How to Travel Africa Solo (Even as a Girl)

Travel Africa Solo as a girl, Backpacking Africa solo

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.

 

Travel Africa, Backpacking Uganda,

Two backpackers I met and traveled with along the way

 

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.

 

Travel Africa, Backpacking Malawi

Team Malawi in Cape McClear, Malawi

 

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.

(To learn more about safety in Africa check out, Is Africa Safe or read Backpacking Africa for Beginner’s E-book chapter on female safety).

 

If  You Travel Africa Solo, You’ll Also….

 

 

  • 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)

 

3.Get prepared.

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.
Clever Travel Companion, Travel Africa, Travel Gear, Backpacking Gear

The black tank top I used from Clever Travel Companion

 

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:

  1. 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.
  2. WhatsApp. Simiar to Viber except it’s only messages.
  3. 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.

 

Travel Africa, Backpacking Rwanda, Traveling Rwanda,

A really sweet woman I met in Rwanda

 

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.

 

If you need more help, I wrote lots of detailed helpful information on backpacking Africa.  You can also post questions on the Backpacking Africa for Beginners Forum

 

Cheers to good travel!

 

See Also:  Ethiopia Travel Warning: 4 things to know NOW (but helpful for any African country!)

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12 responses to “How to Travel Africa Solo (Even as a Girl)”

  1. Renan says:

    Awesome informations. I’m planning a trip to Africa next year, and this blog will help me a lot. Thank you for sharing that with us!

    • Val Bowden says:

      That’s so great! You’ll seriously have an amazing time. I now prefer travel in Africa than anywhere else. It’s rugged, adventurous, beautiful, heart warming, suprising, ridiculous, weird, funny, and slightly smelly. lol. But it’s seriously the best. Keep me updated on your trip!

  2. Alexis says:

    I’m going solo to SA this October and I’m searching for a Safari tour in Kruger NP, did you do a tour? I don’t have a car, would need a pickup at JoBurg..

  3. Catherine says:

    Hi,
    Nice blog 🙂 I am happy I found someone (and especially a girl travelling solo!) writing about her adventures in Africa. I plan a trip to Benin (starting in Cotounou) this winter and to Pendjari National Park. Any tipps for these places?

    • Val Bowden says:

      Hey Catherine! Great to hear from you! 🙂 Haha I know… it’s kind of hard to find bloggers on Africa, right?? But despite the lack of bloggers, there are a decent amount of travelers in Africa. So it’s a good mix between meeting other people and having some great hostels etc opened… but you can always get off the grid if you want.

      So unfortunately, I don’t know West Africa very well 🙁 I’m super jealous of your trip though! Check out the Thorn Tree site or trip advisor. Or just find one hostel / or good guest house in Cotounou and start there. Locals all throughout African countries seem overly helpful to make sure you have a great trip to their country. They know their reputation isn’t good in media so they try and make it up when visitors come by spoiling them with kindness and good travel tips. When I did my trip, I basically showed up and knew nothing and somehow I made it. So as much as it would be nice to feel prepared (believe me I know….), you’ll be able to figure out when you get there.

      Anyways, have a good trip! If you head over to East Africa, let me know if you have questions because then I’ll be more helpful. And feel free to write a guest blog about your experience when you’re done 🙂 I’d love to hear about it!

  4. achalla says:

    Nice post–just wanted to let you know that you can use WhatsApp to make free voice calls over the internet as well!

  5. Mandy Meyer says:

    I am so glad that you have done this and provided such valuable information. Thanks so much for this.

  6. Lorien Hall says:

    How long did your journey from SA to Cairo take? Thank you for sharing your journey.

    • Val Bowden says:

      It took 7 months. I know 1 traveler who did it in 59 days (way too fast in my opinion), and I know others who did mine in about a year. So there is definitely flexibility. But the longer the better because you’ll have such a good time!! 🙂

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