World traveler Imani Bashir shares her tips and tricks for getting around the motherland for the first time. 
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Father and son walk through an open air African Market
Credit: Noa Denmon

As travel becomes more accessible, Black families are creating plans to get out and experience the world like never before. Cultural experiences have been the main reason that Black families have prioritized travel on their list of activities. And since the Year of Return to Ghana back in 2019, which commemorated the 400th anniversary of the first set of enslaved ancestors to set foot in the state of Virginia, more Black families are focusing on travel to the continent of Africa.

While plans are being made, it is important to note that the continent is vast and there are more than 54 countries to choose from. If you're going for the first time, here are some tips to help you get started on your future travel plans to the motherland.

What Vaccinations You'll Need

As the pandemic continues globally, each country will have its own protocols for required testing, vaccinations, etc. In addition, information changes rapidly, so it is important to stay on top of alerts from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) as well as each country's government website. As Black people, it's important to do our due diligence to ensure that we are traveling and not negatively affecting communities abroad.

With a shortage of COVID vaccines in various areas outside of the United States, if you need the vaccine, it's strongly suggested to get it where you live. The mandates for entering African countries vary. For example, if you're traveling to Ghana, you must be fully vaccinated and present a negative PCR test taken within 72-hours of departure for anyone in your party who is over the age of 18. However, if you're traveling to Senegal and are fully vaccinated, you do not need to present a negative PCR test. But, if you're traveling to Egypt, not only do you need a negative PCR test, it must have a QR code. Therefore, it's vital to research each specific country ahead of time.

Besides the COVID vaccine, many African countries suggest that travelers get vaccinated for yellow fever. If you're coming from a region where yellow fever is prevalent, it may then be a required vaccine when traveling within other countries on the continent. For a full list of required vaccines for your destination, use the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Travelers Health directory.

What Documents You'll Need

Having a valid passport book is essential for traveling to Africa. A passport card will not be accepted. But the expiration date of your passport isn't the only important requirement to pay attention to. In order for your passport to be valid, it also must have at least six months before expiration and two to three full passport pages left that say "visa" at the top.

A visa is additional permission that countries give to travelers before they can enter. Although, as Americans, we may enter hundreds of countries without a visa, there are many countries where a visa is required. Some countries, like Egypt, grant a visa on arrival. Others, such as Kenya, require an electronic visa that travelers  have to go online and apply for.

In other countries, such as South Africa, visitors are not required to have a visa; you are only allowed to stay for 90 days. Travelers should keep in mind that there are similar ranges, between 30 and 90 days, for every country in Africa. 

What Families Will Need to Prepare For

Now that you have everything necessary to get into Africa, it may be hard to decide where to go. Keep in mind that Africa is huge and flying from Morocco to South Africa covers the same flight time as flying from Chicago, Illinois, to Morocco.When planning your flight:

  • Plan additional days to account for jet lag upon arrival. It often takes a couple of days for travelers to adjust to changing time zones.
  • Try booking a direct, nonstop flight so that kids will be less antsy. Layovers often make kids ask, "Are we there yet?" which can only exacerbate travel anxiety for all. And if those flight options are unavailable or out of the budget, pick a longer day layover to see an additional city or a shorter night layover so you all can get back on the plane and rest.
  • Take a foldable wagon. For kids who are too big for a stroller but still have little legs, a foldable wagon is a great way to transport them through the airports, train stations, museums, etc.

Where To Go 

Deciding what countries to go to will be a matter of preference. Are you going for the culture, for the weather, a family bucket list, or all of the above?

Many Black families like to venture into countries like Ghana, Senegal, or other African nations in the West in attempts to retrace and reclaim their roots from the atrocity of the transatlantic slave trade. Others love the history and structures that come from Egypt. 

But what many people don't realize is that Africa offers the best tropical destinations as well. Countries like Mauritius, Seychelles, and Kenya have some of the best beaches in the world. Meanwhile, Tanzania, South Africa, Malawi, Rwanda, and Uganda would be fantastic if you'd like to go on a safari with the kids.

To get the most out of your time, consider what destinations are an accessible traveling distance from each other. For example, if you're headed to Cairo, you should also plan to travel to other cities, such as Aswan and Luxor or Sharm el-Sheikh and Alexandria. If you're going to South Africa, visiting Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, or other cities within the country would cover a lot of your trip, but you can also venture into Lesotho or Swaziland, which are countries within South Africa. This is also true for Senegal, which houses Gambia from within.

To have the privilege of traveling with your family to the continent of Africa is such an exciting time for all. It's always good to remember to have an open mind, patience, and a willingness to learn. Across the continent, the cultures and customs are plentiful, giving you and your family an opportunity to truly feel at home, away from home.