In 2016 we scheduled our first trip to Africa! We planned to visit 3 different countries (Kenya, Tanzania, and Egypt) and would be there for over a month! We were very excited to go, however, we soon realized that a ton of preparation was required for this trip to Africa. Just to name few things:
- Proper Currency
- Travel Insurance
The list goes on and on. Luckily, our safari tour company helped us a lot — a great reason why choosing a good safari company is key when planning your African Safari Vacation! We used a lot of the general information they provided. We also supplemented that with tips we found in doing our own research.
Here’s an extensive list of the things we learned that will make preparing for your trip to Africa a simpler process.
A good place to start is to create a planning timeline for yourself. Timelines are always a great tool to help you keep track of your “To Dos” before a trip. We usually do this before any major trip and Africa was no exception. There are many special requirements when visiting Africa. A timeline is a must for keeping track of items you need to complete.
We really like the planning timeline available on the Long Grass website, but do some research and you may find you prefer something different.
Once you’ve booked your trip to Africa, find out what vaccinations are needed for each country you’ll be in. Work with your doctor to schedule the best time for your appointments. Some vaccinations may need to be timed with the departure of your trip.
Vaccination Types – Depending on where you’re going in Africa (and what you’re doing), you’ll need specific vaccinations or pills. If you have kept up-to-date on your vaccinations, then you may have had some of these when you were a child. Also, if you’re an avid traveler, these may have been required for other countries. Consult with a doctor to make sure you are current with everything! African Vaccinations may include but are not limited to:
- Yellow Fever
- Oral Typhoid
- Hepatitis A and B
- Rabies (we did not need this)
- Other routine vaccinations like Tdap.
Malaria Pills – There are a few types of malaria pills available for you to take. Some have more side effects than others. So talk to your doctor or travel clinic about the different types and decide which is best for you.
Travel Clinics vs. Doctors – Travel clinics tend to go above and beyond just administering a shot. We have worked with a couple different travel clinics and they are great at getting you up to speed on the areas you’re visiting. They give you booklets that tell you about the countries, the vaccinations, and symptoms to look for while traveling. Using your own doctor has its benefits too. For example, your insurance may cover some vaccinations administered by your doctor, and he/she already has your medical history.
Yellow Vaccination Card – After receiving your vaccinations (mainly Yellow Fever), you’ll get a Yellow Vaccination Card. You must carry this card on you when entering certain countries. They will not let you enter without it. Here is a list of countries that require you to have this card.
Budget – We learned the hard way and did not consider the cost of vaccinations, malaria pills, doctors visits, etc. when budgeting for our trip. Between the two of us, it cost upwards of $1,200!
If you’re traveling with prescription medications, make sure you have more than enough for your trip. Also, make sure that you have the actual prescription on you. Some medications may be confiscated without a doctor’s prescription in-hand.
First Aid Kit
It’s a good idea to travel with a small first aid kit. We always travel with a few essentials:
Stomach – The possibility of you getting an upset stomach at some point while traveling is pretty high. Be prepared so it won’t ruin your trip!
(Unfortunately, we are speaking from experience on this one…for half of our 2 week honeymoon in Mexico, Dax had a bad upset stomach and we were unprepared…)
These are what we recommend from light to heavy symptoms: Travelan to take before meals that seem questionable; Pepto Bismal to take the second you feel anything funny in your tummy; Imodium AD to take if you’ve already got diarrhea. We also travel with a doctor’s prescription antibiotic, called Ciprofloxacin, for when things get really bad (thankfully we haven’t had to use it).
Dehydration – Dehydration is very common on safari. People don’t drink the proper amounts of water, or they get a stomach bug and don’t rehydrate. We recommend electrolyte packets and oral rehydration salts.
Essentials– Always have items for headaches, sore muscles, small cuts, etc. (Band-Aids, Advil, aloe, moleskin). Picking up a small pre-made first aid kid at a drug store should cover all of the other necessary essentials.
Clothing and Gear
While it’s important to prepare yourself for injuries and illnesses, preparing for the elements can be equally as important.
Trekking – If you plan on hiking or doing any adventure sports while in Africa, contact your tour company. They will let you know which items you’ll need to bring and which you can rent through them.
Tsetse Fly – These flies look like a household fly, but they bite! Avoid wearing dark colors like black or blue as this attracts the flies. Wearing long sleeves, pants (neutral colors) or bug spray will also help prevent bites.
Tsetse flies can carry disease, but the risk from a bite is minor (less than 0.1% carry disease). More than anything they are just really annoying!
Sun – The sun can be exceptionally strong in many parts of Africa. Make sure you pack a hat and plenty of sunscreen!
Find out what the local currency is of the country you’re traveling to. We always like getting at least a little of the local currency before we go anywhere. If you contact your local bank well before your trip, they should be able to order different types of foreign currency for you.
Tips – In many countries in Africa, not only will they take the local currency, but usually they prefer US dollars (some places take Euros too). We like to buy things in the local currency, but usually tip in USD. If you bring USD on your trip, the bills need to be newer than 2009, not have any rips or tears, and be unmarked. Some places will take older bills, but it’s better to be safe.
Credit Cards – Contact your credit card companies to let them know which countries you’ll be traveling to. Using your card in larger, more populated areas shouldn’t be a problem. More remote areas may be cash only. Some local places will charge you a fee to use your credit card. Look also into getting a credit card with no foreign transaction fees.
ATMs – This is our preferred way to get local currency while traveling anywhere in the world. You get the best conversion rates using an ATM. Make sure you have a bank that allows free ATM withdrawals from other bank ATMs, otherwise you may pay a fee each time. If there is a fee, try to take larger amounts out, to minimize the number of fees you’re charged.
Your nationality and the countries you’ll be visiting will determine if you need a Visa or not. Here is a great website that gives Visa guidelines for African countries. Many you can get at the border or as you arrive, and some you can get in advance either online or from the embassies themselves. If you do need a Visa, usually your passport needs to be valid for at least 6 months upon arrival and you need to have 2 empty pages in your passport.
You should ALWAYS travel with travel insurance. There are many different options out there. There are plans that just cover the travel portion, to plans that cover travel and health (which is recommended). That fancy camera you bought for your trip, there is even plans that will cover that!
Trip interruptions and accidents happen all the time, and you don’t want to lose thousands of dollars because of one incident. The risks can be too great to ignore while traveling in foreign countries, and the cost is absolutely worth it. Having travel insurance makes you feel more comfortable while traveling, and allows you to do the things you want to do without hesitation. We have always used World Nomads travel insurance. If you want to compare options, here is a great site that will allow you to do that.
Ever since our friend, who works in the state department, recommended that we register with STEP when traveling abroad, we’ve always made it a priority. Not only does it let the state department know that you’re in a certain country during a certain time, but they’ll also send you travel alerts and warnings. If there’s a disaster or emergency of some type, they can get ahold of you or your family. So consider registering before your trip to Africa.
It’s important to always have a copy of your travel itinerary with hotel and tour contact information on-hand. When you’re entering a new country in Africa, they’ll usually ask where you’re staying, including the address and phone number. You’ll need this information to enter the country. Border patrol may also ask you specifics about your trip and it’s essential to have that information readily available.
It’s also important to give a copy of this itinerary to your family or friends. They too will want to know where you’ll be if they need to get a hold of you. You should also give them a copy of your passport or any other important documents.
No matter where you’re traveling to, you should always learn a few basic words or phrases in the native language. These include: Hello, Thank you, Please, Yes/No, Goodbye, Where is the restroom, etc. Showing that you’re making an effort can go a long way and people will be more likely to help you.
Africa is in a water crisis. Sadly, access to clean water is not a privilege many have. Be aware and sensitive to this fact while traveling. When staying in certain areas, hotels or lodges may have specific hours available to take showers. Conservation is extremely important.
Only drink water that has been filtered properly or is in store-bought bottles. You will get sick if you drink the tap water. Store-bought water is fine and you should drink plenty of it! Dehydration is the most common health problem for people on safari because they forget to drink. Buy plenty of water and remember to drink often.
Prepare For Your Trip To Africa
For most, a trip to Africa is the trip of a lifetime and is well worth the time and investment it takes to get there. Consider all the factors we discussed, create your planning timeline and follow it step-by-step. With the proper planning and preparation, you’ll be able to enjoy your trip knowing you’ve covered all your bases.
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