This article was originally published on Quartz.
The African Development Bank (AfDB) recently put out an Africa Visa Openness report—the first of its kind—assessing how easy it is for African travelers to visit other countries on the continent. For me, this report could not have been more timely. I am a Kenyan citizen. At the time I was in Ivory Coast jumping over very many hurdles as I tried to obtain the necessary visas that would take me on a road trip from Abidjan to Bobo and Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, to Lome in Togo, to Cotonou and Ouidah in Benin and finally get me back to Abidjan in good time to catch my flight back to Nairobi.
I cannot fully explain the incredulous looks on the visa officers’ faces when I said I was not visiting friends or family in those countries but simply traveling as a tourist. “Then you need to show us confirmed hotel bookings if you cannot provide all these documentation from your host.”
At this point I should mention that not only was my non-existent “host” in those countries required to send me an invitation letter, proof of their residency in the country, but these documents had to be signed and stamped by a high ranking police officer based in their home area. I wondered, “Hotel bookings? I am traveling by bus, how could I possibly know what exact dates I will get to these cities, how long I will stay etc.” I definitely did not mention I was planning to ‘couchsurf’ in the different cities. I quickly learned that as an African traveler that there is no room for spontaneity—when traveling you need to have every single aspect of your trip planned.
I have traveled to 42 countries worldwide, 16 of them in Africa.