This past week, all 15 CIEE Gaborone participants embarked on a ten-day road trip for spring break. Accompanied by our fearless leader Bethel, we lounged on the beach and rode ATVs through the Namib Desert dunes in Swakopmund, participated in traditional mokoro (thin, shallow canoe) rides through the Okavango Delta, were thoroughly soaked by Victoria Falls, and viewed lots of local wildlife in Chobe National Park. We returned to Gabs at the end of the week bonded even more closely than before and excited about everything we’d seen and experienced. However, as college students traveling in an unfamiliar region on a tight budget, we encountered a few challenges along the way. Fortunately for any prospective travelers reading this post, we’ve compiled a few tidbits of advice for students looking to see the best of what Sub-Saharan Africa has in the least stressful way possible:
Before leaving for your trip…
- Make sure everyone downloads Venmo, PayPal, CashApp, or another means of sending currency from one person to another.
- Pay a visit to the mall to unlock roaming for your Botswana SIM card if you are traveling to another country. This might be a little pricey, but likely not as pricey as making a call from your U.S. phone.
- Reach out a couple days before you leave to make sure all the accommodations and activities you’ve booked are still good to go. Some places may not notify you if your booking is altered, so the onus is on you to follow up.
- Come equipped with lots of ways to keep yourself entertained during long drives or other downtime. Make a collaborative Spotify playlist to keep group morale high, download movies or TV shows from Netflix, and bring a book or two since your devices will inevitably run out of battery.
- Try obtaining local currency in bulk from an ATM instead of paying for everything by card. This will help you avoid some brutal international transaction fees.
- Speaking of local currency, you will want to have small coins on you at all times. Many rest stops charge travelers to use the bathroom.
- Check your bank account frequently, both to monitor your spending and to make sure you aren’t incurring any suspicious charges.
At your destinations…
- Exercise extra caution with food and water, and try to avoid foods you haven’t consumed before. Nothing puts a damper on your travel experience like a food- or water-borne illness!
- Don’t underestimate how cold the desert can get, particularly near the coast. You may not consider 70 degrees Fahrenheit chilly now, but you will after spending several weeks adjusting to the heat in Gaborone. Pack layers.
- When determining how often to reapply sunscreen, pay more attention to the UV index than the outside temperature. We learned the hard way that even in cooler regions, a UV index of 11 takes mercy on no one.
- Invest in good bug spray or bug wipes. While taking malaria pills is a great precaution, non-threatening mosquito bites can still be a major annoyance.
- Consider bringing a change of clothes with you when participating in water-related activities. You never know when you’ll have the opportunity to go swimming in the Okavango Delta or take a makeshift shower in the mist from Victoria Falls.
- Take some alone time if you need it! Traveling in a large group can be taxing in more ways than one, so be communicative if you’re feeling overwhelmed. There’s no shame in sitting a few group activities out to get back in good spirits.