5 Truths About Backpacking Africa

What I wish I knew (and didn’t know) about travel to Africa.

Photo by Tucker Tangeman on Unsplash

In the winter of 2017, I went on a two-month expedition to the African continent. My travels were largely focused in sub-Sahara Africa, though, I’ve also spent several months in North Africa. 

My point is; I’ve learned my way around Africa. At least, surface-level Africa. The tourist’s Africa. 

Before each of my trips, I’ve been fooled. I’ve been unprepared and under-funded. I’ve been tricked during my travels, too. I’ve been through the African wringer and come out with some incredible experiences. 

Still, nothing was easy. Here are my truths about Africa.

The truth about Africa: It’s not a backpacker’s continent. 

Not even close. It’s catered to the luxury traveler. Those who want to take part in luxury activities such as safaris and resort-stays.

For a backpacker, the guest homes and B&B’s are nice for a while — I even got accustomed and spoiled by them. It’s a welcomed break from smelly hostels and a constant social rush.

But, after a while, the guest houses are not fulfilling to backpacker’s travel style.

You don’t meet people at these kinds of places. You don’t share information or eye-opening conversations.

You’ll likely sit in your private room, as I am while writing this. Avoiding all people until you’re forced to check-out the next morning.

Backpacking Africa isn’t cheap and it’s almost impossible to make it cheap. There are no hostels (not enough, at least). Transportation is a hard-pressed issue when it comes to the long-distance backpacker. And typical experiences are expensive.

Another truth; it’s not easy to experience the culture.

You can pay someone to give you a tour of a township. Or take you to a ‘living museum’ of tribesmen. But this isn’t experiencing the culture. You can’t assimilate with the people this way. You likely won’t even talk to them.

They live in a different world from any tourists or backpackers that come to Africa. There’s no way to relate. The opportunity will never arise.

One of the most secretive truths; Africans don’t know the tourist side of Africa.

Or, at least, the part of Africa a tourist is allowed to see. You can ask locals questions and they might give you answers. But they are probably spewing bullshit.

There are very few well-traveled African locals. Most won’t ever see as much of their continent as one backpacker will see in a few weeks.

Random locals in Africa are rarely a reliable source of information for a tourist. For local or country-wide travel. Let alone continent-wide.

One of the truths I wish I knew before coming; everyone on the Internet wants to scare you.

You’ll see some crazy warnings from bloggers on the net.

I read these warnings on many blogs and marked it as important information to know:

Take the police bribes.

Don’t come to a stop in your car at night.

Watch out for ATM hacking.

The list goes on and on. Take this kind of advice with a grain of salt. It’s usually based on individual experiences and applied as a general rule.

I spent an entire summer in Africa and nothing ever went wrong.

Well, a lot went wrong (very little went right, for that matter), but nothing any travel blogger ever told me was true.

The most important truth; it’s going to be different.

Don’t expect to hop on the backpacker’s route as you would in Europe or Southeast Asia and learn the flow of things within a few months. It doesn’t work like that in Africa.

It operates differently.

It’s not a tourism-first continent. You’ll never get into a rhythm. The sooner you realize that, the sooner you’ll start to appreciate things for what they are.

Problems are abundant in this continent. It makes no difference to Africa if you spend the entire trip in its beautiful land stressing over the little things or not. Give it a rest!

I share my thoughts about traveling Africa after I was misled by all the same bullshit found on travel blogs.

I did plenty of research before my flight to Johannesburg, but it was all for naught. It made me more cautious of my surroundings, but it also frightened me.

I didn’t connect with a lot of locals while I was in southern Africa. I was scared. However, the ones I did connect with were a delight.

Optimism soars in the sub-Sahara, and I was touched by the positivity of the people. If I hadn’t been so caught up in the advice from bloggers, perhaps I could have gotten more of those experiences.

The ultimate truth about travel blogging is that it’s easy to agree with the general consensus.

Well, sometimes, positive personal experiences need to be told, too. To set the record straight. I want to convey the opposite message about traveling to Africa.

Don’t be shy, don’t be timid, and don’t let differences in culture keep you from putting yourself out there.

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** This article was originally published at www.adamcheshier.com **

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