How to save money while travelling in Africa

Sunday, January 29, 2017

On my current adventure, driving overland and travelling in Africa, I have not spent much money. In Nairobi, I bought a car to drive down to Cape Town and back. By far my biggest expense was the troublesome car. Initially, I wanted to sell it again for a similar price without much of a loss. After a while, it turned out to be a never ending story. Every breakdown and repair revealed another problem and it became very costly. Nevertheless, this was a calculated risk. Despite that, I saved a lot of money by not following the mainstream tourism. Of course, some fellow travellers spent way less money, but I never wanted to go that extreme. Especially while travelling in Africa, the gap between budget and luxury holiday is enormous. Organised tours and luxury lodges can be way more costly than in Europe, while locals often survive with the bare minimum. I wanted to find my optimal mixture between regular and budget travelling in Africa. The following list shows a rough overview of simple steps to save a lot of money.

1. Food and drinks: consume like the locals

This is probably the most basic hint, but not always an automatic choice. When visiting a foreign country, we tend to hang on our trusted food and beverages. In cities and slightly developed touristic locations, restaurants offer international food. Global import and quality standards come at a certain surcharge. At the same time, for a fraction of that price you eat street food and in local restaurants. The choice is often limited, but all meals tend to be nutritious. While the hygiene might vary, the food quality normally exceeds fast food. Especially in Eastern Africa, you can get excellent food for little money. While having been eating under local conditions for months, I have never had a health issue. I easily came by with 5 - 10 US Dollar a day.

2. Accommodation: backpackers and camping

A good night sleep generates valuable energy for the next day of travelling. Taking this into account, I was always cautious with my choice. Personally, I prefer a private room over a noisy dormitory. Thanks to guidebooks and internet comparisons, affordable accommodation can easily be found. While travelling in Africa, there is a wide range of alternatives from cheap hotels with bad infrastructure to luxury lodges. One of the best compromises is camping at a lodge. That is usually tenfold cheaper than a room, but always includes amazing toilet facilities. Self-catering and washing can further improve the budget. My average spending was around 5 - 15 US Dollar per night.

Working on a lovely camping site in Tsumeb, Namibia
Travelling in Africa

3. Transportation: self-driving, buses, hitchhiking

When it comes to moving around, the price gap could not be bigger. I chose to buy and re-sell a car to eliminate the renting charges. This, however, comes with the risk of expenses for repairs and maintenance. Good research and negotiation skills help to reduce any fee. Especially, travel insurance might be more expensive if acquired last minute (why you should get an annual travel insurance). Taxes, import/export fees and fuel still make that a pricey choice. The advantage is full flexibility and fast travelling. Local busses and hitchhiking are widespread and effective in most parts of Africa. But both alternatives require more time and do not reach remote destinations. There is certainly a trade-off between destinations, schedule, comfort and budget.

4. Consumption: about souvenirs, clothes, and cosmetics

It can be very tempting to buy some souvenirs along the way. Especially, when travelling to countries, far away from home. For the most part, when travelling in Africa, I have been able to easily resist buying anything. But with Christmas approaching, this was a perfect opportunity for me to surprise my beloved ones. Another category of consumption is clothes and cosmetics. On this trip, I have learned to live with less, much less. Under the burning sun and on the dusty roads, old clothes are the best anyway. Nearly all cosmetic products can be replaced by one simple soap. This not only reduces the carry-on weight but also the budget dramatically.

5. Activities: independent instead of organised

There are always many different ways to plan and pursue a trip to foreign countries. Generally speaking, organising things yourself will save you the tour operator’s fees. However, this comes with the cost of doing research and getting familiar with the destination. I have always enjoyed searching for options beforehand as well as on the go. Both, online platforms and offline guidebooks, come in quite handy. Especially with the acquired car, I could reach any destination easily. Individual Safari Game Drives are way cheaper than with a tour operator. Most operators offer packages with financially overrated, though low quality, meals, and accommodation. Asking around, comparing offers and negotiating can help to reduce the spendings further.

General: avoid the most touristic stuff

In a world of free markets, demand and supply define the cost. The more a destination, attraction or activity is hyped, the more likely prices will increase. However travelling in Africa, for each top attraction, there is a less popular alternative. On the African continent, this can mean a substantial difference. In plenty of countries, I have visited many national parks, museums, and other attractions. With the help of online and offline guides, I tried to select a good mix of popularity and budget. Sometimes the choice is not easy, either because of an abundance of offers or a lack of information. Either way, there is no wrong choice, as the result is what you make of it!

This overview of possible ways to save money is far from complete. There are endless other means to reduce the expenses while having a great experience. Not mentioning, that personal encounters and perception are way more important than the budget. Enjoying the moment and having a great time is not a matter of finances, but a mindset. With the right attitude, every experience can result in an amazing story.

Adrian Sameli founder and editor of aSabbatical.com
Travel mindfully to meet local people around the world and embrace new cultures. Get inspired and inspire others!