Overlanding is my favourite. Overlanding in Africa, even better. It’s unbelievably fun and rewarding but also massively challenging. Surprises and adventure lie around every corner, and until you go, you won’t know what to expect. Or will you?
Every trip is different, but there are some things that WILL happen on your Africa overland tour. So you’ll need to prepare yourself ‘physically and phychologically’ as my friend Moses would say…
1. You’ll just love the toilets – not.
Oh the joys! African toilets range from super posh, to a self-dug hole in the ground – and I’ve gone between the two in less than 24 hours. The diversity of the African loo is legendary, mostly they’re western style or long drops, the quality of them varies and I definitely think boys have the easier deal here (and everywhere else).
Some of the are luxurious, some are really stinky and will make you heave. If you think I’m being a wimp, come back to me after you’ve spent an afternoon vomiting into an almost full long drop up Kilimanjaro. Then we’ll talk. I’d much rather pee al fresco, which might be your only choice if you’re in the middle of nowhere or camping wild in the bush, so making your peace with it early is something I’d suggest you do. When I was in the Okavango Delta in Botswana, all we had was a hole and a shovel.
The toilet situation in Africa can take a bit of getting used to, but once you do, it’s quite liberating really. Before you know it, you’ll be handling the long drops like a pro and squatting down in a line, next to your mates, chatting as you pee in perfect harmony. I never did that… honest!
2. You’ll get the shits.
Being exposed to all manner of different things than you’re used to is both a pleasure and a pain when travelling in Africa. It was about five months into my first Africa trip when it happened to me. I got sick the night we crossed over into South Africa. The week before, one by one the group had started to drop. Turns out it was giardia, a pretty unpleasant parasite infection that apparently causes much bonding over vomiting and diarrhoea. I didn’t get ill at first, which I put down to my strong constitution, and my ‘theory’.
You know how they say “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”? Well, my theory about travel is that “a bottle of Coca Cola a day keeps the doctor away” (hmm… doctor maybe, perhaps not the dentist). Despite my pevention techniques it got me in the end. My advice – take all the precautions you can against illness, it can be avoided for the most part but inevitably, you will at some point and find yourself getting very acquainted with the nearest bathroom. Which leads me nicely on to my next point…
3. You’ll need a wee in the middle of the night when it’s most inconvenient.
I never ever wake up in the middle of the night needing a wee at home. Never. However, I always seem to need one when I am in a tent. Maybe it’s because of the extra water consumption, or the dramatic drops in temperature at night, or because it’s noisier or it’s just psychological! I’ve no idea. But it’s never at a normal campsite, it’s always when yu’re in a national park, where the loos are a trek and you have been given a lecture on safety from your guide – “there are wild animals about, so if for any reason you need to leave your tent in the middle of the night, shine your torch around first to look for eyes…” WHAAAAAAT???
Last time it happened to me, in Malawi. It was still dark, I was alone. I sat up, but as I did, I could hear the snapping and munching of branches just behind me. The unmistakable sounds of a grazing elephant. I waited, and waited and waited. This dude was taking his time and I really needed to go now. Thankfully he finally sauntered off so I could do the obligatory torch test and leg it to the bathroom.
4. You’ll find it appropriate to discuss your toilet habits with everyone you meet.
Do you ever talk to complete strangers about your toilet habits? Nope? Me neither.
So what is it about travel (especially Africa travel) that makes you feel the need to discuss every single bowel movement with everybody within a five mile radius? Including the opposite sex. How anyone ever scores on the Africa backpacking trail, I will never know!
But alas, I give it a day before you and your travel companions know the inner workings of each other’s digestive systems. Mind you, when you put together points 1, 2 and 3 you might need to talk about these things. I like to think of it as group therapy.
5. You’ll wish you’d invested in that sports bra they told you to bring.
Good roads are few and far between in many parts of Africa. Pot holes are the norm. Animals in the road are common. There’s hardly any street lights, so driving in the dark is not a great idea, especially in rural areas. The road signs are crap. Rain makes many roads impassable. But the worst thing… your boobs, ow your boobs (you too fellas). ALWAYS wear your seatbelt when available and ladies pack your sports bra. You’re in for a bumpy ride.
6. Everything you own will be ruined.
Africa is dusty, like really dusty. Dust is small. It gets into things. It clogs up things. Like your camera. I went through three cameras when I was there for 6 months, three. Dust also gets on things, like your clothes and when you mix orange dust, with limited washing facilities, without a washing machine, the dust gets harder and harder to remove. That lovely white top, will be a beautiful shade of orangey-brown before you know it!
7. You will look feral.
Africa travel is not particularly glamorous, especially when you’re living in a tent. I gotta admit, I barely look in the mirror when I’m on the road. Au natural, that’s me!
Your feet will be the worst, followed by your finger nails, your clothes (see point 6), your hair, your skin… you’ll shower and look clean for 5 minutes, sure. But it won’t be long before you return to your feral ways.
No-one gives two craps about what you look like when you’re overlanding. Embrace the freedom it brings!
8. Your fashion faux pas will reach an all-time low.
I’m not a particularly fashion conscious person. But, you know, I generally try and look relatively decent. That all goes out the window when I’m travelling.
There was the time I got my hair braided and everyone laughed at me…
The time(s) I wore socks and flip flops (we all did that)…
The time I decided this was acceptable…
9. You’ll find having no internet is liberating and annoying.
There is something totally amazing about being cut off from the world. To just be. Without distractions, just living, in the moment. It makes you feel alive, to be at one with nature. Having no internet and limited electricity is brilliant. The wifi is generally pretty poor, and internet cafes are usually a take turns basis but you’ll love the freedom it brings you. Until you need to send an email home, or do some work. Then it sucks. And even when you do find internet, there’ll probably be a power cut half way through.
10. There’ll be an annoying person in your group.
There’s always gotta be one hasn’t there? The beauty of travel is that, you can usually bin them off after a few days. Not on an overland, then you’re stuck with them. Most people will be awesome, but there could be the odd one that you’d be happy to never see again. Everything they do will kind of annoy you.
My best advice, is to take it with a pinch of salt, and find the comedy in the situation. I promise you, you will look back with a smile at that arrogant guy who thought he was God’s gift to women, or that couple who couldn’t keep their hands of each other (tents are pretty thin ya know) or that person who just didn’t pull their weight, or the one who kept stealing the plate that you brought or the dude who talked and talked at you when you were trying to have a little doze on the truck…
You’ll probably be best friends once you get used to them. And if not, consider it part of your tolerance level development.
11. Fridge politics will be the ultimate cause of contention.
Most overland trucks have a fridge. They aren’t massive, can only be turned on when the engine is running and with the aforementioned bumpy roads (and peoples inability to place the tops back on things properly) there’s likely to be spillages and people leave stuff in them for waaay too long. Basically, the fridge will be minging. This is all part of the fun. But what you need is the fridge police. My mate Bec was awesome at this and kept us all in check. You’ll thank me for this piece of advice.
12. You’d consider selling an organ for a hot shower.
Finding a hot shower at an East African campsite is a rare treasure… and likelihood is that you’ll be last in and the hot water is all gone. I remember the happy feeling, arriving back from the Serengeti, to find our car was the first back. We hadn’t showered in three days. We knew the other cars weren’t far behind, so my friend Lucia and I did the only sensible thing. Grab our bags and run in to claim the showers. You’ve never seen two people move faster. (Mu ha ha ha). Was it wrong to feel a little smug when everyone else was complaining about their cold showers, when we’d both had lovely hot ones… ah, who cares. They were sooooooo toasty!
13. You’ll have some quiet days.
Not every day is filled with sight-seeing, safari or adrenaline fuelled fun. There’s always something to see, but you could be driving for most of the day or camping somewhere without much entertainment. There are always a way to amuse yourself, however. Games on the truck. Reading a book. Or when we decided to do this in the Okavango Delta…
I swear I have NEVER laughed so much in my life. Who knew an orange could be so entertaining?
14. Someone will buy a one hundred trillion dollar note at Victoria Falls.
Absolutely worthless, a complete waste of money, but someone will still buy one and then all find it hilarious to say ‘One Hundred Trillion Dollars’ – Dr Evil style. Don’t even pretend you didn’t or wouldn’t do it!
15. You will play these 3 songs many, many times.
There’ll always be a song or ten that reminds you of your time in Africa. I can guarantee that one of them will be Africa by Toto. The other two definites will be Hakuna Matata and Circle of Life from The Lion King. Then forever more, when you hear any of these songs on the radio you’ll feel the need to message all your Africa friends and tell them how much you miss them (or is that just me?)
It’s the Circle of Liiiiiiiiiifffffe!
16. You will develop a hatred for mosquitoes.
Just as you’re nodding off, you hear that familiar high pitched buzz in your ear and it fills you with the fear of God. I like to think I’m a caring kind of person, but mosquitos can bore off! Horrible little, parasite carrying assholes, that’s what they are. No matter how much DEET you slather on, those little horrors will find that one spot you missed and leave you with an itchy, red reminder.
But, good news is, on most overlands you’ll be staying in a tent. Hardley any bugs in a tent, including mosquitoes, unless you leave your tent open, then you’re asking for trouble. If that happens, just get yourself a nice can of DOOM! Works a treat!
17. Your truck will break down.
Like I said, Africa roads are generally bad and those trucks go through a lot. So it’s no surprise that they break down, with relative frequency. Luckily, the drivers are all super-duper mechanics so you’ll be back on the road before you know it. Breaking down is also a great time to take in the local cultural spots or you could just go to the pub and order a Tusker!
18. You will see the best and the worst of the world.
If you’re a regular reader of mine, you will have heard me wax lyrical many times about how wonderful Africa travel is and I suppose Helen in Wonderlust is kind of a living testament to just how much I enjoy travelling there. It’s exciting, rewarding, poignant, intriguing… I could go on.
But Africa isn’t all National Geographic worthy landscapes filled with the cast of the Lion King – ok, well it kind of is – but there’s a lot more to it than that. Africa is a challenging, frustrating and even upsetting place to travel at times and it’s highly likely you’ll experience a few low points on the journey…
But nevertheless, it will leave you in absolute wonderment. Especially when you see an elephant in the wild for the very first time. That’s pretty magical.
19. You won’t believe how much stuff you seem to have accumulated.
I spent two and a half months on my first overland, and just couldn’t help picking up a few souvenirs here and there, just a few – or so I thought. Turns out I bought bracelets in Kenya, paintings in Tanzania and Uganda, scarves in Zanzibar and fabric in Zambia, I even bought a chair in Malawi, and actual chair. But being on the truck means you can store them away without a second thought. Until the end of the trip, when you have to carry it all again.
My friends and I pretty much exploded in our hostel room in Cape Town. Luckily we had it to ourselves and after an entire day spent sorting it all had to ship it all home. You have been warned.
20. You’ll wish they had Stoney Ginger Beer and Still Fanta where you come from.
Africa has awesome soft drinks I swear and Stoney Ginger Beer and Still Fanta are the best. They even make questionable alcoholic beverages like Konyagi taste ‘ok’!
Other favourite food and beverage products to look out for are; Milo, Cadbury’s Top Deck, Mrs H.S. Balls Chutney, “Yum Yum” Caramel Crunch Peanut Butter, Parmalat Cheese and Yoghurt, Savanna Cider and Tusker or Mosi beer! My, my Africa diet sure sounds healthy.
21. Your truck will be the best, obviously.
Along the African travel trail you’ll come across lots of different trucks, full of other travellers just like you, all following the same route. You’ll see them at the campsite, pass them on the road and maybe even share a drink or two at the bar. You’ll smile and chat, but all the while, there will be a bit of rivalry between you. Your group will hold many discussions about the other trucks and you will come to the conclusion that yours is the best and that your group are definitely the most fun.
22. You’ll regret falling asleep on the truck.
And your mates will take pictures to blackmail you with later. Assholes. 🙂
23. You will see that the sunsets are every bit as spectacular as they say.
24. You will feel more alive than you’ve ever felt.
This is really hard to describe. The best way I can describe it for me, is that I feel like I’ve come home. My whole demeanor changes. I relax 1000%. I see myself differently, better. And that is reflected in the way others see me. I feel happy. At peace. Free.
25. You’ll make some of the best friends you’ll ever have.
One of the best things about Africa travel…
…is the friendships you make. People from all different backgrounds, ages and nationalities. These days, I’m separated by thousands of miles from many of them, yet are bonds are still as strong as ever.
Many parts of Africa are not as well set up for tourism as the rest of the world, so experiencing the ups, downs and heartbreaks of Africa creates the perfect environment for making true friends.
I went to Africa alone. I came away with soul mates.This post is dedicated to the Pumba crew. I love and miss you all. x
If you want to read some more about my overlanding experience in Africa, you can find them here.
Have you been on an African overland? Any of these sound familiar?
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