Africa’s new middle class benefits travel

Africa, EthiopiaAfrica’s middle class is growing.

The African Development Bank says one in three Africans are now middle class. While the bank’s definition isn’t comparable to the Western definition–the African middle class makes $2-$20 a day–the lifestyle is similar. Middle-class Africans tend to be professionals or small business owners and instead of worrying about basics such as food and shelter, their main concerns are getting better health care and getting their kids into university.

The bank says the countries with the biggest middle class are Botswana, Gabon, and Tunisia, while Liberia, Mozambique, and Rwanda have the smallest. The BBC has an interesting photo gallery profiling members of this rapidly growing class.

So how does this affect travel? With an growing middle class you get more domestic tourism, good news for non-Africans traveling in Africa. More regional airlines are cropping up, and comfortable buses provide an appealing alternative to the bone-shaking rattletraps familiar to travelers in Africa.

It also makes consumer goods easier to find. This generally means cheap Chinese exports of even worse quality than what we’re accustomed to in the West, but in bigger cities quality goods are readily available. There’s also an increasing number of nice restaurants and cafes geared towards locals. Internet access is also improving.

During my Ethiopian road trip and my two months living in Harar I benefited from Ethiopia’s middle class. Mobile phone coverage is available everywhere except remote villages and the wilderness, and although the Internet is slow, there are Internet cafes in every town. Improved education meant there many people who could speak English and who could help me learn some Amharic and Harari. Often I could take a more comfortable “luxury” bus rather than be stuffed in a local bus with an entire village of passengers. Self-styled budget travelers may turn their nose up at spending an extra two dollars to be comfortable, but the middle class buses are quicker and you’re more likely to meet someone you can talk to.

In fact, I made some good friends on the luxury bus to Harar. A group of Ethiopian pharmacy students showed me the town and gave me insights into their lives. University education is free in Ethiopia if you pass a rigorous entrance exam. The government even pays for your room and board, and you pay them back by working a government job for some time after you get out. The students I met will be setting off to villages to provide basic health care.

Nearly all these students, and in fact nearly all middle-class Africans I’ve met, yearn to go to the West. One even called her country “a prison”. While heading to the West may be a good career move, it hurts the continent. As one African pointed out in the BBC photo gallery, the money it takes to get to Europe can start up a nice business in Africa.

Danny DeVito tours Italy with his “Troll Foot”

There are plenty of ways to document a trip. You can blog during your travels, shoot some video or, of course, take pictures. Often, having a recurring theme in your photographs can help create a narrative for your friends to follow. Pictures of you in front of famous works of art, sampling local foods or posing with monuments can turn photo albums into photo essays. Or, of you’re Danny Devito, you can take pictures of your foot as you meander through Italy.

The diminutive actor who is best known for his work in Taxi and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (and as the “crap left over” in Twins) is currently tweeting his way through Europe’s boot while documenting his self-proclaimed “Troll Foot.” His foot has visited the Duomo in Milan, Piazza San Marco, and the canals of Venice.

You can follow his adventures (or, more accurately, his Troll Foot’s adventures) and live vicariously through his stubby appendage. With so many celebrities tweeting the inane triviality of their lives, it’s refreshing to see someone of such prominence leveraging new media in a way that both enlightens and uplifts others. What better way to teach others about Italy and promote the benefits of travel than posting grainy images of your creepy foot?

It should be noted that a fairly extensive perusal of DeVito’s images has led this reporter to discover that the actor has not one, but two Troll Feet. Once again, Gadling is at the forefront of investigative travel journalism.

Photo via yfrog user Danny_Devito.

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Hidden Gems: Princeton, New Jersey, a photo essay


Brad Hill, Princetonite, was my guide on a tour through his favorite Princeton, New Jersey haunts on a grey
Friday in March. But first, I gazed in awe at the ivy-covered Ivy-ness of the University.


It’s beautiful, of course, but
we were looking for gems, and hidden ones, at that. Brad’s favorite spot (and mine, as well): Small World Coffee, 14 Witherspoon St., where the lattes are
poured fast and the Rice Krispie treats are served in gigantic cubes.


One of the best parts about Small World Coffee is their bean-erific logo, emblazoned on the most
impressive array of schwag I’ve ever seen in a
coffee shop (and boy do I know coffee shops, folks). Most of the items, which range from shot glasses to insulated mugs
to girly-shaped tees, can only be purchased in the coffee shop itself.


The shop has a commitment
to organic coffee and foods and a full complement of Princetonites in all their glory. A 15-month-old tried to share
his cookie with me and the most happy barista I’ve ever met served me a mini cupcake in a plastic bubble. I loved every
minute.


Zorba’s Grill, 183-B Nassau St., is hidden in plain site
between the campus and the main drag. According to Brad, it’s where most of the professors get their lunch, and the
gyros are great and cheap.


As most college towns,
Princeton is infatuated with ice cream. Next door to Zorba’s is the most popular creamery, Thomas Sweet, 179 Nassau St. With its bubbly graphics and
primary-colored logo, the place looks like a chain. Oh, wait, it is a chain!


At
Thomas Sweet, the "blend-ins" are famous and made my
mouth water and stomach grumble for more chocolate. They sound like a copycat of (or precursor to) the Blizzard. And I
know you’re asking, Sarah, what is a popular chain on the main drag doing in your "Hidden Gems"
feature?
Well…


…as a contrast to Halo Pub, 9
Hulfish St. (off Palmer Square), the ice cream store that had far, far more character. And, it appeared, far more
customers on a cool not-quite-spring day.


Why are there more customers?
Possibly because the possibilities are mind-boggling. I love an ice cream store that sells so many flavors I can never
pick one.


Even better: the wall of cows.
I don’t know if that’s what they call it. But that’s what I’m calling it. Every ice cream store needs a wall
of cows.


After all that ice cream I’ve worked up
an appetite for something spicy… Indian food! Princeton seems to be a haven for Indian restaurants, and we ate at a
popular Indian spot on Thursday night. We only ate there, it seems, because the "far better"
Méhék, 164 Nassau St., never answered their phone to take our reservation. Their hours are murky and
their phone isn’t answered, but they’re the best in town. Consider yourself informed.


It
wouldn’t be a photo essay without a stop at the local camera joint. The man behind the counter at New York Camera, 173
Nassau St., was studiously answering a difficult question from the owner of an old camera, but he took a break to ring
me up for some interesting and very cheap Kodak film.


The shop, like many in
Princeton, was located in a Colonial-era house connected by walkways to the houses behind — in central Princeton, it
seems, there are few yards.


I couldn’t leave the town
without visiting some of the spots made famous by Hollywood. This room, Brad tells me, was the one where the other
members of the faculty gave John Nash their pens in
A Beautiful Mind. Of course, no such real ceremony exists
, and the books that filled the
"library" were added just for the filming. It’s no less stunning and – next time I’m in Princeton — I’m
totally hanging out here with my laptop. The room was empty but for two students last Friday afternoon.


[Photos of Princeton taken March 24, 2006, by Sarah Gilbert.]