countries, but when I use it I’m referring to sub-Saharan Africa.
Mosquitoes and Malaria
This is probably what most people worry about. Yes there is malaria and it’s a massive problem. However as a western person with a western immune system who will (and definitely should) likely have anti-malarial medication, the chances of you catching it are very minimal. When I travelled through different countries in sub-Saharan Africa, mosquitoes were actually not as bad a problem as I thought they would be. When you’re staying in a tent that you can seal off completely from anything outside, it means you can be pretty effective in keeping them out.
I was expecting the biggest and baddest mosquitoes I had ever seen, but they never showed up. Just use some mosquito spray (of which you’ll be able to get great brands out in Africa that are much cheaper), take your anti-malarial meds and you should be absolutely fine. My best advice when it comes to travelling anywhere where there might be diseases etc you could catch, is speak to your doctor, get your jabs, and make sure you have health insurance.
Often people will be worried about visiting Africa because of political troubles in some nations or safety, and if you don’t know what you’re doing or the areas you’re going, then I would strongly advise travelling there first with a guide or in a group. However when you do go with experienced guides who are constantly on the ball with where you’re going and know exactly the areas you’re travelling through, you don’t feel unsafe or in danger at all.
In fact it’s like most places in the world, in that it’s a tiny population of people who are giving places a bad reputation. Most locals were so friendly and passionate about their country and wildlife, and it was an absolute pleasure getting to meet so many great and inspiring local people. Not to mention it’s often in the places where tourism isn’t massive yet, that tourists are treated extremely well because of the financial benefits they bring to the country.
Bathroom & Campsite facilities
I was expecting a camping trip in Africa to have non-existent bathroom facilities, and yes sometimes we were in national parks so it was just a hole in the ground. But this was extremely rare, and completely a choice by us to want to experience camping in the wild. I actually experienced much worse bathrooms travelling through SE Asia than in Africa. Most of the time we had very decent showers and toilets at our campsites that were perfectly adequate.
Admittedly when you’re doing a lot of travel through remote areas, there aren’t going to be toilets everywhere, so we did stop by the road a fair few times for toilet stops behind some sort of vegetation, but just bring a toilet roll (that you throw in a bin you take with you) and hand sanitizer and it’s completely fine. A little bottle of anti-bac hand sanitiser is generally just a great thing to carry with you travelling anywhere. Not to mention if you’re travelling in Africa and not camping, it’s just like anywhere else with excellent quality accommodation and hotels, if that’s what you prefer.
If you’re worried about being able to find those delicious snacks when you travel, don’t. We stopped many times at many places and there are usually supermarkets or shops selling the standards snacks crisps chocolate nuts etc etc. We had to stop to get water often so to enough supermarkets to know, it’s not just local stalls selling local foods, there are plenty of western foods too. Also camping, we made all of our own food anyway, and this was often very similar to what you’d eat back home if not with a bit more meat cooked on the brai (South-African bbq) than normal. It’s really not the case at all that you won’t be able to find western food.
So this sounds like a strange one, but I learnt the hard way… When I was in New Zealand just before I flew to Cape Town, I stocked up on loads of meds and various things for my Africa trip as I was determined not to get ill, and my thoughts were going to be that I was travelling in remote and less developed areas so wouldn’t be able to pick the things up I needed. I get to South Africa and on the first day we stop in a massive shopping centre just outside of Cape Town which sells all the exact same stuff for a quarter of the price… You will stop in places where you can get clothes, food, meds etc, so don’t be like me, wait until you get there to get the basics. We even had a couple of people in our group who didn’t bring sleeping bags and they managed to find them very easily.
Don’t panic folks, there will be internet. Admittedly depending on where you are it may be limited, but you’ll be very surprised how frequent and in how many campsites there will be wifi and internet connections. It’s sometimes nice to have a break from the internet for a while, but if you’re concerned you’ll be weeks without being able to contact home etc, there’s no need. The internet often will be limited or not that strong, but it’s even the case that some companies who run these overland group tours have wifi on the buses themselves!
I’m going to get eaten by a lion!
Ok, so obviously this sub heading is an exaggeration, but you see my point. Camping in national parks with no fences between you and lions… are you serious?! Yes, I am actually. So firstly and most importantly, the wildlife in Africa is to be taken seriously. You’ll need to watch out for scorpions and snakes etc in the desert, and also bigger game and wildlife camping in national parks. However, if you’re sensible and listen to advice (of which there will be plenty), you will be fine. Wildlife often won’t want to have anything to do with people and will keep away from them. So as long as you are sensible and listen to advice, you will be absolutely fine.
I’ve even camped where elephants and hippos stroll next to people’s tents, but they view them as obstacles rather than anything of interest. People will be there to make sure you are camping in a safe environment, and will be on hand for emergencies, so you shouldn’t let any of these fears put you off.
So I hope I’ve gone through a few concerns people have about travelling in Africa and explained why they shouldn’t put you off. Like anywhere, as long as you’re sensible and listen to locals advice you’ll be completely fine. Anything I’ve forgotten to mention or any fears that are putting you off travel in Africa, pop them in the comments below.
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