When considering travelling to Africa, many people seem to immediately think about crime, danger from armed militants, terrorism, and all the ‘scary’ things so often exaggerated by government travel advisories and western media outlets. And sadly, this climate of fear puts many people off entirely. Although some of the travel advisories and ongoing conflicts should be taken very seriously, travelling to Africa – “the forgotten continent” – is not how most people imagine it at all. It should be argued that the general public’s perception of Africa has been warped by media reports of famines, conflicts, and mass corruption over the last few decades. The reality is that with some simple common sense, preparation and adherence to the tips that this article will suggest, the worst thing you will have to worry about while travelling to Africa will be things like the climate, what to pack, and choosing where to go! 

Kadealo, Travelling to Africa, What to Pack

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Travelling to Africa: What to Pack

This is a tricky question, simply because – and this may come as a surprise to many readers – Africa ranges from tropical, humid weather, to the blazing heat of the Sahara in summer, and temperate in South African winters. Then bitterly freezing snow on some mountains in the Atlas mountains and Mount Kilimanjaro. It has even been known to snow in Northern Africa in the desert regions during winters – such as in Tunisia and Algeria – though admittedly this is rare. So the answer is to research the climate of the country (or countries) at the time of year you will be travelling to Africa. If you have no firm plans, such as if you are backpacking with no fixed schedule or clear idea of what countries you will be visiting, prepare for both extremes. For example, if you are going to Tanzania and are planning to do all it has to offer; the beaches of Zanzibar, a safari, visiting Maasai villages, and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, then you are going to have to pack much more heavily than when travelling to Africa for a simple beach holiday in Mozambique; Think hiking boots, insulated waterproof clothing (for your mountain climb), alongside sandles, snorkelling mask and plenty of loose-fitting clothing such as t-shirts and shorts (for your time on Zanzibar and a safari). But always try not to overpack. Many first time travellers will overpack and only tend to use one-third of the gear in their backpack! 

As for what to pack your gear in: As mentioned above, a sturdy backpack is far better than a suitcase, especially suitcases with wheels that you will have a nightmare time attempting to drag along Africa’s broken roads and muddy dirt tracks! A backpack is just far more suitable for the whole continent unless you are travelling to Africa just for a beach package holiday to somewhere like Agadir for a week. They are sturdy and you can carry a surprising amount of weight on your back as opposed to a suitcase.   

Kadealo, Travelling to Africa, Health

Travelling to Africa: Health

Again, this is often an issue that can be blown out of proportion to the point it puts people off visiting Africa entirely – and with the recent Ebola outbreaks this only served to compound those fears. Of course, this does not mean you shouldn’t take your health seriously, you should just not let the fear of getting sick ruin your trip. Vaccines and some form of malaria prophylaxis should be the two main health concerns before travelling to Africa. Vaccines that are all but essential are Hepatitis A, meningitis, and Typhoid. And for some places Yellow Fever is so essential that it is compulsory that you have it to legally enter many countries. Rabies is optional, and the series of vaccines only buy you time if you get bitten by an animal. You will still need to get to a hospital quickly for treatment. It’s also worth mentioning that the Typhoid vaccine is not 100% effective. So you still need to watch out what you eat and drink. An easy way to go about this is to make sure you clean your hands regularly – especially before eating – and to only eat in restaurants or from street vendors who have plenty of customers. The ones that do not probably don’t for a good reason. And it could well be because the food there makes people sick due to poor food hygiene standards or food preparation.

As for malaria and dengue fever: Malaria medication is becoming ineffective due to malaria evolving to even the most advanced medications (currently Malarone), and is expensive pretty much everywhere in the world. It is also never going to be 100% effective. This is why many medical professionals increasingly recommend not getting bitten by mosquitoes in the first place as the best way to prevent malaria, dengue, and any other mosquito-borne diseases. Using high content DEET repellent spray will detract mosquitoes, sleeping under mosquito nets, and wearing long trousers in the evenings when outside are undoubtedly the best way of preventing these diseases, simply because these measures will prevent you from getting bitten in the first place. 

At the end of the day, you may well get a little bit of ‘travellers diarrhoea’ during the trip which lasts a couple of days, but this is rarely serious even if you are unlucky enough to catch a bug that causes it. Sometimes – at worse – you may need some antibiotics from a local doctor for stubborn cases, but this will certainly not necessarily ruin your trip.

Other health tips worth mentioning are to keep hydrated in hot climates. If you are struggling or have diarrhoea then electrolyte solutions (known as universally as ‘ORS’ – Oral Rehydration Salts) can be found in virtually every pharmacy on the continent, for cheap prices. It will rehydrate you and could well save you from more serious ailments such as heatstrokes. In a pinch you can even make your own; with a 0.5 teaspoon of salt to 6 teaspoons of sugar stirred into 1 litre of clean water.

And remember: Always try to eat local. Places that offer ‘western’ dishes are usually sub-standard quality and often the main culprit in cases of stomach problems, and you came here for the culture, of which trying the local food is part of!

Kadealo, Travelling to Africa, Languages and Logistics

Travelling to Africa: Languages and Logistics

French is probably the most useful language in most northern African countries and West African countries, but also Central African nations too. Portuguese is very useful for Mozambique, and of course English for former British colonies such as Tanzania.

For most countries – with the exception of places like Morocco and South Africa, which has visa exemptions for most Commonwealth, North American, and European nations – you will need a visa. Many countries offer a visa on arrival, but some will require you to have proof of return ticket or a yellow fever vaccination certificate before they are granted. When travelling to Africa expect to pay for almost all visas in US dollars.

It’s worth mentioning that you can get a Visa Touristique Entente (VTE) if you’re travelling around West Africa for $50. It covers you for Benin, Niger, Burkino Faso, Cote D’Ivoire, and Togo and is valid for two months. This will cut out a considerable amount of hassle if you are planning a tour of a few or all of these countries within a two month period.

Kadealo, Travelling to Africa, Staying Safe

Travelling to Africa: Staying Safe

Okay, so yes, the dangers of Africa are often extremely exaggerated, but you still need to take precautions when travelling to Africa. It’s true that crime is a little higher here than in European cities, and that terrorism has made certain areas definite no-go areas (these are usually well off the tourist trail and near border regions or places you just wouldn’t go to as a tourist anyway), and indeed a handful of countries such as Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo are still considered extremely dangerous due to internal civil wars. However, with some simple precautions and often just some common sense, you are highly unlikely to be a victim of any sort of violent or petty crime when travelling to Africa.

Firstly, you can take steps to manage risks by spreading your cash, debit, and credit cards out into different bags, wallets, and safe boxes (always use a safe if your room has one for important items). This way, if one gets stolen (or lost), you always have another way to get money.
Secondly, when you do go out, especially in cities, ask your hotel or guesthouse about safe/unsafe areas, and take heed.

Thirdly, when travelling to Africa never take more money than you need out with you, so if you do lose your wallet or money pouch, you only lose a few dollars or so. The other tips are pretty much common-sense: Generally speaking it’s never a good idea to walk back in the dark in cities, get a taxi instead. And never flash cash or other expensive luxury items such as tablets or expensive cameras out for everyone to see – by doing this, you are increasing the likelihood of making yourself a target. 

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