10 best tips for budget travels in east and southern Africa

1. Have time

Traveling fast in Africa is possible. Instead of taking the bus which has to fill up for 1-2 hours and is so exhausting that you may need a resting day, you can hire a safari company which will include this in their package prices. But it is expensive.

In most African countries people take their time and you simply got to deal with that. If you don’t have time and travel on a tight budget – Africa is not the place for you.

2. Bring a tent (if you have one)

There are many great things about camping in general. Your flexibility increases enormously which is probably the main reason why you actually should bring the tent. Camping equipment can be expensive and if you only stay a few months it’s probably not worth it to buy a new 600$ tent. But in case you already have one then you will save those 600$ by camping.

3. Know why you travel

You can’t compromise with some things. I am for example a safari fan. I love watching animals although it is in many countries very expensive. However, I’m not traveling to eat nice food, live comfortably etc. If that is what you are after you should naturally spend your money on that instead.

If you know why you travel you can more easily do research about the alternatives and weigh your options budgetwise. In east and southern Africa, park fees are usually tremendously expensive. For example, the park fee in Serengeti and Masai Mara is 60$ (if not 80$) per person per day! In South Africa, you can pay a year card (called Wild Card) for 200$. If safaris are important to you without any unusual specifics – South Africa is of course a great choice in my case.

4. Book your safaris on spot

Although it’s true that lodges might be full at some time of the year, this really never happened to me. If you are picky with your accommodation you can request to only book accommodation in advance. The safari tours, which are often paid per person, are often bargain-able whether you book through a local company or a lodge. If their cars are gonna roll out any way they only got money to earn on bringing you anyway.

5. Always bargain and make up a story.

It’s not only on the safari bureaus where bargaining helps. Local transport will often try to overcharge you. Sometimes the amounts are quite innocent, but sometimes it might be up to 50 euros! It rarely hurts, so always bargain.

In case people try to charge you for things you shouldn’t need to pay for like luggage, it’s a great idea to have a standard story to tell, to get the right price.

I always have the same story, about how I traveled around in all of Africa for years and not once paid a cent for my luggage on a bus. This is of course not true – but if they charge me falsely they usually give up at that point.

6. Live like a local/Don’t be on vacation

To budget on a tight budget is not an easy life in Africa. Although there are chill-out places that are cheap where you may get cheap accommodation and beer, it gets hard to stick to these if you travel around and want to see anything else than the tourist-meccas. Eating cheap means eating maize meal porridge every day. Traveling cheap means going with the local transport.

7. Know your limitations

Having said that you are not on a vacation, everyone has their limitations. Living on simple food for a month that you don’t really like might make you later on spend more money on luxuries just to reward yourself. I’ve done this many times and trust me that you save no money on cheap camping if you every once in a while have to sleep in a five-star hotel. Picking budget rooms might be both more comfortable and cheaper in the end.

8. Be an opportunist

Everyone has to get some luxuries every now and then though. Do these luxuries when they are relatively cheap instead of when you really urge for them.
For example, we were going on safari in Zambia. We paid 85$ per person, which is a lot (feels kind of stupid comparing to south African prices). However, we were traveling north later to Tanzania where park fees cost 60$/pp. Most likely, 85$ was the cheapest price we were going to get on the coming 2 months of traveling.

9. Write down your budget and what you spend.

It’s easy to get lazy with what you spend – and a bad conscious if you spent more money than you expected. Keep on fighting though. Keeping track of how much you spend is the easiest way to tighten your costs. It’s tiresome, but traveling cheap, requires work.

10. Sleep at people’s homes

Many evenings, I’ve been asking people around for cheap accommodation. Many times I’ve been invited to their home and had fantastic meals, conversations, and cultural experience. Personally, I prefer this way of asking from CouchSurfing. Both are however great ways of getting around cheap. That being said, of course one should always take care who you ask.

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