You’ve done the research, read the travel guides and watched the documentaries about Africa.
You’ve decided. You’re going to Africa. You’ve got your ticket, visa and have had your shots. You’re ready. You know everything that you need to know.
But here’s the thing. You don’t know everything that you need to know. There are some things you can’t know.
More nuanced things.
Like what you should know before you travel to any African country because by not knowing, you risk inadvertently doing or saying something that is offensive.
And whether you know it or not, it will affect the quality of your dream vacation to Africa.
So how do you make sure that your African vacation is everything that you hope and dream it will be? Here’s a clue. It’s about attitude.
Some attitudes are incredibly insensitive. Here are 7 main ones that should never travel with you to Africa.
1. Bringing Along Pre-Conceived Notions of Africa and Africans
Let’s face it. Consciously or not, we’re all influenced by mainstream media to some extent. When it comes to Africa, what’s often portrayed is extreme poverty, backwardness, unsophisticated uneducated people, needy governments and so on.
But Africa is so much more than that. It is many countries (54), many people and many cultures.
Traveling to Africa with pre-conceived notions is like packing more than you need for a trip and ending up paying costly excess baggage fees for stuff you didn’t even need.
Leaving the extra baggage at home will free you up have a much richer vacation experience in Africa.
2. Taking Photographs of Children Without Permission
How would you feel if a stranger started taking photos of your child and then posted those photos on social media? Without your permission.
But yet for some reason, many visitors to Africa seem to think that it’s okay to do just that. It is not.
The best thing to do is simply ask if its okay to take that picture. 99% of the time the parents will say okay. And because you asked, the quality of your interaction with that parent is enhanced and you will be made to feel even more welcome.
3. Expecting Immediate Acceptance
For many descendants of Africans living in the Diaspora, Africa is viewed as the Motherland. They feel a special kinship or connection with Africa and Africans based on genetic heritage and expect Africans to the feel the same way about them.
So when African descendants are referred to as foreigners or strangers, hurt feelings, resentment and behaviors arise that negatively impacts the quality of interactions between people.
If you’ve ever felt this way, try not to take it personally. Give it some time. Get into good conversations. Learn from, and about each other. If you do this, your vacation is guaranteed to be all the more enjoyable and enlightening.
4. Assuming a Savior Mentality
A couple was considering relocating to an African country, however a video showed them complaining about not feeling fully welcome.
As footage rolled, it seemed that everywhere they went — the market, for a walk, at a restaurant — they constantly pointed out what needed to be done, how and why.
Resist the urge to lecture. Ask questions instead and you’ll find that people are happy to engage in friendly lively discussions with you as opposed to polite and silent tolerance.
5. Nickel and Dime-ing
What’s a vacation without photos and souvenirs to remember it by?
You can buy African souvenirs at market stalls, arts and crafts shops or from street vendors along the roadside. But no matter where you buy, expect to bargain.
Everyone bargains, including tourists. It can be great fun haggling over prices. But it can be no fun at all if you feel that the seller is out to cheat you big time.
Here’s what to do to be fair to the seller and at the same time not be taken advantage of. Start by offering 45% less than the asking price, then bargain back and forth amicably until you and the seller agree on a price.
6. Ignoring Cultural Rules
Vacation is a time to relax and let loose. For sure. But at the same time you don’t want to do anything that constitutes a flagrant disregard of the social or cultural norms of the country you are visiting.
This includes ways of dressing, especially women, and public display of affection. The further away you move from cities and towns, the more traditional and conservative it gets.
A good rule of thumb is to check out what other people are wearing, and how couples behave in public, tourists and Africans alike. Let that be your guide.
7. Speaking Too Loudly
Maybe it’s human nature to speak a little louder than usual when you’re not sure that someone understands you. Or to speak noticeably slower, or with exaggerated enunciation of words, or worse yet, do all three at the same time.
But speaking this way will actually make people wonder what is wrong with you. If you’re visiting an English-speaking (Anglophone) African country, chances are that most people you run across, especially in cities and towns, will have a good grasp of the English language.
Using a raised voice in normal conversation is jarring on the receiving end. Speaking in a normal tone of voice is always the best way to go.
Now You Know
You are aware of the 7 insensitive attitudes that many people unwittingly take along with them when they visit an African country.
All that’s left now is for you to get on board, fasten your seat belt, relax and enjoy your flight.
When you arrive at Destination Africa, you’ll be met by some of the world’s friendliest, most welcoming people.
And one thing you’ll know for sure is that you won’t be offending your hosts by making any insensitive mistakes. You’ll feel confident and free as you learn about and enjoy all that Africa has to offer.