My family spent our winter break this year in Senegal, West Africa. Rich and I have traveled a bit in developing countries, but this was our first time to Africa. And it was our first time taking 8YO Tiny Traveler to an underdeveloped country.

Cows blocking traffic in senegal, africa

Tiny Traveler is pretty adaptable but we still wondered how she would handle the delays, the crowds, the constant bargaining, the lack of awareness of personal space, and the many precautions around eating and drinking that come with traveling in developing places.

We wanted to let her know what to expect without scaring her. And we wanted to get her excited for the trip.

Here’s how we got our family ready to visit Senegal. These tips would apply to family trips to other parts of Africa, and to developing countries in Asia and South America, too.

Going to Africa?
Read about Senegal and African Safaris.

5 Tips To Prepare For A Trip to Africa

1. Educate Yourself

I read everything I could about Senegal, a country about which I knew nothing. In addition to the fun information about culture, history and food, I read up on health, safety, transportation and proper dress for adults and kids.

Should you bring a car seat?

Lonely Planet strongly recommended bringing a car seat because many cars on the road are in poor condition, traffic lights are scare, accidents are common and you won’t find car seats locally.

I brought our *Bubble Bum and could use it in the car we had access to for the week. There were times I wished I’d brought a full booster seat, but our driver was pretty cautious.

Had Tiny Traveler still been in a baby or toddler car seat, I probably would have schlepped it and been glad to have it.

My one caveat is that seatbelts aren’t a given. And even cars have them they might not work. So if you do take the trouble to pack a car seat find a drive who has seat belts and hire him for the duration of your stay.

2. Visit your Doctor

Sleeping soundly under mosquito netting in senegal, west africa

I read the CDC’s recommendations and brought them with me when I visited my doctor and my daughter’s pediatrician. Polio and hepatitis vaccines are real threats in Africa.

They are part of most kids’ routine vaccines these days, but parents want to make sure their childhood vaccines are up to date.  Tiny Traveler needed only a typhoid shot. I got a hepatitis booster. Rich got that and a tetanus shot.

Since we would only be there a week her doctor thought we could manage without malaria pills; this was good news because in my experience these pills are icky. But we generously used DEET-laden bug spray and slept under mosquito nets.

Our travel medicine cabin for africa

Both her doctor and mine gave us antibiotics to take along. We didn’t need them but it’s a precaution I often take and recommend. If you do catch something bacterial, the sooner you can start taking them the less miserable you’ll be.

To protect against routine traveler health issues we took probiotics starting before we left. I also packed Imodium, Pepto-Bismol, rehydration tablets, kids’ allergy pills and a kids’ pain reliever. And I had a small first-aid kit and hand sanitizer for my daypack.

3. Talk About What You’ll Do

It was hard for  to get excited about this trip because unlike yet another city or resort vacation, she had no idea what there would be to do, see and eat.

A salt harveste with his boat on lac rose

We assured her there would be familiar activities; the friends we were visiting live near the beach and have a pool. A French supermarket nearby meant there would likely be Nutella for breakfast and ice cream that was safe to eat.

We also talked about the new things we would see and do. She was intrigued by the idea of The Pink Lake, a salt lake tinted her favorite color by algae. And she liked the prospect of riding in a canoe-like pirogue and visiting a game park that had monkeys.

4. Read Fun Books about Your Destination

I also wanted to give Tiny Traveler some sense of what Senegal would look like before we got there and what we might be eating. The trouble was, it was hard to find information; Even  Brooklyn’s huge library system had no kids’ books specifically on Senegal.

So we improvised. We looked at the photos in Lonely Planet’s West Africa guide. We also took two books from the library: Cool World Cooking had a few West African dishes and Wonderful Houses Around the World included a thatched-hut village in southern Senegal.

After we’d returned the library finally filled my request for Senegal: Modern Senegalese Recipes from the Source to the Bowl. I wish we’d had it before we left because it has wonderful photos of Senegal and Senegalese food.

5. Talk About What To Expect

Curious kids in senegal, africa

Less developed places offer up more dust, disorderly traffic and unfettered smells than we’re used to. People have a sense of personal space and appropriate dress that’s different from ours. Kids are curious and uninhibited.

In such an unfamiliar environment things it can be hard for kids to judge what’s okay and when things are amiss.

So we talked about things that would be different from what we’re used do but OK, and what would be not Okay but also unlikely. We explained things like why we couldn’t just drink tap water, why local kids might be curious about her and why some people might stare at us.

As kids get older it’s important to talk about clothes and modesty and respect for local norms. While you can’t always fit in no matter what, you can avoid standing out for the wrong reasons.


In the end she had fun. She ate all the Senegalese food served to her.

She handled the battered four-wheel drives, leaky pirogues, crowded markets and curious kids as graciously as an 8YO can.

And she did get to swim in a pool, play on the beach and eat Nutella for breakfast, quite happily.

Final Tip:

On an adventurous trip a little bit of familiar can go a long way.

Pin it for later!

A family vacation to west africa is exciting and more manageable than some parents might expect. But it does take planning, research and explaining to get kids ready for what they will see, do, eat and experience. Here are our tips for planning and preparing for a first trip to africa with kids. #travel #africa #kids #tips

This blog was part of Weekend Travel Inspiration. Visit our partners:

• AlbomAdventures
• ContentedTraveller 
• TheCrowdedPlanet
• Malaysian Meanders
• ReflectionsOnRoute 
• Safari254


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  1. Yes, the innoculations for some of these diseases are nasty and some don’t work well if kids are too small. We had the opportunity to do this trip when our daughter was younger and put it off because we didn’t want to have to deal with the vaccines and car safety with a smaller child.

  2. Kids are so flexible!! but it’s always good to talk about the trip before. For us, a malaria country is still not a good place to travel with the little one.

  3. the trip made us more interested in exploring other parts of Africa, especially the Gambia and Botswana. From the US Senegal is actually very accessible — only 8 hours direct. Southern Africa is quite a bit further.

  4. Eileen, you did make it to Senegal! I still remember your email asking me any information on Senegal.

    Hope you get to visit other regions in the continent (the diversity is amazing). I haven’t been to West Africa, hope to visit sooner than later and in case it happens to be Senegal, you will be my source of information 🙂

  5. I will admit that I know absolutely nothing about Senegal and would be hard pressed to educate my own kids about what to expect. I’m sure you’ll be telling us more about your trip, so that will help remedy it. Great tips all around. How did TT feel with the typhoid shot? My hubby took the oral pill which contains a live virus and felt awful.

  6. Eileen, I think these are great tips, especially for going places that are completely different than home. However, I would argue that they are important for whatever travel, so that the kids can really get more into it!

  7. Great idea to let TT experience many parts of Senegal before visiting, I am sure she got a lot out of the trip, especially with the learning beforehand.

  8. kid are very adaptable. but it was a lot to absorb. there was a lot of quiet looking and thinking on this trip.

  9. i often use the Internet, too, but even there resources were pretty thin this time around.

  10. We haven’t been to Africa, but a fair bit of Asia, and I found the kids just get on board and accept everything, and it’s us adults that struggle a bit with culture shock from time to time….kids are very adaptable. My kids love curry for breakfast and sometimes the weirder the food the better….it’s good to see!

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