Live For Your Trip

Live For Your Trip

Here’s a sure fire way to kill yourself: plan your own trip to East Africa.

This is going to sound like the most self-serving blog ever, but I find little solace reporting about the 73 people killed last week when – once again – the ferry between Dar-es-Salaam and Zanzibar capsized.

The ferry is featured in Lonely Planet, in dozens of plan-yourself travel forums, and even in WikiTravel.

It’s pointless to write about the ferry, today, because I would simply be repeating what I wrote about a year ago when the same thing happened.

Do-it-yourself, plan-it-yourself travel to Africa has not quite developed to a safe enough point yet in most of East Africa, and the ferry is the best example. Forums like Lonely Planet are getting better to be sure, but they are also among those that sail right past the news of the day.

On July 8 jpinab entered the Thorn Tree Forum of Lonely Planet and asked for advice about traveling from Zanzibar to Arusha.

After several replies and backpostings, including two which I suspect were actually small local tour company stealthers from Dar, jpinab fortunately decided not to take the Zanzibar ferry.

But was there any discussion about how dangerous they are? About how unreliable they are? How of five ferries scheduled daily rarely 3 actually operate?

No, the discussion was governed by cost. And that’s the same that happens time and again if you move through these travel forums. The preponderance of activity is how to get a good price, and the presumption is that everything is possible at a good price.

That’s crazy. It’s also deadly.

South Africa and Europe are superb places to explore on your own, with forums of helpful individuals that I’ve only rarely found to be completely wrong.

If you’re savvy about forums, if you realize that most of the information from travelers who have been only once or twice to a destination is very limited and usually not true in any general way, then you’ll be careful enough to survey large numbers of remarks panning through a variety of seasons and types of people.

If you take the time to do all that, then I wager you have a pretty good chance of determining something good and safe by yourself.

But not yet in East Africa and the ferry is a good example.

The information I see from independent travelers in East Africa on these forums is saturated with inaccuracies. The most inaccurate of all is the discussion of the “great migration.” It amazes me how travelers who visit a place once in their lives suddenly are experts.

But the inaccuracies about the Zanzibar ferry defy my patience and understanding. I hope the four foreigners killed on the Zanzibar ferry last week didn’t use a travel forum to get there.

Traveling to the Mara in January to see the “migration” is a mistake that you’ll be able well to live with. That’s the point: Live.