These are tips and insights into being an effective intrepid traveller & safari-goer by Jim O'Brien
As intrepid travellers increasingly look further afield across Africa’s vast landscape, beyond the traditional safari attractions, a wealth of opportunity beckons. Not only is there the intrigue of venturing into different and diverse environments, but most enticing is the prospect of getting to know and understand Africa’s people, and their rich cultural heritage, away from the relative sophistication of a tourist economy.
Many places are difficult to travel through. Some travellers are discouraged by the idea of long days on dusty roads, or several nights of camping, or the other, often necessary, elements of travelling in remote regions. Mostly, nothing works as you are used to at home. There may be problems with infrastructure; attitudes may be different, and maintenance may not be to as high a standard as we would always like. For me, however, this is part of the appeal.
More than 20 years of taking such trips have taught me four particular behaviours will help anyone looking to travel further off the beaten track:
When you’re stuck at a roadblock in Gabon, having your documents checked for the umpteenth time by a young soldier holding your passport upside down, getting annoyed is probably the least productive thing you can do. Sure, it’s frustrating but, remember that the man in front of you probably hasn’t seen a western tourist on this road for several weeks and, for the moment, you’re providing some light entertainment.
My recommendation will be to smile, co-operate, and if it looks like it’s going to take a while, find a nearby restaurant or bar, have a beer, talk with the locals, and make it all part of the experience.
It might sound obvious, but reading up on where you’re going beforehand makes a world of difference. Some understanding of the politics, culture and history of a country not only adds to your appreciation of it but helps you avoid any unpleasant surprises. Why has that man just decapitated a chicken in front of me? Oh yes, it’s entirely reasonable in Benin.
Forget conventional sightseeing
Often the reward from such destinations isn’t so much the UNESCO sites or stunning museums, but about experiencing the best of local culture, without the presence of mass tourism. This is usually spontaneous, and often unstructured.
The best experiences consist of wandering into an old quarter of the city, meeting the residents, exploring the markets and getting to grips with local life, rather than being shepherded from one ‘sight’ to another. Think of those attractions as part of the trip, rather than its raison d’etre, and you’ll have a better time.
The beauty of travelling in places that receive very few tourists is that your encounters and experiences are authentic – but that can often mean things don’t go as planned. The tourism infrastructure in these places is not polished and, despite best efforts, services can be unreliable. You soon appreciate this as part of the charm.
Tailormade Africa has so much to offer every travel personality, even luxury camping if you would rather avoid a camp bed. But we most certainly offer authentic off the beaten track experiences.