A few years ago I spent 7 months backpacking Africa, by myself, using only public transportation. Out of all the places I've traveled in the world, Africa has become my favorite. It's not too dangerous or unsafe either. By following the backpacking tips below, I navigated the entire continent as a solo girl without any problems.
- Keep Your Money/Valuables Hidden on You. I was never robbed, thankfully, but even if I was, the thief wouldn't have gotten much since my valuables were all hidden inside my Clever Travel Companion blank tank top (You can read more about how this kept me safe + tips on which size to buy, etc on my backpacking Africa travel blog). I met a backpacker in Tanzania, however, whose taxi driver drove him out of town, stole his wallet, then left him on the side of the road. Luckily, the driver was nice enough to reach back into my friend's wallet and give him enough change for a bus ride back to town (a very thoughtful thief!). But if this would have happened to me, the driver would have only gotten about $20 because the rest of my money, credit cards, and passport were concealed in my tank top.
- Watch Out for Thieves at Hostels. Unfortunately, some of the worst thieves are other backpackers or the cleaners at your backpacker lodge. To prevent this from happening to you, I recommend packing a lock and using it to secure the lockers that most hostels provide in the rooms. During my trip when this wasn't an option, I put all my important essentials in my Clever Travel tank, and folded it up nicely with the rest of my clothes. If someone did go through my stuff, they wouldn't steal a plain old item like that, and they also wouldn't suspect it was hiding my passport and money.
- Don't lose your Sh*T! I think it's normal to want to go a little crazy on vacation, especially the first few days or weeks. But that's when the most trouble happens. For me it meant I spent exorbitant amounts of money in the beginning when I was in South Africa and then had to do some serious damage control on my budget for the rest of the trip. I saw a lot of good people though doing drugs, breaking country laws knowingly, or hanging out at shady bars in shady areas which are all things they admitted to never doing at home.Then they got mad when they were arrested for smoking weed or held up after drinking in a ghetto. Granted, as a traveler you're not going to know all the laws and most places in Africa do look a little questionable, but my advice is to keep yourself together and make sure you're making smart choices even in the beginning.
- Ask Locals for Advice. The best way I stayed safe while backpacking Africa was by asking locals safety advice then following it. For example, an American expat in Rwanda told me I could walk down a dark alley in Kigali at 2am with all my valuables out in the open, and nothing bad would happen. And although I didn't quite test it out, I did feel very safe. But in Nairobi, a local told me that as soon as it gets dark, I needed to quit walking and take a taxi even if I was only going a few blocks away. So that's what I did, and what I credit to a fun (and safe) experience in the town whose bad reputation earned it the name “Nairobbery.”
- Use Common Sense. Looking back, most my travel mistakes happened because I just didn't use common sense. The same was true for other travelers. Like when my backpacking friend, Oron, got malaria because he forgot to take his anti-malaria medicine for three weeks. Or when I recently heard of a traveler getting gored by a rhino because he got too close to it during a photo-op. Usually the unfortunate happens in travel because we just quit thinking.
- Leave the Situation-Fast! No matter, how careful you are, you can still easily wind up in a bad situation accidentally. My advice-run! That's what I did when I ended up in a really sketchy hostel in Durban, South Africa that looked more like a crack den. I found some Canadian backpackers who felt the same as me, and we shared a taxi and got out of there quick! I met some British girls who told me in Malawi that they went out clubbing with a local guy, but started to feel uncomfortable with how he was acting and where he was taking them. They nicely came up with an excuse and left. Even if everything seems fine, but you just have a bad feeling, I'd listen to it because it's literally better to be safe than sorry.
- Don't Tempt a Thief. While no situation justifies robbing or harming someone, there's no reason to make it easy. I always cringed when I saw someone walking around with a money belt. In my opinion, that just screams, “Rob me!” Their cash could be just as easily reached, however, in the pocket of a Clever Travel Companion pair of underwear, only with the added advantage of being secure. Same thing goes for a Chinese backpacker I met who was walking around Mozambique with her computer in a laptop case. I felt really bad when someone stole it from her when she was walking back from an internet cafe, but at the same time, locals never looked twice at me when I was carrying my computer because I was storing it in my dusty backpack.
I hope you see that backpacking Africa can be easily (and safely) traveled. Because even though I had visited over 20 countries before my trip—including European, Asian, and Latino, I found African countries to be the best for so many reasons!
Check out my blog Backpacking Africa for Beginners www.backpackingafricaforbeginners.com for more ideas on which countries to visit and how to do it, plus get a free 15% off coupon to Clever Travel Companion by downloading the complete edition of my free African travel E-book and check out this blog to see what other neat stuff Clever Travel gear can do!
About the Author: Val Bowden backpacked from Cape Town to Cairo, going through 13 African countries, all by herself. After her trip, she moved back to the continent and has been living in Addis Ababa ever since. You can download her E-book, Backpacking Africa for Beginners http://backpackingafricaforbeginners.com/book/or her guides on Ethiopia, Kilimanjaro, & scoring cheap flights for free (although any contribution goes towards a social impact business she's starting in Ethiopia).