The Cost of a Trip to Africa

by Hava Buchanan

In 2014, I took the most expensive and amazing vacation of my life. I visited Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia with my best friend. The first time my friend Bahar coaxed me into going on a trip to Africa with her was back in 2012, and I declined. It was a $6,000 or $7,000 trip, and that wasn’t even including the flight. As badly as I wanted to go, I couldn’t possibly allow myself something so extravagant. She went off to Mozambique and Tanzania, and I wistfully clicked through her Facebook albums, telling myself that I would get there someday.

The opportunity to go to Africa again came up last year, and she asked me if I’d like to go on a four-week tour of southern Africa. This time I wasn’t going to miss out, but I had to weigh the costs: With my salary and vacation time, I could only afford to go on the last leg of the trip. It would be a quick 10-day tour of Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia. The last leg of the trip was also the priciest, but it included a hike to Victoria Falls, which according to Wikipedia is the world’s largest sheet of falling water. This was enticing enough for me, and I quickly said yes.

Here is the total cost of a 10-day trip:

Geotours tour package for 10 days, not including flight: $1,925. It was originally $2,290, but I got an early registration credit ($40), and a $25 credit for signing up with a friend, so yay! I paid out the remaining balance in three monthly installments, which helped cushion some of the costs. I paid for this out of my Special Savings Account I reserve specifically for vacations and emergencies.

Flight from Los Angeles to Windhoek, Namibia: $2,230. OUCH. This was by far the biggest expense of the trip. I’ve never dropped that much money all at once. I took many deep breaths and said a little prayer before I clicked the purchase button. This also came out of my special savings account. And this was one of the cheaper flights to South Africa! There aren’t very many carriers there, and they don’t have many competitors, so I wanted to pay for the tickets before the price escalated. For reference, I bought them seven months before the trip, so depending on how good you are at the airline ticket game, you may have better luck than I did.

Renewing passport: $110: This was fairly painless. I did it at the post office and it took about 30 minutes.

New passport photo: $8. Bought at Walgreens.

Binoculars: Free! Gift from dad.

Yellow Fever Vaccine, Hepatitis A shot: Free! Another gift from dad. When asked if I preferred a new camera or money to pay for my vaccines, I chose the latter. Shit’s EXPENSIVE. The yellow fever vaccine and Hepatitis shot would have added up to $230. In retrospect, I should have taken the camera upgrade, since some of the far away shots of birds and elephants didn’t turn out as well with my 8-year-old Canon.

Malaria pills: $10. Thanks, Blue Cross co-pay! Although one of my least expensive purchases, this one ended up causing me the most misery. I had dizzy spells and nausea for weeks after I came back.

Tampons: $11.43. Because I always get my period on vacation.

Airport water: $3. The only thing I bought during the agonizing 24-hour flight from LAX to Windhoek. Paid in British pounds. At least all the airplane booze was free!

Withdrawal from ATM at Windhoek: $300. At this point the math starts to get fuzzy, since most of my purchases in Africa at this point were cash only. I only kept a few of the receipts with me, so let’s just assume that I spent most of my money on food and drinks that was not included in the package tour.

The receipts I found:

Two bottles of South African Wine: $44. Excelsior, made in South Africa, and is DELICIOUS. They have the Cabernet available at Total Wine for $8. The second bottle was something called Black Shiraz, and I don’t know how it tastes because it was a souvenir for my dad. He still hasn’t opened it.

Wooden tiger head pens: $7.12 cents. Souvenirs for my co-workers.

Silver ring, two postcards and a bird scarf: $20.30. Souvenirs for me.

Coffee cup and saucer: $15. Another souvenir for dad.

Two necklaces: $10? Souvenirs for my sister.

Wooden salad tongs $10. Souvenirs for friends.

Miscellaneous snacks: ???? Probably $25 altogether.

Spaghetti Bolognese with fancy beer: $15. Most of the food that I ate was included with the cost of the trip, and consisted mostly of steaks and potato type dishes. This was the token American-eating-comfort-food-abroad type meal.

Burger and fries: $12 Eaten at a Karaoke/lunch joint.

Artichoke pizza and South African beer: $10 We waited almost an hour and a half for our food to come. SO HANGRY.

Vegetable sandwich and Coke: $8. Yet more American food. There was a lot of that here.

Visas for Zambia and Zimbabwe: $40. Once you cross the Zimbabwe border, you are required to get a Visa for Zambia. We waited in line for over an hour before we got in.

Victoria Falls Activities: $350. This included riding a helicopter over Victoria Falls, riding an elephant, and walking with lions. All three of these were pretty damn cool, but I was most excited about walking with the lions. There were a couple of one-year-old cubs that the local guides were trying to re-introduce back into the wild. We were allowed to walk behind them (so they won’t try to hunt you) and carry a big stick (to distract them if they gazed at you too long). Here is a picture of me simultaneously overjoyed and scared out of my mind.

I TOUCHED HER.

Tour guide driver’s tip: $50 I hope I gave him enough! In general you should tip your drivers $2–3 dollars a day. Our driver was an awesome dude who’s been driving for nearly 15 years. He was my favorite. I gave him my email address so that we could exchange pictures of wildlife. But I still haven’t received an email from him.

Money left over after the exchange rate: $33.58

Total trip cost: $4,913.85

“Africa” by Toto stuck in my head the entire time: Priceless

Hava is a semi-occasional writer and she likes to make lists. She also blogs about Pulitzer Prize-winning books. Follow her on Twitter. She lives near Los Angeles, Calif.