One of the often discussed topics but nevertheless biggest question marks before we started our trip through Africa was how much money such a tour would cost.
We have documented every expense and categorized them to give you an overview what you can expect to spend traveling overland with a 4×4 in Africa.
Let’s start with the hard numbers first and go into detail a bit futher on.
Note: the charts provide a better overview when viewed on a larger screen than that of a smartphone.
This covers our expenses in € for traveling 340 days or a bit more than 11 months and 29.684km from Morocco to Namibia through West Africa.
We had set ourselves a budget of 50€ per day to cover everything once in Africa and ended up close to target with 52€ per day spending a grand total of 17.676€.
In terms of costs per km we are talking about an average of a bit less than 0,60€/km.
We did not include preparation costs or running costs in Europe since both are highly variable. There are huge differences in travel distance to Africa, time spent/accomodation used/activities participated in Europe, labour and material costs, vehicle prices and so forth when it comes to the individual European countries. We also included the ferry from Algeciras to Morocco but excluded flights home from Namibia. Costs for a travel health insurance are excluded as these depend a lot on your age, services included and country of residence. This is just an overview of what you can expect to spend in Africa when traveling in a similar way to ours.
To get a second take on this subjection check out Nick’s fantastic budget article from 2011. This was the most comprehensive breakdown we could find prior to our trip.
The budget is probably the biggest question you ask after you have solved the “where are we going” and “what vehicle are we taking”. It’s perhaps the one we spent several months researching.
Let’s look at the individual categories and go into some detail now.
One of our main spending was on accommodation with 13,08%. Let’s have a look at the chart first.
We were camping with very few exceptions throughout Africa. The only time we spent in a guesthouse was when visiting the Bjagos islands in Guinea-Bissau and when Jasmine had Malaria in Sierra Leone. Free camping describes times when we could overnight in parking lots of hotels, police stations and the like. Staying with friends means the times we could enjoy the hospitality of others and often sleeping in real beds for a change. As you can see we did not bush camp as often as we had hoped for or expected. This has three reasons, one of them being our habit of traveling comparatively slowly and enjoying to stay in a place for longer time. On these occasions it is great to have some kind of base in form of a campground and explore on foot. Overlanding means a lot of sitting and driving and we spent many days walking many kilometres often in smaller and larger towns to get some kind of balance. We also felt that leaving the car behind was the best way to meet locals on eye level and get a better feel and understanding of places.
The second reason was that the West African countries where we spent most of our time were mostly densly populated and finding a quiet bush camp wasn’t always easy. We were also a little bit too shy in the beginning of our trip to just park up somewhere, chat with the locals (if a common language is found) and spend the nights being the village attraction.
The third and probably most ridicilous reason is access to internet. To run and update the blog we mostly stayed at campsites which had free internet included, often painfully slow which sometimes led to longer stays. Not blogging would considerably reduce time spent on campsites for us.
Our verdict on the accomodation part is that we would and will definitely bush camp a lot more to keep these costs down but also spend more time staying in places where there are villages and locals around. On the internet part we are a bit more flexible here in Southern Africa with mobile data being more commonly used. That said the best reception is still found in cities and towns where we are still spending time on paid campsites.
Fuel accounts for 17,8% of our spendings and was therefore our main expense. We drove a total of 29.684km on African soil so about 87km per day on average. The Land Cruiser used a total of 4075l and therefore 13,7l/km. The average price that we paid for diesel overall was 0,77€/l.
This will likely be the largest expense for most travelers using a 4×4. Our Land Cruiser is not exactly a star in terms of fuel economy but we have met people with worse consumptions. Keeping the speed down helps and is usually the sensible choice in any case.
Groceries were our third largest expense with 14,81%. This category includes all food and non alcoholic drinks bought on markets, supermarkets or other shops. We did the most of our shopping on local markets wherever possible and enjoyed this much more than visiting supermarkets. It is probably worth mentioning that we do try to eat a healthy diet including a lot of vegetables, some fruit and a sufficient amount of protein (the latter being the most expensive). That said we mostly resisted the temptations of the French supermarkets found in West and Central Africa with their ridicilously high prices.
Our tip here would be to keep it local and buy what’s seasonally available on markets or at the side of the road. We probably could have avoided buying soft drinks as often as we did but a cold soda was often a great refreshment on a hot day.
Eating & drinking out
Our category of shame in a way accounting for 15,61% of our spending. We mostly cook ourselves and only eat out properly very occasionally but even these few times seem to add up a lot. If available we love to eat street food which is usually very filling and costs less than 1€ so is sometimes cheaper than cooking. Anytime we went to a restaurant closer to European standards costs rose considerably. One thing to keep in mind though is that many times we “free camped” at a hotel we visited the restaurant of the place in exchange for their kindness. This was sometimes also part of the deal to stay for free.
All in all if you are strict with yourself your costs in this sector will not be as high as ours. We will try to improve here the most and stick to local eateries and cooking ourselves whenever possible.
Visas, border fees, paperwork
With 14,64% of our expenses this was on par with spendings on groceries. Often even small countries like Sierra Leone demanded 100US$ per person for a visa so you can make the maths. West and Central Africa is likely to be the most expensive area in the world concerning those costs. Also included here are fees that had to be paid at border crossings and prolonging of different paperwork.
Car maintenance, repairs, spares
Luckily our Land Cruiser did not need much attention overall and only a mere 3,77% of the total costs was spent on its maintenance. We did very regular oil and filter changes and had a couple of broken shock absorbers but that was about it. Costs can be kept down considerably here by maintaining your vehicle and doing regular visual check ups as well as traveling in a well prepared vehicle. We replaced a couple of things beforehand like wheel bearings, water pump, brake pads and shoes and therefore did not have to worry about most of these common causes for breakdowns or service.
Alcohol & tobacco
With 3,71% this is surprisingly on par with car expenses. We are not crazy drinkers but do enjoy a beer or two or a glass of wine on some evenings. Usually beer is quite reasonably priced but wine can be a bit of a splurge. Tobacco includes the time when we were traveling with a shisha from Morocco till Senegal or so and the occasional pack of cigarettes which was usually considerably cheaper than in Europe.
There is room for improvement here but we have also met quite a few people who spent considerably more in this section.
Souvenirs, personal stuff, tips, charity
This accounts for 5% of our spendings. We don’t buy souvenirs very often and if then mostly directly from the artist. We find this to be just another way to spend your money locally and contribute on a small scale. Tips we gave only occasionally when someone was very helpful to us. This does not include restaurant tips which are part of the dining out expenses. Also counted here are shoes and clothes which make up a considerable part.
Equipment & repairs
A smaller part with 3,57% this includes any extra equipment or equipment repairs on the way. Examples are a new matress for the roof top tent in Gambia, a new shovel in Cameroon or kitchen and camping supplies.
Entry fees, guides, excursions
This includes all the “touristy” stuff and accounts for a surprisingly small amount of our spendings with only 2,82%. Examples are national park and other entry fees, boat excursions, cinema and local guides. We found it quite easy to keep our costs down in this respect as exploring on your own was often the only way in West Africa.
With 1,75% of the budget this accounts for parking, ferries, toll roads, taxi and bus rides. Public transport and even taxis are often dirt cheap.
This section covers mainly internet costs but also postcards and telephone calls and accounts for 1,31% of our spendings.
Toiletries & washing
This includes all personal toiletries, laundry, dish washing stuff and most important of all – toilet paper! Especially the latter added up to 1,16% of our spendings. We rarely used or found laundromats and did hand washing all the way.
Often mandatory but don’t count on the local insurance covering for anything in case of need. 0,71% of our budget was spent on it as the policies were often very cheap and/or covered more than one country like the ECOWAS Brown Card.
Cooking yourself is cheap! We were using gas and had to fill up a couple of times. Also included here is fire wood and starters and in total only 0,22% of our budget went this way.
Fines & bribes
We generally refuse to pay any bribes or false fines and don’t hand out anything else instead either. This takes some humor and patience but it was absolutely never required to give in to the many demands of police, immigration and military. The only fine we got was in Mauritania for driving through a police checkpoint without stopping which amounted to 5€ and therefore 0,03% of our total budget.