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Travel to Africa in 10 Easy Steps

Planning Your Trip to Africa in Ten Easy Steps

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Planning to travel to Africa, but don't know where to start? Plan your travels to Africa by following these 10 easy steps below. This checklist will walk you through the whole trip planning process, from deciding where to go in Africa, what to pack, when to book your flights and much more. If this is a trip of a lifetime, it's probably wise to start at Step 1 about a year before you plan to go. If you're heading to Egypt or Morocco for 10 days, then I'd recommend you start planning about 6 months ahead of time.

Step 1: Decide Where You Want to Go in Africa

Old Man, Mosque, Mali
© Getty Images/Gavin Hellier
With more than 50 countries to choose from, deciding where to go in Africa is quite daunting. First, you should find out what type of vacation you're looking for. Do you want a beach vacation, a safari, a trek through the desert, or a bit of everything? Check out my Africa Vacation Planner, it's arranged with different interests in mind. I also have a Romantic Travel Guide to Africa and a Family Travel Guide to Africa, that should give you some good ideas. A quick browse through my "Best of Africa" will also inspire you to perhaps choose a destination you previously knew little about.

Step 2: Decide When to Go to Africa

Western Sahara Desert, Morocco
Eugene Reshetov
Once you've pinned down your destination and have an idea about what you'd like to do in Africa, then it's time to look at the best time of year to go. If you want to go on safari, you may want to avoid the rainy season because some parks can all but shut down. On the other hand, if you're a keen birder, it may be the best time to visit. If you want to visit the desert, Namibia is best in June/July, but the Sahara is unbearable during that time. There are some very interesting festivals or treks you may want to plan your trip around. Here are some resources to help you plan when to go to Africa:
When to go on Safari
Africa's Major Festivals and Events
Africa Travel Deals
Climate and Weather in Egypt, Morocco, Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa

Step 3: Book Your Tour, Safari and/or Lodging

Jao's Camp, Okavango Delta, Botswana
© Michael Poliza, Wilderness Safaris

Once you've decided when and where to go, it's time to book your safari, tour or at least the first night in a hotel. Consider staying at locally owned hotels and ask your tour/safari company if they use locally based operators, so the money you spend on your vacation stays in Africa.
Some independent advice on...
Tours to Egypt
Safari Planner
When to use a tour operator
Trekking
Overlanding
Motorcycling
Gorilla Tracking
Heritage Tours
Hotels

To book a tour or safari I recommend:
For luxury tours and safaris: African Portfolio; andBeyond; Tribes; Abercrombie & Kent.
For mid-range tours and safaris: Wilderness Travel; Overseas Adventure Travel; Africa Travel Resource.
For budget tours and safaris: Gap Adventures; Intrepid Travel; Exodus.

Step 4: Book Your Flights to Africa

African Airlines Finding cheap flights
Getty Images/Sami Sarkis
Finding a cheap flight to Africa isn't easy. From Europe you can take advantage of low-cost airlines flying to Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, and some resort destinations like the Gambia. But in general, there's little competition for many routes to Africa. Flights fill up quickly and prices are high. Purchase your flights as soon as your tour, safari or lodging is booked. Use your tour operators advice and check out booking engines like Cheaptickets.com or web sites like Bootsnall, to get an idea of the fare. Use your miles, if you don't have enough to get you to your African destination, use them to fly to Paris or London and buy a separate ticket from there.
Read More:
How to Find a Cheap Flight to Africa
African Airlines
African Airports

Step 5: Get Travel Insurance

Travel Insurance
Getty Images
Now you've invested a significant amount of money on your flights and trip, it's time to buy some insurance. It will usually cost about 5% - 7% of the value of your trip. Most tour operators will have some coverage built in to the cost of your trip, so check before you double cover yourself. Trip cancellation insurance is highly recommended because trips are costly and you're generally booking far in advance, and life happens. Personally I've not had the misfortune to cancel a trip (I'd have to be in coma), nor have I been hospitalized, so these recommendations below are companies I've bought from, but never had to test as it were.

World Nomads
Access America
Insure My Trip

Step 6: Get Vaccinations and Malaria Pills

Vaccinations in Africa, health poster from Nigeria in 1970's
CDC
At least two months before you depart for Africa, you need to visit a travel clinic and find out what vaccinations are recommended for your destination, as well as getting the right malaria pills (if needed). Years ago, many African countries required visitors to get certain vaccinations in order to enter. This is not the case anymore, but policies do change regularly especially regarding yellow fever vaccinations. The golden rule is to check with your local travel clinic and do a little research yourself. It will cost you several hundred US dollars to get all the vaccines recommended and your malaria pills (if needed).
Read More:
Vaccinations for Travelers to Africa
How to Avoid Malaria
Yellow Fever
African Embassies in the US

Step 7: Get a Visa and Update Your Passport

Passports, Visas, Africa Travel
Getty Images

First, your passport must be valid for at least 6 months from the start of your trip. If your passport is about to expire, renew it before you apply for a tourist visa. Visa regulations are arbitrary and change depending on the whims of politicians. At least two months before your trip, you should contact the embassy of the country you are visiting and check on the visa regulations that apply to your nationality (not where you happen to live). Many African countries offer visas at the port of entry, where you will pay a fee and get a stamp in your passport. Others require you to get a visa in advance. You will have to fill out a form, get a money order and send this along with your passport to the embassy.
Read Morebr> How to get a tourist visa
African Embassies in the US

Step 8: Buy Cool Travel Gear

Safari Gear
Getty Images/Jules Frazier
My favorite part of planning a trip to Africa -- buying lots of things. But, before you spend a small fortune on a safari jacket, travel water filter and garlic pills; think about what you could buy locally. It's not only fun to check out local supermarkets and markets, but you'll be helping out the local economy as well. Bring an extra bag along to take home plenty of souvenirs.
A basic packing list:
  • Camera (with extra memory card), camcorder
  • Flashlight
  • Spare Batteries
  • Suntan lotion and insect repellent
  • Spare glasses (better than contact lenses)
  • Sunglasses
  • Hat
  • Money belt
  • Personal medications
  • First Aid Kit
  • Lightweight clothing and shoes
  • Sweater for early morning and evening
  • Swimsuit
  • A good guide book

Step 9: Money, Money, Money ...

Box of Cash, Dollar Bills, Bringing Money to Africa
Getty Images
Look into the best way to carry your travel cash to Africa about 2 weeks before you go. Many countries do not have ATM's (cash points) on every street corner. Credit cards are generally only accepted at high end businesses. Not all currencies are readily exchanged for services. In general, the US Dollar is the most commonly recognized and accepted form of foreign currency. If you would like to bring Traveler Cheques, get them in either Euros or US Dollars. And get them a few weeks in advance, my local bank didn't have any in stock since they're rarely used anymore. If you plan on using your credit card or debit card, make sure it has a Visa or MasterCard logo on it. American Express is quite useless in most of Africa.

More Money Tips

Step 10: Reading Up

What is the What book cover, David Eggers
McSweeney Book publishers
Buy some good guidebooks, Rough Guides, Bradt Guides and Lonely Planet are the best on the market. Read up on the history and culture of your destination. Learn a few local phrases. Buy some fiction set in the country you're traveling to, browse through my personal top 10 to see if any match your destination. It's nice to be able to actually live in the atmosphere of the book you're reading. You can also watch movies set in Africa to whet your appetite. You'll find lots more planning advice and destination information on About.com's Africa Travel site as well as an interesting blog.

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