questionmarkMy wife and I are about to embark on a year-long backpacking trip around the world. If time and money allow, we’d love to explore parts of Africa. Unfortunately, mostly due to our own ignorance, we’re trying to overcome a healthy dose of fear and trepidation.

You’ve been to some parts of Africa, haven’t you? Is there anywhere you’d suggest that’s easy and safe for independent tourists?

-A.

random adviceI’ve only been to South Africa and Malawi.

The South African leg of the trip was a safari. It was incredible, but it’s very much a tourist thing. It should be part of your visit to the continent, but it wouldn’t be reflective of most of your time in Africa.

In Malawi, I was working with a charity called FOMO, which serves 5,000 orphans in one of the poorest places on Earth. It was probably the most intense experience of my life. I’ve written about it a few times, but 30 seconds can give you some taste of it:

I wasn’t backpacking, but I met Americans and Europeans who were. Track down some books and blogs and follow their advice on where to go and what to avoid. Nothing is “easy,” but much of it is very safe.

A few hints I can offer:

  • Read up, but try not to form expectations. Let it be what it is.
  • Start getting your shots early. Many of them need weeks to take effect.
  • Everyone has different experiences with anti-malaria medication. Most visitors take it, most natives don’t. You’ll be okay either way.
  • Bring a first aid kit. It can be hard to find a Band-Aid, much less 911.
  • A small inflatable globe can help show where you’re from.
  • If your cell phone works in Europe, it will work most places in Africa.
  • Hooking up with a charity (like FOMO) is a good way to meet people beyond normal tourist avenues.

Most importantly, don’t let fear of the unknown stop you from visiting. It’s not Mars. A billion people live there, and you owe it to yourself to see what it’s like.