Sitting with your eyes closed, you can feel the cool breeze of the evening as the sun sets over Africa, the brilliant red sky turning to black, scattered with a million sparkling stars. On cue, the crickets start chirruping and you breathe out, relaxing into an African night.
But wait, someone is poking you in the arm. “Answer your phone. The rest of us are trying to work here.” Your eyes fly open as you take off the headphones that are plugged into your personal iPhone and reach across to answer your work mobile, with its chirruping ringtone.
“And turn the aircon up a bit, please, it’s cold in here.”
With that, your moment of African peace has dissolved as quickly as a block of ice in a G&T as the sun sets on the Serengeti. You’re back in the office in the middle of the city with your eyes going square as you work on a computer, your ears being assaulted by not only your two mobile phones, but the six desk phones and the twelve other mobiles that your open plan office colleagues possess.
It's time for a break.
Digital Detox Camps
It’s no wonder that ‘Digital Detox Camps’ are becoming popular in the US. Yip, there are camps that you can go to where they lock up your mobiles, your iPads and your laptops and make you play games and sing around a campfire for the weekend.
We've Got A Better Idea, However: Safari in Africa
But wait! There is no need for such things when you come to Africa and go on safari! Many places that safaris visit are wonderfully remote and access to the internet and, often, electricity, is little to non-existent.
In other words, not only do you get to have the once-in-a-lifetime experience of an African safari – with its vast open spaces and incredible game – but you get to have a digital detox too. It’s entirely win-win!
Let’s get down to the facts.
Where To Expect Internet Access While In Africa
While having a complete digital detox is highly desirable, we do realise that people need to be in contact with family (or, at a push, work) while on safari. Internet access is not completely impossible to find in more rural areas and is reasonable-to-good in most urban areas, especially in South Africa.
To get a little geeky about it, and in an effort to explain why internet access is a little sketchy in Africa: it’s because bandwidth is scarce. While fibre is making its way into major metropolitan areas like Johannesburg and Cape Town, most of the rest of Africa is still not hugely connected. In 2007, international connections to the entire African continent added up to about 28 000 Mbit/s. This was, at the time, less than that available to Norway, which was 49 000 Mbit/s.
To put that into perspective, Norway is just over 320 000 km2 with a population of just over 5 million, while Africa covers over 30 000 000 km2 and has a population of over 1 billion. Go figure.
Places To Find Internet Access
In urban areas, like Johannesburg and Cape Town, most hotels and coffee shops now have wifi, mostly for free, but check fees before going online. It’s generally fairly reliable and fast, so if you’ve got big files that need transferring or last-minute work that needs doing, get it done before heading into the bush.
Once in the bush, some camps may have internet access in their main areas, but this can be slow and intermittent. Don’t expect to be streaming movies and downloading megafiles. Besides, it’s digital detox time!
This, too, is relatively good in most of South Africa, but can be intermittent in more remote areas and becomes increasingly intermittent the further north you travel in Africa (other than in urban areas and Kenya, which has good 3G network in most areas). Funnily enough, cellphone reception in some areas is more reliable than electricity supply!
Will My Cellphone/Mobile Work On Safari?
Beside the reception being potentially intermittent-to-absent, it is important to check with your service provider at home – before coming on safari – as to whether your phone will work in the countries you’re visiting and possibly buy an international plan, to save money. Make sure of rates for calls and messages and basic roaming fees. Often, it is cheaper to text than call.
If you’re going to be in the country for an extended period, consider buying a local contract.
The first prize would be to go all-out and leave your devices at home, travelling like people used to just thirty years ago! We realise that’s not an option for most, so what we do is check our phones will work internationally, set them on ‘Airplane’ mode to prevent exorbitant costs and use wifi where it’s available.
Will My Plugs Fit?
Good question. Check out this handy table to find voltages, frequencies and outlet types in the countries you’ll be visiting.
No Need To Panic
While your personal mobile phone may struggle on its safari in Africa, most safari camps – even the really remote ones – have a cellphone or satellite phone in case of emergencies, so you can happily digitally detox, knowing that should you really, really, REALLY need to be in touch with the outside world, you can be. Why would you want to look at a screen if you could look at this fine fellow instead?
If you absolutely can’t part with your screens (but we think you should), be sure to check with your ABS consultant as to whether the camps you’re going to have internet access and be aware that even those that offer it may not be at speeds (or as reliable) as those back home.
We’d recommend going for complete digital detox, if we were you.