1st timers

1st timers

It’s a big deal to travel somewhere for the first time. It’s exciting, it’s overwhelming, it’s an adventure!

So here are a few {of our very own} TIPS & TRICKS for those traveling to Senegal for the first time.

+ Always go ahead and do a double take when you see a long, skinny “stick” on the ground. You just never know when it could be a snake. Don’t worry, in Dakar, snakes are very rare. It’s once you leave the city that maybe you should do a triple take. Just in case.

Shawn with 1 of the 3 snakes that he's killed.

+ Girls, don’t be overly friendly when it comes to strangers. Guys are often on the look-out for a visa / a wife. It may sound harsh, but, well, it’s true.

+ Don’t drink the tap water. We sometimes do, when we’re at a restaurant [uh, because it’s free and drinks are higher than a giraffe’s tail], but we always filter our water at home, and that’s what you should drink too. Pretty much anywhere you go in Dakar you can find filtered bottled water to buy. But it’s always smart to take water with you when you can!

+ Always be on high alert to smash any mosquito you see. In this country, Malaria does exist, and here, mosquitoes are more than just a nuisance. Make a game or a competition out of killing them. Always sleep under a mosquito net when possible and wear spray when outside around dawn, dusk or at night.

+ Girls, don’t show too much leg. How you dress does depend on where in Senegal you are, and what you’re doing. Out in villages, a long skirt or dress is best (you can go to the tailor- a fun experience!), but in Dakar most anything goes, as long as you cover from the knees up, and don’t wear anything too tight or too sexy.

Women here love when you dress like them!

+ Learn a few local greetings. Wolof, French, Peul, Diola… there are a melting pot of languages here in Senegal, and people l-o-v-e when you greet them in their own language. Fruit vendors are almost always Guinean, so you can learn some Peul greetings for them, and pretty much everyone speaks Wolof.

Greeting people and shaking their hand is important! (Right hand only).

+ Shake hands when meeting or greeting someone. It’s respectful, and that’s how it’s done here.

+ Ask to take pictures of the people you know or have met, otherwise, if wanting to take pictures of someone you don’t know…be sneaky! People can get (or at least act) angry when you’re openly taking their picture without permission. If you’re in a village setting, get ready for every kid on the planet (almost) to come and ask for you to take their picture. If you’re up for the chaos / fun of a photo shoot, go for it! Either way, take pictures of whatever you want. You’ll want to remember your trip.

+ Try the food. It means a lot for someone to provide the ingredients and cook you a meal, and of course they want you to love it. So taste, eat and try to enjoy! Just be careful of fish bones (this coming from a girl who grew up in a land-locked state). A swallowed fish bone = ouch. If you honestly don’t like it, can’t handle it, or you’re allergic to it, smile, thank them, and try something else. They’re human too, they’ll understand.


+  Don’t worry when using public transportation. Your driver will (most likely) drive like a crazy man, but he will (usually) get you there in one piece.

 + Avoid the “camera around your neck, hand sanitizer clipped to your belt, Indiana Jones hat, khaki pants, and the “Born in the USA” t-shirt” look. In other words, try to blend in a little bit.

+ Visit a village.

+ Spend a Sunday at a local church. Observe the different styles of worship, listen to the music, have someone translate for you if need be, practice those greetings, meet some brothers and sisters in Christ.

+ Don’t forget the basics like passport renewal, bring sunscreen if you’re whiter-than-life like me, and ask questions to those who have been where you’re going, or who live their now.

Expatswhat would YOU add to this list? What are those little helpful “nuggets of wisdom” that YOU would share?

* An expatriate (in abbreviated form, expat) is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country and culture other than that of the person’s upbringing. Thanks, Wikipedia.*

Looking forward to having some visitors next month!

Bon voyage,


5 thoughts on “1st timers

  1. Always love your “take” on things in Dakar, Jenn. Thanks for keeping it current. My heart skips a beat when I see images of the country I grew to love and its beautiful, gracious people. Miss it all so much.

  2. Jenn,
    My daughter will be staying in Senegal and we would like to send practical gifts for her host family. Can you give us some suggestions?

    1. Yes! Veggie peelers are a huge hit, earrings / any fashion accessory for the women, deflated soccer balls for the kids. :)

  3. Thank you so much!
    Would it be wise also to send a ball inflator with the soccer ball? I’m thinking that may not have that… or would they?

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