Given that Africa is a HUGE and diverse continent, writing this post has proved something of a challenge!
Relaying tips that are detailed enough to be useful, but general enough to cover a continent, can be a hard balance to strike.
But having travelled from Cairo to Cape Town, taking in most of Southern, East and Northern Africa on the way (that’s 14 countries so far), I’m sharing ALL my knowledge right here, right now so that you too can come and experience this amazingly raw, wild and heart-stopping beautiful slice of the world on a budget.
So here goes…
- The Ultimate Safari Gear Packing List
- Your Unforgettable Africa Itinerary: 1 Week to 3 Months
- How to Organise the Perfect Africa Overland Tour
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Grab Your Copy of How to Travel Africa for Less
My ultimate guide to travelling Africa on a budget is now available, meaning you can finally get ALL my top tips for adventuring around all, or parts, of this amazing continent in one handy eBook, including…
- Full Planning & Preparation Guides
- Detailed Destination Info
- Complete Packing & Gear Lists
- Top Money-Saving Tips & Hacks
#1 Always Agree Prices Ahead of Time
This may be obvious, but it’s absolutely crucial for budget travel in Africa – make sure you clarify the price of EVERYTHING straight up.
Do not get in a taxi, do not go on a tour, do not stay somewhere unless you know exactly what you are expected to pay.
Ask right out, be straightforward and be clear – very un-British and not always easy to do, I know!
If people are evasive, press them.
You deserve to know what you are going to pay and agreeing on this amount beforehand will sure save you any nasty surprises.
#2 Learn Basic Numbers
This is a very important point for budget travel in African countries where English is not the national language and / or widely understand.
Learning the basic phrase “How Much?” and the basic numbers, so you can understand the response to your question, will ensure you always know what the price is ahead of time – see point #1!
It will also give you more bargaining power, as you’ll seem less like a newbie in a country and more like you know what you’re doing and what you should be paying.
Key examples where this can be used are in Amharic-speaking Ethiopia, Arabic-speaking Morocco and Portuguese-speaking Mozambique.
#3 Ask for a Receipt
If you think you are being ripped off at any point during your budget travels in Africa, then asking for a receipt or a ticket is a sure-fire way to make sure you won’t be.
This is particularly true at border crossings or other official entry points, like museums etc.
It can work the other way too.
Yes, budget travellers, if you don’t like the sound of the official price, then sometimes reiterating that you DON’T need a receipt can help you swing a good discount!
But don’t say I told you so!
#4 Haggle Hard
It’s good to remember that everything in Africa is negotiable and haggling is a way of life in many countries here.
A good rule of thumb is to ask the price, divide it by 3 and then start your negotiations from there!
#5 Use Taxi Apps
With the increasing rise in smartphone users across Africa, apps are becoming more and more common.
A great one for travellers are taxi apps, such as Uber, or equivalents, which are a fantastic tool for budget travel in Africa.
With the use of these apps, you can ensure you’re paying the correct amount, because, let’s be honest, taxi drivers are rip-off merchants the world over.
With guaranteed prices given in advance, these are awesome resources for making sure you pay the local, and not tourist, rates.
Learn more why I love ridesharing apps here.
#6 Research Visa Prices
Researching visa prices, which are clearly defined online via your government’s foreign office, is a key piece of information you can know, and budget for, ahead of time.
But do be warned, they aren’t always cheap in Africa, for example, my Malawi visa cost $75 USD!!
My advice? Come prepared and allocate suitable funds in advance (normally in USD cash).
Presenting exactly the right amount of money at the border will also decrease your chances of getting ripped off, because it will make you look like you know the rules!
TRAVEL INSURANCE FOR AFRICA
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#7 Bring USD Cash… Lots
Leading on from this point about needing USD cash for borders is my top budget travel Africa tip of them all.
Bring USD cash… and lots of it.
It’s the standard money you’ll be able to exchange in EVERY country in Africa (at least everywhere I’ve been to) as very often GBP and EUR can’t be.
Bringing big USD notes (like 50’s and 100’s) will also get you a better exchange rate and swapping cash, as opposed to withdrawing from your account, will save you a ton on ATM fees.
In some countries, like Sudan, you can’t even use the ATM’s, so cash is a must.
And on that point, please make sure you research your foreign ATM withdrawals fees ahead of time to reduce any nasty surprises!
#8 Stay Local
It might seem obvious, but local places to stay are always going to be cheaper than the ex-pat owned spots.
They might be a bit rougher around the edges, but are a key way to keep your spending down if you’re on a budget travel Africa mission!
LOOKING FOR A BUDGET TOUR IN AFRICA?
If you’re interested in an unforgettable, well-priced tour in Africa, with guides you can trust, then email me at [email protected] with some ideas about where you want to go and I’ll send you my top recommendations – simple!
#9 Stay Multiple Nights in 1 Place
Again, it’s a mix of the obvious and the haggle, but staying multiple nights in one place, is going to give you greater buying power… and room for negotiation.
If you are staying anywhere for 3 nights or longer in Africa, then do ask for a discount and you’re likely to be rewarded.
Then make the most of it, by enjoying day trips from your particular location and seeing more of this fab continent.
#10 Avoid Supermarkets
In Southern and East Africa particularly, supermarkets (as in official-looking things) are targeted at ex-pats and are FULL of imported goods.
If you look at the prices you’ll be shocked, I guarantee it!
Avoid supermarkets at all costs therefore, as prices are often similar to those in the west – certainly bad for budget travel in Africa.
Same goes for malls!
Instead buy local in smaller, independent shops, stalls, cafes and markets.
#11 Go for the Tuk Tuks
Amazingly, tuk-tuks are as big in Africa as in Asia and are a dirt-cheap way to get around on small distance journeys.
(In Ethiopia, tuk-tuks are called Bajaj.)
Ditto boda bodas (essentially motorbike taxis) common in Kenya and Tanzania.
Both these options are generally way cheaper than taxis, so enjoy the rattling ride!
#12 Get a Local SIM
SIM cards have been widely available in every African country I’ve travelled in and are generally cheap and easy to get hold of.
Buying one for a few dollars and loading on a data package (also widely available) will be your cheapest way to book accommodation, flights, tours and more when in Africa.
WhatsApp is ubiquitous here too, so calling through this app is often a great idea rather than making regular calls.
Knowing how bad African hostel wifi can be, a SIM with a data package really is a great idea for staying in touch with those at home too.
#13 Budget Airlines Rock
Africa is huge and roads can be bad, so using budget airlines, which are growing massively in popularity across the continent, really can be a cheap and short alternative to a whole day on a bus!
Great examples are Fly 540 in Kenya, Kulula in South Africa and Ethiopian Airlines, which all offer amazingly cheap domestic connections.
Often not costing much more than buses, they are certainly a lot quicker!
As always, I use Skyscanner to get the best prices on flights, as they even include local budget airlines in their search results.
#14 Take the Train
I was amazed, perhaps naively, to discover that there are some great train journeys to be found in this continent.
Amazing news for budget travel in Africa, because very often they are super cheap and safe… if not a little grubby!
Egypt, in particular, is a great country for train travel.
#15 Team up for Safaris
Safaris are definitely not cheap in Africa – in fact they’re likely to be one of your biggest expenses, but really, why would you come here and not enjoy one?
That said, why pay more than you have to?
A great way to score a good safari deal is to team up with others (try searching African Backpacker Facebook groups for willing travellers) and present yourselves as a group – that way you can form a ready-made tour for the operator, earning yourself some serious buying power.
Alternatively (and especially handy if you are a solo traveller) you can stay at hostels and get them to do the group assembling for you.
My top recommendation here is Milimani Backpackers in Nairobi, Kenya.
If you want to go to the Masai Mara, which I’ve actually voted the best safari in Africa, then these guys offer great budget prices starting from around $325 per person for 2 nights.
#16 Check the Inclusions
Speaking of tours and safaris, making sure you know what is and isn’t included is a key tip for budget travel in Africa.
Inclusions / Exclusions to be aware of…
- Food & Drinks
- Accommodation Types i.e. camping or guesthouse
- Entrance Fees
- Guide Fees
#17 Take a Tent
Especially in dry, Southern Africa, camping is common and a really great way to keep the costs down on your Africa trip, especially on safari trips.
Opt therefore for safari tours that offer camping as a way to keep things cheaper and consider bringing your own tent for discounted accommodation in hostels.
In more expensive countries like South Africa and Botswana, this will save you a fortune.
I camped in East Africa too, but the rain here made it a less pleasant experience!
#18 Avoid Popular Parks
While these reserves are fantastic, if you really are on a budget, you’ll find the entrance fees at lesser-known national parks, such as South Luangwa in Zambia or Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe much lower and the wildlife just as good.
#19 Combine Tours
The longer your tour, the cheaper the daily rate should be, so if you want to experience a number of different ones in Africa, using the same company for multiple excursions, will earn you more buying power!
Remember! Haggle, haggle, haggle
#20 Fly into a Major Hub
Depending on where you’re headed in Africa, I’d advise you look for international flights into the nearest major hub.
Normally international flights are cheaper to these destinations than to smaller airports and once you touch down you can easily hop on a cheap local flight or bus to your destination, which you should book separately for the best price.
#21 Vic Falls : Zim Side
Fairly random, but if you’re going to Victoria Falls I’d stay on the Zimbabwean side, rather than the Zambian side… it’s much cheaper there.
#22 Book Activities Through Accommodation
It doesn’t sound very adventurous, but often booking adventure activities through your accommodation will score you a better rate, particularly if you’re staying there for a while!
One prime example of this is Jinja in Uganda.
Here rafting, horse riding, kayaking, mountain biking and more are on offer and you’d be wise to try and land a deal from the place where you’re staying.
This doesn’t mean don’t shop around of course.
Do this too and then come back to them if you get a better rate elsewhere!
#23 Travel Cutlery and Washing Line
With them you’ll be able to enjoy picnics from food bought at markets and also to do your own laundry, the costs of which can quickly mount up, especially on a long trip.
Oh, and when it comes to picnics, don’t forget wet wipes either!
#24 Sometimes Not Answering Is the Best
If you’re being haggled hard or hounded in Africa, then don’t worry about falling silent and walking away.
Sometimes ignoring people and moving on is the most polite form of response rather than getting worked up into a frenzy.
Otherwise, if you think you’re being ripped off and can’t negotiate a better price, walk away.
Often people will come running after you with a better deal when they know you are serious.
#25 Watch What Locals are Paying
Another key tip for budget travel in Africa is to pay close attention to what locals are paying.
This is especially true on buses and in markets.
Here, hang back and closely observe the money being handed over and then the change being given back.
This way you’ll learn what the price really is and what you should pay too.
Sometimes hitchhiking is the only option in rural areas and while it does have its security risks, it’s definitely a cheap way to travel in some parts of Africa.
Just ask locals whether they think it’s safe and assess from there.
Not totally free, I think it is fair to give the person letting you ride with them a small amount of money, but this will be way less than a taxi.
#27 Change Money on the Black Market!
Remember when I told you to bring a lot of USD cash, well that’s because having cash in this currency will often allow you to get a better rate.
Not advised the whole time, the odd swapping on the black market can be a great way to increase your budget in Africa and in some countries, like Sudan, it’s de rigueur!
#28 Book Accommodation Direct
Did you know that Hostelworld and other booking sites charge accommodation providers a commission to advertise their properties with them?
This means that when you book through a third-party like this, the hostel or hotel actually gets less than what you pay.
In fact, sometimes as much as 18% goes to the booking website.
One top tip I therefore use for budget travel in Africa time and time again, is to check a booking website, like Hostelworld, find where you want to stay and then contact the property directly.
Let them know you’d like to book through them direct and ask for a 5-10% discount off the rate offered on the booking website, stating they won’t have to pay any commission if you can come to an arrangement!
#29 Download maps.me
Before you head to Africa I highly suggest downloading the app maps.me.
This great resource works offline, so download all the maps you think you might need in advance and avoid unnecessary taxis fees by being able to walk yourself to many places even if you’re not connected to the internet.
#30 Get the Africa Lonely Planet
I’m a huge fan of the Lonely Planet – always have been, always will be!
With their ebooks, downloadable to your phone, taking the LP with you has never been easier, or weighed less.
For the maps, accommodation recommendations and background information alone, these guidebooks are great, but they also help you save money by letting you know the prices of many things and the best public transport routes.
#31 Be Prepared with a Currency Converter App
With so many different countries in Africa, each with their own currency and exchange rate, things can quickly get confusing!
This is especially true if you’re visiting many countries in a fairly short space of time.
Sometimes you just get used to one rate and set of notes, before everything changes.
Another top tip when it comes to budget travel in Africa therefore is to get prepared with a currency app.
I love the one by xe.com, which allows you to add multiple currencies for comparison and brilliantly works offline.
Knowing the rate of exchange will not only allow you to assess if the rate you are getting is good, but will also allow you to gauge prices when you’re new somewhere.
#32 Check if Your Entrance Ticket Includes a Guide
In Africa I’ve often found that entrance fees to museums and attractions include guides, so always check whether yours does and then take full advantage.
And on neither occasion did anyone tell me this when I bought the ticket, so do ask!
#33 Plan Your Trip
Planning your Africa trip, especially if it’s long and will take in multiple countries will help you budget a lot.
Most of these activities are not available without taking a tour and when you’re wanting to make your money go further, earmarking funds for them and then working with what you have left will ensure you stick closer to your budget.
#34 Everything is Negotiable
And finally, my last tip for budget travel in Africa is to remember that everything and I mean EVERYTHING is negotiable!
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Have you travelled to Africa?
Do you have any more budget tips to add to the list?
Please let us know them in the comments box below…