On August 20th, I completed a 50-day long trek through Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. I was traveling alone for the most part, until I met up with an Overland Tour (African Trails!) in Livingstone on day 28. It was my first trip to Africa and also first solo trip – needless to say, I was a little apprehensive. I’m pleased to say that I didn’t run into any trouble during my entire trip, namely because I practiced the following rules.
- Pack light. I packed up to 80% of my carrying capacity, as I knew I would pick up things here and there. I saved myself not only the trouble of carrying unnecessary items, but also saved myself the headache of worrying about losing things.
- Make detailed plans and build in buffer times. I often plan my trips with a spreadsheet. I shared detailed plans (nightly accommodations, exact flight schedules) with family, just in case they needed to check up on me. I also printed out this spreadsheet and referred to it constantly, so I was familiar enough with my own schedule to walk about with confidence. Though I planned in detail, I also gave myself the freedom to break plans should something else arise. Most hostels only required $1 or $2 as deposit, so the sunken costs weren’t prohibitive.
- Splurge for the safer option. I always wondered who were the travelers who had a driver with their names on a piece of paper at the airport. Well, I became “that person” on this trip. There will be shady taxi drivers and public transportation options are generally unsafe. Dazed and confused tourists are essentially sitting ducks, so it was better to ensure I had a driver waiting for me. Once I got settled in a new city, I felt confident enough to try other forms of transportation.
- Have a contingency plan. I started the trip fully expecting to lose things / have things stolen / getting sick. As such, I made careful copies of all my documents, stashed $$$ in various forms (card, cash, travelers checks), and carried a mini-pharmacy. I also brought a small stock of granola bars and a SteriPEN, so that I wasn’t forced to venture out late at night or early in the morning just because I was hungry / thirsty.
- Trust your gut. One of the best parts of traveling alone is the ease with which I was able to meet new people, either locals or fellow travelers. While I was vigilant at all times (with my own self and my belongings), it didn’t prevent me from hanging out with strangers and making new friends.
- Use common sense. Don’t wave valuables around. Wear your backpack in front in a crowded market. Don’t pore over a map in the middle of the street. If you feel unsafe, immediately get yourself into a store / restaurant and ask them to call you a taxi.
There were also a couple of tips I read online, but ignored. Namely, several sources told me to wear a fake wedding ring to prevent harassment from unwanted suitors. I didn’t wear one and didn’t run into problems.
Feel free to reach out if you have any other questions about solo travel through Africa. I would absolutely recommend it!