Wondering how to plan a trip to Africa? Feeling a bit overwhelmed? Well you’ve come to the right place! Planning any type of trip is exciting. Thinking about all the possibilities literally gives you butterflies.But it’s also confusing because there are so many options, there’s so much to see and do and it’s all new to you. You may not have a clue where to even begin or in what order to do things.
Unless you know exactly where you want to go (and for how long), you will most likely go back and forth during the planning stages and change your mind a hundred times. The phrase you might use is ‘chicken and egg’.
Whether it’s long-term backpacking or even a short 2-week holiday, organising an African adventure can seem like a daunting task. But don’t worry, we are here to help!
Despite rumours to the contrary, Africa doesn’t have to be expensive. If you get local buses, cook your own meals, camp, volunteer (for free), couchsurf or stay in homestays, you can keep the costs to a minimum for sure.
But then there are all those awesome activities that make Africa so appealing in the first place, like safaris, climbing mountains, white water rafting, eating in cool restaurants ,gorilla trekking and staying in nice hotels. Once you start doing those things, your costs start adding up very quickly.
So my best advice is to start saving as early as possible so you can enjoy everything this beautiful continent has to offer later on.
A lot of people have it in their head that they just want to go to ‘Africa’ but they don’t really know where.If you don’t have a very specific idea, we’re going to start with some brainstorming and research.
For this bit, you’re going to want to grab a pen and paper (or just use your computer if you’re not an old lady like me), open Google Maps, or get a map of Africa and pour yourself a cuppa (or copious amounts wine).
Ready? Then let’s go!
There are 54 countries and thousands and thousands of fabulous places to visit in the continent Africa, so start by thinking about what you want from your trip.
Is there something, in particular, you’ve always dreamed of?
An African safari is a given, but you can do that in a lot of countries, so think about the other stuff you want to do and then you can start narrowing it down.
Do you want to experience the wildebeest migration? Then the Masai Mara or the Serengeti are where you need to go! Always wanted to see mountain gorillas in the wild? Then get yourself to Rwanda, Uganda or the DRC! Want to climb Kilimanjaro? Then Tanzania has to be on your list. Want to see Victoria Falls? Then Zambia or Zimbabwe it is. You get my drift!
Are you after beaches and safaris? Adrenaline activities? Mountaineering or hiking? All of the above? Here are a few suggestions, based on your preferences:
Beautiful beaches: Tanzania/Zanzibar, Mozambique, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Malawi (although there’s no sea, just a big beautiful lake).
Adrenaline activities: Zambia, Uganda, Namibia, eSwatini, South Africa.
Safari: Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Uganda.
Mountaineering and hiking: Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, South Africa, eSwatini, Uganda, Rwanda, DRC.
Gorilla and Chimpanzee trekking: Uganda, Rwanda, DRC.
Watersports: Kenya, Zanzibar, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa.
Cool cities: South Africa, Morocco, Rwanda, Kenya.
Deserts: Namibia, Botswana, Morocco.
Google things to do and see in various African countries and jot down a few ideas by country. Read some blogs, look at some sample itineraries, look through our Africa posts and see if anything grabs your attention.
Keep a note of costs too, but you can refine this later, but ballpark figures. Remember costs for safari can vary wildly (for instance a Serengeti safari can go from $550 – $5,000+) depending on the number of people or style etc, so don’t be too put off by what you see on first glance.
Maybe look at some Africa tour itineraries to get a few ideas. There are tons of companies out there with different offerings.
Maybe make yourself a Pinterest board and if you find any cool images or blog posts, pin them to it so you can come back to them later.
If you find any cool places to stay, add them to your list (often where you stay can completely change your experience in my eyes) and you can refer back to them later.
Also important is to look at where you might want to avoid? I always check on the FCO website before planning any trip. But don’t be put off, sometimes it’s just a certain part of the country you need to miss.
If you are restricted on when you go, for instance if you’re a school teacher or student and you can only go in the summer, then you will want to think about where are the best places to go on the dates you can go.
If you are taking a short trip, but aren’t restricted on when, the continent is your oyster, so to speak!
If you are planning to take a longer trip that covers multiple countries, it will be difficult to be everywhere at the ‘perfect’ time so maybe base your trip around a few key events or activities.
I based my first big Africa trip on the fact that I wanted to climb Kilimanjaro in July and then planned the rest from there.
Some activities are seasonal, for instance, you might want to time your safari in Kenya or Tanzania during the wildebeest migration, or be in Malawi for the Lake of Stars festival, or climb Kilimanjaro when it’s not raining, or visit Victoria Falls when the water level is at its highest and most impressive or when it’s at its lowest so you can see the canyon and jump in the Devil’s Pool, or maybe you want to visit Mozambique when it’s whale shark season.
Just be aware that prices are often higher during high (usually the European summer time and around Christmas and New year) season, as with most other destinations around the world.
The weather in different countries can make a big impact on your trip. Google ‘best time to go to…’ and it will bring up the results you need.
Going slightly out of season is usually fine (and cheaper), and most things stay open all year, but make sure you check that the things you want to do are available out of season.
For instance, some of the national parks shut down in the rainy season and roads can become un-passable and the mosquitoes are a nightmare. And if you’ve always dreamed of jumping in the Devil’s Pool at Victoria Falls, don’t go in the summer because the water level is too high.
Going all that way to be disappointed is not very fun.
Are there any cool festivals or events that you want to attend? For instance you may want to visit the Lake of Stars festival in Malawi, Sauti za Busara in Zanzibar or Afrika Burn in South Africa?
You may want to avoid places where there is an impending election. Some African countries have been known to be a little bit volatile around election time.
Or you might want to avoid Ramadan in Muslim countries, because you may be more restricted on where you can eat as some restaurants close during this time.
Is this a 2 week holiday? Or a longer trip?
If you only have a set period of time off from work or university, then you already know this – great!
But if your time isn’t restricted (you lucky thing), then this is where budget most likely becomes the determining factor. And how long that budget will last, really depends on how you travel and what you do.
When I started planning my first Africa trip, the idea was just to go for a short while, but the more I researched, the more I wanted to do.
So just be warned – as you go through the planning stages, you may decide that Africa is just too amazing and you have to go for longer and see absolutely EVERYTHING all at once… and like me, end up taking a sabbatical from your job.
For me, going to Africa felt like it was a once in a lifetime thing and that I had to do it all in one go. But to be honest, it doesn’t have to be like that and shorter chunks are perfectly manageable.
I would just advise not trying to do too much. Don’t try to squeeze in more than 1 (or 2) countries per every two weeks.
Unless you’re a really confident traveller who definitely wants to travel independently, most first time travellers to Africa tend to have the tour or no tour debate with themselves… or worried family members.
There are a few different types of tour:
Maybe you’ve found a tour during your research that looks incredible? Or maybe you’ve decided where you want to go and are wondering whether it’s better to go alone or join a group tour? Will I be safer with a group tour? Wondering which will be more cost effective? Which will be more fun? Which will show me the ‘real’ Africa?
I find that a lot of people who come on my tours either come with me because:
There’s so much choice!
Some people are a bit snobby about travelling with a tour, but I have done tours and travelled solo in Africa and I can tell you that both are great fun and both have their advantages and disadvantages. And in some places, like Namibia, it just makes more sense to join a tour sometimes.
Plus, it doesn’t really matter what anyone else thinks. All that matters is what way works best you and what you feel comfortable with. Even if you go most of the way solo, sometimes it makes sense to take a tour for part of it!
To help you with your decisions, I’ve written a handy guide or weighing up solo travel in Africa v’s overland tour v’s small group tour! I hope it helps…
Next, you need to start thinking about how much this whole thing is going to cost you and more importantly, how long it’s going to take you to save up.
Just remember that as you plan your trip, you need to keep your realistic budget in mind.
It’s so easy to get carried away by all the gorgeous things you see on Instagram or in magazines – only to be disappointed later once you start looking at the costs in detail and realise that the gorgeous hotel you saw in the pictures, with the awesome view, costs more per night than you intended to spend in a week.
No doubt you’ll have to compromise some things to be able to afford others, but don’t worry – there is an Africa for every budget. And from my experience, often the cheaper options are more fun, authentic and give you a much better insight into the real Africa anyways.
If you are thinking about taking a tour it makes things a little easier, as you’ll just have the cost of the tour plus the pre-trip and optional activities to factor (your tour company should be able to give you an idea of those).
If you’re travelling independently, it’s always a bit more tricky and will vary a great deal.
You can mix it up, having cheaper days, so I can treat myself to other things.
For a lot of things there are different budgets too, so shop around for the safari that suits your budget.
You may want to go for 6 months, but when you cost it all up, you may only be able to afford 3! But all is not lost, you just have to prioritise what you do or look at cheaper accommodation options – there’s always a way. Or maybe push your trip back a few months so that you have a little bit more time to save.
More things you’ll need to consider:
Look up some flight prices on Skyscanner, or your favourite flight search engine. Skyscanner is usually my go to, because it allows me to show prices if I fly into one place and out of another. If you can be flexible with the dates you may be able to save a bit of cash.
I’ll come to all of these later in the post, but you’ll need to consider the cost of vaccinations and any new equipment/clothes you need for Africa.
Then there’s also malaria tablets and travel insurance (see below) – the cost of those will depend on how long you are going for (and where you’re going, malaria tablets aren’t needed everywhere).
Don’t forget to factor in visas. Sadly, some countries charge a lot for visas. For instance, a visa for Tanzania will cost $50 for most nationalities and $100 for Americans – ouch! I always use Project Visa to find the latest info.
Good news if you are African though as most African countries have no visas fees for people from other African countries.
Accommodation, Safaris and Activities
You will probably have an idea of costs from your previous research, but now is the time to start to put all that together.
Accommodation, safaris and activities often go hand in hand (transport does too, but we’ll look at that separately). For example, you know you want to go on a Gorilla safari and during your research, you came across a great camp that you like the look of and it has everything you want and some other cool activities on offer too. You then have 4 options.
Safari costs can also vary a lot from country to country and there is a huge cost difference between a basic camping safari and a high-end lodge safari. So you will need to cost up the various scenarios.
In East Africa, for a budget safari, you’re probably talking a minimum of $400 – $700 pp for 3 days, for mid-range $700 – $1200 and for high end, well the sky is your limit.
Southern Africa is generally a bit cheaper for safari, but again, there are so many factors – depending on whether you are on an all-inclusive safari tour, self-driving or just going on 1-day game drives.
When you’re not on safari, and staying in towns or cities, it’s a bit simpler. Find a hotel you like, and see what activities are in the vicinity (often listed on the hotel website), see how easy it is to get to them by public transport or your own car (most websites will have a ‘How To Get Here’ section, if not they will usually provide the details by email. Then you can often arrange the activities you want to do through them.
Just remember, most activities can be booked when you are there, but some have to be booked in advance, for instance, if you go gorilla trekking in high season, you usually need to book your permit way in advance.
Transport costs are really difficult to predict if you are travelling independently.
If you are backpacking, you never really know what type of transport you’ll end up taking. And it’s likely that you’ll take lots of different types of journeys. Some will even be included in your safaris.
Local mini buses are super cheap (think less than a couple of dollars for a 2-hour journey, $10 for an 8 hours journey), even coaches tend to be pretty reasonable (in East Africa, you’re probably looking at around $15 – $20 for a 8 hour journey using a company like Modern Coast and in Southern Africa, maybe around $40 for a journey of the same length for buses like Intercape). The shuttle buses and shared taxis tend to be a bit more comfortable but a bit more expensive.
Self-driving is also an option. The cost to hire a vehicle can vary greatly depending on where you are, how far you drive and the type of car you get. I found a great post from Bold Travel, where they talk about how much it cost them to hire a car and self-drive Namibia for 10 days. If you’re driving in South Africa and Namibia, you’ll probably be fine in a normal car, but anywhere else, a 4×4 would be advised, but these tend to be at the more expensive end of the spectrum.
If you have your heart set on self-driving, shop around for some quotes. Most of the companies I’ve found cater for Southern Africa, but there are a few that cover other parts of Africa too. Finding one that covers most of East and Southern Africa seems to be rare – but if I find one, I’ll link to it here.
In 5 weeks backpacking around Kenya and Tanzania, I spent £187 on transport using a mix of coaches, local mini buses, taxis, ferries, motorbikes and tuk tuks. That did not include my trip from Arusha to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater (and back) where the transport was included in the safari.
That amount would be different in pretty much every country. So the best you can do is make an educated guess and have some spare cash just in case.
Food and Drink
I usually spend between $5 – $30 per day on food. Street food is cheap, as are local restaurants and you can always cook for yourself when their are facilities. Anything catering to tourists will be much more expensive. But it’s nice to treat yourself sometimes.
I’d work through this point and points 8 and 9 pretty much simultaneously.
You’ve done your research, you know where you want to go, when you want to go, how long you want (can afford) to go for and roughly what things are going to cost, so you need to start prioritizing the key things you want to see and do, so that you can work around them and then everything else is a bonus.
If you have the time and money to do it all, great!
If not, don’t worry. You can always come back another time!
Plot it all out on Google maps to make sure it all makes sense and flows well and is achievable within your timeframe. You can always change it or expand on it later.
I’m going to suggest that you stick to 1 country per every 2 weeks (in some cases you could squeeze in 2). So if you have 6 weeks – I’d say no more than 3 or 4 countries.
Remember that the distances between many of the points of interest are long, and the journeys can take a while, especially if you don’t have your own transport or aren’t on a tour. So prioritise the things you want to do and build your trip around that.
It’s likely that your itinerary will change slightly when you look at your budget (below), as you do more research and if you decide to go it alone or take a tour, but at now you are starting to formulate a plan! Yay!
You’ll need to understand what activities need to be booked in advance and what can wait till you get there. You don’t want to miss out because you were too late to book. So before you set your itinerary in stone, check they are available – examples of this would be, gorilla trekking or staying at Giraffe Manor!
If you’ve decided on a tour – book it! Get that deposit down (maybe just check the flights are reasonable before you do).
If you are travelling independently and on a short timescale (like 2 weeks) you are going to need to have a bit of a plan. Especially if you have specific things you want to do. Just don’t forget to factor in travel time between destinations.
If you are travelling independently but for a longer time, maybe just plan the first few days or maybe weeks if you’re a planner, and book anything that needs booking in advance but also leave a bit of flexibility in your itinerary too. There’s bound to be somewhere amazing that you’ll hear about from other travellers and it would be a shame to miss out because you’re on a really strict schedule. I’ve made this mistake before.
You’ll still have a great time and see loads of stuff whenever you go and however you travel!
Book those flights! Usually, the earlier the better!
If you can, be flexible by a day or two, or even by a week, all the better.
Use Skyscanner to search for flights, and to try and get the best deal by searching the whole month. If you have some flexibility, you may be able to save a bit of money! They also allow you to search flying into one airport and flying out of another, so if you’re planning to overland, this is a great option.
I live in Liverpool, but I often check flights from London, as sometimes, it’s cheaper for me to get the bus or train down and then fly from there.
If you’re joining a tour, check if it’s cheaper to fly in a day or two earlier and stay in a hostel and maybe get your bearings before you head out on safari.
Now we get to the really fun bit! Just for the record, a lot of this can be done whilst you are there.
But hopefully, from your research, you’ll know which things you need to be book in advance, so book them – especially if you are on a short trip. If you are travelling for 6 months, it’s a lot easier to find a space at an activity than if you are travelling for 2 weeks.
If you book an activity that depends on you being in a certain location, book your accommodation at the same time so you don’t end up miles away from where you need to be.
Check Google maps as sometimes place descriptions can be misleading. An example is the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary in Uganda. It says it’s in Kampala on the website, but it’s actually 100 miles north of of the city.
Even if you book no other accommodation, I always recommend at least booking your first night or two when you arrive in Africa. Especially if you are arriving on a night flight. Searching around for accommodation in the middle of the night in Africa is not advisable.
You don’t have to book safaris before you go, but sometimes it makes sense to. If you are travelling alone and have found a group trip, perhaps go ahead and book it so you’re not waiting around for one or paying a premium. Or you can wait and see if you meet some travel companions when you are there and go with them. This is best if you have a bit more time. If you are only there for a few weeks, I’d try and book in advance.
Most activities can be booked when there, for example, you arrive at a place and say ‘I want to go on a village tour or white water rafting tomorrow’, and you can – there are few restrictions on numbers.
But then some activities are really popular and definitely need to be booked a week or two (sometimes months) in advance. Examples include; gorilla trekking in Uganda (because Rwanda is more expensive, you can often book nearer the time), living desert tours in Swakopmund, Namibia and the Devil’s Pool in Zambia.
Use the following sites to book Your accommodation:
Or, as a compromise, you can join one of our tours and all your safaris and most of your activities are included! Easy!!!
Book yourself an appointment with your doctor or specialist travel clinic as soon as possible to get your vaccinations started. I’d recommend you do this at least 6 months out.
For some countries you may need a Yellow Fever certificate. I use Travel Health Pro to check what I need to get!
You will also need to think about getting malaria tablets. Some types of malaria tablets need to be taken 1 month in advance, so make sure you go to your doctors in good time.
You can save money by getting the non-branded versions of malaria tablets (Malarone is a brand name for atovaquone/proguanil – they are medically identical and the non-branded version is much cheaper) and you can often get them much cheaper over the counter in Africa, so some people get enough for the first weeks or so, and buy the rest there.
Just make sure you go to a reputable pharmacy.
To travel to most Africa countries, you will need your passport to be valid for 6 months after the date you intend to leave the country and you will need to have at least 2 blank pages in it at any one time. So make sure you have room in your passport for the countries you intend to travel to. I always rely on the Foreign & Commonwealth Office for information!
You should also check to see if you need to apply for a visa in advance. I can’t think of anything worse than turning up at an airport or border and being turned around! Most West African countries require you to obtain a visa in advance. Most East, Southern and North African countries allow you to purchase visas on arrival. However, there are some exceptions.
To check on the visa requirements, I usually rely on Project Visa. The rules and costs for visas vary from country to country and from nationality to nationality.
If you have dual nationality, it’s worth checking both of your passports to see which one will work best for you.
For most countries where you pay for your visa on arrival, you will need to pay for that visa in dollars. Please check ahead of time so you have the correct currency ready.
If you are looking to get multi-entry visas, you will usually need to arrange those in advance either online or with a local embassy.
I cannot stress how important it is to have comprehensive travel insurance in place for your trip to Africa!
Make sure that the policy you take out covers you for all of your travel requirements, including the sometimes remote nature of Africa travel and any adventurous activities that you wish to do.
When travelling to Africa, you are going to need to take some cash with you.
You will need dollars for most visas (check the individual countries), so work out how much you are going to need for them and add at least a few hundred dollars on top of that. If you have leftover dollars, you can use them for quite a lot of activities. Or you can always change them if you need local currency.
Just remember that all your dollars need to be dated 2013 and after and be in good condition!
As I am British, I usually always take GBP, which is easy to change. Euros are good to take too. If I can get local currency at home, I sometimes take that too. For example, Kenyan Shillings are easy to obtain outside of Kenya, but Tanzania has a closed currency, so I usually have to exchange money or take it out from the ATM when I’m there.
Personally, I don’t take Traveller’s Cheques because I’ve found them difficult to change and the exchange rate you get is usually awful. So I take a mix of dollars, pounds and my cards. I sometimes also take euros, depending on where I am travelling to.
Take your cards as, most major cities and towns have ATM’s and the rate you get from them is usually better than you get from a Bureau de Change. But I’ve occasionally been to a cashpoint and tried to get money out and realised it doesn’t have any money in (or it doesn’t have enough money in), so, you may need to try a few.
Just remember that you have a daily limit (usually between £250 – £300) so if you need a lot of cash, bring it with you, or take it out over a few days.
You may also need to use the ATM multiple times too. For instance, in Malawi, you can only take out about £80 at a time, this is because you get so many notes, that it literally can’t fit out of the ATM slot, so if you want more money than that, you just need to use the ATM a few times.
I’ve found that Visa is much more widely accepted than MasterCard. But if you can have 2 or even 3 cards in case the first one doesn’t work (or gets swallowed), then great. That will also help if you need to get out quite a bit of money in one day. Just keep your extra cards separate from your main card for safety.
You may want to consider opening an account with a bank that doesn’t charge for withdrawls abroad (or charges very little), as these costs add up, especially if you’re travelling for long periods of time. In the UK, M&S Bank and Nationwide often have the best deals.
Download a currency exchange app such as Units Plus which let’s you easily check what the exchange rate is and you won’t accidentally buy a $50 bottle of wine like I once did after travelling into Kenya from Tanzania and mixing up the currencies.
And don’t forget to tell your bank where you are going so they don’t block your cards!
Start to think about what you are going to take with you! Believe me, you won’t need half of the things you think you do! But, it’s always good to be prepared!
Here’s a bit of help to get you started:
All accommodation providers will arrange a taxi for you you so I would suggest that you organise that with them (or your tour company). Your hotel will usually add the fee to your bill with them, and they will pay the taxi driver so you don’t have to worry about the money.
Or you can usually pick up taxis from most most major airports no matter what time you arrive. If you are getting your own taxi, just make sure that you take a licensed one (you can always ask an airport official where they are) and that they use the meter or you agree the fare beforehand.
Just don’t forget to have some cash ready to pay for your journey! You can get cash out from the ATM airport in most cases.
Take look at my Top Africa Travel Tips posts for some handy hints on arriving in Africa.
I’m borrowing this phrase from my friend Moses.
Moses was my guide on my overland tour way back in 2009 and now runs Mara Explorers Camp in the Masai Mara.
Every day he would tell us (in his strong Kenyan accent) – “You need to prepare yourself physically and psychologically” for the day or activity ahead. We all loved this saying and whenever he’d start to say it, we’d join in too.
Joking aside, it is probably the best advice anyone can give you. Africa can be tough both physically and mentally. The roads are bumpy as hell. It’s hot. It’s cold. The mosquitoes will drive you nuts. You’ll see some tough things. Africa can be exhausting and frustrating. You’ll see inequality everywhere. You’ll see things that will upset you and make you question everything you know.
It can also be overwhelmingly (out-of -this-world) AMAZING!!! You need to prepare yourself for all the things you are about to see and do – it’s going to be incredible.
But most of all, you’ll need to be prepared for the fact you will probably return home a bit of a different person.
There are two phrases you need to have in mind before you go and the sooner you understand them and learn to love them, the better!
‘Africa Time’ – Things work differently in Africa. It happens when it happens. The bus only may leave when it’s full, not necessarily when it’s scheduled. The food arrives when it arrives.
But on you get used to it, you’ll probably love it and find it kind of refreshing. Why are we always in a hurry for everything these days anyway?
‘This is Africa’ – A phrase usually used with a shrug of the shoulders when something goes wrong, like when you safari vehicle breaks down or the power cuts off. It’s usually used to placate you, as if to say ‘This is Africa, what do you expect?’. Things can be hard in Africa, often due lack of infrastructure so being prepared for that is best.
‘This is Africa’ also means something entirely different.
All you need to do is change the emphasis, ‘This IS Africa’. It’s the wonderful people, stunning landscapes, amazing safaris and incredible adventures. It’s the feeling of living in the moment, as it is so easy to do in Africa. If the power/WiFi goes off, enjoy the challenge and romance of cooking by candle light or chat with your fellow travelers instead of staring at your phone all night.
And you’re off. This is likely to be one of, if not the most incredible trips of your life. Enjoy it.
The first day or two may be a bit overwhelming and a bit of a culture shock, but don’t let this deter you. Give it a few days and I bet you will have made the best friends and are having the time of your life. If you’re not, message me and I’ll talk you through it!
I also recommend you join the Backpacking Africa Facebook Group. It’s always a great place to ask for recommendations for places to stay, safari companies, how to get around or find travel buddies. You’ll find that there are a lot of well-travelled Africa lovers in this group so you’ll usually get the help you need as you go.
I hope this guide helps to prepare you for travel in Africa and all the wonderful things you are about to see and do. I am so excited for you!
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Plan Your Trip to Africa
Getting There: Always search for flights on Skyscanner.
Travel Insurance: This is Africa, so make sure you have comprehensive travel insurance that will cover you for all of the activities you want to do. I recommend World Nomads or Outbacker.
Resources: I’m a big fan of Lonely Planet guidebooks and usually travel with one wherever I go.
Tours: Don’t fancy going it alone? Join a small group tour and come on one of my Rock My Adventure tours.
I hope you have an amazing trip to Africa! If you have any other questions, please leave them in the comments below!
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