I came across a statistic the other day that shocked me: only about 10% of U.S. citizens have a passport. While I know that Americans are often criticized for ignorance about the rest of the world, I didn’t realize just how little we get out and about!
I know of very few things that can provide the genuine education and adventure that comes with international travel: the fascinating views, the unfamiliar smells, the undecipherable languages, the unidentifiable foods, the interesting people. It is almost a cliche to say that travel broadens one’s horizons, but sometimes cliches are as true as they are literal. Myopic, insular, narrow views cannot but be blasted by the wide vistas of the rest of the world “out there.”
I will not try and convince you, however, to dust off the suitcases and buy a ticket to somewhere. Instead, I would like to present to you my random list of things to know so that your international travel is the best it can be. It is my hope that in doing so I will tear down whatever walls of fear or inertia have been holding you back from experiencing more of the world.
1. Don’t travel like everyone else, suit your own style. What this means is that there are many different ways to travel. There are pre-packaged trips, organized tours, mainstream routes, structured adventures, luxury or rustic, city or country, etc. The first rule of travel is to thine own self be true. Don’t take someone else’s trip; take your own. Know yourself, what you like, what you must have in terms of accommodations, and make it fit YOU. A trip is like an extension of your personality; make sure it’s authentic.
There is so much to think about when preparing for a trip and Africa can be especially daunting as it is so unknown. This list will help make sure you remember everything as you prepare for your safari adventure.
Your passport should be valid for at least six months after the end date of your trip.
As most African countries require visas for most nationalities, it is a good idea to ensure you have one blank page for each country to be visited. So if the passport is getting full and you are planning a big overland journey, it might be a good time to renew.
Check with the embassy of the country (or countries) to be visited whether your nationality needs a visa. In sub-Saharan Africa, visas can easily be acquired on entry, but this is not true for all nationalities. Do not rely on your tour operator to know the rules for every nationality either – it is usually your responsibility to find out this information and, of course, apply in advance for those visas if necessary.
3. Travel Insurance
In Europe, many travellers forego travel insurance and take their chances. It is simply not worth it in Africa. The medical facilities available are usually not up to the standards in the West so having emergency evacuation cover is essential. Protection against petty theft, lost luggage and sham tour operators are also helpful.
4. Book flights, tours, accommodation
The general wisdom is that eight weeks prior to travel is the optimal time to book flights. There are plenty of online booking engines that can find cheap flights, but for a complicated itinerary there are still travel agents ready to assist.
A travel website that does not sell travel but enables travelers to save money on travel as long as they do their own bookings is now offering services to internet travelers. This service is a unique addition to travel options for all travelers comfortable with direct bookings using a new type of travel document called a TopTravelVoucher.
The operators of this service are addressing the issue of travel pricing which often includes a 10 to 25% mark-up to allow for the payment of travel agent commission to either wholesalers or retailers but when travelers buy directly from the provider (accommodations, tours or transportation) they can still pay the price inclusive of commission. To overcome the travel providers’ problems of showing multiple prices for the same products and services on their websites, they can now offer ‘fair fare prices’ by issuing TopTravelVouchers.
Travel Providers are given marketing and promotion in exchange for their own travel vouchers, equivalent to or more than, the commission that would be payable upon sale of their various travel packages and services, so they still incur the commission cost on sales but do not have to alienate their distribution chain of wholesalers and retailers by offering a retail, wholesale or ‘direct’ price on their website. This is done by the voucher operator who sells their vouchers to travelers at deep discounts to their redemption values to be used when making direct bookings, hence a travel agent who does not sell travel, only travel vouchers and therefore is not a travel agent.