Preparing for Africa

Going to Africa is one of the most incredible experiences anyone can ever have.  The diversity of culture, wildlife and the varied landscapes from open savannah plains to ocean waves crashing against rocky cliff walls, Africa has it all covered.  But travelling in Africa requires a little extra consideration and planning to most vacations or travel spots.  Here are my tips for before you head into the wilds of Africa.

1. Vaccinations and Medical Supplies

As with travelling to any developing country, it is crucial to speak with your doctor a good 6-8 weeks before heading off ,so that you can get the necessary vaccinations and refills for any prescription medication you take.  If you are prone to specific sicknesses (e.g. I regularly get throat infections/illnesses) take a standard course of the antibiotics you would normally treat this with at home.  there is nothing worse than going away on holidays and getting sick (generally after your long haul flight).  The medications might not be the same as what you would take at home, you could be out in the middle of no where, or language might be a barrier in getting the treatment needed.  If you carry a course of antibiotics you will be able to start treating the illness immediately and get on with enjoying your travels sooner.  The key though is to always speak to your doctor first and follow their advice for travelling to Africa.

Other medical supplies I don’t go travelling with out:

– Paw Paw Ointment (natural ointment good for burns, cuts, bites, rashes, chapped skin)

– Iodine Ointment (good for reactions to bites, infected cuts, scratches, splinters)

– Bandaids (good for covering blisters and small cuts)

– Sunscreen, Insect Repellent and Hand Sanitiser Gel

2. Travel Insurance

Read the fine print of your travel insurance!  Some policies won’t cover you if you become sick or contract Malaria, if you are taking the weekly dosage Malaria medications.  There can also be certain activities, such as motorbike riding or adventure activities, that may not be covered under basic policies.  If you are unsure of your travel plans in Africa before leaving, it may be safer to pay the little bit extra for a comprehensive policy, to ensure you are not having to pass up on great experiences once there, simply because your travel insurance won’t cover it.

Also, read the details relating to broken or stolen items (this particularly applies to camera equipment).  Some insurance policies will only pay out for stolen items if you have a police report to support your claim.

The main thing with travel insurance is to just spend the time reading all the details, to ensure you know what you are covered for and won’t be in for a nasty surprise later if something unfortunately goes wrong.

3. Advice on where to go and what to do

There are many places you can go to for information on where and what to do while in Africa.  Don’t start at the travel agent straight away.  Spend some time trawling the wealth of information, reviews and advice on the internet.  Travel blogs, Lonely Planet website, or advice and review websites such as Trip Advisor are a great place to start.  Then combine this with information from different travel agents, to ensure you find the right style of trip for you.  Travel Agents are great help with visas.  Getting a visa on short notice in some countries can be very hard to do.  I’ve made the mistake before and subsequently missed a whole section of my trip, as I wasn’t allowed to board my flight to Nigeria because I didn’t have a visa.

4. Be aware of local customs and culture

In Morocco, woman should dress covering their shoulders and down past their knees.  In parts of Malawi, woman wear skirts and men must wear trousers that at least cover the knee.  Often, it is easier to pick up the right type of clothing from a local market at a far cheaper cost than what you would pay at home.  When packing clothes, plan on taking basics for the season you will be travelling in, specific items that help you dress respectfully and culturally appropriate can be bought in country.  This way you carrying less in your bags and supporting local businesses with your purchases.

5. Have an open mind

A lot of places in Africa are poor.  It is a developing nation after all.  Keep an open mind to the places you see, people you meet and try not to put expectations of how things should be compared to what they are like at home.  This will very quickly ruin your experience.  Most places run on African time and I’m not talking G.M.T, I mean if someone says a time to you, don’t be upset if they turn up four hours later.  It happens in business and in every facet of African life.  There is no rush.

If you plan on visiting/volunteering at an orphanage in Africa, keep in mind that the conditions you witness, while may not meet your ideas of what an orphanage should look like or be, far exceed the conditions the children would otherwise live in.  Many orphans would have previously lived on the street, or in a tiny mud brick hut, that leaked every time it rained and shared a small blanket on the floor with several other siblings.  At the orphanage, they receive shelter, three meals a day, clothing, basic medical care and an education.  All things they might otherwise go without.

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