Everyone's experience of Africa is so different. What was a
horrendous border crossing for you, may be a breeze for the next person.
What someone else may think is a terrible place, you might love. Embrace
Always take the road less travelled where possible. You will see and
experience so much more.
Don't expect easy navigation. There are simply no signs and even with
a GPS, you will get lost. Many times. All part of the fun.
Just because there's a tap, doesn't mean there's water. Just because
there's a plug/switch, doesn't mean there's electricity.
To save on the hassle of buying the obligatory car insurance at every
border post, opt for the group country insurance schemes. For West
Africa, use the Carte Brune and for Southern and East Africa, use the
Yellow Comesa Card. Not always easy to find. Ask around. We bought the
Carte Brune in Bamako, Mali and the Comesa Card in Llilongwe, Malawi.
Make sure you budget accordingly for visas. We never imagined they
would take such a large chunk of our funds. They range between 30
and 80 each, with the Central African ones hitting as high as 110
Take more money than you think. Africa is not as cheap as you
imagine. Sure, fuel in places like Angola, Nigeria and Western Sahara is
dirt-cheap but in many places it's on a par with the UK and Europe. The
game parks in East Africa are horrendously expensive. Put some money
aside for them. If you're happy to survive on rice and beans, tomatoes,
onion and potatoes, then the food bills will be minimal. However, there
is western stuff out there and naturally, compared to local produce,
it's imported from France and is pretty pricey. After you've been on the
road for several months and you come across some real cheese or yoghurt,
I challenge any of you to resist them. There's only so much maize and
bananas a white mans stomach can handle you know.
Take as much cash as feel comfortably with. The rule of 1/3 cash, 1/3
travellers cheques and 1/3 credit card is not ideal. Cash is king in
Africa. Obviously the risk is huge, especially if the car is stolen,
then that's all your cash gone. But travellers cheques are rarely
accepted and when they are, the commission is a hefty chunk. ATM's are
also rare. There was only one in the whole of Mali! But remember that
times are changing, there are loads of ATM's in Southern Africa. Take
plenty of Euros and Dollars cash for West and Central Africa. We had
three safes in the car and split the cash up between them as well as a
lucky final stash behind the dashboard.
If you have changed too much money and still have a substantial
amount left after leaving a country, pop into one of the small general
stores in the towns near the borders. The owners are always looking for
neighbouring currencies. You may not get the best rate but it's better
than being stuck with unwanted currency. Alternatively, buy some food
with it and give it to someone deserving. By doing this, you're helping
two people here; the person selling is earning a living and you've made
someone else's day too. Just try not to give to those who beg.
Police checks, especially in Nigeria are everywhere and they will
drive you insane with their seemingly pointless questions, "Hey
white man, where are you going, where have you come from?" Try not
to get irritated and always "be nice." We had two approaches.
Either overwhelm them with greetings, niceties and happiness. This
usually throws them off guard and they forget why they pulled you over
in the first place OR make a run for it and drive straight through,
ignoring them. The latter should be practised with severe caution. Make
sure they are not going to pull a metal spike barrier across the road to
murder all 4 of your tyres in one hit. Also make sure they don't have
any form of transport visible that they could chase you in. However,
there has a been a recorded case of a policeman hailing a taxi to "follow
When asked for money for odd things/ taxes at border posts, always
ask to see a printed tariff sheet and ask for a receipt. If they are
trying to con you, this will usually bring it to light. When asked for
gifts etc, all we offered was a smile and a handshake and they seemed
well chuffed with that.
Be prepared to get ripped off. Check, question, argue. Pay what you
feel is right.
Living outside all the time can be tough. You will feel like you're
on what we called "Tourist TV" or a celebrity most of the
time. Africans have no sense of personal space. Jut deal with it or ask
politely for them to give you some privacy
Most importantly, you have to have a sense of humour. To be able to
see the funny side of the most irritating or troublesome situation is a
Tummy troubles are common. It's either constipation or diarrhoea.
Seldom anything in between. Try and see the funny side of it.
Don't be idiots like us and get your jabs at a private clinic, like
Nomad. Rather have them done on the NHS (where they are mostly free). We
spent nearly £1000 on medical, which was clearly unnecessary.
Don't get carried away with the medical supplies you take with.
Medicines are available everywhere in Africa. It's a good idea to take
some basics that you will need in an emergency, like general tummy
antibiotics and bandages or things that will ultimately save your life
when you are miles from medical care.
Take as many photos as possible, preferably with you in them. You can
always delete the bad ones at the end of the day. We had two cameras:
one huge fancy one (monstrous lens and all) and a little small pocket
one with a video feature, which was excellent for discreetly capturing
market and people scenes. Be respectful when taking pictures. Most
Africans don't like it, they will expect money in return.
You don't necessarily have to pay to go into a game park to see the
best wildlife, for eg. There are some excellent tracks and bush-camping
possibilities around the outside of Chobe and Moremi Game Reserves in
Botswana. And the wildlife is abundant. Just make sure you have a roof
Apart from one mobile phone and a T-shirt, we never had anything
stolen. Perhaps it was because we packed everything away each night.
Tiresome but well worth the piece of mind. Having said that, I left my
flip-flops out one night and a desert jackal ripped them into a zillion
Try and hook up with like-minded travellers. It can get very lonely
out there, especially in the desert. Plus safety in numbers on tricky
roads is always handy.
We timed our trip way too well to avoid the rainy season. As a
result, we had very few scary sections of mud. Rob was disappointed. I
think it was a relief, as we were on our own for most of Central Africa,
which is not ideal in deep mud.
Make sure you go away on a few practice camping weekends before the
big trip. This exercise proved invaluable in discovering teething
problems. Do we really need the wok?
Be prepared for a number of emotions. This is without a doubt, the
trip of a lifetime but together with your euphoria, there will be days
when you will just have had enough of Africa. Hang in there, tomorrow
will be better. The poverty is appalling and the begging is heart
wrenching. You have to realise that you just simply cannot give to
everyone. We never gave to those that begged. If somebody helped us with
directions or advice, we tried to give them something. If after shopping
at the markets, I had some change left over, I always gave it to someone
who was honest and hadn't tried to rip me off.
Don't rush. Stop and savour every moment and most importantly "Have