My Top Africa Travel Tips

My Top Africa Travel Tips - Africa Travel Blog

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Africa travel tips, itinerary advice and reassurance are what I get asked about the most, as I think Africa is a bit of a mystery to most people. When I tell people I go backpacking in Africa, some think it’s pretty cool but then quite often people just ask “Isn’t it dangerous?”

The news always shows the most negative aspects and there are very few reports about all of the wonderful and great things about the continent, so it’s not uncommon to feel nervous about going there. I was scared and a little confused about the lack of info the first time I went to Africa too.

Africa is a huge continent made up of 54 countries. Of course there are dangerous places, but there are dangerous parts of Europe, Asia, South America, North America etc! It’s now over six years since I first stepped foot on African soil and I’ve never regretted travelling there solo, in fact it turned out to be the best decision of my life.

To help you prepare for your upcoming travels, I’ve put together a guide with all my top tips and best advice for travel in Africa, based on my experiences and all the things I was curious about before I went.

I originally wrote this post for solo female travellers, but it’s pretty universal, so it will apply to men, couples and groups of friends too! I don’t want to generalise too much, but some things are kind of universal. Not everything will apply to everywhere, but you’ll get the idea. Just remember, always do your research into the specific countries you are going to, check out my other Africa posts, keep your wits about you and exercise a lot of common sense.

Top Africa Travel Tips

Before You Go

Planning for Africa might seem a little daunting at first. I remember scouring the internet for all kinds of information and it was so confusing! But hopefully this guide will help! Enjoy the planning stages and use the time to prepare yourself physically and psychologically (as my friend Moses would say) for the trip ahead. Get informed and excited and most of all don’t panic!!

Visas

For some countries you will need to apply for a visa in advance, either from the embassy in your own country or in a neighbouring African country. Others you’ll be able to get at the point of entry (airport/border). Project Visa is a great resource to get information. If in doubt, contact your local embassy before you go.

Money

I talk a little bit about money later on, however there are a couple of things you need to know before you go. Visa is much more widely accepted than Mastercard or any other card so always take a Visa card with you. Just remember to tell your bank where you are going, otherwise they may block your cards.

Safety

Unfortunately, there will always be some places that you will be advised to avoid, for various reasons, but luckily, those places tend to be in the minority. My go to site to check on the current situation of any country I’m visiting is the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. Whether you’re a UK citizen or not, there is some great, well-balanced advice on there.

Health

The World Health Organization is the place to find out about any particular issues that are affecting the areas you might be travelling to. Like for instance, the current ebola virus outbreak in West Africa. Or you can try The Travel Doctor, another great resource when looking at what precautions you need to take in which countries.

Vaccinations: Aside from your routine vaccinations (MMR, Polio, Diptheria, Meningitis etc) – Hepatitis A, Hepititis B (3 x vaccinations), Tetanus and Typhoid are all highly recommended. A Yellow Fever certificate is required if you are travelling from a country where Yellow Fever is a risk – you can find a list here. 3 x Rabies vaccinations are also recommended if you are going to be visiting any remote areas or likely to come into contact with animals. First port of call is to speak to your doctor. They should be able to advise you on what you need and may be able to give you some of your vaccinations for free, or on a cheap prescription. For everything else go to your local travel clinic. I use Nomad Travel Clinics in the UK. Remember you may need to start some vaccinations up to 6 months in advance, so plan ahead.

Malaria: Malaria is rife in many parts of Africa. Taking anti-malarials is a personal choice and some people don’t like them as the side effects can be a bit nasty. I do take anti-malarials, that’s my choice and I’ve never had any trouble with the ones I’ve tried. If you choose to take them, your doctor can advise the best ones for you. Always test them out a few weeks before you go. If you do get side effects, probably best to find out before you leave home. See below in the ‘Staying Healthy’ section for more info on malaria prevention (just remember some malaria tablets make the contraceptive pill ineffective).

Travel Insurance: Travel insurance is a must. That way, if you need any specialist help whilst you are there, you are covered to get the best care. I use World Nomads, but there are plenty of other companies that you can try.

Dame Daphne Sheldrick

What to Read 

Aside from the wonderful Lonely Planet guides, there are some great books you can read to find out more about Africa before you go, but these are some of my favourites:

  • Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles by Richard Dowden: This is probably my favourite book about Africa, from a non-African perspective. It gets under the skin of Africa and helps the reader to understand why Africa is the way that it is.
  • An African Love Story: Love, Life and Elephants by Daphne Sheldrick: This is a new edition. I read this on many of the long bus journeys I took on my recent trip to Kenya and Tanzania. I absolutely LOVE this book.
  • The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer – Just a great  book about African ingenuity. A real feel good read.
  • The State of Africa by Martin Meredith – Full of knowledge and history!

  • Don’t Run Whatever You Do by Peter Allison – I read this before I went on safari. Peter Allison’s tales of safari adventures and misadventures will keep you smiling!

READ MORE: Travelling to Africa? Here’s 10 Great Books You Should Read!

Jaws Coffee Corner Stone Town Zanzibar

What to Pack

Clothing: In terms of what’s appropriate to wear, it varies from country to country.Predominantly Muslim countries tend to be more conservative than other countries, but here are a few guidelines I tend to stick to wherever I travel to avoid any unnecessary attention (or offending anyone):

  • Dress modestly, if going to a school, market, village, border crossing etc. Shoulders are usually fine, but keep your knees covered. No mini skirts or hot pants. Knees and shoulders should be covered in Muslim areas, such as Zanzibar.
  • You’ll be ok in shorts in some tourist spots i.e.) Victoria Falls. But still, don’t go too short. If in doubt, look at what the locals are wearing. Follow suit.
  • At your hotel/round the pool it is usually fine to wear what you want.
  • I always carry a scarf with me in case I need to cover my shoulders or head.
  • It is rude to show the small of your back in some places so wear longer tops or tie something round your waist.
  • Take at least one nicer outfit if you are planning to go to any of the upmarket hotels, however they don’t usually have strict dress codes.
  • Leave your fancy jewellery at home.
  • Leggings are good to take. You can wear these under a dress that might be too short otherwise.
  • It gets cold at night, so take some warm clothes ie) a fleece.
  • A good pair of sturdy shoes.
  • Take a sports bra for those bumpy roads.

Other considerations:

  • Leave your fancy jewellery at home.
  • Feminine hygiene products are hard to come by and expensive, so take what you need with you from home.
  • Toiletries are available at most major supermarkets, but if there’s anything specific you want, you’ll have to take it.
  • Suncream is hard to find, so take it with you.
  • Always have a torch, headlamp preferably. Power cuts are frequent.

Check out my full packing lists here for backpacking Africa, safari and Kilimanjaro!

Solo Female Travel Tips Africa

Arriving in Africa

On my very first trip to Africa, I started off in Livingstone, Zambia, where I worked as a volunteer for The Book Bus. This was a really great introduction to Africa as I was picked up at the airport and my accommodation was taken care of. Volunteering allowed me to get involved with the local communities, immerse myself in the culture and see the ‘real’ Zambia before venturing out on my own. By the time I left for my first completely solo adventure, taking the Tazara train across to Tanzania, I felt ready.

However, if you’re going it alone, or have a few days before joining a trip or volunteer programme, arriving in Africa needn’t be a scary experience.

Arrive in daylight

Arriving in daylight is great as it allows you to get your bearings, but it’s easier said than done, I know. Cheaper flights tend to arrive at night, so unless you want to pay the big bucks, you may have to take this route. But that’s ok, don’t panic! Arriving at night is absolutely fine and there are a few things you can do to make it easier.

Book accommodation

My advice is to always book your first night’s accommodation before you arrive. In fact, I like to book ahead when I’m arriving in any new city or town. But at least have your first night booked when you are fresh off the plane, feeling tired and disoriented. It just makes things a lot easier and if you don’t like where you’re staying, you can always move, but get your bearings first and then move on.

Get picked up

If you’re arriving in a new place for the first time – day or night, it’s probably a good idea to get picked up. Almost all hotels and guest houses have a pick-up service (for a small fee) and if not, they will always be able to order you a taxi. Give them your flight details and you can agree the price beforehand. If they can’t/won’t – consider staying somewhere else.

The driver will usually be waiting at the gate with a piece of paper with your name on. If for any reason they aren’t there, don’t panic. Likelihood is they are just late. You will get used to ‘African Time’. There will be a number of touts/taxi drivers waiting at the gate. They’ll ask your name, but don’t give it out as they will likely tell you they are the person picking you up, even if they aren’t. Not that they’ll necessarily try and rip you off, but they want the business. If you’re being picked up, wait for that person, they should know your name! If you’re worried, find other tourists to hang out with whilst you wait, or find a member of staff who can assist you. Have the name, address and telephone number of your accommodation written down.

Money 

If I have cash on me when I arrive, I have most of it hidden about my person. Some in my backpack, some in a hidden money belt and an amount in my usual day purse. I usually carry a mix of dollars, pounds or euros (depending on the countries I’m visiting) and the local currency. I always try and get some local currency beforehand, but it’s not always possible.

If I can’t get local currency, I take a couple of hundred (dollars/pounds/euros etc) in an accessible purse, and change that amount at the airport. Or use the ATM to get out a little bit. Then, I’ll change the rest of my money as I go, just so that I’m not getting out tons of cash at the airport, especially when I’m tired and disoriented.

I never carry travellers cheques as they can be a pain to cash. That’s just my personal preference.

Visas

Check on the currency you need to pay your visas in (usually dollars/euros) and have that amount easily accessible, away from your hidden cash.

Wildebeest Eco Camp Nairobi

Where to Stay

There are loads of great hostels, hotels, camps and guesthouses in Africa. You can book most of these through places like Hostelbookers or direct by emailing them. I tend to get recommendations from other travellers as I go, and cross reference with Tripadvisor and Lonely Planet. I also know loads of great places to stay, so if you want to know any for specific areas, just ask in the comments below! If you’re camping, they’re usually pretty safe (hippos etc aside), and almost all places have a guard, probably your main concern is in cities and towns.

Things to consider:

  • Do the doors lock?
  • Do they have lockers?
  • If in a city – is it in a busy part of town/within easy walking distance to town?
  • Is there a night watchman?
  • Do they have all female dorms?
  • Does it get great reviews?

Solo Female Travel Tips Africa Safety Women Woman

Making Friends

If you go on a solo trip, working as a volunteer or doing an overland trip are great ways to meet friends in Africa. I’d say it’s pretty much impossible not to. You will spend a good deal of time with the others in your group and bond over shared new experiences (and toilet habits).

Other travellers

But what if you’re not in a group? If you are backpacking solo, you will need to be prepared for the fact that you may need to make a few journeys alone. You’ll meet awesome people in hostels and camps for sure, I always have. But the likelihood of them taking the same route as you at the same time is a lot lower. I met tons of great people in a hostel I stayed at in Lilongwe in Malawi. I wanted to go on a quick safari over to Zambia, but the people I met either lived there, were working there for various NGO’s or they were passing through on an overland and didn’t have the flexibility I had.

Another time in Zambia I met some great people in a hostel in Lusaka. Lisa, my dorm mate was there working for the UN, and the big group of lads we met were driving overland from London to Cape Town. We were best friends for approximately 2 nights before we went our separate ways.

It isn’t like this every time, and you can meet other pure backpackers, but most people will be there with a set purpose and a set plan. You’ll often meet the same people along the way as the main travel trail is quite well beaten, if a bit less ‘dense’ with travellers than a lot of other places. I guess this is what makes solo Africa travel seem that little bit more challenging at times. But, it’s really quite fun and a lot less scary than you think! I had no idea it was like that before I went, but it was just the challenge I needed. I learned to love my own company and it allowed me to become truly independent, like I’d never been before.

Solo Female Travel Tips Africa Safety Women Woman

Locals

Whatever you do, get out and meet the people who live there. If you don’t do that you will really be missing out. The heartbeat of Africa lies with the people. 

Each to their own and all that, and far be it from me to tell anyone what their holiday should be like, but I can’t say that it doesn’t annoy me when people go to Africa, only go on safari and throw in a token township or village tour to ‘meet the locals’. As a backpacker or volunteer, local people are often your biggest ally when travelling alone. If you are friendly, approachable and kind, they will almost always want to look out for you.

The Zanzibar Ferry

Getting Around

Africa isn’t set up for backpacking in perhaps the same way as other places, but it is fairly easy to travel around. Travel can be a bit slower than you’re used to and seem disorganized, but there are always ways to get from A-B. Always. It just might not be on the day you planned. Ask around at your accommodation they will be a great fountain of knowledge.

My general rule for any kind of overland road travel in Africa, is travel by daylight. African roads aren’t always the best, there are few street lights, animals in the roads and in some areas bandits (although this is rare). Keep your journeys short and don’t forget to check sunrise and sunset times as the sun goes down early in many parts of Africa.

Oh, and wear your seat belt. If there’s one provided there is no excuse to not to!

Solo Female Travel Tips Africa Safety Women Woman

Public transport

Bus: The most common form of transport is the bus. They range from big coaches, to smaller mini buses known by many different names (dala dala in Tanzania, matatu in Kenya etc). Undoubtedly the bigger buses are generally more comfortable and safe as most have seatbelts. I’d recommend them, especially for long distances.

The small buses are often packed solid, and sometimes they drive too fast, but they are the quickest way to get around. I often take them as they’re really cheap and sometimes the only way I can get to where I need to go. For instance when I was living in Bagamoyo in Tanzania, the only ways to get there from Dar es Salaam were to take a dala dala that cost a couple of dollars or a taxi that cost $60.

If you do take a mini bus, keep the distances short and if you feel in any way unsafe, get off at the next stop where there are plenty of people around. Another bus will be along soon.

Other options include:

Hitchhiking: This isn’t something I would do from the roadside personally, but I know people who have. Hitchhiking anywhere in the world carries risks, Africa is no different. If you are really on a budget, the best thing to do would be to ask the other guests (there are often overlanders who could give you a lift) or staff at your hostel/hotel can hook you up with a ride (in my experience, Africans are very well connected – especially those that work in the tourist industry)! For example, I was camping at Lake Malawi and had a few days to spare before a Lilongwe to Jo’burg flight when met a group who offered to take me with them overland to Jo’burg. I ended up taking a quick trip to Zambia instead (I was looking for a leopard), but the only safari I could find was longer than the time I had so I made my own way back to Malawi with the help of the camp barman. True story. The only time this isn’t great is when you’re on a schedule, but schedules in Africa are a bad idea anyway! If your heart is set on hitchhiking, I found this great post on Mzansi Girl which has some tips for hitchiking in Africa.

Train: They are few and far between, but if you get the opportunity train is a great way to travel. I took the train from Zambia to Tanzania and you can read all about my experience and safety tips for train travel in Africa here.

Plane: If you’re short on time, need to cross an area that’s notoriously unsafe or travelling in the rainy season when roads are bad, flying is a good option. Do your research on airlines, but I generally recommend South African Airways, Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines.

Motorbike: Motorbike taxis (called boda-bodas or piki-pikis) are common in many places, especially East Africa. Whilst they don’t generally go too fast (the roads aren’t good enough for that), very rarely will the driver have a spare helmet so you are taking a big risk if this is how you choose to travel.

Boat: Taking a boat or ferry in Africa can be a really fun experience but safety regulations are not always as hot as they are at home, so my best advice is to ask around for a recommended company. Check if they have lifeboats/lifejackets and if in doubt (looks really shabby or overloaded), don’t get on.

Private transfers

Some companies/hotels can help you arrange a shared private mini bus. These will pick you up from your hotel, and drop you off where you need to be. These are cheaper than taxis, but more expensive than public mini buses.  I took one of these from Moshi in Tanzania to Nairobi in Kenya. It cost me £20, but this was for a six hour drive, so definitely worth it! It was easier than getting a mini bus as they take you all the way, rather than the other mini buses that don’t cross the border with you, so you have to find another one the other side. Plus, they just drop you at the stand in town, so you have to then get to your accommodation. This isn’t the cheapest option, but it is a great way to travel.

Solo Female Travel Tips Africa Safety Women Woman

Overland tour

Whilst I love to travel completely by myself, I’m also a big fan of overlanding. An overland tour is basically where you travel together in a big group, with people you’ve never met before in a converted truck. You have a leader and driver, you’ll camp for the most part and either cook your own meals or have them cooked for you. It basically takes all the hassle out of the logistics for you and you get built in travel companions. This will be heaven for some people, hell for others – I’ve written a lot about my overland experiences… the good, the bad and the ugly.

Plus, it’s one of the most economical and safe ways to travel around Africa. Whilst it isn’t necessarily as cheap to get around as public transport you may actually save money on other things such as accommodation and activities, plus you pay for most things up front, so it makes it really easy to budget. You pay a basic price which includes your transport, food and some activities (but not visas), then you just add on any extras along the way. I took a 2.5 month trip from Nairobi to Cape Town and it cost me around £3,000 – in total. That included all of my accommodation, breakfast, dinner and activities (including a few safaris). A two week safari holiday could cost the same. It’s not luxurious, but for the experience, it’s totally worth it (in my opinion).

Solo Female Travel Tips Africa Safety Women Woman

Self drive

Doing a self-drive is possible, but it will take a lot more research and prep than if you’re taking any other form of transport. All the same rules apply– whether you’re going by car or by bike. There are a number of companies that offer self-drive packages, both guided or not and some offer back-up support. As a solo person (woman or not) I personally would choose a group self-drive, public transport or an organized tour over a solo self-drive, but that’s just me. If you’re determined, here’s a bit of advice:

  • Get yourself a good vehicle.
  • Learn about the mechanics of your vehicle.
  • Do your research and plan your routes well! Ask around as you go for advice.
  • Don’t drive at night.
  • Keep distances short.
  • Always let someone know where you’re going.
  • Keep a very close eye on travel warnings and avoid dangerous areas.
  • Think about taking a GPS and satellite phone as a back-up to your mobile phone.
  • Always have a Plan B.
  • Know the legal requirements of the countries you are travelling through and ensure you have the correct paperwork. Roadblocks are common so don’t give officials any reason to fine you.

For further reading see here.

One thing I’m not massively fond of is self-drive safaris. They may be cheaper, but you have to remember that the guides are trained to navigate the parks safely and to help you get the most out of the experience. You may have seen what happened to the couple who tailgated an elephant in Kruger. The elephant was showing clear signs of distress, yet the couple didn’t back off. They panicked, sending the car forward, rather than into reverse. Either way, it ended badly for everyone concerned, with the couple being severely injured and the elephant being put down as a result. If you’re an experienced safarigoer, this could be a wonderful experience. For those who aren’t… extremely dangerous. My advice is to go with a guide – but that’s just me.

Nairobi, Kenya with Absolute Africa

Border crossings

I’ve done around 20 overland border crossings in Africa and I’ve never once had a problem. If you’re travelling with any kind of tour or private transfer, your guide will be able to give you any help you need.

If you’re completely alone, don’t worry. Keep your bags with you, have your money ready, read up on entry requirements (see above) and be confident. Most borders are nothing to worry about. Just keep alert. Watch out for traffic and if anyone hassles you, find an official.

Don’t give your visa money to anyone except the person behind the counter!

The weirdest border crossing I have done, is the Zambia – Malawi crossing returning from South Luangwa National Park. The mini bus I was travelling in dropped me off at a local taxi stand. I took a 5 minute taxi to the border, sitting pretty much on another lady’s knee all the way. I walked over the border getting my passport stamped at both passport offices. Then repeated the taxi/mini bus process the other side. It was fine, just a bit of a random process.

Swakopmund Namibia 

Staying Healthy

As well as getting your vaccinations and malaria tablets prior to your trip, there are plenty of other things you can do whilst in Africa to avoid getting sick.

Water: There will be some places where it is not advisable to drink the water. Ask at your accommodation and if in doubt, drink bottled water. Water is available to buy from street stalls, shops, tourist attractions and hotels or you could sterlise your on water by boiling or using a steripen.

Hygiene: One of the most common reasons for people to get sick in Africa is not washing their hands. Wash your hands before you eat and keep a bottle of hand gel with you. I like to take a nail brush to make sure my hands are extra clean.

Malaria: If you begin to feel fluey whilst your there, or even within a few months of returning home, head to the doctors as soon as possible for a malaria test. Cover up your arms/legs/feet at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active. Use a mosquito repellent which is at least 50% DEET. Most hostels/hotels/static tents have mosquito nets, but some have holes in. I always keep a roll of electrical tape which can be used to repair a broken net. Don’t forget to tuck them in, even when you’re not in them. You usually won’t need a mosquito net in a put up, put down tent, but I would keep your tent as zipped up as possible. For any other mosquito emergencies, I find a can of DOOM is the way to get rid of the nasty little suckers!

Heat/sun: To avoid heatstroke/sunburn, make sure you wear a high factor sunscreen and drink lots of water. If you’re going to be out in the sun a lot, cover up!

Bilharzia (schistosomiasis): This is a parasite infection that you can get from water, either by swimming in it or drinking it. Ways to prevent it include drinking bottled or boiled water and avoid bathing/swimming in fresh water where a lot of people live along the shore i.e. some parts of Lake Malawi (however it’s ok to swim off the islands in the middle of the lake). Do your research and ask your guide or at your accommodation about whether it is safe to swim. For more info on Bilharzia click here.

Diarrhea/vomiting: If the inevitable happens, keep yourself hydrated. Take electrolytes to help you replace lost salt and sugar in your body. If it doesn’t go after a couple of days, get yourself to a clinic for some medicine.

STIs: It’s easy to let your guard down when you travel, but this should go without saying. ALWAYS practice safe sex.

Rabies: Rabies shots aren’t compulsory before you go and the likelihood of you catching it is low. But to be on the safe side, stay away from animals you don’t know. They may look cute but it’s better to be safe than sorry! For detailed info on rabies click here.

Kit: I always carry a first aid kit with me, usually with my own needles. Just in case.

Food: I’ve never had a problem eating local foods in Africa. I eat chapatis, samosas, rice and beans, plantain, ugali/nshima from street stalls and container restaurants all the time and I’ve been fine. Perhaps just avoid the usual suspects… thin skinned fruits and veg, salads, undercooked meat and unclean looking food prep areas. This really is a judgement call, and you will know the sesitivity of your stomach and sometimes it can just be the luck of the draw.

If you need any specific medications, take them with you as they may not be widely available.

Solo Female Travel Tips Africa Safety Women Woman

Toilets

Men, you probably don’t need to read this. Unless you want to enter the fascinating world of female toilet habits – whatever floats ya boat. If not, skip to the next point.

Anyways… oh, African toilets, you gotta love ’em. I wrote a post about 25 things that WILL happen on your overland tour. The points about the loos… probably will happen on any type of African trip. Unless you are on a really fancy safari. Then you might escape the lovely long drops. Otherwise, you will inevitably find yourself squatting and peeing somewhere. Most of the time, you’ll be able to stop at a proper toilet. But if it’s a case of just having to go in the bush, my best advice is:

  • Don’t go wandering too far off in the bush by yourself. Especially if you’re in an area with animals.
  • Check what’s around before you drop your pants!
  • Wear a long skirt or keep a sarong with you, that way it’s easy to hide your modesty.

Whatever you do, do not stop drinking water because you don’t want to pee. You’ll end up dehydrated and ill, and constipated. Now, going for a lot of wees might be a pain, but being constipated will be a real pain in the ass – literally. Plus, you’ll end up spending longer hovering above that horrible toilet. You want to be in an out! Drink water!!!!!!!!!!!!

One major tip – always carry toilet paper with you!!!

Solo Female Travel Tips Africa Safety Women Woman

Staying Safe

You will meet some wonderful people on your trip, both locals and other tourists. Please don’t think you will be robbed at every turn. This just is so far from the reality, it’s untrue. But there is a  lot of poverty and like anywhere, there are some dodgy people about. So in terms of not being robbed or attacked, it’s very much a case of the same common sense you’d use at home and listening to what you’re advised to do.

I once spent a wonderful afternoon in a little shebeen (pub) in a township in Namibia. Me and five friends had taken a little walk over day, and stopped for a drink. Our tour guide, Moses, said it was fine for us to walk over, but to be back for nightfall. This wasn’t a township like you might find in South Africa or Kenya, but a township nonetheless. Everyone we met was friendly and I was even up dancing to Herero music at one point with our new friends, having a great time. I could have stayed all night and felt totally safe. But they also warned us that we should probably leave before it got dark as this area of town wasn’t really safe for tourists at night. We followed their advice.

General safety tips

  • Ask advice from the people at your accommodation. They will be able to tell you any places you shouldn’t go to.
  • Do not walk around alone at night, especially in quiet areas. If you do need to venture out, take a licenced taxi. Your hotel will be able to call you a reliable one. Get them to pick you up after also.
  • If you have to walk, make sure it’s in a group and in a lively area. I’ve done this many times and never had a problem.
  • If you are going out, let people know where you’re going.
  • Don’t drink too much alcohol or leave your drinks unattended, especially if you are in a public place.
  • Don’t accept food from strangers. Well, I think this is a big judgement call. I have accepted food, once I feel as though I can trust them. This one’s totally up to you.
  • Make friends with other travellers and/or other women and look out for each other.
  • Don’t leave expensive items in your tent or dorm room. If your accommodation has a safe, use it.
  • Have a small wallet with a little bit of day to day cash, and keep the main bulk of your money separate from that, either in a hidden money belt (I like the ones that loop onto your belt), or in a safe. If I don’t have access to a safe, I usually spread my money about my person.
  • Don’t exchange money in the street with illegal money changers. Change it at a proper Bureau de Change or at a hotel.
  • Don’t make yourself a target by flashing money about or leaving expensive belongings unattended.
  • Walk with confidence.
  • Try not to look lost, even if you are. I try to study the map and learn my directions before I head out. Or sometimes I just write them on a piece of paper or my hand. If you need to find your bearings, pop into a cafe/shop to ask directions or look at your map discreetly.
  • Carry a whistle.
  • Don’t give out your number or the name of your hotel to any random strangers.
  • Make a copy of your passport and store it separately to your actual passport.
  • If you do (God forbid) get mugged. Be friendly and polite, I know that sounds weird, but just do it. Hand over what you’ve got. Everything is replaceable – except you.

Solo Female Travel Tips Africa Safety Women Woman

Avoiding Hassle

Hassle comes in many different forms and from many different people. I have certain ways in which I deal with different types of hassle.

Male attention

In some countries, people might say that you shouldn’t make eye contact or look at men because it’s an invitation. In my opinion, I wouldn’t say this is a massive problem in sub-Saharan Africa. Yeah people will want to talk to you, but rearely have I come across a situation where I’ve felt threatened. I made loads of male friends, and they were awesome and looked out for me. Like my good pal Moses above!

It is very normal to greet people as you pass in Africa. I remember coming home and found it weird that most people didn’t say hello as they passed me in the street. Heck, even in my office, people walk past and don’t even say hello – and that’s when they know you. A smile, an eyebrow raise or even just a head nod and a greeting goes a long way and doesn’t mean you’ll get unwanted attention. You’ll more likely earn a lot of respect. If someone wants to talk to you, they probably will, regardless of whether you smile at them or not.

Whilst travelling alone on the train from Zambia to Tanzania, I found myself eating in the dining carriage. Whilst I ate, I had my iPod in and I was reading a book. I couldn’t have looked more unapproachable if I tried. This didn’t stop a guy sitting down and starting a conversation with me. He wasn’t threatening in any way (maybe a little tipsy), but I stood out and he was curious. I chatted and was polite to him and eventually he said it was nice to meet me and left.

Aside from the odd marriage proposal, I’ve rarely had any trouble in Africa. People will want to talk to you, but usually they’re totally harmless. Sometimes they will try and chat you up but a polite no thanks will usually deter them. If they persist a firm ‘no’ is usually enough to make them back off. If they don’t, head to the nearest public place (hotel or shop etc) or find another woman and tell them you’re being hassled. They’ll probably get a real telling off. If you’re worried, wear a fake (cheap) wedding ring, most men will be respectful of that.

Many women will also stop you in the street and ask to be friends. Just don’t give out your number to anyone unless you know them, or you may get a lot of phone calls!

Mzungu, mzungu

One of the things that annoyed me most when I first lived in Tanzania, was people shouting me constantly ‘mzungu, mzungu’ (which means white person’ or ‘foreigner’) and then they’d laugh when I turned around and put their heads down or hide. I used to get it from the kids in Zambia, but in Tanzania, the adults did it too. The word itself is not offensive, but when people just do it to get a reaction out of you, it annoys me. I counteracted this by going over to the people that did it and introducing myself, in Swahili. “Jina langu ni Helen” I’d say. I wanted to show them I wasn’t special or different. I don’t know if this is the best way to deal with it, but it worked for me.

Solo Female Travel Tips Africa Safety Women Woman

Touts and sellers

Over the years, I have perfected the ‘don’t mess with me look’. The first time I travelled alone in Africa was a bus trip from Livingstone to Lusaka. I was a little too prepared for the touts when I arrived a Lusaka bus station and I think I literally knocked about 6 men out of the way as a walked off the bus in my determination not to look like a scared tourist. This may have been a tad unnecessary. As soon as I said ‘No, I have a taxi thanks’, they backed off. I mentioned this earlier in the ‘Arrving in Africa’ section, but just be confident and take your time to assess the situation.

At the market, look nonchalant until you’re ready to commit. If someone is following me round trying to sell something I sometimes just say, “I’m not a tourist, I live here”- always seems to do the trick and people back off a bit after that. If you do want to buy, it’s fine to bargain or trade. You may get charged more because you’re a tourist so you’ll need to weigh up whether the price is fair. Don’t pay way over the odds, but at the same time, don’t barter them down to nothing. Start with a price about half what you’d be willing to pay, and work up from there. 

People are just trying to make a buck to provide for their families. Just be confident, firm and polite when saying no!

Begging

The biggest thing that gets you is when people beg or ask for money. Many people live in poverty and begging is common in Africa. “Mzungu give me my money! Mzungu give me my pen! Mzungu give me my sweets!” That’s people you don’t know. Occasionally, you’ll also be asked by people you do know well, that’s when it gets really tough to say no. It’s hard not to want to give to people who are obviously in need, but it’s not always the best thing for anyone concerned. I once gave some left over food to some boys in Kenya who looked really hungry. It was obvious that they were glue sniffing, something people do to stave off their hunger. What I should have done, is divided the food up equally. What I did do, is just hand over the food to one of the boys. So what happened? They started to fight. I started that fight.

I just read a great post over on Uncornered Market on the topic Should Travelers Give to Kids Who Beg? which has some great points that I wholeheartedly agree with on how best to give in developing countries, so go have a read, it applies to both adults and kids. It sucks not to be able to help people. But sometimes, you can cause more harm than good.  The only thing I give now to anyone who asks for anything, is water bottles. This is something they will usually share with their friends.

A Few Last Thoughts

  • Embrace the expression TIA, which means This Is Africa. It basically means, expect the unexpected, this is Africa and anything can happen. Be flexible, be patient.
  • Don’t take pictures at border crossings or on bridges, unless you want a fine or a telling off.
  • Last but not least – relax and enjoy. Africa is bloody wonderful, it will surprise you and you will fall in love with it. 
  • My other main tip is to try learning a few key words in the local language, it will win you a lot of respect:
    • Hello, how are you?
    • What is your name?
    • My name is…
    • Thank you.
    • You’re welcome.
    • No, thank you.

Read more about Backpacking in Africa:


Want to come to Africa with me this September?

I’m running a tour this September! The ‘This is Kenya’ Tour will be a laid back, fun and action packed backpacking adventure, that is like an independent trip but with a group of friends built in. I want to show you the ‘real’ Kenya and you will spend 2 weeks exploring this amazing country, using local transport, eating some of the best food around, meeting local people and immersing yourself in Kenyan culture. As for activities, on this trip you will go on a safari with a difference in the Masai Mara, explore the bustling city of Nairobi, relax on the stunning Swahili Coast and everything in between!

Read more about my ‘This is Kenya’ Tour

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105 Comments

  • Reply
    rebecca
    August 5, 2014 at 6:04 am

    this is such a cool guide. Your writing is always my go to for Africa inspiration 🙂
    rebecca recently posted…Lets go out in East LondonMy Profile

    • Reply
      Helen
      August 5, 2014 at 8:23 pm

      Thank you Rebecca, that’s really lovely of you! Glad you find my posts useful! That’s what every blogger hopes for! 🙂

  • Reply
    Debbie
    August 5, 2014 at 7:18 am

    Very interesting article and you are so brave to do that!
    Kisses ✿

    debsbug.blogspot.com
    Debbie recently posted…Packing for Poland!My Profile

    • Reply
      Helen
      August 5, 2014 at 8:18 pm

      Thanks Debbie! I love travelling alone, especially in Africa! 🙂

  • Reply
    Lauren Davenport
    August 5, 2014 at 5:32 pm

    Africa was also my first solo trip and I didnt regret it for one moment – ive been home now 8 months now and not one day has gone passed where I dont think about the place, im off back there in November to get my next fix! 🙂 p.s. I felt at home every second of my time in Africa and didn’t once feel I was at a disadvantage as a single woman! 😀

    • Reply
      Helen
      August 5, 2014 at 7:34 pm

      Totally with you Lauren! I felt at home too and loved travelling there as a woman! Bet you are so excited to go back! I’m back in October and November!!! Cannot wait!!! x

      • Reply
        Philophatra
        September 11, 2015 at 9:54 pm

        can you please make a stop over to Ghana in tour next vissit.Hoping to meet someone like you. love your braveness and boldness.

        • Reply
          Helen
          September 11, 2015 at 10:07 pm

          I would love to go to Ghana someday!!!!!!!!!!

          Thank you Philophatra. I don’t really see myself as brave or bold, I just like to travel, meet new people, to learn! I’ve found Africa a wonderful place to travel.

  • Reply
    Justin Sterett
    August 5, 2014 at 9:26 pm

    Great post! I spent 15 months in Africa with the military. It’s always hard to find decent information about general trip planning considerations. I think your post works for males and females both. I remember a love-hate relationship with Africa, and not that I’m gone I really miss it

    • Reply
      Helen
      August 5, 2014 at 11:33 pm

      Hi Justin,

      I completely know what you mean! Africa travel is totally frustrating at times and a bit of an enigma, but for some reason, all the things that drive me mad, also make me love it… so hard to explain! Thank you, glad a seasoned male Africa traveller thinks it works! That’s definitely nice to hear! All the bad stuff you see on the news, is so far removed from most of Africa daily life, but that’s what a lot of what people see, so I just thought it would be good to hopefully give a bit of an insight and hopefully make people feel better about going! In most cases a bit of common sense is all you need! 🙂 Hope you are enjoying your travels!

    • Reply
      Carolena B.
      December 28, 2015 at 4:46 am

      Hi Helen My name is Carolena and i am from America. i just read all the tips you spoke of here and am so amazed of your adventures i have wanted to go to Ghana for 7 years and one thing or another stopped me i want to also do The Smiling coast of Gambia. My family tells me to not travel alone and i might not ever get back but then i hear of stories like yours ..cool are u ever considering one other person adventuring with you …I am 57 going on 30 no one believes i am the age i am i want to see it all but would at least one time feel better if i was with someone with experience and a sense of fun and adventure …let me know if u ever consider travel with another or if u know any women that do if you don’t …well Happy Holidays and peace. Carolena SEattle…..

      • Reply
        Helen
        December 29, 2015 at 8:58 pm

        Hey Carolena,

        Ghana and The Gambia are both places that I think are great places for travellers, even solo travellers and I too wuld like to go. Your family are probably just worried, mine are the same. But if you take the necessary care, then you should be really safe!

        I took a friend of mine travelling earlier this year who had never travelled alone before and she loved it. I took care of most of the arrangements. She was a little out of her comfort zone at first, but got into it! I would definitely consider travelling with others. I like to travel solo, but I get a bit bored of it after a while and love company!

        I would definitely think about doing a little group tour as I think there are a few people in the same boat as you (and me) who love to travel to exciting places, but don’t always want to do it alone!!

        When are you looking to go???

  • Reply
    Jodie Louise
    August 8, 2014 at 7:39 am

    Love this. This makes me want to head back to Africa ASAP! Such a helpful and informative guide for when I do get back.
    Jodie Louise recently posted…The Perfect Smartphone Travel Goodies from ThreeMy Profile

    • Reply
      Helen
      August 10, 2014 at 9:52 pm

      Thanks Jodie! Go back to AFRICA! 🙂

    • Reply
      Carol Belton
      April 23, 2016 at 1:49 am

      Hi Helen sorry it took so long for me to reply between school and taking care of my Mama with Alzheimer’s it had been a bit busy but i am back on track. As far as wanting to go to the Gambia i would like to go in July or August 2016 if you ever want a travel partner i am definitely game. Carolena B.

  • Reply
    Cheryl Jackson
    August 11, 2014 at 2:38 pm

    Hello Helen,
    Hello,

    I am a television producer working for major independent production company Optomen Television in London. Optomen produces a wide variety of factual television programmes for broadcasters across the world, including Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, Kevin McCloud’s Man Made Home and Mysteries of the Museum.

    Optomen is currently producing a new primetime documentary series for Channel 4 in the UK about people who have quit the rat race and moved to live in remote places across the world. They may have purchased their own island, built a treehouse to live in in the jungle or moved to a remote village for a new way of life, away from the pressure of urban living. It will be an inspirational series following the incredible stories of ordinary people who are living a unique way of life in some of the most beautiful and breath-taking places.

    Our research team in London is currently looking for suitable stories to feature in the series and we’re keen to see if we can find one in Africa. I have heard there are cases of British people marrying into African tribes, or setting up safari companies, etc. I was wondering if you knew of anyone or whether you have any contacts in Africa that may be worth approaching?

    Looking forward to hearing from you.

    Kind Regards,

    Cheryl

    Many thanks and Kind Regards,

    Cheryl Jackson
    Producer

    • Reply
      Helen
      August 11, 2014 at 5:50 pm

      Hi Cheryl,

      I will email you! I know a couple who have set up a safari company in the Masai Mara.

      Thanks,

      Helen

  • Reply
    Amanda
    August 13, 2014 at 1:32 am

    Such a helpful post, Helen! Your love for Africa is so apparent. I think I would be more likely to go on a small group tour for my first trip to Africa rather than going solo, but I definitely want to go eventually! South Africa may make it into my 2015 plans…
    Amanda recently posted…How I Make Money to Travel the WorldMy Profile

    • Reply
      Helen
      August 13, 2014 at 9:45 pm

      Hey! Aw, thanks Amanda! I do love it… a teeney bit, okay a lot!

      A group tour is a great intro to Africa. Africa is a great place to travel for a woman, the most difficult things are the logistics of getting from A to B. It’s difficult to plan before you go, unless you take a tour. But on the ground it’s not so bad! People are really helpful! You’d love South Africa! 🙂

  • Reply
    Laura
    August 13, 2014 at 3:19 am

    This is by far the most comprehensive, helpful guide to anyone who is thinking about traveling to Africa and doesn’t know where to start. Thank you so much for putting all of this information in one place. I will be favoriting it and coming back to it often when I start looking into going to Africa. The visa and health links are super helpful for travel in general. Thank you!
    Laura recently posted…Where we Stayed in BusanMy Profile

    • Reply
      Helen
      August 13, 2014 at 9:47 pm

      Thank you Laura!!! No worries at all, glad you enjoyed it! Was worried it might be a bit long, but wanted to get it all in one place. Please let me know when you go to Africa and if you need any help!

    • Reply
      Philophatra
      September 11, 2015 at 10:00 pm

      I guess I have to promote my country too. please make a stop over at Ghana. I bet you will just love my country.

      • Reply
        Helen
        September 11, 2015 at 10:09 pm

        Ha ha, go for it!!

        I bet I would love your country too! I have heard many great things about Ghana!! 🙂

  • Reply
    Chanel | Cultural Xplorer
    September 10, 2014 at 6:09 am

    This guide is really comprehensive and extremely useful. I myself have not traveled to the continent of Africa yet, but it is good to know that as a solo female traveler that it is relatively as easy as traveling anywhere else.

    Thanks!

    • Reply
      Helen
      September 10, 2014 at 5:36 pm

      Thanks Chanel! Africa is awesome! Everywhere has it’s challenging or difficult bits, but it’s easy to manage those.

  • Reply
    Tee | Rotten One
    September 24, 2014 at 4:41 pm

    Hi Helen! I’m so glad and thankful to have stumbled upon this article you wrote. I plan to head to Africa when my visa here in Germany expires and would like to do some volunteer work over there. I am getting a lot of the same responses you have, people being worried. I’m definitely going to bookmark this post for further research 🙂

    My friends’ and families’ current biggest concern is the ebola outbreak. Can you shed some insight on this from your personal experience so far? (I would like to volunteer in Kenya and I heard that the disease is turning suspect in the East)…

    Cheers! xx
    Tee | Rotten One recently posted…Østerø & Vågø, Faroe IslandsMy Profile

    • Reply
      Helen
      September 24, 2014 at 9:18 pm

      Hi Tee,

      Africa is a great place to travel! I’m going back in 3 weeks and can’t wait. I’ll be going to Kenya and Tanzania. I’m not a medical professional, but in my opinion, I don’t think ebola is a massive risk to East Africa currently. I don’t think there have been any cases that I know of. You see, very few people travel between East and West Africa. It’s the same distance between Sierra Leone and England, as it is Sierra Leone to Kenya. And it’s much easier to fly from West Africa to Europe than it is to fly West Africa to East Africa. So, I’d say that ebola is no reason to not go to East, Southern or Northern Africa currently. Keep an eye on the FCO and WHO websites for the most up to date info. Hope that helps!

      Helen x

  • Reply
    Chloe Hammett
    November 1, 2014 at 8:36 am

    Hello! I love your blog! Keep up the good work! I’m a solo traveller/expat in Africa as well.

    I actually found your site after googling “African men too friendly.” Haha. I’ve just moved to Lome, Togo for work, and I live on a street that is populated by locals. I’ve been here two weeks now, and I’m actually beginning to get frustrated because I can’t leave my house and get to the end of the street without a man calling out, walking over to me, giving me a long handshake, speaking for a while and then wanting my phone number “so he can come visit me at my house.” Some of these people are older men who seem a little tooo flirty. I started out being really friendly, because I do want to meet people, but now it’s becoming too…much.

    I have no problem saying hello and then moving on when I just meet someone in another street, but these are people I’m going to be seeing for a while (I’ll be here 10 months.) However, there’s no way I can possibly field all the calls I’m already receiving (a couple of them got my number when they ‘helped’ me top up my phone, against my will), and I’m so busy with friends I’ve met through work. Might you have any ideas of phrases to use to basically get me to “hello and goodbye…No I don’t want you to come to my house.” I’d appreciate it! Haha!

    • Reply
      Helen
      November 9, 2014 at 11:14 am

      Hi Chloe, Apologies for the late reply! I’ve been in the Masai Mara for the last week!

      I don’t know the local language in Togo, but my advice is to tell them you are married. Not boyfriend, that you have a husband, it’s the only thing that works sometimes! Maybe change your number if guys have it and keep calling! Or if you can, block them, or set their numbers with the name ‘don’t answer’! It’s horrible to do it, but you have to be very firm, which I too find difficult, but you have to do it! You’ll get used to it! Say hello, how are you but then move on quickly. You won’t be hurting their feelings, these guys are tough but annoyingly persistent!

      I hope that helps! Give me a shout if you need any help, and let me know how it goes! X

  • Reply
    Katchie Nzama
    November 3, 2014 at 10:25 am

    Thank you so much for this guide Helen.
    I am starting a 6months adventure from Cape to Cairo tomorrow. I will travel through 11 countries. This guide has been absolutely helpful. I will share my travels on http://www.travelmzantsi.com

    • Reply
      Helen
      January 1, 2015 at 10:50 pm

      No worries Katchie! I hope you are having a wonderful time! 🙂

  • Reply
    Carol Jones
    February 2, 2015 at 12:07 am

    Hi there Helen
    Always love reading about adventure in Africa, and found your blog really interesting. My husband and I did a roadtrip from Durban in South Africa up to Cairo and across through Libya and Tunisia to Europe. Sadly the last section of the jouney would not be possible now. We have published a book on Amazon called: Africa Road Trip, 1 Landcruiser, 2 Australians 300 days, which is available both as an ebook and print copy. We have also put more photos on my website http://www.jonesroadtrips.com
    We just loved Africa – it is such an exciting place to travel and we found every day had a wow factor.
    Best of luck with your future travels. I’ll be following your blog which is fantastic.

  • Reply
    Milly Day
    April 27, 2015 at 10:40 am

    Hi Helen,

    This guide is exactly what I was looking for – you go into so much detail, which is amazing, and you’ve given me the reassurance that it’s ok to travel this vast and magnificent continent alone. I was supposed to be going with my boyfriend, but I had such a wonderful time travelling round South America alone that I decided (or rather, am still in the process of deciding) to go solo. My main concerns were not only regarding safety, but also the likelihood of meeting other travellers, as I don’t actually enjoy spending much time on my own; I just like the freedom of being able to do whatever I want. In South America, I met many other solo travellers, but I wasn’t sure whether this would be the case in Africa. I definitely want to volunteer after reading your post, in fact I may well apply for the same organisation as you! And go from Zambia to Tanzania too, like you did. The other countries I’m interested in are: Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda, Namibia, Zimbabwe aaand… think that’s it! Do you have any other tips/advice on those specific countries? Looking forward to hearing back from you soon 🙂

    Milly

    • Reply
      Helen
      April 29, 2015 at 6:24 pm

      Aw, thank you Milly! We sound very alike! I loved travelling solo in Africa.

      Volunteering is a great thing to do, and a great way to meet other travellers, and settle into African life before venturing out on your own.

      I have loads of advice for specific countries, but would take me all day to write them! 🙂 Let me know any specific questions and I will try to answer! I’ve been to all those countries except Zimbabwe!

      x

  • Reply
    H-A-B
    May 30, 2015 at 9:19 pm

    Personal safety and self defense is so important for us women travellers and we should all be prepared to fight back effectively if the need ever arises.

    I have been teaching Krav Maga to women and girls for over 5 years now and we teach a very effective technique which should be in every woman and girls arsenal. We are a women only event, run by women, for women, and this is what we teach to women of all ages.

    This is the “groin grab” self defense technique to be used against a male attacker which is taught in many womens self defense classes, and there is actually a little trick to it…

    You’re going to take your hand and grasp between the attackers thighs underhand. Its going to feel like you’re “cradling” the testicles. Dig your fingertips into the fragile skin BEHIND the scrotum. Then, once you have a good grip, you turn your hand into a vice, with your fingers digging inwards, around the back and over the top of the testicles. If you do it right, you should feel the testes INSIDE your hand which is holding the scrotum. You want, whenever possible, to hook your fingers over and around at least one testicle. One of them is enough.

    Then, with your hands in a claw and your fingertips latched around the testes, you turn your hand sharply, as though you were turning a doorknob. Simultaneously, squeeze hard and pull the testicles away from his body as fast and as hard as you can. Do not let go of them. This is important. What happens then, is that your assailant usually screams out in pain and then tries to grab the wrist of your hand holding him in a futile attempt to try to get you to release him. Don’t. He then quickly loses one of the natural advantages he usually has over us (his strength) within a matter of seconds. Vomiting, curling over, collapsing and convulsing is common. Shock and unconsciousness can set in within 8 seconds. When he collapses, which he will, you get away to safety as quickly as possible and call for help.

    It’s never too late to perform this technique at any stage of an attack, and that even includes the option of reaching down if he’s on top of you, but it is easiest to do when the testicles are exposed and closest to you where you can grab hold of them. I’ve actually met several women in my life who have fought off their attackers in this way and one did it when her attacker was on top of her and raping her at the point he lost control. Don’t ever hold back. Some women scream while they are doing this, and some women think of a loved one being harmed to help overcome any bad feelings of hurting someone else even if they are being hurt themselves. Do whatever you have to do if you feel it helps.

    If done properly, and done with enough force, this technique can even lead to the testicles rupturing. It’s actually easier to do than most women believe, and just about all of us have the capability to injure an attackers testicles in this way – whether we are young girls still of school age, or whether we are great grandmothers. After all, if you think about it testicles are just small objects of extreme vulnerability to pain squishiness wrapped in a delicate layer of skin which offers them no protection at all from this kind of counterattack. Most importantly, this fact holds true no matter what size your attacker is, nor how strong he is. And no matter how angry he is, and how much he’s threatened what he’s going to do to you, he’s going to drop. Don’t let anyone (usually men) try to convince you otherwise.

    I know that this advice would have been a difficult read for many women, but our lives are worth far more than a rapists testicles and we should be prepapred to do whatever it takes to get away to safety. Please help to share this advice with as many other women and girls in any way you can. It could one day be a life saver.

  • Reply
    Alex
    June 13, 2015 at 2:56 pm

    Thanks so much for the helpful guide! I just arrived in Tanzania as a solo, 20-something in order to do research.

    I have been quite nervous with venturing out on my own from my accommodation, mainly with risk of theft or unwanted attention.

    Reading this has given me much more confidence. Thank you!

    • Reply
      Helen
      June 13, 2015 at 8:54 pm

      No worries at all Alex! Glad it helped!

      Hope you have a wonderful time in Tanzania! I know you will! 🙂 Try and get to Zanzibar if you can! x

  • Reply
    Rachel Stewart
    June 24, 2015 at 9:12 pm

    Muli bwanji? I’m so glad I found this! Thank you for all this amazing information!

    I’ve been to Malawi and Zimbabwe on volunteer projects but I really want to go back to the area and do my own thing. I’m fairly independent but I’d definitely be a bit nervous travelling alone as 21 year old.
    I have a lot of time before I go back to university in January and not the biggest budget but I really want to go back to Malawi and Zim and possibly Zambia, Botswana, SA etc. How long would you recommend for this type of trip?
    Rachel 🙂

    • Reply
      Helen
      June 26, 2015 at 8:12 pm

      Thanks Rachel, glad you found it useful!!

      For the trip you are doing, I’d say at approx 2 months minimum for all the countries you mention, but more if you can. You could spend a year doing this trip! I guess a good place to start is by looking at how long you want to go for, how much budget you have. That will determine the length of stay, and then you can base it around that!

      Hope that helps!

  • Reply
    Bushbuck Safaris
    July 3, 2015 at 6:08 am

    Immense blog. It’s really pleasant, thanks for sharing this wonderful blog to help for women traveling tips in Africa.

    • Reply
      Helen
      July 4, 2015 at 5:57 pm

      Thank you! 🙂

  • Reply
    Maria
    August 29, 2015 at 10:41 am

    Hi Helen,
    I really liked this post, but I have a question and maybe you can help me out.
    Im in Nungwi, Zanzibar at the moment. Im travelling alone at quite a young age, the locals keep asking me about my husband or they are nice but I have the feeling they always want to sell me something, its hard for me to cope with that and I would love to spend some time with other travellers for a change. So my question, did you ever stay in Nungwi and if so, where did you stay ? Do you know a hostel for young travellers on a low budget here ?
    Maria

    • Reply
      Helen
      August 29, 2015 at 4:11 pm

      Hey Maria, I did stay in Nungwi, but back in 2009! Kendwa Rocks has a dorm. It’s not listed on the website but there is one! Think it’s really chepa! Lots of backpackers there! It’s only down the road so you can still go to Nungwi for nights out!

      There’ll be a big party at Kendwa Rocks tonight so go!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      Let me know how you get on!!

      Helen x

  • Reply
    Bee
    August 30, 2015 at 8:48 am

    Hi Helen,
    Great blog! Any recomendation of where to stay in Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar? I would like to stay somewhere safe and that’s popular with weatern travellers so I can hang aoround with them hopfully!

    Thanks

    • Reply
      Helen
      August 30, 2015 at 10:43 am

      Hi Bee,

      I wrote about where I stay in Zanzibar on this post: http://www.heleninwonderlust.co.uk/2015/05/africa-travel-budget-2/

      In Zanzibar, I have stayed in Kendwa Rocks in the North, it’s a really good place for backpackers! There’s also New Teddy’s and Paje by Night over on the East coats.

      In Dar es Salaam, there aren’t that many hostels etc. But one that a lot of the overlands stay in is the Mikadi Beach Lodge, so there will be loads of travellers there!

      Hope that helps!!

      Helen

      • Reply
        Bee
        August 30, 2015 at 7:12 pm

        That helps a lot, thanks a lot Helen! Excuse my paranoia but I have hardly travelled on my own just wondering if Tanzania is good place to start :/ so I’m really pushing myself! Is it possible if I could take your emails and ask you some more questions please?

        • Reply
          Helen
          August 30, 2015 at 8:03 pm

          Hi Bee,

          Tanzania is a fine place to start! So many rumours about Africa that just aren’t true. Feel free to email me at heleninwonderlust@hotmail.com and I will try and help where I can!

          Helen x

          • Philophatra
            September 11, 2015 at 9:51 pm

            please Hellen ask Bee to try Ghana too. it is a beautiful and a peaceful country to vissit. she will always feel at home in my country GHANA.

  • Reply
    Shaun Hunter
    August 31, 2015 at 3:06 pm

    Hi Helen, excellent bit of writing. I’m trying plan a trip from South Africa up to Kenya, via several countries, and would like to drive. You said you would suggest a ‘group self drive’, have you participated in one and is there a company/website you could recommend to me?
    Thanks
    Shaun

  • Reply
    Marbree
    September 1, 2015 at 11:14 pm

    Thank you for this and all the other great content you have on Africa. I’m in the very early stages of planning my trip and am finding your blog one of the most useful resources for this continent that I’ve come across. Thanks for putting so much time and effort into it!
    Marbree recently posted…Diving in CubaMy Profile

    • Reply
      Helen
      September 2, 2015 at 7:15 pm

      Thanks Marbree!!! That means a lot! 🙂 If there’s anything specific you need to know, give me a shout! I often turn questions into blog posts!

  • Reply
    Philophatra
    September 11, 2015 at 9:41 pm

    It suddens my heart always when Africa is branded with all sorts of crimes as if europe, Asia and America is an Angel continent. First of all Africa is not a country but a continent as rightly said by the writer. it has 54 counties with each country having diff cultures and languages. please to all those here I want you to know that Africa is a very nice place to live just like you wish to live in the europe. May God bless the writer for enlightening you all. Long live Africa

    • Reply
      Helen
      September 11, 2015 at 9:51 pm

      Thank you so Philophatra. I am thinking that you are from Africa yourself?

      Africa is beautiful, with so many diverse countries, each with their own individual beauty!

  • Reply
    Lili Hollandt
    September 22, 2015 at 5:14 pm

    Hi Helen,

    your adventures are an inspiration! I am planning on traveling to Namibia in October, but don’t drive and the lodge where I am thinking of staying is in the middle of nowhere and do not offer shuttle services.

    Any advice on personal guides/locals in Namibia who I can contact?

    many thanks
    Lili Hollandt

    • Reply
      Helen
      September 22, 2015 at 9:49 pm

      Thanks Lili!!

      Where’s the lodge you are staying at? Are you staying at one place or moving around? I’d say you can probably get a lift there somehow! But will depend where you are going to!

      I don’t know any personal guides in Namibia, but let me kow where you’re heading and I’ll see if I can help! Feel free to email me if you don’t want to write it on here! 🙂

  • Reply
    Susan
    October 1, 2015 at 9:36 pm

    Hi Helen,
    I can’t thank you enough for this amazing blog – I’ve decided to go travelling to Africa on my own for the first time later this month and all your advice really REALLY reassure me.

    May I ask you which Absolute Africa tour you would choose between:
    – Gorillas & Game Parks (• Queen Elizabeth National Park • Kazinga Channel game cruise • Serengeti National Park • Ngorongoro Crater • The Grumeti Reserve • Lake Victoria)
    – Maasai & Migration (• Zanzibar • spice tour • Serengeti National Park • Ngorongoro Crater)
    – Wildlife Encounter (• Gorilla permit • Ngorongoro Crater • Serengeti National Park • The Grumeti Reserve)

    I have no idea where to go in Africa but those 3 options are the only ones that match the dates I’ll be travelling.

    Thanks again so much!
    S.

    • Reply
      Helen
      October 2, 2015 at 5:09 pm

      Hi Susan, thanks for the lovely compliment!

      Ooh, they are some tough choices, all really really good! I think if I could choose any, I would go for the Wildlife Encounter! Although I really love Zanzibar too. Yes, I think I would do Wildlife Encounter, but if you can somehow tag on Zanzibar, I would! How long do you have in Africa?

      Let me know which one you choose, and give me a shout if you need more advice!

      Helen x

  • Reply
    Elle
    October 1, 2015 at 9:58 pm

    This is so helpful Helen – thank you!!!

    • Reply
      Helen
      October 2, 2015 at 5:10 pm

      You are very welcome Elle!

  • Reply
    Elizabeth
    October 16, 2015 at 10:21 am

    This is a fantastic guide to traveling in Africa. It’s been so hard to find good information – we’ve ended up getting most of our info and travel recommendations from fellow travelers in our hostels. We’re currently in Zambia, headed toward Malawi and Tanzania. I’m excited to check out your reading recommendations as well!

    • Reply
      Helen
      October 18, 2015 at 7:38 pm

      Thank you Elizabeth!!! That’s how I did it the first time too, as there was hardly anything on the internet back then – plus the internet was really difficult to get in Africa then! So jealous you’re in Zambia!!!!!!!!! I want to be there toooo!!!!!!!!! 🙂

      Enjoy your trip, have the time of your life and make EVERY DAY COUNT!!!!!!!!!! x

  • Reply
    Barbara
    November 10, 2015 at 3:54 pm

    I’m planning to visit Nairobi in Jan ’16. My travel companion pulled out frm going. I still want to go. I’m a mature, single lady traveling on a shoe string budget. Pls recommend nice places to stay on t cheap. Email me. Thanks.

    • Reply
      Helen
      November 10, 2015 at 8:53 pm

      Hi Barbara,

      Have you had a look at my post on places to stay? If not here it is: http://www.heleninwonderlust.co.uk/2015/01/where-to-stay-in-kenya/

      If you need any further help, feel free to email me. If I have a post on the subject I’ll direct you to that or if I can answer super quick I will. If you have lots of questions or you’d like me to do any research I can give you my rates for trip planning/consultancy.

      Thanks,

      Helen

  • Reply
    paul
    November 13, 2015 at 11:17 am

    hi! I’ve never been to Africa. I wish i could be there someday! it seems that you have enjoyed a lot. And Pictures are really awesome I’ve heard about the interesting food of Africa. What was it? Did you try it? how was your experience?

    • Reply
      Helen
      November 17, 2015 at 10:18 pm

      Hi Paul, Thanks for reading! Africa is amazing, I love it! There’s tons of great foods in Africa, some of it takes a bit of getting used to, but most is amazing! I’ve tried loads of it. I love a South Africa braai, the fish in Zanzibar, chapati, nyama choma! So much great stuff!

  • Reply
    John
    December 14, 2015 at 3:51 am

    Hi, Helen! On December 30, I’m heading to Africa for a six week solo backpacking trip, starting with a climb up Kili the first week, then spending the next five weeks making my down to Cape Town. Your blog has been invaluable in helping me (and, more importantly, loved ones) to reduce any concerns I may have about safety. I’ve lifted a couple of your comments (with proper attribution) and posted them on my blog to help make those around me a little more comfortable with my adventure.
    Thank you!!!!!

    • Reply
      Helen
      December 14, 2015 at 8:30 pm

      Thank you so much John, this is such a lovely compliment and exactly why I do what I do. I feel very honoured!

      Have a fabulous trip!! Looking forward to checking on your progress! Hakuna matata!

  • Reply
    Brittany
    January 2, 2016 at 12:15 am

    Hi Helen
    Happy new year! This is the most helpful blog I have come across.
    I am looking to an overland tour in 2017, any suggestions for best time of year to head off?

    • Reply
      Helen
      January 2, 2016 at 1:01 am

      Hi Brittany,

      How long are you going for? Are you doing a full trip eg) Nairobi to Cape Town? It will depend on where you want to go and how long for. Let me know and I’ll suggest a good time!

      Helen x

  • Reply
    James kariuki
    January 8, 2016 at 3:51 am

    Am james from kenya my dream is to open a camp site i have almost 60 actear of land i work in a certain bus componey in samburu county.am driver but i see when i open a campsite how do i found tourists.when i go through internent i saw you site how do you help me to get tourist?i need to talk to you more about campsite please.my email is greathornbillcampsite@gmail.com thank you i will be online any time waiting for youa email thank you so much

    • Reply
      Helen
      January 8, 2016 at 6:37 pm

      Hi James, I will email you.

  • Reply
    Joop
    January 23, 2016 at 7:44 am

    Hi helen,

    First thank you for this great site!

    Im looking to apply for my East African Tourist Visa online. But i will start in Kenya. Or can I get it on arrival ? On Mombassa airport?

    Also do you maybe know if i still can apply for my Uganda Visa when I cross the Border from Kenya?

  • Reply
    Alyson
    January 31, 2016 at 11:15 pm

    Leaving for southern and East Africa in march. Starting in Namibia for 3-4 weeks volunteering and then onward. I have a friend in Kenya I will be visiting. I am so happy to have found your blog because it has calmed my nerves slightly. I am, of course, a solo female traveler.

    • Reply
      Helen
      January 31, 2016 at 11:37 pm

      You’ll have a great time Alyson. I love travelling solo in Africa.

      Enjoy your trip!

      x

  • Reply
    Yvonne Hitlon
    February 16, 2016 at 1:16 pm

    During my first trip to Nairobi, I used the matatus (public buses) but they weren’t very comfortable because I always had to hold my personal belongings very tight for fear of pickpockets. My other option was use of cabs which were quite expensive, hence only used them once in awhile.
    On our last trip however, I had to find better means of getting around since I was going with my family. Lucky enough, I found a company online where I could hire a car with a private driver, it was the best option. Getting around was made easier and comfortable. You may find more info about them on the following link: https://servantrip.com/personal-driver-service/

  • Reply
    Mariel
    February 18, 2016 at 4:28 pm

    Hi Helen! I loved reading your post. I am currently looking at a trip that would include Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Malawi, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Ehtiopia and Kenya. Do you have any recommendations for those places? What tour company did you use, and would you recommend that over solo backpacking? And lastly, did you carry a tent, sleeping bag and sleeping pad? Thanks so much for taking the time to individually answer these questions. It’s really wonderful of you and really helpful!

    • Reply
      Helen
      February 18, 2016 at 9:55 pm

      Hi Mariel,

      Thanks for your comments! When you say do I have any recommendations for those countries, do you mean things to do, places to see? If so have a look through my country pages as I have quite a few posts that might answer your questions. 🙂

      I used Absolute Africa however I don’t think they go to Ethiopia, but I do really recommend them for all the other places you mention! Both solo and overlanding tours are great. Very different. Overlanding is easier, sometimes cheaper as costs are shared, but less of a local experience I would say.

      When I overlanded I had a sleeping bag and mat (I think they provide those now) and the company provided the tents. When I solo backpacked, I stayed in dorms/guesthouses so didn’t need a sleeping bag or mat.

      Hope that helps!

      Let me know if you have more questions!!

      Helen

  • Reply
    Sally Ewing
    February 21, 2016 at 2:04 pm

    I am a 75 y.o. Amerucan retired nurse. Your article was informative & excitingly written. I wanted to go to Africa for several years, now I have a desire to safari then stay for 6 months. Please advise the contact information for the Safari company you went with. You may give them my contact info:

  • Reply
    Louise Clarkson
    February 29, 2016 at 9:19 pm

    Hi Helen, I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog. Do you have any recommendations for budget safari companies in Kenya and/or Tanzania? Thanks

    Louise

    • Reply
      Helen
      March 4, 2016 at 10:14 pm

      Hi Louise,

      Thanks for reading!!

      I really recommend Mara Explorers Camp in the Masai Mara. They are a camp but also organise safaris! That’s who I would use.

      Then for Serengeti, I went with Absolute Africa. I also recommend Bee Eater Safaris! 🙂

      Enjoy!!!

    • Reply
      Cavin
      March 14, 2016 at 11:46 pm

      Helen, you have written an excellent guide which many people will find helpful and dispel the negative press about Africa. At stride safaris we organize budget safaris for groups and individuals. We try to make the pricing as affordable as possible to ensure no one misses out on amazing experience. Some of the tours we provide are actually free or at very low costs (payment for gate entrances).

      • Reply
        Helen
        March 15, 2016 at 9:16 pm

        Hi Cavin,

        Africa is amazing and I think if people give it a chance they’ll fall in love with it like I did! 🙂

  • Reply
    Tourismli
    March 25, 2016 at 6:27 am

    Such a nice post and very interesting to read. Thanks for sharing about Africa 🙂

  • Reply
    erin
    April 21, 2016 at 8:15 pm

    As a fellow backpacker, I must admit this is one of the best blogs I have read. So well written and laid out. I have passed it along to others saying it’s a must read for people considering trips to Africa! Thanks for that 🙂

    • Reply
      Helen
      April 21, 2016 at 9:57 pm

      Thanks Erin, what a lovely comment! 🙂 Thanks so much!

  • Reply
    Esther
    April 25, 2016 at 6:19 pm

    Hi Helen! Thanks a lot for your blog!! helping me to discover Absolute Africa, it seems like it’s so much cheaper than the other tour company i originally was planning to go with.
    By the way, i’m just concerned about the vaccine..there are so many ‘recommended vaccine’, wondered how many you actually did before the trip and how long it took? I wanna book the tour for end of June and wondering if i have enough time to do all the vaccine.

    • Reply
      Helen
      April 25, 2016 at 9:55 pm

      Hi Esther, no worries! On my post here http://www.heleninwonderlust.co.uk/2014/08/tips-for-women-travelling-alone-in-africa/, I go into a bit of detail on vaccinations, however I’m not medically trained, so the best thing you can do is seek advice from your doctor or a specialist travel clinic like Nomad! You should have time to get vaccinated against most things!

      • Reply
        Cavin
        April 26, 2016 at 1:58 am

        Esther I recommend visiting Uganda, you only need the yellow fever vaccine and you can take preventative malaria tablets. Uganda has several attractions. The gorillas are at the top of the list, they are several national game parks, bird species, spectacular falls, you can easily cross over to Kenya or Tanzania on the same visa (same as other East African countries)

        • Reply
          Helen
          April 28, 2016 at 8:26 pm

          Hi Cavin, you only need Yellow Fever to enter, however most doctors would advise to have certain other vaccinations.

  • Reply
    Sherif
    May 3, 2016 at 2:17 pm

    Hi Helen 😀 thank you so much for the informative and exciting article.
    I am having a medical program for a month in Nairobi and it ends 31/7 and I am very interested to reach cape town overland but in a short period and with Victoria falls included within 10-15 days max . how much time do you think it takes and what about the low cost airline… do you recommend it?
    and if it is possible.. how should i arrange it Sorry for the too many questions. Thank you in advance

    • Reply
      Helen
      May 5, 2016 at 9:06 pm

      Hi Sherif, low cost airlines are usually fine. I used One Time Airways or South African also do the route. 10 – 15 days is probably a bit rushed to go Nairobi to Cape Town without travelling most days. If I were you I would focus on a smaller area. Maybe fly o Livingstone and then overland to South Africa. Or overland to Livingstone and fly to South Africa. You could do an overland tour or use public transport! Hope that helps! Sorry without knowing all the details, budgets etc, difficult to advise.

  • Reply
    Bash Hassan
    May 14, 2016 at 6:42 am

    Hi
    Miss Hellen I Am So Sorry But I Am From Uganda, Hope U Vist My Country One Day, Would U Email Me After Reading My Post.

  • Reply
    Vanessa
    May 16, 2016 at 2:11 pm

    Hi Helen !
    this was really nice to read and definitely makes me want to discover Africa 🙂 i am going solo to Zanzibar in July, which wasnt really planned but now i got my flight tickets. Do you have any tips about where to stay and what to do as a solo traveller there ? I dont really want to spend 10 days surrounded by couples in honeymoon 😀
    Also it will be my very first time travelling alone, its really exciting and scary at the same time, do you have any advice for me ? thank you !!

    • Reply
      Helen
      May 21, 2016 at 10:17 pm

      Hi Vanessa, I have one post on Zanzibar about Stone Town for ideas – but if I were you, I would head straight to the beaches as it’s easy to meet people there, either in Kendwa or Paje. Stay at Kendwa Rocks in Kendwa or New Teddy’s in Paje. Paje can be quiet in low season, but Kendwa Rocks is generally always busy. Then you can meet some other solo travellers to explore the rest of the island with! 🙂

      At the beach there’s loads of things like snorkelling trips etc or you could hire some bikes! All the activities are displayed in every hotel.

      In terms of general advice, it’s all in this post, or in this post: http://www.heleninwonderlust.co.uk/2016/01/beginners-guide-backpacking-east-southern-africa/

      My biggest advice – don’t worry!!! It is not as scary as it seems. When you arrive, grab a beer at the bar and start chatting to people.

      Enjoy your trip and if you have any specific questions, let me know!

  • Reply
    Vladimir
    May 26, 2016 at 3:47 am

    Hi Helen,

    Would you recommend go to Tasmania and Kenia with kids (10 and 15)? Can you give tips how to organize our trip for 1-2 weeks? May be somebody from your friends there can look after us? What the best time to go there? Thank you for your help!

    • Reply
      Helen
      May 26, 2016 at 7:05 pm

      Hi Vladimir, I guess you mean Tanzania? Yes definitely you could!

      You can visit most of the year. Really depends what you want to do there! I can recommend some companies to use. Alternatively, I can help with the planning but I do charge for that as it’s a lot of work.

      Email me with your specific requirements and I will try to support.

      Thanks,

      Helen

      • Reply
        Cavin
        May 26, 2016 at 7:43 pm

        Vladimir, being a Ugandan, am biased so I would suggest you go to Uganda, and cross to Tanzania, alternatively you can do both Tanzania and Kenya, Late June early July is a good time, you have the chance to see what is dubbed as “the greatest show on earth”, on this web page – http://stridesafaris.com/the-greatest-show-on-earth-wildebeest-migration . On that link I highlight what you can see there (Wildebeest migration). Helen is an excellent trip planner, so she can help you out. You need to help her though, by mentioning what animals you would like to see. The Mountain Gorillas are only found in Rwanda, DR Congo and Uganda. Tanzania and Kenya are good for viewing the great Wildebeest migration. Prices are high though when you take that route. Your kids are old enough and it would be a good experience for them.

  • Reply
    Oluwatobi
    June 14, 2016 at 3:45 pm

    East Africa Tourism is full of experience

  • Reply
    Janna
    June 29, 2016 at 11:48 am

    good info but would have been nice to include some books by Africans …. not predominantly white men. E.g. Chinamanda Ngozi Adichie, Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe.

    • Reply
      Helen
      June 29, 2016 at 12:26 pm

      Hi Janna,

      The list isn’t meant to be exhaustive, it’s simply a list of a small few of my favourites. 2 of the 5 books on this list are written by Africans, one from Malawi, one from Kenya and I’d like the think that the colour of their skin is irrelevant and that whatever it is they are still ‘African’ and their perspective and observations on Africa are equally as valid as the other. However, I realised this list was short and there are a lot of other books about Africa I enjoyed so I wrote another post about them which you can find here: http://www.heleninwonderlust.co.uk/2015/02/great-books-about-africa/ – Chinamanda Ngozi Adichie is featured there along with other African writers. My intention is to add to this list as and when I find the time to read some more.

      Thank you for the recommendations for the other 2 authors. I will check them out.

      Helen

  • Reply
    Mary
    July 7, 2016 at 6:36 pm

    Hi Helen,

    This is amazing! Being a Kenyan, I plan to discover my country as well as Tanzania by myself, sometime in August. I am a local but this is still great for a first solo trip.

    Thank you so much.

    • Reply
      Helen
      July 8, 2016 at 10:55 am

      Hi Mary, that’s a great compliment coming from a Kenyan! Glad you found it useful! Have a great time! I’m be back in Kenya in September! I can’t wait!! 🙂

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