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Africa Travel Planner
Always check travel warnings from official sources, like the U.S. State Department, before you travel to any foreign country. Basic, common-sense notions will help prevent petty thievery and other crime. Here, our experts give their top tips.
Be aware of your surroundings:"Remember that you're a visitor from one of the world's wealthiest countries traveling in one of the poorest places on earth," says Jennifer Lawson, who produced a TV series on Africa for National Geographic. "Travel as lightly and as modestly as possible, without flashy expensive jewelry, gadgets, and lots of luggage and bags."
Don't dangle camera bags or purses on the back of a restaurant chair:You'll invite snatching. Carry only small bags that can be stowed on your lap during dinner or tucked away in your front pants pocket.
Use a waistband pouch: In pouches you can safely stash money, credit cards, a passport, and airline tickets close to your body, where it's less likely to be snatched. "If you lose everything else, you can still eat, get home, and fly without difficulty," says Christine Dolan, who's taken more than 50 safaris.
Watch your belongings:Most thieves can snatch in seconds. Store equipment on your lap or in a bag with the strap wrapped around your wrist or ankle. Count your bags as they are loaded onto airport vans.
Avoid political gatherings or protests:Be smart—even if you're curious, stay away. Both can turn violent quickly.
Don't walk around at night with your hands full: Heavy bags slow you down and make you unable to react quickly. Check with your hotel or a trusted local on the safest way to travel at night.
Avoid drugs, alcohol, and unprotected sex:Drugs and alcohol hinder your judgement. Unprotected sex—always a serious risk—is a game of Russian roulette in a continent where the AIDS epidemic is at its worst.
Don't hitchhike:Contrary to advice in some backpacker guidebooks, hitchhiking in Madagascar or any other African country is a dangerous risk. Only rely on transport recommended or provided by your tour operator or hotel.
Listen to and stay with your guide:Animals living in game reserves are wild and unpredictable.
Don't panic if surprised by wildlife: "If you come face to face with a lion, don't panic and don't scream," says Dolan. "The animals are just as scared as you are if caught off guard." Follow instructions from your guide.
Don't push your driver to get too close for that last great photograph: "Don't challenge your driver to prove that it's wise to drive through a pride of lions," says Dolan. "Any interference with nature can do you and the animals possible harm. Don't offer a bigger tip to cross that line."
Respect the animals' space:"Too many times, the viewers forget that they are the intruders," says Dolan. Stay still and keep the distance instructed by your guide.
Don't travel with an unlicensed guide:Check credentials before you book your trip.
Don't make sudden movements: Sudden movements might startle an animal and provoke an attack. Act as your guide advises and keep your movements slow, controlled, and steady.
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