Planning your first visit to Africa can be daunting. It doesn’t have to be.

There may be no friendlier, more welcoming land on Earth than Africa. But for the first-time visitor, it may be the most intimidating continent on the planet. Why is that?

First, there’s its sheer size, enough to fit most of Europe, all of the 48 contiguous US states, China and India within its shores. Deserts, grasslands, mountains, jungles, even a glacier, Africa has it all.

It’s home to 55 sovereign nations, with 1.2 billion people divided into more than 3,000 ethnic groups who between them speak more than 2,100 languages. Africans practice nearly all of the world’s major religions — along with their own traditional belief systems that predate all of them.

Is your head spinning yet?

Then there’s the matter of familiarity. With the exception of the two countries that colonized Africa more than any other — Britain and France — most of the world doesn’t have much. And we Americans scarcely have any.

We never colonized any part of Africa, never had close business or cultural ties to any African country. And our schools barely teach our kids anything about Africa or Africans. What little most Americans know about Africa, we learn from nightly TV news.

Small wonder that when first-timers look at a map of the Mother Continent, they often feel overwhelmed and unsure where to begin. But bringing Africa into travel focus is actually a lot easier than it seems — and believe it or not, it starts with that map.

Stop looking at it.

The first step in getting your head around Africa is to stop thinking in terms of destination and start thinking in terms of interests — yours.

What do you love? What fascinates you, piques your interest, hooks your attention? Is it music, art, dance? Is it food or fashion? History and heritage maybe? Do you love photography, like to shoot and edit your own videos? Do you like to dive head-long into different cultures?

These are just a few possibilities — and there is no wrong answer to this question, so relax.

Once you’ve focused on what your interests are, it’s just a matter of finding the country or region in Africa that matches them.

Now you’re ready to go back to that map.

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