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FAQ – Overland Travel In Africa And The Middle East

How About Africa? I Can’t Imagine Overland Travel Is Good There.

Africa is a massive continent, so obviously it’s going to vary from country to country, but by and large, if you are traveling on a budget, overland travel is going to be long and difficult at times. Some countries will surprise you, and there are plenty of options, though, so not all hope is lost, but traveling in a region like Africa is just harder than other areas of the world. If traveling around a good portion of Africa, chances are you are going to use a combination of all these methods to get around.

  • Train travel is a great way to get around Africa, where it’s available. Train service is rather spotty in some countries but great in others. If you choose to go the cheapest route and get 3rd class, you get what you pay for. While the cultural experience will be great, the comfort level will not, so if you have the cash to buck up for 1st or 2nd class, do it, especially for an overnight journey. Another thing to keep in mind is that trains (and all public transport for that matter) in Africa run on their own schedules, so patience and a smile is necessary.
  • Bus travel is much the same as train travel. Spotty and inconsistent. You can find some decent buses with reclining seats and air con in some countries, but in others it’s old European buses or minibuses that cram as many people as possible in. It’s hot, it’s crowded, and it’s dusty. Bus travel in the more wealthy African nations is not too bad, where many roads are sealed, and it’s much safer and more comfortable. But in poorer countries, the buses are worse, the roads are worse, and it’s simply not going to be very pleasant. No matter what type of bus you’re on, expect inconsistent scheduling and a slow go of it. Again, patience and a smile are key.
  • Shared Taxis are another way to go in Africa and sometimes aren’t any more expensive than buses and trains, but don’t think they won’t pile the people in like 3rd class trains and minibuses. If you’re willing to pay, of course, you can have a more comfortable journey with less people. While comfort may not be different, the journey should be much quicker.
  • Hitchhiking is an option in some countries and is actually a legit way to get around certain places. Do your homework, though, as hitching is always a risk. Sometimes you simply don’t have any other options than hopping in the back of a truck going down the road. In some places, you’ll be expected to pay if you hop in someone else’s ride, though in others there are plenty of people willing to give you a lift for free.
  • Boat travel is still a viable mode of transport around certain regions of Africa, across lakes and up and down rivers. There are cargo boats that become very cramped and overcrowded, but for a fee you can upgrade to a cabin. Other types of boats and ferries are also available in certain areas of Africa. Traveling by boat is a great way to see a country, but comfort levels can be poor.
  • Buying a Car is probably your most comfortable option for traveling around Africa, but it’s also going to be the most expensive (with plenty of bureaucratic headaches to go along with it). You can actually purchase a car for cheap in many places in Africa, but if you’re not handy, this probably isn’t the best route to go. Worrying about insurance, border crossings (and constant bribes), and the frustrating carnet de passage (which is basically a vehicle passport necessary for driving your own vehicle in Africa) all make driving your own car a pain, but the freedom and comfort you gain might be worth it.
  • Hiring or Renting a Car is another option that offers one freedom and comfort, but it comes at a cost. With the exception of South Africa, where you can actually rent a car for as low as $30/day, most of the rest of the continent charges exorbitant rates for car rental, with $100 daily rates not uncommon.

Is It More Of The Same In The Middle East?

Overland transport options throughout the Middle East are similar to Africa, but the comfort and conditions of the roads, buses, and trains seem to be a bit better overall.

  • Buses are the best and most efficient way to get around the Middle East. Like any region, bus and road conditions vary from country to country, but most are more comfortable than you would imagine. The one common complaint is the noise level in buses, as drivers and local passengers tend to enjoy really loud videos no matter how long the journey. So don’t plan on getting much sleep if you are taking an overnight bus. If crossing borders, most bus companies have international routes, but be prepared for lengthy delays going through customs. For those routes that don’t offer border crossings, it’s not difficult to exit the bus at the border, clear customs, and hop on another one in the new country.
  • Trains on the whole are more comfortable, but the rail network in the Middle East is not very good. Trains tend to be much slower than buses though around the same price. There are only a handful of international routes in the region, and if you do find a good train route, make sure to book in advance.
  • Boat travel in the region is typically limited to ferry services, and the comfort level is not high, even when you go with the highest class of tickets. They are extremely crowded, can get very hot, and food and drink service is spotty at best. With any overland transport no matter the part of the world, it’s a good idea to come with food and drink.
  • Renting or hiring a car is possible in the Middle East, but if you have never driven internationally, or you aren’t extremely comfortable behind the wheel of a car, you probably want to pass. It sometimes costs the same to hire a driver than it does to rent your own car, so consider that option if you want more freedom.
  • Hitchhiking is quite similar to in Africa. It is done, but not in the western sense of the word. Hitchhikers are expected to pay whoever they hop in a car with, and this is seen as a sort of extension of the public transportation system, though completely unregulated. Locals hitch rides often, and though it’s uncommon for western travelers, it can be done. As always with hitchhiking, exercise caution and use common sense.

For more specific information about Overland Travel In Africa and the Middle East, be sure to check out this article.

Also make sure you read the FAQ’s for specific information on overland travel in each region of the world:

FAQ – Overland Travel In The Americas
FAQ – Overland Travel In Europe
FAQ – Overland Travel In Russia And Central Asia
FAQ – Overland Travel In India
FAQ – Overland Travel In China And Southeast Asia
FAQ – Overland Travel In Australia And New Zealand

Next RTW FAQ-Overland Travel in Europe »

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