Lizzie Williams
Interview Words : The World According To ... | 07 May

The World According to Lizzie Williams

African guidebook author Lizzie Williams on why a great British tea making kit is the first thing she packs

Mountain/desert/jungle/ocean which are you?

All of the above. One of the most rewarding things about travelling around Africa is the diversity of its landscapes – this continent has them all on an overwhelming scale.

First travel experience?

Getting on an aeroplane for the first time as a child in the late 1970s; we were only going to Spain but my family was so incredibly excited, we got to Luton Airport six hours early – it was such a big deal back then.

Favourite journey?

Travelling around Nigeria for two months on public transport; it was chaotic, exhausting and challenging, but meeting people that had never seen a Westerner before was incredibly humbling.

Top five places worldwide?

Cape Town; the Swahili coast; East Africa’s game parks; Zimbabwe; Namibia.

Special place to stay?

Emerson Spice in Zanzibar; this newly-opened boutique hotel is an exquisitely decorated work of art above the intriguing alleyways of Stone Town.

Three items you always pack?

My ‘Great British Tea-Making Kit’ – thermos mug, electrical element, and Tetley T-bags (no one speaks to me until I’ve had that first cup of tea).

Passport stamp you're proudest of?

Eritrea. We were among the first handful of visitors to a new country after it gained independence in 1993. We celebrated our arrival by eating lasagne and drinking whiskey in the port of Massawa.

Passport stamp most like to have?

South Sudan; Africa’s newest nation. Also New Zealand; the big skies and crisp air appeal, I’m a big fan of Lord of the Rings and most of the men I’m attracted to seem to be Kiwis…

Guilty travel pleasure?

My hard-sided four-wheel-drive suitcase – they actually can go just about anywhere and you can sit on them at airports.

Window or aisle?

Long-haul – window for sleeping; short-haul – aisle so I can join the scrum to get off first.

Who is your ideal travelling companion?

Friends who can share the belly-laughs for ‘the-most-obscure-moment-of-the-day’.

Best meal on the road? Worst?

I’ve been lucky enough to eat at the best restaurants wherever I’ve been.

Eating goat’s head pepper soup in the dark in Nigeria, and chicken, cockroaches and chips on a train in Tanzania have to be the worst.

Most surprising place? Most disappointing?

Every destination has its surprises... Cyprus; might as well have been Manchester by-the-sea.

Where do you NOT want to go?

For some reason, India doesn’t appeal even though I feel it should

Who/what inspired you to travel? Any travel heroes?

Watching David Attenborough on Life on Earth as a child.

What do you listen to on the road? Any song take you back to a particular time or place?

I don’t even own an iPod; I listen to what’s happening around me.

What do you read?

When I’m travelling, guidebooks and chick-lit.

Is there a person you met while travelling who reaffirmed your faith in humanity? Anyone who made you lose it?

Many acts of kindness have helped me on my way. A rude Afrikaners man who refused to sell me a tyre for my car because I was female and he assumed I didn’t know what I was talking about.

What's the most impressive / useful phrase you know in a foreign language?

I’m ashamed to say I’m hopeless at languages, but there are some Swahili words I like to use such as Poa (relax) and Rafiki (friend).

What is your worst habit as a traveller?

Expecting everyone to speak English.

Snowbound in a tent in Antarctica, how would you entertain your companions?

Humorous anecdote-telling.

When and where in your travels have you been happiest?

Exploring Africa on an overland truck.

What smell most says 'travel' to you?

Suntan lotion and mosquito repellent.

Given a choice, which era would you travel in?

I would be a wealthy traveller in the colonial times and have a trunk, fly swat and man-servant.

If you could combine three cities to make your perfect metropolis, what would they be?

Cape Town, Istanbul and Dubai.

Bradt Nigeria guideOriginally from London, Lizzie Williams has worked and lived in Africa since 1995. She has sat with a gorilla, slept among elephants, fed a giraffe, swum with a hippo and is now something of an expert on border crossings and African beer. Lizzie is author of more than 30 guidebooks on African countries for Footprint, Bradt, AA Publishing, Frommers and DK Eyewitness

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