How to Travel Africa Solo (Even as a Girl)
In 2013, I backpacked from Cape Town to Cairo all by myself. And in case you’re wondering: you should travel Africa solo too.
I know a lot of people question if this can or should be done, especially in Africa as a solo female traveler, but I am a huge supporter.
Perhaps one of the main reasons so many are doubtful of visiting the continent are the huge myths surrounding it.
Here is what you need to know to travel Africa Solo.
For starters, when you travel Africa Solo–you are never alone!
Some of the kindest people on the planet are in Africa. In fact, most African countries pride themselves on their generosity and hospitality to foreigners. Whether it’s on the bus, sitting at a cafe, or walking around, chances are someone is going to strike up a conversation with you. And to be honest, hanging out with locals and immersing yourself in their different cultures is probably one of the best parts about traveling Africa.
You will also meet lots of backpackers especially if you stay at hostels. And even though you’re technically traveling solo, it’s quite common for backpackers to link up with other backpackers and travel together for a while. I did that with several people during my trip. For a while I was even traveling with a group of people who were all originally traveling solo, but had eventually come together. We called ourselves Team Malawi, and it was a fun and slightly drunk few weeks.
As a side note, most backpackers are solo travelers. During my journey I met four sets of bff’s from either the UK or Germany, three besties from Canada traveling together, and a handful of couples who were learning the hard way that traveling together can make or break you. Everyone else was solo including at least 8 other girls besides myself who all agreed that girls can travel Africa solo with no problem.
If You Travel Africa Solo, You’ll Also….
- Increases your independence. Something about traveling by yourself is so rewarding. Or as one of my backpacker friends, Lizzy, said, “…I wanted to do something else than all my friends and prove that I could travel all by myself and very back to basic.” Also, when people find out you went to Africa by yourself, it gives you amazing street cred.
- Meet more people. I know I’ve already mentioned this, but let me just reinforce the fact that the people are the best part of your journey. During my trip I met amazing locals, backpackers from all over the world, and I even joined a Muslim mission’s trip in Sudan for a week which was an incredibly unique and eye opening experience. If you travel with someone you just don’t meet as many people. Take for example if you’re sitting down eating somewhere. If you’re sitting by yourself chances are someone either a local or another backpacker will invite you to sit with them, but if you’re already with a friend that won’t happen as much.
- You’ll experience more growth and transformation. Not only will the challenges of going solo make you a better person, but it also gives you more time for quiet self reflection.
To be honest, the only hard part about going solo is that you have no one to share it with you from back home. That’s why I’ve stayed close to all the friends I met along the way. We still keep up and share memories and funny stories from our trip.
6 Steps to Travel Africa Solo
1. Decide where you want to go
That can be hard when there are of 54 amazing countries to choose from. If you’re new to Africa or to backpacking, start in Cape Town, South Africa. It’s an incredible city and one of the easiest places to backpack. Watch, Where to Start Your African Adventure, to learn more. If you’re super stuck, download (for free if you want) my 5 sample itineraries for traveling Africa.
2. Book your ticket.
Personally, I love one way tickets because they give you much more freedom. Usually I book through Skyscanner.net because they have a more flexible search engine than other sites, and I can always find a cheap ticket. For example, through SkyScanner I booked my flight home from Cairo to the US was only $350 total including taxes. (Find out how I got such a low price in 7 Money Saving Tips for a Cheap Flight)
There are lots of things you need to do before taking off, but these are probably the three most important ones when travel Africa alone.
A. Get all your vaccinations and medications. No one wants to get sick while traveling, but especially not if you have no one to take care of you. The Centers for Disease and Control (CDC) lists the most important shots to get per country. Also, if you take medication on a regular basis you can talk to your insurance about getting several months in advance. You can also find most normal medications and antibiotics (such as Amoxacilin, Cipro, birth control, etc) in pharmacies in Africa for pretty cheap. Some people consider them less effective and they are prone to shortages, but if you are tight on your budget and your doctor gives you the green light, just buy them when you arrive.
B. Get your money situation ready. This involves several things.
- Let your banks know when and where you are traveling at least three days before you leave so that they don’t cancel your card when they see withdrawals from an ATM in a foreign country.
- Bring at least three credit or debit cards with you. I only brought two which turned out to be a problem when one got hacked in Europe during my layover. By the time I arrived in Africa, I only had one functional card and that was scary. It’s also recommendable to bring cards issued by at least two different banks. There is safety in diversifying.
- Make sure you know what your international ATM fees are and if possible get a card that does not have one. A lot of banks charge up to $7 a withdrawal. If you withdraw every week and your trip lasts seven months like mine did, you will have spent almost $200 which is half the cost of a safari or approximately 400 beers. I found Charles Schwab the best bank for me. You can sign up for free for a high yielding brokerage account that comes with a $0 minimum balance checking account. They reimburse all your ATM fees and bonus– their customer service is awesome. That becomes extremely valuable when you need to call them from a poor wifi connection. When I had to call my other bank, PNC, during my trip, their customer service took so long that by the time I was speaking to a real person my connection usually cut out.
- Add someone that you really trust to one of your bank accounts such as a parent or sibling. That way if something does happen to your account, you have someone back home that can talk to the bank for you. One time I had too poor of an internet connection to call myself, but luckily I was able to send out a quick email to my dad and he called the bank and fixed the problem for me. It was a huge help. But again, only do this if you really trust the person.
- Keep your money safe! And one of the best ways to do this is through Clever Travel Companion. It’s one of the few things I bought before my trip that actually worked and held up for the entire 7 months. I almost guarantee that if you buy something from them, you won’t get your passport or money stolen.
4. Bring an unlocked cell phone with you.
It’s great because you can buy local sims along the way and make cheap local phone calls within the country. It also lets you stay in touch easier with people back home. My favorite apps for that are:
- Viber. Calls are free to anyone with Viber when connected to the internet. You can also ‘Viber Out’ and call someone who doesn’t have Viber for only a small amount of money.
- WhatsApp. Simiar to Viber except it’s only messages.
- Skype. Skype seemed to be slower and harder for me to use, but it’s still good to have as a backup.
Warning, make sure you download these apps before you go or you might not find wifi strong enough once you arrive, and you’ll end up paying someone a lot of money to transfer the program onto your phone for you.
(Here’s a more comprehensive travel packing list)
5.Stay at backpacker hostels in the beginning.
You’ll meet lots of people and get the hang of what backpacking in Africa is like. After that it’s nice to branch out and meet more locals and do more off the grid stuff.
6. Travel slow and enjoy the ride.
When I first started I was in a hurry and missed a few places that I still really regret (like Swaziland and Lesotho). Eventually I slowed down and learned to enjoy each and every place. Learn from my mistake and start doing that in the beginning. Let go of your itinerary and just drift for a while. You’ll end up discovering more and will have a much more meaningful and memorable journey.
So if you want to travel Africa, quit making excuses and come. You don’t need (and most backpackers don’t have) a travel partner. Go solo and you’ll never regret it.
Cheers to good travel!