Africa can be one of the more challenging places to travel, but the rewards are abundant.
Check out these African travel hacks to make your trip smoother, cheaper and more fulfilling.
1. Take Uber instead of conventional taxis
Uber is cheaper and more convenient than traditional taxis, and is now available in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Cairo, Durban, Lagos, and Nairobi. Just get the app and start Ubering.
2. Buy a SIM card before you arrive
If you’re headed to South Africa, for example, you can buy a SIM card online from B4iGO and have it ready and waiting for you at the Cellucity shop at one of the country’s airports when you arrive. One Sim Card offers a similar program with various African countries. Of course, this means you need to bring an unlocked cell phone with you.
3. Lock your luggage
Seriously. Bags have a tendency to get rifled through at many airports in Africa, so the stronger the lock, the better. And if your trip allows it, get sturdy luggage — not the thin nylon bags, but the hard-sided ones. This will deter thieves who are tempted to bypass your lock by simply cutting open your bag.
4. Take the train
Lines like South Africa’s Shosholoza Meyl, Namibia’s Desert Express, and Tanzania/Zambia’s TAZARA offer low-cost (but longer) journeys across their respective countries. For more on train travel, click here.
5. Don’t forget about discount airlines
This sounds obvious, but not everyone is aware of the multitude of African airlines that exist outside the big legacy carriers. So if you want to get from Joburg to Cape Town, for example, foregoing SAA and using Kulula or Mango instead could save you a bundle. Or to get from Dar es Salaam to Entebbe, try fastjet instead of Kenya Airways. The major exception to this is Ethiopian Airlines, which is a big international carrier but still manages to beat budget airlines at their own game in many cases.
6. Get a chip-and-PIN card
If you’re from a country that uses only magnetic-swipe debit and credit cards, ask your bank if they can upgrade you to a chip-and-PIN card, which requires you to input a PIN number to use. It will greatly enhance the security of your money, since card fraud is rampant in Africa. Many American banks are now offering these.
7. Arrive by boat and save $$
If you’re headed to North Africa from Europe, you can save money on airfare by taking the ferry from various ports in Spain to Tangier, Morocco. There are also ferries that go from Spain to Tunisia and Sicily to Tunisia.
8. Download maps
Download maps to your smartphone before you head out, as many places in Africa don’t have good wi-fi connections, data speeds. For example, if you’re driving around the vast remote interior of Namibia, don’t count on good cellular coverage. A downloaded map will come in very handy in this type of situation, but remember to not put your blind faith in GPS — it’s been known to be wrong, especially in remote parts of Africa.
9. Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)
You might find yourself blocked from various internet streaming services and web apps when you are in Africa, because they may only allow access when you are in your home country. For example, Instagram may lock you out because it may think you’ve been hacked, and Netflix is not available in Africa at all. Using a VPN like HotspotShield tricks these providers into thinking you are back home, by assigning your device an IP address from your home country.
10. Use discount cards to save money on safaris
Most people think a safari cost thousands of dollars or Euros, but that simply does not have to be the case. If you get South Africa’s Wild Card, or even just use an ISIC card, you can save a bundle. Click here to get more tips on how to safari on a budget, which include going to smaller, less famous parks, camping instead of staying in a fancy lodge, and doing a self-drive instead of guided safari.
11. Use alternate hotel booking sites
Mainstream sites like Hotels.com and Expedia.com do allow you to book many hotels in Africa, but only a fraction of what’s actually out there. To get a much deeper and broader selection of hotels, try sites like AFKTravel.com (6,440 hotels in Africa), and if you can’t find what you’re looking for there, try Travelground.com (for South Africa), Jovago.com (20,000 hotels across Africa), or Hotels.ng (6,472 hotels in Nigeria)!