Zimbabwe wasn’t an unfamiliar country to me, I have been on a family trip there when I was quite young and my mum’s sister is married to a man who is Harare born and bred and luckily he was on hand to provide some useful volunteer tips
When I decided to go Antelope Park, I knew I had to extend my trip slightly to be able to spend some time with my wonderful family (albeit not enough). Not only did I get quality time with my aunt and cousins, whom I miss dearly, but as my uncle had lived in Zim his whole life, he was able to give me a number of valuable things and advice that I would need when I went off on my own.
Alongside the preparation and research I had done beforehand, I have compiled a list of useful tips to bear in mind if you are embarking on a project like mine:
1. Take cash
I never used my card once, I didn’t really have any opportunity too. I know not many people approve of carrying a lot of money with you when travelling but I had mine split in different places, and the majority of notes I carried were low value ones. This made it much easier to buy bits and bobs when I was out in the local town.
2. spare camera battery
If you’re picture mad like me, Africa is brimming with opportunities to take wonderful photos, there’s just so much going on. I always had one fully charged spare battery with me if I was out for the day, as there is nothing worse than getting half way through and the power light starts to flash. I remember an instance on one of our safari drives where one of the girls had her camera die halfway through and she was pretty devastated, as you never know what you will come across and whether you’d ever get a chance to see it again.
3. memory cards
Whilst on the topic of cameras, make sure you have spare memory cards! I came back with over 2000 photos plus a number of video and sound recordings. The volunteer coordinator when I was there did offer to burn cd’s for people who were running out of memory and needed to offload which was handy. But if you want to be safe, just take a couple of extra memory cards.
Nobody else seemed to have them and if you’re just going to be working on the conservation project than you may not need them. If you plan on travelling or going on any game drives then you totally should get them, they were invaluable for animal spotting.
5. Head torch
Sound silly? It’s not. Say its pitch black and you need the loo – necessary. The most important use I had for the head torch was when we were at Matopos National Park and we were taken to climb this massive rock in the pitch black… so we could get high up to watch the sunrise. Climbing on all fours and holding a torch is not easy – enter head torch. They’re not expensive, they’re not bulky I’d take it just in case, trust me you will find a use for it.
6. Mini wind up room light
This is something my uncle gave me and I reeeeally didn’t see the point at the time, it just seemed like excess weight for no reason. It was obviously me being totally naïve. Power cuts are very common in Zim and it’s just part of everyday life. This light however could brighten up a whole room and when the powers one off before the morning walk and its pitch dark, it does come in handy. I gave mine to one of the lion handlers before leaving, as I knew it would be of real use to his family and he was ecstatic with it.
7. good pair of walking boots
Yes it’s Africa and it gets really hot but that doesn’t mean you want to be walking around in your flip flops. I took a pair of walking boots with me and pretty much wore them day in day out. With conservation work you spend nearly all of your time outside in the bush, sometimes you could be doing quite manual work and having your feet protected, supported and comfortable makes a big difference.
8.Nat Geo Buff band
My trip to Zim, was in June – technically winter. The mornings were very cold but by 11am the sun was beaming and the layers of clothing could be stripped. This band works in all weather, great for keeping your neck warm in the cold, putting your hair up or back when its hot. There are a number of ways to wear them, they are just super multi functional. You’ll probably find they’re handy for all kinds of trips.
9. Bring as much as you can afford
IF you can afford to, it’s worth taking whatever they recommend on the ‘things you might need list’ not just because you’ll probably need it, but because sometimes they might not have enough to lend you once you’re there. I decided to leave quite a lot of what I took with me there for either the park to use, or for donating to families who may need them.
10. Treats for the locals
Extra space in luggage? Organise a whip round for donations. During my stay, we were given the opportunity to visit the local orphanage and spend time with the children there, a heart melting experience. I had read about this trip before going and I bought a whole load of treats to take over for the children. I truly wish I had planned before hand, written to my airline to request an extended luggage for charity goods and asked my friends and family to donate more. Being able to donate anything to these beautiful children is a blessing no one should miss out on.
Most importantly when you’re out there – Smile (To be fair, it’s really hard not to).
I know it’s cheesy, I’m stating the obvious but seriously you need to embrace all that you can. Africa is a beautiful continent and the people I met and came across in Zimbabwe were good natured, polite and without fail, always happy. It’s quite infectious! I will never forget their hospitality and how they truly appreciated it when you are doing everything you can to be involved and help.
So no matter how hard you work, how tired you are, smile through it. You’ll regret it if you don’t.
Anyone else got any tips for travellers taking on Conservation/Volunteer projects? Always good to know for when I plan the next one!