A bit of backpacking in Africa. Travel Tales, Tips, Photos, Ostriches, Health and Charity

Travel Tips

Every Traveler has their own unique way of handling Travel and Backpacking. There aren't really any fixed laws or rules on it but there are pointers to help the Virgin Traveler and experienced alike. If you've got an ounce of common sense in you you're halfway there. Sometimes it is best to learn some things the hard way. It makes the whole thing more worthwhile and adventurous. It's a good idea not to follow guidebooks too strictly because you're not really following your own path but someone else's.

There are some situations where I wished I had followed a guidebook closely but those situations were rare. I've listed a few general pointers that are worth remembering and that stood me in good stead during my four years on the Dark Continent.

General Tips

  • Respect
    Respect the country's traditions and cultures. We all live differently.
  • Patience
    Be patient. There is no point losing it, its unproductive and gets you nowhere. Watch the locals, they have it down to a fine art.
  • Communicate
    Meet and talk to local people not just fellow travelers. After all that's half the reason for traveling, isn't it?
  • Hospitality
    As a Londoner I have to say I was a tad cynical and suspicious at first when offered somewhere to stay by the locals, but that soon changed. Most of the time the African people are naturally generous and kind.
  • Zero attachment
    Don't get too attached to your pack and contents. I got mine nicked 4 times mainly from buses.
  • Confidence
    Look and be Confident in whatever you do. Not only does this deter thieves but it also makes choices easier to make.
  • Attracting Thieves
    Don't wear valuables i.e. watches, rings etc. in the Cities as it attracts unwanted attention. A general way to look at it is; If you mind losing it then don't bring it on your travels.
  • Valuables
    Keep your valuables i.e. money, passport on your body at all times. I did, and didn't lose them once.
  • Haggle
    Haggle in markets. All the locals do, so why shouldn't you? And if you don't it makes the next backpacker or even a local pay your prices as well.
  • Guide Books
    Don't follow any guide books destination choices too exactly. Things change quickly in Africa and its your own Adventure.
  • Travel light
    Its a nightmare lugging a huge 70 Litre pack of dead weight around. Half the stuff in a pack are used rarely so be picky. You'd be surprised how little stuff you actually use on the road and if you really need a new T-shirt or shoes just buy them where you are (most likely cheaper anyway)
  • Medical
    Bring basic medicines with you i.e. malaria tablets, water purifiers etc. They are hard to get in some places.
  • Police and Army
    Take care in dealing with the Police or Army in Africa. There can be a lot of paranoia with foreigners, especially when taking photos of official buildings i.e. Post Offices, Airports. If confronted its generally best just to avoid a conflict and do as they say. Get used to having to pay bribes or even worse give them your film.
  • Enjoy!
    Most importantly ...ENJOY! The freedom, adventure and education of travel is a huge buzz and the memories of it will stay for life.

What to pack

To be honest when I first organised my packing list for my African adventure I was very anal about it. I had to have everything in the right place, all the right stuff and the right amount. I ended up taking enough for two people. After a few months of backpacking I managed to get my kit down to a small/medium sized backpack (35KG) with just the very basics. Travel from this point on was a complete joy and I wasn't that bothered if it got lost or stolen.

  • Backpack
    Medium size zippable backpack (35 Litre). I prefer these to the rucksacks as it gives easier access to contents, it's lockable and small enough to force a Spartan packing list.
  • Mosquito net
    the framed, free-standing ones are best. A bit bulkier, but can be used as a tent in hot places.
  • Sleeping bag
    I sowed a single cotton bed sheet together, leaving it open at the end (Silk is even better if you can afford it...and it keeps Bed Bugs out). Most of the time this was my sleeping bag.
  • Water bottle
    I used a soft canvass one-easier to pack or attach to backpack. For those on a tight budget just use local plastic bottles.
  • Frisbee
    Deep one, which I used as a plate/bowl as well as for fun.
  • Maps
    I just had 1 big map of Africa and bought a detailed ordinance map of Madagascar when I got to Tana. Guidebooks tend to have general maps of the Cities and Country's.
  • Compass
    I would still be lost somewhere in Madagascar if not for mine. Invaluable if the trip's going to be off the beaten track.
  • Guidebook
    At the time of my travel 'Africa on a shoestring' by Lonely Planet was the best all round guide book and was invaluable for City maps, a bit of lingo and some hot-spots. Now there are probably better ones i.e. Rough Guides and Footprint Guides are very good.
  • Padlock
    Keeps the pesky monkeys out of tents (most of the time) and is a slight deterrent to thieves if used on Backpack's zip.
  • Valuables pouch
    Call me overcautious but I used two pouches. A cloth waist one keeping my Valuables well hidden at night and a waterproof pouch for when I couldn't leave valuables in my tent on those long swims and for hot sweaty days.
  • A book
    Invaluable when alone on a desolate stretch of road waiting for a lift and there is no one to talk to apart from the Crickets. Most travelers will exchange books.
  • Torch
    I used a small miners type head torch as it keeps the hands free for cooking, walking or toilet missions.
  • Passport photos(colour)
    You'll need these for all kinds of things: hostels, visa's and border crossings etc. Work out roughly how many borders you'll be crossing and bring 5 photos for each.
  • Proof of Jabs
    Needed at a lot of border crossings.
  • Passport
    Quite a handy bit of kit this one. Make sure its got at least 6 months left or some Country's will refuse entry. I recommend getting a new one so there's plenty of space for those stamps and 1 page entry Visa's.
  • Condoms
    As many as you can imagine using and buy quality/ branded ones.
  • Driving licence (International)
    This can help a lot if you hitch a lift for a long distance as the driving can be shared and for splashing out on a hire car.
  • Money
    US Dollars and Pound Sterling seem to be the most easily changeable in Africa. I rarely used Banks as the exchange rates were daft, instead using the black-market. Be wise and watch yourself though! Most of my money was in Travelers cheque's which had a better rate of exchange and I left most of my money at home in the Bank to cover my credit cards. I'd also recommend leaving about $50 in your backpack in case you lose all your valuables while you're out and the backpack's somewhere else. This is a handy backup.
  • Credit Card
    Ideal for most use. 1 of each works best: Visa and Mastercard.
  • Camera
    At first I had a lovely Nikon SLR but that got stolen and so I ended up using just an old cheap 35mm camera for snaps. The pictures came out well enough. Digital's also an option but then you need to transfer the files onto disk/ storage and also carry a charger.


It is a good idea to bring things that can double up as others i.e. a thick T-shirt makes a good towel, a Frisbee can be used as a plate, black sports shoes can be formal and informal wear. This can save hugely on space in the pack. I haven't added Toiletries because these can be bought pretty much anywhere. 

  • T-shirts
    I took about 2 T-shirts with me. At night layers of clothes are warmer than, say 1 jumper.
  • 2 Shirts
    One casual day shirt and one crease-proof evening shirt.
  • Cotton Trousers
    1 pair of long crease-proof trousers. They are good for daytime and Night's out.
  • 1 Pair shorts
    Worn during the day or for swimming.
  • Walking Sandals
    You'll end up using these more than shoes.
  • Black trainers
    A pair of black trainers (can be used for both casual and formal wear) (make sure you wear them in before the trip)
  • Thin Rain-proof Jacket
    Nice and big so you can wrap it round the pack as well. An option is a Poncho but you will look odd wearing it in cities :-).
  • Underwear and Socks
    At least 4 pairs of underwear, 3 pairs of socks and 1 pair of walking socks. Although if you're going to do serious walking you can hire them with boots.
  • See Medical packing list in the Health section.


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