Tanzania is one of the most spectacular places to visit on Earth. The wildlife, landscape, and amazing kindness of the people will capture your heart and leave you longing to return. Here, a number of insider “tips from the trenches” to assist with your travel plans.
Before You Leave the U.S.
Introduce yourself. When you travel with UNITE you will likely visit at least one of our partner organizations — a school, ophanage, clinics, vocational center, village bank, or music and soccer program. Introduce yourself in advance (we can provide you e-mail addresses) and attach a photo or two of you and your family.
Gifts. Chances are you will make loads of friends during your time in Tanzania, whether you’re there for a few days or a few weeks. Be prepared. Small gifts as gestures of friendship are most appreciated. Good ideas include soccer balls (you can carry them over deflated in your luggage with a small pump), frisbees, jump ropes and other games, writing journals and pens, photographs of you and your family, baseball caps or tee-shirts, music, posters, and books. Additionally, ask in advance if they need anything. Most small non-profit organizations have many needs and would very much appreciate such items such as school or office supplies, solar flashlights, specific clothing items, first-aid supplies, etc. If you do pack a second suitcase of donations, which I highly recommend doing, carry a signed letter from the organization clearly stating that the items are for charitable purposes only, not for resale. This may come in handy as you cross through customs.
Get your visa. This will save you time at the airport upon arrival. It costs $100. If you are going to spend any time volunteering, apply for a volunteer visa and not a tourist visa. Visit www.tanzaniaembassy-us.org.
Get vaccinated. To learn about all recommended vaccines, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site. To find a travel health clinic near you, visit http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/travel-clinics.htm.
Choose your malaria prophylaxis carefully. Look at the side effects of the medications and consult your physician and travel clinic. Malarone seems to be most widely tolerated.
Pack appropriately. This means dress respectfully. No short shorts or halter or sleeveless tops, for girls, boys, men, and women. Lightweight slacks, knee-length skirts, clean tee- or collared shirts are best and include a few long-sleeved tops for evenings. Pack closed-toe shoes. The streets are dusty and dirty and your feet are a perfect entry spot for parasites, bugs, and disease.
Pack light. Laundry services are available most everywhere, but keep in mind that drying time depends on the sun. Be respectful and hand wash your own under-garments in your sink and hang to dry overnight. Whether your bag is light or weighs a ton, there will most likely be porters ready to assist with your luggage. Let them, but do not forget to tip!
- A first-aid kit with a course of Cipro, which is a broad-spectrum antibiotic. At the end of your tour, leave what you don’t use with one of your new Tanzanian friends!
- Handi-wipes and tissues. Many “choos” (latrines) in the bush or rural areas will not have paper or water for washing hands
- Binoculars, sun screen & hat
Once You Arrive
Malaria. If you land in Tanzania after dusk, apply mosquito repellent even before disembarking the plane. This is the perfect time for transmission of malaria. Use a repellent with 100 percent DEET. If you run out, a good local repellent is No Bite, available in many pharmacies. Wear long sleeves and long pants at night and sleep under mosquito nets. Symptoms of malaria include flu-like symptoms, fatigue, loss of appetite, chills, fever, headache, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. Test kits and treatment medication are available at many pharmacies in Tanzania. I recommend buying a kit and treatment to bring home with you as malaria can present itself weeks after you arrive stateside.
Food and water. Don’t drink tap water anywhere, ever. Don’t even brush your teeth with it. Do, however, drink plenty of bottled water. Staying hydrated is important. Most travelers’ discomforts, like fatigue, headache, and even stomach issues, are the result of dehydration. And you may be at higher altitudes than you’re used to. Be careful of fruits and vegetables that cannot be peeled as they may have been washed with dirty water. Bananas, papayas, and mangoes are great and yummy options. Stay away from salad unless you are dining in a place that you know is vigilant with hygiene.
Valuables. Do not leave money, cameras, computers, iPods, etc. in your hotel room. Always carry your passport and money on you in a waist or back pack. Many hotels and lodges have in-room or hotel safes you can use for more bulky items.
Language. Most Tanzanians will quickly guess that you’re a visitor and will likely welcome you most as such. Tanzanians are some of the friendliest people on the planet. And while many people speak English (secondary school in Tanzania is taught in English), you can show your respect by trying to speak a bit of Swahili. The effort is always appreciated. Five key words to know:
- Jambo: “hello”
- Asante: “thank you”
- Shikamoo: a word of respect to elders (people of all ages can say shikamoo when they greet any Tanzanian who is older or who is a revered elder in his or her community). They will respond with marahaba
- Pole: This is a word of empathy that you can say when you see someone working hard, suffering, toiling, etc.
- Tafadhali: “please”
In Tanzania, as it is everywhere, “please,” “thank you,” and a little respect go a long way!
Tipping. Tipping is a big deal. Be ready. Carry lots of small bills. USD is appreciated as exchange rates vary. Be ready to tip your porters, waiters, drivers, cleaning crew and hotel staff, translators, hosts, etc. I am a big believer in tipping well for good service. If you run out of cash, there are ATM machines in many of the towns that work great with most debit cards.
Photography. Be polite. If you want to take a photograph of a person, ask permission first. Many people might not like or want to have their pictures taken.
Currency: The Tanzanian currency is the “shilling,” TSh. The rate is ~$1 = 1400-1600 shillings (depending on the exchange rate)
Time: Tanzania is eight hours ahead of EST time. (GMT +3)
Language: The official languages in Tanzania are English and Swahili.
Voltage: Use an Indian or UK plug (230V/50Hz)
Cell phones and texting: There is great cell service in Tanzania. Contact your cell phone provider to see how to get service in Tanzania and to understand the related charges. To call the US from Tanzania, dial 000 +1 before the number.
Top photograph by Remy SIMON and Helene Wallaert.