Yes, it is safe. Even solo females will find it safe to travel in South Africa.
I get asked this every time I plan a visit to South Africa or share stories of past visits. I’ve been traveling mostly solo for the last 38 years and I get asked this about everywhere I travel. My advice is pretty much the same: be smart, pay attention to your intuition, be polite and respectful. Gee, those sound like good ideas all the time.
Before you go
My computer was stolen during my third visit and I’m sure glad I was prepared. I had travelers insurance and although it took a while was eventually reimbursed for part of my loss.
Scan copies of all your important documents and credit cards then email them to yourself. Include lists of phone numbers for banks and embassies, any medications or supplements taken. Take photos of your tech gear or anything of value and the receipt.
Do you need any special Visas or vaccinations? These can take time so think ahead. Being a US citizen I can travel in South Africa on the three month visitor visa issued when I arrive but it’s a good idea to check ahead and make sure you fall into this category. And just about all of the country is malaria free so I don’t worry about that.
Although I don’t walk the streets of Johannesburg after dark—or the bush either—everywhere I went felt safer than Los Angeles, New York City or Chicago. But then I’m really not a city girl.
Going out after dark you’ll be more vulnerable. Maybe go out with a group for the evening for safety in numbers. If someone tries to delay you make an excuse about meeting someone, even if it’s a lie. Let people know where you’re going. Even if solo, talk to people where you’re staying, post on Facebook if possible.
Walk tall and with confidence, not arrogance. Smile, not flirty just friendly. A smile is universal. Keep your cool, relax while being attentive. Stressed out never makes situations better.
Don’t flash around your valuables and make sure they are in a safe place if left behind in your room, or vehicle. Many people carry big cameras these days, and cell phones are pervasive (SIM cards are desirable in South Africa). Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, so to speak. Money and credit cards should be spread around, not all on your person, in your backpack or purse. Leave backups locked in the safe in your room or accommodations.
Money exchange to Rands can easily be accomplished at several banks. Need I say don’t do it on the street. Several outdoor ATM machines I used were guarded by bank security. I try not to carry much cash. At least in my pocket never more than I’m willing to loose. My point earning credit card is accepted almost everywhere.
Remember that driving is on the left side of the road in South Africa. At first it sure felt backwards to me, especially shifting with my left hand, while taking photos of course. Basically, you just stay between the lines and think a little harder when making turns. I found it doable in quick time. And there are plenty of rental companies to choose from.
People sometimes wearing bright safety vests seem to be working in parking lots at grocery stores and malls. It appears they are security, yet that is questionable, and wave you in and out of parking spaces which is convenient. Many times upon leaving I tipped these folks small change as I’d seen others doing.
Really be aware of your surroundings and don’t take chances unless you’re ready to handle the possible consequences. Don’t just watch your stuff like a bag at your feet or hanging on a chair. Put it in your lap or wrap the strap around your leg. Purse should be cross shoulder to make it harder to remove by someone else.
Most of all, don’t be afraid. Remember that like tends to attract like so don’t be angry or fearful, be happy and helpful. Be in the NOW.
Follow your intuition
You know that mysterious “gut feeling” that you often can’t explain? Well pay attention, that’s your intuition telling you something very important.
I got a little lost trying to find my guest house in Hermanus and as soon as I drove onto this one street I just knew I didn’t belong there. Immediately turned around, got directions at a fuel station and when I told my host he agreed I was heading into an “unsavory” neighborhood. Always nice to have intuition confirmed.
If you plan to partake in risky activities do your homework on the companies you’re considering. It’s not always about the lowest cost. OK, it’s not sky diving but I consider riding an ostrich risky. Ever try it?
And if you do get in a situation like theft just give them the stuff as no thing is worth your life. And hopefully you got insurance to cover replacement.
Dress appropriately to where you are, not necessarily in a local costume. Revealing clothes could make you a target. If traveling in an area of extreme poverty leave off the flashiest of jewelry unless you have a huge body guard or bank account.
If photographing people ask permission first. Besides being polite you may make new friends. Having said this, I did not ask permission to photograph this friend.
Learn a few words of the local language, especially please, thank you and excuse me. You’ll earn respect that way. During my first visit to South Africa I continually heard people say what sounded to me like “donkey.” So I finally asked a friend. “Dankie” means thank you.
Talk to locals
You are more likely to interact with people when solo, that’s a good thing about travel. Sometimes language can present an interesting challenge. Fortunately English is spoken by just about everybody in South Africa but so is Afrikaans plus many regional languages.
Don’t be afraid to talk to people just be smart about it. While camping in National Parks conversation was easily struck with neighbors or a lady in the bathroom.
Talk to locals in safe feeling public locations, like to ask directions or for restaurant recommendations. You may get suggestions from locals that no one else knows about.
Yes it’s safe
So it’s safe to travel in South Africa and not just as a solo female, but males, couples and families also. It’s a shame we even have to think or talk about these things. But smart is a smarter way to travel, and live. So don’t let fear hold you back. If no one wants to travel with you, and you dream of going on safari, go to South Africa. What’s the worse that can happen? Eaten by a lion?
Too many selfies? Am I ever bad at that.
I don’t always travel solo in South Africa because after visiting twice I now have friends to travel with sometimes. Like for this third visit…
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