Despite how weird this may sound, one of my favorite things about being in Southern Africa is traveling. Not the being-in-a-different-country part of traveling (although this is obviously quite wonderful as well), but the actual state of being in transit part of traveling.
The bus always breaks down, you are always squished and forced to smell incredibly strong body odor for far too long, and everyone just looks at you and laughs because foreigners typically do not take this kind of public transportation.
If you study abroad in Botswana, you will definitely be traveling often, so here are a few things I’ve learned from my past two trips going to Manzini, Swaziland and Harare, Zimbabwe.
- Do you know someone who lives where you want to go? Does someone know someone? A friend of a friend of a friend? Don’t be afraid to reach out! Foreigners are usually quite happy to meet fellow foreigners. In addition, living in a home rather than a hostel typically provides a much more authentic experience, AND you get automatic tour guides. In both Swaziland and Zimbabwe, I stayed with expats whom I’d never met before, but knew through a friend of a friend and had a wonderful experience.
- Calculate the travel time prior to departure. Then add at least 2 hours to that time. Again, the bus ALWAYS breaks down. Maybe I am just cursed. I always just give a whole day to traveling, since it usually takes about that long to get anywhere anyway. You always want more time rather than less! Also, make sure you know what you are doing once you arrive at your location. Are you taking a taxi, connecting to another bus, or is someone picking you up? Taking one of the taxis hawking at you around the bus door would be my absolute last option, especially when you’re traveling alone. When I came back from Harare alone, I was arrive in the Gaborone bus rank at 2:30am and forgot to make transport arrangements back to UB. Thank God for really a kind cab driver friend who woke up at 2am to pick me up!!
- Be friendly and open to fellow passengers. (But not too open…creeps are still everywhere.) Don’t be afraid to ask questions! I’ve met so many cool people on buses. Most people are very kind and helpful. I traveled to Harare alone and by the time I arrived in Harare, I had people making sure I knew where I was getting off and had someone picking me up. They translated the Shona for me without me even asking. I truly doubt I would have made it to Harare as smoothly had I not made friends on the bus ride along the way!
- Travel light! For obvious reasons. No one cares if you re-wear a shirt once. Or even twice. When the bus broke down on the way to Harare, I was able to get on another bus within the hour because I only had a carry-on sized backpack!
My travel buddy, Elle. Early wake up calls (get to the combi early because combis don't leave until they're full!) equal coffee. But only if you won't have to pee because then everyone would just hate you.
Be open to letting anything happen and you will learn to love traveling days just as much as the exploring days! One last tip: If you have access to facial wipes, bring them along. It is ridiculous how dirty these combis and buses are and no one wants their face breaking out for pictures!!