My first tip: bring cash in USD.
So far, between Jamie and I, we have been to Malawi, Botswana, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Being American, every one of these countries makes you pay for your entry visa in USD (same is true for Europeans). The visas, as of right now, range between $50-100 per visa, but those prices are subject to change. You will also need to tip the people who provide you with service, such as the car service hire, housekeepers, tour guides, etc. Most African countries, with the exception of South Africa, accept USD, so bring plenty. ATMs are scarce or non-existent. And DON’T put cash or anything valuable in any luggage, especially luggage you check at the airport. Carry it in the bag you always have on you.
Tip #2: Pay attention to your travel path to minimize the amount of money you are spending on visas.
Most of what I learned on how to travel between countries was from the experience of our Victoria Falls/Chobe trip we did in September. We flew a round trip flight from South Africa to Zambia, and in between drove from Zambia to Botswana. In hindsight, I wouldn’t have done it this way. We had to pay $50 each for the visa to enter Zambia initially. Then when we crossed the border to Botswana, we had to pay another $50 for that visa. Then, because we were flying back out of Zambia, we had to pay another $50 to get back into Zambia, only to go to the airport. What we should have done was fly into Zambia, then fly home from Kasane, Botswana. That also would have saved us time on the drive back to Zambia.
Tip #3: hire a service to drive you where you need to go, DO NOT rent a car and drive yourself.
I cannot stress this one enough. When we drove from Zambia to Botswana, we hired a driver to pick us up from the lodge in Zambia. He drove us to the river, which is the border of Zambia and Botswana. We then got on a “river taxi” who drove us across the river with all our bags. Then another driver in a safari truck, picked us up on the Botswana side and drove us to the lodge in Botswana. If we didn’t have the driver in Zambia, we would not have known where the immigration office was, which ended up being a little shack on the river port, or how to manage to get our Botswana visa there. Similarly, we had no idea we had to transfer to a river taxi then to a safari truck. And, we wouldn’t have known how to get to the lodge in Botswana. There were NO road signs, just one little highway. But the lodge was on a dirt road that was really just a trail edged out through the trees. NO road lights and elephants and other wild animals crossing the roads and all that. We would have never found the place. All 3 of the drivers had our names on a list and knew to look for us and waited for us. It was actually well executed considering how hectic the river port was.
Tip #4: be aware of your surroundings and where your valuables are at all times.
I am not saying the next bit to scare you, but carry your valuables in an unassuming bag, such as a backpack and try not to let it out of your site. By valuables I mean passport, jewelry, cash, etc. If you have diamond jewelry or gold jewelry, leave it at home or make sure it is not visible when you are in questionable areas. When we were at the river port on the Zambia/Botswana border, I turned my engagement ring around and carried Jamie’s and my valuables in my backpack. I always had my backpack with me. Even in South Africa, when I drive I turn my ring around. You just never know. Don’t let fear ruin your trip, just be aware of everything around you.