I recently wrote about how expensive it is to travel in Africa compared to other other continents like Asia. If you missed that post, read it here. Flights between African countries are super expensive and this might discourage travelers on a budget from traveling. However, if you are as resilient as I am and do not feel like giving up, then you may opt to travel by bus. Traveling between African countries may last anywhere between 8 and 30 hours. Mind you I have not factored in the time taken to cross borders and the usual suspect “African timing”. Africans can we please have a serious chat. Why are we always late? If patience is a virtue we believe in, can hurry the hell up be one too? Because honestly, have you ever been delayed thanks to African timing so much that you wanted to cry? Not yet? Do not worry if you have not, Africa is icing the cake for you.
As a Kenyan, I know for a fact that you can travel by bus from Nairobi straight to towns like Kampala, Kigali, Juba and Dar es Salaam. Elsewhere in Southern Africa you can travel by bus from Lusaka to Lilongwe and even Harare to Johannesburg. These are just a few examples of how you can travel within Africa by bus. These executive buses have enabled travelers to see the world on a budget despite flights being expensive.
At what point should you decide to travel by bus? This is when you have done a proper research and come to the conclusion that no matter what, the flight will cost you an insane amount of money. Again, why are African flights so damn expensive? Some flights are too expensive you will be tempted to ask if there a class cheaper than economy. Can I travel as cargo?
My favourite tool to use when searching for flights is skyscanner. Listen up dear budget traveler, from now on, if there is an app that you need to start using to get good deals on flights, it’s skyscanner. Are we together?
Okay, so you have brought your A game in the research department and you still find flights are still expensive. Do you give up? Do you say I am too broke to travel? Well, yes we are broke that’s why we are choosing to travel by bus but no, we do not give up. Remember the goal here is to travel and if flights are too expensive , travel by bus. Which brings forth the list of factors I feel you should consider when choosing a bus.
Cost & Comfort
By now we have well and truly established that we are on a budget. As much as you want to save money, please I beg you, do not go with the cheapest option surely. Do not travel with a rickety old bus in the name of saving money. Yes we are cheap but not that cheap especially if there are way better options. Have you ever traveled in an old bus ? You won’t muster a single ounce of sleep due to the non-stop ricketing of the windows and the entire bus. It’s like you are at a metal fest except that it’s not a concert because why? Worn-out shock absorbers. These same buses are mucky, with stained seats. I’d rather choose not to endure an 8 hour journey in such conditions. Yes we want to save money but can you at least cough a few thousands shillings to save your life? and ears? and most importantly nose?
Executive buses that travel between African countries will be more expensive than the normal buses for a reason . Most of these buses come with charging systems and comfortable reclining seats with decent legroom depending on the ticket class you pay for. The seats are so comfortable that you rarely feel the bumps on the roads and you can recline the seat to sleep.
The drivers are careful. Most come with two drivers especially if the distance is more than 8 hours. Most of these buses are under reputable companies and you can easily call them out if their staff behave irresponsibly.
With that said, go with executive buses. Please. You do not need to go on a trip for it to end and have you looking like High Sparrow from game of thrones. I said save money but do not torture yourself in the process.
Executive buses have different timings for when to depart and they are strict on the time they depart which is funny because they are never on time when it comes to arriving. Anyway, you need to travel and you need them so just show up on time or they will leave you. If you ever saw someone on a motorbike chasing a modern coast, that may have been me. I cannot count the number of times I have ever been left or almost left. What? It’s an African thing. It’s in our genes.
If you chose to ride buses that are under reputable companies you will be safe because they know their routes very well and their drivers are not overworked.
However, do you research of an area before jumping in to a bus . For example, last year before my solo trip to Malawi, I heard there were “Vampires” in central Malawi around the same time I travelled. It’s true that there were killings going on in this part of Malawi and I avoided this region like the plague. Although, do you think the supposed vampires looked like Damon Salvatore? anyone? No? I digress.
Such information will help you to be vigilant and avoid troubled regions during your travels.
Most buses have schedules for day and night times. If you are traveling solo, I recommend going with a day bus. Some journeys may be long and require you to travel overnight. This is fine, just make prior arrangements for someone on the other side to pick you up. Or have their number and call them once you arrive. Be safe please!
Bus Companies that you might want to check out if you travelling East and Southern Africa
Modern Coast operates between all major towns in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda.
Mash Poa operates between all major towns in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda.
Jonda operates between Zambia and Malawi
Jaguar operates between Uganda and Rwanda
Zambia Malawi from the name you can tell it operates between Zambia and Malawi
Greyhound operates between some towns in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa
Intercape operates between some towns in Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa
Eagle Liner operates in South Africa
- Buy your ticket three days in advance
- If you happen to travel alone, you may need to strike a chat with fellow travelers. This will prove useful as you may find out more information like travel tips, affordable and decent places to stay and even rates of activities to avoid being overcharged.
- Keep all your valuables in a carry on bag and whatever you do do not let that bag out of your sight. I even sleep with mine. My carry on bag is my baby, my life and my love and I treat her as such.
- The rest of your luggage will be stowed with other passenger’s luggage so lock your luggage because humans are weird. Seriously? What do some people want with people’s clothes? To smell them?
- Please buy tickets from the bus company directly as opposed to using agents. Scammers have learnt the art of pretending to be agents. You have the option of paying online . In Kenya we have a service called Mpesa that you can use to pay otherwise visit the bus offices.
- Get out of the bus at most stopovers, or all if you can regardless of whether you have business outside or not. Believe me , you need this.
- Unpredictable things may happen that may delay your trip. change of weather, horrible roads and even cow and goat traffic. Yes this is a thing.
- Travel with reputable bus companies like the ones I have mentioned above.
- Avoid lots of drinking otherwise you will fill your bladder and you can never be sure the driver will stop when you need him to.
what to bring on a long bus ride
- Neck pillow
- Snacks and Water
- A book or a kindle
- pack you own lunch from home
- dress warmly and carry a thin blanket because it gets cold at night
- wear comfortable clothes because you will be sleeping in the bus.
- power bank in case the charging system in the bus does not work
- Tissues and wipes for sanitizing your hands before and after eating
- chewing gums or mouth wash for when you wake up
Have you travelled to another country in Africa by bus?
These principles only apply to executive buses that travel between cities mostly. For rural off beaten routes you will most likely not have the luxury of executive buses. The only option at this point is mini buses and shared taxis which by the way I hate . Unfortunately my hate is not strong enough to afford me 500 dollar flights so I have to deal with them. Please remember to always travel during the day when using minibuses and shared taxis. You have the option of renting a car when travelling through off beaten rural areas. Actually, this is the best option especially if you are traveling in a group to share costs. Otherwise solo traveler, prepare to deal with chicken and goats for passengers.
Want to know how I afford to travel? Have a look at my cheat sheet:
Please note , All images used in this post are from google.