Travel and Regional Integration

Before arriving in Abidjan, regional integration was a far off concept that I didn't know much about.  I'm not a econ or political science person. In fact, to me, it sounded like someone wanted to create an African EU.  Now that I am in Abidjan and would like to travel to explore the continent -- or even buy things in one country and move them to another -- I have come to understand why so many people are saying that regional integration is one of the things keeping Africa from achieving its full economic potential.
Case in point:
Travel in West Africa is fraught with difficulties at every turn.  Flights are a rip-off. Every country has a border and requires a visa. Routes and schedules are not well thought out.  I decided to get out of Ivory Coast for a little bit and started looking at flights with no particular destination in mind.
Immediately a couple issues sprang up:
  •  Since I am not from a West African country, I need a visa to go to every country that borders Ivory Coast.  These visas cost quite a bit of money, and it may not be worth it, especially if you're just heading out for a long weekend.
  • Flights are ridiculously expensive.  So much so, that I have friends who take the bus to Lomé and Accra on a regular basis. 
  • Interior flights are expensive.  That means you are going to pay quite a bit of money to fly Air Ivoire to San Pedro, or Yamoussoukro 
In the end, I found a ticket to Paris from Abidjan for 411 dollars on air algérie.  That was 4 dollars cheaper than a flight to Accra on the same days.  Yes, you've read that right folks.  You can fly to Europe for less than what it would cost you to fly to a bordering country.  Of course I had friends begging me not to get on Air Algérie assuring me that to fly them would be to risk sudden death, but I believe that fortune favors the brave, and would not let that deter me!  I may or may not be flying them soon, but I've been told that it's no worse than flying the Libyan national carrier... 

Getting the best deal possible:
As I was looking for tickets, I noticed that there was a huge disparity in ticket pricing.  Because many people still go to travel agencies, there are some incredible deals to be had online -- provided you know where to look.  My top travel sites for flights out of Abidjan are:
  • Kayak:  Decent fares, with one major caveat: Air France isn't advertising many of its flights in and out of Abidjan 
  • Google flights:  Incredible way to know who flies where, when, and for approximately how much. I haven't bought from them, but it did help me figure out where to buy a ticket.
  • Fareboom: Sometimes it's great, sometimes it's awful.  But this site is a gem with some incredible deals (remember that 411 dollar flight to Paris I mentioned? It came from there). You can also book stopovers longer than 24 hours, which Kayak hasn't figured out how to do in an affordable way. ( Casablanca with Royal Air Maroc, Nairobi with Kenya airways, etc)...
  • The airlines themselves:  Brussels Air had cheaper fares on their site than on any of the other sites.  So it never hurts to double-check.

Joanna BusbyComment