States of Mind

Lizzie Williams for Travel Africa • 3 March 2019

Having travelled extensively for more than 25 years in 21 African countries, guide book author Lizzie Williams has enjoyed a full range of experiences. Above all, she’s learnt some secrets for getting the best out of Africa, and they’re largely a question of attitude. Here’s her advice to help you prepare for your next safari.

Celebrate Africa’s diversity
Most people want to visit Africa for the quintessential safari experience, to see and learn more about its wildlife. Many first-time travellers’ impressions are of sun-baked grassy plains dotted with flat-topped acacia trees and trampled by thousands of animals, which of course is very real in lots of locations. But Africa also offers myriad beautiful landscapes, as well as intriguing cultures, ideas, customs and traditions that are unique to each country.  Mix it up a little…

Engage with people
Most of Africa’s people are amazingly welcoming and friendly, and, as with anywhere you travel, it’s always important to interact with those who are effectively your hosts...

Always be sensitive to local etiquette
Never forget that you are a guest in someone else’s home, and remember that Africans are extremely gracious and caring people, ready to go the extra mile to respect and be helpful to others. Here, cultural values are based on a foundation of the past and present. In many places where there may be religious or cultural etiquettes, always adhere to them to avoid showing disrespect...

Do not underestimate the weather
Back to those sun-baked grassy plains again. It’s not all like that, and in fact most travellers are surprised at the extremes of temperature, seasonal variables and climates that are as varied as Africa’s diverse geography.. If you want to be assured of a sunny holiday, choose your time of year correctly, otherwise go with the flow and enjoy the seasonal and geographical characteristics that make Africa so special.

Acknowledge and embrace ‘African Time’
Despite the use of clocks to tell us what the time is, African time works differently, and generally things fall into place as they unfold…Future scheduled times and itineraries can’t always be relied on or rushed, and thinking so will only make you frustrated — and there’s no need to be as, believe me, Africa will teach you to be flexible and, hopefully, to not get stressed about it.
If a plan gets shut down or changes drastically — from a cancelled flight or hotel reservation to a washed out road or political insecurity — there’s not always anything you can do about it. Instead, just accept it, continue with a positive attitude and make it part of an adventure you’ll tell your friends and family about for years.

Think about costs and choices
Yes, safaris can be expensive, and there’s an amazing choice of top-end luxury lodges in the mainstream parks.  But …don’t assume that you need a ton of cash to visit Africa’s wild places. Other options include self-drive and camping or using the cheaper lodges on the peripherals of parks and game reserves, utilising public transport, opting for local tour operators or even buying/renting your own overland vehicle if you have the luxury of time.  The point is, don’t just Google ‘African safaris’ and be blinded by the super-expensive options. Find something that suits your own requirements and make it your own choice.

Don’t expect every park or game reserve to deliver the same experience
..Don’t expect to see all ‘the Big Five’ animals on just one safari. It just doesn’t happen. And even if you were to go to a Big Five park like Kruger, it’s still all about luck in a short time and many other factors like seasonal variables. Think about different safari areas and how much you can fit in in the time you have available. And remember that one trip to Africa will never be enough…

And finally, unless you’re using it as a camera, leave the smart phone alone
How much press has there been worldwide recently about how much time we spend looking down at our phones? Doing this in Africa, and especially on safari or travelling through the many stunning locations, you’ll miss a moment you’ll regret — perhaps a cheetah running after an impala, a glimpse of the mist rising above a rainforest, a raptor in flight, an animated group of villagers on the side of a road, a lion nuzzling his partner in affection, a city street full of colour and buzz, or the sun taking mere seconds to sink in a ball of orange. In short: watch now and post later… Don’t miss a single thing about Africa that will etch on your memory forever.

 

This Blog is a shortened version of the original article - States of Mind - which appeared in the March 2019 edition of Travel Africa Extra - a monthly compendium of information, stories, interviews and advice for readers of Travel Africa magazine

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