I’ve been getting a lot of questions about how is it for a woman traveling solo…
I’m going to write only from my own very personal experience, but I hope it will give you some idea if you’re considering coming over here solo.
When writing East Africa, I’m referring to Kenya Uganda and Tanzania.
Ethiopia is a whole other story, it’s inherently different.
🏝 Zanzibar 🏝 is different from the rest of Tanzania, and I will write about that too.
I’ve been traveling to East Africa since I was 23.
I always felt at home here, and I mostly feel safe.
Everywhere I went I’ve met friendly people, always willing to help.
I’ve gathered these tips for you:
Take time to adjust
I feel at home here. But I still needed time to feel comfortable.
So I started my first one-year journey with a travel partner. It definitely helped, but still when she went back home and it was just me- I was terrified.
Everything intimidated me, including people approaching me to see if I need help. They were just being welcoming, I felt unsafe. It took me a few days to feel at home and start enjoying myself.
This time around I started my journey in Zanzibar in a hostel owned by an Israeli. I took my time getting reacquainted, and my hostess, Orit, helped me with information and tips from her own experience.
So- take your time, adjust, and get going when you feel ready.
African men are in my eyes very respectful. They respect boundaries and don’t harass.
No thank you- is- No thank you.
My experience throughout the years have been that even the most enthusiastic men withdrew easily when I declined their various offers…
🏝 Zanzibar 🏝 is another story altogether.
I was told this happens also in Moshi and Arusha, but didn’t experience it myself.
For me, the minute I took my first step off the ferry from the island to the mainland, it’s been blessed peacefulness of respectful men all the way up till now.
This one is for the sisterhood!
Better pay attention…
A lot of people come to work in 🏝 Zanzibar 🏝 . A lot of good people.
Young Massai come to sell souvenirs to tourists on the beach, a lot of other Tanzanians come to work in the hotels, operate as tour guides, surfing instructors ext.
Good people who come to work for their families back home.
But- there are the few who specialize as professional Beach boys. I’ve also heard the term Fly catchers.
They might try to generate an overwhelming love story with you. A vacation fantasy coming true. They might hope it will lead to a long term relationship or marriage.
And yes- there is true love in Zanzibar- Just not with a professional Beach boy. For them it’s money in the pocket. A lot of white tourists go home and support their guy and most probably his whole family too, sometimes for years. The guy is then completely free to bond with the next girl. If you’re coming for two weeks on the island it’s really hard to see what’s going on. But now you know.
Some will befriend you, gain your trust, and get away with your money or valuables, either by simply stealing, or by lying their way into getting it out of you.
So most people you will meet are nice good people. I’ve made friends with a lot of good people. I feel it’s enough to know that these stories do happen on the island, so you can stay alert. Because, now you know.
Personal sense of security
I don’t walk alone after dark. That’s my personal decision. Even if it feels safe. It seems like an unnecessary risk to me. There are taxis and boda-boda= motorcycle taxis everywhere. Every place I go I save numbers of one or two drivers I thought were careful on the road and polite, and I call one of them if I need to leave my hotel after dark.
🏝 In Zanzibar 🏝 I felt safe and still didn’t walk alone after dark. I did hear about some cases of robberies so just be sensible.
When going out to parties take care of your drink and don’t accept drinks from strangers. I mostly went out dancing with friends, but if I wanted to go back by myself, there are always plenty of taxis parked outside.
Nairobi Kenya is a notorious city, although I’ve been told personal security got much better… I enjoyed the city a lot, but you need to be aware some neighborhoods are considered off limits. Keep that in mind when booking accommodation. After dark nobody walks! use taxis and uber.
Outside of the big cities, generally speaking, I felt very safe and calm.
Busy bus stations
I don’t like those.
It can get hectic, people trying to get you to choose their bus, or want to carry your bag for a tip.
Because I don’t feel comfortable going alone to these busy bus stations, I just ask one of the taxi drivers I got to know, to take me there and walk me all the way to the bus.
If it’s a long trip usually you will need to buy a ticket the day before. Try asking people you know which bus company has the best and fastest buses. There are big differences between the companies, and you don’t want to find out you booked the slow bus which stops to pick up passengers every five minutes…
When I arrive in a busy bus station and I’m alone, I get approached by porters wanting to carry my bag for me, competing with the others over it, taxi drivers, and sometimes just guys who want to chat. It can be overwhelming.
The first time I stepped off the bus, after a long tiring drive, I was really getting annoyed and said- “Give me a minute to breath!” They all stopped and waited, one of them muttered “She’s not a regular Muzungu (=white person) …”
They didn’t know what to make of me. Slowly they went about their business, and one taxi driver was sticking around. He took me to the hotel, and I knew I was on to something here… so since then I just say give me a minute, and wait for the crowd to disperse.
Am I really solo in Africa?
Here, being alone is not part of the culture. People spend a lot of time together, and they are always happy to talk.
Sometimes for us Westerns it can seem as intrusive, but here it’s called basic human connection… People might join you on a walk and start talking like you’ve always known each other. That’s very acceptable here. You can still say you prefer to walk alone if you are not in the mood, but just be polite about it.
So I don’t really spend that much time on my own. Traveling solo doesn’t mean I’m alone.
Where ever I am, I get to know people. Children are usually the first to come and get friendly. I make friends, I get invited to places.
I love it and that’s part of why I’m here. I believe we all need community and basic human togetherness.
But when I need my alone time, I feel very comfortable to take it…
I choose to respect the culture in which I am a welcomed guest. So I choose to dress a certain way that is respectful and customary here.
East Africa is changing. Twenty years ago even Muslim women were wearing the traditional fabrics- kanga- around their bodies in a way that left their shoulders seen.
Now they all wear dresses that cover the whole body, and so do most Christian women.
So I don’t wear tank tops in the villages (in the cities the style is less strict) and I wear dresses and skirts (which I normally wear anyway for the last 20 years…).
I know a lot of western women feel it’s part of their personal freedom to wear whatever they want where ever they want. I feel it’s immature to hold on to that instead of simply showing respect to a culture you choose to come and visit.
🏝 In Zanzibar 🏝 – the population is very religious Muslim. Tourists (women and men alike) are asked to not walk around in bathing suits outside the beach, and basically cover up (a man walking around shirtless is also highly unacceptable).
In part of the beaches locals are working all day long, fishing and growing sea weed. Personally I was going to look for a part of the beach that was empty where I can go in the water. Tourism and local life are so different, I felt more comfortable that way.
Again, these are my choices that I’m sharing, if you feel differently- that’s fine.
Well that’s all for now. Would love to get your feedback in case I left anything out. And if you are also traveling solo around Mama Africa, please share how it is for you.
Check out more Travel Tips here.