Updated: Mar 27, 2020
Planning an epic year of travel throughout Africa and the African Diaspora on a Budget
My destination bucket list is filled with a number of African nations and countries with people of African origin living outside of the continent (to find out why, click here). However, I'm a budget traveler at heart and there is nothing that pains me more than forking over $1000+ on a flight (I'm tryin' to spend that on my entire trip). Between flights, vaccinations, and visas, the places I long to visit most, seem so far out of reach. Yet, with a little strategic planning, travel hacking, and a bit of favor (yup, I'm a strong believer in manifesting and prayer) you and I will find ourselves exploring the beauty of Africa without breaking the bank.
8 Travel Tips for Cheap Flights
Let's begin by mentioning some important, but often overlooked travel hacks, to lower the cost of your vacation regardless of the destination.
1. Travel with flexibility - Google Flights as well as Kayak Explore allows you to play with a number of dates to find the cheapest airline tickets. Additionally, consider visiting destinations during the low season. Low season travel is often less desirable due to weather conditions, however if you book shortly after high season ends or right before it picks up again, you can benefit from many of the perks without the cost or crowds.
2. Search, search, and search - Use a number of flight search engines when looking for the lowest fare. Try Sky Scanner to initiate your search. You will love the destination feature that allows searches of a continent or region, like the Caribbean for example, instead of a specific country or city. The results are then listed from lowest to highest price to help you choose the most budget friendly option. Sky Scanner even allows you to search by "cheapest month" to save you more coins.
Another incredible search engine is the map interface for Kayak Explore. It shows you a world of options, literally, once you set the departing airport, travel days/months, price range, and other parameters. Try using the app to avoid the common loading delays on the mobile website.
A good, old fashion Google flights search can still render the best results since its flight matrix literally changed the travel search game and it is constantly innovating to find the best deals.
Side note: Searching/purchasing on a specific day of the week is valid. 2018 data has shown that people who purchase flights on Sundays pay significantly less than those who purchase on other days of the week for almost all destinations. Farecompare.com argues that Tuesday morning or midday EST will score you the best deals. Additionally, consider purchasing flights on Cyber Monday, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and national holidays to find the least expensive tickets.
3. Shh...Keep it on the down low - Multiple articles and experts state that using incognito or private mode to search and purchase a flight saves money, however some major outlets like Travel and Leisure argue that this is a myth. According to T+L, there are better ways to find cheaper tickets. For example, If you know when you want to fly to a destination, and you're planning with sufficient lead time, they suggest setting up fare alerts on Google Flights, Hopper, or Cheap Air.
Side note: Find flight deals and fare glitches before they sell out by signing up for multiple flight deal websites like Abena's Flight Deals (brought to you by your's truly geared towards inexpensive African travel), Travel Pirates, or Secret Flying.
4. Group trip, anyone? - If you prefer traveling solo, think again when planning a trip to the motherland. In general, adding a friend or two to your adventure will cut down costs for accommodations and ground transportation drastically. Just make sure you can get along with these friends. Far too many relationships have ended over a vacation gone wrong.
Side note: Most popular airlines have discounted and competitive group rates for 10 or more people. The policies vary from airline to airline, so check out a few here : South African Airways, United, American Airlines, British Airways, and Qatar Airways.
5. Buy in person - Depending on the airline, it might benefit you to leave the comfort of your own home and head to the airport to secure your flight. Budget airlines like Frontier and Spirit impose an extra fee on customers purchasing tickets through their website.
6. Get the most out of your layover - Layovers can actually save you money. Not only are these tickets cheaper than direct flights, but they allow you to explore a few other cities along the way to your final destination. You can limit your search for flights of any destination to airlines based in Africa since they often have layovers in their main airport hub (i.e. a flight to Amsterdam on South African Airlines will take you to Johannesburg first, before you hop on a connecting flight to the Netherlands. For more advanced searches, you can use Google Flights multi-city feature to assist with planing.
Side notes: Some airlines offer free perks for extended layovers. Allegedly, Egypt Air will cover your hotel and meals for overnight layovers and/or layovers longer than 8 hrs according to some Trip Advisor forums. This information is not found on their website, so consider calling for more details.
7. Rack up/use those points - Sign up for free loyalty programs. American Airlines, Hilton Hotels, or Marriott/Starwood Hotels to name a few, allow you to enroll in their programs free of charge for rewards that can be applied to future bookings. Book flights and accommodations through a shopping portal like Rakuten (formally Ebates) for cash back on your purchases.
Contrary to popular belief, it is best to stay away from credit cards for the sole purpose of accumulating travel miles/points. The business model incentivizes spending, however creditors make their money knowing that most will accumulate debt and interest that far exceeds any rewards that are paid out.
8. Stay local - once you arrive to your destination, consider Air BnB, homestays, or even Couchsurfing for accommodations. The beauty of these experiences is that you have an opportunity to immerse yourself in the culture, make deeper connections, and save some coins.
4 Budget Friendly Places to visit in Africa and the African Diaspora
Due to well established tourism industries, African international airline carriers, and lower costs of living, some destinations are more likely to be budget friendly than others. If you want to visit Africa and the diaspora but cost is a factor, add the following places to your bucket list.
Johannesburg, South Africa January/February 2020
We are starting off the year right in South Africa because of it's diverse terrain, rich history, and beautiful culture. Oh and did I mention flights can be as low as $550 to $660 round trip to Jo Burg during this time from US hubs like New York City, Washington DC, Houston, and San Francisco? If you're traveling from London, grab tickets as low as $500 if you fly between July and August.
Typical flight prices according to Google Flights from the US: $670 to $1,400 USD
National flight prices (e.g. Johannesburg to Capetown round trip) : $80 to 100 USD
4 star hotel cost : $60 to $120/night
Average Hostel cost according to Hostel World: $15/night
Average Airbnb cost : $46/night
Average cost per meal according to Budget Your Trip: $16
Visa (American Passport): None for short term stays ( Please check your national state department for the most up to date visa information and South Africa's visa policy prior to booking)
Required Immunizations : None (Yellow Fever vaccine is required if your journey starts or entails passing through the yellow fever belt of Africa or South America. When booking your flight, please check reputable sites for the most up-to-date vaccine information. )
Cartagena, Colombia April/May 2020
Cartagena is a must see destination that truly revitalizes the soul. It is easily one of my favorite places in the world, and I'm inviting you to join me April 16th to 21st, 2020 for an incredible Colombian adventure. If that time just doesn't work for you, hop on a flight departing from Chicago in May for as low as $240 USD round trip. If you live on the east coast of the US, book flights at this price for travel in January and February.
Typical flight prices according to Google Flights from the US: $360 to $690 US
National flight prices (e.g. Cartagena to Medellin round trip) : $70 to 100 USD
4 star hotel cost : $90 to $150
Average Hostel cost according to Hostel World: $18/night
Average Airbnb cost : $91/night
Average cost per meal according to Budget Your Trip: $7
Visa (American Passport): None for short term stays ( Please check your national state department for the most up to date visa information and Colombia' s visa policy prior to booking)
Required Immunizations : None ( For my backpackers a yellow fever vaccine, documented on the WHO International Certificate of Vaccination, is required for travelers coming from Brazil, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda. The vaccine must have been administered at least 10 days before arrival in Colombia. When booking your flight, please check reputable sites for the most up-to-date vaccine information. )
Cairo, Egypt May/June 2020
Egypt is on everyone's bucket list! The Hollywood depictions of this country pale in comparison to visiting the monuments and experiencing the culture first hand. Take a trip late May or early June if you're based in London. Flights are as low as $300 round trip for this period. However, tickets are a little more pricey for Americans. $600 flights are available from Washington, DC if you book your flight for late May.
Typical flight prices according to Google Flights from the US: $840 to $1,100 USD
National flight prices (i.e Cairo to Luxor round trip) : $100 to $300 USD (take the overnight train to Luxor to save some money)
4 star hotel cost : $45 to $190
Average Hostel cost according to Hostel World: $12/night
Average Airbnb cost : $50/night
Average cost per meal according to Budget Your Trip: $4
Visa (American Passport): U.S. citizens must have a visa to enter Egypt. U.S. citizens can obtain a renewable single-entry 30-day tourist visa on arrival at Egyptian airports for a 25 USD fee. A multiple entry visa is also obtainable for 60 USD. ( Please check your national state department for the most up to date visa information and Egypt's visa policy prior to booking)
Required Immunizations : None ( A Yellow Fever vaccination certificate is only required for travelers 9 months of age and older coming from – or who are in airport transit for more than 12 hours within – a country with risk of Yellow Fever transmission. A Yellow Fever certificate is also required if coming from Eritrea, Rwanda, Somalia, Tanzania, and Zambia. A Yellow Fever certificate is valid 10 days after vaccination. When booking your flight, please check reputable sites for the most up-to-date vaccine information.)
Nairobi, Kenya September/October 2020
Kenya is one of the most developed countries in Africa; making it a perfect introduction to the continent. The nation also prides itself with diverse nature and exquisite culture. There is so much to see here, but some travelers opt to visit Tanzania on this trip to maximize their savings. If you're planning for a getaway in the fall, try flying from San Francisco to Nairobi from $552 USD in October 2020. Purchase a ticket departing from London for September flights for as low as $500 USD round trip.
Typical flight prices according to Google Flights from the US: $750 to $970 USD
National flight prices (i.e Nairobi to Mombasa round trip) : $80 to 100 USD
4 star hotel cost : $55 to $110
Average Hostel cost according to Hostel World: $17/night
Average Airbnb cost : $40/night
Average cost per meal according to Budget Your Trip: $7
Visa (American Passport):
Single-entry visas, transit visas, or multiple-entry visas is needed for travel to Kenya.( Please check your national state department for the most up to date visa information and Kenya's visa policy prior to booking)
Required Immunizations : Unclear ( Some websites state that a Yellow Fever vaccination certificate is only required for travelers 1 year of age and older coming from - or who are in airport transit for more than 12 hours within - a country with risk of Yellow Fever transmission. Vaccination is recommended if going on a safari. However, the US state department warns that you should have proof of yellow fever immunizations, or you may be denied entry. )