Traveling solo and on a budget in Tanzania
In 2012 I spent 40 days bakcpacking alone in Tanzania. Backpacking for me is a lifestyle, it’s a way of traveling that allows you to interact more with locals (by sharing the same bus and eating at the same places) and it’s also the only option when you are traveling for some time and you don’t have a lot of money.
Africa is not cheap to travel, it’s not like Asia at all, but there are some tricks that can help you spend as little as possible. Rooms in cheap hotels cost from 5 to 15 USD, and I managed to spend about 30-40 dollars per day (with food and transportation).
So, as I mentioned before, backpacking is a way to travel saving some money. If you go on a tour planned from home it’s going to be more expensive because someone is going to plan it for you and there are more people involved. Backpacking means that you plan your holiday, book your tickets, look for the best options. It’s time and energy consuming, you need to do a lot of research and it’s not a relaxing holiday, but it’s a time of exploration and discovery.
When backpacking the transportation net is key. Backpacking in Tanzania is quite easy from this point of view. There are many buses that connect the various locations in the country. Usually it’s enough to book a ticket the day before (so normally when I arrive at a new town, if I’m only staying one night as soon as I get at the bus station I enquiry for the bus to my next destination) or the same morning. When there are many buses doing the same itinerary, often they don’t leave until they are full, so sometimes you have to wait for hours before departing. Long-distance buses leave very early, at sunrise, because they have to be at their destination before sunset.
Traveling on local buses has its risks. It’s not 100% safe; well, no transportation is, but bus drivers in Tanzania can be crazy, they drive very fast in rough roads and I did fear for my life a couple of times. But you are sharing it with locals, so if everything goes well, it’s a nice experience. In 2012 they were building new roads with the Chinese help, so I guess now things have changed and it might be easier and safer to travel around.
This is very important in Tanzania. Checking prices before you buy anything is very important.
It’s something in Europe we are not used to, but even bus tickets don’t have a fix price, different companies doing the same itinerary might apply different rates, and they surely will try to overcharge you if their prices are not on sight.
I usually asked at the reception of my hotel how much a bus fare to my next destination would cost. They often knew. So when I went to the station I already knew how much I had to pay and this prevented me from being scammed (see this article on negotiating in Tanzania for more info).
I even did a safari, which of course was quite expensive, but nothing compared to what you would pay if planning from home: 480 USD for a 5 day safari. It took me some research and bargaining in Arusha, but I managed to pay what I was eager to spend.
Eat at local restaurants
Often when I travel I have some street food for lunch and something more significant for dinner, to save money. Tanzania is not the best place for this, there aren’t many street food options. I often ate omelette with potatoes for lunch and rice with vegetables for dinner. It’s not like how I imagine Mexican food is, in Tanzania there aren’t many cheap option.
The best place for food, in term of variety and price, is Stone Town. There are a few restaurants that are not expensive and serve good food and many different dishes. In Kendwa on the opposite I only found one local restaurant, and I sometimes had to spend 8 dollars at the resort’s restaurant for dinner. Or ate only chips (which is not healthy).
Anyway there are three types of restaurants in Tanzania: the one that is just someone’s house, that serve food on their frontdoor, where you can have breakfast for 0,25 euro and ugali for little more (often ugali is their only option for lunch and dinner); local restaurants where you can eat for 1,50 euro and pricier restaurants for wealthy locals or travelers. I did eat once in one of these, but I was always quite happy with the first two types of restaurants, where the choice of food is really minimal, but the quality is good.
Accomodation was ok most of the times, there are hostels or cheap hotels everywhere. Hostels were my first option if there was one, because they are decently clean, dorms are cheap and they are a good place to meet fellow travellers that often have nice stories to tell.
Only in Kilwa I ended up in a very poor room, but this is because at the time there weren’t many other options in town, just high end resorts.
While backpacking in Tanzania I always chose my accomodation from the Lonely Planet; I don’t know, maybe today booking.com is also a good place to find accomodation.
I have never booked in advance, I was traveling in May and June and there weren’t many tourists around, in particular in the Mainland. The only time I had trouble finding a place was in Masasi, there didn’t seem to be any cheap option, I think I paid about 20 dollars that time.
So, even though Tanzania is not Asia, you don’t have to spend a fortune to travel there. If you live like a local or almost, you can spend about 30-40 dollars per day, including accomodation, food and buses.