To drive or to be driven – that is the question?

When it comes to memories of self-drive holidays I am sure many of us have vivid recollections of family trips across the continent, car jam-packed, music cassettes (showing my age) playing on repeat, cat fights breaking out with us kids, back-seat driver mother getting flustered with Dad who is refusing to stop even though he knows he’s lost… The whole experience was actually pretty stressful yet we returned to do it every year for as long as our family holidays took place!

When organising a holiday there are many decisions to be made. Do you go for a more organised option with transfers taken care off or does the stubborn traveller in you desire independence and control, putting you in the drivers seat? If like me you are often determined for the latter, there are a few things to be considered. Driving through Spain or New Zealand for example is rather different from driving through Africa… and even within Africa, being the huge continent that it is, the experience varies considerably.

  • What are the road conditions like? What is the general driving like?
  • How do prices compare; car hire vs. guided transfer vs. local transport
  • Are you prepared to be a designated driver for long drives on roads you don’t know or actually would you quite like to sit back, relax and take in the views from the window
  • Do you feel comfortable to manage the admin at any border crossings for both visas and car documentation.

On this occasion we are specifically focusing on the route from Malawi to Zambia, South Luangwa National Park as this is one of the most common trips that our clients choose to do. While the roads by African standards are actually pretty good, this route obviously includes a border crossing among other endearing African obstacles, such as kamikaze goats, ad hoc police stops and minimal sign posting in some areas.

While staying in Malawi I have had the opportunity to do both, and from my personal experience have noted a few pros and cons of each to help guide you in the planning for your next adventure;

Being driven.

Stress free, you don’t have to worry about the route and you can let someone else take control of the border admin which can be a little confusing and tedious. Instead the drive becomes an opportunity to take in and enjoy your surroundings. Plus you have a wealth of local knowledge at your fingertips so let your curious mind ask questions and step out of the car a much wiser and cultured being.

Cost – it may be a bit more expensive but this extra cost may outweigh the stress! Undoubtedly it is a little less flexible although the guides will go out of their way to accommodate any additional requests that you have along the way!


Cost – probably a bit more cost effective depending on the car hire deal you get. Arguably a more adventurous way to travel and experience the unexpected on your own terms with opportunity to be spontaneous.

Admin; responsibility to prepare the relevant paperwork in advance. At the border you’ll be responsible for getting all the paperwork, both your own visas and the car documents through. Lack of local knowledge, while the locals are extremely friendly and always happy to help, you won’t get that same level of local insight as you would with your own guide – plus you may get a few dodgy directions along the way as they don’t want to disappoint so even if they don’t know you’ll get an answer with a nod and smile.
SO What’s the recommendation?

Stating the obvious, we all know this is personal preference, dependant on the style of trip you want and what you want to get out of it. I found our self-drive fairly hassle-free and gave us the sense of adventure we wanted, but I did have knowledge of the roads and had done the trip before. It could have easily resulted in a car breakdown or issues at the border. On the flip side I really can’t ignore the importance of making the most out of local knowledge and often the experiences you have with the guides you meet on your travels, create some of the most lasting and special memories.

Here at Malawian Style we’re ready to help you plan that trip of a lifetime. Do get in touch with us for any more information and we promise to give you a holiday of a lifetime. We offer all kind of transfers with guides or without including self drive car hire, just give us a call to discuss in more detail.

In the mean-time here are some handy tips if you’re getting ready for your own road trip adventure:

  • Don’t forget; your yellow fever certificate, drivers license, valid passport, dollars
  • Check the car documents are valid; you will need the registration papers, insurance details, letter of authority from owner of car (if applicable)
  • At the border you will need to fill in some paper work and pay for the Temporary Export Permit (TEP) – Mkw 10,000
  • On Zambia side you pay for municipal tax, Zkw40 and your visa (best to check of any other payments will need to be made from your car provider)
  • There is a cash point on the Zambian side of the border but it doesn’t always work. There are many guys at the border ready to change money for you – just make sure you know what the going rate is so you don’t get ripped off.

Let the adventures begin…

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