Travelling Africa is both the best and the worst thing you will ever do.
The journey comes with ups that reach the moon, but not without enduring the lows as well. There are a few things that will inevitably happen during your backpacking trip through Africa, and here are just a few of them.
1. ALL YOUR CLOTHES WILL GET RUINED
Africa is dusty, and I don’t mean the kind of dust you are used to at home. It is an orange-y color, and it WILL get into your clothes. Also, it is really, really hard to wash it out (washing machines will become a luxury while you are there). My advice? Don’t bring your favorite clothes here, and don’t even think about wearing white.
2. YOU WILL LOOK REALLY UNGLAMOROUS
You will probably pack your nicest outfits to make sure you get the perfect travel shot while on safari or the perfect photo while rockin’ your way around the myriad of white sand beaches Africa has to offer (think Zanzibar or Diani beach).
The reality, though? You will stop caring along the way because see #1, and also – it’s hot, it’s humid, you will more often than not spend countless hours under the sun. Plus, hot showers are a real luxury in Africa. The equation doesn’t really add up to a perfect look.
3. YOUR MODE OF TRANSPORT WILL BREAK DOWN AT LEAST ONCE
Yes, and you will get stranded for quite a while because Africans are pretty relaxed when it comes to time, so get mentally prepared for that.
It can be the car, a train, a bus, you name it. It WILL happen at least once during your journey. It's all part of the adventure, right?
During my first month here, our car’s wheel was punctured by one of the many nails on the road. Luckily, we were near a village and everyone united to help us replace it. We didn’t have the proper equipment, but a pile of bricks did the job. A couple weeks later, I took the infamous “Lunatic Express”, a train that
goes used to travel from Nairobi to Mombasa. A few hours into the journey, we were told we were headed back to Nairobi because the freight train ahead of us had gotten derailed and there was no way we could pass.
4. YOU WILL WANT TO GO HOME
Africa is not all Lion King landscapes and perfect adventures – it can get very, very overwhelming and at times you will miss the comfort of home, the being able to go to a shop without everyone wanting to talk to you or having at least 10 people shouting mzungu (foreigner) at you (especially when you leave the touristy places and when you’re at touristy places, you will have to endure a crowd of vendors trying to sell you something).
5. THERE WILL BE QUIET DAYS, TOO
Think of your perfect African trip – going on safari every day, hiking to the top of the endless mountains and volcanoes around the continent, meeting tribe people, and snorkeling at some of the best beaches in the world.
The reality is that there will be quiet days, too – you will get overwhelmed at one point or the other and you will just want to spend entire days doing absolutely nothing.
6. YOU WILL MEET SOME OF THE MOST INTERESTING PEOPLE EVER
There is something about Africa that lures the most adventurous kind.
The continent can be a tough one to travel around in, and it is not often the popular choice for anyone’s first trip abroad. Most of the travelers or expats that you will meet here have been around, and a large percentage of them are doing something really, really interesting while here.
In the course of just one week, I met a couple who were biking their way from Kenya to Rwanda, a guy who is walking from Cape Town to Cairo, a man who worked in DR Congo for four years, a 63 year-old Italian who had biked through every single country in the world, and a girl who was living with Maasai women in Tanzania teaching them how to do beekeeping.
Most people you will get to meet here have very interesting backgrounds. It never gets boring!
7. YOU WILL JUST ADORE THE TOILETS
Not really. Outside of hotels or “mzungu” areas, more often than not the toilets are holes in the grounds and they smell FANTASTIC. Pro tip: bring your own toilet paper when on long buses or even when visiting a local bar or restaurant.
8. YOU WILL TRAVEL LONG HOURS
“It’s only 300kms away? East. I’ll be there in 4 hours max”. WRONG.
Africa’s roads aren’t like the ones in Western countries and more often than not, journeys from A to B can take time, so sit back and (try to) enjoy the ride.
9. YOU WILL HAVE TO ADAPT TO SWAHILI TIME
Africans are very relaxed when it comes to punctuality and even laugh at the Western “obsession” with it. Being one hour late is considered normal here and don’t ever, EVER expect anyone to be on time. This can be super stressful, but you will HAVE to get used to it and join the crowd (maybe don’t take the habit back home, though).
10. YOUR BANK ACCOUNT WILL SUFFER
Doing all the must-do activities in Africa can be expensive. There’s a fee to enter national parks, which is often not easy on the pocket.
You will need to pay steep-prices for certain permits to do some activities like seeing wild gorillas in Rwanda or climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
Prices here can be crazy but the experiences last a lifetime and you will never regret it – you can make that money again when you’re back home anyway!
11. YOU WILL SEE ANIMALS EVERY DAY
Ok, maybe you won’t go game viewing in national parks every single day because #whocanaffordthat, but you will get to see animals everywhere.
Sheep and donkeys roam about freely in small towns and there is an insane amount of chicken running around villages.
12. SOME OF THE THINGS YOU'LL SEE WILL REALLY SHOCK YOU
Really. You will see people driving motorbikes while carrying a massive couch on the back of it, you will eat at a restaurant while a the waiter unloads a butchered cow from the back of his car right next to you.
You will see stuff that would never, ever be allowed in the West.
13. YOU WILL NEVER WANT TO LEAVE
Despite the lows being really low, the highs are really sky-high and there is something about this continent that will keep pulling you back.
You will see some of the most amazing landscapes in the world, and the experiences you will get to live and share while here will stay with you forever.
Africa is like no other and, as Francesca Marciano once said: ”When you leave Africa, as the plane lifts, you feel that more than leaving a continent you’re leaving a state of mind. Whatever awaits you at the other end of your journey will be of a different order of existence”.