Meet the Deetlefs as they work their way from South Africa to Egypt

Posted on 21 April 2023 By Jordyn Johnson

Many dream of packing up and heading out on a crazy big adventure.

Others do just that.

Lance and Skyler Deetlefs are part of the latter. While waiting for their immigration papers to be processed, they decided it was the perfect time to sell everything but some clothes and backpacks and travel through Africa using only public transportation.

Their initial plan was to spend a month in each country on their route until their health insurance expired. They estimated that they would reach Uganda. However, the African travel ‘gogga’ has bitten them hard, as they are now shortening their stays to reach Egypt before their deadline.

The Deetlefs have snuck over to Botswana for a quick Chobe River cruise and accidentally swam in a lake that may or may not have had a crocodile in it, befriended a friendly parrot, and hopped into a fisherman’s boat on Lake Malawi where he taught them how to paddle his boat.

The stories that accompany a crazy travel idea always leave the listener itching for an adventure of their own. The Deetlefs story will definitely inspire you to explore more of our beautiful continent.

Can you share the journey so far?

On 4 February 2023, with our saved-up salaries, we left for Zimbabwe. Using a legitimate travel app called Workaway, we can find hosts who offer food and accommodation for a few weeks in exchange for assisting with tasks. We’ve helped manage BnBs, building projects, plumbing (Lance is a qualified plumber), and painting furniture and walls.

About five hours each weekday is dedicated to helping with tasks, and the rest of the time is spent exploring. We’ve visited local markets, gone kayaking on Lake Malawi, done a horse ride safari, and bungee jumped off the Victoria Falls gorge, among many other things.

One of our goals was to take every mode of public transport possible in Africa. So far we have used a normal coach bus, car, taxi, and minibus (aka matatu bus). Each mode of transport comes with its own challenges, but it’s given us the unique opportunity to meet locals and get to know them while travelling. There’s often a friendly face who helps us get on the right taxi/ bus, and shows us which way we need to be going, all the while heeding their concerned warnings.

Our minibus experiences have included chasing down the only one in sight to get to Siavonga and purchasing three seats to fit in with our bags. We were planning to travel to Lusaka via minibus, but after witnessing a baby cow being placed in the vehicle, we opted to take a bus instead. We sat on the bus next to a bag of fish being stored under the seat for three hours. We’re not ones to get car sick, but there’s a first for everything.

On our trip from Malawi to Zambia, we booked our bus in advance, however, you never know what bus you’re going to end up with. Ours was one of the older ones and didn’t stop as we expected. We were starving by the time we reached Chipata where we were told to transfer onto a different bus.

Our main goal, though, is to experience as much of Africa as we can, immerse ourselves in all the different cultures, and make lots of friends along the way.

How far in advance do you plan the next leg of your journey?

We have a loose outline of where we would like to go. However, if something comes up as a suggestion of recommendation from someone we meet, we try adding it to our plans. We don’t really like making long-term plans, so as to remain flexible.

We do like to plan one to two weeks ahead in terms of transport and confirming our accommodation, but we take each day as it comes in terms of activities and sites to visit.

With Workaway, it’s a good idea to message the hosts 1 or 2 months before arriving to see if they have availability, which we try to do. After Malawi, though, we don’t have any Workaways planned as we need to be able to travel through each country a little faster than Workaway allows.

What’s a challenge that you’ve faced, and what challenges were you anticipating that turned out to be fine?

One small challenge we’ve faced is the ‘mzungu price’ where local vendors charge foreigners three times the normal price for goods. We now ask a local for the price of a bus ticket, or item, before we go to the bus stop or market. Another challenge is keeping track of all the currency conversions in our heads.

Our biggest worry before we started travelling was safety in each country. We haven’t felt unsafe at all, although we do like to keep up to date with the news to be aware of what’s happening in each country. Being able to chat with people who live in the area is also really helpful.

We were initially not planning to go through Sudan but have decided to add it to our route. Many people that we’ve met along the way have been through the country and have convinced us that it’s safe enough to go through. Luckily, we have contacts there and in Ethiopia to make the transit a bit easier.

What do you have in your backpacks?

Obviously, we’ve had to limit the number of clothes we bring so that it fits into our bags. We each have a quick dry towel, an extensive first aid kit, our passports, Covid vaccine certificate, and Peaceful Sleep.

After backpacking through Southeast Asia a few years ago, we quickly learned the importance of having your own pillow. We squish our memory foam pillows in our backpacks as well.

We also travel with our laptop and a camera bag that Skyler straps to her chest when we travel.

Do you know anyone else who’s done what you’re doing?

We have some friends who have overlanded from Africa to Egypt. We also met a Spanish couple on Instagram who are doing the same journey but in reverse (Cairo to Cape). Funnily enough, they have stayed in a few of the same Workaway houses as us.

We haven’t met any other backpackers who are using public transportation though.

How can we follow along with your travels?

We post regular travel vlogs on our YouTube channel, which you can subscribe to. We also keep daily updates going on our Instagram page, so please follow us to join us on our journey.

Follow us on social media for more travel news, inspiration, and guides. You can also tag us to be featured. 

TikTok | Instagram Facebook Twitter

ALSO READ: Rambo’s redfin mission: a quest for an endangered fish

yoast-primary -
tcat - Travel ideas
tcat_slug - travel-ideas
tcat2 -
tcat2_slug -
tcat_final - travel