Making Africa Affordable

Our resident adventurer learns a new trick.

By Bill Wiatrak September 18, 2015

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This is my sixth trip to Africa. In my twenties, I navigated a sizable portion of the continent via buses, trains and hitchhiking. I camped in rural areas and stayed in hostels. On a later trip, I rented a car, drove across South Africa, and got stuck in sand trying to make it across an obscure Mozambique border crossing. I think I’ve used every possible mode of transport to get around this remarkable continent.

The most exciting part of Africa is exactly what you’d imagine: being in the wilderness and seeing lions, elephants and rhinos. Most of the greatest safari adventures are concentrated on the southern and eastern parts of the continent. The biggest challenge, of course, is getting to a given park, getting around once you’re there, having a place to sleep, and finding food to eat. There’s plenty of safari companies that will solve all those problems for you, but it comes at a price. Game lodges can charge $500 to $1,000 per night to get you around and make sure you have a safari experience. By the time you add up all the expenses, you might decide that your dream trip should stay a dream.

Backpackers and other budget travelers circumvent some of the fluff and keep costs low by hitchhiking or using public transport, staying in hostels and eating street food. This can save hundreds of dollars a day, but there are obvious risks to consider, of course. Moreover, it takes a long time to get anywhere, since you’re often at the mercy of others. It can be difficult to get to remote areas, and you have very little control over your comfort and schedule.

On this summer’s trip to Africa, though, I made a discovery that I’d like to share with you. I rented a camping-equipped truck, and in my opinion, it’s the only way to travel in this part of the world (if you’re not on an Abercrombie & Kent budget). Whoever put this truck together left nothing to chance. It’s a home away from home that you can take anywhere, and it provides all the comfort you can handle. The greatest thing: it’s not very expensive.

The truck itself was a late-model 4-wheel-drive with towing bar, compressor, side exhaust for high water, special jacks to help you get unstuck in sand, and a double diesel tank to get you 600 miles between fill-ups. You can’t help but feel a little invincible on bad roads.

The piece d’ resistance is the tent on top. It folds into a four-by-eight-foot bundle 18 inches tall and sits firmly attached to a stainless-steel floor built on top of the truck. To set it up, you unzip the cover, slide open the built-in ladder, and pull down. That’s it. It’s impossibly easy. No tent stakes, no poles. It’s camping magic! You can leave your bedding inside.

It gets better though: this isn’t a consumer tent like you’d buy at Academy. It’s built to be used continuously through harsh conditions. It doesn’t leak in the worst of rainstorms. The first night I slept in mine, a literal monsoon happened in the middle of the night. The flooding was so bad, the flip-flops I’d left out were carried 20 feet away from the truck, and guess what? The tent didn’t budge an inch, and there wasn’t a drop of water in side. (Acutally, I was so excited about being out of range of hungry lions, flash floods never entered my mind.)

The side doors effortlessly open upward like a safari-esque Lamborghini to give you easy access to your gear, and they lock up like Fort Knox to keep your stuff safe and out of sight. There’s a gas stove that comes with enough fuel to cook for two weeks in the wilderness. A state-of-the-art refrigerator slides out on a panel and has its own battery to keep drinks and groceries ridiculously cold.

When you open the back of the truck, two four-foot drawers slide out, giving you access to your groceries and kitchen utensils. The truck comes with skillets, pans, cutlery, bowls, can openers—basically, anything you need to cook or eat with is included with your rental. There’s a giant water tank that works with compressed air to supply you with water to wash dishes, rinse off or make coffee. If you run out of air pressure, no problem! Just connect the portable compressor in the back.

Yesterday I drove on some of the worst roads I’ve ever seen. I was in Chobe National Park in Botsawana. The park is nothing but sandy tracks. We got off the main road, and in spite of the power of the truck, got stuck in some deep sand. No one knew where we were. There were wild animals everywhere, and we couldn’t be sure there wasn’t a lion waiting behind the grass to pounce on us. We used the axe in the truck to chop some branches, the industrial jack to get the tires up, and the shovel to dig out the sand. If we couldn’t get out of the sand, we could have set up our tent, enjoyed cold drinks, cooked dinner and waited for someone to notice we were missing… Now that’s a great truck.

What does it cost? About $100 to 125 per day. You can drop it off in another city or country if you’d like, for less than the cost of flying there. The campgrounds in Africa are full of curious animals and fun travelers. In my opinion, it’s impossible to have a better time traveling any other way. You can get more info at

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