How to survive your summer road trip

With the hustle and bustle on the roads these holidays, who better to ask how to deal with the silly season than one of Tracks4Africa’s experts? By Arnold Ras

Ask one of Tracks4Africa’s data processing experts about travelling through Africa and an encyclopaedia of knowledge is bestowed upon you. Lizette Swart’s passion for the continent, its people and its destinations is contagious. If you’re still uncertain where Africa’s roads will lead you this holiday season, here’s some much-needed travel inspiration straight from the source.

Roads are especially busy this time of year. Is it better to take back roads to avoid the summer crowds?

I am all for alternative routes and it does not have to be off-road, just the road less travelled. Getting there should be part of the experience. You can even break the trip into shorter days with interesting overnight stops. Look for intriguing places along your route (the T4A guide app is great for this) and stop often.

A Kgalagadi sunrise near Mata Mata. Pictures by Lizette Swart

Your secrets to surviving border crossings in Africa?

Be respectful and friendly – these officers are only doing their jobs. A smile and a chat are often rewarded with faster service. Remember, you are no longer in your own country. Treat the locals with respect. Also, be prepared and make sure all your paperwork is in order.

Most countries in Africa will accept US$ as payment. Make sure you have some dollars in smaller denominations to settle border fees if you cannot get hold of the local currency. Don’t try to exchange money with the “runners” at the border – you may come short. Rather travel to the first ATM and withdraw cash once you arrive in the new country.

“Some border posts are open until late (or even 24 hours), but as it is not recommended to travel at night in Africa, I often cross a border very early in the morning when it is not so busy.” – Lizette Swart

Domwe Island at Lake Malawi

You don’t hit the road without…

My passport and paperwork for my vehicle – these things are always with me, so I can travel at a moment’s notice. My fridge to keep drinks cold and a small gas stove to make myself a quick cup of coffee along the road. Ice and good coffee are scarce in Africa! My camera, zoom lens and binoculars. Last but not least, my tablet with all my reference guides (apps for birds, mammals, reptiles, trees, frogs), reading app, navigation tool, and research material. I also use my tablet to make voice notes as I often travel alone. What on Earth I did before smartphones, I don’t know.

A common sight in Malawi

Which T4A navigation product is your favourite and why?

I always have the GPS maps on my Garmin, and also on my smartphone. But my favourite is the T4A Guide App for smart phones. When travelling on my own, I never book camps ahead unless I’m going to parks with limited space and booking is essential. I generally have a plan in my head, with new places I would like to explore. If I’ve had enough for the day, I start looking for a place to overnight. The app shows your GPS position on a map, and you can turn on the icons for a campsite, lodge, fuel, restaurant, or other attractions. When you click on the icon you get more information on the camp, with contact details, etc.

Your favourite destinations for a summer break in Africa?

People often ask me this question… I still don’t have an answer. I travel to explore new destinations, but with equal frequency return to previously visited places such as Moremi Game Reserve or the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. At heart, I’m a true bush baby and love the wilderness of the Okavango Delta, but would not recommend tackling this destination in the hot and humid summer months. Summer in Africa is no joke and one needs to be prepared for extreme temperatures.

Some other much-loved destinations?

  • If you can survive summer’s humidity, I love the long white beaches and excellent scuba diving in Mozambique. I prefer to head north of Inhambane where it is less busy than at Tofo, Xai-Xai and the popular beaches south of Maputo.
  • Cape Maclear on the southern edge of Lake Malawi. If the village itself is too busy, book a few nights on Mumbo or Domwe islands, kayak on the lake and snorkel or scuba with the colourful cichlids (freshwater fish).
Ilha do Mozambique

What makes Africa so special?

The vast open spaces, diverse scenery, the fascinating wildlife, and the welcoming, friendly people. I always warn my guests that the red African dust will get into eyes, your ears, your nose and your lungs – but be warned, once it gets it into your blood, it will never leave and you will keep coming back for more.

Africa is a tough continent, but in spite of the tough conditions, people keep going, day after day after day. I simply admire the tenacity of Africa’s people.

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