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Africa Traveler Profiles

The tourist with the tan safari hat, the Birkenstock-wearing aid worker who speaks only the local language, the Texas missionary coming to Africa to help spread the word of god. The list of Africa traveler personalities are long. Although we hate to admit, there tends to be some degree of truth to traveler stereotypes – they act a certain way, wear a certain article of clothes or even eat a certain type food.

Much like BootsnAll’s traveler stereotypes, there are whole new sets of characters that tend to travel, live, and vegetate on the African landscape. Our goal isn’t to bash these personalities, we love them – it’s just a chance to draw attention to some of their idiosyncrasies and what makes them unique.

In tourist areas, these are perhaps the easiest to spot. For a first time trip to Africa, most people accidentally fall into this category. I was one at one time. Safaris Saps are usually coming to Africa for a wildlife safari and want to uphold the romantic personification of traveler going on safari in the hot dry Africa bush. With a tan rolled-up long sleeve shirt, light green cotton pants, a safari hat pinned up on the sides, boots (even though they will spend 95 percent of their days in a LandRover), and smelling like too much mosquito repellent, Safari Saps are the ones that come to Africa to be with the animals – and each other.

While on safari, the goal of Safari Saps is to see the Big Five – Elephant, Lion, Rhino, Buffalo and Leopard – so they can show pictures to all of their friends and brag about their adventure in Africa, even though they are isolated from interacting with the culture throughout most of their safari. Most Safari Saps study all the animals prior to arriving and, by the time they return home, will have more than 20 rolls of film – 5 rolls just of zebras. I think I have about 10 roles.

In the big Africa cities, Safari Saps usually look scared shitless. They walk around in packs, while the hustlers, thieves, beggars and anyone else looking to make a quick buck follow closely behind.

Helpy Helpertons are everywhere in Africa. There are multiple levels and variations, but they tend to fall in two categories.

First, Helpy Helpertons are young, smart, but idealistic, fresh colleges graduates, who, after completing their liberal arts degree at university and finding little satisfaction in working for “the man,” they come to Africa to help with various social or economic causes. Africa loves Helpy Helpertons.

After a few short months in Africa, Helpy Helpertons have come to realize they can’t save the world and should just start one village or person at a time. They usually live out in the villages, speak the local language, wear the local dress, and try to live a traditional way of life for as long as possible, usually at their own expense. Some Helpy Helpertons try to be hardcore and live the image of a poor Aid-worker. At the end of their time in Africa, they either return to university in the United States to get their masters degree, work for local non-profit organization, become completely cynical about the world, or move into the category below.

Countless Helpy Helpertons realize that that living in the village isn’t going to pay off her or his expensive liberal art education, unless they sort of sell out. Although Helpy Helpertons once were broke and idealistic, they now have realized that they must work for huge, multinational aid, UN funded organizations in order to pay the bills, have a descent place, while also making a change on a more global level. If they are lucky enough to find a job with one of the bigger organizations, like Care, Red Cross, Mercy Corps, they now become Wealthy Helpy Helpertons because they can command a good salary, based on living in a developing country. For this reason, they usually have really nice house (compared to back in the village), spend their time working in the big cities and hanging out, and acting like other expats. We hate to say it, but it’s true.

There tends to be a growing population of Wanna Be Helpertons in Africa, coming for a couple weeks to experience “real life” and help those in need. Most Wanna Be Helpertons have good hearts, but were realistic and decided to work in the corporate world, instead of following the normal Helpy Helperton route. In the middle of changing careers or a sabbatical, or even a short vacation, Wanna Be Helpertons pay a bunch of money to come teach English in a school or work in an orphanage for only a couple weeks – making them feel better about themselves.

Don’t get us wrong; we like Wanna Be Helpertons. They are making an honest attempt to step outside the comforts of the Western world and make a difference, even if it’s only a few weeks.

Since overlanding (a large communal group riding around in a huge diesel truck) has become a mainstream and comfortable way to travel, it has brought a whole new breed of those who wouldn’t have normally spent time traveling around Africa – Safety Bubblers.
Safety Bubblers live in their “safety bubble” as they travel with a big group through parts of Africa. Usual packed into an intimidating Mad Max looking truck, Safety Bubblers peer out from the confines of their safe world, letting the guide deal with all the crap – border crossing, police bribes – in the process. Nonetheless, the safety bubble tends to operate like one of today’s reality shows: a bunch of weird personalities forced to live in a small environment for many days. Everyone ends up drinking way too much, becoming friends, becoming enemies, sleeping with each other and ultimately wanting to pop the bubble and escape it as soon as possible.

Much like all Aussies head off to travel for a year, the Gap Yearers is a kind of the English equivalent. Between high school and “uni” is a time for these 18 to 21 year-old English students to go out and experience the world, many for the first time. During the gap year many head off to travel, but a huge majority end up in volunteering (and partying) for 3 to 6 months in a developing countries around Africa. It’s almost a right of passage, something that all must do in order to prove themselves.

With the exception of South Africa where there is surf, a huge majority of these Gap Yearers are young girls. They travel around in packs, wear really bad used clothes, are very loud and somehow manage to keep that pasty white British-look even though it’s the hot African sun. Although they live in the villages, on weekends they congregate in the cities, party at the discos, drink way too much, and then stumble back to class Monday morning.


You can hear and see them from a mile away: Converters have been coming to Africa since the first explorers arrived. Although scrutinized by many (understandably so), you have to admire their persistence. Most often affiliated with a church or a certain religion, they come to “convert” and preach the word of god.

There are two types of Converters in Africa. First, there are the southern America Converters, usually from Texas or South Carolina, that are quite large, very loud, still a bit naïve, but very nice. They would give you their shirt off their back and often go through great lengths to help people in Africa. Most often their conversations come back to how great America is – “American this, America that” and, for some strange reason, almost all of them wear fanny packs.

The newest group of Converters on African soil is the Mormons. You already know what they look like: young 18 year old men, who can barely shave, ride their bikes around (with their interpreters) with their white button up shirts and preach the word of the Latter Day Saints. You have to admire them for their integrity.

Africa still offers the opportunity for true raw adventure. This attracts Die Harders – those who are often alone, traveling Africa by bus, foot or bike and not knowing where they are going to sleep or go the next day. They often usually males, have frazzled hair, beards, have got way too much sun, wear ripped up clothes, and are often suffering from a mild case of malaria that needs to be treated. By staying out of the tourist areas and cities, they survive on less than $1 per day by eating rice and fresh fruit and camping in local villages.

Do you know of a personality that travels around Africa? Email and we will add it to this list!