Top Ten Tips for Travelling in West Africa


Here are the From Here 2 Timbuktu 10 Top Tips For Travel Through West Africa.

1) Passport (with 6 months validity), Visa, Yellow Fever Certificate, Money – € euro cash, back up visa (no mastercard) credit card, don’t even think of travelers cheques – flight ticket (or paid for passage on my Sahara Overland, Uk to Timbuktu trip!

2) Do not go anywhere where there is active conflict. Terrorist attacks or one off incidents can happen anywhere in the world at anytime. Just because an attack might have recently happened in a country does not make that country unsafe. Was the USA any more dangerous to visit after 9/11, was London after 7/7? Do not put too much by your government’s travel advice – it is alarmist, over cautious and actually dangerous because of the cry wolf syndrome. The best knowledge comes from people on the ground. If the country will let you in and if police and army will let you pass into a region then it is probably safe. Check out travellers forums such as the Thorntree on and for the Sahara check out the Horizons Forum.

3) Luggage – A piece of luggage that you can easily carry; a day bag.

4) Clothes – Less is Best – you can buy all you need out there. A pair of trousers, 3 shirts, 3 sets of underwear, two pairs of socks, thermal underwear, a light jumper, a good but light jacket is all you really need at the outset. You will inevitably take more, we all do, but you don’t need it. If you need more, buy as you go – local clothes are cheaper and more adapted to the climate. Cotton shirts are better than T shirts – they look smarter, are cooler than T shirts in hot and humid weather. T shirts are good for back up warmth.

5) Free yourself from time and give up dividing it up. There is no six forty five. There is only morning, day, evening, night.

6) Trust people. Nearly everyone wants to help you. You are a guest and a traveller, someone from another country and therefore highly respected. If someone doesn’t like you and is giving you grief, don’t react, just do nothing and the people around you will take care of you. If you react angrily you are more on your own.

7) Discover your patience. You rarely see public anger or frustration, these are western displays and they make people either clam up or laugh. There is sometimes call for firmness but remain in control and polite and you command respect which will progress things forward.

8) Respect is everything. All African cultures value age and position and every member of society has their role. The beggar and the madman, the young and the old and the poor all interact daily with the more fortunate and this creates a culture of intricate respect patterns which leave out no one. In the west we are separated off from those who are different and our lines of respect are all challenged. In Africa it is simple: you are human, you are owed respect.

9) Always greet first (preferably in a local tongue) before asking someone anything. Africans greet everyone all day, get into the same habit yourself and you have a continent of friends.

10) Don’t be shy of giving, don’t feel obligated to give and don’t feel guilty about your comparative wealth. Africans are very giving to each other. So if a beggar asks you for money it is not necessarily only because you are a westerner. African society is based on giving within itself. There is no welfare, the community is the welfare, as it is the policeman, the teacher, the lawyer, the judge, the mother and the father and you too are all these things, where you are able, to those around you. When giving use your judgment about the appropriateness of the applicant and trust your instinct. As a principle I don’t give money to children, I prefer to give pens.

11)  Not really a tip but something to think about. We do not grow up until we can support ourselves. Africa is kept as a child by international aid. Aid is the root cause of many of the continent’s problems. By travelling to Africa you are doing the best form of aid available to you, because you are trading with it on an equal basis: it has something to offer and you are buying it. Help Africa free itself from international bondage by helping it stand on its own two feet. It can do it – how ironic that the wealthiest continent on earth in terms of mineral deposits is the poorest continent on earth.

Bon voyage and safe travelling.