I recently published a memoir about the summer I spent in Sub-Sahara Africa with my 76-year-old Grandad in which we discovered a lot about ourselves and a lot about life on the other side of the world. Traveling with your Grandad is about as crazy as it sounds. Thought-provoking, hardships, real-life experiences that we couldn’t get anywhere but in Africa; we saw it all. We even did our part in helping with poverty alleviation in a small African village. Find out more about the memoir here.
The Real Truths About Traveling in Africa
While traveling the southern half of the continent with my Grandad in the African summer in 2018, I was disappointed to learn that it isn’t the type of experience I had been anticipating. Instead, I was greeted with an entirely different experience; a travel experience I had never had before. It wasn’t a negative experience, but I feel obligated to tell some truth.
Too often, on a web saturated with travel bloggers, we hear the same things about the same places. The truth is, often, many of these so-called travel bloggers don’t travel to the places they write about at all. I’m not saying this to bring down my fellow travel blogging industry; just as a matter of fact.
I was let down by my travel blogger community when I traveled through Africa for the first time. Many of the things I read before-hand were, in fact, not true. I chalked this up to the conclusion that most bloggers who have wrote about Africa on their site rely on the advice of other travel bloggers to form their own advice to their readers.
Every blog I read said the same things!
However, there were some common myths that I wanted to point out could be different based on your individual experience. Africa is not one place; it’s a very diverse continent with dozens – if not hundreds – of sub-cultures that will determine your individual experience.
So, what did I learn about Africa?
The truth about Africa is it is not a backpackers continent. At least, when compared to that of Europe and Southeast Asia. It’s nowhere near as accommodating to the free-spirited traveler. Not even close. It’s catered to the luxury traveler who wants 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, but they’re not fulfilling to a backpacker’s travel taste. You don’t meet people at these kind of places. You don’t share information or partake in eye-opening conversations. You’ll likely sit in your private room, as I am while writing this, and avoid 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) and transportation is a hard-pressed issue when it comes to the long-distance backpacker of sub-Sahara Africa.
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 you can’t assimilate with the people. You won’t even talk to them. Locals live in a different world from any tourists or backpackers that come to Africa. There’s no way to relate and the opportunity will more-than-likely never be approached.
Before the summer of 2018, I was under the assumption that my travels in Africa would be filled with local interaction, when, in actuality, it was very hard to come by.
Most Africans Don’t Have Advice For You
Check that, most Africans have bucket-loads of advice for you. However, one of the most secretive truths; Africans don’t understand 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 probably won’t ever see as much of their continent as one backpacker will see in a few weeks. Locals are rarely a reliable source of information for locally-related questions, let alone country or continent-wide travel.
People want to scare you
One of the truths I wish I knew before coming; everyone on the Internet wants to scare you. You’ll see some crazy warning 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 for ATM hacking; the list goes on and on. But don’t listen to the advice! 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 any true.
Not only bloggers, though. Even African locals, themselves, will warn you of danger that might not exist. Several times, in my experiences not only in southern-Africa, but all over the entire continent, I was warned of potential dangers – hideous dangers. The truth is, I was met with an unfound kindness I was never led to expect in every place I went.
The backpacker’s trail is not a worn path
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. To be honest, I didn’t even learn the flow of things the entire summer. I was still completely lost. It doesn’t work like that in Africa. It operates differently. It’s not a tourism-first continent. You’ll never get into rhythm and the sooner you realize that, the sooner you’ll start to appreciate things for what they are. Problems are abound in this continent and 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 wanted to share my thoughts about traveling Africa after I was misled by all the same bullshit found on travel blogs around the web. 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 from what could have been some pretty cool, authentic situations.
I didn’t connect with a lot of locals while I was in southern Africa. However, the ones I did connect with were delightful company. Optimism soars in the sub-Sahara, and I was touched by the positive mentalities of the people. If I hadn’t been so caught-up in the words from other bloggers around the globe, perhaps I could have gotten more of those experiences.
My purpose with this post
The ultimate truth about travel blogging is that it’s easy to agree with the general consensus. Perhaps, you didn’t experience any problems at an ATM, but you’ve read on many blogs that thieves hijack ATM machines in Botswana, therefore, as a travel blogger, you alert readers of the possibility.
Well, sometimes, personal experiences need to be told, too, and I wanted to convey the opposite message about traveling Africa. Don’t be shy, don’t be timid, and don’t let differences in culture keep you from putting yourself out there.
My Memoir From Africa
If you’re interested in my experience and would like to read parts from my memoir, feel free to click over to “This Is Africa: Tales from a Summer with Grandad“.