For those of you dreaming of backpacking in Africa, I must share an overall observation/opinion—it’s more expensive than you’d think. Here are a few specifics that I’ve experienced along the way:
Destinations of interest are often located just far enough apart that you must weigh the benefits of a pricey flight against a 12+ hour overcrowded bus ride that drops off in a not-so-safe part of town after dark. As female travelers, we cannot put a price on safety, but it would be helpful to know this going in so each swipe of the credit card for a flight doesn’t feel like a direct punch to the gut.
While hostels exist, they are fewer and further between than their South American or SE Asian brethren, and the most basic accommodations will often run around double the cost for a night (~$25/person).
Everyone expects a tip—especially that guy who grabbed your bag and refused to give it back as you exited the ferry terminal. To the tune of $5. Nope, not from this girl. I carry my own stuff.
Almost every country charges Americans a hefty visa fee ($100+), which apparently we’ve brought upon ourselves. Dang border patrol.
Most places in Tanzania prefer to deal in American dollars versus Tanzanian schillings (TZS). While the going bank rate for TZS is 1,550 to $1, many restaurants, hotels, etc. will charge up to 1,700 for $1 for the “convenience” of accepting the local currency. Quite backwards.
Finally, many of the “must-do/big ticket” activities such as a week-long safari and trekking Kilimanjaro will easily set you back between $1,000 to $3,000.
I will say that every penny spent here in Africa has been well worth the cost. However, it wouldn’t hurt to be prepared to spend a few more pennies than you’d initially expect.